Why I Stay A Pagan
Posted on June 11, 2013
I’m writing this to sort of counterbalance the vitriolic spat that I posted up before. I’m leaving it up but, after I’ve allowed my head to cool (I hate bullies), I’ve come to the realization that it sort of puts a pretty nasty view on my blog.
But I didn’t want to delete it, because it needed to be said. I had thought about it, but I stand by what I said. But I do want to say why I stick with the Pagan label, despite lacking my own local community.
But I think this most recent blow-up really highlights the fact that there is a reckoning coming – of sorts – in the community. No, nothing wholly immense or dangerous. Or that we’re going to get together and vote out people who focus on Ritual Aspect XYZ. But that the term Pagan is either too broad or too restricting for some people, and there might be another alternative needed.
One of the biggest things I lament about the Pagan “community” is that it factures as easily as it does. Raven Kaldera stated it well on his site, where he said that “In ancient and medieval times, it might take a religion centuries to do this kind of splitting and schisming; today, in the Information Era when people can travel across the world in hours and share their ideas in seconds, it has taken Neo-Paganism mere decades to do what it took Christianity, for example, ten centuries to accomplish. We have literally as many sects as that major religion, with a far smaller population to do it with.”
I blame the Protestantization effect of America on this one. Where covens will split apart based on ideological or egotistical fault lines instead of, say, trying to work things out.
Let’s face it. It would be immensely easy to just split apart and go our own ways. Hardcore Non-Recon Polytheists one way, Historic Reconstructionists the other, Dualist or Monist Wiccans a third way, Humanists yet another, and so on. But we’re not. We haven’t. Some of us cling to the Pagan community, even though we feel like we’re fitting round pegs in square holes. We fit. Just not well.
Other Polytheists have fled the community for whatever reasoning. I wanted to highlight some of the reasons why I stay instead of tucking my tail and running (as I see it would be were I to just up and leave).
Firstly, it’s the closest thing that I will have to a community. I’m a Hardcore Polytheist Demi-Reconstructionist that has a number of mystical or esoteric beliefs. While I’m well behind the idea of historic reconstructionism, I’m enough of a heretic for Heathenry to not feel welcome. The same would probably go for Religio et Pietas, although that might be a bit more accepting so long as I stick strictly to the Roman-end of my practice. So Paganism, with all of its beautiful thinkers and wonderful ideas, as much as it has its share of troll baiters and witch war practitioners, is a natural go-to word that I can tell people.
Does it bother me that, when I say that I am a Pagan, people interpret that image as the middle class granola crunching hippy Wiccan Pagan that walks around in the woods bare-footed? Yeah, a little bit. I mean, I probably am far more into nature than your average rural-suburbanite, and I am 100% behind reasonable environmental conservation and animal rights and whatever else. But I have little to do with the agricultural calendar. I’m not a farmer. There’s some very small scale gardening that gets done here, but other than pulling in the yearly tomato harvest for salsa, that’s all we can really do. Otherwise, I live on a sixteenth of an acre.
Or that I’m lumped in with the “All gods are one God and all goddesses are one Goddess” crowd who, frankly, offend me? Hell yeah. My gods are all real, individual entities that can and will give their blessings and curses. To reduce them all down to a faceless mass is insulting to me.
But I have met some immeasurably intelligent, beautiful people in this community. Some have left the modifier of Pagan behind because of these issues, but many others are staying. It’s true that I tend to congregate more towards like-minded individuals. I was once in a Pagan student community while in undergrad and the leader of the community reiterated the whole “All gods are” mantra, above. And I spoke up, right on her heels, and flat out told her that she was wrong. So I don’t tend to keep so many of those particular personalities around.
Not that I am always disagreeable, but I feel that the whole “so inclusive that we denigrate every view point” is one of the biggest failings that the whole “community” has.
But the sheer breadth of interpretation, the sheer grouping of intelligences and personalities that congregate under the Pagan umbrella are all individualistic and unique in their own way. And they’re, by in large, very insightful. I would feel so much more isolated if I left the “Pagan community”, where I avoided reading a varied accounting of individual spiritualities, and stuck to a more homogenous grouping.
I don’t want a peanut gallery of bobbing heads. I want debate and interest and interpretation. And you can get that in the Pagan community that might end up being crushed in a more specialized group.
We’re a diverse group of people. But it seems that some people want it to be their interpretation of diversity. And I don’t think that anyone is behooved by homogenizing anything. It leads to too many issues, too many misinterpretations, and too much ideology.
Secondly, it is really because I am stubborn. I don’t like to give up on things. But there’s also a significantly large political and social reasoning for it. It stops each group from having to reinvent the wheel. Think about it. As an example, it took how long for the Wiccan symbol to be recognized by the United States Veterans for an acceptable gravestone marker? When was the next “major” Non-Abrahamic, European-centric faith that was allowed? I think that would be the Heathen/Asatru hammer symbol, and that was this year, I believe.
Splitting apart from the Pagan moniker means that your religion stops being one of a Pagan religion, which might get blanket acceptance into such things, and it means that you have to go through the process all over again. Application, fighting for social acceptance, etc. Everything that had been gained for one group, which could be spread out over this umbrella term, is no longer applicable for you.
Because why? Because of bureaucracy. Sure, individual organizations, covens, and Polytheistic churches/temples can get 501(c) Tax Exempt status. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re going to deal with all aspects of the government as easily. Take the Matreum of Cybele, in Catskill, New York as an example. Even though they are recognized as a religious organization by the IRS, the city refuses to accept it and provide them with the property tax exemptions that they are due. And they’re currently having a hell of a time trying to fight it. This is something that has been dragging on for years.
Is it because they’re not recognizing themselves as Pagan? No, not at all. And maybe I’m immediately figuring on the worst-case scenario (as I have started to do when dealing with any government administrative body). But I can’t see how it would hurt having a large, representative umbrella term that covers the disparate Pagan, Polytheist, Wiccan, etc. religions and faiths.
I’m worried that legal precedent would have to be made for each individual group if we do this all separately. And, let’s face it. The “Pagan political capital” is next to negligible. Let’s not even talk about the financial capabilities of many of these organizations. The ACLU has a long history of avoiding Pagan-related court cases because they don’t generate the kind of capital that they need. Or it seems that way. This isn’t to say that they don’t, but the certainly represent the needs of the Pagan community less than I feel they should.
I can’t see how the City of Catskill could continue to try to extort the Matreum if the full weight of the ACLU was behind them. Or the issue down in Florida, etc.
This isn’t about setting up a homogeneous organization which dictates religious piety or dogma. This isn’t about setting up a “Pagan Pope”, as some have irrationally screeched. It isn’t about trying to tell someone that they are Doing It Wrong.
It is about economic, social, and political agency. Agency which we currently lack because we are under-represented to the public. We have no lobbyist organization to put pressure on politicians who want to try to enact the laws which would force our children to go to mandatory Christian prayer meetings before pep rallies or sports events.
We have very few spokespeople who can be approached whenever something horrible happens. How many animal mutilation cases are pinned at the Pagan door, because we’re underrepresented? How much over-sensationalized claptrap gets spewed out there, and it’s up to the individual citizen to represent their entire religious denomination?
We have to rely on funding through crowd sourcing or donations in order to fight our legal battles and start our community works. Our temples are built on private lands or are virtual because we don’t have the population to be able to sustain brick-and-mortar leased buildings, because we fracture so frequently.
Do we really want to have to relay a foundation for everything, every time? Fight the same legal battles, simply because group A calls itself something, and group B calls itself something else? Does the Covenant of the Goddess need to go through a lengthy political battle in order to get agency for the Wiccan covens that it covers, only to have the ADF be required to do the same thing for the Druidic branches it holds?
I frankly don’t want to, because it is tiresome. I don’t want Hellenic A to have to fight for themselves and have Heathen B have to fight for themselves, and not have the victory that Hellenic A won not count as a precedent because Heathen B doesn’t fall into the same “religious grouping” based on theological differences.
Maybe this is a big misinterpretation on my part. I’m not well versed in the legal morass that the American system holds. But given that the government is more concerned about corporate agency (New York State defines religions as Religious Corporations and, going through the Marriage laws, there’s nothing about non-Abrahamic religions performing religious marriage ceremonies), it makes me wonder about this stuff.
Now, some have the idea of transitioning the term of “Pagan” from a religious grouping into a sub-cultural term. I’m on the fence about that. Mostly, again, because I’m concerned with the agency that we would lose by giving that up. Religious organizations get a fair deal more of it than sub-cultural groups, especially in the United States. This is changing abroad, most notably in the UK where they have dedicated hate speech laws, and they’ve recently expanded those laws into covering the Goth sub-culture. So the old paradigms are changing. Who knows if those waves are going to hit here.
I agree that the problem with Paganism is that it tries to cover a large degree of different groups. But, I also think it is large enough for us to disagree without becoming disagreeable. That’s really what this most recent spat came from (and all spats, I guess), where one group is trying to assert their religiously ideological paradigm over another group, and going way too overboard in doing it.
Not all Truths are unequal.
If Paganism turns into an alliance of faiths, with no theological implications of its own, then that is all very well. That would probably be for the best, in my opinion. I’m not sure that will ever happen. All I do know is that the community needs to do something, or else it is going to schism to the point where the only people who are going to want to do anything with it are solitaries who do not feel pressured into dealing with the stress of other people antagonizing them, denigrating them, or threatening them.
And that isn’t a community. By any stretch of the imagination.
A community doesn’t have to be homogeneous. Your local community most likely isn’t, unless you live deep in the backwoods of Appalachia or something. Just like that, there is room for personal interpretation. We might not get along with everyone in the town we live in (or anyone, for that matter). But we’re not going to go around threatening them for it. Or we shouldn’t, rather.
I stick with Paganism because it suits me the best out of all the possible modifiers that I can define myself with. I stick with Paganism for the richness of belief. I like reading the opinions of several Wiccans, Hellenics, Mystics, and Shamans. I like being exposed to new view points, and receiving constructive criticism from angles I might not have approached in a like-minded group of my own.
I stick with Paganism to show that it isn’t a Celtic-dominated, Wiccan-dominated, grouping of archetypalist or monopolytheist philosophies.
I’m going to give this more thought, and see if I can start doing something a bit more constructive in that regard.
But this is my community, and I’m going to fight for it until it is so far gone that it should be allowed to die.
This is probably the sanest thing I’ve read about why the label “Pagan” is important to our religious movement (I’ve not thought of it as a “religion” in a long time.) Thank for writing this — definitely reblogging.
Thank you for the reblog! I think, those of us in the Pagan community, need to take a step back and look at what we’re in this whole thing for, why we stay, and try to be constructive about it. There’s so much nay saying about different aspects of our community that it is unhealthy.
Thanks for reading!
Reblogged this on Twilight and Fire and commented:
An excellent, well-written and thoughtful post about why “Pagan” might actually be more important as a label to unite rather than divide.
This is a beautiful, logical, inspiring statement of faith, frith, and solidarity. I applaud you, and hope that it ignites a better and more inclusive dialog. I’m frankly tired of all the schiesse-slinging and militaristic clap trap. well done.
Del, thank you for your kind words. I appreciate it.
I felt guilty because, like I said in my first post when I relaunched the blog, that I spent entirely too much time being vitriolically critical of things instead of focusing on constructive habits. I was so angry yesterday, that I allowed my rage to fuel my writing, instead of sitting things back.
This was my apology, and my attempt to be more constructive.
I’d love it to ignite a bigger dialogue. I had thought of sending around comments to various prominent sites about what they define as something “Fundamentally Pagan”, so we can get to the point of trying to set down some common terminology, but I’m not sure. As you are well aware, I’m sure, dealing with Pagans is much like herding cats.
Thank you for reading. I hope I continue to impress.
“An alliance of faiths”, I like that. It says conscious choice/ movement on our part whilst ‘umbrella’ is merely a descriptive phrasing.
I most definitely agree. I think it is getting to the point where Paganism isn’t applicable as a theological paradigm and, instead, a group of like faiths.
I think the time has long since passed where we need to make the decision about our language, the terminology we use, and what we need to do in regards to approaching the appearance of it. I think if we try to move past a theological focus to the term “Paganism” it could be more beneficial to a lot of people.
I have a lot to think about in this regard. It is very new territory to me.
Thank you for reading! Hope you stick around.
I will stick around for sure. I am writing my own (first) blog post about the aftermath of this latest controversy, and I am glad to see all sorts of pagan/polytheist writers try to rise above it. It is a shame really, there has been a lot of interesting point raised but most of it has been forgotten due to all the infighting.
Warning/apology in advance: this is going to be long and rambly and might not make the best sense, though be assured that none of the following was written/intended mean-spiritedly.
I agree with many of the points you’ve presented here. The legal issues being foremost among them.
At the same time . . . adopting more accurate and already-established labels that are far less-polarized I think would provide a good deal of benefit. “Henotheism” and “Omnitheism” and “Archetypalism” and so on don’t trigger the knee-jerk reactions among Western mainstream societies that “Pagan(ism)” does.
Even if we do end up staying with the “Pagan” moniker for the sake of public image, solidarity, and for legal reasons, it’s of vital importance that people within the overarching community understand that everything is not same. Obviously, whatever ends up happening in regard to who uses what labels, we all can and need to work together rationally and civilly both in terms of interfaith and intrafaith community, if any of us are to have our respective religions survive. Still, differences need to be understood and well-defined to reduce the amount of petty, uneducated verbal conflict. People need to know what Henotheism, Omnitheism, Archetypalism, Monism, Pandeism, Duotheism, etc. are, why everything is not “just a subset of Polytheism” and that you can’t just attach random prefixes and suffixes to “Polytheism” and have it be anything other than a totally confused oxymoron, and use the appropriate philosophical terms in their appropriate contexts. Most importantly, we need to focus on using appropriate definitions for these and other terms, rather than “which belief system is most correct” (though this does not preclude civil discussion of theory and practice across religions, so long as the people involved are mature enough to handle such a discussion).
I don’t really care whether Archetypalism is the right way to go or not — I’m a Polytheist, which is by its very definition “hard,” so that belief system doesn’t apply to me and is completely at odds with the foundational axiom of Polytheism: there is a Divine reality populated and effected by multiple, independent, literal Supreme Beings. I only care that people aren’t using the wrong terms and definitions for any given set of beliefs and practices, thereby misrepresenting them and causing rifts of outrage between/among entire communities as a result of not thinking and researching before presuming to write/speak with any sense of authority on the subject. Much in the same way that I care that no one is seriously perpetuating the idea that 2 + 2 = fish. “Fish” is not the correct definition of the equation “2 + 2 = “.
I’ve seen the same nonsense occur in the “Ivory Tower” before, and these kinds of inane pissing contests are being carried out within the “Pagan” community now with much, much less intelligence and tact than my peers and superiors demonstrated. When people learn to use standardized, clear language and widely accepted definitions for the terms of that language (since Philo/Theo are in fact sciences that are firmly hinged upon logic and reason, and we don’t just get to make up whatever we want to about them or the language those disciplines use), there will be less miscommunication and less fighting. Not “none whatsoever,” but less. And hopefully that miscommunication will be handled better, and the fighting that goes on will be more civil and intelligent, but I believe the level of my faith in humanity is too damn high. What I know for certain is that people resent being shoved into and limited to the same tiny box and not have their personal boundaries and personal preferences respected on a basic level. That is where the majority of the current hostility is stemming from, based on my own observations of the situation.
And of course, none of this touches upon the fact that the “culture” of a religion does not denote a specific theological structure or any single interpretation: i.e., “Kemetic” does not equal “Polytheist.” There are Henotheist Kemetics, Monolator-Kemetics, and Polytheist Kemetics, both historically speaking and currently, and many of them are pretty cooperative in a Modern interfaith setting. We need to be conscious of and respect these things, and not stuff everything into the same box. That’s when the fur starts flying, when we stuff everything into the same box.
It’s easier to stuff all Christian sects into the “Christian” box, since these sects have a common origin and many of them (not all) share some manner of common culture and a common object of cult/worship, not to mention they’ve since done all their major sectarian fighting during the Medieval and Early Modern Periods. Not even remotely all Henotheisms, Polytheisms, Monolatries, etc. have a common origin whatsoever, much less common belief structures, common objects of cult/worship, or a common culture.
Firstly, never apologize for ranting or going off on a tangent. I truly do not mind, at all, and I enjoy picking at your brain.
Secondly, I agree with you wholeheartedly that there needs to be a more concerted effort by people to understand the terms that they use. I’m very much in the same boat with that statement. I’ve done some skirting around of various historical approaches to theology and philosophy, but it has never been anything concrete. Nor has it been anything that I have attempted to study at length, because I’m terrible at working around such theoretical concepts. I should really try to work through some of these resources, for my own edification. If you have any you can recommend, let me know.
I also think the current hostility is rooted in one ideological school trying to assert themselves over another. It reeked of post-modernist reductionism and 19th century humanism trying to “science away” theology, theism, and traditional religiosity. And trying to ideologically force other people into a mode of thinking that they aren’t happy with, at all.
I don’t know what it is about the whole “Pagan community” where they feel that they don’t need to do extra work, ever, in order to do their jobs better. It has to be part of the larger “Education = elitism and entitlement” thing, or something. I read a statement by a former big name member of the community where they don’t want to have to take the role of counselor or therapist to people who were approaching them with religious issues. And to me, that was ridiculously narrow-minded, especially as someone who tried to help people that came to them. Anyone in a priestly position should have counseling training, in my opinion. If not be certified in a traditional sense, as well. But that’s a whole different mess.
I think in this instance we have to make a definitive attempt to not classify Paganism as a theological paradigm but (as I said) an alliance of similar religions focused around fundamental sureties. I think that the term Pagan is big enough for Polytheists and nontheist naturalists alike. If only WE let it be. I’m not sure what we can do to change that, or if the toothpaste is out of the tube for good as it were.
But I do know that trying to force Pagan religiosity where NONE has existed EVER is not the way to go, and I think is probably what has gotten us into this situation. It has always been an implied Celto-Wiccan. Show me a non-Recon “Pagan” practice that isn’t Wiccan in origin, or something along those lines. I don’t think there is one.
So why do we argue about what school is “More Pagan” than another, when there’s no measure by which we can judge “Pagan-ness”? THAT is what I want to deal with, not so much the undereducation and underappreciation of theological sciences, although if we can handle both at the same time, then let’s do it.
I’m not sure. We’re so damned decentralized because we want to be SO inclusive that we’re a mess. I don’t blame Polytheist Recon groups for wanting to do away with their associations with the Pagan label, but I don’t agree with it.
Thanks so much for commenting. We need to talk more.
Reblogged this on facingthefireswithin and commented:
As someone with some knowledge of law (NOT an attorney) and organizations, the points raised here are valid and worth considering no matter where you fall in your beliefs. We are a very small sub group of the population and the differences we fight over are meaningless to most outsiders.
Great post (I wrote a much shorter piece on same topic with very similar viewpoint on my own blog last year … I noticed it was not a popular post, hehe); great blog too – just discovered it, have promoted it on my FB page (Roman Pagan).
Thank you! Looking forward to checking yours out as a Roman Pagan!
Also, yeah. I sort of went on a massive tangent. It just wouldn’t let me not until I was at 2100 something words. Which is disgusting, given how long it took me to write my Surtr article. I guess that’s the thing about controversy. It’s a lot easier to formulate opinions about. Ha.
Reblogged this on Spirit of the Northern Dreams and commented:
An astoundingly well worded piece on why unity and decency among the many, many, MANY pagan groups. We don’t all need the same beliefs and the same leaders to get along, but even for someone as disinterested in the Pagan community as I am, I can already start seeing signs of stress that might tear it apart completely, and I’ve no stomach for that; the world needs the pagan movement, but the pagan movement also needs the world, if you catch my drift.
The article is lengthy, but entirely worth setting time aside for it.
Reblogged this on Miaerowyn, The Forest Witch.
Agreed, that’s why I stick with Pagan as well. The Gods haven’t as yet given me a reason to use another term for my faith and Pagan works well for me. Blessings to you from one Pagan to another :).
Thank you so very much for writing this. It is sorely needed. I’m also sticking with “Pagan” for now, and for substantially the same reasons.