Thursday, June 2, 2011

The Word "Pagan" Works Just Fine

Being an active participant in the Pagan Blogosphere doesn't just mean writing my own blog posts, it means reading other people's posts as well. Catching up on "The Wild Hunt" this morning I stumbled upon a post by "Rogue Priest" Drew Jacob who has written a piece on "Why He's Not a Pagan." His post ended up being linked to the Wild Hunt and it sparked a great deal of criticism and thought.

I don't know Mr. Jacob, and I don't know much about his faith path. From what I can gather he's a "Celtic Reconstructionist" who doesn't feel at home in modern Druid groups. Fair enough. From the outside looking in most of us would (hell, all of us) would say that he's probably "Pagan." His argument against being "Pagan" is that he doesn't feel at home in the average Pagan circle, and that he gets along better (spiritually) with people he's met at Irish dances and Renaissance festivals.

Reading his blog post one sentence used to justify the shedding of the word "Pagan" jumped out at me the most:

They (modern Pagans) didn’t know what the ancient Celts did.

And here's where I get snarky . . . ."And you know what they did?" Remember, we don't really have a very good grasp on Celtic Religion. There are no written records, no Celtic Mythology from the Celts, mostly it's just a jumbled up mix of second and third hand accounts. Even Caesar's "First Hand Account" in Gaul has been accused by modern scholars of being second hand. There's really very little there. I know that ADF has tried to reconstruct authentic Celtic Ritual, but it's near impossible. Hell, as someone who leans toward Greek Reconstructionism, I can tell you that it's difficult putting authentic Greek Rituals together, and those people had written records!

I will admit that there are some horrible (shitty) books out there written by Pagans about "Celtic" religion. I can understand the desire to distance yourself from "Pagandom" after reading D.J. Conway's "Celtic Wicca*." Up until the late 1990's Pagan writers were allowed to write almost anything. There was no accountability when it came to the actual facts. That changed, eventually, but a lot of those horrible, unsubstantiated, books are still in print, and still an influence. Sure "Witta: An Irish Pagan Tradition" is embarrassing, but I'm not going to cut the ties to all of Contemporary Paganism because of it. (And Mr. Jacob hasn't either, since he writes a blog on a Pagan website, he still has very real ties to Pagandom, even if he's trying to move away from the word "pagan.")

"Pagan" is a broken term, but it's what we've got. Jacob's religion most definitely falls under the umbrella of "pagan" because it's not Christian, Jewish, or Muslim. Remember, that's the first, and simplest, definition of pagan out there. A quick google search shares the other definitions in common use. Webster's states that a pagan is "a follower of a polytheistic religion," not surprisingly Jacob calls himself a polytheist at the end of his blog post. Webster also gives "Neo-pagan" as a definition of Pagan, with the definition of Neo-Pagan being a "person who practices a contemporary form of paganism." It's almost like a crazy circle of pagan/polytheist/Neo-pagan.**

I am not someone who demands that words only be used in certain ways and I would never tell someone how to define themselves. If you don't want to be called a "Pagan" fine, that's OK, but I don't see the purpose in it. We are already fragmented enough, and if you, like me, are worshipping ancient European gods, I'd prefer to have you in my extended community. I want you to share what you've learned, and I can't get that information if you are putting distance between yourself and the rest of us.

I am not in agreement with Webster's on the definition of "pagan." First of all, it should be capitalized. "Christian" is capitalized, are we the only religion that doesn't get that courtesy? Secondly, their definition is incomplete, and far to simplistic. I think it would take a couple of sentences to truly define "Contemporary Paganism," but most dictionaries don't take that path, which is OK, but . . . . . .

Modern Paganism is certainly about gods and goddesses (polytheism), but it's also about nature. To leave out "nature religion" is to leave out half the definition. "Nature" is about the only thing most Pagans can agree on, and whether they admit it or not, it's always there. Since we don't celebrate the birthdays of deities (generally), our holidays revolve around celestial events, making them "Nature" holidays. Pagans are generally polytheists with a deep reverence for nature. "Polytheism" is a bit simplistic, there are atheist Pagans, and Neo-Platonist Pagans, but "polytheism" works because Modern Pagans, regardless of their own beliefs about deity, will be accepting of your gods.

There are a lot of Modern Pagans who are "Reconstructionists" and most of them haven't gone running from the word "Pagan." As I said before, there are times when I've done "Reconstructionist" Hellenic (Greek) rituals, and when I do that I take out all the "modern" Pagan elements. Jacob alludes to this in his post, if you are a "Celtic Reconstructionist" you rid yourself of modern influences. That means no quarters,*** perhaps no circle, and you don't celebrate solstices and equinoxes because the Celts didn't. When I do Greek Reconstructionist things i take out the circles, the quarters, Drawing Down the Moon, heck, most everything that is familiar to most Pagans. But because of the nature of the rituals, calling Pagan Gods, I'd say they are still Pagan.

I'd love to just call myself a Zeppelinite and be done with it, but if I did that, I would miss out on so many experiences and opportunities. Because of what I worship, and not so much "how" I worship, I'm a Pagan. My religion is wine, women, and song; but it's also connecting with ancestors from long ago (Pagan Antiquity) through gods that have been here far longer than the monotheistic ones. Yes, the word Pagan has problems, but it works just fine, for me.

(After commenting on Drew's blog, I began to understand why I became so passionate about this issue. I like people who think, and can separate "truth" from "speculative fiction." I don't want someone like that getting out of the tribe!)

*In defense of "Celtic Wicca" it's important to point out that D.J. Conway is a talented writer, and that "Celtic Wicca" was the first Pagan book I read as an adult. As such, it has a lot of sentimental value for me, but as a book about "Celtic Anything" it's mostly fiction.

**Neo-Pagan is a term I have trouble stomaching. I am a "Contemporary Pagan." Since we've been around since at least the 1940's, "Neo" no longer works. I mean, we are looking at almost seventy years now, that's a couple of generations. "New" no longer works. I'm a "Contemporary" or "Modern" Pagan.

***Which he makes explicit reference too, and which I find odd. Almost all the Druids I know don't call quarters, which is why I'm not a Druid. It's not "radical" to do something else.

1 comment:

  1. Great Post :D
    Thought you might like my King Arthur's Summer Solstice at Stonehenge machinima film in which King Arthur seeks to unite the cauldron and the cross....
    Bright Blessings, elf ~