My spouse and I are both Pagan, and a good chunk of our time being Pagan has been spent as members of the military. As Pagans in the military, both of us have spent considerable time explaining to chaplains that most of us are not Wiccan, and what the difference is. As Pagans in the military both of us have spent considerable time in a conservative environment being “different”, and perhaps more importantly, in an environment that is often isolated and emphasizes the idea of teamwork.
Underway (onboard a ship at sea, for those not savvy with Navy terminology), as a Pagan, if you want to participate in a group, you work with who you have…which means you don’t bitch because a Druid Revivalist and a panthiest are leading a Wiccan-style ritual with an Asatruar, a Hellenic Reconstructionist, and a Satanist. Instead, you are just happy that you have someone that understands your theological opinion (even if they don’t agree with it), won’t condemn you for it (even in their head, since it would be an EO issue if they did it out loud), and would welcome the opportunity for others to engage in discussion and discourse with.
Paganism is polythetic. Many concepts–from cancer to religion to games–lack univocal criteria. They are defined by shared commonalities that may not be all be manifested in all examples of the subject in question. Simply defined, polythetic means “having many, but not all properties in common”, and paganism is one of these concepts.
Some of these charachteristics inculde (in no particular order):
Connection to pre-Christian pagan religions, either thru reconstruction, revival or loose inspiration
Earth-centered or nature-based spirituality (this is not synonomous with earth worship, but rather a recognization of the importance of earth’s natural rhythms and cycles, the spirits of place, etc)
Pluralistic view of Diety
Interconnectivity of the cosmos
Importance of Ritual
Use of Magic
Acknowledgement of personal truth as valid (as opposed to the idea that there is a “one true” way)
Celebration of Humanity (as opposed to condemnation of human nature)
Emphasis on personal responsibility (via ideals such as honor, justice, etc)
I think it is extremely short-sighted that some pagans are becoming elitest snobs, turing the tables on the “You’re not a REAL Christian” game into a “Well, I’m not Pagan” contest. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but…yes, you are. Even if you aren’t Pagan (big P), your path is still pagan (little p).
Contemporary Paganism has grown beyond its etymological roots, and it has more to say for itself that “non-Abrahamic”.