I put in my two cents yesterday, and the Patheos Pagan portal continues to gather different perspectives, but I thought I’d highlight some of the voices that have sounded off on the issue of using “Pagan” as a descriptor for our diverse movement since Friday. Let’s start with T. Thorn Coyle, who’s written extensively on this subject before, and now weighs in again.
“I’m all for self-definition. I’m also, as I’ve stated before, suspicious of too much clinging to solid identity. There is also a sense, though, that a larger umbrella of association can be of help to us. There are commonalities of worship and belief and practice, even while there are stark differences among us. I’m with Drew in that I’ve attended Druid rituals that were a lot more in line with other neoPagan rituals than I had hoped or expected. There is a homogeneity that has crept in that feels problematic, but I don’t feel there has to be. I would far prefer that Heathen and Druid rituals look almost nothing like Wiccan rituals and that we could all learn something from this cross pollination, and still sit around the same fire, sharing the beverages of our choice. Why? Only ever sitting in our separate enclaves feels like we are missing out on some opportunities for growth and self-examination. Why do we do ritual in the way we do? Why not? How do we interact with our Goddesses and Gods? What is our theology and why?
Sitting around the fire with people we don’t agree with pushes us to become better, to think more deeply, to practice more concretely, to stretch our muscles. When we only live in association with like-minded folk, we are the lesser for it. There is nothing that says we cannot associate with a wide variety of groups without all coming under a common rubric. But the reality is, mostly we don’t and won’t. Mostly, we will drift further and further apart, coming back to the sense of, “We are not like those people over there. They are of a different tribe. We have our own.” The thought of that saddens me.”
“It seems to me that much of the discussion elsewhere on the internet over the validity and appeal, or lack thereof, of the term “pagan” is because far too many people are mistaking it for a religion rather than a descriptor. They then feel left out or marginalized or not accurately described by the term because they have conflated the descriptor with another religion–usually Wicca–and then they observe that Wiccan practices and beliefs do not align with their own, and thus don’t apply to them; or, they observe Wiccans have not represented their beliefs in their rituals and presentations and events, and thus they feel excluded because of that, and also feel that there is no interest in other types of paganism within Wiccan contexts. I don’t mean to downplay the experiences or the feelings of the people who have described their approaches to the term in these sorts of ways; indeed, I think that the generic Wiccan assumptions that portray themselves as “Pagan” need to be seriously questioned, and true inclusiveness needs to start happening on a much larger scale than it has previously. But, likewise, I don’t think that any of us should just “let them have the term” either–we need to do everything we can to prove true the phrase that “Not all pagans are Wiccans” (and perhaps later we can also address the fact that “not all Wiccans are pagans” as well…but that’s a side issue for the moment!).”
“In my experience with the African Traditionalist “community” there are even debates on what individuals prefer to call themselves: Yoruba based religions, African Traditional Religion, Pagan, our exact religion name (Ifa, Vodou, Hoodoo, Batuque, ect). We also don’t come into an agreement with names of practitioners (Bruja/Brujos or Curanderas for Spanish speaking practitioners, mainly Mexico, for an example). Even in my native familial country of Haiti there is many divination of what Vodou is. Some believe that monotheism best describes the religion. Since there is a Supreme Deity, who is remote or “active” pending on the practitioner. Monotheism doesn’t have negative connotations for many Haitians. Similar to Catholicism is seen as Monotheist with saints as intermediaries. So, it is with the concept of monotheism in Vodou (and its many forms: Vodun, Vodu, Voodoo,ect) or Fon Religion (Vodou is Fon based not Yoruba based). Nevertheless, there are individual practitioners who find comfort with using the terminology of polytheism/polytheist for they don’t feel the connection with the Supreme deity. At times, the Supreme deity can be “out of sight out of mind.”
There is another growing use of the terminology of “Pagan” and “Wiccan” with many immigrants from Latin American society who still holds onto their indigenous practices. For many immigrants identifying themselves as “Wiccan” is away to inform “the others” who are not of their practice that their religion is “peaceful” and “nature based.” I’ve actually heard Santeria practitioners tell others that they are Wiccan. Their intention is not degrade the actual Wiccans but to inform U.S. unknowledgeable “spectators” that they are not sinister, since Wicca is a religion that most “mainstream” Abraham followers at least heard of or know of. Believe it or not, it does hold less negative stigma to refer oneself as Wiccan than hougan, mambo, Vodou/Santeria practitioners, and the likes. I’m sure Wiccans born in the states and raised in the states may not believe it. Yet, it is these individuals truth. So, many times when I tell individuals that I am Pagan, who are not Pagan, jump into the next question of, “Are you Wiccan?” Wiccan is not seen as a “threat” than being from a religion that is not indigenous or known in the U.S. Yes, there is more awareness of Wicca than any other “Pagan” denominations/faith. This is were I can appreciate non-Wiccans sentiments in feeling alienated by the media.”
“It’s an effort to be as honest with the community as we can be. People can define Paganism however they want, but the fact is that when we call ourselves Pagan and focus on a Pagan-identified audience, we get a lot of disappointed guests. None of my students feel like they are part of the Pagan community, and most of our community members don’t, so why would we lie and say we’re part of it?
I let the community steer me on this one. A few years back I assembled a document that exhaustively described all the branches of Celtic religion from the Iron Age to today. I included everything, even Celtic Christianity and Romano-Celtic syncretism. I asked the students to discuss where in this document our tradition, the Old Belief, would fall. They came up with some really astute observations that helped us define ourselves. They told me we didn’t fit with the “Pagan” groups. So really, it was a matter of community consensus.”
There’s even more from Peter Dybing, Teo Bishop, Lamyka, Crystal Blanton, and Alorer (among yet more still). I think there’s been a lot of productive thoughts and comments made on this issue so far, but I hope the next step is to start talking to each other and working on ways to still collectively accomplish larger goals while allowing our distinctiveness to be expressed.