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Fame

(Note: there were so many thought provoking comments in response to this post that it generated a second-round of ideas. You can read the follow-up post here.)


I have a confession to make. I want to be famous.

Well, sort of. I don't want to be famous, famous, and ride around in a limousine and have to hire security and that sort of thing. I just want to write a book, have it published by somebody other than my mother, and bought and read by somebody other than my mother, and maybe even sign a couple of autographs along the way.

Mom can have one autographed, too, if she wants.

It has to be a spiritual book. A really moving and truthful book, that makes people want to look deep inside themselves, and then they come up to me and say something like, "It was all because of that book you wrote! It changed my life!" And I would say, no, no, really, you did all that, you and God/the gods--I'm a little fuzzy on whether the life-changing book is for Pagans or for Quakers--and I would mean it, too. Because, even though I had become famous, I would definitely still stay humble.

I want to be famous.

I have this particular set of feelings every time I talk to my Famous Writer Friends about their books, and about the workshops and travel they do related to their books. This is especially true of my Pagan friends who became writers after I got to know them. Something about my having known them before they became Famous Writer Friends makes me feel in a hurry to go and get famous, too.

There are pieces to this craving that are legitimate. I do love books, and I do love to write. I have had the experience of meeting people who have read something I've written, and it often creates a wonderful bridge to deep and intimate conversations. (I married one of those readers, so you know it's been a good strategy for me, this connecting by writing stuff.)

I think it's natural to want to write more, and maybe have something I write... go somewhere, both in terms of being a more developed piece of writing (like a book) and in terms of publication. As in, not self-published, or published in a zine, but published by, like, a publisher, you know?

However, there's also something that's a little off in my craving for fame through writing. I can joke about it, but I know it's there. When my friend K. is talking about his latest writing project, or the interaction with the organizers at a festival where he's presenting, I think, "I want that!" I don't just want to write for the sake of the writing, or publish for the sake of communicating with an audience. I'm attracted to the shallow, superficial aspects of it, too. I want the sense of being Important, and having people act like they agree with me.

It's very adolescent, really.

And it's also very, very Pagan.

Now, I'm not saying there aren't Quakers who feel the same kind of superficial thrill I'm craving, around presenting workshops or seeing their name in print, be it under an article in Friends Journal or over a chapter in a Quaker anthology. But Quakers are very cagey about this sort of thing. I've never yet seen a Quaker writer stage a hissy fit over their book table not being sufficiently prominently positioned, or met Quakers who refuse to visit or consult with other Quaker groups unless they are offered a high enough stipend for it to be a profit-making weekend for them.

Maybe that goes on in the Quaker world. Maybe Quaker retreats and gatherings are in a mad, politicized scramble for important Headliners, and maybe Quaker authors and speakers take a strategic view of networking for career advancement.

But it's a way of life in the Pagan world. In the Pagan world, all too often, you can tell exactly who the Big Name Pagans are by how they walk into a room. And those of us with friends who are Big Name Pagans--or even passing acquaintances who are Big Name Pagans--are under a constant temptation to puff ourselves, at least a little, by name dropping.

Results can be embarrassing. I vividly remember accompanying Anna Korn, one of the founders of the Covenant of the Goddess (who for the sake of full disclosure, I should admit I know only through email correspondence, and cannot claim a close friendship with) on a courtesy visit to the local occult store. The woman behind the register didn't let Anna so much as introduce herself though, before she began a heavy campaign of name-dropping. Turns out she had once taken a workshop with someone who had taken a workshop with Starhawk herself! As someone who knew Starhawk as a mere human, with a full set of both faults and virtues, Anna can't have been especially impressed, but she smiled and nodded and left the store politely... and without dropping her own name.

See, you can do things like that--be classy like that--when you're famous.

With all this crazy, status-seeking stuff going on among Pagans all the time, why does at least part of me want in on the action?

I think it's partly because Pagans don't really have any other way of keeping score. We do not acknowledge any gradations in that quality Quakers sometimes call "weight", and so the sixteen year old third-degree High Priestess in the Tinkerbell Tradition of Vampire Wicca feels fully empowered to speak with equal authority with men and women who were running covens and training students decades before her birth.

Of course, by saying that, I'm implying that age is the crucial factor in who should be attended to, and that's false. Many a time I've had my breath stolen away by listening to some elder-in-years-but-not-widom condescend to someone new to Paganism, whose words and actions reflected real seriousness and depth. It's not age that's the difference, or not age alone. And, yes, the gods can inspire any of us.

If we're listening. But so often, we are not. Pagans so often act as if there is only one scale in which to measure spiritual worth or development...

Fame.

I've known at least one local elder to state the case in nearly those very words. At one point, that elder was organizing a networking group for Pagan leaders and teachers--a good idea, and one that ought to help us develop our depth, our weight, in dialog with one another. But her plan was that only those with "national or international reputations" should be invited to participate.

You can't cultivate wisdom if all you select for is fame.

What about the quiet, competent Priests and Priestesses who are just serving their local communities, raising healthy Pagan families, nurturing caring, rooted covens, hofs, temples and groves? I asked. And the answer that came back was that, if they really had something worth offering, they would be famous.

Quakers may get confused about that some times. I bet they do--Quakers are at least as human as anybody else. We're all surrounded by our fame-obsessed culture 24/7, and it wears down our common sense and makes us all foolish at times. I bet there are Big Name Quakers out there, and people who drop their names for a little frisson of importance, too.

But the Pagan world has no other stock in trade. We don't know the difference between fame and wisdom. Fame is the yardstick by which we measure worth. And even if I don't measure you by that means, I think perhaps I measure myself that way.

I want the respect of my peers--Quaker or Pagan. I want to be taken seriously--seriously enough to be heard and disagreed with when I'm wrong, or guided deeper into an idea when I'm right. This kind of discernment is something Quakers are at least seeking to give to all members of the Religious Society of Friends, however often we may fail.

Pagans don't even recognize the need, yet.

So, either because my Pagan heart has stunted roots from the years I have spent in that community, or because I live in a fame-mad culture, there is a part of me that doesn't just want to write a book for the ideas it might contain, or for the connections it might foster with readers, or even because I love books.

Part of me wants to be famous, because part of me doesn't trust part of you to care about me unless I am.

Hmph.

I think I ought to work on that, don't you?

Comments

You're famous to me, Cat. I wouldn't hesitate, and haven't, to seek your counsel on something important to me that I thought you might have useful insights and/or advice about.

This is a fine post. I agree with all of it. Fame and depth are not necessarily found in the same package.

With love and respect,
Macha
{{{hug}}} @ Macha.

You're famous to more than me, Macha... but it is your depth, your seriousness and focus, that makes me proud to say you are my friend.

I do not know how to nurture a different set of values within the Pagan culture. I'm pretty sure owning the ways my own values are off-kilter is a start! But more than I want that brass ring, fame, I want to somehow be part of what challenges us to not settle for notional, image-centered versions of Pagan spirituality. At our best, we are so much more than that. But how to become our best? That's the question.

Well, that and will anyone ever offer me a book deal with a large advance. ;-)
Nettle said…
If we were friends IRL, Cat, I'd totally brag about the fact that I know you.
cubbie said…
i definitely feel a lot of this. and i'm totally with everybody about how i'd namedrop you like crazy! :-)
Daniel Wilcox said…
Cat,

Thanks for the honesty.

Isn't fame weird though? Often writers who become fanous, actually hate the fame and regret ever getting it. Often much goes wrong in their lives. John Steinbeck despised fame when he finally achieved it. And for a while, it destroyed his personal life.
Bob Dylan became obsessed with escaping from his fame, finally even stopped performing for a while. Etc.

Daniel
Chris said…
I wish as Pagans and as people in general we could be more clear and honest about fame, and our need for attention.

I do not know much about what Quakers do, but I suspect part of the issue is that Pagan group rituals direct attention explicitly through the power of ritual roles and worship. It is theater in many respects and thus we can confuse the spotlight of leading a ritual with the fruits of disciplined worship.

Our culture is one of commodities. It is far easier to count the number of books published, to calculate the weight of a name you've heard many times in our relatively small lives than it is to recognize wisdom. Without recognizing our own need for attention we become it... at least in my experience.
I do drop your name, Cat. ;-)

I think it's worth thinking about fame as distinct from celebrity, and perhaps status or stature as distinct from popularity.
Yewtree said…
Dear Cat,

Whilst I wholeheartedly agree that fame and wisdom are not the same thing, I wholeheartedly disagree with the idea that there are no Pagans who do not know the difference (famous or otherwise). It's rare for me to disagree with you, but on this occasion I have to say I do.

I've thought a lot about the whole fame thing. Part of my reason for writing books was that I wanted something to live on after death; but I've never wanted to be famous in a Big Name Pagan sort of way. Most of the Big Name Pagans that I really respect are the ones who do not expect everyone else to agree with them and fawn over them. I have a selection of people whom I have commissioned to give me a big kick up the backside if ever I turn into one of those people surrounded by fawning neophytes. Of course there are one or two of those sort of Big Name Pagans in the UK, but apart from their small gang of neophytes, they are widely regarded as Too Big For Their Boots.

The authors I respect know what they think, cultivate wisdom, are generally humble, and do not expect the biggest table or spotlight at conferences. Rather than keeping a coterie of dependent neophytes, they encourage others to develop their own opinions, walk their own path with integrity, and cultivate their own wisdom.

I was once accused of name-dropping as I personally know a lot of Pagan authors in the UK, but it wasn't name-dropping as they are actually friends of mine and I wasn't doing it to impress, just mentioning some conversation I had had with someone as a matter of interest relevant to whatever was currently being discussed.

Both you and Macha are the sort of authors with integrity that I am talking about, though. You walk the walk, not merely talk the talk.
This is a good contrast you’ve drawn!

To have the wisdom that comes through us appreciated: that’s a nice affirmation of our worth.

Myself, I think a hug is even better. It says, we are worth something in and of ourselves, just for being us.

But fame is only a pseudo-affirmation. Most of the people who keep our fame alive, don’t really care who we are. They use us as tools to answer their own needs and purposes. They don’t care about our feelings, our need for privacy, or our need for rest. That’s not a real affirmation of our worth at all.

I liked what you said, Cat, when you wrote, “You can't cultivate wisdom if all you select for is fame.” I think that’s wisdom, right there!

(And you can have a virtual hug from me any time!)
thegreencall said…
I think it's partly because Pagans...do not acknowledge any gradations in that quality Quakers sometimes call "weight"I think this is real problem. Not only in terms of eldership, but the confusion of things like psychic skills or intiation with more important (in my view)qualities of wisdom or depth.

But there is not easy way to widsom or depth, so we chose fame as a proxy
I've just highlighted this essay over at The Wild Hunt. I think it has some very important things to say.
Magaly Guerrero said…
I’m not even sure if I want to be famous. I write urban fantasy romance and I want to get published one day, and I guess it would be nice if someone said “Look there is Magaly, the woman who wrote the super sexy, dark, and bloody series. Did you know she was Pagan?”

I have a writer friend who told me that she was curious about Paganism because she has noticed that many writers of urban fantasy are Pagan. I would like to be famous that way, wouldn’t it be awesome if someone reads your fiction and that leads him/her to want to find out more about Paganism?

Hm, I just read what I wrote, and I’m having my doubts. I think I just figured out that I might want to be famous after all.
Self-promoting figures like Whitman and Sojourner Truth may be worthy ancestors and allies on this sort of thing.

I don't want fame per se and am uncomfortable charging or paying for religious instruction or trying to sort out when... neither books nor workshops have been particularly useful to me, but friendships have. Ultimately I feel that merited fame will accrues to substance and persists; fame is unmerited to the extent it requires promotion.

At this point in Pagan history, though, self-promotion seems like such a necessary hook for other things I'd like, like a store or community center or even a temple community. As best as I can tell, if I want those I'll have to do a lot of self-promotion concurrent with self-sacrifice (getting workshop gigs, for example, that I have to pay to travel to, etc.). I don't think the goal is attractive or probable enough to justify the work.
Nate Swift said…
"Part of me wants to be famous, because part of me doesn't trust part of you to care about me unless I am.

Hmph.

I think I ought to work on that, don't you?"

No.

I'd say you have done that pretty well. You know where you are and have your values pretty well lined up. I don't see any point in trying to get past being human.

In His Love,
Nate
brock-tn said…
I want the respect of my peers--Quaker or Pagan. I want to be taken seriously--seriously enough to be heard and disagreed with when I'm wrong, or guided deeper into an idea when I'm right. This kind of discernment is something Quakers are at least seeking to give to all members of the Religious Society of Friends, however often we may fail.Thank you for having put so concisely something that I have been trying to express for months now.

We forget sometimes, I think, that
modern paganism is still quite young as religions go. Even when compared with the Society of Friends. To a large extent the pagan movement is still in its angsty teen years, when everything is still ruled by emotional responses, and pure reason has to fight to obtain even a modicum of influence.

But essays like this remind us that it does not always have to be that way.
Gaarik Daruth said…
Found this through the Wild Hunt. This post is amazing, and I've found myself feeling the same way on many an occasion. I'll be reading from now on.

-G
Bryn Colvin said…
The 'you wrote something and it changed my life' line - yes, kind of cool. But when someone announces to you that you have changed their life, and you don't really have any sense of how, or why, its scary indeed. Not necessary to be a Big Name for that to happen either.

I realise also, how proud I am of my friendships with people others here may have heard of, and that I feel no urge no name drop. But then, I have my roots in the folk scene, and that's much more about treating everyone as equals, even if you do secretly worship them!
Erik said…
Odd, isn't it? The need for external validation from people you've never met and probably never will.

For instance, I'm always thrilled when people comment on my blog, because it means I know they're not only reading but engaged enough with what I said to want a conversation, however brief... and that in some sense means (to me, in my head) that what I said is actually worthwhile. They certainly don't have to agree with me - I have one commenter who has come on a couple of times with guns blazing, and we've wound up having very interesting discussions - but they're there.

And oh, the excitement when I discovered that a pagan author I greatly respect and admire had listed me in the acknowledgments of two of his books, along with some 'weighty' folks that I also respect and admire... I'm pretty sure I jumped up and down. ;) Not fame, exactly, since most people online don't know my real name and most people who know me IRL would have no idea who the author was - but validation, warm and fuzzy and fleeting, nonetheless.

I can't speak to your condition, but I know that in my case it definitely stems from some very deep-rooted insecurities. And yes, I do need to work on that. :)
Nettle said…
I also do an inner "squee!" when I get blog comments - someone noticed me! on the Internet! - and I don't think there's anything particularly insecure about that. There's nothing wrong with wanting some validation that we're being listened to, even if it's from nearly anonymous strangers. It's just nice to know that I'm not talking to myself.

I don't care about being famous myself, but I want the famous pagans to like me. It's my grown-up version of wanting the teacher to notice how awesomely smart I am. But, really, it's the BNP's who have written or done something I like and admire that I want to pat me on the head and give me an A+. And, now that I think about it, some of these people haven't even written any books. It's just my inner Lisa Simpson being insecure and looking for approval.

But I know what you mean about this as an issue in the larger Pagan community - I actually do have a few acquaintances who are BNP's, and there's nothing like having one of them greet you publicly and enthusiastically by name at a festival. Suddenly little ol' me is one of the cool kids! I always thought that was kind of funny (in a ha-ha sort of way) but you're right, it's really kind of sad that we even have the BNP phenomenon.
kerrick said…
I think our famous ones, in the best of circumstances, act as gateways for newcomers and screens for media attention. It is a really valuable and important role, this "warder on the edge of the circle" thing they do—at once ushering people in with books (especially) that reveal some of what they've learned from their own teachers and their own experiences and standing in for the rest of us talking to religious bigots as well as open-hearted but unfamiliar non-pagans on talk shows and places like WaPo's religions blogs. But there have definitely been times when I've felt a little prick of anger when a Famous Pagan (excuse me, BNP means something else to me, something I don't associate Starhawk et al with!) representing The Myffical Pagan Consensus gets something "wrong" according to me. I think "I should write a book and get MY name out there, to show the world that not every Reclaiming pagan thinks Marija Gimbutas is the end all and be all of archaeology," for instance.

There's a structure of exposure for any minority religion that means that the loudest voices are the ones that get heard by outsiders. It's a bit like how most non-Muslim Americans think Islam is cutting people's hands off and making women wear a chador whenever they venture outside the kitchen. Or, if they're unusually knowledgable by non-Muslim American standards, they think it's either that or a handful of popular poems by Rumi. Judaism is being bitter about the Holocaust, supporting Israel, and not eating bacon. Paganism is Silver Ravenwolf and dancing outside naked, maybe some animal sacrifice but that's "those bad pagans," you know, the way suicide bombing is "those bad Muslims." In a culture where we learn things by soundbites and skimming headlines, most people will not develop a deeper, more nuanced appreciation of the diversity of practice within any minority religious group. And that includes novice and exploring pagans.

So how do we work with that? I think, for one thing, pagan community is important. I value my experiences as a solitary practitioner, but I also know that without testing my thoughts against others' insights and common sense as well as my own experiences, I couldn't grow in wisdom. When I didn't have local pagan community, the way I had of testing my thoughts was by pitting them against those of the authors I was reading as represented in their books. But that's not a real interaction; you're interacting with a static snapshot of the author's thoughts at a particular moment. I think if blogs had existed at the time, it might have been a little different—although, crucially, not necessarily better. Now that I've hooked into the Reclaiming community, I have the benefit of being able to participate in things like Witch Camps and Reclaiming Core classes. I think that, while it has it's weaknesses, the model of a core curriculum and small group classes with two or three teachers could be adapted for the needs of some other traditions. I've noticed in our local community that many of the teachers are respected because they are good teachers, and many of the ritual leaders are respected because they lead good ritual, even if they haven't written a lot of books. But it's in the nature of such interactions that they are personal. It's not likely that someone would become known very far outside the circle of people they come into direct contact with for wisdom or for teaching or for ritual leadership, especially not with the "competition" of Famous Pagans reaching a much wider audience. I'm not sure if I want to treat this as a problem to be changed or as a reality to be acknowledged and explored in our communities.
Anne Johnson said…
I wrote a book, and even my mother didn't like it.
T. Thorn Coyle said…
Cat, this is intriguing and I want to think on it some more, but here are some random thoughts:

One, you are already a BNP, at least amongst BNPs.

Two, I was shocked the day I discovered I was considered to be a BNP.

Three, BNPs not only get people seeming to agree with us, we also get stalkers. Not fun.

Four, some of us cultivate peers like mad, as well as deep spiritual practice, to help with discernment.

Five, I agree with some who wrote that we are in adolescence. I often ask - just did yesterday - "why are there not more good teachers?" I've met some, and have also met a lot of mediocre ones. I think as a "community" we are struggling to figure out where we are headed. Those who have been walking the path awhile need to help steer - and I believe there are those who are trying.
Taylor Ellwood said…
Fame isn't all it's cracked up to be. I guess I might be called a BNP...but fame doesn't bring depth...and it's pretty easy to see through the "famous" people who are just in it for the glory. And in some cases, fame has grown into notoriety and ultimately ended up obscuring what others have done, because peopel are so focused on what the "famous" person has done, they aren't looking around to see what someone else is doing...or more importantly at what they can do.
Chas S. Clifton said…
Thorn Coyle is a BNP. I can say that after having just shared being a festival "headliner" with her.
:-)

Paganism spread in the 20th century mainly through the written word, hence the focus on authors moreso than in other religions, I would think.

We don't have the hierarchy, so we don't have hierarchs: archbishops, high lamas, etc.

Musicians are rising in importance as festivals offer more and more professional and semi-professional acts.

Rather than bemoan the fact that there are BNPs, let's just realize that the foam on top is part of what makes a cappuccino, even though the liquid coffee gives the kick. Celebrate celebrity (and carry its burdens), but do not consider it to be of ultimate importance.
Rebecca said…
Is it possible that pagan issues with fame are, to some extent, the shadow side of our issues with secrecy?

Many of us are initiates in mystery traditions. We have been taught that some of the tools we use could be harmful in the wrong hands. Some of us have sworn oaths not to teach our craft to anyone who has not also sworn to uphold our code of ethics. Who to trust is a huge question.

Newcomers in such traditions are quickly made aware that not all teachers are equal. If you're lucky, you have found a group that your internal guide confirms as trustworthy... and then you proceed to take your cues about who else to trust directly from them. Until we develop enough knowledge base to filter on our own, we figure out who to listen to by word of mouth and personal reputation among people we know.

Among Quakers, it seems like any voice that speaks is an equally good channel for Spirit, and equally subject to scrutiny to separate the Message from the static. By contrast, among Pagans and especially newer Pagans, it is widely assumed and taught that there are Good people to learn from and Bad people to learn from. Stated that way, it's an obviously problematic premise - but there are reasons for its prevalence, and it can't be just dismissed out of hand, either.

Fame in such a community seems a little different from fame in the world at large. You want the people who are trustworthy guides to recognize you as another trustworthy guide, so that they'd think to include you among the writers they recommend to seekers, and to include you in their conversations about important things. I don't see any fault in that. I quite agree that you deserve such recognition, and like others here I think you're more there already than you realize.
dmiley said…
I'm not particularly interested in famous pagans for their being famous. I am interested in pagans who make coherent sense and push my level of understanding. So, the first thing that attracted me to your blog was just how much good stuff you were writing down. You were dealing with real content in a personally brave way and (as I've written to you) you reminded me of Emma Restall Orr.

You were also very generous with links and comments when I launched my own blog. And, your post about Andras' trip to Mexico set off a chain of events that ended up changing my life. I found out later, that you were a BPN when I read Chas Clifton's book.

I do believe that paganisms, and we are very plural these days, do not operate on a community of discernment model. To me, the core of paganisms is really something pretty primal - that love and sacrifice are inseparable. Not like "Harvest Home." But, like the healer who knows what a working will personally cost but who does it anyway - driven by love and with no regrets.
T. Thorn Coyle said…
A silly aside:

I have to both grin and shudder that BNP stands both for "Big Name Pagan" - which is a handy, but kind of dumb appellation - and the "British National Party" of which I want to state quite clearly that I am *Not* and never shall be, a member!

(Of course, I did not set out to be the other kind of BNP either. But at least I'm pretty safe from transforming into the British political version.)
little sister said…
That post is so well written that I'm surprised you're not already famous!

As for the thing you say at the end about working on something because you know you needn't measure your own worth or likability by fame or celebrity, don't bother. Let that marinate in the back of the fridge while you do more important stuffs. It will solve itself before you're famous - or at least by the time you become famous. Then you'll be tossing it out with other things that turned green in the fridge. :)
Edmund said…
Weighty and wise thoughts.
And so many interesting people are attending to what you have to say...
Fame? You can buy it for the cost of a publicist.
Friends historically have had complicated and ambivalent relationships with the popular culture, whenever and wherever we lived. And in this essay, you are representing for that tradition beautifully. Thank you for these thoughts.
Cathryn Bauer said…
I am not so sure that fame is all it's cracked up to be. Those who are known for something probably worked to do it, and you might be surprised at the number (and audacity) of those who want to ride on your success. In the late '80s, early '90s, I had a couple of books published on holistic health. It was a most unpleasant surprise to discover that a great many people I had never heard of suddenly wanted to coauthor a book with me (their first, of course) and expected me to pass on the months of painstaking research and effort. These were not friends and respected colleagues asking for advice. These were people I barely knew making demands such as as, "Cathryn, I want you to give me the name of your agent so I can run some ideas by him." So prominence has its dark side, too.
Pax said…
Cat,

Thank you for your words, and for inspiring the musings of others...

It seems like lately I have been encountering a lot of article within the Pagan Internet where we Pagans are asking some tough questions of ourselves and looking at our own assumptions about Paganism, and the nature of Community, and our relations with the rest of the world.

If as some folks keep saying Paganism is in it's adolescence as a movement then it is questions and discussions like these that are going to bring us to maturity.

Thank you,
Pax
Self-promotion of the shallowest kind is one of the most insidious and destructive aspects of modern culture. Pagans need to learn to take pride in real accomplishments and not slavishly seek approval from others.

And be careful who you give your power to.
Deborah said…
I have mixed feelings about fame. Turns out I have an ego, and am in a constant state of struggle with my vanity and pride. Also turns out, I'm not a fame whore. I like it but I'm embarrassed by it and I don't do the promotional things I could do and should do if I was really focused on it.

I think I was raised with certain values about opportunity, and it is very hard to turn down any opportunity, be it for more fame, more advancement, a more prestigious job, or any of that. I think there are childhood issues there; like maybe every effort towards ego-inflation is me still trying to impress my mother.

I like some of the perqs; the travel, the pleasurable down time with people whom I'd admired from afar, the ego-strokes. I dislike the sense of being pulled apart, the feeling that you are uncentered because pieces of you belong elsewhere, to others (or THEY think they do), the sense that fame is supposed to be maintained in some way--taking away from other work or play, the absence of certain kinds of privacy, the fundamental disregard that a fan can have for you as an individual. Fans can be like toddlers, demanding, narcissistic, needy. They can also be wonderful; gratifying, supportive, eye-opening.

In reality, I knew all these pluses and minuses before I wrote a book or gained any reputation, because I was married to someone much more famous than I'll ever be. So at least I entered into it with my eyes open.

I work to stay humble as best I can. I actively engage with how much my ego enjoys attention and whether or not that's healthy. I breathe with it. I have friends who I can trust to deflate me.

And there are always people who inadvertently let all the air out for you. The person who picked me up at the airport for a speaking engagement and said "So I guess you must have written something?" The interviewer who set up an interview with me and said she wanted to "focus on my book" and when I asked which one she said "You wrote more than one?" (And really, I just needed to know the focus of her interview!) So any time your pride gets really puffy and swollen, those people are around to drain the swelling.
Elysia said…
What an interesting discussion!

As an Acq Ed, I see BNPs in a slightly different way than others. I love the BNPs I work with because, frankly, someone who teaches classes, travels extensively, and has a strong web presence is going to sell more books than Joe Schmoe who can sell it to his coven of 5, no matter how much added wisdom Joe’s book brings. That’s just pure economics, and nothing personal.

Obviously I want to push more books with better content (and believe me, I have been doing this in the 4 years I’ve been here!), but at a publishing company we have input from many directions and the wisest authors may seem like the highest risk. A great book without an established author (with name recognition) is perceived as having low sales potential, while the sales and publicity departments are quick to jump at a “celebrity” author’s promotional potential… only to find out that we hardly sell any copies because that particular celeb is discredited in the community that matters the most: ours. Not mainstream media’s! Mainstream folks don’t buy witchcraft books, witches do. So when publicity tells me we need more loud Pagans getting into mainstream media, honestly I’m not sure that’s in our best interest. It depends on the person!

Paganism is such a grassroots thing still that BNPs really have to come from the community’s insistence, not be inflicted on us. I guess my “ideal” BNP author would be someone exactly like Cat, who is plugged into the community, has devoted followers and readers, is both wise and kind, and maintains a good reputation. Not someone who has “bought” fame for the price of a publicist as Edmund said, or, as Taylor perspicaciously noted, has gone past fame and is now “notorious.” (A good couple Pagan authors come to mind.)

For me though the real test of a BNP – as to whether they’re worth all the over-the-top fawning fans – is to meet them in person, check out one of their lectures, feel their energy firsthand. In this way, I’ve been impressed by so many – T. Thorn Coyle, Christopher Penczak, Lon Milo DuQuette, John Michael Greer, just to name (drop) a few – who really do have the goods, and are amazing vessels, for lack of a better word. It’s because of them that I love my job, even though it has its tough patches.
jenmoon said…
As a total nobody, I relate to you in why you wants fame. It's pretty much my reasons for it too. I'm wondering how much Sadge you have, since "having your opinions respected" is a big one there.

Oddly enough, I don't act like much of an attention whore. I don't Google myself, I've never checked my website hits in my life and shudder at doing so, I get weirded out if I do a search and one of my sites comes up in Google, I find the occasional link to me elsewhere and go "Huh?" I have been deliberately flying under the radar both IRL and online for pretty much ever.

And yet, this wanting to be "famous" thing has Not Gone Away my whole life (I thought I'd grow out of it) and it is driving me crazy. It's getting worse, to the point where I bought that book on callings at the bookstore wondering if it actually falls into that category. (The astrology certainly says yes.) I'm well aware of how almost any level of fame tends to make people very unhappy and locked in their house and dealing with stalkers, and I've tried to reasonably talk myself out of the desire to have it an infinite number of times AND IT STILL WON'T SHUT UP. Ugh.
Anonymous said…
Cat-I don't know how to speak to your condition. I'm not sure, as a Quaker, I'm even included in this conversation, it seems to be mostly about pagan whorship(which I know nothing about) with Quaker highlights. As a human, in our struggle for fame, honor and wealth, I am included.
I'm in awe of your ability to write of things spiritual and I see by all the posts that I am not alone in that.
I believe that fame should not be a brass ring that pople strive for, but something that is earned. One step at a time.
The desire for fame, like the desire for money can lead to the dark places. A person always wants another dollar. If one is good, two are better. Fame, like being rich, is the carrot that is always just out of reach.
Until a person is content with themselfs and where they find theirself in life, there can never be enough fame for happiness.

Wishing you all the fame you long.

Your Friend
Glenn Clark
ps: My hopps are about a foot long and growing like weeds!
Laura Jean Karr said…
That was a great, honest post. Thank you for opening up like that. I can attest to the same feelings myself.

I've been at gatherings and met some of the Big Name Pagans. Some were great people, while some were quite a bit puffed up. All in all, it's always a learning experience for me when I get to see the dynamics play out in a public area.

Being a writer and being a Pagan, I've considered getting a book out there and thought about how cool it would be to be apart of the published; to be apart of the group that people listened to or learned from; to be apart of giving back in a way.

I've had book ideas but in all honesty the thought terrifies me. Being famous both entices me and freaks me out.

I don't know if I could handle the responsibility of being a Big Name Pagan. Having to deal with questions and expectations.

Really, thank you for this post. It's helped me to take a closer look at myself both in the aspect of being a writer and being a Pagan.
Ann Marie said…
I believe fame in our Pagan realm is accomplished by doing that which drives you to express and share your spiritual truths.

It brings several friends along with it 1) admiration for the work is the one I believe most desired. 2) Then there are the "fans", criticism both constructive or jealous...now sort out which is which... From some works people think they "know you". You could become an object for discussion. Fame is a risk. You can let it go to your head and no longer be fun. You can be on the hot seat and have little private time when at events, or you can enjoy sharing ideas with interesting people from all walks on your path to deepening spirituality. My experience form 18 years of festival attendance is that the majority of BNPs are approachable, interesting and have stirred in me a longing to keep digging, delving, and sharing what I learned at festival or in study.

Thanks for sharing this topic.
anne hill said…
Well Cat, you have obviously struck a chord here, which is one of the things that important writers do. So if you want to see fame, there's probably a mirror in your bathroom. ;-)

In my diss, which was a reflection on priestessing and leadership (not published yet, ahem!), I came up with 3 things I still think are imperative for those of us who attain some kind of stature in the community:

1) A regular, serious personal practice.

2) A circle of peers to keep you honest. NOT a circle of former students and/or lovers and/or clients. Find women and men of integrity, it doesn't matter what tradition, who can call you on stuff and to whom you will listen. Cultivate their friendship, earn their trust, ask for their counsel.

3) Be a beginner at something. The more acclaim we get, the more likely that we will stick to what we are good at and stop doing the things we are not good at. Always, always put yourself in the position of being a student of someone else, and try to get better at something new.

As for fame and the fear of becoming superficial, here's a practice you can start now. Whenever someone compliments you on anything--teaching, making jam, whistling a tune, changing your oil, whatever--don't brush off the compliment. Don't explain away the moment, don't jump to self-deprecation or rush to compliment them in return out of unease.

Take in the praise, and smile. Look the person in the eye with an open heart, and say, "Thank you." Then let it go. Take a deep breath in, let it out all the way, and move on to the next thing.
Anonymous said…
A friend of mine recently told me that she reckons that all human frailty is based on one or both of a couple of false ideas:

"I am not good enough" and "I am not loveable enough".

Since she said that, I've been thinking even more about how we live in a culture that teaches us to fill our lives, homes, minds, and time with Stuff, looking for ways of filling the holes so we don't have to look at them, and looking for validation outside ourselves (money, kudos) so we don't have to sit with ourselves and do the hard work of Love.

I don't think it's new, I think it's always gone on. And I don't think it's especially a Pagan thing, I think it's a Living In The Current Culture thing. And I'm not even sure that Pagans should be saying, "Oh well, we're only new, it's no wonder we've got such a long way to go" so much as, "Oh well, we're new and we've screwed some thing up, but we've actually done pretty well in other areas". Because some people have had centuries or millenia and are still screwing it up - because we're human, and it all boils down to "I'm not good enough" and "I'm not loveable enough", and to Fear being easier in the short term than Love. Thankfully, though they're problems we all have, they're problems we can all fix.

Just being as aware as you are seems to me to be a very great sign of wisdom.
Thanks to all who commented here! There were so many thought-provoking comments, I have decided to forgo any lengthy comment here. Instead, I've created a follow-up post.

If you are interested in knowing the ideas and reflections that came out of these comments, take a click over to the new post, Son of Fame.

And thank you very much for your feedback. It is incredibly valuable to look at a puzzling idea through many sets of eyes.

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