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.

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6 thoughts on “Can You Define This?

  1. nanlt says:

    Sometimes, the only way to figure out who and what you are, is by first figuring out what you are not.

  2. bluestarowl says:

    And I totally agree with that, I think the greater difficulty that I’m having with all of this is, if you start a path of study (and we’ll use Blue Star as an example) and as you begin studying Blue Star there are certain basic precepts that you don’t agree with, why do you stay with Blue Star? You yourself said that you started out with Blue Star, obviously something didn’t line up with what you wanted/how you saw things and you moved on to something that suits you better, which is how it should be. There are several basics precepts that seem to be a continual matter of contention between the elders and some of our newer initiates, but why join a tradition that you don’t agree with. I’m also having issues with the fact that Blue Star is extremely lucky in that it has many elders still alive and available, but everyone ignores them. I’m still trying to process through all of my thoughts on this, this was an extremely hard post to get out and I’m worried it came out to clunky and in some regards angry. The comment on the discussion from your post was a slightly easier and tangible idea to comment on, though I applaud her ability to define herself as what she is. In the end, the only way to figure it out is to actually do it, I guess my bigger issue is with those who get into it, but can’t make the healthy decision to find what suits them better when that doesn’t work. (If any of that made any sense at all?)

  3. roninwade says:

    Ehh… I have been at this since I was 14 and used to get hung up on terms and words and such. “Pagan” as a word is a pretty wide umbrella including every faith that isn’t judeo-christian. There is more to it but that’s the short of it.

    Wicca on the other hand is a core belief structure that has slowly evolved. If your looking for a definition by the source, your not going to find it because it has changed. Wicca may have been birthed to the public by Gardner but he is not the defining source for the practice en mass.

    You absolutely can be solitary and a practitioner of Wicca. However not so much the case If you claim a tradition because then it’s like saying you belong to a fraternity. They come with their own nuances and styles of practice as well a initiations. Two people from the same tradition have a connection and a certain inherent camaraderie because both will have gone through the same sort of trials and spiritual experiences. With that in mind, when I meet a self-proclaimed Wiccan I ask how they came on the path and if they adhere to a tradition.

    In summing your beliefs into one word It is important to know your crowd. Words being “commonly” understood symbols of larger constructs, I have found that people understand “pagan”, “heathen”, “witch” and “wiccan” very differently.

    Take “heathen” for example. To a wiccan, that’s just someone who works the land. One who tends to the hearth. Common folk. The pagan working class and proud of it. And to the elite it used to be slang for commoner or possibly our equal to “red neck”. But more recently, to others “heathen” means godless sex addict. To different people there are some very different perspectives on the same words so I choose them carefully when someone I don’t really know asks casually.

    So that said, while my practices are very wiccanized, with a druidic trained background and an affinity for kemetic deities, I will generally describe myself as neo-pagan or on a narrower scale Druid. On occasion with people in-the-know I will use “wiccan” and with so much blending between those terms, I don’t feel I am miss representing myself at all and more importantly, I am clearly communicating my general beliefs and practices.

    ~Rev. Wade

  4. This has been a LOOONGGGG standing bone of contention between those who belong to the traditions that originally coined the term Wiccan in the modern framework and the people who through reading popular neo-pagan literature seized the term to self-identify. My personal take on this is that when it comes down to brass tacks it really doesn’t matter that much. Is Blue Star Wiccan? some say yes, some no, some say that only part of Blue Star is Wiccan. I respect those who hold to the belief that to be Wiccan you must be part of the lineaged coven descending from the New Forest in England. I also admit that I’m not very pushed when someone who’s just read Starhawk self-identifies as Wiccan because what they read resonated with them. What’s not ok is if someone suddenly claimed to be a 3rd Degree teaching SummerOak style Blue Star and they’re mis-representing themselves. I’m completely fine with the label neo-pagan; within my tradition I have other labels that are appropriate in that particular context.

    As an aside I’ve never met a God or Goddess who was at all interested in labels, it’s a human thing I think and they put up with it for our sakes 🙂

    • bluestarowl says:

      I think what upsets me more are those people who refuse to go out and actually learn about what they’re doing. I was eclectic for years and very happy that way. but even as an eclectic I found people to teach me and read and searched on my own. I just keep running into people who aren’t willing to go out and actually think about what they’re doing. If you want to sit and argue with me that you’re Wiccan, even if you aren’t part of a lineage based tradition, but you know your stuff, fine. We may argue over what we both believe, but who cares. You’re right, we’re people and at the end of the day, its our spiritual intentions that matter the most. But what happens when those spiritual intentions are completely ignored because of what someone thinks Paganism is because they aren’t willing to do more than pick up the first witchcraft book they find and think a little?

      • What annoys the snot out of me is when people are wilfully ignorant. I’m usually up for a good discussion where both parties present their viewpoints and then agree to differ but the attitude you get sometimes is a kind of “you’re not the boss of me” thing where they stomp their little foot and accuse you of being a big bad meanie elitist snob who’s trying to oppress them like the evil Christians do. To be honest I don’t read a lot of on line pagan lists any more because it does get a bit old doesn’t it 😉

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