Pagan Identity

Star Foster at Patheos has a blog entry titled “In Praise of Normal” where she says we need not be “outrageous” in order to be authentically Pagan. It’s generated some interesting comments on just what constitutes “normal” and what it means for the Pagan community.
One of those comments refers to Fire Lyte’s “Project Pagan Enough,” which seems to be a well-intended riff on “can’t we all just get along?”
And while I don’t know if it was inspired by Star’s blog or by synchronicity, Thorn Coyle addressed this with a poem titled “Pagan” which doesn’t attempt to define her religion so much as describe it in mystical (and beautiful) terms.
When asked, I give a three-fold definition of Paganism: a view of the Divine as both female and male, a connection to Nature and its rhythms and cycles, and a resonance with our ancestors and their beliefs and practices. That’s a very high-level definition that could also fit a lot of people who clearly aren’t Pagans, but it points questioners in the right direction.
But the issue that Star and Fire address and that Thorn attempts to redirect to isn’t really about definitions. It’s about identity. Who are we, whose are we, and where do we belong? Our ancestors knew who they were: they belonged to this tribe or that village, they lived on this land, they worshipped these gods. Identity in America is diverse and fluid, particularly for those of us with the educational and other resources to change our religion, occupation, location, wardrobe, pastimes and other aspects of our lives. Our freedom is a good thing, but it makes life more complicated. Freedom always does.
The problem is that when identity is based on observable characteristics, it’s never long before some folks start including some and excluding others based on superficial qualities – as anyone who’s ever been to high school can attest.
It’s taken me a long time, but my identity is pretty settled. It wasn’t so much a case of finding the right identity as it was accepting who and what I’ve been all along. Unless you see me at a Pagan event (and maybe not even then), I’ll be one of the people Star Foster calls “normal.” I don’t like to call attention to myself unless I have something to say and I’m ready to say it. I like my Cernunnos pendant and my new Awen pendant, but I don’t like the feel of jewelry on me – I can’t imagine wearing either one every day. I wear a lot of black, but I’ve done that since kindergarten. It was a different era – the Baptists thought I was a Johnny Cash fan. And I was, but that wasn’t why I wore black.
I live in a suburb, and while I’d prefer to live in a real neighborhood where people actually know each other, it fits my needs. I like sports more than I wish I did. My politics are more utilitarian than ideological.
And I love the Earth and the Sun and the Moon. I love the god and goddess who have called me to their service and I love the ancestors whose lives formed a foundation for my own. I love communing with all of them. I love learning, and I love helping others to learn and grow.
I don’t see a disconnect between those two sides of my identity. They’re both part of who, what, and whose I am.
I proudly wear the labels of Druid, Pagan, and Unitarian Universalist, but those labels are not my identity. And I see no reason to fight over who is or isn’t qualified to wear them too.
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About John Beckett

I’m a Druid in the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids. I’m an ordained priest in the Universal Gnostic Fellowship. I’m the Coordinating Officer of the Denton, Texas Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans. This year I’m also serving as a member of the Board of Trustees of CUUPS National. I’m a member of the Denton Unitarian Universalist Fellowship.

I write as a spiritual practice. It helps me organize my thoughts and work through ideas and concepts. It helps me evaluate my beliefs and practices against my core values and against what I know (or at least, what I think I know) to be true. It helps me interpret my experiences (religious and otherwise) in ways that are both meaningful and honest.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16189203446024144578 Gordon

    Great three-fold definition!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10388428489163998550 TommyElf

    Good points John. For my part — outrageous behavior tends to be more about distraction instead of attraction. At least that's my perspective. I've never understood the need to be so distinctively different from others that the differences become the defining aspect. My hair is long (despite my male pattern baldness that is setting in), not because I want to make a statement — but because its comfortable for me.

    BUT. There are folks who will define an individual by things that may not have the intention of setting one apart from others. While in Kansas City, one Christmas in the not-so-distant-past, I was openly called a "doper", a "hippy" (A term I openly embrace by the way), and many other terms meant to be derogatory. So, while I may not have the desire to set myself apart from other folks with my long hair — others may view it that way.

    The key…at least for me…is being comfortable in my own skin. Being who I am — because it is me. So, while I may see some behavior as outlandish from my own perspective — sometimes I have to remind myself that I'm not wearing that particular set of skin.

    I know this is off-track from the point you're making…this was just a direction that reading your blog took me. :)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00875369837359076688 John Beckett

    I agree, Tommy. And you aren't off-track – that was exactly the point I was trying to make. Be comfortable in your own skin and don't worry about finding an identity through labels.