I just did it, that thing I said I would never do. A n00b asked a question,* and I got all puffed-up-affronted like a Pagan Old Fart (POF). I didn’t say it, but I have to admit, my initial response to their (numerous) queries was, “Um… get a book.” What happened?? How did I come to this point? Sure, I’ve been around the Pagan scene for a decade, but I’m only 34; I’m not yet allowed to be POF-y! (Poffy? Can we make that a new word? Yes. Poffy is now a word, meaning Pagan Old Fart-y. I decree it. My fellow Pagans and those who hang out with Pagans, y’all know exactly what I mean, right?)

I won’t name names, and I apologize to the person who said this for using him/her as an example, but I thought it might be instructive to point out how to and not to ask questions if you don’t want accusations of being a Fluffy Bunny and other poffy responses. (From Poffy Bunnies like me.) I’m paraphrasing here, but the person over the course of 5 short emails to a listserve effectively said, “I just learned about your faith (Asatru) yesterday and want to talk to some people to see if it’s right for me. I would like somebody to teach me via Skype or if there’s anybody in the area, I’d like to meet with you so I can make a decision.”

Here were the thoughts running through my head as I read the multiple emails it took this person to get this sentiment out:

Jax: “Be nice to the n00b.”
Poffy Bunny Jax: “You heard about us yesterday and are considering joining up? Your potential conversion is giving me whiplash.”
Jax: “Be nice….”
PB Jax: “Yes, let me drop everything to start free private instruction over Skype so you can weigh your options. Who are you again?”
Jax: “NICE. BE NICE. You were new once, too.”
PB Jax: “Do you dress shop with this much careful consideration?”
Jax: “Oh my gods, I’m getting poffy!!!” [I hadn’t invented the word yet, but that was the sense of it.]

I said nothing on the listserve but decided to analyze my reaction a little more to see if I could figure why I had such a negative response to what seems to be an honest request for information. I was a teacher for eight years, for crying out loud. Usually I love it when somebody’s looking for learnin’. As I pondered, I thought about the differences between an evangelizing and a non-evangelizing faith. See, we Pagans are not looking for new members. We don’t have a vision of world-wide Paganism. We don’t want to convert as many people as we can. We’re not worried about people’s souls who aren’t Pagan.

To reiterate. We truly do not care if you are Pagan or not. If you like Paganism and want to be one, great! If not, well, great! Do your own thang.

But this indifference is clearly not what the questioner was expecting. This makes sense. In the world’s two most prevalent religions, Christianity and Islam, members (usually) do want to convert people.** If somebody emailed a Christian listserve and said exactly what this person said, s/he would probably get a warm response of “Oh, we’ve got this going on and this going on, and my Skype is ____ and my Aunty Blah-blah lives in that area and would LOVE to talk to you.” It has been my experience that when you stop to look at a church door, Christians are warmly hospitable as they encourage you in. As much as I’m not usually a fan of evangelizing, this grace with newcomers and their blunders is the kinder side of a conversion culture. Because Christians have a vested interest in bringing people “into the fold,” they tend to be way nicer than Pagans when somebody sticks their foot in their mouth as they ask about faith.

Now, to give my Heathen listserve folks credit, nobody was rude, and many people even gave bits of advice or suggestions of places to look for information. But on the whole, we Pagans don’t consider it our job to teach anybody else about our faith; if a person’s interested, it’s his or her job to learn. (Which is probably why we’re a minority religion.) Not that most people mind teaching, but if someone approaches a Pagan with the expectation that we’re eager to hand out our spiritual wares and spoonfeed whatever information somebody wants on whatever terms he or she wants… well, that person will probably receive a poffy response from even the nicest of us.

I’ve taken some time to rethink my own poffy response. After reflection, here’s what I have to say to the person who wanted to know all about Asatru so s/he could decide if it was the faith that fits:

Don’t make that decision. Not yet, anyway. Don’t listen exclusively or slavishly to what one person has to say about Asatru – or any faith for that matter – because one person can’t encompass the experience, and certainly can’t tell you what it would be like for you. Visit temples of as many faiths as you can. Read a variety of holy works. Get online and read websites built by people of different faiths to see what they have to say. If something appeals to you, find a ritual from that faith and do it. See how it feels. If something in you responds to it, try another ritual. Always remember, you are the most important teacher on your spiritual journey. Only you can say what is right for you. Only you can know what myths resonate with your soul and what rituals bring you strength and inner peace. Other people can help, but on your spiritual journey, the most important lessons you’ll learn are the ones you teach yourself.

*Phew!* Feeling much less poffy now. What do you think, realm? How do we stop poffiness? (I decided to turn the ‘y’ to an ‘i’ – I invented the word, so I can decide rules like that.) Or does poffiness serve a purpose? Any thoughts on conversion versus non-conversion cultures?

* GG wrote an article on this phenomenon from the asker’s perspective.

** In the area of the world I grew up in, we use the phrase “come to Jesus” in a non-religious way simply to mean “returning to good sense.” For example, if somebody is screwing up (like dating the wrong guy or drinking too much or doing something that may lead to legal trouble), her good friends will likely host a “come to Jesus meeting” to confront her about it – and they may never mention religion. If a group of people are off task and the leader tries to get them back on, it’s a “come to Jesus meeting.” If people have a fight and one of them tries to reconcile, they’re trying to get the other person to “come to Jesus.” Even I use this phrase. That association between finding Jesus and general good sense or good behavior shows how prevalent the idea of converting is in my culture.

Hmm… maybe I should start having “Come to Thor” meetings instead? Or maybe that’s when you give up talking good sense into somebody and start beating it into them… (Just kidding! Mostly.)

+ Featured Image: Rabbit, small species by llario (Fluffy or Poffy, bunnies are still cute!!)