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Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Being Pagan or Not Being Pagan

    It seems like its getting more and more trendy for people to start distancing themselves from the umbrella term of paganism, which is usually used to describe someone who is a modern polytheist and can apply to almost any religion that isn't monotheistic in approach. In a way I understand the desire behind it - I went through the same thing myself, after about a decade in paganism. I felt like what I was doing, what I believed, was wholly removed from the mainstream paganism of the time, which was riding the wave of new found public popularity, thanks to shows like Charmed, and seemed to center around books professing love and light and turning the other cheek. I should have seen the trend for what it was, having already seen the rise and fall of the same sort of thing around Norse, Celtic and American folk magic. Instead I became disillusioned with community and pulled back from it, not wanting to be associated with pop paganism. For years I scoffed at the lack of scholarship and the do-what-you-want attitude, but finally I came to realize several key things. Like all trends that one passed and moved on to the next. Like all trends it did not really reflect the reality of the pagan community. And, most importantly, like all trends it takes people speaking out and offering a solid alternative to counter the misinformation and misunderstanding surrounding the popular perception to overcome it. Realizing that led me to rejoin the wider community and to do so with an eye towards teaching and advocating my own views.
    Perhaps the current anti-pagan paganism trend will create positive things for the larger community, if only by challenging us to better define who we are and what holds us together as a community. Perhaps eventually it will remind us that if we don't stand together as a community, outside of our individual groups and traditions, we are making our own struggle for legitimacy in the wider world that much harder. Perhaps we will come to realize that what holds us together as a community and allows us to accomplish things that benefit us all is the very differences and uniqueness that we all want so much to hold on to. Perhaps we will realize that an umbrella term is not such a bad thing if we use it as a tool to our advantage instead of seeing it as wall holding us back.
     I think that part of what trips people up is the idea that a single word can totally define them; when that word turns out to only cover part of the story or is related to others who don't at all resemble the individual there is a knee jerk rejection of the term itself. For myself writing the forthcoming blog on female Druids was enlightening to me on the topic of labels and self identification. I have long struggled to find the term that describes me best and have long failed to find that perfect term. Writing about the Druidesses of antiquity made it clear to me that they were as likely to be called Druid as Seer, Priestess as Wise woman. All these terms were used almost interchangeably and without any apparent conflict. Thinking about this has helped me to understand that I don't need a single label or term for myself, and neither does anyone else. Calling myself a Druid is descriptive of part of who I am and what I do, but that description is only the beginning and does not need to be restrictive. Pagan, polytheist, heathen, gythia, Druid, witch - these are all parts of who I am. No one word describes the entirety and any single term is only as restrictive as I allow it to be; a word can describe me or define me depending on how I look at it and I have realized the value of description over the restrictiveness of definition.

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