Pagan Identity Crisis 2011: An In-Depth Analysis

As I’ve already discussed my view on the term “pagan” in a previous post, I’m now going to try and attempt to be a bit more objective on the matter and analyze how this issue popped up in the first place. Now featuring a crapload of links and quotes!

The biggest reason I can identify by scoping the blogposts listed at Patheos is that there is a need felt by many Pagans, specifically reconstructionists, to distance themselves from Wicca.

Matthew Hunt says in his blog post, “I don’t feel a remote kinship with the Wiccan religion so why should it be of dire importance that we have some kind of bond of being under an umbrella word like “Paganism”?”

On the matter Helio says, “The term [pagan] has a Wiccan baggage that tends to be carried as an assumption into a conversation on my beliefs and practices and no matter how much you try to educate people, largely because for every polytheist trying to explain that they’re not Wiccans there are dozens if not hundreds of books for sale that simply assume the eightfold calendar to be universal (to name just one usual misconception), which then get read by thousands or make up the essential bibliography of covens, courses, bookstores, workshops, and websites that perpetuate those mistakes – including the general public and the mainstream media that happens to do some quick research on modern paganism.”

“[…] modern or neo-Paganism has become almost synonymous with Wicca, I am not Wiccan, and got tired of explaining that.” is the reasoning Marcel uses in his blogpost.

I could keep going with this list, but there’s no need to beat a dead horse. In ANOTHER previous post, I have discussed why some Pagans (in this instance, non-Wiccans) do not like Wiccans.

Let’s face it; it’s a habit of humans to label things. It’s part of our survival. And that’s what language is made of. Language is a system of symbols that allows members of a society to communicate with one another. A symbol is anything that carries a particular meaning recognized by people who share culture (John J. Macionus “Sociology” Chapter Three: Culture). And so we are now arguing over the definition of a symbol, as words are symbols.

Yes, it’s true that many Wiccans use the term “pagan”. People have been arguing that the term “pagan” was originally an insult. This is not true. It did eventually become an insult – something along the lines of “hick” – but it originally was the word “paganus” which is Latin for “a villager”. The word paganus did not just randomly appear. It has a root, and its root is “pagus” which is Latin for “a village” (Handy Dandy Latin Dictionary). This does not mean that “pagan” was not used as an insult eventually – as I said, it was eventually used to mean hick or uneducated. But that does not mean that cannot or does not have a different meaning today. Take a look at the word “gay” whose (disputed) roots are among the Old French “gai” which means “cheerful” and “merry”. It ended up having a negative connotation, and now has associations that has made part of the LGBT community feel uncomfortable with the term (you can read about this some in Teo Bishop’s post).

Those who are against the use of the term “pagan” offer instead using the name of each individual belief or tradition when referencing a group or using the term “polytheist”. However, there are Pagans who are not Wiccan and are not polytheists. Is the urge so great to distance oneself from Wiccans that the term would be avoided altogether?

Laura LaVoie points out in Pagans need to present United Front that, “However, where I start to get concerned is when the labeling or the lack of labeling or the change of label starts to affect the community as a whole. You might say “What community?” That is precisely my point. I think that all Pagans, Polytheists, Wiccans, Heathens, Reconstructionists, or anyone else who believes in some form of “The Old Gods” or “Multiple Gods” would be better served by providing a united front to gain acceptance outside of our own communities. When we are all so concerned with what we’re not or that we aren’t the same kind of polytheists as those polytheists over there, the community begins to break down.”

This schism that appears to be occurring (or may occur in the future) seems vaguely familiar… ah, yes, the separation of Christian religions, when “Christianity” went from being “Greek Orthodox and Christian” to “Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Protestant”. Though perhaps the RC’s here would be the Wiccans and the Protestants would be those eager to escape from the seemingly wicked grasp of “pagan”.

However this post is taken is really up to the reader. With that, I leave a final quote.

“Only the human mind invents categories and tries to force facts into separated pigeon-holes. The living world is a continuum in each and every one of its aspects.” – Alfred Kinsey

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5 Responses to Pagan Identity Crisis 2011: An In-Depth Analysis

  1. paosirdjhutmosu says:

    Interesting analogy towards the end of your piece, and no doubt one that would be controversial. If Wiccans are the Roman Catholics, and Reconstructionists the Protestants, it would only be because the Wiccans/Wiccanates have larger numbers and more presence in public events, bookstores, and the like. Otherwise, they do represent two different streams, coming from different directions (though they sometimes overlap. That they do at all is probably only because both involve the ancient pre-Christian gods of Europe and the Mediterranean, but the two streams do different rituals, conceptualize the gods differently, and often espouse different sets of values.)
    I actually largely agree with the reconstructionists who are weary of being lumped in with Wiccans/Wiccanates. My (sometimes ambivalent choice) of using the word Pagan (at least sometimes) has less to do with seeking solidarity and more to do with continuity, giving a nod to my spiritual ancestors, and giving the finger to the apparatus of religious intolerance and destruction that necessitated RECONSTRUCTING any ancient religion in the first place. (I believe this defiance is important, especially as we still live in dangerous and difficult times, especially in the USA.)
    That said, I can see why, as mentioned in the article that started this whole thing, why some of us feel more at home with Hindus or Shintoists. As far as origin and history, the main difference between Hellenismos and Kemetism, say, and Hinduism and Shinto, is that the first two were suppressed and effectively wiped out by Christianity, to later be revived by modern people called by the gods, while the latter two were not. If Hellenismos and Kemetism had never been interrupted, and somehow, and say the other religions of Europe and the Mediterranean had been, then you’d have adherents of the Greek and Egyptian religions taking offense at the term “Pagan”.
    By the way, you might have offended somebody with the Christian analogy. That’s usually an insult on a par with insulting someone’s mother. xD
    While the world is indeed a continuum (and my gods reflect this, being able to overlap and flow into each other, stymieing attempts to see them as totally separate beings like you and me) we need those pigeon-holes and boxes, or else the world becomes an undifferentiated mess. It’s hard to get out of pigeon-holing, because in a very real way, it’s necessary.

  2. Moira says:

    Wait a second…Do I misunderstand or are you saying being a wicca like me is a bad thing? To call myself that is giving everybody a negative image of me? What is wrong with being “lumped” with wiccans? Our religions have similar roots. Wiccan is more modern, yes, but really is there a difference? Church of england and roman catholic are considered the same religion, just different denominations. Isn’t this the same as Paganism and Wicca?

    • Moira says:

      This was in response to paosirdjhutmosu’s comment:

      “I actually largely agree with the reconstructionists who are weary of being lumped in with Wiccans/Wiccanates.”

    • paosirdjhutmosu says:

      Being Wiccan is perfectly fine, and I have nothing against Wiccans. So you definitely misunderstood me there. If everyone equated “Pagan” with “Heathen”, and assumed that I practice blot and sumbel, then I’d talk about being lumped in and assumed to be Heathen.
      There are definitely areas of overlap, areas in common. But there are also differences between the historically/culturally/ethnically-centered reconstructionisms/revivalisms and Wicca and other more modernly-derived paths. There have been two millennia of destruction and cultural/philosophical change, largely under the influence of Christianity that has taken place after the last temple was shut down and before the first Wiccan coven gathered. That alone will lead to differences.
      The differences get even bigger if you look at the non-Indo-European revived paths, like Kemetism and Natib Qadish, which don’t even have the same broad symbolism as the Indo-European religions. In this respect, Wicca would also be more Indo-European-derived. Try looking for an earth mother in Egyptian religion and you’ll see what I mean.
      That doesn’t mean one is inferior, not by a long shot— I left that “One True Way” garbage in the past, where it belongs.
      Thinking about it, I feel that the “denomination” analogy is a poor one to apply here. With Christianity, you have one founder, one original group, that then splintered apart relatively recently. With this group of religions, not so much.

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