Friday, May 3, 2013

Why I am not a Pagan

While I know many of my readers identify with the term "pagan", many of you may be surprised to know that I do not. I have used it as "cultural shorthand" at different times (online and in person), but I am finding the term less and less useful.

What do I mean?

1. "Pagan" is meaningless.

Historically, it just means "country dweller" and as most pagans are actually urban or suburban folk, the term isn't being used accurately.

Currently, the term is used to define... who? The more you try and pinpoint what "pagan" means and who is and is not included, the term becomes less and less useful. When it comes right down to it, it does not mean anything other than what we are NOT. We are not in an Abrahamic religion. So what?
And that makes the term as reactionary and useless as atheist. (Atheists have a word to describe them which does not define them and what they stand for- it only defines them in relation to others and what they are NOT.)

So now we have Christian pagans, atheist pagans, and who knows what other flavor. As I say, the term is meaningless. There is no belief system or anything that actually defines what we are.

2. Not all pagans do this, but since there is no code of conduct or agreed upon rules "pagans" often are very appropriative of other people's religions- cherry picking bits that "resonate" with them, and leaving other important context, history, and hard-work bits aside. It lends itself to a flavor du jour ethos that can border on racism (depending on the trad currently being cherry-picked).

3. Tribe and kin are important to me- so are keeping secrets and oaths that protect those folks. Some of the pagans that I have met do not have oaths to honor, nor do many seem to care about your oaths. I have heard eclectic pagans chastise people with traditions and secrecy as being "elitist" (as if we are required to share with anyone who asks!).

4. I have also people defend their eclectism and general paganry as "finding their path". But to be honest, when you cherry pick, you tend to only be attracted to things within your comfort zone and eschew other things that are more challenging and difficult. This is NOT spiritual growth. It's actually the opposite. Comfort and attraction are not the goal of spirituality and religion.

So how do you identify? I am a Witch. And there are more specific definitions than that, of course. But that requires and in-person conversation over tea! If you identify as pagan, how do you define that term (for yourself and others)?


  1. I have no problem with the umbrella term pagan. None. Yes, it's problematic, but hell, so is being a Christian. Christianity is a WIDE river, encompassing the UU congregations, mainline Presbyterians, and ultra conservative groups, even Jehovah's Witnesses and Mormons. I hated identifying as a Christian when I was one, for this very reason. So I understand the issues for many people in claiming (or not) the term Pagan. Even Hinduism is a WIDE river encompassing a lot of different beliefs and practices!

    Right now, I think it's useful. It mostly, in my mind, means that some one is NOT Christian or monotheist, or Buddhist or Hindu. However, it's not entirely helpful defining one's self from a position of what one is not.

    I advocate for a really big umbrella for the term pagan. Once a conversation is started we can self identify at a more specific level. I take it on as a label loosely. I describe my family and household as pagan, even though Adam doesn't identify as one and I'm much more specific about my own traditions. But it's a good way to describe the general feel of our family without having to narrate the details for people who a) might not care, or b) not have a vocabulary to understand the details.

    The term witch is also problematic, from both sides, as communicator and receiver. Many people layer their own misunderstandings onto the word, but plenty of people claim the word witch and I think to myself that I disagree intensely.

    I think it bodes well that our larger 'community' is debating terms. It means we're big enough to have people feel safety in numbers, where they can eschew a single definition and branch out with out fear of being ostracized. This debate will lead to greater diversity, I hope.

    1. Yes, but at least with Christian, you can point out at least one thing (usually more) that Christians ALL believe- like say, "Jesus Christ is my personal savior" or "Jesus was the son of God."

      No pagan can make any such claim. Hence the meaningless part.

      I am moving away form the big tent, personally. I can understand why someone would not want to. I like going to cons and gatherings too. I can get with folks that are similar but not the same. It's fun.

  2. I also have no problem with the term Pagan. If people want to know what I am and believe in, they can question me. I'll generally answer.

    As far as eclectic paths, I have to disagree with you. I am eclectic. The only thing I hate is when people say I am a fluff bunny or that I am not respectful of others.

    MY religion does not affect yours. In the end I have to be the one responsible for my spiritual journey. No it hasn't been easy and no I didn't cherry pick. I do what I do because it resonates with me. I do not believe one religion is right for me.

    The bottom line is supporting your fellow man/woman. After all aren't we suppose to be above this petty fighting? For centuries wars have been fought over the different denominations of Christianity. Lets not start the wars again in our own faith.

    We can have our differences and still support one another.

    1. We do indeed have our differences and yes, we can agree to disagree. I do have to draw the line when you say "my religion does not affect yours."

      That actually depends on if you are taking elements of my religion and incorporating them without proper traditional context (which you cannot attain without years of study and an initiation) or not. When eclectics say that, but I see them using my trad's tools of alchemy (wrongly) or a similar scenario- I have to say- no it totaly affects my religion. It dilutes it when it gets passed to others in this way without a real teacher and years of study.

      I never called you (or any eclectic in this post) a fluff bunny. I could not do that without knowing someone and what they actually do with any amount of fairness. But if you were being honest, you would agree that there are more "fluff bunnies" that identify as "eclectic" and "pagan" because, again, those terms are so general as to not really mean anything- so it allows you to be associated with those sorts of folks.


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