Why I Stay A Pagan
I’m writing this to sort of counterbalance the vitriolic spat that I posted up before. I’m leaving it up but, after I’ve allowed my head to cool (I hate bullies), I’ve come to the realization that it sort of puts a pretty nasty view on my blog.
But I didn’t want to delete it, because it needed to be said. I had thought about it, but I stand by what I said. But I do want to say why I stick with the Pagan label, despite lacking my own local community.
But I think this most recent blow-up really highlights the fact that there is a reckoning coming – of sorts – in the community. No, nothing wholly immense or dangerous. Or that we’re going to get together and vote out people who focus on Ritual Aspect XYZ. But that the term Pagan is either too broad or too restricting for some people, and there might be another alternative needed.
One of the biggest things I lament about the Pagan “community” is that it factures as easily as it does. Raven Kaldera stated it well on his site, where he said that “In ancient and medieval times, it might take a religion centuries to do this kind of splitting and schisming; today, in the Information Era when people can travel across the world in hours and share their ideas in seconds, it has taken Neo-Paganism mere decades to do what it took Christianity, for example, ten centuries to accomplish. We have literally as many sects as that major religion, with a far smaller population to do it with.”
I blame the Protestantization effect of America on this one. Where covens will split apart based on ideological or egotistical fault lines instead of, say, trying to work things out.
Let’s face it. It would be immensely easy to just split apart and go our own ways. Hardcore Non-Recon Polytheists one way, Historic Reconstructionists the other, Dualist or Monist Wiccans a third way, Humanists yet another, and so on. But we’re not. We haven’t. Some of us cling to the Pagan community, even though we feel like we’re fitting round pegs in square holes. We fit. Just not well.
Other Polytheists have fled the community for whatever reasoning. I wanted to highlight some of the reasons why I stay instead of tucking my tail and running (as I see it would be were I to just up and leave).
Firstly, it’s the closest thing that I will have to a community. I’m a Hardcore Polytheist Demi-Reconstructionist that has a number of mystical or esoteric beliefs. While I’m well behind the idea of historic reconstructionism, I’m enough of a heretic for Heathenry to not feel welcome. The same would probably go for Religio et Pietas, although that might be a bit more accepting so long as I stick strictly to the Roman-end of my practice. So Paganism, with all of its beautiful thinkers and wonderful ideas, as much as it has its share of troll baiters and witch war practitioners, is a natural go-to word that I can tell people.
Does it bother me that, when I say that I am a Pagan, people interpret that image as the middle class granola crunching hippy Wiccan Pagan that walks around in the woods bare-footed? Yeah, a little bit. I mean, I probably am far more into nature than your average rural-suburbanite, and I am 100% behind reasonable environmental conservation and animal rights and whatever else. But I have little to do with the agricultural calendar. I’m not a farmer. There’s some very small scale gardening that gets done here, but other than pulling in the yearly tomato harvest for salsa, that’s all we can really do. Otherwise, I live on a sixteenth of an acre.
Or that I’m lumped in with the “All gods are one God and all goddesses are one Goddess” crowd who, frankly, offend me? Hell yeah. My gods are all real, individual entities that can and will give their blessings and curses. To reduce them all down to a faceless mass is insulting to me.
But I have met some immeasurably intelligent, beautiful people in this community. Some have left the modifier of Pagan behind because of these issues, but many others are staying. It’s true that I tend to congregate more towards like-minded individuals. I was once in a Pagan student community while in undergrad and the leader of the community reiterated the whole “All gods are” mantra, above. And I spoke up, right on her heels, and flat out told her that she was wrong. So I don’t tend to keep so many of those particular personalities around.
Not that I am always disagreeable, but I feel that the whole “so inclusive that we denigrate every view point” is one of the biggest failings that the whole “community” has.
But the sheer breadth of interpretation, the sheer grouping of intelligences and personalities that congregate under the Pagan umbrella are all individualistic and unique in their own way. And they’re, by in large, very insightful. I would feel so much more isolated if I left the “Pagan community”, where I avoided reading a varied accounting of individual spiritualities, and stuck to a more homogenous grouping.
I don’t want a peanut gallery of bobbing heads. I want debate and interest and interpretation. And you can get that in the Pagan community that might end up being crushed in a more specialized group.
We’re a diverse group of people. But it seems that some people want it to be their interpretation of diversity. And I don’t think that anyone is behooved by homogenizing anything. It leads to too many issues, too many misinterpretations, and too much ideology.
Secondly, it is really because I am stubborn. I don’t like to give up on things. But there’s also a significantly large political and social reasoning for it. It stops each group from having to reinvent the wheel. Think about it. As an example, it took how long for the Wiccan symbol to be recognized by the United States Veterans for an acceptable gravestone marker? When was the next “major” Non-Abrahamic, European-centric faith that was allowed? I think that would be the Heathen/Asatru hammer symbol, and that was this year, I believe.
Splitting apart from the Pagan moniker means that your religion stops being one of a Pagan religion, which might get blanket acceptance into such things, and it means that you have to go through the process all over again. Application, fighting for social acceptance, etc. Everything that had been gained for one group, which could be spread out over this umbrella term, is no longer applicable for you.
Because why? Because of bureaucracy. Sure, individual organizations, covens, and Polytheistic churches/temples can get 501(c) Tax Exempt status. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re going to deal with all aspects of the government as easily. Take the Matreum of Cybele, in Catskill, New York as an example. Even though they are recognized as a religious organization by the IRS, the city refuses to accept it and provide them with the property tax exemptions that they are due. And they’re currently having a hell of a time trying to fight it. This is something that has been dragging on for years.
Is it because they’re not recognizing themselves as Pagan? No, not at all. And maybe I’m immediately figuring on the worst-case scenario (as I have started to do when dealing with any government administrative body). But I can’t see how it would hurt having a large, representative umbrella term that covers the disparate Pagan, Polytheist, Wiccan, etc. religions and faiths.
I’m worried that legal precedent would have to be made for each individual group if we do this all separately. And, let’s face it. The “Pagan political capital” is next to negligible. Let’s not even talk about the financial capabilities of many of these organizations. The ACLU has a long history of avoiding Pagan-related court cases because they don’t generate the kind of capital that they need. Or it seems that way. This isn’t to say that they don’t, but the certainly represent the needs of the Pagan community less than I feel they should.
I can’t see how the City of Catskill could continue to try to extort the Matreum if the full weight of the ACLU was behind them. Or the issue down in Florida, etc.
This isn’t about setting up a homogeneous organization which dictates religious piety or dogma. This isn’t about setting up a “Pagan Pope”, as some have irrationally screeched. It isn’t about trying to tell someone that they are Doing It Wrong.
It is about economic, social, and political agency. Agency which we currently lack because we are under-represented to the public. We have no lobbyist organization to put pressure on politicians who want to try to enact the laws which would force our children to go to mandatory Christian prayer meetings before pep rallies or sports events.
We have very few spokespeople who can be approached whenever something horrible happens. How many animal mutilation cases are pinned at the Pagan door, because we’re underrepresented? How much over-sensationalized claptrap gets spewed out there, and it’s up to the individual citizen to represent their entire religious denomination?
We have to rely on funding through crowd sourcing or donations in order to fight our legal battles and start our community works. Our temples are built on private lands or are virtual because we don’t have the population to be able to sustain brick-and-mortar leased buildings, because we fracture so frequently.
Do we really want to have to relay a foundation for everything, every time? Fight the same legal battles, simply because group A calls itself something, and group B calls itself something else? Does the Covenant of the Goddess need to go through a lengthy political battle in order to get agency for the Wiccan covens that it covers, only to have the ADF be required to do the same thing for the Druidic branches it holds?
I frankly don’t want to, because it is tiresome. I don’t want Hellenic A to have to fight for themselves and have Heathen B have to fight for themselves, and not have the victory that Hellenic A won not count as a precedent because Heathen B doesn’t fall into the same “religious grouping” based on theological differences.
Maybe this is a big misinterpretation on my part. I’m not well versed in the legal morass that the American system holds. But given that the government is more concerned about corporate agency (New York State defines religions as Religious Corporations and, going through the Marriage laws, there’s nothing about non-Abrahamic religions performing religious marriage ceremonies), it makes me wonder about this stuff.
Now, some have the idea of transitioning the term of “Pagan” from a religious grouping into a sub-cultural term. I’m on the fence about that. Mostly, again, because I’m concerned with the agency that we would lose by giving that up. Religious organizations get a fair deal more of it than sub-cultural groups, especially in the United States. This is changing abroad, most notably in the UK where they have dedicated hate speech laws, and they’ve recently expanded those laws into covering the Goth sub-culture. So the old paradigms are changing. Who knows if those waves are going to hit here.
I agree that the problem with Paganism is that it tries to cover a large degree of different groups. But, I also think it is large enough for us to disagree without becoming disagreeable. That’s really what this most recent spat came from (and all spats, I guess), where one group is trying to assert their religiously ideological paradigm over another group, and going way too overboard in doing it.
Not all Truths are unequal.
If Paganism turns into an alliance of faiths, with no theological implications of its own, then that is all very well. That would probably be for the best, in my opinion. I’m not sure that will ever happen. All I do know is that the community needs to do something, or else it is going to schism to the point where the only people who are going to want to do anything with it are solitaries who do not feel pressured into dealing with the stress of other people antagonizing them, denigrating them, or threatening them.
And that isn’t a community. By any stretch of the imagination.
A community doesn’t have to be homogeneous. Your local community most likely isn’t, unless you live deep in the backwoods of Appalachia or something. Just like that, there is room for personal interpretation. We might not get along with everyone in the town we live in (or anyone, for that matter). But we’re not going to go around threatening them for it. Or we shouldn’t, rather.
I stick with Paganism because it suits me the best out of all the possible modifiers that I can define myself with. I stick with Paganism for the richness of belief. I like reading the opinions of several Wiccans, Hellenics, Mystics, and Shamans. I like being exposed to new view points, and receiving constructive criticism from angles I might not have approached in a like-minded group of my own.
I stick with Paganism to show that it isn’t a Celtic-dominated, Wiccan-dominated, grouping of archetypalist or monopolytheist philosophies.
I’m going to give this more thought, and see if I can start doing something a bit more constructive in that regard.
But this is my community, and I’m going to fight for it until it is so far gone that it should be allowed to die.