Pagan Politics, Part Whatever

John Beckett asks an interesting question: Must Paganism be Transgressive?

Do we lose something when a radical spiritual movement starts to be accepted by the mainstream? Or is it more complicated than that?

Beckett looks at a few other discussions going on in the Pagan blogosphere in examining this question. I saw a few themes that I’ve talked and thought about before, so I felt the need to open my big mouth.

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Understanding Paganism

A while ago Teo Bishop wrote this post about what kind of pagan he is.

It’s a very powerful piece, and I recommend that you take the time to read it.

Really, read it.

First, I’d like to note that in many ways, I am not the same kind of Pagan Teo is.

I’d also like to note that in many ways, I am.

But what gets me is the unspoken question: “Why do you have to elaborate on what kind of Pagan you are?”

The obvious answer is that someone has questioned him about his Paganism. I know it’s happened to me, and it has probably happened to many of you.  I’ve been accused of being a closet Christian, of being a bad Pagan for not following the Wiccan Rede, of being a Black Magician, and even of being a pretender because men can’t do magic. That, and when you consider that Paganism isn’t really a readily definable thing, it doesn’t seem that unusual that many Pagans feel they have to describe, define, or even defend what it is that they do.

I’m honestly not sure that Teo is really describing who he is as a Pagan. I think he’s describing who he is as a person.

And perhaps that’s why we have such a hard time describing or defining Paganism. Because we all consider it to be the thing that we do.

And Paganism tends to be negatively defined. As in, it is defined by what it isn’t. And when we start defining it by what it is, people feel left out. (Nature Religion!! Goddess Worship!! Social Justice!!)

I know this is kinda rambly, so let me get where I’m going.

I think that Paganism itself is an identity crisis.

I think that defining as Pagan implies a desire to be fluid and free of certain restrictions and definitions, and simply go our own way.

This can cause problems, because we don’t like to be alone, and so we seek others going the same way as we are. And this can lead to groups that establish new restrictions and definitions. I don’t think that’s a bad thing, because we are free to associate with whomever we wish, and a lot of people do want and need those definitions — they just want to be free to pick their own.

But I think that ultimately, the path of Paganism is one of self-discovery and self-invention. And that can be very hard, but it can also be very worth it.

Paganism and Environmentalism

And here I begin to delve into politics. Sorta.

There are a lot of Pagans out there that regard activism and environmentalism as integral to their paganism. If that’s their deal, then fine: I won’t hold it against them. My issue is when they assume that because those elements are central to their religious understanding, that they assume that those elements must be central to my religious understanding, and that if they aren’t then I aren’t a “real Pagan” or I’m not “enlightened” enough, or I’m a hypocrite because I’m part of a “Nature Religion” and I’m not committed enough to protecting “Nature.”

Because nothing is more endearing than a bunch of people who reject the labels and pigeonholing of the dominant and oppressive overculture, only to have them insist that you live by their rules, labels, assumptions, and dictates. Continue reading

Defining Paganism

Chas Clifton presents three posts discussing more comprehensive and technical efforts to define “paganism.”

One.

Two.

Three.

I’m hopeful about this because my own efforts to define paganism have come up flat and dismal. As best as I’ve been able to tell, paganism has pretty much been defined by not being Christian and by deciding to hang out with other people who call themselves pagans. That’s not much to work with, and I’m ever increasingly disappointed by the fact that pagans seem to relish defining themselves against Christianity instead of on their own terms.

I’m pagan!

So we have two definitions of paganism to consider:

I offered the broad, relationship-focused definition that Michel York offered a few years ago in Pagan Theology: Paganism as a World Religion.

An affirmation of interactive and polymorphic sacred relationship by the individual or community with the tangible, sentient and/or nonempirical.”

[…]“An affirmation” — Not a “belief” or a “creed,” but just an understanding by practitioners that this sacred relationship exists.

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What Being Pagan Means to Me

A while back, I read a comment on a pagan Facebook group that asked the deceptively simple question, “What does being pagan mean to you.”

I have a long-standing tradition of scoffing at such commentary. The internet is filled with people whining about what something-or-other means “to them.” Because apparently what it means to everyone else, or what it is in itself, doesn’t matter at all when compared to how they feel about it. (Yeah, I’m not one for post-modernism.)

I am breaking with that tradition and treating the question as a valid one, since it is. (Especially given the state of the Inter-Pagan Definitional War or 2013.)

A lot of this is material that I’ve commented on before in one way or another. I’ve talked about problems and considerations related to defining paganism. And I’ve talked a bit about how I view the environment, be it developed by man or in an abstract sense. And I’ve thought about how these ideas might fit together.

Well, this is the result of those considerations. It’s proving pretty damn tricky to define paganism as a concept or movement, but I can describe how I conceive of “paganism” as something that is relevant to my life.

And for me, being pagan is to have an awareness of the subtle connections of all things around us, and to integrate that awareness into your life and actions.

And now, me rambling at a camera:

Please comment below and/or on YouTube! Let me know what you think, not just of what I discuss, but on how the video production is coming along.