On Being Pagan

The volleys in the war to define paganism are many and great. It is an on-going thing on the pagan blogosphere right now (I have contributed myself here, here, here, here, and here), and I happen to think there is good reason for it.

But then I came across this interesting blog post from Inominandium, who discusses being perceived as not-pagan:

I think it would be accurate for some people to say that I don’t fit their definition of Pagan, but so would lots of other Pagans.  I did mention in a post recently that this was not a Pagan blog and thus had different concerns when it came to the spirit/fiction debate, but it’s not a Buddhist blog or Gnostic blog either.

I mean, you can decide I am not Pagan because I am a Gnostic Bishop, but so is J.M. Greer and a half dozen other Pagan elders I know. You can say that because I am a Buddhist I am not Pagan, while it is true that I do not take refuge in Gods, I do practices that honor many many Gods and Spirits. At the moment I am writing a chapbook on Planetary Magic with 49 Hymns that focus on the Greek Gods associated with the planets. Chronos didn’t care that I am also a Gnostic Bishop and Tantrika when I made offerings to him this morning.

Good points, and similar to some thoughts that have already been brought up. But then we get his with this gem:

In a way the current myopic focus on the details of ones belief that is dominating the  Pagan conversation at the moment is actually a very un-pagan thing. In classical paganism, religion was much more about what you did (like honoring holidays and offering sacrifice to the gods) than it was about what the details of your personal theology were. If anything this focus on belief as the key factor of who is Pagan and who is not is kind of, well, Christian.


Religion did not exist as a thing until the Enlightenment. That is not to say that we didn’t do religious things or have religious ideas, but the label “religion” wasn’t really there. As a distinct category or life, it wasn’t labeled. At most, it probably would have been called “tradition.” The ancient Greeks and Romans didn’t really have words for religion, because what we consider religion was so deeply entrenched in life that it was inseparable as a concept.

So for much of history, what we call paganism was more of a default setting. You may have had different ways of dealing with the gods, or conceiving of them, or different experts who petitioned them. No one generally cared. When most people traveled from one place to another, they abided by the customs and traditions of that place. There wasn’t much worry about labels.

Christianity did kind of change all that. You had to be a Christian, that is to say, a follower of the Christ. Which meant certain rituals and beliefs had to be entertained, and certain ones were no longer allowed. I suppose Judaism started that mindset, but it was always a minority religion and was regarded as pretty much an oddity to be tolerated on occasion by the rest of the pagan world. But Christianity pushed it, and as it became dominant, reinforced that mindset of belonging to the right group with the right beliefs.

Ancient pagans wove their cults into their community and culture. It was part of what everyone did to come together. Religious and political identity were one. Christians transcended that to a degree. Religion still defined the community, but now did so primarily by belonging to the correct religion.

What I’m getting that is that ancient pagans didn’t worry about how paganism was defined. Because it wasn’t at all – it was assumed. Christianity began the work of defining and labeling religion, is that they could ensure boundaries and identities were proper. Pagans didn’t really give a shit.

I still think that defining and labeling paganism as a concept is important, but that’s mostly because the dominant Abrahamic religions have made it so. As a minority group, we need to be sure where our borders are — well, mostly. But that is still allowing Christians (and Mulsims) to set the frame of the debate. As we gain in numbers, perhaps defining ourselves strongly will become less important instead of more so.

So am I pagan? I guess so. I don’t know that it matters much anymore.



2 responses to “On Being Pagan

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

  2. Pingback: The Pagan Community | Blacklight Metaphysics

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