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Is there a Name for Me?
Back in the Olden Days, and by that I mean the 1980’s, I used to call myself a “pagan”. I did this mostly out of respect for the Wiccans and Witches in the New Age community. At that moment in time, “wiccan” meant one thing and “witch” meant quite another, and I was neither of these.
Wiccans were folks who belonged to the initiatory traditions descended from Gardnerian Wicca. Witches were either folks who claimed some hereditary powers or family tradition of witchcraft that didn’t fall into the Wiccan model. Besides these we had practitioners of Voudoun and Santeria. We had Satanists. We had Western Mysteries Traditions folk who followed in the footsteps of the Golden Dawn and other Hermetic societies. We had followers of the Faery Faith. I was none of the above, and so I called myself simply a “pagan” to distinguish myself as a fellow person on a non Judeo-Christian religious path.
As time went on, Wicca became more and more diverse and fragmented. One couldn’t assume that a Wiccan was a Gardnerian or a Buckland traditionalist or an Alexandrian. He might be a Solitary who had never been initiated at all. She might be a Sumerian Wiccan, or a Celtic one, or a “Kitchen Witch”, who despite the “Witch” part of the name, tended to behave more like Wiccans than Witches. For a while I went about calling myself an Eclectic Celtic Wiccan, which almost made sense, given that I was in a coven that described itself as Eclectic Celtic Wiccan at the time. Even so, “wiccan” was so far from my worldview as to be almost useless as a descriptor and I didn’t last all that long with the coven anyhow, due to philosophical differences. I’m still friends with many of the coven members today, but I’m definitely not one of them in terms of easy labeling.
Pagan seemed a safe and bland descriptor that would carry me through neo-pagan encounters, coffee shop meetings, festivals and book studies without inducing too much angst. All was okay until I began to realize that the same thing was happening to “pagan” as had happened to “Native American”. At one point in time, “Native American” wasn’t code for much more than “I have some First Nations affinity and I honor a First Nation’s people’s traditions as part of my practice”. But slowly the definition of “Native American Practices” evolved to refer to a more specific set of practices and philosophies, and those were practices and philosophies that didn’t much apply to a daughter of a non-Plains tribe.
Pagan began as “not-Christian”, imperfect, generic, but accepted jargon to refer to “one of us”; a not particularly historically accurate conflation of the meaning of “gentile”, only not so Jewish sounding. Now it invokes a circle-casting, tarot-reading, astrology-believing, New Ager who can’t show up on time stereotype. As I continued on my personal path, I found myself buying fewer crystals and reading more history and archaeology. My self-definition went from “a child of the New Aeon” to “a woman of Deep Ancestry.” I find I am even less comfortable with the ill-fitting “pagan” label, and when I look in person or online for community and companionship, others who label themselves “pagan” are as likely to be a good match as those who label themselves Christian or Muslim or Jew.
Less flippantly, tossing aside the pagan labeling doesn’t really work for me either, even though I don’t need a handy label to use on myself. If I don’t have some easy shorthand for what I am, it makes it burdensome to try to connect with other people. For me it’s also intellectually dishonest. I would not be the religious practitioner that I am today without the experiences I have had in the neo-pagan community. Pagans welcomed me and taught me and offered love and trust. As much as I don’t want to be mistaken for a circle caster who can’t wear synthetic fabric and can’t use a timepiece, I don’t want to disenfranchise myself from the community that has been my home for many years. For now, I suppose I’ll stick with the Facebook trope: Religious Affiliation– It’s complicated!
Resa, also known as Tita Rufia Prisca on Religio Romana Cultorum Deorum