Big Tent Syndrome (Or Running To the Word Pagan)

I don’t like to revisit topics generally. When I posted Running From the Word Pagan earlier this week I thought I had said everything I wanted to say in the public square. As the conversation progressed throughout the week, here and on other blogs such as Teo Bishop’s Bishop in the Grove and on Kenny Klein’s Tales of the Rambling Wren I began to realize that perhaps I wasn’t done. The last few nights I’ve been going to sleep with the “Don’t Call Me a Pagan” debate rambling around my little head. It’s January, I’m going to Vegas next week, I’ve got a hundred things to do before PantheaCon, the NFL Playoffs are on, and this examination of words is where my focus currently is.

One of the things that surprised me earlier this week was how offended some people got when I admitted that I think of them as a part of “The Pagan Community,” while they disavow the word “Pagan.” It’s not my intention to offend. To me Pagan is a good word, and I tend to apply it to people who interact with me on Pagan forums, and at Pagan events, and on Pagan blogs. That doesn’t mean I lack respect for your religious choice, it’s just that I’m interacting with you in a place that has been labeled “Pagan” so I think of you as a part of that community.

I’ll admit that I suffer from “Big Tent Syndrome,” in that I want everyone that I like and/or find interesting to sit with me under the same giant piece of canvas. My Pagan experience has always been so broad that it has encompassed several different groups, styles of working, and perceptions of deity. Through all of those differences I have always found similar kinds of language, experience, and reflection. I can walk into most any kind of ritual setting labeled “Contemporary Pagan” by a majority of scholars and follow along and understand what is happening. I’ll also generally see similarities between my chosen path, British Traditional Witchcraft, and whatever else is going on around me.

What always surprises me the most in the discussion over separation from the word Pagan is how the majority of folks who spar over it prefer to call themselves polytheists. For the record, I’m a polytheist, my wife is a polytheist, and most of those I practice with are polytheists. We are still the rule within Paganism, and not the exception. Yup, there are a growing number of Humanist Pagans out there, but they generally use the language of polytheism in their rituals. During ritual the differences between us always appear slight, while drinking wine and conversing afterwards they certainly get larger, but I still feel a kinship with them.

Many of the best Pagans I know have always crossed boundaries. These are folks who have been initiated into several different traditions, and also do Reconstructionist work. When I brought this up yesterday I was met with the accusation that if someone does eclectic Pagan Ritual they were probably too stupid to write (or participate in) an authentic Hellenic rite. After yelling at my computer for a few minutes I left the conversation. Ancient pagans most certainly participated in various rituals and demonstrations of devotion and piety. In the Roman empire one could worship at the Temple of Isis and then visit a grotto devoted to the god Pan. Why can’t I do that now?

Most disturbing are people who label those who use the word Pagan as somehow less thoughtful or intelligent. Issac Bonewits was one of the smartest people I’ve ever had a conversation with and he wore the mantle of Pagan proudly. Many of the sharpest people I know use the term Pagan to describe their community or practice. I’ve admitted the short-comings of the word on several occasions, but choosing to use or not use the word Pagan doesn’t make someone smarter or more sophisticated. It makes you like everyone else, we are all trying to define ourselves and our relationship to the universe and or a higher power.

My friend Kenny Klein wrote something the other day that really bothered me. He wrote:

And here we are in the present. As my blogs here and the responses to them have shown, there is a huge effort to make Pagan mean pretty much anything. Pagans worship Jesus, Pagans believe in Gods from The Hobbit, Pagans are atheistic, Pagans are Pagan because they own a drum.

Kenny and I have a great relationship, and if you are in the Bay Area this February you can listen to us argue talk about many a Pagan thing at PantheaCon. Perhaps we’ll talk about this because I took great exception to it.

There certainly can be Pagans who worship Jesus. Looking at Jesus/Mary/Yahweh as just members of another religious pantheon should certainly be acceptable. I don’t personally understand it, but is there some sort of litmus test for determing which gods are OK and which aren’t in relation to someone’s personal Pagan practice? That doesn’t seem very Pagan to me at all. I have yet to encounter anyone who believes in gods from The Hobbit, but if I did, so what? Tolkien wasn’t only trying to craft a good story, he was also trying to create an English Mythology. Who is to say that he wasn’t channeling a mythos that had yet to be documented?

The atheist Pagan argument is an interesting one, but I’m not sure such battles over the reality of deity are unique to Paganism. There are Christians who go to church and look at the New Testament as a compass, but don’t literally believe in Jesus as the “Son of God.” Atheism is a philosophy I’ve never embraced, but as long as people want to join me in ritual and use a language similar to mine I’m fine with it. Doctrinal purity is an issue for monotheistic faiths, it’s not my place to say what’s right or wrong, real or not real*.

On that note, why can’t someone who simply owns “a drum” be Pagan? If they are going to Pagan festivals and drumming they are engaging in Pagan Culture. Drummers often exist in a trance-like state while drumming around a bonfire, who is to say that state doesn’t bring them closer to the divine? My wife belly-dances to express her faith and feel close to her gods, I have to believe that happens when someone drums, even if those are deities are nameless to the individual.

If the various sects and beliefs that currently make up “Modern Paganism” continue to grow and develop their own traditions I have no doubt that there will eventually be some separation from the tree. Wicca will become its own thing, the various Reconstructionist groups will go their own ways, etc. Perhaps it’s already beginning (and the fact that we are having this conversation implies that it might be) but I’ll be sad when it happens. I like walking in various worlds with various pagan gods, and even with those who “just drum.” When I say that all of those different threads are part of a broader community it’s only done with love and respect.

*Certainly specific traditions within Paganism can dictate what is and what is not acceptable. Kenny is one of the founders of the Blue Star tradition, and using Jesus in the specific context of a Blue Star Ritual would be frowned upon, much like praying to the Virgin Mary would be frowned upon in a Baptist Church. There are things that are and are not acceptable within certain traditions, I’m not arguing against that.

About Jason Mankey

Jason Mankey has been involved with Paganism for the last twenty years, and has spent the last ten of those years as a speaker, writer, and High Priest. Jason can often be found lecturing on the Pagan Festival circuit, so you might just bump into him. When not reading and researching Pagan history he likes to crank up the Led Zeppelin, do rituals in honor of Jim Morrison (of The Doors), and sing numerous praises to Pan, Dionysus, and Aphrodite. He lives in Sunnyvale CA with his wife Ari and two hyper-kinetic cats.

  • David Salisbury

    Thanks, Jason! Lots of things to think about here.
    Hope to meet you at Pcon.

    • JasonMankey

      David thanks for stopping by. I need to interview you for Witches and Pagans magazine. The email I had for you no longer works. Maybe I could steal you for an hour at PantheaCon?

  • Christine Hoff Kraemer

    We have a new writer coming on next week whose first post talks about how we’re in the middle of an era of proliferating Pagan traditions, and that (as in the natural world), after this will come the die-offs… sad, but might result in greater cohesion. It’s also possible that no Pagan tradition will hold it together enough to be sustainable, and we’ll be absorbed into the New Age movement. I hope that’s not what happens, but I can’t help but think that at least then, there might be some relief from the need to define the boundaries of our movement. I’m with you, I like the big tent, and I don’t think we have to all be on the same page to be in community.

    • JasonMankey

      No! Not the New Age movement!

      • Kenneth

        You have to admit, we’d finally make some serious bank if we joined them! There’s an old saw I’ve seen and repeated on boards which posits the question of what is the difference between a New Age event and a Pagan one? The answer: A decimal place in fees!

    • Soliwo

      When pagan equals new age, well, than I stop being pagan. If anything feels uncomfortable, than that is it. It won’t offer any relief. And I am sure that if people haven’t ran away from the pagan before then, they will do so then.

      • Lēoht Sceadusawol

        To many outsiders (in the UK, at least) Pagans *are* New Age Hippies.

  • Eric Devries

    If a person does not believe in the divinity of Christ they aren’t a Christian. I Just checked with a Christian friend and she almost laughed herself out of her chair when I asked the question. For me, that is where the problem occurs, it seems equally obvious to me that an athiest can’t be a Pagan, it is ridiculous on it’s face. If you are an atheist you are an athiest, congratulations. The tent is too big, if Pagan means everything it means nothing and has no value, no meaning. You can call yourself whatever you want but it doesn’t make it less silly and this tolerate all things and throw away your capacity for critical thought and reason approach is not going to unify the imaginary community. Do I need to respect an Odinist white supremacist as part of my community? Do I need to respect someone who rejects my right to be here because of my gender or sexual preference? If I walk up to someone on the street and tell them i’m a ‘Pagan’ does that tell them anything about me? It doesn’t, even if they are also ‘Pagan’ because the word has become so watered down as to be inclusive of viewpoints that are utterly incompatible. There are communities within Pagansim but there is no Pagan community and I don’t call myself that anymore because it feels like a lie.

    • JasonMankey

      If an atheist goes to a Christian Church, celebrates Christian holidays, and reads the New Testament for inspiration, what are they? They are most certainly a part of a Christian fellowship, or Christian Community. If an atheist goes to Pagan ritual, celebrates Pagan holidays, and hangs out with other Pagans it’s hard to say that they aren’t in the Pagan Community. Notice how i’m saying “Community,” here and not necessarily that they are one particular thing.

      • Lēoht Sceadusawol

        What is the common defining point of Christianity, ‘Paganism’, Hinduism, Sikhism?
        They are religions. Sure someone that hangs around with the people may be in the community, but that does not necessarily make them ‘of’ that community. The dividing line is belief.

        Look to the Christian rite of Baptism. There is a questioning line said by the celebrant to the parents and godparents: “Dost thou believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth? And in Jesus Christ his only-begotten Son our Lord?” (Taken from the Book of Common Prayer, 1662.)

        Baptism (and confirmation) is a ritual of initiation into the Christian faith – some would argue that, until baptism, a person is not Saved.

        It’s pretty hard for an atheist to honestly answer in the affirmative to that enquiry.

        Of course, the Pagan paths are generally a lot less dogmatic and more accepting of a less literal belief – an atheist can still believe in a god as an archetype of the collective subconscious, for example.

        • Elinor Predota

          Belief is not the defining point of Paganism(s), nor is doctrine: practice and experience are.

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            Define experience.

            When someone says that they ‘experience the divine’, what they mean is that they *believe* they experience the divine, Others will believe the experience to be delusion.

            What is practice without belief? Belief does not have to mean believing in literal transcendent entities that can be entreated with to enact direct change in the world. It can simply be the quiet conviction of an opinion or ideal.

      • Eric Devries

        An athiest.

      • Kenneth

        Atheists are a tough lot to fit under the umbrella. In the loosest sense, anyone who associates with a community on a regular basis can be considered part of that community. Usually though, paganism denotes a spiritual and/or religious identity. Humanist/non-theistic pagans fit into the scheme nicely so long as they are approaching it in their own minds with some spiritual purpose in mind.

        A hard materialist atheist on the other hand who attends pagan ceremonies is a tougher animal to classify. If they do not seek any sort of spiritual or philosophical growth from the group, they’re there for some other reason. Maybe they like voluptuous hirsute women in sun dresses (what real man doesn’t? :) So are atheists then part of the “pagan community”? Well ,they are if we stretch the definition to consider paganism as an aesthetic rather than a set of spiritual paths. I don’t have a problem doing that, but it presents an additional burden of clarification in a discussion.

        There is precedence for this sort of thing. Europeans for example love their Catholic architecture even if most of them don’t practice or believe anymore. My mom used to go to Mass every Christmas even though she was a non-practicing Lutheran. She sometimes attended other parish events, because one of her best friends was there. So in that sense, she was part of the “Catholic community” in a very loose but real sense.

        • Lēoht Sceadusawol

          ‘Jewish, but not Jewish’ springs to mind.

      • Fanny Fae

        If an atheist goes to any church and joins with the celebrants, it might very well be they are simply being a good guest.

        • Lēoht Sceadusawol

          Or a bad one.

  • Kenneth

    I share Klein’s frustration that the term “Pagan” has become largely meaningless. At the same time, I’m not so put off by the term that I feel the need to insist on some other label. Pagan doesn’t say much of anything about what one believes or practices, but it does still denote more or less what part of the belief spectrum you hail from.

    • Ruadhán J McElroy

      but it does still denote more or less what part of the belief spectrum you hail from

      What?? No it doesn’t. For starters, there’s no such thing as a “belief spectrum”, religious or otherwise. Beliefs just are, they’re often too nuanced to force into a “spectrum” model, so why not just accept that, even if there are dozens of related terms that one can use to describe one’s beliefs in as few words as possible? Secondly, there are so many beliefs under the pagan umbrella that it says nothing useful to outsiders about what one believes.

  • Gavin Andrew

    Not content to tackle one controversy at a time, I define paganism as a reconstruction, revival or reinvention of indigenous European religions.* That’s right, I used the ‘i’ word.

    I suspect the latest hoo-raw over paganism, polytheism etc. boils down to an old problem – what is the nature of authenticity, and where does it reside? If there is a backlash against the word ‘pagan’ (and I certainly think it deserves to be examined and re-examined) I wonder whether it is more to do with unease at the extent to which contemporary paganism is a wholesale reinvention, divorced from grounding influences such as ethnicity or historical connection with local landscapes. The European Congress of Ethnic Religions explicitly distances itself
    from ‘syncretic neo-religions’. Similarly, many reconstructionists I know can’t hear the word ‘Wicca’ without looking as if they’ve bitten into a lemon. For the record, I think that reinvented forms of spirituality can indeed be authentic – this being a word that requires careful unpacking.

    The other aspect is theology – pagans of my acquaintance variously identify with polytheism, pantheism, panentheism and animism. And a cursory examination of history reveals that ‘isms’ cause schisms.** Catholic/Protestant, Shi’a/Sunni, Hindu/Buddhist… this kind of thing is endemic to religious traditions. We should be grateful at least that contemporary paganism was born out of an anti-authoritarian sensibility, and you and I can swing from polytheism to pantheism and back without having to worry about being the featured guest at an auto-da-fe, as in times past.

    * And non-Abrahamic ones from the Middle East. One ignores the Kemetic influence to one’s detriment, naturally. :-)

    ** See what I did there? :-)

  • Lēoht Sceadusawol

    “My friend Kenny Klein wrote something the other day that really bothered me. He wrote:

    And here we are in the present. As my blogs here and the responses to them have shown, there is a huge effort to make Pagan mean pretty much anything. Pagans worship Jesus, Pagans believe in Gods from The Hobbit, Pagans are atheistic, Pagans are Pagan because they own a drum.”

    Why did it bother you? It is true, isn’t it?

    One reason I heard as to why Germanic/Norse ‘Heathens’ distanced themselves from the term ‘Pagan’ is because of its linguistic root. It is a Latin term from Roman times. A time when Rome (either Pagan or Christian) was the enemy of the tribes of the north. Putting the term ‘Pagan’ to their beliefs is tantamount to shackling them once more.

    • Ruadhán J McElroy

      That’s the primary reason a lot of Hellenists from Greece reject self-identification with the word “pagan”.

  • Cara Schulz

    Most people who eschew the label Pagan aren’t offended if someone assumes they are a Pagan, they get offended when they are TOLD they are a Pagan. After repeated saying that’s not how they self-identify.

    And then the attempts of guilt start (But we need to stick together, don’t you care about your community?)
    Followed by assumptions of ill intent (you’re just a snob)

    That’s what offends people. If someone tells me they are, or aren’t, a Pagan I just say OK. Why should I care?

    On another point – I think we are at the point where many of the religions under, or around, the Pagan umbrella are maturing enough that they are ready to go off a bit more on their own so they can deepen and develop. That’s actually a healthy and positive sign. Pagans like to say they are part of the cycle, right? This is part of a cycle. Growing independence and individual identity. We’re at the bratty teen stage. It’s ok. Unless you poison the well and destroy the relationship, the siblings come back together for family celebrations and band together against adversity and they do so much stronger for having been apart and developing.

  • john pyle

    I have held the belief for quite some time now that paganism is not just a religious or spiritual path or set of beliefs; but is also an aspect at the innermost core of everyone. Paganism is an essential phase of development, psychologically, and spiritually, among other things. Whether one believes in multiple deities, one deity or no god at all, literal or otherwise, the primal essence of paganism resides in each of us. So, while my beliefs continue to go to a more humanist direction, I have no problem recognizing the pagan aspect of myself that has been key in my development as a fully present human being. That is where I go with this. Those that fear the very word “pagan” ,including Christians, are rejecting one of the most ancient parts of themselves. It is in our DNA.

    • Lēoht Sceadusawol

      But what *is* Paganism?

  • Carrie Tuttle

    I agree with what you are saying about “big tent syndrome.” I have been Wiccan for 23 years now and was astounded not long ago when I found out that there are these divisions popping up. I was always fine with Wiccan, Pagan, Pantheist, whatever. I figured “Hey we are all in the same boat.” Now it seems like we are doing the Christian Church division thing, becoming our own versions of catholic, anglican, baptist etc. I am not sure that is the best analogy but I figure you know what I am getting at. I went to a lot of different types of rituals back in the day, at Panthea in NY and other places. Some with the Asatru folks, and various other denominations of what I always referred to as Pagan. I figured we did all fit under that umbrella and honestly I still do. I like it that we all have common things to talk about and celebrate, and don’t feel the need to worry about the semantics. But clearly some folks feel very strongly about this, and I can understand it to a point. I can see why some people would say “OK, if that person worshiping characters from a book is a Pagan, how can I be one?” But to me there is a deeper point there, which is that as long as I can remember pagans have chosen their own personal relationship with the gods, whatever gods that may be. Just because Joe Shmoe Hobbit worshiper chooses to have a relationship with something believed to be fictional by many does not make any one else’s path less valid. That’s my two cents, and thanks for posting this. I have been trying to keep up with this issue, it is interesting to watch it develop.

    • Lēoht Sceadusawol

      I see it less of being akin to the division of the Christian church (one religion, numerous interpretations) and more like the division between completely distinct religions (such as Christianity and Hinduism.)

  • JasonMankey

    The more I read responses to this question, the more my ideas on it change. Perhaps “Pagan” will end up as a term like “Hippie,” (and I don’t mean that in derogatory sense). It’ll end up as a word describing a certain world view and outlook on life without necessarily conveying a sense of religious path?

    • Lēoht Sceadusawol

      Honestly, I think it is already most of the way there.

    • Elinor Predota

      Yes, that is what it always has been for me (I’m 42 and live in the UK). Pagan (for me) is a broad term describing a loose grouping of religious and spiritual paths, traditions, outlooks and sensibilities, which often seem contradictory in their diversity. It’s still a useful word for the purposes of solidarity, legal protection, networking, etc.

  • JasonMankey
  • Sylveey

    Well written and well said Jason. This is the first time I have ever read anything you have written, and I must say I agree with you.

  • Jake Roth

    The way I see it, the Christian Church, probably misguided by corrupt leaders were taught to associate Pagan deities with Satan or the devil. Since Christianity became dominant in Europe and North America, most people believed that Paganism and witchcraft were somehow anti-Christian. That would have been around the time of the rise of the media, so the negative undertone to the word Pagan would have been passed down from generation to generation and evolved over time.

    I am constantly being asked (or accused) about worshipping the “devil” because of the pentagram i wear. So Anton LaVey’s “sigil of Baphomet” also had a very strong influence on society’s association of Paganism with Satan. Hell, just the other day, i saw an episode of Criminal Minds that had a depiction of a “Satanic Calendar” which was actually just a perversion of the Wiccan/Pagan holidays and the wheel of the year.

    My main point being that people are naive. They’ll believe anything if it gives them some sort of answer to something they have absolutely no understanding of. When I first got into the tradition I follow (eclectic Wicca) I had no more of an idea of what Pagan meant than most other people. But I now know that “Pagan” is a perfectly fine word, so why would I let other people’s ignorance change my understanding? I’m proud to be a Pagan. And I would encourage all others following a Pagan path to do the same.

  • Terrie Edgar Etymology: Middle English pagan “heathen,” from Latin paganus (same meaning), from earlier paganus “person who lives in a rural area,” from pagus “village, district”
    The Romans used the original definition of the word, Paganus, as an insult because the farmers and villagers had clung to the Old Gods rather than do what the cool kids in the cities were doing: signing up for that new-fangled ‘Christianity”.
    The English basically did the same thing; denegrating those who lived outside of the Castle or city grounds, on the Heath. They were also the last to become ‘Christian’, as it were.
    So… Who are Pagans? Anybody who isn’t Christian, Jewish or Muslim.
    If you don’t want to be called a Pagan, fine. Don’t be. But…
    You still are ;-)

    • Lēoht Sceadusawol

      I feel your information is not entirely accurate.

      The last openly ‘pagan’ king in England (which didn’t actually exist at the time) was Arwald of the Isle of Wight who died of ‘forcible conversion’ in 686 (his sons also being put to death and the creation of a ‘Saint Arwald’ to encourage the people to take on the interloping faith.) Yet the conversion of Iceland didn’t happen until some three hundred years later. Then there is Lithuania. That country wasn’t converted until 1387.

  • soloontherocks

    I like how you start this by saying you recognize that people were offended by you claiming they were pagan when they said they were not…and then you went on to claim they were pagan when they said they were not.

    Way to stay classy, dude.

    • JasonMankey

      I’m sorry that’s what you got out of this post, because that’s not how it was meant to be interpreted.

  • Lēoht Sceadusawol

    Since I keep asking the question ‘What is a pagan?’, I thought I would look up a few definitions.

    pa·gan /ˈpāgən

    Google says:
    Noun: A person holding religious beliefs other than those of the main world religions.
    Adjective: Of or relating to such people or beliefs: “a pagan god”.
    Synonyms: noun. infidel – gentile – idolateradjective. heathenish – gentile – paganish – profane – infidel

    Free Dictionary says:
    1. An adherent of a polytheistic religion in antiquity, especially when viewed in
    contrast to an adherent of a monotheistic religion.
    2. A Neopagan.
    3. Offensive
    a. One who has no religion.
    b. An adherent of a religion other than Judaism, Christianity, or Islam.
    4. A hedonist.

    Merriam Webster says:
    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: neo-pagan* says:
    1. one of a people or community observing a polytheistic religion, as the ancient Romans and Greeks. Synonyms: polytheist.
    2. a person who is not a Christian, Jew, or Muslim. Synonyms: heathen, gentile; idolator; nonbeliever.
    3. an irreligious or hedonistic person.
    4. a person deemed savage or uncivilized and morally deficient.
    5. pertaining to the worship or worshipers of any religion that is neither Christian, Jewish, nor Muslim. Synonyms: heathen, heathenish, idolatrous, polytheistic. Antonyms: Christian, Jewish, Muslim, monotheistic.
    6. of, pertaining to, or characteristic of pagans.
    7. irreligious or hedonistic. Synonyms: unbelieving, godless, atheistic, agnostic; impious, profane, sacrilegious, unholy, ungodly. Antonyms: religious, pious, devout.
    8. of a person deemed backward, savage, or uncivilized or morally or spiritually stunted. Synonyms: primitive, uncultivated, uncultured, heathenish, barbaric, barbarous, philistine. Antonyms: civilized, cultivated, cultured, urbane.

    Religious Tolerance says:
    Everybody has their favorite definition of the word “Pagan.” Most people are
    convinced that their meaning is the correct one. But no consensus exists as to
    the “correct” definition of “Pagan,” even within a single faith tradition or religion. The same problem happens with the definition of “religion,” the definition of “Christianity,” and probably of many other religions.
    We recommend that neither “Pagan” nor “Paganism” be used unless you carefully
    pre-define it. Otherwise the people listening to your speech or reading your
    material will probably be confused because the chances are that their definition will be different from yours.

    Wikipedia says:
    Paganism (from Latin paganus, meaning “country dweller”, “rustic”[1]) is a blanket term typically used to refer to religious traditions which are polytheistic or indigenous.

    New Advent says:
    Paganism, in the broadest sense includes all religions other than the true one revealed by God, and, in a narrower sense, all except Christianity, Judaism, and Mohammedanism. The term is also used as the equivalent of Polytheism.

    It is derived from the Latin pagus, whence pagani (i.e. those who live in the country), a name given to the country folk who remained heathen after the cities had become Christian. Various forms of Paganism are described in special articles (e.g. Brahminism, Buddhism, Mithraism); the present article deals only with certain aspects of Paganism in general which will be helpful in studying its details and in judging its value.

    Raise the Horns says:

    *Neo-Pagan (from Merriam-Webster)
    : a person who practices a contemporary form of paganism (as Wicca)
    — neo–pagan adjective
    — neo–pa·gan·ism noun

    • Soliwo

      pagan = offensive. This made me laugh.

      • Lēoht Sceadusawol

        It is still commonly used as a pejorative term.

  • Kauko

    It seems that, at this point, between all of the posts on this topic and hundreds of comments that every aspect would have been explored. One way of looking at this has occurred to me that may not have been. Personally, I am a polytheist who practices a religion based on reconstructionist methodology of an indigenous European tradition; by the definition of ‘pagan’ that many have given, this makes me one whether I recognize that or not.

    On the other hand, if I were to look at the events taking place during a Pagan festival or convention, I would find nothing that pertains to me. Let’s take PantheaCon as an example; looking through the schedule I can find nothing that I would participate in in a religious sense. There are lectures that I might attend and find interesting on an intellectual level, but would have little to do with my own religious life; additionally, at any ritual I attended I would only be a curious outsider, an observer. For all practical purposes, if something like PantheaCon is an accurate representation of the Pagan community, then I’m not a part of that community. Now keep in mind that PantheaCon is- I believe- the largest indoor Pagan convention. If this is true on such a large scale representation of the community, how much more so it’s true at the local scale. If I went to my local Pagan Pride Day celebration, I would again find myself surrounded by no one else practicing my specific religion. The ritual at the PPD would be based on a Wiccan template, making it not something that I would participate in.

    You begin to see the problem; for a Pagan community to exist and function requires a degree of assumption of an eclectic nature for those who are a part of it. This can only leave those who aren’t eclectic effectively outside of the Pagan community as it actually operates. People such as myself can only look to religious communities based on our specific traditions to see to our needs; those needs will never be met by the Pagan community as it is.

    • JasonMankey

      There’s very little that interests me at PantheaCon this year either, at least when it comes to programming. I don’t particularly care for workshops on magical practice, and I often find myself a Witch out of water when I visit Feri sponsored or influenced events. I will be going to see Angus McMahon’s “Pagan Humor” presentation, but that’s a lot like seeing a stand-up comic (though I laugh more).

      What I enjoy most about PantheaCon are the friendships, discussions, and socializing. My favorite PantheaCon moments are generally when I find myself out of my comfort zone, sitting in the middle of a conversation involving mostly ceremonial magicians or getting stuck in the ADF suite for a few hours.

      I wish there was more programming focused on ancient paganism and the gods of those belief systems. It does show up on the schedule, but it’s a small percentage of programming.

      • Kauko

        For me, though, it’s not just this year’s PantheaCon programming, this would be true of any year, or any other festival for that matter.

      • Lēoht Sceadusawol

        Paganism is too individualised nowadays for there to be able to be comfortable talk on the gods.

        You could doubtless give a great talk on Pan, only to have everyone else argue about how you (and everyone else) are wrong.

        Personally, I think the lack of orthodoxy in Paganism (using the widest, most inclusive definition) is a bad thing. Sure, let there be differences between the different traditions/paths, but when on a path, that lack of orthodoxy hampers growth.

        • Ruadhán J McElroy

          Hampers growth of what? The path, or the individual? And not all paths lack orthodoxy. One of the most misunderstood things, in my opinion, about Hellenismos is the old “orthopraxy, not orthodoxy” line. Yes, the “baseline” is without a concrete orthodoxy, but within the philosophical schools, each school has its own, even if there is still room for discussion and debate. If you miss orthodoxy in your paganism, then I suggest you look more.

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            Hellenismos is reconstructionist, is it not? I find that the recon faiths do tend to be more orthodox than the new-age ones.

            Growth of both the path and the individual. The human animal is a social creature, it generally does better in group situations.

          • + Yvonne Aburrow

            Please don’t refer to non-reconstructionist Pagan traditions as “new age”. The new age is a separate and distinct “philosophy” with its own, very different, set of assumptions.

          • Guest

            When did I do this? I recall mention that for many non Pagan or New Age people, the two are indistinguishable.

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            I tried to delete this, as I realised when I did this, immediately after posting.

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            Would the term ‘contemporary’ or ‘modern’ suit you better?

  • GOPagan

    It seems to me that your footnote undermines the entire rest of your argument. If the Pagan label always needs further clarification in order to be descriptive (Blue Star, Dianic, Asatru, Celtic Reconstructionist, BTW, etc.) then the Pagan label itself lacks meaning and we might as well just use the further descriptor (which is what I argue for in my recent posts over at

    • Elinor Predota

      The Pagan label lacks specific meaning amongst and between Pagans, in terms of what we do, how we relate to our deities or the other ways we experience the sacred and the divine.

      The Pagan label does however have meaning when dealing with the non-Pagan world, particularly the parts of it that have control over education, healthcare, child protection, and many other rights of citizens or subjects (depending on which nation you’re in).

      We can get as granular as we like within and on the fringes of the big tent, but for the purposes of protecting each other and ourselves as a group of loosely related spiritual and religious traditions and expressions, having a tent to gather in is really, really important.

      • GOPagan

        Thanks for raising the “Pagan solidarity” argument, Elinor. I’ll be posting that part of my Pagan Identity series tomorrow or Friday on the blog.

      • Lēoht Sceadusawol

        What does this solidarity protect ‘us’ from? Who does it protect us from?

        Do you not see that having one representative at the interfaith table is actually less beneficial than having half a dozen sympathetic representatives?

        When you say ‘loosely related’, I think that some things that get lumped under the ‘big umbrella’ have more in common with some paths without the umbrella than the paths within,

        • Glenn Olson

          When seats are limited, one runs the risk of having no voice at the table *at all.* And when sympathy is stretched thin by divisive differentiation, one runs the risk of having those half-dozen others simply be more voices against you.

          Is either of those situations really more beneficial?

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            More beneficial than what? The current system where people are feeling not represented or excluded?

  • lucystrawberry

    I had this thought last night.

    So let’s assume pagan is not the correct word to describe the thing that unites the wiccan, the witch, the druid, the asatru, the feri, the heathen, the hellene, etc….

    Why do we keep ending up at the same parties?

    I mean that metaphorically AND literally.
    There is SOMETHING that unites us. Something that draws us all together, that connects us.
    What is it?

    • Ruadhán J McElroy

      Your argument seems to imply that *all* Heathens and Hellenes and other polytheists “end up at the same parties” as everyone else. This is not true. If you venture into polytheist communities, there is no shortage of people who have no interest in pagan gatherings, and plenty who have no idea what pagans are doing. There is certainly an overlap of individuals from polytheist communities who are *also* a part of pagan communities, and there are LOTS of reasons for that.

      Just another ignorant pagan who doesn’t truly want people to self-identify.

      I’m not a pagan, in any personally meaningful definition. I have occasionally gone to pagan meet-ups and gatherings when I thought there would be some interest to myself, I read books written for pagans, and participate in pagan blog memes –but I’ve also read the Q’ran and Book of Mormon, gone to Catholic funeral mass, hell, eight grades in Catholic school, and blogged from the perspective of my cat. Your implication that “ending up at the same parties” is enough common ground to make a single monolithic community is fallacious from the start, if only cos you’re using a single point of behaviour, and not even a unanimous one, to define this commonality, ignoring not only the hundreds of Heathens and Hellenes (among others) who want nothing to do with paganism, but ignoring the multitude of reasons individuals might want to go to a particular party.

      • lucystrawberry

        Wow. Ok, so I’ve obviously upset you, which was not my intention. Please let me humbly submit that I think you may have misread my post.

        I am emphatically PRO self-identifying. I read the article you linked to, and it doesn’t relate to what I wrote. The article you linked to is about people who demand others use the term Pagan to describe themselves. My comment BEGAN with the assumption that Pagan was in fact not a proper umbrella term for groups as diverse as Wiccans, witches, Hellenes, Heathens, Druids etc.

        So, if you could please take that enormous chip off your shoulder, that would be helpful.


        I do not know why you went on to assume that I believe the thing that unites us is wanting to have something to do with paganism when I made it quite clear in my comment that I do not KNOW what unites us in some fashion. Additionally. where did I say that the parties were Pagan parties, or pagan blogs, or pagan conferences? I’m talking about witches going to blots, Druids taking a class in the Iron Pentacle, Heathens hitting up circles hosted by Wiccans. Maybe it is not important, but it feels curious to me that many (obviously not all) of us are willing to be or excited to be involved in each others traditions on a participatory level and to learn from teachers of widely varying backgrounds.

        Additionally, stating that I see these various groups as being united in some fashion, or at the very least sharing some affinities, is hardly the same thing as trying to force us into being a “single monolithic community”. That’s a little dramatic, don’t you think? It’s clearly only my opinion, and you are free to disagree with it, but please do me the favor of at least understanding it properly first.

        Another incorrect assumption you’ve made is that I even identify as Pagan. I don’t. I have not seen a definition for Pagan or Paganism yet that makes sense. I simply identify as Witch.

        • Ruadhán J McElroy

          And thousands of Christians are into astrology, necromancy (talking to the dead), employ psychics and divination services, and even practise witchcraft and herbalism. Why not ponder what common ground y’all have with THEM? Why not even consider the fact that there’s common ground with Christians at all?

          • lucystrawberry

            Who is this y’all?

            What major group do you think I am a part of that is trying to force you to align yourself with?

            There is no y’all, there is just you. Just me. Just two people talking.

            If you feel there really is zero natural affinity between people who practice the religious traditions I’ve mentioned, then you have every single right in the world to have that opinion. High Five and keep on with that.

          • Ruadhán J McElroy

            OK, I’ll tell you who this “y’all” is when you tell me who’s the “we” that ends up at these “same parties”.

            And in case you forgot, this is a blog with open comments — it has NEVER been “just you. Just me. Just twopeople talking”. Are you intentionally this dense, or is it the result of years of practice?

          • lucystrawberry

            I enumerated the makeup of the “we” clearly in my first post.

            “So let’s assume pagan is not the correct word to describe the thing that unites the wiccan, the witch, the druid, the asatru, the feri, the heathen, the hellene, etc….”

            I’m not quite sure why you are such a hostile person who resorts to name-calling when you disagree with someone. Did a bully pick on you on the playground when you were little and this is your way of working it out or something? I’m also unclear on what exactly has your panties in such a twist, considering I agree with you that people who don’t consider themselves Pagans shouldn’t be called Pagans. If I personally feel an affinity with those people, well that is my business and my opinion and I’m just some nobody on the internet so who cares?

          • Ruadhán J McElroy

            You were an only child, weren’t you?

          • lucystrawberry

            Nope, two brothers and one sister. Hey you win this argument. Congratulations! Have a good night.