Yesterday I had the privilege of presenting Paganism to 18 Christian college students. Dr. Jennifer McKinney, of Seattle Pacific University (SPU), contacted me and asked if I would be a guest speaker on Paganism in the New Religious Movements section of her Sociology of Religions class. Dr. McKinney is the sort of amazing, brilliant person that makes me wish I hadn’t left academia. Of course I said yes!
Although I could give the presentation anytime this month, I scheduled my talk for Wednesday of this week for two reasons: Mercury goes retrograde next week and Wednesday is Saraswati and Hermes’ day. I figured I’d eek out every bit of positive communication juju where I could. There’s also no way to make the trip any easier: it took me 1 hour and 40 minutes to get to an 8am class. Good thing I’m a morning person!
All of the students had to prepare for class by reading Cherry Hill’s basic pamphlet on “What is Contemporary Paganism?” I also had them visit Patheos Pagan and pick one blog to read. I really wanted them to get a sense of the diversity of voices we have.
I began by talking about myself, my education, and my journey.
*The meat of the presentation began with what Paganism is NOT. It is NOT Satanism (that’s actually a form of Christianity). It is NOT monolithic. We talked about PaganismS and PolytheismS and theologIES. We talked about living traditions. Lastly, Paganism is NOT all other non-Abrahamic religions.
*We had to take a brief detour to define, in the simplest terms possible, what the differences between monotheism, polytheism (hard and soft), monism, and henotheism were.
*I emphasized the Big Umbrella and how individuals got to decide if they wanted to be under it or not. Just because I think a person fits doesn’t mean they want to join in. Self-identifying was one of my main points, actually.
*So who might be under the Big Umbrella? I talked ever so briefly about the Western Magical/occult tradition; Wicca and witchcraft, with a brief mention of shamanism; reconstructionisms (Druids, many Celtic and Norse paths); Afro-diasporic traditions; Polytheisms; Neo-paganism (with a nod to and separation from the New Age); humanistic and atheist Paganism; and where Eastern influences fit in. I failed to mention indigenous traditions, mainly because, in my experience, existing indigenous traditions outside of Europe don’t typically identify as Pagan. Now I wonder if this was a glaring oversight on my part.This took up the bulk of my time.
*I talked about UPG, unverified personal gnosis, and where discernment fit in.
*Next up I introduced John Beckett’s idea of the Four Centers of Paganism. I talked about what focusing on Self, Community, Nature, and/or Deity might look like.
*Lastly, we talked about practice. I kept pointing out that Pagans put more emphasis on what we DO, rather than on what we BELIEVE. So what do we do? Prayer, offerings, ritual (raising energy, invoking a deity or spirit, possession, celebrating, etc), divination, service, creation, discernment, telling stories.
Few of the students asked any questions. But I did get some. I was asked:
*If we worshiped objects (idols). No, but I explained the difference between an altar and a shrine, how some objects are homes for deities, and that it’s all about excellent hospitality.
*If we had a belief in the afterlife and what that might be. Mostly there seems to be some sort of idea of reincarnation, but again, this is not a codified belief. Very few people spend their time focused on the afterlife, as we tend to believe that the here and now, that immanence and imminence of divinity is more important.
*If we were accepting of recreational drug use and if it is common. Um, ish? Yes? No? I said something vague here.
*If we had a sacred text. Nope! We are people of the library, not people of the book!
*The last question was the only one that seemed remotely sociological: How have I seen Paganism change in Olympia over the years? Sadly, I’ve only been here three years, so I couldn’t really say!
I handed out a list of resources, primarily websites, but also books. The books ranged from theology to sociology to other forms of non-fiction writing and some fiction. I figured the non-academic writing might give voracious readers a glimpse of the mindset and feel of Paganism and Polytheism without jargon or outside/inside arguments. I’ll post an annotated version of that list tomorrow!
What do you think? Did I miss anything major?