Too Christian to be Pagan, Too Pagan to be Christian

Lately, I’ve been deep into a Catholic mode (which is one of the reasons why I haven’t been very active in posting here). This was inspired by an acquaintance mentioning the “Italian Folk Magic” blog by Mallorie Vaudoise that I referenced recently.

Since my mother’s paternal family is from Apulia in Southern Italy, I found this really interesting. From my perspective, it essentially approaches Italian folk Catholicism via the reverence of the saints and the Madonnas which..if you’ve been following this blog for a while, is something that I’ve had an interest going back a ways.

I love the devotion, the traditions, and the festas of Italian Catholicism, but I’m not a Catholic. Anyway, this has inspired me to go deep into the Saints and the Madonnas and Marianism, in general.

In delving into the Marian side of Catholicism, I can see why most Protestants think of Mary reverence as being some sort of Paganism.

It’s not, of course, and the Catholics even have specific terms delineating the difference between worship of God/Jesus (latria), reverence of Mary (hyperdulia) and reverence towards the saints (dulia).

One of the things that I’m finding very interesting about Southern Italian folk Catholicism (via the “Italian Folk Magic” blog by Mallorie Vaudoise and the book Madonnas That Maim by Michael Carroll), is how various versions of the Madonna are treated as pretty much separate entities. Almost as goddesses. You pray to one Madonna for one thing, a different Madonna for another.

When I remember that in Afro-Caribbean or Afro-Brazilian religions, various versions of Mary or the Saints are syncretized into different orishas or lwas, it becomes even more intriguing.

It really makes me wish there was a Catholic/polytheist/animist hybrid of Italian Catholicism and ancient polytheism in the way that African religions were syncretized into Catholicism (Vodou, Santeria, Candomble, etc.) The reverences towards the Madonnas and saints are sometimes not far off the mark.

In general, I find a deep beauty in traditional Catholicism (though the feminist in me is repulsed by the emphasis on “purity” for women in Catholicism and Christianity, in general).

I find the emphasis on being a better person, or a good person, in Catholicism refreshing. (Obviously, not all Catholics pay attention to this, in particular child-molesting or raping priests!)

Of course, this sometimes goes too far, in my opinion. Thinking of birth control or masturbation as sin, for example. But stigmatizing the sexual objectification of others who do not want to be objectified (i.e., treating people as people, not sex objects)? I think that’s a good idea, as long as it doesn’t come with all of the anti-sex baggage.

Of course, I’m not a Catholic and still think of myself as somewhere in the orbit of Paganism, but I found that in trying to separate itself from the sanctimoniousness and moral hypocrisy in Christianity, modern Paganism skewed towards no formalized codes of morality.

This isn’t to say or imply that there aren’t some wonderful, kind, or generous people in Paganism, because there are. But much of modern Paganism is about the self and self-gratification.

(The polytheist movement, however, is different, opting to focus on ancient polytheistic forms of morality such as the Greeks, Romans, Celts, Norse, etc. Often their focus is the gods rather than the self. I find that commendable.)

While if this works for them, that’s great, I’m finding that it doesn’t always work for me.

In my middle age, when I look for people I admire for being good people and seek to emulate in some form in order to help me to become a better person, I cannot say that any other Pagans come to mind. This troubles me.

In fact, the majority of them are Christians. This seemed especially noticeable to me when I lived in the Quaker community for 4 years.

There were some really kind, generous, loving, and wonderful people among the Friends. People who made me want to become a better person.

I also think of people like Fred Rogers (TV’s “Mr. Rogers”) who was a Christian minister, but taught all kids “love” without even saying God or using faith as a weapon.

I’m not sure whether such a sense of trying to be a better person is possible or even desirable to Pagans. Some, in particular some in the polytheist community, desire to return to ancient values which are often “warrior values”.

Ideals like meekness, compassion, and mercy are discarded as Christian and are therefore bad. Personally, I love that the meek, the sick, the poor, the suffering are lifted up in Christianity. These are my values as well.

While Christianity historically has done horrible things, these teachings of Jesus are a gem. I do not think that we should discard them. Hell, the majority of Christians seem to have already discarded them. Perhaps, in the true tradition of the growth of religions, we should pick them up and use them as there are many outcasts who have been left behind by Christianity.


I find myself feeling entirely too Pagan to be a Christian and (sometimes!) far too Christian for many Pagans. It’s a crossroads. As such, perhaps I should light a candle and a cigar, and pour a glass of rum for St. Anthony who is deeply revered by Italians but also known by Afro-Caribbeans as Elegua or Papa Legba.


~ by R.M. McGrath on 11/15/2017.

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