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A few years ago I expressed something very similar to what Drew expressed in his article “Why I’m not Pagan” – except he expressed it with far more tact and grace than I did. I had been looking around at the Pagan community and had a moment of realization that the community is defining people like me (polytheists) out of the group. The conversation that resulted surprised me. Feelings were hurt and friendships were lost. I’ve been much more careful about who and how I have this discussion since then.
Perhaps I can do a better job now.
For simplicity sake, within the Pagan community, I don’t object to the label ‘Pagan’ being placed on me. I think there is strength in numbers and we all have so much to gain or lose. I’m in complete agreement to stand together. Yet it is an effort for me to remain within the greater Pagan community. I make that effort, but many of my coreligionists don’t, won’t, and aren’t. There is a quiet exodus happening. Quiet, but building. Polytheists and polytheist groups are leaving the Pagan/Wiccan umbrella and they are growing a thriving at a rate that would surprise the greater Pagan community.
I live in a catch-22. I love going to Pagan festivals and gatherings as I love the people there and greatly enjoy the general vibe. I highly recommend them and I have a great time when ever I attend a community event or Pagan festival or Con. Yet when I attend these types of gatherings, that is when I feel the least like part of the Pagan community. I attend the workshops, the rituals, and listen to the conversations and I have almost nothing in common with any of it. I can’t relate. Casting a circle has as much in common with my religion as walking the Stations of the Cross. We have no common connection. The lovely maiden Hekate I worship that grants our family prosperity little resembles the Crone Hekate that many neo-Pagans work with for magic. The very things that should draw me closer to the Pagan community are the very things that tell me I may not belong. See my quick review of PantheaCon and the comments on Wicca-Centric language here.
When I’ve done a better job at broaching this subject, usually when a group of us are talking about some aspect of a workshop or ritual we just participated in, fellow Pagans tell me that the Pagan community is really a very inclusive one and there is room for religions like mine. They are sincere people who feel distress for me. Yet these same decent, kind, well-meaning people will continue show my by their words and actions that I am not one of them.
I say all this and yet I am firmly resolved that we do need to work together for issues common to us all. If people ask me if I’m Pagan I answer “yes.” In the first paragraph I talked about friendships lost. I’ve talked to one of the people I inadvertently stepped on since that day and what she explained to me has only increased my desire to stay part of the Pagan community. She told me she felt so hurt and betrayed because she realized that polytheists like me could ‘pass’ in mainstream society. If we all left, Wiccans would have a much harder time gaining acceptance on their own. Most polytheists, when asked about their religion, don’t have all that tough of a time in the USA. When I’m asked, I say I’m Hellenion and that’s a bit like taking the church service of a Catholic but throwing in multiple gods like the Hindu faith. She’s right, people don’t even blink. They understand and accept that as legitimate. We blend right in with the mainstream, for the most part. Wiccans don’t have such an easy road. Wicca and Witch still have greatly negative connotations in the USA and now that Pagan pretty much means the same as Wicca in common use, well…that’s a heavy boulder to push up hill. So she feels, when polytheists refuse the label Pagan, that we are abandoning them to fight a civil rights fight alone. A cowardly betrayal. That we are abusing our privilege. And she is correct in outcome, if not intent. And she’s also observing that polytheists are building close relationships with Hindu communities and choosing to band together with them, rather than the Pagan community, in push for greater equity and religious tolerance.
I’m hanging in there. I’m working hard to stay part of the greater Pagan community. I’m active and I will do my part. I love the community and the people in it are top notch. All I’m asking is to not be pushed out from under the umbrella and for people to examine how much of what they say and do operates under the unspoken assumption that Pagan = Wicca. If you don’t want us to leave, then show us you are happy to have us stay.