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Posts Tagged ‘Heathenism’

 

I was in high school when I started to seriously study and practice any form of Paganism.  I was solitary except for a few experiments with an equally curious friend.  I didn’t meet any other Pagans in person until college.  The introductory books did not prepare me for the diversity in our community.  I remember an elder  looking down his nose at me when I blurted out a socially awkward “Blessed be!” in the local metaphysical store after I heard what he was talking about.  (We later had a very positive relationship.)  I vividly remember the first time I met a self-proclaimed Vampire.  (It was really uncomfortable.)

Although I never experienced witch wars or anything like that, I occasionally butt heads with people in the eclectic group I belonged to in Utica.  I came to realize Wicca did not resonate with me, but many people in the group embraced it or its teachings.  I realized I was a polytheist, a liberal reconstructionist with a blossoming interest (calling?  obsession?) in Irish culture.  I no longer embraced the Law of Three or the Rede.  Fueled by youthful passion, I wanted to remind everyone, whenever I could, that I didn’t always share their perspectives. While I seldom work a curse, studying Irish (and other Indo-European lore) revealed that it was part of those cultures and not demonized in any way.  Indeed, some of the earliest Irish curses are against inhospitable rulers who were not treating their people with dignity.

The moment you admit any of that, the moment you dismiss the Law of Three, the moment you stand in contrast to Wicca (by your ethics, your tools, your methods,  etc), lines form.  I don’t always mean for that to happen, but it’s been part of my learning curve.  It became painfully divisive whenever I shared my concerns of cultural appropriation when we planned eclectic rituals.   It was exhausting, but I loved everyone I worked with.  They were patient with me, encouraged me to share my own interests, and we always strove to be respectful, even when things became heated.  I’m really lucky that my first foray into the Pagan community was like that.  It could have been worse.  I know many people who refuse to celebrate with others because of really bad experiences.

Now that I’m a little older, I hope that I’m a little wiser.  I realize there is strength in our diversity.  It forces us to think and not become mired in tradition.  It’s good to see things from other perspectives.  Although I prefer to work with and learn from fellow Druids, polytheists, and traditional witches, some of the kindest, smartest, and most talented ritualists I know are Wiccan or influenced by those teachings.  While I find the sacred in the forests and rivers, I now understand that many find it in city streets.  I may be a vegetarian, but I know many who very respectfully hunt or lovingly raise animals, then offer some of the flesh.  I may lean towards hard polytheism, but I understand and appreciate that others see all gods as aspects of one spirit.

If you haven’t already, you should read “Undoing the Hard Work of Pagan Pioneers” by Bekah Evie Bel.  (Fair warning – it’s a Patheos blog update.  They always slow my browser.)  The author explores a topic that I and others sometimes think about.  How society sees us, and how we see each other, play a role in the novel I’ve been writing.  More people are talking about “rewilding” our traditions.  Some are calling anew to Aradia.  In our fight for rights and recognition in larger society, many worry that we have declawed ourselves in the process.  Why is it somehow possible for  Western people to accept that cultures in other countries make offerings, revere their ancestors, talk to plants, or dance while their gods ride them?  When it happens in other countries, it’s interesting, entertaining, it’s so  weird you can’t look away, it’s exotic.  When it happens in a Western country, especially in your own backyard, it’s suddenly alarming to many.  (Obviously, indigenous people live here, but the dominant culture tends to treat their traditions as exotic, too.)  Within our own Pagan community, certain practices will draw ire – you may even be ostracized.  Most people regard Paganism as a monoculture.  Heck, many people within our own community still view it that way, leading to culture shock and conflict upon encountering different traditions.

I’m not sure exactly where I’m going with this…  just that I’ve been thinking about these topics.  I seem to come back to them every once in awhile as I reflect on my growth.  While there are definitely certain practices that must stay in the past based on laws and evolved perceptions of human decency, I think it’s important that individuals within the Pagan community continue to grow in a spirit of mutual respect.  We don’t have to agree all the time, but recognizing that not everyone will embrace the same practices or traditions is important to our preservation.  It’s important that we continue to learn about each other and come together to celebrate our diversity.  When we can do that, we’re better able to brainstorm and ameliorate issues concerning race, gender identity, cultural appropriation, elder care, and others challenging our growth. It’s part of why I’m involved in my local FAE Fest and enthusiastically attend PPD – to promote education so we learn about each other, celebrate our similarities and differences, and support each other.

I’m thankful to our Neo-Pagan elders and all they did to help us get where we are today, but I’m ready for certain stigmas to go away within our own diverse community.  The greater misconceptions are more likely to vanish from public opinion when we ourselves stop perpetuating the falsehood that we all believe or practice the same way.

 

 

 

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Fellow Druid and blogger, A Fundamentalist Druid in America, posted an intriguing and thought-provoking entry this morning. Entilted “Why I am not a Pagan,” he explores the many negative connotations associated with the word such as its historical usage, derivation, and the groups of people who use it to describe themselves. He quotes several well-known “Pagans” on the subject, such as Zsuzsanna Budapest, who are equally wary of the word. Although I honestly told him in his comments that some of his language could be too condescending to generate meaningful discussion on such a worthy topic, I encourage you to head over and read it.

So where do I stand on this issue? I will try to put my opinion into words as best as I can.

I always feel a bit awkward when someone questions me about my religious beliefs. The most accurate way to describe myself would be to say that I am an American Druid of the ADF tradition who ascribes to Celtic Reconstructionist methods and practices some traditional folk magic. If pressed for further explanation, perhaps by someone who practices another religion, I would explain that I am a polytheistic animist who practices magic and ritual within an Irish and occasionally Pan-Celtic cultural context. These are as accurate descriptors as I can think of, but my Gods, they are a mouthful aren’t they?!

Like many others, “Pagan” is just the easiest explanation for those on the outside looking in. Yes it is a terribly loaded word full of negative connotations both within and without the community it describes, but it is the best we have at the moment to refer to a general group of people who are not strictly monotheistic. Fundamentalist Druid states:

Because the word isn’t explanatory or even defining (hell, it doesn’t even state what side you’re on when it comes to animism, polytheism, monotheism…), and all in all, it’s an entirely extraneous word, only really of use in scaring Christians or feeling superior. Paul Beyerl hits on the same notion, calling it “a lifestyle word“. If somebody asks what religion I have, I can say I’m a druid if I want to be direct, or I’m a mystic if I want to take the long route, or I can launch into a shamanic litany of all the things I am and have been and could be, if I want to be obscure and truthful. But what can you or anyone assume about the addition of pagan?

I definitely agree that the word is not very helpful in truly understanding a person’s spiritual beliefs. (I don’t agree that it’s only use is to scare Christians or feel superior. For some, sure, but I don’t think it’s that simple. Truly, this could be said of “Druid,” “witch,” or “heathen” as well.) “Pagan” is very general to the point of being misleading. How many in the Druidic, Heathen, Recon, etc communities have gone to a “Pagan” meetup, CUUPs meeting, or moot only to discover that it’s really not some general, multi-path group at all! It’s really a bunch of people who, despite their insistence that they are an eclectic group, are really practicing some form of Neo-Wicca. One of the more negative aspects of the word is that it’s s0 open-ended and so inclusive that it’s almost implying eclectic these days. People who can’t or don’t commit to one path tend to embrace the title “Pagan” which can cause some confusion within and without of our communities. Those of us looking for something very specific can become discouraged by the word.

But without that word, what do we have? Some embrace the term “witch” which is fine and dandy, but that doesn’t cover all of us. Some “Pagans” reject that title for various reasons. Fundamentalist Druid suggests “heathen,” but that is generally used by people who follow a Norse path so, again, not useful to all of us. (If you’re interested in spiritual descriptors in Celtic tongues, do check out this link for the CR FAQ.) Not all of us are animists. Not all of us are polytheistic (I won’t even touch the hard vs. soft issues in this post). We’re not all magicians. “Mystic”, in my opinion, is far too broad because there are Christian, Jewish, and Muslim mystics as well. “Magician,” again, is not applicable to all and tends to make one sound like a stage performer. The way I see it, “Pagan” is the best we have right now.

I do understand that the title can be offensive to some. It could be particularly offensive to those who follow a hearth culture conquered by the Romans. It’s no wonder many Celtic Reconstructionists use names in their hearth language of choice! That said, linguistically, I’m a descriptivist. I know and accept the fact that language changes, thus the meaning of words change. It seems that a majority of us within the community are comfortable using “Pagan” as an umbrella term to describe a variety of non-monotheistic beliefs. It might not be the first word we choose to describe ourselves (heck some of us, like the Feral Druid, are still trying to figure that bit out), but it is helpful when it comes to organizing larger gatherings (Pagan Pride events), multi-denominational education (Cherry Hill Seminary), news (The Pagan Newswire Collective), or civil rights initiatives. When the meaning of a word changes and is accepted, it’s very hard to change – especially when a majority of the group it describes accept it.

Whether Fundamentalist Druid intended it or not, I think his post could be a springboard of discussion for this topic.  I was really inspired by his thoughts and wanted to share my own on this blog.  I hope some of you will share your own feelings, either in my comments section, his, or on your own blog.

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BBC News – Staffordshire Hoard ‘to help rewrite history’.

 

Neat!  I can’t wait to hear more about this.

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