Considering the recent uproar (again) over who is (or is not) Pagan, I thought that perhaps a conversation about what the heck Paganism *is* anyhow (in a pragmatic way), was probably in order.
First off, I agree with the blogger that proclaimed that there isn’t one Paganism, there are many. Which means we need to look at the idea of Paganisms. If we were biologists, Paganism would be more like the Family name (or maybe even the Order, where there’s even more room for further classification!)…but since we aren’t, we sit around and argue. Biologists sit around and argue about this sort of stuff too, so I’m pretty sure its just a human trait and not just a Pagan thing.
As a result of my Pagan experience, I happen to be an advocate of Big Tent Paganism (the Paganism that includes lots of Paganisms, lol). I’m not sure if its a result of my initial and solitary introduction from Wicca, followed by a long and winding progression to where I stand now, or maybe its from my time in the Navy–in the military (unless you want to be buried in the closet or flying solo), you don’t get to be all that picky on whom you share the label with. For that matter, you don’t get too choosy about what label you share either (I spend 6 years as “Wiccan” and “No Religious Preference”, despite being neither).
Anyhow…none of that is the point, and I’d rather not drag this into another rant. So, lets take a look at this pragmatically. What do people who self-idenify as Pagan tend to say about their beliefs and practices? Better yet…
If you were to go to a Pagan event, you would likely find that most (and by most, I would estimate at least 95%*) of people you sit down with do religion in the following ways:
- as a reconstruction of ancient indigenous European religions and related pre-Christian religions originating in the ancient world (henceforth written as IE/PC religions, because that is a ton to write out)
- as a revivalistic construction of IE/PC religions
- as a reinvention or reinterpretation of IE/PC religions
- as constructed modern religious practices and beliefs inspired by the mythology or beliefs of IE/PC religions
- as a modern earth-centered spiritual religious practices and beliefs inspired by IE/PC religions
- as modern, constructed spiritual and religious practices and beliefs based in IE/PC themes
Now (before people start pointing out the exceptions), let me also say that this is not the definitive list of people that I have found self-identifying as Pagan (nor will everyone that does religion like this want to self-identify as Pagan). There are also people incorporating little-p paganism**–Buddhism, Hinduism, Shinto, etc, ideas into their Paganisms. There are people incorporating science and philosophy and theosophy and all sort of other non-religious ideas into their Paganisms. There are people eschewing IE/PC religious traditions and themes in favor of other traditions, and doing it in a modern Pagan framework (like celebrating the Wheel of the Year, or using Wiccan-style ritual).
Personally, I’m okay with that. The last time I checked, there were no creeds or doctrinal tests of Paganism…maybe of individual Paganisms, but that’s a tradition-specific thing. That lack is part of what I originally found inspiring and heartening about Paganism when I tripped over its existence some 20 years ago, in direct contrast to my experiences with Christianities and Christians. Over time, I’ve actually found that engaging philosophically and practically with people of different Pagan outlooks as mine has done more to strengthen and enrich my beliefs than not (but if you don’t, that’s fine too). And really, despite being an advocate of Big Tent Paganism, I don’t think we should be trying to define ourselves to please the people that have already decided that what we actually, pragmatically, *are* isn’t their cup of tea.
*When I say “about 95%” it is an estimation based on my limited experience in the Pagan community, where I hang out in the Pagan mom blog community, co-administer a Pagan forum, coordinate a Pagan meet-up, and participate in my local community. I’m not some traveling Big Name Pagan, who has specific ties to specific communities that knows tons and tons of peeps (particularly those that are hostile towards the idea of being Pagan). And, as a former military pagan, I am admittedly biased in favor of getting along to get things done for one another.