Defining Paganism

Once again, yet another “What is Paganism” essay graces the homepage of The Witches’ Voice. Yawn.

These essays are pretty much stock, and I’m frankly amazed that Witchvox still publishes them. Easily two thirds of that site consists of various versions of essays defining paganism, including the more juvenile form, “This Is What Paganism Is to Me.”

Really, who doesn’t have an idea of what paganism is by the time they get to the Witches’ Voice? If they don’t, they probably aren’t too interested in what it is, preferring their own misconceptions.

But most annoyingly, these articles are vague. And they have to be, because any definition of Paganism has to be vague. Because Paganism simply isn’t cohesive or unified enough to be covered by a definition that consists of anything other than “a group of people who identify as pagan.” It is nearly impossible to create a definition for paganism based upon religious belief or practice because various pagan groups are so divergent that it is conceivable that they have little in common other than the fact that they aren’t Christian. Paganism then becomes not a religious concept, but a political one: I am part of this group because I refuse to be part of that group.

These attempts to define paganism also tend to define paganism in Christian terms and concepts. Such efforts may be useful for a Christian encountering paganism for the first time, who is looking for ways to frame pagan concepts that he can understand, but they don’t do other pagans much good. Defining paganism in terms of “faith” or even a “path” is problematic, as these concepts describe religious elements that are not necessarily primary to many forms of paganism.

And don’t even get me started on the notion that all pagan religions describe the same deities and principles understood in different cultural contexts. I have little use for that level of religious imperialism, especially if it isn’t acknowledged.

So if you have your own understanding of what it means to be a pagan, that’s great. If you have an understanding of  paganism that gives you meaning and helps you order the world, fine. Me too. But those things can’t really solidly define what paganism is, because there is so much crammed under the umbrella of paganism that any definition beyond the vague and obvious (a group of non-Christians that identify as Pagan) has almost too exceptions and too little applicability to be of much use.

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5 responses to “Defining Paganism

  1. Most of Witch’s Voice essays are automated now; from what I gather there’s minimal filtering and this means that a lot of that material still goes through.

    FWIW, scholar Murphy Pizza seems to be working toward having something new to say about defining Paganism; you might want to look at some of her work.

    • I’m only barely familiar with Dr. Pizza (her name stands out!) so I’ll have to check it out. My own scholarly work has taken a look at defining paganism as well, and I’ve come to the conclusion that “Paganism” functions primarily as a political identity rather than a religious one.

      My issue with Witchvox is that these myriad articles on “Defining Paganism” or “What Paganism Means to Me” belong on personal blogs, not a site like Vox. If they’re automating their entries now, that is a truly sad development.

  2. The automation is a bit sad, but I think they’ve most of their “live” operation to Facebook as the entire Interwebs seems headed that way. I know that the people that run it have had a lot of life stuff, and they’re really private, so I take a benign eye to it. After all, I remember when blogs were relatively uncommon and Witch’s Voice – or my own clumsy hand and html – made those thoughts known. Occasionally some interesting stuff still gets through, and it’s worth it to keep an eye out for that. (I skip reading most of what gets posted.)

  3. Pingback: What Being Pagan Means to Me | Blacklight Metaphysics

  4. Pingback: The Pagan Community | Blacklight Metaphysics

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