I have been wrestling with this all day, and in conversations at Facebook, I have attained more confusion than clarity. There seems to be a pretty even split between those who have no trouble with the apparent adoption by many pagan groups of a lexicon that was once strictly Christian, and those who feel unsettled by it. I haven’t yet come across anyone who was openly hostile to the idea, but I will admit here and now that my feelings are certainly verging on the hostile. I am *very* unsettled, and I haven’t yet discovered exactly why.
I’m going to attempt to explore my feelings here, so have patience with me. This is my first blog at Patheos, and I am aware that no one has any idea who I am. A little background might help you grok where I’m coming from. I’ve been pagan since the late 1980s. I was led to paganism through an initial interest in world religions, tarot and the new age (a la Shirley MacLaine, Don Millman & Carlos Castenada). I studied most of the Abrahamic faiths including most of the schisms, and later embraced neo-paganism as the only appropriate title for what it was that worked for me. I’m a dedicant in Blue Star Wicca (though I admit that Trad Wicca is not for me for reasons I might go into later in the blog), a Bard in the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids, a sister in The Sisterhood of Avalon, and an apprentice in the Temple of Witchcraft. I’m also a pagan podcaster and am afforded ample opportunity to think about, muse about, and sometimes even rant about things I come across in the larger pagan movement.
The appropriation of Christian terms for what it is we do rankles me. Deeply. I’m not offended, exactly, but I think I’m terrified about what this means for our future.
This came up after reading a post at The Broomstick Chronicles by Macha Nightmare. Here’s a quote:
As a Pagan, I feel it’s paramount that we define ourselves rather than leaving that to sociologists, journalists and others. I admit to a mistrust of what I call the ‘overculture’ – the mainstream, linear-thinking, rational, American consumer culture. We can take from the overculture that which suits our religions, but we don’t have to parrot it in everything we do. So even though I’m helping to establish a public ministry program at a Pagan seminary, the goal of which is to offer ordination to Pagan ‘clergy,’ I don’t feel comfortable with the terms ministry, seminary, and most especially, clergy.
I don’t feel comfortable with the terms ‘ministry’, ’seminary’, or ‘clergy’ either. I think because these words are loaded and very much conjure up images of churches, frocked priests, child sexual abuse by those in authority over them, corruption, power over, oppression of women, oppression of and outright rejection of homosexuals and other sexual ‘deviants’, rewriting history, the Inquisition, monotheism, and everything negative I’ve experienced or know about Christianity. It doesn’t, unfortunately, conjure thoughts that bring me a sense of identity as a pagan, equality of women, justice for all, safety for children, or anything I consider holy, sacred, Goddess oriented, magical or even spiritual.
The terms conjure, for me, what the Pharisees represented to the Jesus Christ of the Gospels. Vipers. Hypocrites. Dogmatic. Blind. Congregation. Laity. Those who follow those who lead.
Am I biased?
Do I really need to explain why?
I didn’t think so.
I want to know why pagans seem to be rushing to embrace this terminology when we already have our own. Witch. Druid. Bard. Ovate. Magus. Magician. Flamen. Oracle. Wisewoman. Shaman. Are some of these words appropriated? Certainly, but these words conjure the natural, organic spirituality that I seek rather than the book-based religious dogma that the other words bring to mind. I can live with priesting or priestessing as verbs, but as official titles?
Not so much.
My impression of pagan spirituality at the time that I began to study it was that we are all our own priesthood. We need no leaders. We need no mediators. Our own personal experience trumps that of any book or teacher. We are responsible for our own experience. We must engage the divine ourselves, on our own behalf, to have a genuine spirituality.
What I see happening is this: a line is being drawn between laity – those who show up and want to be led/taught, and priesthood – those who do what needs to be done to attain an initiation that matters to the laity. Credentials. Proof, by degree or certificate, of the purchase of a spirituality that, to my understanding, cannot be purchased.
I fear that the appropriation of Christian terminology is a threat to our autonomy, our sovereignty. I fear that the adoption of these terms will create a pagan congregation (if one doesn’t already exist) who expects to be led as sheep by a shepherd to a spiritual experience that they can only really have by doing the work of engaging the divine as they understand it.
And yet, I participate in orders and temples that embrace such terminology. Ministry. Seminary. Sisterhood. Priesthood. I participate because what is offered is of value to me despite the use of those terms.
Resistance notwithstanding, I’m afraid we’re all being assimilated.
I’m going to keep on struggling with this, and in the meantime, I welcome your feedback.