Can You Define This?

I think I’m having issues with definitions.

For example, who is a Wiccan?

From my understanding of the matter, you can’t call yourself Wiccan unless you’re formally initiated into a Wiccan tradition. You can say, well, I practice Wicca, but you can’t actually be Wiccan unless formally initiated.

All through my eclectic years, and now in my Wiccan ones, this is how I’ve always understood the issue. So when I run into someone who claims to be Wiccan and I ask them what tradition they practice and they get upset with me, I remain confused. I’m not trying to be snobby at all by saying that to be Wiccan you need to be initiated. I know there are those out there who like to use initiation as a form of validation of their faith or to claim some sort of mystical power; I’m not one of them.

This was always how Wicca was defined to me by other Pagans. It took me a long time to decide that I wanted to be initiated and the decision was based on factors that had nothing to do with some sort of validation of my faith or power. Gardner clearly states that one must be initiated, and I think that for the most part, even if you aren’t practicing Gardnerian Wicca, Gardner still has the final say on the matter (as nutty as the man might have been). He was, after all, the first Witch to ever write about Witchcraft from the inside, and all Wiccan traditions are in some part based on his writings. There are a lot of Pagan traditions; why claim to be Wiccan if you don’t want to be initiated and have this specific experience? Be eclectic and do your own thing. I did for a long time, and I was perfectly happy.

This isn’t the only definition I’m having problems with.

Even just defining Pagan is an issue. Which in some ways is part of the point. Those of us who call ourselves Pagan are in many ways claiming our own authority in how we define ourselves. But I think that when we are trying to discuss “Pagan” issues, one should at least have a basic understanding of what that means so as to have an actual discussion. I think my significant other and I have a lot of issues with the fact that he’s usually arguing with an initiation based tradition in mind and I’m still arguing with eclectics in mind. (Hey, I’m still new at this whole BTW thing…)

I think even the dictionary is somewhat confused…or maybe not confused, but too overwhelmed to have a good solid definition of what Pagan is:

pa·gan

noun \ˈpā-gən\

Definition of PAGAN

1
: heathen 1; especially : a follower of a polytheistic religion (as in ancient Rome)
2
: one who has little or no religion and who delights in sensual pleasures and material goods : an irreligious or hedonistic person
3
pagan adjective
pa·gan·ish adjective

neo–pa·gan

noun \-ˈpā-gən\

: a person who practices a contemporary form of paganism (as Wicca)
neo–pagan adjective
neo–pa·gan·ism \-ˈpā-gə-ˌni-zəm\ noun
(From Merriam-Webster Online)
Well, that certainly didn’t clear anything up.

I was recently having a conversation with someone who said to me “‘The pagan community’ as a whole does not represent my interests either religiously, as a black woman, as a woman living in a ‘traditional’ gender roles marriage, as a theurgist,, or as an amateur philosopher/classicist with Aristotelian leanings. In all, the ‘community’ doesn’t really provide anything for me beyond having a place to potentially find people I CAN connect with.” If the community as a whole doesn’t represent you, why do you still define yourself by that community? Is it worth trying to fit into a larger community if all you’re there for is finding someone else who might not fit in the way you do? (This conversation by the way was about the issue of pagan women veiling for ‘modesty’, which I completely reject as a monotheistic, male-influenced oppression of women that doesn’t fit with any of the larger ideals of the Pagan community. “And ye shall be free from slavery; and as a sign that ye are really free, ye shall be naked in your rites; and ye shall dance, sing, feast, make music and love, all in my praise. For mine is the ecstasy of the spirit and mine also is joy on earth; for my Law is Love unto all Beings.” This does not strike me to have much to do with society’s overwhelming sense of ‘modesty’. Anyway, back to the subject at hand…)

The overall “community” of Pagans generally reject authority and are so stuck on avoiding it, that they avoid the very definitions of what Pagan means. In their attempts to reject authority, many people seem to become “Pagan” with no interest in or regard for the very definitions of Paganism. This does not make us a community; it makes us a group of people who reject community.

I guess what I’m posing is this: Why claim to be something you’re really not? Why not define yourself as something you are?

Addendum:

After I wrote this, I read this blog, ARADIA and the Revival of Modern Witchcraft, which has some thoughts on Wicca and the fact that “Paganism is a religion without a hermeneutical tradition”. I thought her thoughts on the article from Pomegranate were relevant to this discussion if anyone is interested in further reading.

Advertisements

Pagan Women and the Wishy-Washy

The first time I met a particular friend of my S O, she declared that she liked me immediately because I was a Pagan woman with a job.

This confused me.

While I grew up with a very traditional Christian father and a mother who had converted for my father’s sake, I was extremely lucky that both of my parents also taught me to think for myself; to seek, to question, to form my own opinions and most importantly, to read. I grew up in a solidly middle class white collar family in a medium sized industrial town in central Ohio. There was never any doubt in my mind that I would graduate from high school, go to college and then get a job and support myself. My parents raised me to take care of myself. Through anything else that occurred in my life, I knew I would work and support myself. Becoming Pagan didn’t change any of this. I didn’t know that it was supposed to.

Most of my friends are the same way. Even though some don’t hold the traditional nine-to-five sort of job that I do, they work hard to do what they love and to support themselves and their loved ones. In my group, I am very lucky to be surrounded by extremely strong women who support not only themselves, but often their families. Ohio is not a good place for jobs right now and our women have kept everyone afloat for a long time. Pirate women weather the storms of life with feet firmly planted and shoulders braced against the wind.

One of the things that originally attracted me to Paganism was its characteristic of empowering the female, seeing the feminine in the divine and in most cases, balance between the sexes. I hated how the women in the Christian communities that I grew up around had no influence on their own lives or their families’. And it infuriated me even more that they refused to claim power for themselves. I had several moments in my own family settings where I was expected to be in the kitchen preparing dinner, taking care of the children, and then cleaning up, while the men didn’t feel the need to help at all, just because they were men. Where is the fairness in that? All the women in my family work just as hard as the men, but the kitchen is a woman’s place in the Christian household, and women obviously don’t deserve time to sit down and rest. Almost all of the women that I know in the Pagan community are well aware of their power and have equal decision making roles in their family life. Our men celebrate our power. My S O loves me for the determined woman that I am.

How then, do the women in our community have this reputation for either not working or not being able to take care of themselves?

I won’t argue that as a whole, the Pagan community can be very flaky. But all of the Pagan women I know are extremely capable people and for the most part, much more mentally healthy and stable compared to many of my non-pagan friends. I’ve noticed many more instances of abusive relationships, an inability to stand up for themselves and an inability to live without a boyfriend in my friends who are not pagan. I’ve always felt that making sure that womanhood is sacred in my life has enabled me to embrace my feminine power and all of the authority that comes with being a woman. I don’t need someone else to take care of me, I am a strong individual. I can do whatever I put my mind to.

While I am lucky to have a very supportive partner, I know that if he wasn’t there, I could still make it (not that I would ever want to!).

So again, why do our women have this reputation? Don’t we have an obligation to be all that our goddesses demand of us? If you look at most our sacred myths, the women have to make very hard decisions. When Persephone disappeared, Demeter nearly destroyed the world to get her back. And in the end, Persephone made her own decision in regards to herself (anyone that tells you Persephone ate those seeds without realizing what she was doing, doesn’t understand mythology). Whether you simply worship the God and the Goddess or worship individual deities, I feel that the Goddess, in whatever form she takes, demands that we take responsibility for our lives.”Follow your highest ideal; strive ever toward it.”

The current political trend in regards to women’s rights infuriates me. Our lawmakers have obviously forgotten that this is not a Christian country. How dare they instill their morals on me and mine. My body is mine. The decisions regarding my body are only mine. My sex life is just as valid as any man’s, whether it be for procreation or recreation. If you don’t believe in abortion, don’t get one, but don’t go out of your way to try and shame the women who do make that decision.

Even if abortion and birth control are legally banned, I know exactly what I can get down at the local herb shop, which is another amazing thing about the women of the Pagan community. We have not only the ability to decide for ourselves what to do with our bodies, we have the knowledge to do it without the help of mainstream medicine and without someone we don’t know “giving us permission to do it”. Our wise women, herb wives and hedge witches have carried this knowledge through the generations for centuries.

So where does our reputation for being unempowered come from?

Oh—And the friend who had decided to instantly like me because I was a pagan woman with a job, later ended up hating me because of it. She couldn’t stand that I had boundaries that I was willing to stand up for. If there is a real need, I will give you everything. If you’re being lazy and just don’t want to get off your ass and do something for yourself…well, I have very little patience for that. I don’t see being a Pagan as an excuse to not take care of yourself. In fact, I think that you have an obligation to take care of yourself to the best of your ability, if only to keep your covenant with whatever gods you worship.

I think that more of our women need to stop and say “look at all the amazing things that I do!” and “look at what I do for my family, my community and my gods!”. We need to get rid of this overwhelming blanket belief that Pagan women aren’t capable of and willing to put in the same hard work as the men. Why are we letting the majority, the monotheistic world, spread their misogyny into our community?

Pagan women are amazing people. I would not be the person I am without the Pagan women in my life. Take the time to stop and tell the Pagan women in your life how wonderful they are and thank them for all that they do. Maybe if more of our women know and believe this, it will be easier to undo the self-sabotaging notions that have crept from the outside world into our community.

Nothing to Regret

I came across Star Foster’s blog Choosing Paganism and Processing Regret tonight. I occasionally read Star Foster when she pops up through other blogs (like The Wild Hunt). I have mixed feelings on her writings and have heard mixed reviews of some of her approaches to discussion.

This particular blog really disappointed me. Star Foster is a pretty widely read voice in the pagan community and thus, has a far reaching audience. The blog addresses having regret about her path to paganism. She points out that many good things have come into her life because of it, but she also looks back on all the easy things in life that she’s missing out on. She says, “For all the benefits of being Pagan, I can’t help but be aware that it has limited my life, made it more difficult and left me more isolated than I would have been otherwise.”

She comes to the conclusion “I think I should be able to have my dreams and my religion as well. I don’t know how to do that today, but I’m thinking hard about it. I don’t want the next decade to be full of the same compromises and sacrifices that filled the last decade of my life”. She ends with a request that others use her forum to speak about what they have given up by choosing to be pagan.

When I first read this, I expected her to end with the line of thought that for all that she’s given up, the things she’s gained outweigh what she has sacrificed. There are certainly difficult things about being pagan: we all deal with closed-minded people who are afraid of what they think pagans are, with bigoted co-workers, and with legal issues. But overall, I found the tone of this particular blog to be very defeatist.

Being a pagan is extremely empowering for me. I don’t see any limitations on being a “pagan woman”. Having faith in what I believe in allows me to have a much more confidence in myself, which is probably a goal of any religious path. Being pagan allows me to follow my dreams even more actively than I did before I found this path. I don’t allow my paganism to be a limitation. I don’t let those closed-minded people dictate how I’m going to live my life. I honor my Gods and my path by the way I live my life. My paganism is my strength.

I found a large community and many close friends through paganism. For all that I like to complain about the coven, part of being in a coven is having a family. This particular coven hasn’t quite coalesced yet, but we’re working on it. And my first Pagan contact, my pirates, are definitely my family and always will be. They picked me up during a hard time in my life and got me through it.

I’m upset that a widely-read voice in our community is expressing such open regret about this path. These are the sort of people we expect to help the rest of us stand up to the bigots and to those that would deny us the individual rights we enjoy in our religious practice.

Earlier, I was thinking that I would write some of my thoughts on the current women’s rights issues that are under discussion and how conservative Christian America is doing it’s best to ignore alternate view-points of non-conservatives in this country. But Foster’s rant sidetracked me. In the face of conservative pressure, we need our community leaders to be even more outspoken than before. We need them to be loud and clear about how they are proud to be different and to be accepted in America. We need them to be willing to fight and counteract the voices of those who would stand against us.

“Oh Common’! You’re being too hard on someone who’s clearly said that they’re having a rough night!”

Yeah, yeah, I hear ya…but when you’re someone like Star Foster, you don’t always get the luxury of having that weak public moment. Star Foster has a platform that can reach a wide audience. Is there some pagan teenager out there who’s struggling with being pagan who’s going to read this and give up? She talks about turning 30 and being depressed about it. Maybe that’s all it is. I don’t read enough of Star Foster’s blog to know if this is a re-occuring theme or not. But after reading this, I have to wonder why she’s been so actively involved in paganism. When I went to look her up, it says that she’s even founded her own tradition. Does she regret that? Was that a mistake? Did it mean anything to her in the long run?

I didn’t mean to have this blog be so critical of someone else, but I think it demonstrates the great need that our community has for positive, strong voices. We already have enough people out there who are willing to stand against us and take away our right to our community. We’ve already suffered through hundreds of years of hatred. We finally live in an age where we can openly be witches and magic users and have different religions than that of the majority. We need to take advantage of our ability to speak out publicly on behalf of the amazing community that ours is. We should use our community to tackle the hard path and defeat it. And we should allow our community to lift us up so that we can do great things.

I have no regrets about being pagan. Being pagan is not for everyone, and I’m sure that most people come to a point in their life where they question their major life decisions. But I sincerely hope that I’m never at that point where I second guess something that I’ve so actively sought and cherished. I’m sorry that Star Foster is regretting her life choices, but if you don’t want to be here, why are you staying?

Witches drink coffee too…

We’re going to take a short break from The Mabinogion, but don’t worry! There’s much more of that to come!

So the Significant Other has been approached by someone doing a documentary on “Witches”. They seem extremely eager to get as much information from us as possible about our daily lives. Apparently they want to show that “Witches” are normal people. I guess the S.O. has been talking to this lady for a while, but the first time I heard about it was when he came bouncing home from a long day in the Quarter and excitedly told me that we had to film a two minute film clip for some stranger in New York about what we do on a daily basis.

Excuse me? Where did this come from? “OH! Haven’t I told you all about this, Honey?”. (This is what one gets when one lives with an excitable musician and author, who thinks absolutely nothing about the value of your home privacy…)

While I didn’t mind doing it, it took me aback to think about needing to explain that I live a normal life.

We live in New Orleans, which as most people can probably imagine, is not really your normal city, both magically and socially. We’re all a little crazy down here; costumes are the everyday mode of dress, celebration for anything and everything is expected, and the occult is considered fairly normal. A fair number of  people here practice Voodoo and Santeria openly, and while the city is largely Catholic, most people don’t see any problem mixing Voodoo and Catholicism together. Voodoo altars and shrines are pretty commonplace everywhere; you see them in peoples’ yards, in their homes, and on the street.

When I first came to New Orleans, I expected to be done in by whatever psychic scars Katrina had left behind. I am particularly sensitive to death. I was, and still am, amazed that while death is always very present here, it is not bothersome. The people of the city live with death and never seem hampered by it. If you’ve ever come down and experienced Mardi Gras (A good friend of mine wrote in a recent Blog, “Mardi Gras is something that happens for the locals that tourists seem to think happens for them.”), you’ll understand. There is an intense expectation and feeling from almost everyone who lives here, even six years later, that New Orleans is going to dust herself off from that awful experience and be even bigger and better than before.

Living in a city like this often makes me forget about the fact that I really don’t live a normal life. In my “normal” life, or as close as I come to one, I manage a library acquisitions department (if you want to hear about those adventures, go here), but I’ve been openly pagan/bohemian for practically forever. I live my life for myself. I’m not one of those pagans who goes to one festival a year and for a week can “actually be themselves”. I know a lot of these sorts of pagans and while I’m happy that they can do that, I cannot imagine myself living that sort of life. I hang out with pirates and traveling kids, I know gypsies and vampires, the world, to me, is a magical, wonderful sort of place. My fantasy life is my real life and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Do I stand around stirring cauldrons all day, whispering incantations involving dragon’s blood or eye of newt? No. A former boss, at one point, a very sweet lady from Kansas, asked me in a worried voice (because she didn’t want to offend me) if my pentacle necklace meant that I worship the devil (I tend to get that a lot…). I’ve found, that in general, most of the “normal” people that I deal with on a daily basis are only curious about my paganism and what they see as a strange life. It’s not that I go to work and rub being pagan in people’s faces, I wouldn’t find that appropriate for myself and I resent others who do that with their religion, but I do wear my pentacle openly and have god and goddess symbols around my desk. I think that for the most part, my employees enjoy the fact that they have a witch for a boss…don’t mess with acquisitions! The boss will get you! In New Orleans, being a “witch” is not unusual. I appreciate the good humor with which my coworkers treat me.

But I come from Ohio and there, it is definitely something people fear. While I practiced as openly out there as I do here, there was much less discussion about who I am and what I do. I only discuss these things with people who respectfully ask. I think my parents were always worried that I was going to offend the wrong person and get beaten for it in public. I guess that for the most part I’m spoiled, I get to live in an amazing city that accepts the fact that I am not mainstream. My city wouldn’t want it any other way. In fact, down here, if you aren’t a little strange, we don’t like you.

So what is a normal day for me?

I get up at 6:30 (way too early if you ask me), I shower, find something work appropriate to wear (even if it does get me comments about how I’m looking more witchy than usual that day…) and I walk to work. At work, I read through my email, deal with vendors, crazy bibliographers and Machiavellian staff, go to the coffee shop to get my daily dose of caffeine and a cinnamon roll, have meetings with my boss, meetings with other library people, deal with time sheets, make phone calls, send faxes and generally manage an office. I get off work at four, I go back home and snoogle up with my sweetie as he finishes off whatever he’s working on during the day. We eat dinner and at some point in the evening spend some time with another coven member who just moved here from Los Angeles. We like bad TV shows like “Burn Notice”, “Bones”, “Supernatural”, “Law and Order” and watch lots of movies (right now, my SO seems stuck in the 60s and we have been watching things like “Blow Up” and the Beatles’ movies “A Hard Day’s Night” and “Help!”). See?! Witches are people too!!!

Really the only different thing about my life compared to anyone else’s is that we do things like go to The Country Club, which is a local country club/gay bar that offers a pleasant area for clothing optional swimming, hot tubbing and saunaing. We talk a lot about mythology and Kabbalah. The Tarot is a pretty standard nightly occurrence and discussion as well. We do rituals, usually on a weekly basis, with the rest of the coven for whatever phase of the moon we’re in. We talk to our gods and openly celebrate them in our home. I have fairies that live in my studio (totally the S. O. ‘s fault). Magic is real and wearing corsets and jingly belts is standard. While a lot of this is serious, all of it is fun and I love waking up each day knowing that I’m going to get to do it. Who WOULDN’T want to live a witchy life? I’m completely baffled.

Would I try to live the life my parents wanted for me? Middle class, white collar, Christian, married with 2.5 children and a white fence? Never in a million years. It was only in finding paganism that I really found my actual self and I would never give that up. So let the camera crews come and document my “normal” life. This is what they’ll find: a NOLA chick Owl Pirate Pagan in an academia world… pretty standard stuff. Right?