“We’re all a little weird. And life is a little weird. And when we find someone whose weirdness is compatible with ours, we join up with them and fall into mutually satisfying weirdness — and call it love — true love.”
— Robert Fulghum, True Love
Sometimes, when I share some new Pagan thing with my wife, she says, “That’s weird.” It bugs me. I mean, I guess it’s true that a lot of things I am interested in are weird. I am Pagan after all. I believe and do things that seem weird to others. And I used to be Mormon, and that was considered weird by most people too. And I’d rather have an in-depth conversation about theology than go to a party … or do just about anything else. So yeah, I’m weird.
But I don’t like the subtle judgment that the word weird sometimes implies. Whenever someone calls something I do or something I like weird, I usually wonder to myself, “As opposed to what?” What is the opposite of weird? And why should I want to be it? Why should I want to be not-weird?
It seems to me that when we call something weird, we are saying that it is somehow unacceptable because it does not conform to our expectations. It’s not just about conformity, though. People can be non-conformists and not judged as weird. Some non-conformists are “cool”. Rather, to be weird, one must fail to conform in a way that is socially unacceptable. But then not all socially unacceptable non-conformity is labeled weird either. There are some things that are considered just plain “wrong”.
What is weird actually seems to fall into a middle space between what is considered right and wrong. In fact, it is perhaps the difficulty we have categorizing certain behavior that makes it weird. What is weird is what we have no category for, what we cannot make sense of. It’s no coincidence, I think, that the word weird, which used to have a very different meaning, came in modernity to refer to the supernatural, since increasingly there was no place for the supernatural in the modern world.
“Granny Weatherwax was not lost. She wasn’t the kind of person who ever became lost. It was just that, at the moment, while she knew exactly where SHE was, she didn’t know the position of anywhere else.”
— Terry Pratchett, Wyrd Sisters
So when people say that something is weird, all they are really saying is that they don’t know what to make of it. But the problem is that, when something is labelled weird, then most people don’t bother trying to make sense of it. It just gets put in the mental dumpster with all the other weirdness that makes people uncomfortable.
I am someone who likes to categorize everything, as anyone familiar with this blog will know. So I am sympathetic to the need to put everything in a box. But when I experience the mental awkwardness of trying to fit a square peg in a round hole, I try not to toss the “weird” square peg away and go looking for a round one. Instead, I try to make a new hole; I try to revise my categories to encompass what I had previously not taken into account.
Back in 1968, Theodore Roszak described the Counterculture as an attempt to change the world by changing the prevailing mode of consciousness. I see contemporary Paganism in the same way: as an attempt to revise the categories of Western religion: God/devil, body/spirit, self/other, purity/sex, logos/pathos, reverence/revelry, science/magic/religion, and so on. Perhaps then Paganism will always be weird. Perhaps we should hope Paganism will always be weird. Maybe to exist in between the categories of mainstream religious thought is what Paganism is all about.
So the next time my wife says, “That’s weird”, I’m going to say, “Thanks!”