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The Super Scholar – Common Personalities in Modern Paganism (and how to deal with them)

This second article on personality archetypes within the pagan “scene” will focus on the Super Scholars: Pagan Ultra-Academics.

Often the complete opposite of the Pogan, the Super Scholar can usually be found around the fire late at night at gatherings, where they will debate and discuss every possible facet of their current area of study, while at the same time arguing about every tiny point of Pagan history – both ancient and modern. These are the people who make a beeline for Elders (actual or perceived) at gatherings, anxious to glean any information that they can, and will interject with “actually, I think you’ll find…” at least four or five times during conversations on anything remotely related to Paganism.

But how do you pick a Super-Scholar from a run-of-the-mill academic?

  • Similar to the Craft Whore, the Super Scholar hoards books, artefacts and knowledge, and will happily trot out information and “facts” at the drop of a hat. The Super Scholar is less concerned with creating meaningful worship experiences, and more concerned by what Gerald Gardner said to his milkman in the summer of 1944.
  • Some Super Scholars raise themselves up to the same level as Pagan “Celebrities”, chasing and collecting initiations, titles and degrees by any means necessary – including phoney-baloney internet PhDs!
  • Often, these people will be the proverbial “dog with a bone” if they think you have information they can use.

While for these reasons and more Super Scholars should be kept at a safe distance if you come across them, it is important to think of this: in some ways, we should feel sorry for them. These mega-academics of paganism have not actually done themselves any favours, when it comes to worship and community.

The curse of the Super Scholar is threefold:

  1. Usually, they will have spent so much time studying Paganism and Pagans that they are in some ways unable to “switch off” – Every pagan event, ritual and social gathering becomes an anthropological study for them. In turn, this means that they can never truly relax and fully invest themselves in what is going on. There is always a need to analyse every tiny going-on, and then compare it to the huge swathes of information they have collected over the years.
  2. In the research phase, certain Super Scholars are so hungry for craft “wisdom” and “history” that they will lend an ear to almost anyone: bonafide “witches proper”, the fluffiest of bunnies and every squeaky wheel in between. Without proper discernment and fact-checking, this can lead to some fairly worrying or one-sided things being published. As a result, well-known Super Scholars are often mistrusted by understandably cautious pagans, and are kept at arms’ length in many instances.
  3. Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, the Super Scholar is his or her own worst enemy as far as ritual experience goes. Because when one studies (and studies, and studies) the rational explanations and unpackings of things like magical/ritual experience, shared experience, trance, energy raising, etc, it can lose a lot of its meaning at a divine level, and leave the poor old SS feeling more conflict and ennui than originally intended.

Generally, I prefer pagans who not only know their stuff to some extent, but are able to discern between the diamonds and the bollocks. But in some cases, folks overdo it. Sometimes it really is a case of knowing too much. I cannot speak for others, but I resent having my spiritual practice reduced to some sort of anthropological oddity. When all your tomes, recounts, artefacts and hearsay start affecting your ability to experience ritual and your relationship with most other pagans, it might be time to stop for a while. Shouldn’t some Mysteries remain just that?

– Galloway.

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The Pogan – Common Personalities in Modern Paganism (and how to deal with them)

Author’s note:

I’ve been sitting on this piece, the first in a series, for a while. Today I have finally decided to publish it as a companion piece to Daracha’s post about dodgy “faeries” and their equally dodgy festivals. I was originally inspired to write this series of pieces after reading Elizabeth Barrette‘s piece “Granola Wicca: Religion for Fruits, Flakes and Nuts”, which was published in this book. I would usually rather sit on an ants nest before I recommended ANYTHING published by Llewellyn, but this article tickled my fancy.

Reading this article, you might find yourself thinking that I am elitist. That is because, to some extent, I am: after a long stretch in a number of pagan “scenes”, I have learned to be discerning. After a number of bad experiences, I am fussy about who I enter into circle with, for example.

On with the show…

Be involved with the public (or even semi-private, for that matter) pagan scene in Australia for long enough, and you will start to come across the same personalities time and time again. In my experience, these archetypes seem to “cycle” in and out of the community every five years or so. In some cases, these personality types will cause big trouble for anyone who dares to get close enough. For the sake of your sanity, here’s a manual.

Bogan pagans, or Pogans, are a distant cousin of the Redneck Pagans of the United States. There are many theories on why paganism seems to attract an unusually high number of boganesque folk, some of which I aim to unpack at a later date. The most commonly accepted belief is that this religion (or collection of religions) is generally marketed as “anything goes” religions. Hence, many folk find it as a way of finding validation that doesn’t necessarily exist elsewhere in their lives. Sadly, thanks to mass media and mass marketing of paganism (in particular, witchcraft), Pogan numbers seem to be on the rise.

Poganism is usually characterised by:

  • An overly enthusiastic approach to pagan paraphernalia – not just altar necessities but vast amounts of cheap jewellery; impractically flowing panne-velvet clothing; mass-produced, tacky or “spiritual” home décor; cheap figurines of cross-eyed wizards, constipated-looking dragons or skanky fairies… sometimes prioritised above general living expenses.
  • A limited knowledge on their chosen faith(s). Often pogans will be “just trying it on for size”, reading snippets from the internet and not much else (see also: one-book wiccans and instawitches), and creating strange mish-mashes of pagan traditions and new age ideas. This is often intentional – a wilful ignorance. A prime example of this would be those who still trot out the grossly exaggerated death toll of nine million during the burning times, despite so much evidence that the number was far lower.
  • Invented traditions, or confused/contradicting ideas about their chosen tradition/s – sorry, but I will have trouble keeping a straight face if you tell me you come from an unbroken line of seven hundred generations of druids!
  • A love of terrible, terrible baby names.
  • Smoking, (non-ritual) drinking, swearing or other disrespectful behaviour during ritual.


Pitting an 80’s pop icon against a dragon will never end well.

Just how do you enjoy an event with a high percentage of uber-pogans? Well, begin by avoiding arguments, for the sake of those around you. No matter how tempting it is to react like this:

We’ve already touched on dealing with unpleasant personalities at pagan events here at Galloway and Daracha. I will, however, add this: just… be nice. These people can be infuriating, noisy and opinionated, but their minds have been made up. You can waste a lot of energy if you don’t realise this. The other thing to remember is not to be nasty to people. If you have convinced yourself that you are totally correct and they are totally incorrect, you can come across just as loud, opinionated and unpleasant as the Pogan you’re arguing with. It is not your job to “educate” people. Smile, nod, and walk away if you need to. Do not waste energy trying to unpick their (mostly flawed) arguments or picking fights. Take a deep breath, endure, and then find a good friend to vent to in private later.

The fact of the matter is, there are many festivals out there that now cater for the Pogan in all of us. If you want to minimise your Pogan exposure, look to smaller, more intimate gatherings, and research the larger ones before you go. If a gathering is celebrating many items from my list above, expect a touch of Poganism.

Galloway.

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