“Pagan: A person holding religious beliefs other than those of the main world religions. Synonyms: Heathen, Infidel, Idolater… Dated derogatory: a non-Christian” (This is the definition Google provides and perhaps is the ‘dictionary definition’ most are familiar with. It is a broad definition, and it is a poor and negative definition of what is complex and beautiful. A better definition is at the end of this post.)
Sometimes Pagans are the marginalized group. And sometimes Pagans are the agents of oppression, colonization, and marginalization. For those of us who move between feeling marginalized and being marginalizers… I want to learn how UU Pagans can better lean into the tension and grow into right relationship with historically colonized peoples and spiritualities. I want to learn how CUUPS can invite and include in the way that our Unitarian Universalist values teach us. Since becoming the President of the Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans I have heard about many real life experiences of distress, caution, and sadness from members of historically marginalized or colonized groups. I hear from (and more tellingly do NOT hear from) individuals who would LIKE to be a part of the CUUPS organization; individuals who should have a seat at the table; individuals who have resigned from membership; individuals who I assumed would feel included but who explained to me that they feel excluded.
Here’s some real life examples. (I’m not free to divulge details, but you can read one first person account on Patheos. See link below.) A person with connections to a UU organization for People of Color declined to pass along my announcement about board vacancies because it could be experienced as offensive to specifically ask their members to participate in a tradition associated with colonizing. African Americans affirming their roots in African traditional religion (such as Santeria) and their resonance with Christianity have experienced both racist and anti-Christian language when in Pagan contexts. Native Americans have seen their sacred rituals, like sweat lodges, turned into money-making ventures by White Pagans. UU Pagan seminarians have resigned their CUUPS affiliation due to experiences of lack of commitment to multi-cultural competency and anti-racism. Shamanic students don’t want to join an organization that their teachers distrust (and avoid the title “Pagan”). I’m not OK with my role in creating these perceptions and experiences or allowing them to continue. I want it to change.
Just to be clear. I am not talking solely about cultural appropriation here. So I will just flatly state that we do not tolerate appropriating ritual or spiritual traditions from cultures not our own. Our Universalist side sees the value of all these traditions without assuming everyone is free to make use of them. When incorporating elements from other traditions we are diligent about establishing relationships, ascertaining permission, and giving acknowledgement. We will not be perfect, but we are committed to learning. See below for more reference material.
I’m an old goddess gal, a “nature is my church” UU, and a lover of ritual forms. I have training in and have practiced Gardnerian, Dianic, Wiccan, Reclaiming, and eclectic forms of Paganism. And I’ve become a committed and thorough UU. As I have grown (and been through the rock polisher called “ministerial formation”) I’ve let go of the gender binary, I’ve let go of prioritizing the female and feminine aspects of deity, I’ve let go of adherence to specific ritual forms, I’ve let go of Christianity-allergy and I’ve learned about the ways in which almost all my Pagan traditions are white-centric and participate in the ongoing colonization and marginalization of the traditions of Black and Brown peoples. The guiding principle that has helped me grow in these ways is also a core value of Unitarian Universalism: we commit to uphold each other’s worth and dignity and seek celebratory relationship with anyone who is committing to do the same.
I’m not going to waste time with mea culpa, guilt, ashes, and sackcloth every time I hurt someone or am a part of an oppressive system. I do want to apologize, acknowledge my part, and commit to doing it differently. What is our way forward; what shall we do?
Let us create and act on ways to make it better. I’m writing this blog because I am inviting you to be an active part of transformation. I want to both grow in understanding how I participate in the systems of oppression and to find ways to stand against them. In this case: in the context of CUUPS and my UU-Pagan identity.
So here’s some next steps that I’m imagining.
- I invite all UU Pagans to join in the work I still do daily to reduce our reactiveness to traditions which have historically hurt us and those we love. Let us
affirm the inclusion of individuals who identify as “both/and.” How shall we do that while still holding fast to our self respect and right to exist? First nations leaders have much wisdom in this area.
- Let us UU Pagans see the ways that the word Pagan divides and re-traumatizes and so knowing, change that experience. Perhaps CUUPS leadership can start with a statement supporting the rights of all people and groups to self-identify, and a statement affirming the inclusion of all people who share our values and support our mission whether “Pagan” works for them or not. Certainly, let us listen open-heartedly to one another.
- Would adding modifiers to the word Pagan help? For instance, “Pagan, Earth, and Nature centered” is the way many inter- and intra-faith organizations address this. Or reciting the whole definition (cited at the bottom of this blog post.) Or “Pagan, Pantheist, Tribal, and Immanent.” How do we who find ourselves near the center articulate radical hospitality?
- Let us explicitly commit to work against cultural appropriation. Perhaps starting with a CUUPS policy statement urging respect for oppressed cultures and religions, condemning cultural appropriation, and providing some specific guidelines.
- And let us show up. Black Lives Matter is one obvious place where our solidarity matters.
Bottom line? I am calling on UU Pagans who live with privilege in this dimension to apologize, acknowledge our part, and find ways to live our commitment. Let us hold faith with historically colonized communities and religions. Let’s get to work!
Edwin Markham — ‘He drew a circle that shut me out-Heretic , rebel, a thing to flout. But love and I had the wit to win:We drew a circle and took him in.”
The “big tent” of “Pagan” (“Paganism is a broad group of religions including modern pagan religions, indigenous religions and historical polytheistic religions. In a wider sense, paganism has also been understood to include any non-Abrahamic, folk, or ethnic religion. It is often taken to exclude monotheism, and to express a worldview that is pantheistic, polytheistic, or animistic.”)- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paganism
Former CUUPS board member, and CUUPS Visioning Team Leader John Beckett’s approach to defining “Pagan” – http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnbeckett/2014/05/the-four-centers-of-paganism.html
Eurocentrism and White privilege in Pagan paths, one practitioner’s experience – http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daughtersofeve/2015/05/far-from-traditional-but-still-a-wiccan/
Crystal Blanton’s excellent book on the subject – http://www.amazon.com/Shades-Faith-Crystal-Blanton/dp/190571369X
More on Cultural Appropriation – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cultural_appropriation