Paganism 101

Firelyte from Inciting a Riot made a facebook post that inspired this train wreck of a thought. ¬†ūüėÄ ¬†Though to be fair, it really had nothing to do with what I’m planning to talk about.

What he said that got me thinking (and we know how hard that is!) were the words “paganism” and “101” in a related sentence.

And I end up thinking “is it possible to have a Paganism 101 book?”

I don’t think it is.

We have Wicca 101s and Heathenism 101s and it certainly wouldn’t surprise me to see Druirdry 101s and there are tarot 101s and rune 101s and herbalism 101s. ¬†Or in other words, there are intro books to all kinds of topics that are of interest to pagans.

And oh gods, I’m going to do it. ¬†I can’t believe it, but I am going down the road that all sane pagans should avoid: ¬†defining paganism.

My gods, there are almost as many definitions of paganism as there are paths within it. ¬†With nuances and blatant differences, arguments and bickering. ¬†It’s a point that pushes us away from each other rather than drawing us together (funny, isn’t it? given that it is a community term?). ¬†But I’m going there any way.

This is my opinion. ¬†It is endorsed by no one by me. ¬†YOUR WORLDVIEW MAY VARY. ¬†And that’s perfectly grand and fine. ¬†However, if you end up agreeing with me, I can’t help but think that’s a little grander and finer, but then, we’re all egotists at heart.

My definition is born out of what I witness as being included by those within and without the practices that get lumped under that poor maligned umbrella.

There are two components:  magical practice and spirituality.

Only one is required for falling under the pagan umbrella. ¬†Yes, I am saying that you do not have to be spiritual to be pagan. ¬†You also don’t have to be a tree-hugger. ¬†Neither do you have to believe in magic.

Magical practices that tend to get lumped into paganism: ¬†hermeticism, occasionally alchemy, thelema (yes, that’s the Crowley stuff), hoodoo (though this one is frequently debated), witchcraft as craft, not religion.

Spiritual practices that tend to get lumped into paganism:  wicca, druidry, heathenism, voodoo (sometimes but debated), goddess-worship, reconstructionist religions (particularly of Europe)

Some magical practices have a spiritual component.

Some spiritual practices have a magical component.

Any and all of these get lumped as paganism. ¬†It’s no wonder that my paganism isn’t like anyone else’s. ¬†And neither is yours.

Stage 2 of my definition of paganism.  How a person is identified.  You can be a) self-identified or b) identified by others.

We generally allow for self-identification of paganism…and not. ¬†But you know what? ¬†That’s only half the battle for me. ¬†If you self-identify as pagan but your behaviour is that of a muslim, I will disagree with your self-assessment and do not consider you pagan. ¬†If you do not self-identify as pagan but your spiritual practice revolves around goddess-worship, nature-worship and seasonal celebrations, well, then, you can deny it as much as you like but I’m still going to view you as pagan.

Not that I discount the self-identification. ¬†But frankly, it alone doesn’t do it for me.

Now coming back for a moment to the spiritual component, obviously it is more complicated than just a simple list.  How do we decide which spiritual practices count as pagan?  Well, if they are european reconstructions or descendents, excluding Christianity, we tend to include them.  If they are nature-based, we tend to include them.  If they have goddess worship (but not Mary), then we tend to include them.

If a practice has a strong connection to one of the “big” religions, then it ain’t paganism. ¬†But still, it’s not like we’re everything that’s left over. ¬†Some people like to include First Nations practices in paganism. ¬†I personally consider paganism to be a european creation, but I’m willing to negotiate on this one. ¬†And that, my dears, is the fun part of paganism.

It is a communal fictional dream.

There is no one practice that constitutes paganism. ¬†You can’t even say that a magical component is required because it isn’t! ¬†You can goddess worship and nature worship and old god worship without ever touching magic. ¬†Yes, many of the spiritual practices under the label do have a magical component but that’s cuz we like to have a combined world rather than a segregated one. ¬†But when you look at what we include under the umbrella, it is most definitely NOT an AND situation. ¬†It’s an either/or/and situation.

So given all this, how could there possibly be a Paganism 101 book?

To have an intro book on how to do something, there has to be a single, DEFINABLE practice that is done. ¬†All of the 101s I listed above are definable and separable from the topic herd. ¬†Paganism is its own topic herd. ¬†You’d have to cover a dozen different items in a Paganism 101 book and even then, none of them would have to be included and you wouldn’t cover every possible pagan contingency.

None of them would have to be included. ¬†Doesn’t that say it all?

I can’t think of a single requirement that applies to all groups that can be considered pagan. ¬†Not one. ¬†Okay, not one that can’t also be applied to any other major religion.

There is not a unique identifier to paganism. ¬†Not one thing you can point at and go, absolutely, ALL pagans have that. ¬†There are things that you can point to and will think ‘well, hell, ya, that’s pagan all right.’ but nothing that applies to everybody.

I’ve been in pagan groups with the hermetic, the thelemite, the druid and the wiccan, and the self-identified pagan who adheres to no particular path (but who embraces some of the components listed above).

Oh, those pesky “i’m pagan” people. ¬†They make it extra tricky. ¬†They’re not in one of the handy dandy defined categories listed above. ¬†They’re comfortable as being just pagan. ¬†Their spiritual practice may be earth-based, it may be goddess-based, it may not be. ¬†But you watch them in their behaviour and you’ll either agree with their statement or not. ¬†If you do, well they self-identified and you agree, ergo they’re pagan. ¬†If they do, and you don’t, well they may not be. ¬†They may be inappropriately using the label. ¬†It does happen.

So given all this, do you think it’s possible to do a Paganism 101?

If it is, what would it look like?

Honour the seasons? ¬†Hugs some trees (I don’t mean it in a derogatory way, I’m just enjoying saying it…now I want to go and hug a tree, either oak or willow I’m thinking)? ¬†And don’t forget that if you’re interested, there’s this magical thing that’s possible to?

So, again, no, I don’t think it is possible to have a Paganism 101.

HOWEVER, none of this means that I don’t believe in the pagan label. ¬†I do. ¬†It unites us with people who also seek to elevate themselves, who celebrate the same things we do (mostly), with people who make the best conversations. ¬†By banding together in a larger group we become a greater force.

And by allowing such fabulous diversity amongst our ‘bigger’ group, we help to keep ourselves open minded and flexible. ¬†And that is a recipe for health in my book.

And with that, my beloved crazies, I have reached the end of this ranting tale.  Til next time, live strong!

~Abysmal Witch

A Pagan Tempest…Let’s Go Have Tea

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.