So this post is going to be a little controversial. I’ve been watching with amazement the arguments going on in the pagan blogosphere over the past few months about defining what paganism is and who is and isn’t a pagan, about what labels people want to use for themselves and so on. Now while deities are an important part of a lot of people’s definitions of paganism, the fact that non theists are beginning to get involved seems to have sent a few polytheists off in a huff. What’s worse is that some of the hard polytheists seem to have decided that not even soft polytheists can be part of their religion. I think they should be ashamed of themselves. Paganism has an attraction to people because there is minimal dogma, its focused more on what we do rather than what we believe, and its supposed to prize tolerance and inclusiveness. If the pagan community degenerates into fundamentalism it will end up destroying itself and that would be a very bad thing when paganism offers us a way forward in changing hearts and minds in the battle to save the earth.
Then we come to embarrassment. This is more prevalent for those who have the least supernatural beliefs…many seem to be embarrassed to call themselves Pagans because of the “woo.” Now I don’t know what “woo” is but it seems to be something along the lines of belief in energies, magic and so on. But I really don’t think that’s what people associate the image of pagan with. Unless they’re monotheistic fundamentalists, most people who think of the word pagan think one thing – hippy! They see pagans as people interested in looking after the earth, in hugging trees and so on. Yes there’s a lot more to paganism than that, but I don’t think we should be embarrassed to call ourselves pagan when the image is of someone who is serious about looking after the beautiful world we live in.
Now, rant mostly over, this post is going to be about how I see paganism. I love John Halstead’s view of paganism as being the interaction of three spheres – earth-centered paganism that focuses on honouring nature, self-centered paganism which focuses on personal growth and our inner lives, and deity-centered paganism which focuses on honouring the gods and spirits. Another definition of paganism I like is Graham Harvey’s, who said a Pagan was “someone who belonged, someone who celebrated where they lived, someone who knew their local shrines, springs, hills, trees and neighbours and could trace their descent from local ancestors.” Paganism to me is about honouring and revering nature, its about being bio-regional – focusing on the local area, local gods and spirits, local ancestors, local plants and animals, its about connecting with the land we live on and with all those we share the place with. Paganism is inspired by pre Judeo-Christian and non Judeo-Christian religions and seeks to learn from these in creating new religions for the modern world…because ultimately that is what we are doing, whether reconstructionist, eclectic or whatever, we are creating new religions not following an ancient one (no matter how much people may protest)…and that is fine. Mankind has created new religions many times and some have lasted millenia while others a few decades. Paganism is about the search for connection with that which is greater than us – whether that be the nature, community, the unconscious or some kind of deity. What ultimately matters in religious terms is – does it help us find and make that connection.
It’s time for the pagan blogosphere community to stop arguing over definitions, start accepting each other, focus on the local and to be proud of being Neopagans!