Have you ever read the Nicene Creed? It’s an affirmation of the theological concepts of one type of Christian orthodoxy. What about the Shahada? It’s an affirmation of the principal theological concept in Islam. The Shem Yisrael is yet another creedal affirmation of a theological concept.
We don’t generally have an equivalent in Paganism. Theology isn’t as important to us as action, as practice. We don’t generally tolerate people telling us we believe wrong. We are more than happy to point out that someone practices wrong.
That’s good. Our broad Pagan umbrella should not be based on orthodoxy. There should be no gate keeper demanding to know if we believe in a God that rises, falls and lives again come Solstice morn. No door shut in our face because we do not believe only in the majesty and sanctity of nature. It’s the only way to have a broad community. The only way to have interfaith outreach, education and activism. It’s the only way projects like the Pagan Newswire Collective can thrive.
Yet we are reaching a point in our history where beliefs do matter. I’ve written before that there already is a Pagan orthodoxy, a standard of right belief, that anyone who chooses to use this label will be judged by. We saw it with the furor over Z. Budapest excluding trans-women from her exclusively female rituals. Instead of saying “not my belief, not my ritual, not my concern” she was essentially shut out of a national Pagan event. Sure, you can say that it was her practice of exclusion that was banned, but you would have to be blind not to see that her practice is based on deeply-held beliefs. Z. Budapest’s beliefs have been deemed wrong. Her heart was searched, found unsatisfactory, and cast out.
As much as I dislike gender based ritual, and believe Z’s attitudes towards trans-folk are horrible, I’m not comfortable with how this played out. The message it sent was that there is something inherently wrong with the foundation beliefs of Dianic Witchcraft, and it left other Dianics scrambling to do damage control, re-brand their message and distance themselves from Z. Instead of ignoring Z and focusing on all the options available in Paganism, she was made a public example of.
The precedent it sets for the future is disturbing. When a group of Heathens submit a request to a major Pagan event to hold a blot in honor of Loki, will we see a similar drama play out? Or will non-Lokean Heathens merely eschew the ceremony in preference of one more suited to their beliefs? Will one day the Ekklesia Antinoou be shunned from public events if the tide of orthodoxy begins to frown on deified mortals?
In the conversations over yesterday’s post someone was surprised to learn I believe that the Gods can assume a mortal form. I got the impression it was as bizarre to them as if I had said that I believe the Gods are the bacteria the live in the drain of my sink. It was a small interaction, and not dramatic in the least, but it stayed with me.
The contributors here at Patheos Pagan are diverse. In fact, not as diverse as I would like them to be. I constantly worry that we’re not occult enough or Wiccan enough or what-have-you enough. And I love the voices that are so different from mine here. Teo Bishop is kinder and more nature oriented then me, and I love that. Jason is far more level-headed and less opinionated than me, and I love that. Peg and I had completely different takes on The Wicker Tree, and I love that. I believe in diversity, and I’ve even offered some of my biggest detractors a platform here(most decline).
But then I state that I believe the Gods can take human form, and I get the feeling I am being judged as less-than-Pagan. As somehow ignorantly dangerous, like a child bearing a revved chainsaw. Yet you don’t pray with me. We do not make offerings at the same shrine. We are not engaged in ritual together. You are a reader, perusing my words from far away as you sip on a beverage, clicking away to look at some other internet link when you dislike what you see. My polytheism has no effect on you unless you give it that power. If it offends you, then consider what actual harm it has done you. Has it come to your house and peed in your Cheerios? Probably not.
We’re not all the same religion. We are going to offend each other. We have to learn to get over that. I need to learn to get over that as much as anyone else.
Maybe Pagan isn’t a religious label but a cultural one. I could live with that.