My 2 Cents

So, like many of you plugged into the “Pagan Blogosphere”, I’ve been keeping my eyes on the Pagan-Polytheist Controversy of 2013. If you haven’t been, you can catch up with The Allergic Pagan’s blog post Your One-Stop-Shop for Pagan-Polytheist Controversy. (Be warned, it will take you more than a few minutes to read through it all and more than a few good dollops of patience, no matter which side of the argument that you fall on).

I thought I would take a second to chime in. (I blog, it’s sort of what I do).

Of course, I live with Kenny Klein, so I’ve been listening to his narration of the different points of view non-stop, sort of like a spectator at a very complicated, community wide tennis match all week. Yes…popcorn was involved.

Throughout the whole thing the main idea I’ve seen raging through all of it is “how dare you try to define me!”. And that isn’t new, I’ve noticed that a lot lately. In some ways, it’s intrinsic to this community.

I’ve also been saddened to see a lot of people throw out “Pagan doesn’t mean just Wicca!”. Seriously guys? Aren’t we past that yet? I’m Wiccan and when I tell you I’m Pagan, I am not telling you that I am Wiccan. And when you tell me that you’re Pagan, I’m not assuming you’re Wiccan. Usually I’m wondering what sort of interesting other flavor of Pagan you are. Yes, we all know that Pagan does just not mean Wiccan, get over it.

I think that we can all agree that the term “Pagan” is a pretty big Umbrella term and that’s fine. Where I get lost is when people are unwilling to define themselves as Pagan because they disagree with other peoples’ broad definition of the term. The gist of the argument is this: the broader the term becomes, the less meaning it actually carries.

Several people have pointed out that this is a stage that our community has to go through: the feared “bratty teenager” stage where we have to all run off shrieking about our own independence so that we can reach adulthood with a certain level of personal understanding. This, conventional wisdom says, will allow us to all become healthy adults.

Honestly, I think the whole thing can be summed up thusly:

In the end, if we want to be a community, we do have to define ourselves. Definition does not mean that we are turning into the organized religions that I think so many of us fled and fear. But if we want recognition and equality within the greater community, which so many of us are striving to do, we need to be able to tell that outside community, “Hi! This is who we are”. So many people are trying to define the word “Pagan” that no one knows what it means. This seems to be a sort of “Too many cooks in the kitchen” scenario.

And in the end, “Words are all we have to go on” and if we want our community to go anywhere, we need to come up with a few that all of us can agree on.

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.