Sects Within Sects or The Fragmentation of Paganism

Sects Within Sects or The Fragmentation of Paganism April 24, 2016
Public Domain. Wikimedia Commons.

When we come into Paganism, we usually come into it via our own biases.  Some people will be nature worshippers or similar, and they will find Paganism via that naturism.  Some people will be witchy or occult and they will find Paganism via that.  Some will be attracted to the Greek or Norse Gods, and they will come via that.  And so we enter through these biases, thinking, in some cases, that this IS Paganism, this is all that Paganism is.

We are then hit with the reality, this is not Paganism.  Paganism is a massive multiplicty of varying religions and belief systems and practices that hold, in some instances, absolutely nothing in common.  We discover it is not all nature and earth, or witches or Wiccans or Heathens or Hellenes or Druids or whatever. We discover it is all of them, and none of them.

We discover, sometimes slowly, that there is no Paganism. That is why we cannot define it, because it doesn’t exist.  It’s just the catch all label for the religions that aren’t the *big five.

*The big five being – Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism and Hinduism.  I do know that there are many religions outside of these that are also not big-P Paganism, I can’t list them all in every paragraph.

We call it the Pagan Umbrella, or the Big Tent of Paganism, but the truth is, it is more the Pagan Net.  It catches everything that’s left out of the other religions, there are no rules for what may be classed as Paganism, there are no rules for who may call themselves Pagan.  Even the old, “non-Abrahamic” is no longer true – because we do have Christo-Pagans and the like.  Paganism is the safety net label, the one people use so they can be recognised as religious but not of the big five religions.

Don’t like that break down of your religion? Get over it, it’s my label too and I recognise the truth of this.  Paganism is the default label for people who want to be recognised as religious but not THOSE religions.  That is, truly, all it is.  It may not be what YOUR Paganism is, but it is what modern Paganism is as a whole.

Sects Within Sects

Under the Pagan Umbrella, or within the Pagan Net are a large number of religions in their own right.  Some of them refuse to be caught in the net, covered by the umbrella.

Heathenism is the example for this.  There are Heathens who are okay with and still use the Pagan label, as is their prerogative.  But there are many more Heathens who deny the Pagan label for themselves and their religions – indeed, call them Pagan and you may be insulting them.

Heathenism is also an umbrella term, but unlike the Pagan Umbrella, the Heathen Umbrella actually has underlying things and themes that all Heathens have in common.  Specifically, the Aesir and Vanir and the Germanic-Norse myths.  But it is still an umbrella because despite these underlying (or overlying perhaps) commonalities between all Heathens, each Heathen may have other differing beliefs and practices that do make them different from each other.  Much like Christianity really – Christianity is the umbrella label for everyone who “worships” Jesus Christ, but beneath that label you have many many differences of practice and beliefs, and so you have Catholics and Protestants and Mormons and Adventists and Orthodox and….  Heathenism is the same, many different sects that are different, but they all tie together with their specific commonalities.

Paganism doesn’t have any underlying or overlying commonality, not even one.  Oh sure there is a group of things that can tie us all together – but it is more like links in a chain.  A is connected to B, B is connected to C, C is connected to D but A is not connected to C or D, except through it’s connection to B. The Pagan Umbrella is more like the idea of 6 degrees of separation. Proper umbrella religions are more like a tree, with a single trunk and branches that come off that trunk, keeping them all connected via the trunk, but different otherwise.

So, by seeing Heathenism for what it is, we can see that Paganism is an umbrella with other umbrellas beneath it, or its sects within sects.  Some of the existing or possible sects/umbrellas.

Heathenism/Asatru. Wicca.  Druidry/Celtic.  Hellenismos/Greek.  Kemetism/Egyptian.  Roman.  Aztec or MesoAmerican.  Mesopotamian (or specifics, like Babylonian, Assyrian etc).

And so much more, I just don’t know all the labels.  What of those that don’t fit these, or fit more than one?  Well, mixes do exist, which is why there is also Graeco-Roman Paganism.  Now should that be Hellenism or Roman or an entirely different umbrella? Not up to me, but I suspect an entirely different one that has connections to the other two.

What of things like animism, pantheism etc?  Well, these are more concepts than actual religions. You can actually be of any religion and be an animist or pantheist.  As such, these concepts would be the branches within the other religions.  Atheism and humanism and those others are the same.  For example, one branch within Hellenismos could indeed be Archetypal Hellenism or AtheoHellenism or something like that.  They would still be Hellenismos, just not my Hellenismos.  And, in reality, such did exist in ancient times – many of the philosophers did not believe in the Gods as literal beings, but they did still pay honour to them in various ways for various reasons.

The Fragmentation of Paganism

But what’s my point in all of this, other than to point out the obvious (to some, it’s not obvious to all)?  So I was over at Son of Hel, and read this post by Lucius which discusses the future of Paganism and orthodoxy over orthopraxy and, well, read it for yourself.  It touched on things that I have been thinking of myself lately.  Namely a single question I have been asking, quietly, mostly within myself.

Why do these religions, these existing sects with their own umbrellas, still shelter themselves under the Pagan Umbrella? Is Heathenism the only sect that has, mostly, escaped the Pagan Net and made a name for its own self?

To the second question, yes and no.  Hellenismos for example does exist outside of Paganism.  A large number of Hellenes refuse the Pagan label and simply exist as Hellenes or Hellenics or Hellenists.  But it also still exists, kind of, within Paganism.  Some Wiccans are trying to get out from the Pagan Umbrella, as are some Druids/Celts.

It’s obviously a difficult process to remove your religion from the Pagan Net, it is a bit of a trap.  But I think it can be done.  Asatru/Heanthenism has done a good job of being loud about their non-Pagan sentiments.  As much as Pagans try to shove them back into the Net, they are much louder about being out of the Net.  So much so, that when I say “Paganism” I will often add “and related religions such as Heathenism”.

So that also partially answers the first question.  Many of these religions are still “Pagan” because it is hard to get out of Paganism, it latches on with its claws and refuses to let go.

But that can’t be the whole of the answer.  I think it is because of what Lucius discusses on his post.  A lot of Paganism is focussed on inclusiveness and expansion and the idea of orthopraxy over orthodoxy.  And there is nothing wrong with that, truly.  I like the inclusiveness and diversity of Paganism.

But the fact remains, Paganism mostly exists for the reason I presented at the start of this post – because there is nothing else most of us can call ourselves.  So it stands to reason that when sects within sects have formed (an individual umbrella) that the overall sect/umbrella should remove itself from Paganism – because it no longer needs the Pagan label for identification purposes, it should have it’s own name and its sects should have their own names.

But this isn’t happening as it probably should be happening, because neo-Paganism is so very clingy.

Now, I am not saying Paganism should be kicking out these sects – I am saying these groups should be removing themselves from the Pagan label and establishing their own labels.  With their own overarching common orthodoxy – generally the belief in a specific pantheon of deities – and then each minor sect has its own narrower orthodoxy, or even focus on orthopraxy.  While the general label of the religions would include anyone and everyone who follows the overarching orthodoxy at the least.

It sounds like I am advocating for exclusiveness, and perhaps I am.  But it is something that already exists, but while we are under the Pagan Umbrella, we are thought of as being horrible people for trying to be exclusive.  And it’s not like the exclusiveness is so narrow you can’t get in on it.  I mean, for Hellenismos, the orthodoxy would simply be – follow the Greek Gods.  That is it, that is all you need to be Hellenic.  You can believe they are archetypes, or metaphors or whatever.  You can still use the overarching label of Hellenismos.  It’s when you want to join one of the more specific Hellenic sects that the orthodoxy and orthopraxy will become more narrow.  But the individual sects cannot deny you the right to label yourself as general Hellenic.  Just like Catholics cannot deny Born Again Christians the label of Christian.

Does it Even Matter?

Maybe it doesn’t matter if any of this happens or doesn’t happen.  But it would bring some changes to all of us, all of our religions and Paganism itself, that could be beneficial.  We wouldn’t care so much about what Paganism is.  We wouldn’t be in all these ridiculous arguments over labels – like why does a Heathen polytheist fight a Celtic Atheopagan over what can be called polytheism? That shouldn’t happen with the fragmentation of Paganism, because the Heathen wouldn’t care about the Celtic Atheopagan.

Would the fights still exist within the new sects and religions?  Sure, it exists in Christianity (and Christianity is always an example of what’s possible with religion), it would likely exist for every religion.  But with the sects within sects, we can stop caring so much.  Because suddenly the AtheoHellene and the Devotional Hellene (or whatever labels are applied) are separate from each other despite the common trunk of Hellenism.  More separate than they currently are under Paganism, and yet at the same time, closer to each other than they are under Paganism.

And sure, there will still be people who can’t fit any of the new religions, but its not like Paganism itself will cease to exist.  It will just stop being the trap net that it is now.  It will give individuals the option to be Pagan or be something else.

The fact that the only option that exists for a large majority of religious people who are not of the big five is Paganism, is not a good thing.  It’s limiting and often leads to disillusionment.  It is good that Paganism is there as an option, but it’s not good that it’s the default option.

As for me, I will continue to use my Pagan label, for the moment.  But I think that is mostly for community and online purposes.  I can speak to more Pagans and related religions if I am using the Pagan label.  But in the end, Paganism is meaningless to me as a label for my religion.  I am Hellenic, a Devotional Hellenic if that’s the label that should exist.

What about you? Do you think your religion should be fragmented away from Paganism? Or are you happy with the Pagan label?

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