I understand the desire to look at something, or learn a little bit about it, and say “OK, that’s X”: “pagan”, “transmasculine”, “genderqueer”, and so forth and so on. It’s tempting. Sometimes I’m even tempted to say “Henotheism = Polytheism”, cos it only really works within an inherently “polytheist” belief system, but with the distinction that one (usually oneself) only really needs to honour and work with one deity. As Kaldera, Hardy, and Tenpenny’s presentation at the PLC on Friday pointed out, Henotheists in Hinduism may technically “honour Ganesa”, or at least appear to, and other Hindu deities at certain festivals, but if their deity is Sarasvati, they’re going to go to Her for things even Ganesa would normally take care of; henotheism requires that one at least recognise other deities exist, in some way, shape or form, but it differs from “polytheist with extreme devotion” by the fact that the Henotheist honours one deity to the exclusion of all others (maybe with some hair-splitting on what that may actually mean); it’s more like Henotheism is a method of worship than a theology (cos henotheists themselves didn’t coin that term, but Christian colonists in India trying to make sense of a distinct practise of certain Hindus). But I digress:
We basically see similarities in a thing, and try to relate that back to something we’re more familiar with, or understand better, in an effort to try and understand what the person is talking about. It’s useful, at least in the first few minutes, cos it tells us that this concept is not all that unusual, after all, it’s similar to this other thing we already knew about. Which can be, and often is more than is not, quite awesome.
Unfortunately, a lot of people stop there. By stopping there, by only seeing the similarity between the thing you just learned about and the thing you already knew about and understood better, you’re homogenising.
Homogenisation is great if we’re talking food safety, but it’s not great if we’re talking about basically depriving ourselves of seeing and experiencing diversity.
Finding some common ground is excellent, from that we often learn that we’re too similar to really necessitate fighting about relatively trivial things. That said, celebrating our common ground should never be at the expense of truly honouring and respecting diversity.
There’s a trend I’ve noticed in certain pockets of the Internet, where people of Colours, often African Americans, are becoming very angry with the very white liberals who were seen as allies through the 1970s and ’80s, with shit like “Free To Be You And Me” and Sesame Street teaching kids that we’re really not that different from each-other and we shouldn’t hate or exclude our classmates over trivial things like skin colour. The anger isn’t over that lesson, which is still very necessary, but because there is now a generation or two of white people who were basically raised with this idea of “colourblindness” that ignores the still very real struggles of many African Americans, Native Nations people, Asian Americans of all stripes, and non-white Hispanic and Mediterranean peoples (and not to mention the lack of social “whiteness” still denied many Eastern Europeans). The socio-political homogenisation of racial colourblindness is creating a problem: People (typically white people) who now believe that the racial struggles are a thing of the past, in spite of all evidence to the contrary.
It’s a task, really, to manage to celebrate the common ground (when it’s important to do so) and still acknowledge the differences that make diversity happen.
Now, I’m not going to go as far as the crypto-fascists and say that diverse cultures need an emphasis on separatism in order to maintain that diversity –if one’s culture or religion really does necessitate separatism to maintain its unique identity, I think your culture or religion has some serious problems that even separatism won’t solve (and if one can accomplish that separatism, have fun with that Hapsburg lip in a few generations –I’m just saying!). Nay, it’s the intermingling of cultures that actually promotes diversity in unique ways, but emphasis on finding that “common ground” or “unity” puts one at risk of homogenisation –which I think is a huge reason that we’re seeing polytheists drift away from the “pagan umbrella”.
When I brought this up at the panel on Sunday at the PLC, moderated by PSVL, Tamarah Suida said that, while the umbrella terms may be useful “it’s not raining all the time”.
In certain instances, being included under “the pagan umbrella” is useful for polytheists and other religions: There are social and political concerns that most people in both the pagan and polytheist camps seem largely interested in and / or supportive of, both pagans and polytheists have many of the same legal concerns, and whether we’re inclined to admit it or not, most of us polytheists, frankly, shop at the same kinds of stores that pagans tend to –not just metaphysical booksellers, but food co-ops, alternative/non-Western healing, etc….
That said, I’ve long been coming to the conclusion that The Anomalous Thracian has been at and PSVL has recently come to: Paganism is a social and cultural movement, and polytheism is a theological and spiritual category and a true religious identity. While I certainly respect those who assert that their only religious identity is “pagan”, I do note their apprehension at actually defining that identity in terms that would let others understand what, exactly, that’s supposed to mean.
I was calling myself a “polytheist” before I was aware of people who distanced themselves from the pagan community; I think I first used it in the mid-1990s to describe my interest (and failed connection to) the Gods of the pre-Christian Irish peoples. While I hold no animosity toward pagans, i think I’m long passed due time to wean myself off of the word, as a self-description; it’s lost all meaning for me, and frankly, if people like Gus-Gus diZerega, who can’t even tell the difference between a convention and an ostensibly religious festival are to be included amongst the “pagan elders”, I have to ask one simple question: Why? For the love of all that is holy, WHY? I mean, come the crap on, his response to a woman who has just told him, ad nauseum that she, and nearly every other woman she knows, has experienced some level of sexual harassment at practically every pagan group (especially in NoCal) that she’s been a part of? “Go find another group” –that’s dismissive, for starters, and it really betrays his ignorance in his inability to see past the end of his nose. Why so many people still continue to see that pompous ass-hat as a “respected elder” is beyond me.
The pagan movement has obviously been of great importance to many people over the last several decades, but I think it’s reached a point where the continued reluctance to define what it actually is, has made it kind of a more useless than a parody of itself. When feminism needed to continue its relevance, it adopted and adapted and continued, and still continues, to re-define itself while still remaining relevant to principles long-held –many principles held since they were the Suffragettes and Free-Lovers (and can polyamourists stop appropriating that term for their “rah! rah! all the sexual partners!” movement, yesterday, please?); the Second-Wavers are the sad old biddies left in the dust to now form alliances with people they never would have dreamed of doing so with thirty years ago, because of the simple fact that their ideologies are no longer relevant to progress. I’m failing to see where paganism is still relevant in the way that it was in the 1970s, ’80s, and ’90s; ecological movements are getting along just fine without necessitating the inclusion of pagans, social justice movements are thriving (in some places better than in others) without necessarily including pagans, and the theological movements of polytheism and animism are pretty much separated from paganism, at this point, which really shows how unnecessary the pagan community is to non-Abrahamic theological movements and alternative religions in the West.
If paganism, as a social and cultural movement, continues this resistance to defining itself, I doubt it’ll be useful to others beyond the occasional party.