[PBP2013] Defining Pagan

Untitled-24As I’ve said before, I have a reluctant relationship with this word, for the simple fact that both within and outside of the “pagan community”, there are so many implications that exclude me and my religion –but at the same time, there are also implications that demand I be included within that term. It’s impossible to completely divorce myself from this word because of a lot of reasons –like how academia defines my religion as “pagan” and how an astonishing number of people outside (and even inside) the “pagan umbrella” just can’t figure out what relatively simple words like “polytheist” are supposed to mean, but “pagan”, to them, often connotes the same thing.

So I’m going to take a stab at defining pagan –and not just for the purposes of this blog, or my life in general. As Pope Sannion I‘s self-appointed bishop in the Great Lakes Dioceses, I shall attempt to define “pagan” and “paganism” in as few words as possible, and encompassing as many people as possible. If you disagree, there are likely plenty of other terms, some of which may better describe what you do –and if there isn’t, you’re free to invent one.

So, here we go:

PAGANISM –a collective of religious and other spiritual practises of, based on, or influenced by those of European and Mediterranean (including North African and Middle Eastern) pre-Christian, non-Abrahamic practises. Pagans place greater emphasis on practices of groups and individuals than the beliefs of individuals. Pagans also generally place importance on community, wisdom, and the environment.

There you go, it is broad, and yet it is definite. Also: It is only fifty-five words! You’re welcome to believe as you like about the nature of the gods, whether this means you’re a staunch polytheist or a secular humanist and the gods are just names for Jungian archetypes for you. You can be a recon, in ADF or some other form of neo-druid, traditional or popular Wiccan, Feri, kitchen witch, some other similar path to the above (including, but not limited to, Italian and British isles witchcraft, and so on…) or just making your own thing that carries influence or inspirtion from any or all of the above methods.

Yes, I’ve excluded Hinduism and East Asian religions, African diaspora religions, and aboriginal religions of the Americas, Australia, and Oceania. My reason for doing so is simple: A great majority of people practising those religions eschew the “pagan” label for themselves. Furthermore, my goal is to define the word “pagan” and have it mean something —Hindus are something, Buddhists are something, Shawnee religion is something, worshippers of Maria Lionza are something, and so is Voudoo, Santeria, and other religions. As it stands, paganism is nothing in that it’s “anything and everything”, meaning it’s undefined. Until now. Does this mean that other non-Abrahamics should be excluded from large, inter/national, “big tent” non-Abrahamic spiritual gatherings, like Pantheacon, that are predominantly populated by Pagans? Of course not, it simply means that perhaps those gatherings, if they intend to include, or at least be welcoming to people of other non-Abrahamic religious groups, then perhaps they should include other terms, as well as “Pagan” in their official literature.

Think about it this way, little SJW’s getting your knickers in a twist because I’m daring to say that “Paganism” should mean something: If a grammar school has a culturally diverse population, that doesn’t mean everybody just magically loses their cultural uniqueness, and students of various cultural backgrounds are going to still have their own concerns that need to be addressed in certain ways. Thus, there are various non-Abrahamic religious groups and particular religions within each group. “Hinduism” and “Buddhism” can easily be argued to be words for religious groups rather than each word representing a single unique religion in and of itself. “Native American spirituality” absolutely represents a group of religions, not a single monolitic set of religious beliefs and practises. “Chinese folk religion” includes both Taoism and Shenism and other practises and philosophies. Thus, “Paganism” means “pre-Christian, non-Abrahamic religions of, based on, or influenced by the religions of Europe and the Mediterranean”.

This also means that you cannot be Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Mormon, Rastefarian, or Baha’i and be a pagan. You cannot just sit around and think the gods are neat and stuff, and do nothing about it, so far as ritual or any other practises are concerned, and be a pagan. Getting a tongue piercing to commemorate the first time you gave a guy a blow-job to climax may be ritualistic in nature, probably inspired by something, but no, it isn’t “pagan enough”, if that’s all you’ve ever done and all you ever intend on doing. “Pagan” is defined by religious practises with a strong implication of religious and general community and environmental responsibility.

There is room for pantheistic nature worship, as there is loads of historical evidence for veneration of local land spirits in the pre-Christian era of Europe and the Mediterranean, a lot of it has even survived Christianity in some form or another. There is also room for urban people, as an urban-based spirituality is not only historical, but it also does not exclude a care or concern for the environment.

There is even room to be the kind of pagan that most Christians in the Anglosphere are Christian —that is, you’re perfectly welcome to only practise at Big Festivals a few times a year, do nothing the rest of the time, and call yourself a pagan —cos at least that few times a year, you’re still doing something, even if you don’t believe the gods (or god and goddess, or goddess) factor into it at all. You’re doing something that is definably pagan; other pagans are also welcome to tell you that you’re missing out on something, and those within your own tradition are welcome to espouse the opinion that you’re doing it wrong by only doing something at a few annual festivals, but that’s something that every individual and tradition has to work out for themselves. You’re also welcome to fit the definition and be a “not pagan, but [something else]”, just as much as TS people are allowed to say that there’s no such thing as biological sex, or whatever nonsense the TS/TG SJW’s are concocting on Tumblurgh this week —only rude people are going to tell you that you’re wrong.

Also, keep in mind, I’m pretty far from the first or only person defining it that way, at this point in time. This is the definition I’ve gathered from many people (including myself, some years ago) who feel that “Paganism” should mean something, and it is only by the duty of my self-appointed office, and with the papal blessing of Sannion I, that I issue this definition.

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7 thoughts on “[PBP2013] Defining Pagan

  1. Pingback: The dead have departed; let’s see what the living are up to | The House of Vines

  2. I’ve struggled with a definition for Pagan a number of times and I always come around to one sticking point. My definition(s) is very similar to yours above but I worry that there are those who would appear to be included within that definition that choose to stand outside the label Pagan. I’m thinking of the Hellenion and Heathen communities, for example. On the one hand, you can’t please everyone, but on the other I sometimes worry that my (our?) focus on trying to define ourselves more exactly, more specifically, actually only exacerbates the differences that some perceive between Them and Us and potentially fracture the community further.

    That said, my work with people of other faith communities has shown that we need some sort of concise and effective definition (or elevator pitch, since it’s likely more than a few sentences). Well done!

    Like

    • Hi, you’re new here?

      Start with these:

      http://ofthespiae.hellenistai.com/2012/08/22/q-what-is-paganism-a-absolutely-nothing/

      http://ofthespiae.hellenistai.com/2012/10/04/pagans-against-personal-autonomy/

      http://ofthespiae.hellenistai.com/2012/10/01/is-it-wrong-to-be-bothered-by-the-growing-secularisation-of-paganism/

      tl;dr version:

      In an ideal world, where I and I alone get to define myself, I want for the word “pagan” to never apply to myself. It has an etymology rooted in the Latin slur equivalent to the modern English “hillbilly” or “redneck”, and I’m not rural enough to try and “reclaim” that. While I’m a part of the pagan community, I consider it more like when a heterosexual friend or relative joins PFLAG or similar —sure, they can say they’re a part of the GBLT community, but that doesn’t make them GBLTs.

      On the other hand, in the world outside my own thoughts and desires, I cannot deny that people consider my religion “pagan” because, well, as a negative-definition word (“negative” in that it’s defined not by what it IS [a positive definition], but by what it IS NOT), I fit that purposefully vague negative definition. So do millions of other people who eschew the term “pagan” in their self-definitions.

      As a Hedonist, I believe that reality is defined by knowledge, and knowledge is defined by experiences. While this means that reality is certainly subject to an individual’s experience of it (I reject the notion of a 100% objective reality), experience is more than merely what we want to experience. While I don’t fault the Heathen or certain members of Hellenion (btw, I’m a member, too, and yes, they use the word pagan in their literature —did you read their website, or just what Cara Schulz told you in the comments on various blogs?) or YSEE (who *do* strive to distance themselves from the word “pagan”) for practising some mental gymnastics to try and distance themselves from the word “pagan”, I also understand that this is just one of those things that some people do in a quest for personal happiness in life. Reality can suck, so yeah, if someone wants to practise some confirmation bias in defining “pagan” so that it doesn’t have to include them, cos it’s easier for them to hop back on the Hedonic treadmill that way, I’m not going to fault that.

      I’m at odds with the whole of my experienced reality to define myself as being a delicious bowl of fruit salad, but I’m still within my rights to do so, if I so choose. Likewise, the reality of my own experiences are against me to say that the term “pagan” has never, ever, ever fit my religion, but I don’t have to like that reality and I can adjust my own self-descriptions to put some distance between myself and mainstream paganism. I mean, hell, check out how careful YSEE are with their words when describing how they reject the word “pagan”; they clearly acknowledge that there is a definition in practise that would include them under that broad umbrella, but they’re actively choosing to stand outside it.

      Like

  3. I’ve struggled with a definition for Pagan a number of times and I always come around to one sticking point. My definition(s) is very similar to yours above but I worry that there are those who would appear to be included within that definition that choose to stand outside the label Pagan. I’m thinking of the Hellenion and Heathen communities, for example. On the one hand, you can’t please everyone, but on the other I sometimes worry that my (our?) focus on trying to define ourselves more exactly, more specifically, actually only exacerbates the differences that some perceive between Them and Us and potentially fracture the community further.

    That said, my work with people of other faith communities has shown that we need some sort of concise and effective definition (or elevator pitch, since it’s likely more than a few sentences). Well done!

    Like

    • Hi, you’re new here?

      Start with these:

      http://ofthespiae.hellenistai.com/2012/08/22/q-what-is-paganism-a-absolutely-nothing/

      http://ofthespiae.hellenistai.com/2012/10/04/pagans-against-personal-autonomy/

      http://ofthespiae.hellenistai.com/2012/10/01/is-it-wrong-to-be-bothered-by-the-growing-secularisation-of-paganism/

      tl;dr version:

      In an ideal world, where I and I alone get to define myself, I want for the word “pagan” to never apply to myself. It has an etymology rooted in the Latin slur equivalent to the modern English “hillbilly” or “redneck”, and I’m not rural enough to try and “reclaim” that. While I’m a part of the pagan community, I consider it more like when a heterosexual friend or relative joins PFLAG or similar —sure, they can say they’re a part of the GBLT community, but that doesn’t make them GBLTs.

      On the other hand, in the world outside my own thoughts and desires, I cannot deny that people consider my religion “pagan” because, well, as a negative-definition word (“negative” in that it’s defined not by what it IS [a positive definition], but by what it IS NOT), I fit that purposefully vague negative definition. So do millions of other people who eschew the term “pagan” in their self-definitions.

      As a Hedonist, I believe that reality is defined by knowledge, and knowledge is defined by experiences. While this means that reality is certainly subject to an individual’s experience of it (I reject the notion of a 100% objective reality), experience is more than merely what we want to experience. While I don’t fault the Heathen or certain members of Hellenion (btw, I’m a member, too, and yes, they use the word pagan in their literature —did you read their website, or just what Cara Schulz told you in the comments on various blogs?) or YSEE (who *do* strive to distance themselves from the word “pagan”) for practising some mental gymnastics to try and distance themselves from the word “pagan”, I also understand that this is just one of those things that some people do in a quest for personal happiness in life. Reality can suck, so yeah, if someone wants to practise some confirmation bias in defining “pagan” so that it doesn’t have to include them, cos it’s easier for them to hop back on the Hedonic treadmill that way, I’m not going to fault that.

      I’m at odds with the whole of my experienced reality to define myself as being a delicious bowl of fruit salad, but I’m still within my rights to do so, if I so choose. Likewise, the reality of my own experiences are against me to say that the term “pagan” has never, ever, ever fit my religion, but I don’t have to like that reality and I can adjust my own self-descriptions to put some distance between myself and mainstream paganism. I mean, hell, check out how careful YSEE are with their words when describing how they reject the word “pagan”; they clearly acknowledge that there is a definition in practise that would include them under that broad umbrella, but they’re actively choosing to stand outside it.

      Like

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