Ah, the on-going joys of defining “pagan”. I haven’t read all the recent commentary, but I have spent some time reading through linked blogs from The Wild Hunt on the topic.
There are those who focus on definitions. What is paganism? Who is included? Can we even reach a definition?
Peter Dybing warns of the dangers of sliding back into the Witch Wars of yesteryear.
Much of the commentary seems to focus on the importance of being inclusive in our community. Or in other words, for the love of any god, please don’t turn this discussion into another reason to fight amongst ourselves because when we do that, none of us win.
The debate over the meaning of pagan is not a new one and not surprising. We’re using a single word to try and capture western magical traditions as well as religious and spiritual practices that are largely (though not exclusively) European based (whether inspired or reconstructed, I do not care). And then, that poor little word, has to take on all “earth-based” religions (though thankfully they’re pretty much already included in my list) PLUS anyone who doesn’t identify with a specific practice in the above but feels comfortable in the pagan grouping. It only has five letters, that poor little word.
It’s a very flexible word, letting us bend it however we wish, but somedays it and we feel the strain.
So why the big flare up of this old discussion? Because there’s a group that we would normally assume would be with us under the pagan umbrella who don’t see themselves that way. Drew Jacob explains there why he and those in his Temple don’t consider themselves pagan.
I wonder if the upsurge in commentary is based upon fear? Fear that if every group and individual who sees their practice as something separate and distinct from the idea of ‘pagan’ were to leave there would be no pagan community left. Which is a fair concern given that probably 98% of the pagan community are not ‘practicing pagans’. Hel, what would a practicing pagan even be? They usually, in my experience, are the earth worshipping casual practitioners-of-nothing-in-particular. There’s not many of them, but they are usually nice people. Most of us define ourselves in a particular faith (Druid, Asatru, Heathen, Wiccan, Thelemite, a unique label that works for us that no one else understands, etc, etc, etc) based on what we do and believe, but accept the pagan label for outside convenience and for inner community.
By agreeing that pagan is a label we can apply to all of us gives us the perfect excuse to spend time, learning and celebration with relatively like-minded individuals.
Take that away and it becomes harder to sit around that communal fire with each other that T Thorn Coyle mentions on the Wild Hunt blog.
For me personally, I will not force Drew Jacob’s group to be part of paganism. That’s their choice. However, his arguments for why they are not pagan did not persuade me. One argument was that their method of practice was not well understood or comfortable for the pagans who took part in it; all you have to do is watch any relatively homogenous pagan group attend an event thrown by a different type of practicing pagan group and you’ll see the same thing. We all get a little discomfited when we experience something that is new and different. This does not make the new experience not-pagan, just not-familiar.
He also lists a number of specifics that his group does not do that he sees as typically pagan (though he also says that list is but a sampling). To which I say, try working around Thelemites and Hermetics and those notions of four elements, 8 sabbats, working in circles get a sound thrashing. Not in a ‘they are bad’ way, but in a ‘we don’t do that’ way. ADF druidry doesn’t do circles either and they only reason we stood around in that shape was due to the convenience of speaking and seeing each other.
In other words, pagan is a broad descriptive bucket term. And just as any material in a bucket is not the bucket itself, we don’t practice ‘paganism’, we all practice different things that can be, conveniently or not, shoved into the very accommodating bucket of pagan.
The more I type, the more I believe that this reaction from the pagan community arises from a subtle feeling of being threatened. And the urge to bond closer together is a natural and healthy response to that.
In the end, one group wanting to disassociate themselves from the pagan bucket will make no difference to the rest of us. The attempt to define ‘pagan’ will continue like waves of the tide. And we will get together when and where we can to celebrate life.
It is our actions that define us and how others see us. And my next action is to get a cup of tea. Tense moments always go down better with tea.