Paganism: Movement, Umbrella, Big Tent Religion?

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  December 18, 2013 — 292 Comments

On a few different occasions now, I have been the face of modern Paganism in a world religions course at an evangelical Christian Bible seminary in Portland, Oregon. The class, at Multnomah University, is filled with individuals who are hoping to go into leadership and missionary roles within their respective church communities. I know that they want to convert me, and all like me, but I agreed to be there because I felt that humanizing Pagans was important, especially to those who might have heavily distorted or antagonistic ideas about what my beliefs were. It’s (relatively) easy to sit down with a liberal Episcopalian, peaceful Light-loving Quaker, or questioning Unitarian-Universalist, it’s quite another thing to engage with folks who might adhere to a spiritual warfare theology regarding non-Christian faiths.

Selena Fox (with Shauna Aura Knight) at Chicago Pagan Pride.

Selena Fox (with Shauna Aura Knight) at Chicago Pagan Pride.

When I step in front of that class, one of the first things I do is point out that modern Paganism is not a monolith. That we are a religious movement made up of distinct groups, traditions, and belief systems. That “Paganism” as a classification does not mean the same thing as the label “Christianity” might mean to them. If you speak to a Christian, they might have widely diverse views on a number of subjects, but there’s a central text (The Bible) and figure (Jesus) that makes them recognizable as a group. However, if you talk to a Pagan, you might be speaking to a Wiccan, a Druid, a Heathen, or one of a growing number of polytheist reconstructionists and revivalists. Of course, statistically speaking, they might also very well end up talking to an eclectic, solitary, practitioner who mixes and matches from the many definable communities that exist underneath our umbrella.

“The problem with big tents is, well, they’re big. Try to embrace the whole tent and you can find yourself bouncing back and forth between pouring libations to Zeus, protesting fracking, organizing the Beltane picnic and meditating on The Fool.  Those are all worthwhile things to do, but they can lead to a personal religion that is the proverbial mile wide and an inch deep.”John Beckett

As I move forward with my talk, I notice that I steer away from my personal beliefs as much as possible. Not to protect myself, I care little if a group of evangelical students know my views on divinity, but because I realize that I’m a filter for something incredibly vast. How do I do justice to both P. Sufenas Virius Lupus and Cat Chapin-Bishop? To Don Frew and Cara Schulz? The more I personalize, the more they’ll equate my views with the entire movement, so I try to avoid making it about me. Instead I draw diagrams explaining hard and soft polytheism, explain how there can be humanist Wiccans, and even note that there are groups who increasingly want nothing to do with the term or community that has formed around the word “Paganism” for a variety of reasons. In the end, I point out that religious discourse with a Pagan can’t be about a list of preconceived ideas about what we believe, or do, it has to start simply, as an organic attempt at friendship, or else it will ultimately fail.

“While it has been building for the last few years more and more, I wonder if we have not, at last, reached a kind of definitive “breaking point,” so to speak, where polytheism and general paganism can no longer realistically say that they’re at all related.”P. Sufenas Virius Lupus

Paganism is often explained as a collection of “nature-based” faiths, and while that sweeping classification is both limiting and alienating to some groups and individuals within our movement, it does make for a handy metaphor. Like nature, Paganism can be, and is, endlessly diverse. It can be both embracingly populist and extremely individualistic, focused on the esoteric and concerned with the dirt beneath our feet. Pin-point local or hugely universal in its scope. The mere notion of unity can be a difficult prospect, and one that is often mired in politics. There have been times, even recently, where I felt somewhat intimidated to enter into dialog with my fellow Pagans because I wasn’t sure if my own theological views would be seen as safely within our boundaries, or hopelessly heterodox. Not in the same fashion as some of my outspoken polytheist friends, but I too have questioned the utility and usefulness of the term Paganism as an umbrella. I have even entertained the thought that perhaps we’d all get along better if the term, if not the movement, went away. Because I’ve been to the big intrafaith events, and I know that despite our immense theological and cultural diversity we can share fellowship, discuss common problems, and even mobilize around things that we know to affect us all.

Don Frew (center) at the Parliament of the World's Religions (2009).

Don Frew (center) at the Parliament of the World’s Religions (2009).

“I like to say that as religions seeing the Divine manifest in and as the material world, we have to expect that the Divine is both as unified and at the same time at least as diverse as is the natural world. There is one Earth, but innumerable climates and geographies, flora and fauna. It should be no surprise that our spiritualities reflect this.”Don Frew

All of the recent debate over community, terminology, and theology, is, I think, a sign of our collective success. When our religions were under constant threat, when we truly feared jail, or worse, because of our beliefs, we huddled together for safety and solidarity. We created advocacy groups to speak for us, and empowered authors and activists to be our public face(s). We worked very hard at simple acceptance, and have gained a lot of ground in the last 30 years. Even in the ten years of doing The Wild Hunt, I have seen amazing progress, stuff that would have seemed remarkable to our founders from the 50s and 60s. With these advances comes a branching out from that place of huddled safety, where thousands now work at evaluating what they want from a modern Paganism, and if it still suits them. Margot Adler, famous author of “Drawing Down the Moon,” has publicly said on more than one occasion that had she the option back in the 1970s, she would have become a Hellenic polytheist instead of a Wiccan, but Wicca was all she could find at the time. The Margot Adler’s of tomorrow don’t have to worry about those limitations. Thanks to our ascendancy, growth, and technologies, our choices are more expansive, and at least in most Western nations, relatively safe to explore.

Margot Adler, Michael Lloyd, at Anniversary Pagan Way Lecture Series; photo by Brian Brewer

Margot Adler, Michael Lloyd, at Anniversary Pagan Way Lecture Series; photo by Brian Brewer

Going forward, our leaders and elders need to take seriously the need not only for interfaith outreach to religions like Christianity, Hinduism, indigenous traditions, and Buddhism, but a renewed intrafaith discussion among the many faiths that operate within our movement, who still stand (for now) under the Pagan umbrella. We can no longer assume that everyone is going to simply go along, or that criticisms are coming from an ignorable minority. A not-often discussed fact, is that Paganism is largely solitary and eclectic in its makeup. The “large” Pagan organizations have membership rolls that number hundreds, not thousands, and there’s no group that can truly claim to speak for our movement in any unified way. This means that constant engagement and re-engagement within is critical towards achieving the many movement goals we might have (infrastructure, legal rights, pan-movement activism), and a failure to see the importance of such engagement will ultimately lead to our shopworn umbrella truly shredding apart in the decades to come.

If we want a full and rich “Paganism” moving forward, we’ll have to work for it anew. We will have to respect our increasing diversity, and the changing mores of the individuals willing to stand with our movement. Alternately, we can redefine Paganism to mean a smaller number of faiths, and accept that a growing number of religious communities are going to exist apart from us. Whatever “we” want, we should act on it, otherwise time and inaction will make the choice for us.

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Jason Pitzl-Waters

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  • WAH

    “and even note that there are groups who increasingly want nothing to do with the term or community that has formed around the term ‘Paganism’ for various reason”

    Thank you for doing so.

    “Alternately, we can redefine Paganism to mean a smaller number of faiths, and accept that a growing number of religious communities are going to exist apart from us.”

    This seems like the best idea to me. It’s going to happen anyway, it just depends on whether Pagans want to cling to the wrong side of history or not.

    • Lēoht Sceadusawol

      As more groups leave the nest of Paganism and fly into independent existence, Paganism will become easier to define, and this will make interfaith much easier.

      It will also strengthen minority religions at the interfaith table.

      • Wyrd Wiles

        The issue there is that many probably wouldn’t SURVIVE independence. Religions are a lot like living creatures. You need a certain population level in order to keep a species alive. In many ways it’s that Umbrella that has sustained the myriad of faiths in our movement. Without it, some of that diversity might simply die out.

        Also a certain level of interaction would still be needed just to be HEARD at Interfaith gatherings. We’re much more likely to be noticed as a larger coalition of religions, then as a cacophony of smaller voices.

        • Lēoht Sceadusawol

          Of course, realistically, we are not even heard now, in any meaningful way.

        • WAH

          Many of the religions we’re talking about not only survive after rejecting a place in Paganism, but *thrive*. I would argue that the umbrella is just as capable of holding communities back as it is of helping them; especially considering that such help tends to be on the terms of whoever’s a majority in the umbrella, not the terms of those who need the help.

          “We’re much more likely to be noticed as a larger coalition of religions, then as a cacophony of smaller voices.”

          So by that logic, Baha’is, Sikhs, Shintoists, Native Americans, and any other numerically small religions should also just let a Pagan speak for them instead of having their own seat at the table?

          • Wyrd Wiles

            “So by that logic, Baha’is, Sikhs, Shintoists, Native Americans, and any
            other numerically small religions should also just let a Pagan speak for
            them instead of having their own seat at the table?”

            Okay… No.
            I’m not really sure how the heck you got that out of what I said. But No.

            Think of it this way. Within the Hindu community there are DOZENS of different schools of thought, many of which are contradictory. Much like modern Paganism, Hinduism is decentralized, and thus there are a plethora of subdivisions within the community that could almost be categorized as separate religions.
            If each little group within the (Already fairly small) American Hindu population decided to strike out on their own rather than working with the others; they would never accomplish anything. You would have 400 groups of a couple dozen people a piece, who would never be heard over the roaring masses of Christian sects.
            Arizona is actually a fairly big hub of American Hinduism, and they’re often involved in interfaith and outreach programs out here. Why? Because despite their differences they can work together as a collective for common goals. They’re really good at it, they’ve been doing it for a LONG time.

            THAT is what I was saying. We don’t all have to be “the same”. We don’t all have to agree. We don’t even have to really LIKE each other that much, to work together for common goals.
            That is what I think the “Umbrella” SHOULD be. Whether it’s currently doing a good job of that or not is entirely debatable, but I think that’s the advantage that it could offer us.
            I’m not wiccan (Never have been), but when the Wiccans won the right to put the pentacle on military grave stones and dog tags I celebrated with them!
            Months later when Mjolnir was added to that same list, most of the Wiccans I knew celebrated that too! It had no immediate effect on them, their fight was already won, but both groups could recognize and celebrate the victory of an ally. I think that is an effect of our cultural Umbrella.

            Now, I think the three fold law is crap, and they think I’m far to aggressive (As I’m not a pacifist). THAT’S OK. We don’t need to be the same to work together.

          • WAH

            “I’m not really sure how the heck you got that out of what I said.”

            Assuming I’m not mistaken, you’re arguing that Paganism should be singly represented in the interfaith movement as one group. Paganism, in its broadest application, includes religions that are as different from each other as Sikhs, Bahais, and Shintoists. Therefore if one claims that all religions under Paganism’s broadest application should be represented as a block, then one is inherently claiming that those various different religions should be singly represented by one person or small group of persons in the name of “Paganism.” Your justification was based on the various religions being a numerical minority. So if numerical minority is enough to bind these various disparate religions under Paganism, what reason is there for other numerical minorities (such as Bahais, Sikhs, etc.) to not *also* be included under the “umbrella”?

            “Much like modern Paganism, Hinduism is decentralized, and thus there are a plethora of subdivisions within the community that could almost be categorized as separate religions.”

            Except that unlike Hinduism, Paganism has no clear unifying origin or feature (again, in its broadest application). All those various Hindu subdivisions ultimately stem from the Vedas, they have a common geographical, linguistic, and cultural root. Paganism has no such commonality, so Hinduism is in no way an adequate analogy as far as this subject is concerned.

            “If each little group within the (Already fairly small) American Hindu population decided to strike out on their own rather than working with the others; they would never accomplish anything.”

            I disagree with this. First, what do you mean by “working with others” and what are you referring to them trying to accomplish? If by “working together” you mean in an effort to counter discrimination or legal censure against their religions, I would contend that our various religions do not need to share an identity to do so. I stand in solidarity with any religious community that gets discriminated against or legally screwed with, whether they be Wiccan, Christian, Muslim, whatever. I don’t need to share a religious identity with them to do so.

            If by “work together” you mean something more involved, like sharing religious ritual, etc. I don’t see how it’s helpful to throw our ways into a melting pot of conflicting views and practices, only to come out with the blandest common denominator that we show the rest of the world. Sorry, but no, I’d rather my community be represented on its own terms rather than the terms of others.

            “You would have 400 groups of a couple dozen people a piece, who would never be heard over the roaring masses of Christian sects.”

            This doesn’t make sense to me numerically. Let’s say Paganism included 400 religions. Those religions are currently being represented by, say, 5 people at an interfaith gathering. How would increasing individual representation of these religions to 200, 300, or 400 *lessen* their voices? Seems to me more individuals representing their own religions rather than the religions of others would not only increase non-Christian voices, but it would bring more accurate representation as well as more diversity to the proceedings.

            I just don’t see any logical reason every Pagan religion needs to be represented by a few individuals that only belong to a few Pagan religions. Not to mention that “banding together” under one identity necessitates a commonality of motivations, goals, values, and tactics. Try to institute any such commonality to Paganism and it excludes those who want to be included. Make Paganism too vague and you include those who don’t want to be. The only solution is let communities be autonomous who want to be autonomous, and make that fact clear to others when discussing them.

            “Because despite their differences they can work together as a collective for common goals.”

            So can Hindus and non-Hindus. Or Christians and Wiccans. Or any other two or more religious communities who have a specific common goal. My point is that the premise of collective action necessitating collective identity isn’t one that I’ve ever been convinced of in the entire decade+ of it being argued to me. I simply don’t believe that one (or a few, or whatever) common goal is an adequate basis for shared identity, because identity is based on far more than practical goals or political interests.

            “THAT is what I was saying. We don’t all have to be “the same”. We don’t all have to agree. We don’t even have to really LIKE each other that much, to work together for common goals.”

            But we *do* have to share an identity, community, and label, right? All this about “we don’t have to be the same, etc.” has nothing to do with my point. My point is not that someone’s telling me we have to be the same, my point is that I disagree with people telling me I have to share a label/identity or involve myself in a community of disparate religions when I do not want to. Again, working together for common goals/common interests does not necessitate common identity or community.

            “Whether it’s currently doing a good job of that or not is entirely debatable, but I think that’s the advantage that it could offer us.”

            I’m not sure I’d lessen the issue as “debatable.” It seems pretty clear to me by the amount of people taking exception that it’s obviously failing to do so. As to advantages, as should probably be clear, I and many others haven’t been convinced of this supposed advantage; and people have been trying to sell it to us for at least 15 years. As per my own experience, when I started out I found 3 other Heathens in my area. Today, through the efforts of various people, there are upwards of 200 or so in my region.

            We had our first regional moot that drew about 60-70 people with another 60 or so who live in the area having wanted to attend. All of this happened independantly of Pagan infrastructure or the Pagan community. I’ve seen more growth and success (judging by my own desires and standards) in Heathen communities that reject shared identity with Paganism than I have with those who do not. The proof is in the pudding, and I haven’t seen any Pagan-Heathen pudding I’d like as much as my own home made recipe.

            “I’m not wiccan (Never have been), but when the Wiccans won the right to put the pentacle on military grave stones and dog tags I celebrated with them!”

            Yay. I donated money to the Matraeum of Cybele for their legal fight, without feeling the need to share a religious identity with them. Your anecdote proves nothing to me in regard to this subject. *shrug*

            “I think that is an effect of our cultural Umbrella.”

            Except there’s no shared culture under the umbrella and far less of the Pagan community was actually involved in directly fighting for the Mjolnir than was involved in fighting for the Pentacle, if I remember correctly. So still not agreeing that a shared identity is necessary.

          • Franklin_Evans

            There’s a sort of catch-22 involved. I’ll try to be brief.

            We don’t have even the semblence of a structure, let alone broadly recognized leadership(s), so it can come down to a single point: a small number of representatives who are widely (enough) trusted to accurately represent the interests of those who want or may wish to be covered by the “umbrella”.

            I believe that trust really is the central issue. We can see on TWH how weak that trust is in general, so it begs the next question: how do we build that trust to a sufficient level?

            Other than the usual method — travel, talk, conversation and a boatload of time — I don’t have an answer to that. I do have a very strong intuition, that if we don’t find ourselves with a workable organ of representation, we will continue to be vulnerable to those whose modus operandi includes finding scapegoats to sacrifice to the illusionary fears they require in hoi polloi to acquire and keep their power.

            The Pagan Pride Project is a case in point. It’s primary purpose is to educate the rest of society, to give us the opportunity to put real, human faces in front of the labels and the propaganda surrounding them. I readily concede its flaws, but I emphatically endorse its purpose.

            We can do better. It doesn’t have to be a motley collection of local events. It will not come into being without the tedious work of connecting, communicating and finding reasons to share a common ground where disappointment bordering on hostility is the status quo.

          • WAH

            “We don’t have even the semblence of a structure, let alone broadly recognized leadership(s)”

            Yet there’s still a power differential between those comfortable with the de facto culture of Paganism and those who aren’t. The satement “how do we build that trust to a sufficient level?” ullustrates a *percieved* paternalistic tendency in these discussions, as if the Pagan community is a father figure who has failed us and Pagans therefore need to “build our trust.” (Not that I’m saying you’re exhibiting that now, just making reference to how, when we feel on the defensive, we can be uncharitable with our perceptions of your statements).

            Speaking for myself, it isn’t just a matter of building my trust in representatives, it’s a more involved subject that includes my complete lack of desire to share a common identity with those I don’t feel I have a common identity with. I’ve never been Pagan, never felt “Pagan” was part of my identity, and I’ve never involved myself in the “Pagan” community beyond solidarity for legal and social issues or these exact debates.

            My desire is neither to segregate myself from Pagans, but nor is it to make a niche for myself within Paganism. I don’t reject building trust, friendship, or whatever between myself and Pagans, I only reject common religious identity or classification as a prerequisite for doing so. I want to build that trust and friendship as an independent equal, rather than my independance from the Pagan community and Pagan label being treated as a “problem” to be “fixed.”

            So to build trust with an individual or group that feels the way I do, the first step is a complete acceptance of our right to autonomy and self-determination. You’d have to abandon the goal of convincing me to come under the Pagan umbrella (something I’ve never considered myself under and havn’t been convinced of accepting for over a decade), and approach me as an equal of a different community; the same you would approach a Sikh, Hindu, Christian, Muslim, etc that you sought to build trust and friendship with.

            However, you also make this point:

            “representatives who are widely (enough) trusted to accurately represent the interests of those who want or may wish to be covered by the “umbrella”.

            The “those who want or may wish to be covered” is an important distinction here, and I thank you for making it. There are really two things going on here: people who want to be Pagan, but don’t feel that the Pagan community is properly respecting diversity, or falsely representing them, etc.; and those who have no interest in being Pagan at all. I am of the latter category, which I’ve addressed above.

            As to the former category, I can’t speak to their mindset or how to build trust with them, as it isn’t my mindset. I can say that I support addressing such peoples’ grievances, however, with the suggestion that the Pagan community do so with more nuanced approaches than just telling such people, “it’s YOUR fault, YOU fix it.” I wish you luck in doing so, but ultimately it’s an internal Pagan issue and doesn’t concern me, so I’m not really certain how useful I’d be in commenting on it.

            “we will continue to be vulnerable to those whose modus operandi includes finding scapegoats to sacrifice to the illusionary fears they require in hoi polloi to acquire and keep their power.”

            Well, I don’t know if I think some centralized organization is necessarily the answer to preventing this. The best inoculation against being scapegoated is building trust and friendship with the people around us who don’t share our beliefs or practices. I’m open about my beliefs. I also try to be a decent person (jury’s still on out on how often I succeed), and the more people I expose to a decent person with different beliefs than them, the more people who are unlikely to go along with scapegoating me. This has been pretty successful for me, and I live in the Bible Belt.

            Traditional activist organization can (sometimes!) get so bogged down in beauracracy and trying to create a formal strategy for solving a social problem that they neglect the social element that tends to be the best solution. Not to mention that some interfaith panel held in a university isn’t going to draw a large crowd of the “hoi polloi,” so it doesn’t particularly address the concern of teaching them anything. It ends up being a specialized discussion for those interested enough to attend, rather than anything that would appeal to the general populace.

            “It’s primary purpose is to educate the rest of society, to give us the opportunity to put real, human faces in front of the labels and the propaganda surrounding them.”

            That’s a worthy goal, but how many Joe Sixpacks from rural counties do PPDs attract, as attendees rather than protestors? I’ve only attended I think 2 PPDs, so I may very well be speaking from ignorance here, but both times the crowd was entirely Pagan or the already Pagan-interested, as far as I could tell. Maybe there should be more effort to attract non-Pagans? Or is there already? I dunno, it’s not really my place to tell you your business.

            “It will not come into being without the tedious work of connecting, communicating and finding reasons to share a common ground where disappointment bordering on hostility is the status quo.”

            Agreed. For my part, you seem like someone I could get along with, so far at least.

          • Franklin_Evans

            I’ve been privileged to read the reports from several PPDs, from NC to NYC. Some showed what you experienced, others more towards the goals I described.

            Just one point of clarification: any name given to an umbrella organization must reflect the intended scope of inclusiveness. The word “Pagan” clearly would not fit that requirement.

          • WAH

            “others more towards the goals I described.”

            Well that’s good, I wish it much more success at doing so then.

            “The word “Pagan” clearly would not fit that requirement.”

            Fair enough, I’d be tentatively more likely to involve myself in it then.

          • http://www.oddmodout.com/ Ruadhán J McElroy

            Yet there’s still a power differential between those comfortable with the de facto culture of Paganism and those who aren’t. The statement “how do we build that trust to a sufficient level?” illustrates a *perceived* paternalistic tendency in these discussions, as if the Pagan community is a father figure who has failed us and Pagans therefore need to “build our trust.” (Not that I’m saying you’re exhibiting that now, just making reference to how, when we feel on the defensive, we can be uncharitable with our perceptions of your statements).

            Nail on the head, there.

          • http://www.oddmodout.com/ Ruadhán J McElroy

            If each little group within the (Already fairly small) American Hindu population decided to strike out on their own rather than working with the others; they would never accomplish anything. You would have 400 groups of a couple dozen people a piece, who would never be heard over the roaring masses of Christian sects.

            You seem to misunderstand something about Hinduism that makes the “Big Tent” model work for it: Most Hindu sects share the same gods, and the dominant culture of India is considered common to all Hindus (including converts, who often will blend it in with the culture/s they came from). A Shiavite can go to a Chinmaya or Hare Krishna temple, especially in the States where Hindus are a small minority, and it wouldn’t be considered a faux pas because of reasons that I can’t easily put into words, but it has a lot to do with the culture of Hindus more than the philosophical tenants or doctrines or mythos of the individual sects.

            In comparison, “Big Tent Paganism” often works out like, say, Aboriginal Austrailian or Maori religionists walking into a Hindu temple, or Hindus walking into an Orthodox church –there may be some elements of Wicca, Heathenism, CR, VooDoun (sp?), and so on that seem similar at first, but ultimately have a different cultural understanding of what they mean and there is a different method to how it’s done, even if the differences seem negligible to an outsider.

            We don’t need to be the same to work together.

            As true as that may be, “working together” isn’t the same thing as being involuntarily placed in the same category —especially when that category ostensibly suggests that any two random people in it will share at least as much in common as any two random Hindus (who, overall, have little more than a common pantheon and common religious culture). Most pagans simply don’t have that much common ground, especially when you take one random Ecclectic Wiccan/Generic Neo-Pagan and random person who is not.

            A heterosexual Christian couple may be political allies with the lesbian couple across town, but that can still be all they have in common –the het couple are unmarried and philosophically against all marriage (though believe in the legal right to do so), far Radical Left, and in a punk band, and the lesbians are soccer moms hoping to be legally married, atheist, and Centrist-Libertarian financial analysts who prefer to “go crazy” to the music of, yes, Kenny G. These two couples are not friends, they probably even avoid each-other at the rallies that they both attend —they are political allies and nothing more. That’s where a lot of people in the polytheist community see their relationship with the pagan community, as a relationship where there is very little, if anything, in common, but just enough shared goals to be allies.

          • http://www.oddmodout.com/ Ruadhán J McElroy

            I would argue that the umbrella is just as capable of holding communities back as it is of helping them; especially considering that such help tends to be on the terms of whoever’s a majority in the umbrella, not the terms of those who need the help.

            And that’s really my biggest problem with “Big Tent” religion —only the group whose people can grab the bullhorn are fairly represented (or even represented at all), and basic statistics will tell you that whoever has the most numbers has the most chances at the bullhorn.

        • http://www.oddmodout.com/ Ruadhán J McElroy

          That’s a cute analogy, but based on what I’ve heard from older people, folks under the “pagan umbrella” were giving the same “warnings” to Heathens who felt the need to drop out of “Paganism” in the 1980s, and the Heathen community is certainly just as much, if not stronger now than it was then –and that’s been about or just almost thirty years since the splinter.

          Clearly, any religious movement’s potential for sustainability is not quite as easily identifiable as mere numbers or population density, as you’re portraying.

          • WAH

            Hel, just since 2000 I’ve gone from knowing less than ten Heathens in my area to knowing upwards of dozens, and knowing *of* a lot more than that.

  • http://egregores.blogspot.com Apuleius Platonicus

    I think that the whole problem here is that people are too self-absorbed and thin-skinned and generally addicted to navel-gazing and identity-politics. No one, I repeate NO ONE, is trying to force their definition of Paganism down any one else’s throat. That is just a paranoid delusion that many people seem to be very fond of because it gives them some sort of bizarre sense of self-importance.

    • PaganInMyPants

      Welcome to human history, but the sentiment expressed is still highly valid.

    • Baruch Dreamstalker

      No one [...] is trying to force their definition of Paganism down any one else’s throat.All very true, but I resonate to gripes of Reconstructionists and Heathens that when they show up at Pagan Pride day they find only Wicca or an eclectic mix that mentions their gods without rendering (what they regard as) due respect. As you doubtless know I’ve tried to tutor Recons on this blog in ways to address this, but ran afoul of the personal defenses of particular Recons who show up here with these complaints. This makes the problem more difficult but doesn’t make it go away.

      • PaganInMyPants

        If Recons and Heathens just show up at a PPD expecting their particular path to be covered is very shortsighted. They should be involved in helping plan the PPD to make it so, not complaining after the fact.

        • Franklin_Evans

          PPD organizers can make a better effort to seek them out and invite their participation. The latest Philadelphia PPD was an exemplar of that effort, with Heathens being the majority grouping on the orgainizing committee.

        • WAH

          When PPD organizers specifically define “Pagan” as including recons and Heathens and claim that their event will include “all Pagans” I don’t think it’s an unreasonable assumption to make. Also, there have been attempts by some to “get involved” with dismal results. Quit blaming everything on the people with the complaint and maybe take a real self-reflective look at the Pagan community.

          • Baruch Dreamstalker

            [T]here have been attempts by some to “get involved” with dismal results.That could summarize the early history of Pagans in the Unitarian Universalist Association. We persisted.

          • http://www.oddmodout.com/ Ruadhán J McElroy

            You seem to be very eager to convey the idea that others are not persisting. You would be wrong.

            Regardless of whether or not people are persisting, does that mean that oft-times very just grievances will not happen? On the contrary, they will, indeed, happen, especially with persistence. Do you mean to imply that these grievances should have no voice? I pity you, if you do.

          • Baruch Dreamstalker

            I keep two issues quite separate here. On is appropriation, and the other is marginalization of Recons by Wiccans and eclectics. On the former, I simply disagree with the Recon position. On the latter I’m actually in sympathy with the Recon position. You have extracted for comment one part of a long discussion in which I laid out that position, and added some get-grit advice, to which you have replied out of context. If I thought that these grievances should have no voice (which would be a violation of principle on my part) I would simply not reply to them.

          • Franklin_Evans

            It is my specific intent here to cover both sides of the dynamic, both constructively and critically. If your experience with your local PPD is negative, all I respectfully ask is that you not project that onto all PPD events everywhere.

            If nothing else, those of us who make the strong effort to be inclusive — and I mean that from the organizational phase of the event, not just the that day — will at least have a clean slate with our local Heathens and recons. Nothing puts a damper on sincere efforts more than false assumptions.

            From a strictly personal perspective, I would not attempt to even mention belief systems to which I don’t belong in PPD event. If members of those belief systems know about this and still decline to participate, then I accept no criticisms towards my event in that regard. Your local experience falls under YMMV.

            As for the word “Pagan” in the event name… if that is the first and last obstacle for you, I can only wish you well. In the meantime, I see no reason for Heathens and recons to pass up the opportunity to educate the rubes about their belief systems. That is the point of the event.

          • WAH

            “If your experience with your local PPD is negative, all I respectfully
            ask is that you not project that onto all PPD events everywhere.”

            I haven’t had any negative experience of PPD. I’m referring to reports from PPD involvement by numerous, geographically diverse people. I’m not projecting anything.

            “I would not attempt to even mention belief systems to which I don’t belong in PPD event.”

            Awesome, that’s all I ask. As long as you aren’t misrepresenting my community or religion at your event, we’re completely copacetic.

            “If members of those belief systems know about this and still decline to participate, then I accept no criticisms towards my event in that regard.”

            There would be no critcisms as long as you aren’t trying to represent the faiths of those who decline to participate. Our uninterest in participating doesn’t license PPD to try and represent us, that’s the only point of contention. If that doesn’t happen, then we’re cool.

            “As for the word “Pagan” in the event name… if that is the first and last obstacle for you”

            It isn’t, but the reasons why I don’t identify as “Pagan” are irrelevant to the subject of PPD inclusion.

            “I see no reason for Heathens and recons to pass up the opportunity to educate the rubes about their belief systems.”

            Neither do I. I just don’t agree that PPD is necessarily the place to do so.

          • Franklin_Evans

            I would be well content to share beverages of our choice and hours of conversation with you. We are, as you put it, copacetic on all points.

          • WAH

            Sweet, I love beverages! Sounds like my kind of interfaith.

        • Baruch Dreamstalker

          That’s what I tried to get across in non-inflammatory language.

          • WAH

            Good for you. I wish any recons, polytheists, Heathens etc. who are invested in “Pagan” all the luck in doing the same. I, on the other hand, have no interest in accomplishing that, so you’ll understand if I don’t persist. I have enough work to do in my own community.

        • http://www.oddmodout.com/ Ruadhán J McElroy

          Except that many have volunteered to do so, but end up unwelcome to do anything but man the tables of punch-and-pie, so to speak.

          You seem to think that this is an easy problem to solve, and no-one has thought of the very simple things to do to remedy the situation, but the fact of the matter is that they have, and have done, all to results that have led them to their current beliefs about the “pagan community”.

    • Kay

      People who speak in absolutes such as “no one is” are either incredibly short sighted or incredibly arrogant. For example, the blog on this very subject earlier this year where the author insisted they weren’t trying to force all recons to follow their rules, then proceeded to list everything they thought was wrong with the inter-faith pagan community by how far afield they were from the author’s personal variant of Wicca. http://www.patheos.com/blogs/sermonsfromthemound/2013/04/the-pagan-umbrella-is-leaking/

      • Lēoht Sceadusawol

        Only a Sith deals in absolutes.

        • Wyrd Wiles

          Are you implying there’s something WRONG with being a Sith? ;P

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            Mull the sentence over a few times and you find it says more about the person saying it than anything else. ;)

          • Franklin_Evans

            Zat was Zen, zis is Tao.

            Don’t know what that was, it just came out.

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            Don’t know what it was either, but it sounds funny when said out loud. Humour is always good. :D

      • http://www.oddmodout.com/ Ruadhán J McElroy

        Keep in mind, Curt is of the opinion that everyone (and i mean literally everyone) who is not of an Abrahamic religion (nor is Atheist) is somehow “pagan”. If I hadn’t been off my antihistamines for a week for tests, I could source you every instance he’s said so in his blog that Hindus are pagan, Buddhists are pagan, Native American religionS are pagan, Zoroastrians are pagan, and so on…. Your brain may be a bit less fogged than mine is, so go ahead and check for yourself.

        But no-one is shoving definitions or anything down anyone’s throat, says the man who believes that LITERALLY EVERYONE of a non-Abrahamic religion who is not an Atheist is a Pagan, and I could probably find some old forum and/or yahoo-groups posts wherein he’d get a bit belligerent with people who insisted that X-religion wasn’t “pagan”. So whether they like it or not, literally everyone of non-Abrahamic religions are pagan, even if they say they are not, but no-one is shoving definitions down anyone’s throat.

    • Merlyn7

      What forest? You mean all those trees over there?

    • WAH

      Yes, the experiences of various people from diverse parts of the world are simply not occurring. Got it. When I point out that my community operates independently of the Pagan community I’m not “navel-gazing” or engaging in “identity politics,” I’m stating a fact. When someone then wants to get into semantics and a bunch of other intellectual masturbation BS to try and insist that my religion or community *just are* a part of the Pagan community despite reality, I don’t think I’m the one being self-absorbed or thin-skinned.

      • Wyrd Wiles

        I think the point should be made that the “Heathen” community is not necessarily a part of the “Pagan” community, but it CAN BE.
        We can operate independently from the Pagan umbrella, but plenty of us choose not to. I’m a Heathen through and through. I also Identify as a Pagan, because I LIKE the Pagan community.
        I agree that one should not just assume that all Heathens are Pagans, I would simply add that you can’t assume all Heathen’s AREN’T Pagans either.

        • WAH

          “I agree that one should not just assume that all Heathens are Pagans, I
          would simply add that you can’t assume all Heathen’s AREN’T Pagans
          either.”

          Agreed. If you look at my posts, I’ve said exactly this multiple times. At no point did I suggest that all Heathens aren’t Pagans. My point has only been that some Heathens identifying as Pagans does not mean the entire community can be identified as such.

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            With such disjointed ‘communities’, it can be hard so say whether Heathenry is or is not a form of Paganism.

          • WAH

            Right, so to be accurate one has to speak in a case by case fashion. “Heathenry,” really is a term of convenience, and it’s barely convenient at that. I don’t really consider some broad, universal idea of “Heathenry” worldwide as my community. I consider my community to be those I actually religiously interact with and share other practical community bonds with. It’s really only in situations when we’re talking in this broad strokes with other groups that “Heathen” becomes a community.

          • Nick Ritter

            Which raises the question of whether we the issue of a “Heathen Umbrella”, itself perhaps under a “Polytheist” or “Reconstructionist Umbrella” should be of more immediate concern to us than the “Pagan Umbrella”. If, indeed, such things should concern us at all.

          • WAH

            Very true. For myself, having dropped the “Pagan umbrella” really should make all the internal sturm und drang about identity under that umbrella an irrelevant subject. So if I and mine not being Pagan is a settled thing, the real topic of interest should become “what classification/label/broad community *do* we fall under?” and “how is it defined?”

            I think the reason that this topic isn’t more explored is because the issue of departure from Paganism isn’t settled in any sense broader than local communities or individuals. Part of the “Pagan identity crisis” is an unwillingness to let go of those who wish to depart. As such, the departed (knock on wood) have to spend more time arguing for their autonomy than figuring out what to do with it.

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            I’ll have to work on this one, I think.

            Not to come up with a definitive answer, but to come up with a suggestion that people can adjust until it becomes workable.

            My only real interest being the creation of terminology that is easily explainable to the ‘everyman’.

          • WAH

            I’d be interested to read what you come up with. Do you have a blog or anything?

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            I’m working on it. At the moment, I just write notes of Facebook. Not sure how to launch a blog. (No point writing without an audience.) (To find me on FB, just use my name: Lēoht Sceadusawol Steren.)

          • WAH

            Hhhmmm, I deleted Facebook, but I’ll take a look.

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            “Heathen” is more of a descriptor than a community. The only real commonality is the influence of pre-Christian Germanic culture.

          • WAH

            Agreed.

  • Franklin_Evans

    I request — and volunteer my full devotion and personal resources — to an explicit, high profile effort to bring all the various voices together. Online forums like this one are an important first step, but as we have seen (and I don’t mean just here, anyone remember the early days of Beliefnet?) it is woefully inadequate on its own.

    My personal vision is along the lines of the interfaith gatherings. It is not a retread of the various gatherings already out there (FSG, etc.). What it should be is an important point for discussion, but I fervently want that discussion to begin in earnest.

    • PaganInMyPants

      Not to diminish your point, but the phrase, “herding cats” comes to mind. I can only imagine the flame wars and butt-hurtness that would ensue in a forum setting among ‘pagans’ trying to come to consensus on any topic.

      • Franklin_Evans

        I have personal experience with the “herding cats” metaphor, in full measure. I also see around me (in geographic terms) small-scale efforts along the lines I describe that are fully successful in their stated goals. My devotion is to the effort, not to expected results, and having experienced full doses of frustration and burnout as well as success, I do know what I’m in for. Having said all that, and not wishsing to leave this looking argumentative, your caution should be well taken by all.

        • PaganInMyPants

          It’s a fantastic idea, in theory. But if someone could actually pull it off and still maintain sanity, dignity, and hair; they would have my eternal gratitude in all my next lives. My own experiences in the greater pagan community echo yours Franklin.

        • TadhgMor

          If anyone I’ve interacted with here could herd cats it would be you.

          • Franklin_Evans

            Thanks, I think. You should not be surprised to learn how utterly astonished I am that I actually succeed once in a while. :-D

    • Wyrd Wiles

      If you really mean it, and this is something you’re interested in, then I have a Program you might want to be a part of. If you’re interested, we should touch bases.

      • Franklin_Evans

        I want to use a movie quote here, but Caffeina has not yet blessed me and my sieve-like memory has not yet been put to bed for the day. “A thousand times Yes!” :-D

        I use the following when publicly disclosing an email address: madfedor@yahoo.com. Yahoo is my Spam-can. I’ll connect with you from there. I always include the following in this situation: I never share another’s contact information without the explicit consent of the person involved.

        • Nick Ritter

          “but Caffeina has not yet blessed me”

          A few years ago, for my own amusement, I sketched out what a cultus of the goddess Caffeina would look like, were such a thing to spring up in something like modern society. I find it amusing and pleasantly surprising to see the mention of her popping up here.

          • P. Sufenas Virius Lupus

            I think it was PantheaCon ’08 at which, in the 9 AM Monday morning slot (the “hangover slot” if ever there was one!), we had a ritual and procession for Caffeina, in which we all consumed our favorite forms of Caffeina’s blessings. It was amusing! ;)

  • Oididio

    As a solitary in a community without a “community” this is all intriguing to me. When and where is this fracturing happening? Has it always been this way?

    I understand that Heathens and reconstructionists have a desire for more narrowly defined paths but I guess I don’t understand the reluctance to be under the big tent. Again though, I am and always have been a solitary, so there are assuredly issues of dealing with community of which I’m completely ignorant.

    • Lēoht Sceadusawol

      To put it bluntly, do Heathens have any more in common with Wiccans than with Hindus or Christians? (All examples, by the way.)

      I’d say no. It is that lack of commonality that is a major issue.

      Another issue would be the simple fact that, when identifying with a Germanic path, it is pretty insulting to have a Latin (derived) term foisted upon you.

      • Oididio

        I see your point, though the term pagan is hardly indicative of anything from a Latin standpoint. I don’t think the term meant anything like the way it’s used now to the Romans or Germanic tribes during the times of polytheistic dominance.
        That’s all beside the point though because if, as a Heathen, you don’t identify with or want to be known by the pagan moniker, that’s your right and should be respected.
        Again, please forgive my ignorance here, but is there debate or disagreement within the Heathen community itself about accepting or rejecting the term?

        • Lēoht Sceadusawol

          You get Heathens together and there is disagreement. :p

          • WAH

            LOL, yes.

          • http://dashifen.com/ dashifen

            I think Oididio is looking for some specifics, though. I’d give it a shot, but I’d probably just get it wrong!

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            Heathens still argue over who Friday is dedicated to (seriously, I see the arguments every week, on Facebook), getting specifics is like weaving fetters for Fenrir.

          • http://dashifen.com/ dashifen

            You mean it’s not this guy?! I’ve wasted my life!!!

            Hrm … sorry for the image preview; apparent Diquss does that automagically now.

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            No idea who he is, but the humour is obvious enough.

            It quite amuses me, since the Norse Heathens are the ones arguing about whether it is Frigg or Freyja, whereas, being an Ænglisc Heathen, the two are actually just the one Frīge.

          • http://dashifen.com/ dashifen

            It’s Joe Friday from the original Dragnet TV show.

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            There was a TV show? (I vaguely remember a movie, think I saw it once.)

          • http://dashifen.com/ dashifen

            Oh gods, I’m old. :)

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            Happens to most people, eventually.

          • Deborah Bender

            And before the TV show, in the 1940s, there was a radio show.

          • Genexs

            Hysterical. I’m old enough to remember the show as well.

          • Ken

            This is one of the best analogies I have ever heard.

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            Cheers. I invented it for that post.

        • WAH

          Sometimes there is conflict in the Heathen community over the issue, but by and large everyone just accepts that some Heathens are Pagan and some Heathens are not, and we just leave it at that and go about our business.

          • Oididio

            My follow up was going to be to ask how Heathens feel about blogs like this one discussing Heathenism, since “A Modern Pagan Perspective” is in the tagline.

          • WAH

            It depends. I feel Jason does a fairly good job of recognizing and respecting that not all Heathens identify as Pagan. (To be honest, I don’t even prefer the term “Heathen,” but that’s a whole other thing). Therefore it doesn’t particularly bother me if he covers news topics about Heathens, especially considering that some Heathens *do*, in fact identify as “Pagan”. If I felt his blog prepetuated the misinformation that all Heathens identify as Pagan, or *should*, then I’d say something against it.

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            Personally, I find the term “Heathenry” to be an umbrella of its own. There are so many different ways of being an adherent of Germanic spiritual philosophy that “Heathen” works well as a generic descriptor. Of course, that does mean we can have “Eclectic Heathens” now…

          • WAH

            “Heathen” is an umbrella, yes. Though I don’t define it as “Germanic spiritual philosophy,” I understand it to mean, “a Germanic cultural movement that seeks to reinstate its native spiritual component.” Per this definition, no, we can’t have “eclectic Heathens.” But regardless, the term “Heathen” was always problematic from the beginning. The only difference between it and “Pagan” for me personally is that I still find limited utilitarian use for the term “Heathen.”

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            When I say “Eclectic Heathen”, I’m talking about the independent/solitaries who take bits from the various different traditions as they find them and sort of make it up as they go along.

          • WAH

            Oh I see, OK.

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            With so few actual Heathens around (the UK has just over 1,000, according to the last census), it is inevitable that people will struggle to join existing Heathen communities, so will make do with what they can clean from books and the internet.

          • WAH

            I don’t disagree, I just wouldn’t call those people “eclectic” necessarily. Maybe “pan-Germanic.” Regardless, in my own area there are probably a few hundred Heathens and several groups. There’s not much excuse to not get involved around here, lol.

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            Lucky bugger.

          • WAH

            I wish for the same growth in your land, friend. :-)

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            I plan to help it along. I’m a staunch advocate of sharing the stories. (Heathen evangelism, you could say.)

          • Oididio

            Thanks for the discussion, WAH and Lēoht. I might be in the same camp as you Lēoht, not much within 50+ miles of where I live.

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            Solitary by geography, not choice.

          • Franklin_Evans

            I read too quickly sometimes. I read “Electric Heaters” on the first scan.

            Or I need new lenses for my glasses.

          • Nick Ritter

            “I understand it to mean, ‘a Germanic cultural movement that seeks to reinstate its native spiritual component.’ ”

            I like that. The way I’ve tended to define Heathenry in the past is as a movement made up of groups who are attempting to practice Germanic religion; the differences between those groups involve foundational matters of how to define what qualifies as Germanic religion, as well as what qualifies as the successful practice of it. I think I may have to tweak that definition to include what you’ve written above.

          • WAH

            As someone I have a lot of respect for, I’m glad you found use for something I wrote. :-)

          • Nick Ritter

            Cheers! And also, likewise: I think you’re comporting yourself quite well in these discussions, particularly those with Mr. diZerega. Intelligence and eloquence are always valuable, and you are showing both.

          • WAH

            Why thank you.

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            I think the best definition of Heathenry would come from a collaborative effort of those following Germanic religions.

          • Nick Ritter

            Perhaps, but I also worry that such an exercise would result in little other than yet more bad blood. As you said yourself:

            “You get Heathens together and there is disagreement.”

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            No reason not to try. We just need a reason to, and limitations on how close we make the ties.

            Obviously, the major reasons for having a collective identity include having a public face to present to wider society; working together to achieve joint goals, such as prison in-reach or military chaplaincy.

            We just avoid pushing any particular ideology into a universal concept.

          • TadhgMor

            Late to the party, but like Nick below I think that’s a good definition. But I’d say it could be applied to a number of recon paths too. I know at least some Gaelic Polytheists (and the ones I like to talk to especially) think the culture is just as important as the spiritual.

            That might be the big difference. Wicca and most eclectic paganisms are not a culture in that way (though they might end up being one, and they certainly have jargon). I would argue “culturally” they belong firmly in American and British counter-culture movements of this century.

          • Deborah Bender

            I agree with the second paragraph of your comment. I think it’s worth pointing out.

            It seems to me that at least some of the resentment voiced by Heathens here and elsewhere about the behavior of members of the Pagan community is rooted in cultural and political differences rather than strictly religious ones. Wiccans and eclectic pagans are not telling Heathens what to do or directing much criticism toward them. But Heathens on the whole tend to be more culturally conservative than the pagan community as a whole is, so they don’t enjoy hanging out with the majority of self-identified pagans. There may also be some underlying disagreements about the roles of men and masculinity in general.

            When you have a movement that is oriented toward accomplishing specific goals, people put aside their differences in order to work together, and camaraderie arises out of the common experiences of struggle. When there are no clear common goals or programs to reach those goals, people size each other up based on more superficial social criteria, and if they don’t feel at home with a particular crowd, they see no reason to associate with them.

          • TadhgMor

            I strongly disagree that Wiccans and eclectics aren’t telling us what to do OR directing criticism. The way racist fringes are brought up alone is problematic, let alone how much push back there is against the desire for boundaries.

            Nor do I think this has anything to do with what you suggest. Making this a “conservative/liberal” split is fundamentally wrong in my experience.

            The problem is you have one culture that is designed around ancient practices as and another designed around modern ideas that has a nasty tendency to take and redefine from those ancient practices. The only way you could call me conservative is in that I find little of value in the fetish of the individual and the open-minded to the point of meaninglessness that sometimes pervades mainstream paganism. I am community oriented, things have a meaning to me, and I find appropriation to be utterly wrong, no matter my personal feelings.

            The problem is there is little chance to actually “break off”. People are still speaking for us and about us. Some of our practices are still being used in fundamentally ahistorical ways, leaving the weight of correction on us to tell others “no that is not how X celebrates Y”.

          • Deborah Bender

            I would like to address the cultural appropriation issue, because I agree that it is important. It’s also more complex than the way you frame it. That’s why this is a long comment.

            Cultural appropriation usually refers to members of a dominant culture taking bits of another culture’s practices without permission and repurposing them in a way that ignores the original context and meaning of the practices. Sometimes the culture doing the appropriating claims that its understanding is superior to that of the culture of origin, and sometimes the dominant culture actively interferes with the cultural autonomy of the culture of origin and dispossesses it of its own cultural beliefs and practices.

            For example, white Americans making money teaching other whites bits of Native American religions that they have not been given authority to teach, while the tribes of origin has been prevented by Christian missionaries and government agencies from passing on their religions to their own young people.

            Or Christianity taking possession of the Jewish Bible, telling Jews that they don’t understand what its books of prophecy mean, and trying to forcibly convert Jews and stamp out Judaism.

            It’s my understanding (please correct me if I’m wrong) that there was a break of a hundred years or more between the last living group to practice any of the ancestral Celtic religions as anything more than a few disconnected folk practices within a completely Catholic cultural environment, and the rise of the earliest neopagan groups around the end of WWII. Certainly there was a Celtic revival in the nineteenth century, but it was artistic and political, not religious. Possibly Yeats and other artists had private devotions to Celtic deities, but religion is the business of groups.

            There are many reports from early neopagan leaders and teachers in the 1950s and 1960s that when they began making offerings and prayers to some of those ancient gods, the gods were delighted that someone was paying attention to them again. The gods, according to these UPG reports, weren’t picky about the details, because they were being addressed with respect and devotion after a long drought.

            Reconstructionist groups focused on reviving the religious practices of a particular culture did not exist in the 1950s. They rose and grew after the neopagan movement had created a favorable environment for them.

            I have attended neopagan rituals in which deities were named and called on in a casual way, and not treated with respect if they did show up, as if the gods aren’t real. If you diss a deity, the best that can happen is that the deity will stop talking to you and your group. Much worse may occur. I don’t like this even when I have no personal attachment to the deity in question.

            Some culturally eclectic neopagan groups have been doing culturally eclectic rituals devoted to particular deities for decades. They have formed ongoing relationships with those deities, who might perhaps prefer to be addressed in their ancestral tongue and given their traditional offerings, but are willing to accept what they are given. That is quite another matter. It is not disrespectful to the god, it is not intended to be disrespectful of the god’s culture of origin, and a reconstructionist group that is a few years old has no standing to tell a much older pagan group to stop doing its rituals. Polite suggestions on how to make the rituals better are constructive, and might be accepted, depending on the group.

          • TadhgMor

            A gap does not justify the redefinition of holidays by eclectic groups and Wiccans.

            It is simple. Beltaine as a holiday has a meaning. If you take the name of that holiday, yet create a mostly new holiday based around new theology and culture, it is problematic. There is absolutely no need to use a Celtic term for a non-Celtic holiday, except that it was “exotic” to the primarily white English/American founders of modern neo-paganism.

            The Celtic Revival is nearly as problematic when it comes to redefinition. Put simply, reliably scholarship on the subject based in actual Celtic sources did not exist. For Irish studies anything before the 1890s can be dangerous. But the neopagan movement did not even use most of the scholarship available at the time(some of the major translations by people like Kuno Meyer of Irish manuscripts were available, etc), instead relying almost entirely on Romanticist visions.

            The problem is the nearly wholesale unwillingness to address this issue. It might be solved as simply as adopting different spellings for the Wiccanate versions of other cultures holidays. But even having the conversation is problematic because the individual focus of most forms of neo-paganism contrast heavily with the community oriented, boundaried focus of most recon communities.

            Finally, using the UPG of the original appropriators to justify the appropriation seems like very circular logic. Further, I feel eminently comfortable and think I do have the right to say it is wrong to use Celtic terms and names for non-Celtic concepts and holidays. I am not criticizing their practice. I’m criticizing the incorrect use of these terms.

            If you want to celebrate a holiday on May 1st with maypoles, etc, with all the fertility stuff, that’s fine. If you want to use it to honor Gaelic deities, well that seems odd since there’s no reason not to do it the traditional way, but the Gods will respond as they see fit. But there is absolutely no reason to use the name Beltaine, such that holiday has a different meaning.

            Further, the idea of “making rituals better” requires us to accept your theology and worldview. That I cannot do. It’s leaving us in a subordinate position. Obviously, if you cared about it along similar lines as those we do, you’d be part of our community. But the underlying assumptions are simply very different.

          • Deborah Bender

            The original names of the Wiccan holidays were Feast of Torches, May Eve, August Eve, Hallowe’en, solstices and equinoxes. Several of them were given Gaelic names in the late 1960s by people who thought that Wicca had Celtic origins. The Gaelic names caught on during the popularization of Wicca.

            It was a mistake. There may be too much water under the bridge to fix it, but perhaps an organized, persistent campaign could cut the practice back. I have no personal attachment to the Celtic names.

          • TadhgMor

            And I would wholly support having the conversation about how to reach that point. I am not interested in policing anyones practice. I am interested in reclaiming the terms of my community. I have no objection to a “May Eve” holiday, nor visiting my distant Wiccan cousins after taking part in my own rituals.

            Do you know how galling it is to have a bunch of young mall Wiccans, without only the most basic understanding of Wicca, let alone other paths, tell me that my holiday is wrong? I have had it on more than one occasion, and not only from the young and ignorant. Beltaine is a good example, when you push back against the sexual undertones heavy in some of the modern forms by focussing on the purity aspect inherent in the Gaelic festival, in my experience people react very poorly. Which in turn makes recons like myself react rather poorly to the continued attempts to shut down the conversation. The misinformation is part of the pain, from this end.

            Too often the argument seems to be “well I learned it this way so it’s fine” though such logic has shown to be flawed in other instances. I understand people might be attached to the terms, and it might be there is no alternative that fully satisfies everyone. But the current situation has not reached any level of compromise yet.

            Thanks for actually addressing it though.

          • Baruch Dreamstalker

            I understand people might be attached to the terms [...] What you don’t seem to understand is that names are magick. They are part of the spiritual reality to those who embrace them. Being told to abandon the name is no different from being told to abandon the holiday. Would you be so incensed at what you see as the misuse of names if that were not so for you as well? This is not just about religion, either. Look at the fit Greece had when one of the pieces of Yugoslavia started calling itself “Macedonia.” Dismissing this as attachment is a replay of what Wiccans get often from both academics and Humanists. One is full of book-learning about new religious movements with no interest in the opinions of the people comprising those movements, while the other wants to resolve all religion into mental disorders. None of this, you may say, is your intent. But when you issue pronouncements that others are appropriating, you are not that different in spirit.

          • TadhgMor

            I’m not discussing this with you any longer. You’ve made it abundantly clear what your positions are, and I see no utility in allowing you another chance to dishonestly misinterpret my positions.

            You have appropriated from me and mine, and you refuse to acknowledge it. That is cowardice and wrong to me. Fundamentally wrong. Your personal opinions CANNOT ever justify appropriation.

            You stole the names from another culture, one that was in a weak position in comparison. Someday, you will need to address that. You’ve made it clear you’re unable to do so. So I see no utility in continuing to deal with you.

            Have a good day sir. If you’re seeking my sympathy for culturally dominant Wiccans, you are barking up a very wrong tree.

          • Baruch Dreamstalker

            Thank you for disclosing the true roots of your claimed inability to get anyone into a serious discussion of appropriation.You only want such a discussion when appropriation is framed the way you want it. You balk and run away, like a coward, when anyone approaches it in a different frame or context.

          • TadhgMor

            I had a serious discussion. You turned around and tried to make it all about you.

            Further, if “names are magick” as you state, then the harmful appropriation is even more harmful. I do not see how your frequent forays into “me me me” states justify the system.

            Your frame is to deny the issue entirely. That is not worthwhile. I am willing to compromise on this issue, as I stated above. I am not willing to let people like you continue fundamentally selfish, disrespectful things just because it “feels right” to you, which I find to be absolutely childish logic.

          • Baruch Dreamstalker

            You are using disparaging language about a worldview based in UPGs, which you know to be the basis of some folk’s spiritualities. You can’t be serious about a discussion as long as you use rhetoric like that.

          • TadhgMor

            I said an appropriator using UPGs to justify appropriation is circular logic.

            Further, I’m sorry, but I really don’t feel the need to respect someone who is trying to justify something immoral through their beliefs. I wouldn’t do so for a Christian, I won’t do so for you.

          • Baruch Dreamstalker

            I’m not justifying something immoral based on UPGs. I’m disagreeing with your definition of immoral, as I have from the beginning of this exchange. But when you speak insultingly of UPGs you insult me, and you can expect blowback on it.

          • TadhgMor

            Quite frankly, considering your entire argument is about disrespecting me and mine, about refusing even a modicum of responsibility, I no longer give a sh*t about insulting you.

            You’re just justifying the thing you did wrong. That is cowardice. Face reality, show some courage. Respect others, don’t be so selfish. It’s all about “I feel. me me me” with you. Bad news, life isn’t all about your bloody feelings. I reject that New Age nonsense.

          • Baruch Dreamstalker

            Your repetition of your nonsense that I am about “me me me” does not make it true. It makes it shriller nonsense. And if it’s part of an effort to get me to show respect, well, you’ve picked a funny way to go about it.Which would be all I have so say on this topic but for the fact that you seem to actually believe it. This is one reason you get little traction on TWH: You can respond to someone who firmly articulates a different POV only as a narcissist clinging to something self-referential. Not your greatest diplomatic triumph.

          • TadhgMor

            It is objectively true based on your argument, where you value yourself and your feelings above that of others and their communities. Your attempt to use UPGs as a defense only further illustrates this.

            Do you not understand you disrespect my entire community when you appropriate from us and refuse to even acknowledge the issue?

            I get little traction, because at it’s core this a Wiccanate site with a primarily Wiccanate readership, and this issue has always been one the loosely defined group does not want to address. You seem to be under the mistaken assumption that this is some personal crusade of mine, that it is just me thinking these things. I can assure you, that is fundamentally not the case.

          • Baruch Dreamstalker

            On the contrary, I think your repeated presence on THW is a personal crusade, and your “me me me” accusation a classic case of projection.

          • TadhgMor

            Where else would I go? It is not my community doing the harm and it is not them I need to convince.

            Projection? Now you’re just being dishonest. Your entire argument is based in your personal feelings and the superior value you place on those above others. My entire argument is based on the nature of communities and their boundaries. I am not attempting to change your practice, however wrong and silly it may seem to me. I am attempting to reclaim terms from my community that have been distorted and misused by your ideological kin.

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            The terms will never be reclaimed, in all likelihood.

            The best to hope for is that they accept that other definitions and interpretations are as equally valid as their own.

          • TadhgMor

            I’ll start with that, but I see little reason to settle before the conversation.

            For example maybe some new anglicized versions for Wiccans could be created? I don’t use Beltine, I use Beltaine. Settling on those, which allow for a distinction (even if it’s one many people might confuse) is a compromise that might work. Its part of why I use the Sengoidelc spelling of Lughnasadh, rather than the Modern Irish Lunasa (which means August). To make a distinction.

            But as noted elsewhere, since the names weren’t even native to the tradition, I think there might be less resistance than you expect.

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            I’ve seen the spelling Beltane, a lot.

            The main reason I expect resistance is because that is the standard human reaction to change.

          • TadhgMor

            Yeah, that’s closer to the modern Scots Gaelic, though Irish has an extra syllable at the end, and I think Scots Gaelic actually nasalizes that last “n”.

          • Baruch Dreamstalker

            Convince? This is you idea of an attempt to convince?My oh my…

          • TadhgMor

            No. I’ve given up on you. You seem to lack moral fiber, or courage, or Gods know what, but you’re lacking something.

            Selfishness and arrogance though, you have in abundance.

          • Baruch Dreamstalker

            Anyone who consistently rejects your arguments has personality defects, eh? I was referring to more than our exchanges. The idea that your whole orchestration of comments on TWH was an attempt to convince, is laughable. “Bull in a china shop” is an inadequate simile and slights the bull.

          • http://www.oddmodout.com/ Ruadhán J McElroy

            The fact that your point of view rests largely on your own feelings, and the feelings of individuals rather than communities with an earlier claim, sure as hell is a funny way of stressing that it’s not all about you.

          • Baruch Dreamstalker

            Read Tadghmor’s stuff, and your own stuff, and tell me personal feelings aren’t propelling them. Don’t make me laugh.

          • http://www.oddmodout.com/ Ruadhán J McElroy

            UPG is irrelevant to group practises. An individual can have UPG, incorporate that into their personal, individual home practises, and either say nothing about it or, if teaching others, make careful distinction between what their UPG is and what most others tend to do (or what they do and what scholars say was practised in ancient times, etc…), if there’s a difference.

            That said, there are many people teaching “Wicca” to others and using appropriated terminology, this is very rarely explained as coming from a different cultural context from how it’s used in Wicca. Most of the time, the same disinfo from the 1960s that shakily tried to connect Wicca’s “May Eve” to the Gaelic “Beltane” (and other conflations) is accepted with complete ignorance of the fact that this “convention” came later, after the death of Gardner, and at the time of the convention’s arrival, was clearly presented more poor scholarship than UPG. That’s why UPG is irrelevant, it’s not a part of that practise at all, and the intellectual dishonesty you display in trying to pass it off as such is appalling.

          • TadhgMor

            The “Witta” book comes to mind. That was a monument to ignorance and scathing critique of “I feel it is right so it must be” logic.

          • Deborah Bender

            “Witta” was scathingly reviewed by witches and Wiccans when it came out.

          • TadhgMor

            Yet quite a few of them base their knowledge of “Celtic” culture on the same severely flawed sources.

            I know the book was demolished. But it was only the worst example of “Celtic Wicca”, the far end of the spectrum. But it is still on the spectrum.

            I’ve met some self-identified Celtic Wiccans before. They couldn’t even pronounce the holidays right. They ate things they offered to the Gods (which is a very big no no in Gaelic ritual). Their understanding of the culture was limited to Romanticist writings by Englishmen and some knowledge of Roman sources on Gaul.

          • Baruch Dreamstalker

            UPG is irrelevant to group practises. Historically shaky. Very likely all of the tradition-founding prophesies were UPGs. I find it sad that you and some of your cohort on TWH insist upon larding serious disagreement with the charge of intellectual dishonesty. It is, in itself, intellectually dishonest.

          • WAH

            “What you don’t seem to understand is that names are magick.”

            You don’t seem to understand that your theories of magick are irrelevant to us and we won’t accept framing the conversation purely in those terms. As an explanation of your reasoning or viewpoint, it’s fine, but as a justification for disputing others’ concerns, it isn’t. It’s like trying to justify an argument over a practical topic with something that is purely UPG.

          • Baruch Dreamstalker

            See, this is what I meant when I said Tadghmor only wanted to discuss appropriation in a frame of his choice. If you actually want to hold this discussion you must be prepared to read open-mindedly the frames offered by the other side. Nor do you advance the discussion with a dismissive attitude toward UPGs, knowing them to be the basis of many folks’ spirituality.

          • WAH

            I’m not dismissing UPG in general. I’m saying that when the topic of discussion is relationships between humans and communities of humans, UPG is irrelevant. What is relevant is the effects those individuals or communities have on each other and how we can lessen negative effects.

            You’re conception of appropriation and Tadghmor’s conception of appropriation are both irrelevant to the matter at hand. Whether both sides are appropriating, neither are, or one is and one isn’t doesn’t get us anywhere near a solution on the topic of individuals and communities wanting freedom from the label “Pagan.”

          • http://www.oddmodout.com/ Ruadhán J McElroy

            I’m not dismissing UPG in general. I’m saying that when the topic of discussion is relationships between humans and communities of humans, UPG is irrelevant. What is relevant is the effects those individuals or communities have on each other and how we can lessen negative effects.

            In other words, “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one”. True, Spock’s Utilitarian logic isn’t universally applicable, or even desirable in all situations, but that was kind of the point of the character –balancing strict logic with human compassion, both of which can be beneficial to not only the individual, but to great numbers of people.

          • Franklin_Evans

            [standing ovation!]

          • Baruch Dreamstalker

            I quite agree that nobody else’s UPG is relevant to whether one wants to bear a cultural/religious label. You plucked an excerpt of my words from a discussion of appropriation, so I thought that’s what you were still talking about.

          • WAH

            My bad, I can get a little mixed up in these messy comments sections. As to the cultural appropriation topic, I thought I posted a long thing about that in another reply to someone else but it seems to be gone.

          • http://www.oddmodout.com/ Ruadhán J McElroy

            This is not just about religion, either. Look at the fit Greece had when
            one of the pieces of Yugoslavia started calling itself “Macedonia.”

            That would be a fitting analogy to the point that you’re trying to make if not for the fact that the Republic of Macedinia contains a significant pergentage of the historical region and also the largest population of the Macedonian ethnic group. Any Greek nationalist can go toss a salad if they are still bothered by it

            Dismissing this as attachment is a replay of what Wiccans get often from
            both academics and Humanists. One is full of book-learning about new
            religious movements with no interest in the opinions of the people
            comprising those movements, while the other wants to resolve all
            religion into mental disorders.

            And Wiccans seem to clearly not care about the fact that there are religious movements (some of which existed in some prototypical form since at least the mid-19th Century –far longer than the earliest known origins of Wicca) that have a right to the language that Wiccans have appropriated for their own holidays. This is not at all like criticism from academics who have no interest in actually practising things, this is criticism from religions that originated the festival language that Eclectic Wicca has appropriated (apparently only since the 1960s) due to misinformation.

            Language is certainly magical, and part of its magic is deeply connected to the rites and festivals that it originated, not the rites and festivals that originated centuries later and were re-named with ancient names because it looked “teh kewliez”.

          • Baruch Dreamstalker

            I’m not sure why you are replying from your perspective to words I addressed to someone else talking out of his perspective. Anyway, thank you for your perspective. I still disagree that there is ownership of language.

          • Kay

            When someone takes the Elder Futhark and, rather than learn their meanings, mix and matches each of them to the common interpretation of individual tarot cards, then claims it’s right because it’s “magick”, how has their practice earned any respect? When they take a god of one pantheon and refer to it as the “Roman equivalent” or “Norse equivalent” of a god in a different pantheon, even though the actual gods in question have nothing in common aside from gender, why should they, and their claims of a “magick connection” be taken seriously?

            That is the bottom line of most appropriation. Laziness. Rather than learn and find a connection to something unknown, it’s turned into shorthand for something that already exists and doesn’t need replacing or supplementing.

          • Baruch Dreamstalker

            Since I haven’t done any of the things you’ve condemned I feel no need to reply other than to establish that.

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            I don’t think anyone was levelling the charges at you, personally, Baruch. You have to admit, those kind of sloppy concepts sell pretty well when published.

          • Baruch Dreamstalker

            Why don’t you ask Kay how they were intended?

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            Because the opening line made it sound like a general (and not uncommon) trend, rather than a specific attack against a specific person.

          • Baruch Dreamstalker

            But the commont replied to a comment of mine rather than start a thread of her own. That imposes the onus of being in a conversation with the person addressed, and puts on me an obligation to reply back unless I want to be rude.

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            The names of the Wicca festivals are a confusing mix of Celtic, Germanic and modern invention.

            I don’t think much can be done about this, but I do think that respectful acknowledgement of the appropriation should be factored in.

            (For the record, I think that appropriation is not always bad.)

          • http://www.oddmodout.com/ Ruadhán J McElroy

            If one is defining “appropriation” very loosely, I’m in agreement with you, as it can be hard to see where appropriation ends and acculturation begins (the blending of cultural elements). In serious social justice circles, though, appropriation is defined more-specifically as taking elements from a culture with no real knowledge of its value in the culture and/or without proper care to engage the culture to educate oneself and others about the element (or culture as a whole). Trust fund brats going to South America to try shamanic drugs are appropriating because even if they just watched a documentary and read a book about it, their relationship to it is hollow in comparison to how the people who were raised to revere that drug relate to it —the kids just heard from some friend that it’s a freaky high and they think by attaching to New Age bollocks to it, they’ll experience it better than the first kid who told them about it.

            Likewise, knowing that the Wiccan holiday of May Eve only became “Beltaine” after misinformation, my money is going with appropriation.

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            “taking elements from a culture with no real knowledge of its value in
            the culture and/or without proper care to engage the culture to educate
            oneself and others about the element (or culture as a whole)”

            Sounds like a fair definition of appropriation.

            I think that, even using that definition, there is little chance of reversing a lot of the entrenched appropriation within established religious cultures and that, sometimes, just because a person does not understand the value of something they are appropriating, doesn’t mean it is particularly valuable.

            As an example, if I started blessing things by sprinkling dedicated water from an aspergillum, I would be appropriating a Christian practice. I doubt many Christians would actually care, though.

          • Merlyn7

            We have heard your detailed requests that practitioners discontinue using Gaelic names like Beltane. I understand why you feel the way you do but ultimately, for my tradition, the request is an unreasonable one. The Holiday of Beltane has evolved as holidays do and includes practices and intentions not present in the original (a la the many additions Christmas has seen over the centuries including trees, presents, egg nog, and Frosty the Snowman).

            It is absolutely understandable that one might want to celebrate the holiday in as close an approximation to the original as possible, but my particular tradition will continue to teach apprentices our favorite Beltane practices and you are more than welcome to a hop over the bonfire with us. I completely understand why a spin around the Maypole would be out for you. For our part, we rather like it.

          • TadhgMor

            Which means that you feel you have the right to redefine the holiday, despite not participating in Gaelic culture or ritual in any way, over the communities which do.

            Beltaine is a Gaelic holiday. Your holiday is something else. Why must you use a Gaelic term? I do not understand this.

          • Merlyn7

            Only if you consider Trick-or-treating children to be redefining Halloween every October 31st.

          • TadhgMor

            Halloween was once again, redefined by the cultural group that originated it as “all Hallows Eve”.

          • Merlyn7

            And it keeps changing and reshaping over the years to include horror movies, haunted houses, and (best of all) Elvira, Mistress of the Dark. It has been a lovely progression. The only downturn I can see was the Evangelical Christian Hell Houses but then no road is without its bumps.

          • TadhgMor

            Which again, is not comparable whatsoever to the case I am making.

            Halloween was redefined by Christians and with the participation of Christians overall, other than some dissenting groups which view the modern version as “evil”.

          • http://www.oddmodout.com/ Ruadhán J McElroy

            Halloween ≠ Samhain

            They share a date, but it’s not the same holiday.

            I know a woman who shares a birthday with her eldest son, that doesn’t make them the same people. Communists have their own “May Day” celebration, but that doesn’t mean they’re “redefining Beltane”, they’re having their own party, it just happens to fall on the same day many Gaels celebrate Beltane.

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            “Cultural appropriation usually refers to members of a dominant culture
            taking bits of another culture’s practices without permission and
            repurposing them in a way that ignores the original context and meaning
            of the practices.”

            I don’t think dominance of one culture is relevant. Appropriation is appropriation, regardless of who is doing it.

            Anything else is hypocritical.

          • Baruch Dreamstalker

            Word!

          • WAH

            “Cultural appropriation usually refers to members of a dominant culture
            taking bits of another culture’s practices without permission and
            repurposing them in a way that ignores the original context and meaning
            of the practices. Sometimes the culture doing the appropriating claims
            that its understanding is superior to that of the culture of origin, and
            sometimes the dominant culture actively interferes with the cultural
            autonomy of the culture of origin and dispossesses it of its own
            cultural beliefs and practices.”

            Which is exactly what many modern people taking bits and pieces from ancient cultures are doing, especially Americans. We all come from a dominant culture (modern Western capitalist culture, generally speaking). Some of us take other culture’s practices without permission and repurpose them, ignoring the original context and meaning.

            A LaVeyanSatanist pouring out a drinking horn to Odin as a form of anti-Christian, atheist theater is cultural appropriation. Less extreme, Wiccans taking the name Yule and attaching it to a winter solstice celebration that borrows some ancient customs from various cultures and centers them all around a modern, universalized mythology is *also* cultural appropriation. They are part of a dominant, privileged culture seeking to take what they like from a culture that is not only marginalized, but was divorced from its native spiritual component centuries ago, and then use what they find within whatever context they desire.

            Compare this to cultural polytheists, whose goal is to enculturate back into the traditions of their ancestors (or other peoples’ ancestors in some cases) within the full cultural context in which they existed. (This isn’t simply restricted to reconstructionism, either, by the way.) The cultural appropriation of parts of these same traditions by other groups negatively affects their efforts, leading to some resentment and sometimes hostility.

            “sometimes the dominant culture actively interferes with the cultural
            autonomy of the culture of origin and dispossesses it of its own
            cultural beliefs and practices.”

            Which is exactly what some Neo-Pagans are doing when they claim to speak for the cultures they’ve appropriated certain practices or other features from. The fact that they’re taking bits that were stripped from those (still existing) cultures by force centuries ago doesn’t change the end result. Not to mention that any who insist on denigrating, dismissing, or fighting against the autonomy and self-determination of cultural polytheist groups are repeating the cycle of domination and colonialism that stripped our cultures of their native religion in the first place.

            “and a reconstructionist group that is a few years old has no standing to
            tell a much older pagan group to stop doing its rituals.”

            “A few years old” is optimistic (not to mention dismissive) on your part. Regardless, no one is saying this. We *do*, however, have standing to point out that their rituals do not accurately reflect the cultural context of a practice, god, etc. that they’ve appropriated. Eclectic Pagans can *do* whatever the hel they want, but they don’t have a right to be free from criticism if they seek to falsely represent cultural groups or their cultural features.

            “Reconstructionist groups focused on reviving the religious practices of a particular culture did not exist in the 1950s.”

            The fact that you think it’s solely about recons and that you frame the issue purely, or primarily, in religious context illustrates the gulf in understanding between our two viewpoints.

          • Tarian

            As I see it, Celtic, Germanic, and Romano-Greek religious practices are part of the common heritage of a large part of Europe, and not the exclusive property of a small number of reconstructionists, or even of the modern inhabitants of Ireland, Italy, Greece, etc. Therefore, we all have the right to ‘appropriate’ those traditions and incorporate them into our own practices.

          • WAH

            You have the right to do whatever the hel you want. But an American who doesn’t speak Norwegian appropriating Odin and worshipping him outside a Norse context is practicing cultural appropriation. I’m not suggesting they stop, I’m suggesting they honestly admit to what they’re doing.

            Contrast this with an American who learns Norwegian and Old Norse, does everything they can to adopt a Norse cultural worldview, and worship Odin as best they can in his native cultural context. Perhaps this is also cultural appropriation as well, it’s debatable, but it’s still fundamentally different than the former example.

            The problem comes in when the former person seeks to minimize or ignore differences between them and the latter person and denies the latter person the right to autonomy and to self-identify.

            Also, as I pointed it above, it has nothing to do with telling eclectic Pagans to stop their practices, it’s only a request that they be honest about those practices as well as respect our differences.

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            I would respectfully disagree.

            No one has a “right” to appropriate. Merely ability.

          • http://www.oddmodout.com/ Ruadhán J McElroy

            Seconded.

          • Tarian

            Because the traditions are part of my cultural heritage, then, yes, I do have the ‘right’ to use them both privately and publically – that’s why I put ‘appropriate’ in quotes. What I object to is reconstructionist Pagans claiming ownership rights over the Celtic or Germanic or Hellenic gods, and pretending to be spokesmen for the ancient traditions. They aren’t. The only people that recognize their claims to cultural ownership are other reconstructionists.

          • TadhgMor

            Who is claiming ownership of any deities? Such a concept is fundamentally anathema to every recon I know. We cannot “own” beings with agency.

            The claim is to terminology. There is absolutely no reason to use a Gaelic term for a holiday that is non-Gaelic. Period.

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            Define ‘cultural heritage’.

          • Merlyn7

            And yet without cultural appropriation, we wouldn’t have something as wonderful as the worship of the goddess Aphrodite (stealing a Phoenician goddess and worshiping her solely in the context of Greek religion).

          • TadhgMor

            I think you should look up cultural exchange.

            Further, you’re attempting to compare two very very different times and places. You cannot make a one to one comparison of then and now.

          • Merlyn7

            So if I were to read about the goddess Freya (let’s say), renamed her, started worshiping her in the context of my existing religion, made images of her that looked like my culture – you would consider that cultural exchange?

            I’m thrilled beyond the telling that Astarte was appropriated, otherwise I would not have the benefit of a relationship with Aphrodite.

          • TadhgMor

            There is something absolutely perverse about being “thrilled” by appropriation.

            Can you show me Phoenician or Canaanite sources angry over the appropriation? That is important.

          • Merlyn7

            My spiritual relationship just feels that good.

            If I were to find out that an ancient Phoenician was unhappy that their native goddess had been renamed, given not one but two new tales of her origin, married off to native Greek deities, it would still not compel me to desist in the worship of Aphrodite.

            It’s of course worth mentioning that Astarte herself is an incredible being and worthy of worship in an approximation of her original conte

          • TadhgMor

            I will never understand this primacy of the self over others. It is just too foreign to me. Many things that are wrong feel good, that does not mean appropriation is somehow acceptable. Such an assertion beggars logic.

          • Merlyn7

            I’m not the only one thrilled to bits that Astarte was stolen by the Greeks and named Aphrodite. Have you seen the Venus de Milo? The Birth of Venus? Mighty Aphrodite by Woody Allen?

          • TadhgMor

            Your argument is well past logic at this point. Those individuals are not “thrilled” by appropriation in the way you are. They were simply using what they knew of Classical culture.

            Nor have you actually proven that it was appropriation. That is my point, one you’ve ignored in your apparent thrill. You are applying the term when you do not have enough relevant data.

          • Merlyn7

            Greeks laying claim to foreign deities and re-defining them with Greek origins (and spouses) and celebrating their high holy days with Greek touches seems to be quite akin to the charge you are leveling at modern practitioners.

          • TadhgMor

            Do you know the circumstances of it? The details are important. Do you know how the Phoenicians (or more broadly Canaanites) reacted?

            It looks the same if you make a number of assumptions. My point is you do not have the data to make those assumptions, and I’ve been searching as best as I can and I can find no published data that supports your assumptions.

            Even the assertion that she was directly taken from the Phoenician pantheon is more of a theory, I see linguistically they have not been able to trace it into any Semitic tongue.

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            But would it not be confusing if someone worshipped both Astarte and Aphrodite (as distinct beings)?

          • Merlyn7

            That would be a very modern view but perfectly reasonable as far as I can tell.

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            Why reasonable? I’d call it ignorant. Because it would be.

          • Merlyn7

            We may be crossing wires. If someone were to worship Astarte and Aphrodite as separate beings rather than as different aspects of the same being then they certainly would not have history on their side.

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            It’s that all important qualifier, isn’t it?

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            Freyja? Good choice.

            As an Ænglisc Heathen, I see the Norse Frigg and Freyja as two facets of the one goddess, Frīge.

            Could I stop you appropriating her and changing her to suit your aesthetics? No. I wouldn’t want to, either. I would simply not recognise your reimagining of her as anything to do with my own views.

            It is only when you make the claim that your version is superior/authoritative/’true’ that I would take exception.

            I wouldn’t push my view as superior to yours. I would merely let it be known that there is another view and that, for me, it feels right. (Let’s face it, no one sticks with a belief they do not actually believe.)

          • Merlyn7

            And I think we would be able to coexist fabulously.

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            And that is the point. Coexistence. Acknowledgement of difference and a basic level of respect of the individual/community (if not the actual belief).

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            Whether the worship is ‘wonderful’ is debatable (and futile).

            What we can do is acknowledge this appropriation. As I said, elsewhere, not all appropriation is bad.

          • Deborah Bender

            “Less extreme, Wiccans taking the name Yule and attaching it to a winter
            solstice celebration that borrows some ancient customs from various
            cultures and centers them all around a modern, universalized mythology
            is *also* cultural appropriation.”

            Of all the Wiccan holidays you could have picked to make a case for cultural appropriation, Yule is probably the weakest. The process you are describing predates Wicca by centuries.

            I haven’t got an OED at home. My 2005 edition Webster’s Collegiate says Yule is “[from Old English geol, akin to Old Norse jol, a pagan midwinter festival] (before 12th century)” and defines it as”the feast of the nativity of Jesus Christ: CHRISTMAS”. Unfortunately, there is no citation of the first literary use of Yule as a synonym for Christmas but surely “yule log” is an old term.

            Ronald Hutton’s book Stations of the Sun is an exhaustive study of the historical and geographical origins of the popular customs connected with every seasonal holiday celebrated anywhere in the British Isles. It can be a dry read but it’s organized in a way that makes it very easy to look up where a specific practice came from and how early it turns up in the historical record.

            From holiday to holiday, there is a great deal of variation on how old, how culturally specific and how geographically rooted the customs are. Some form of midwinter celebration involving fires, feasting, and decorating with evergreen plants has been going on in England almost since the Romans left, with variations added by each succeeding culture and religion. English midwinter holidays have been multicultural for a long time and it’s well past the point that Christians, pagan Saxons, or anybody else can lay exclusive claim to Yule.

          • WAH

            Christians coopting native practices throughout history is *also* cultural appropriation, much worse than anything Wiccans could do, considering they’re also responsible for the repression of native practices in cultures they appropriate from.

            Also, naturally occurring cultural syncretism isn’t analogous to modern eclectic Paganism. First, syncretism often happens as a two-way street between cultures, even between cultures where one has the upper hand in terms of power (like the Roman, Gauls, and Germans), often creating a new cultural context existing beside the previous ones. Reading a book about a culture and taking the parts you like isn’t the same process.

            Second, the fact that the word “Yule” has been culturally appropriated (by Christians for example) for a long time doesn’t excuse it. People treated women as property for a very long time (and some still do), but it’s still wrong to do so.

            Yule has a Germanic origin as a Germanic holiday, so Germanic culture does certainly have original claim to it, though not necessarily exclusive claim. Again, you’re misunderstanding me as suggesting Wiccans stop using the name “Yule” or stop celebrating Yule. And again I’ll explain to you: I have no desire to stop people from doing things, just be honest about what you’re doing. Be honest about the fact that Wiccan Yule isn’t particularly similar to what we know about historical Yule and we have nothing to argue about. And *definitely* be honest about the fact that Wiccan Yule and Yule as celebrated by modern Germanic polytheists is not the same thing.

          • Deborah Bender

            “Be honest about the fact that Wiccan Yule isn’t particularly similar to
            what we know about historical Yule and we have nothing to argue about.”

            Of course it isn’t. Who is claiming that it is? People who are not very well informed, I would say.

            ” And *definitely* be honest about the fact that Wiccan Yule and Yule as
            celebrated by modern Germanic polytheists is not the same thing.”

            I’m not familiar with the latter, but given that the ritual practices as well as some of the theological import of Yule in two of the Craft traditions I belong to are different from each other, I wouldn’t expect a great deal of resemblance between either and the way Yule is celebrated by modern Germanic polytheists.

          • WAH

            “Of course it isn’t. Who is claiming that it is?”

            Many people, it’s a common experience for Germanic polytheists to come across such ignorance.

            “People who are not very well informed, I would say.”

            Hey, we agree! ;-)

            “I wouldn’t expect a great deal of resemblance between either and the way Yule is celebrated by modern Germanic polytheists.”

            Yep. It differs some between Germanic Polytheists as well. And on that point, it’s sundown on Mothers Night, so I’m going to be busy the next couple weeks and my responses here few to non-existant from this point out. I wish you a glad Yule, however you celebrate it.

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            The process is called ‘reclaiming’. Yule is an excellent example. How much effort is put out, every year, to show the public how much of that is deemed ‘Christmas’ actually pre-dates Christian practice in north west Europe?

            As and Ænglisc Heathen, I prefer to use the Ænglisc spellings where appropriate just to differentiate from other practices. So I would say Gēol, for example.

          • Merlyn7

            But if it weren’t for the Greeks culturally appropriating the wonderful Phoenecian Goddess Astarte we would not have the worship of Aphrodite. She certainly does not seem to have been Native to Greece but was almost instantly popular when fans across the Isles imported her worship. Then the Romans appropriated her and syncretized her with Venus.

            They stole wholesale and many have benefited from the charms of Aphrodite.

          • WAH

            “Cultural appropriation” in the general sense is not inherently bad. I was referring to cultural appropriation as defined by the poster I responded to. Also, historical examples of syncretism are not analogous to our current situation.

          • Merlyn7

            I absolutely hear what you are saying but there seems to be a fair bit of thinking that it’s ok when done in the ancient past but not ok now.

            The Greeks adored Egyptian Aset. They renamed her Isis (the cheek!) and built Greek style temples to her. Greek philosophers rewrote her myths to pair more suitably with Greek ideas – and those are the versions we have mostly today. They made statues of her where they got her to look as Greek as possible and every occultist was just mad for any Egyptian occultist he could find to teach him authentic Isis’s secret Egyptian magic much like white Americans today earnestly want to be taught Shamanism by a real-live Native American. It was theft and modern worshipers benefit GREATLY from it.

          • WAH

            I think it depends on which modern worshipers you ask. But anyway, a modern individual reading about a culture and borrowing specific bits isn’t the same thing as two cultures interacting on a macro-level and resulting in various additions to each. Neither example is necessarily bad, it’s the results people end up concerned with: when the cultural appropriation of a modern eclectic Pagan obfuscates the original cultural context from which certain bits come from, that isn’t a good thing. Folks who want accurate information about a culture (syncretism and all) have just as much of a right to that information and to not have things misrepresented to them as eclectic Pagans have a right to practice eclecticism. When someone’s eclecticism gets in the way of that right, said folks have a right to at least be annoyed.

          • WAH

            Oh, the other point being that when the Greeks “stole” Aset and renamed her Isis, it didn’t make the Egyptian cult of Aset disappear. The modern situation is different, and it comes down to misrepresentation. When an eclectic Pagan represents their eclectic cult of Isis as being the true revival of her ancient cult, I think other revivals of her cult that focus specifically on the Greek context of that cult, or the Greco-Egyptian context, or the Egyptian context, have every right to be annoyed at someone representing the modern revival of her cult as singular rather than multiple. Not to mention the false historical claims…but that’s well trod territory.

          • WAH

            “The problem is you have one culture that is designed around ancient practices”

            And in some instances post-conversion practices still native to the culture.

          • WAH

            I think this is a pretty fair assessment, though I think the “cultural differences” go beyond just the modern conceptions of “conservatism” or “masculinity,” etc. Personally I’m against injecting too much modern political or social ideology into my “Heathenry,” on the grounds that it’s just as foreign as anything conservative Heathens rail against. This isn’t to say that I *ignore* modern advances against inequality like racism, sexism, etc. just that I tend to see them through my own cultural worldview rather than adopting modern political ideologies wholesale. As far as modern political ideologies go, I’m an anarchist, as I see that tradition of political thought as being most in line with the cultures of ancient Germanic peoples and feel it has something to add to my navigation of the modern world.

          • http://www.oddmodout.com/ Ruadhán J McElroy

            But Heathens on the whole tend to be more culturally conservative than the pagan community as a whole is, so they don’t enjoy hanging out with the majority of self-identified pagans. There may also be some underlying disagreements about the roles of men and masculinity in general.

            False dichotomy, or something very close to it.

            I see these sorts of suggestions brought up about how recons in general (I’m a Hellenist, myself) differ from the pagan community, and some of the most articulate feminists and biggest tree-hugging Liberals I’ve met have been in recon/polytheist religions. To suggest that this can be boiled down to socio-political ideologies is fallacious and distracting. It has very little, if anything, to do with what really seems to create this divide.

          • Baruch Dreamstalker

            I can support this from the Pagan end. I’ve known gun-toting Pagans of good standing who run with militias. what really seems to create this divide In my candid opinion it’s demographic. Wicca has been ginning up throughout the post-war period. Recons/polys came along later and a lot of basic assumptions were already in the air. Now, add in differences in theology, ritual style and a dispute over appropriation and you’ve got the makings of a persistent rift. I am very careful not to assume that the Recon voices on this blog are a valid cross section of Recon population. It takes a certain amount of self-selection; I, for example, would never carry my get-grit or appropriation talk over to a Recon blog.

          • WAH

            Yep, you can replace “Germanic” with “Gaelic,” or “Greek,” or “Slavic” to describe analogous movements among those cultures. I always like to meet up with such folks, we tend to have a lot in common.

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            Any blog can discuss Heathenry. So long as they don’t misrepresent it. (Same as anything, really.)

    • http://dashifen.com/ dashifen

      I think this illustrates pretty nicely the online bubble that many of us experience. I know that I assume that the conversations that I’m having here or at Patheos.com or anywhere online, really, are just as interesting to everyone else as they are to me and my dialog partners. But, there’s a vast amount of Pagans in the community that have no idea what we’re talking about or, perhaps, that we’re even talking. That doesn’t cheapen our conversations, but I think it should temper how generalized we think our topic-of-the-moment is to the community at large.

      • Oididio

        It also illustrates the bubble that (some) solitaries (like myself) end up being in. I’d love to have more exposure to the community and active thought that is happening.
        I guess websites like this and others should be supplying that for me but I only tune into them every couple weeks or so. Outside of this and a couple of infrequently updated podcasts, I’m sort of just living my own practice, for good or ill.

        In this case, the onus is on me to be more well informed.

        • http://dashifen.com/ dashifen

          Only if you’re interested in that information. I know many solitaries and and a lot of groups that think the online Pagan community is a bunch of argumentative jerks that spend too much time thinking and not enough time doing (and I am one of those jerks, I might add).

          I spend probably one to two hours every day reading over 125 different blogs and often the comments to articles that specifically peek my interest and that’s a hard thing to do for everyone and I haven’t even really started in on the universe that is within Pagan tumblr.

          As for delivery, you can always scribe to the Wild Hunt by email if you want an easy way to receive the information here without having to remember to go back and visit later. Or, if you prefer, you can check out feedly.com which is how I get pretty much everything delivered to me.

          • WAH

            I use feedly, I’d recommend it as well.

  • Gus diZerega

    At the risk of being accused of special pleading, I think the definition of Paganism I offered some 13 years ago in “Pagans and Christians” still works. I argued Paganism did not and could not have a concise definition. It was like a rope with many strands and while at any point along the rope any one strand might be weak or absent, they collectively described a broad spiritual outlook that extended back into hunting and gathering times, through agricultural societies, and into the modern industrial and urban world. Further these strands make sense in relation to one another. They are a rope not a snarl.

    I suggested the core traits were:

    1. pantheism or panentheism – The primary focus for Pagans in general is Spirit as it manifests in and through the world, although it may and often will be thought to have other dimensions.

    2. animism- Differentiated consciousness permeates the world.

    3. polytheism – There are a number of spiritual entities appropriately treated as independent beings and some are worthy of being called “gods.”

    4. Eternal now – There is a primary emphasis upon spiritual reality’s cyclical and mythical rather than linear or historical character.

    5. No good/evil dichotomy – There is no equivalent of a Satan or ultimate evil as an independent spiritual source.

    Excepting for 5, these traits point to a way of relating to the spiritual world as in some important sense a community of beings who are independent centers of action and attention. Just as ways of relating to human communities are varied, so are ways of relating to spiritual communities. No concrete practice is intrinsically better than the rest.

    One more important point. Nearly all these traits involve terms whose meaning is not intrinsically clear. Many people argue panentheism can focus on the world’s soul whereas pantheism focuses only on the body. But there is no agreement as to what the soul is. How radically distinct must something be to be differentiated? What is a god? (Thales found countless thousands of gods and most pantheons are vastly smaller.) What is “radical” evil? These uncertainties guarantee those who want to argue about them will always find something to fight over and complain about. But to me that says more about them than about the issues.

    We are each of us members of groups focusing on one way of relating to our spiritual community. Some of us have visited other communities and may even be
    ‘multicultural’ in the sense of finding meaning in participating within and being members of more than one. But the number of possible communities is open-ended and it is in principle impossible for any one ritual to involve them all. I am reminded of those large public circles where at some point people start describing the purpose they hope the ritual to achieve or the presences they wish to invoke, and the longer it goes on the greater the pressure to come up with one
    more. This is perhaps the most common form of Pagan ritual abuse. :-)

    If someone argues that whatever it is they practice, it does not share many of these root characteristics or they feel uncomfortable with those who do share most of these beliefs, my question is: why call yourself Pagan? And if you do, why should we care?

    • Lēoht Sceadusawol

      So, would you describe Hinduism as Pagan? How about Shinto?

      What about the atheist/humanist Pagans out there?

      • Gus diZerega

        Many Hindus themselves agree that Hinduism is a form of Paganism. At this level the biggest difference between much Hinduism and most all other Pagan traditions is the importance of sacred texts. But Hinduism as I have come to understand it has as many variants, and those that focus entirely or mostly on Enlightenment are arguably on one side or the other of the fringe.

        The Shinto practitioners I have spoken with or heard all fit pretty easily into this category.

        • Lēoht Sceadusawol

          What purpose does trying to fit all these religions under one bracket achieve, other than reducing interfaith to a Abrahamic/Non-Abrahamic dichotomy?

          Also, what of that last category, the atheistic Pagans?

          • Gus diZerega

            On atheists, see above.

            No this does not create a Abrahamic/nonAbrahamic dicjhotomy. Buddhism and other traditions insofar as they came to focus on enlightenment, getting off the wheel of rebirth, fit neither.

            As to bigger issues, that is far beyond this format to discuss. A good place to see where I stand is my new book Faultlines: The Sixties, the Culture Wars and the Return of the Divine Feminine. This part comes towards the end and in the relevant appendices.

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            The very fact that (some) Buddhists believe in rebirth shows they support the concept of a soul, which tucks box one. That they can get off that cycle ticks box 2.

            In fact, We could probably find strains of Christianity that fit the criteria.

          • Gus diZerega

            You do not understand Buddhism. Period. As to the rest, write something with some substance and I’ll take the time to respond.

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            I don’t understand all forms of Buddhism, no. But there are forms that are essentially polytheistic.

          • Gus diZerega

            At the level of popular practice you are sometimes right. And at the level of popular practice much Catholicism comes pretty close to polytheism. But Catholicism as a coherent religion is not polytheistic and neither is Buddhsim.

            If you look at serious Buddhist teachings and practices, as well as what their teachers say, Bodhisattvas such as White Tara as well as we ourselves have no inherent existence. But some of these teachers will say Tara has more ‘existence’ than we do. Much as I respect Buddhism, it’s not my path and I no longer read their stuff to be able to try and answer. Their goal and the amount of organizational hierarchy do not attract me as much as Wiccan and Pagan religion in general does.

            We are also getting into the issue of the differences between popular forms of a religion and what its most devoted and disciplined practitioners find in it. To refer back to Cat’s post- at the popular level I am completely happy with not calling Heathens Pagans. We should be able to be called what we want to be called, at least within reasonable limits. But when we get into careful discussion of what constitutes different kinds of spiritual paths, we are in another realm of discourse and, I argue, Heathens are properly referred to in that context as one variant of Pagan religion in the broad sense, just as is Wicca.

          • http://www.oddmodout.com/ Ruadhán J McElroy

            Have you always been this bloated and arrogant? I ask this with all due respect, because I see that many over the years have afforded you quite some respect, indeed, and yet your tendencies to try and put people down, attempt to “school” them, and then try and manipulate the convo and “educate” people by domination and belittling language (displayed both here and in a recent thread on PSVL’s blog) makes it hard for me to see why other people seem so intent to build you up.

        • Lēoht Sceadusawol

          “To my mind someone who believes the universe is nothing but matter and
          energy that cannot respond to or be aware of embodied life and is not
          conscious itself, such that all concepts of meaning are ultimately
          meaningless, seems simply to be an atheist in the Dawkins sense.”

          So, you dismiss those who enjoy the theatre and entertainment of ritual, the aesthetics of Pagan mythology and the psychology of subconscious archetypes as non Pagans?

          I don’t mean to put words in your mouth, I’m just looking for where the line is drawn. Because lines are always drawn and definitions are always needed.

          • Gus diZerega

            The term “dismiss” is indeed putting words, very loaded ones, in my mouth.

            Many people go to church services because they enjoy the music, especially at this time of year. Some do it entirely for the aesthetics and do not call themselves Christians. To my mind there is nothing wrong with that. Same issue.

            You also introduce another term, undefined and ultimately probably undefinable, but to the degree I understand it not at all in keeping with what I wrote that you quote above – “subconscious archetypes.” It is your term, not mine, and I have no very clear sense of what you mean by it.

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            Bad choice of words, I didn’t mean dismiss in any loaded sense, sorry. I guess “would describe” would be a less loaded way of phrasing it? I know what I am trying to say, but am having something of a BFG moment – what I say and what I mean are two very different things.

            “Subconscious archetypes” it is a psychological theory that the gods have no external reality but represent ‘archetypes’ of the subconscious, universal enough that many people identify with them. I think it was Jung that came up with the concept. It is a non spiritual way of looking at gods and fosters somewhat of a self centred approached to religion.

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jungian_archetypes#Examples_of_archetypes

    • http://quakerpagan.blogspot.com/ Cat C-B

      I’ve always liked your definition, Gus. Though I’m not entirely sure that polytheism per se needs to be in there. For instance, I know animists and non-theists who seem best described as Pagan (to me and to them). Of course, you did say that no one strand is essential in and of itself.

      Along those lines: one strand that you do not mention that I wish you had is self-definition. Are Hindus Pagan? Ask the Hindu in question. Are Heathens? Ask the Heathens in question.

      Admittedly, this is a little more about identity politics than understanding the movement per se. But there’s something disrespectful in classifying any group against their say-so as a member of mine… And, while I’m not sure how to word it, respect for the many-ness of the world (of gods, of ideas, of ecologies) does seem to be another part of that Pagan rope.

      A rope I’m hanging onto, by the way. Whatever other labels apply, the general term, that points me to what I have in common with the other members of our movement, is the one that resonates best for me.

      • Gus diZerega

        Hi Cat-
        I was and am writing as a social scientist as well as a Pagan. From that definition it would be very hard to determine where I personally fall on every issue because they are deliberately broad. As I emphasize.

        In all honesty.I am not very sympathetic to the self-definition issue in scholarly or rigorous communication. It was not that many years ago when ‘Heathen’ and ‘Pagan’ were regarded as synonyms. No one objected. Then some of those who call themselves Heathens began using that term to differentiate themselves from non-Heathen Pagans. In terms of informal and social interactions, fine. No problem. Happy to go along. But in terms of scholarly analytical understanding, no. They are Pagans insofar as the definition I gave describes a coherent religious outlook with defining characteristics they share with others.

        So it’s really an issue of the context in which those words are used.

        • WAH

          Honestly, I don’t think academia should use either “Heathen” or “Pagan” in the first place, as their origins are hardly objective.

          Also, as a social scientist do you usally dictate to the social groups you study as to how they are identified? I was under the impression that social science was intended to be descriptive rather than prescriptive. Insisting on identifying a social group in a way they do not accept doesn’t seem very descriptive.

          “They are Pagans insofar as the definition I gave describes a coherent
          religious outlook with defining characteristics they share with others.”

          Which assumes that the people in question *do* share the defining characteristics that you’ve put forth. For my own community, there are problems with 1, 4, and 5, at the very least in the way you define them. This is in addition to the facts on the ground: that we practice, organize, etc. seperately from the Pagan community.

          • Franklin_Evans

            There can be an implied (and sometimes explicit) denigration in the academic practice of labeling. I’m an “amateur” scholar, in that I’ve not found the opportunity to formally pursue these things in academia, but I have encountered both in literature and in conversation a dismissive attitude in some individuals. Labels are convenient, but lose that when those so labeled show up, big as life, and especially speaking the same language as the academics.

            I offer no criticism towards Gus on this score. I’ve followed his writings on many topics since he first was a featured blog on Beliefnet. It would shock me to have him admit to such attitudes, and indeed i’d expect quite the opposite based on what he has written.

            I am in no way speaking for him in the following:

            The only “dictating” is within the structures of the academic discipline. On that level, one could as well declare that the use of Latin or Greek in biology, chemistry or geology is dictatorial. I don’t mean to reduce you or any humans to analogs with inanimate particles, but they don’t react to the practice, and you (and I) do.

          • Gus diZerega

            For intelligent conversation to take place commonly agreed upon terms are necessary. They can be modified at any time of course, but it is best when the modifications are explicit. When they are the proposed modifications can then be evaluated.

            You seem to think social scientists simply impose terms on others. Some do, and when they do it blinds them to what does not fit. I didn’t and don’t. I also make explicit what my terms mean and that, unlike what you are doing, holds them open to criticism and arguments for better terms. By doing so I make it possible for what does not fit to make its case. Then the term can be modified, or the supposed exception can be ignored as not important enough to complicate general discussions, or dismissed as a dead end.

            Science is possible in part by means of classificatory schemes. The value of any particular form of classification arises out of what can be done with it. My term “Pagan” is scarcely idiosyncratic and incorporates a wide range of religions across centuries and continents based on common characteristics that fit together. It chops a lot of wood, as one might say, and there is a big pile of such wood in my new book.

            My term “Pagan” does not claim to encompass every conceivable spiritual approach other than the Abrahamic and Enlightenment traditions. For example, Spiritualism is a different approach. It is not Pagan by my definition and I see nothing intrinsically wrong with Spiritualism. I would object however if Spiritualists tried to call themselves Pagans.

            When I wrote Pagans and Christians no one objected to the definition. Not in print and not in any circles I ran in, which went well beyond NeoPagan ones and included African Diasporic, and Native American ones. (Although even then trendy academic PoMo relativism was beginning to make communication difficult.)

            Now people seeking to (to use the trendy term) ‘appropriate’ the word Pagan for their own uses, complain the term as we Pagans use it does not fit them. If it doesn’t, why do they want to use it unless to piggy back on the respect we who have used the term earned and continue to earn? If you have a genuinely new insight about Pagan religion it is YOUR responsibility to demonstrate to others it is worth our while taking seriously if you want to engage in public discussion. What of value do you bring to our table?

            To give a concrete example, at the level of personal practice I have no problem with people calling themselves “ChristoPagans.” If the spirits/Jesus/whomever come to them in ritual or elsewhere, it is no human being’s business to make judgments as to that practice beyond whether it can live in peace with or seek to coerce others.

            When however they want what they do to be part of “Pagan religion” I want to know what they mean by that because Pagans have no sense of the fall, no sense of needing someone’s self-sacrifice to relieve us from the guilt of sin, and no sense of original sin. Without any of that how does Jesus differ from any one of many divine or semi-divine teachers in Pagan traditions world wide? Which in fact is how he was identified by Pagan oracles during the time of Rome.

          • WAH

            “You seem to think social scientists simply impose terms on others.”

            I said no such thing about social scientists generally, I was only referring to your post, particularly when you said: “But in terms of scholarly analytical understanding, no. They are Pagans insofar as the definition I gave describes a coherent religious outlook with defining characteristics they share with others.” This assumes both that your definition is the definitive academic definition, widely accepted throughout academia, and it also makes the claim that those who deny the Pagan label have no academically viable reason for doing so and therefore shouldn’t be accepted as not “Pagan” by social scientists. This is what I’m disagreeing with.

            “I also make explicit what my terms mean and that, unlike what you are doing, holds them open to criticism and arguments for better terms.”

            Yes, and part of your explication about the term includes the following statements: “I argued Paganism did not and could not have a concise definition.” “Nearly all these traits involve terms whose meaning is not intrinsically clear.” and “These uncertainties guarantee those who want to argue about them will always find something to fight over and complain about. But to me that says more about them than about the issues.”

            I would disagree with your last point there, as well. The fact that those uncertainties guarantee argument and disagreement illustrates the deficiency of the term and definition of the term (which is exactly one facet of peoples’ rejection of the term). How useful is such a definition for academia when it causes said dissension? You aren’t studying a group of people at that point, your purposefully affecting them. Hence my comment about whether social sciences were meant to be descriptive or prescriptive, to use the terminology from the field of linguistics.

            As to “unlike what you’re doing,” where did I make any claim to use the term differently than you? What do I need to be explicit about to open it up to criticism? My claim was simply that your definition does not include all of the non-Pagan-identified folks that you claim it does. This illustrates one of the points of frustration for non-Pagans whom Pagans want to include in their umbrella: your arrogent assumption that we have to “prove” something to you and convince you to give us your *permission* before we can identify ourselves autonomously from you.

            You continue thinking and writing what you want, nothing I can do to stop that, but it doesn’t change the reality that communities are growing independently of the Pagan community and finding it increasingly odd for a group of people they’ve never participated in religious community with and barely interacted with foaming at the mouth insisting we’re part of their community.

            “The value of any particular form of classification arises out of what can be done with it.”

            Agreed, and your definition is fine in so much as it references communities it applies to.

            “My term “Pagan” does not claim to encompass every conceivable spiritual approach other than the Abrahamic and Enlightenment traditions.”

            Agreed. I didn’t say that it did. But as per your above comment, you do claim it encompasses communities that dispute that classification. This is where we disagree.

            “Now people seeking to (to use the trendy term) ‘appropriate’ the word Pagan for their own uses, complain the term as we Pagans use it does not fit them. If it doesn’t, why do they want to use it unless to piggy back on the respect we who have used the term earned and continue to earn?”

            These statements make no sense. I have no desire to appropriate the term “Pagan.” I *don’t* want to use it at all, let alone to piggy-back on your “respect.” The issue of people wanting their religions better represented in Paganism isn’t my issue. My issue is being included in something I have no interest in being included in. My issue is when a term I don’t identify with is purposely defined in such an amorphous way that people can argue endlessly about how I should just shut up and accept the term Pagan and a place in the Pagan community, neither of which I want.

            You’re definition of “Pagan” is perfectly fine. I don’t particularly care about defining it differently than you. I am disputing that my community (at least a portion of it) falls under enough of those “traits” to be included in your use of the term Pagan. However, you’ve purposelly created the definition so that you can argue to include whoever you have a desire to include. By your own admission you claim Paganism can’t have a concise definition, that your terms aren’t “intrinsically clear,” and that it contains “uncertainties.” This makes it pretty easy for you to force certain communities into the label, but I don’t really see how it gives you any objective or academic authority to deny a community’s autonomy in identifying itself.

            The problem, then, is if you define Pagan in a more concise, definitive manner, it’s much easier for people to reject being included in your definition. If you define Pagan more fluidly and uncertainly, the term becomes useless to many people and they reject it on that grounds. There isn’t any way to define Pagan that will include everyone who doesn’t want to be included, so why do people keep trying?

            “If you have a genuinely new insight about Pagan religion it is YOUR responsibility to demonstrate to others it is worth our while taking seriously if you want to engage in public discussion.”

            I don’t have a genuinely new insight about Pagan religion, anymore than I have a genuinely new insight about Muslim religion. THIS ISN’T ABOUT PAGANISM. This issue is purely about whether the Pagan community and its partisan academics have a right to define those of us who act, believe, and view ourselves as outside of the Pagan community.

            “What of value do you bring to our table?”

            I often ask myself this question in regards to the Pagan community. I’m not the one trying to sit us at the same table, you are. Personally, I don’t care what’s on your table unless it’s my head, get it? Since I’m not trying to bring anything to your table the burden isn’t on me to prove I have something of worth to you, the burden is on you to prove that including me in your identiy has anything to offer me and my community. I have never been convinced that it does.

          • Gus diZerega

            I see no point in continuing this conversation.

          • WAH

            Fair enough.

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            “For intelligent conversation to take place commonly agreed upon terms are necessary.”

            I agree with this, very strongly. I further feel that a term needs to be easily definable and understood. The vast majority of readily accepted religious terms out there are able to be summed up in a single short paragraph, if not sentence.

            The large issue is getting people to agree to the term. As you pointed out, there are those seeking to be included in the term ‘Pagan’ for whatever reason, even when they do not fit the definition that some others may use.

            Further, the most readily understood definition of “Pagan” is still the broad, negative definition of “Not Abrahamic”.

            As I have said many times, in many places, a religious label/term is most useful when describing something to someone who does not self identify with it.

            The people I speak to, in daily life are just typical people who are unlikely to have much grounding in theology or religious studies (or, indeed, any other specialist field of study). It is these people who need to understand the words we use to describe ourselves, if we want them to understand our world views.

            Stepping away from the umbrella in regards to labels does not mean turning your back on people. It just means trying to get past problematic definitions.

            To go to an anecdote…

            I first became interested in “Alternative Religion” in the late 1990s, when it was presented to me that there was a cluster of similar, allied religions. They were Druidry, Paganism and Witchcraft (including Wicca). (I heard about Heathenry later.) The three were distinct, but had common enough interests that they worked well together.

            Over the years since then, I have seen a gradual ‘fuzzing’ of the definitions. This is, quite possibly, due to the wonderful phenomenon that is the more you study, the less you know. I do not feel, however, that this is solely the case since a lot of things seem Wicca-normative. I can understand that, since Wicca makes up the majority demographic, but it can confuse the issue for those who are only just hearing of the tattered umbrella.

          • Gus diZerega

            Language has a life of its own, one in many ways independent of what the individuals speaking it do. If we went to ancient Greence or Rome in 1 CE no one would imagine “Pagan” would refer to religion. It became a catch-all phrase initially applied to non-Christian practice in the Roman Empire, and expanded elsewhere. It was never analytical or definitional in any rigorous sense. Even Muslims were and sometimes are called “pagans.” But the term caught and took on a life of its own.

            As it turns out, the “pagan” religions nhave a greater unity than simply being “non-Abrahamic” (if we exclude Muslims from paganism, as not everyone does even today. There is a reason for this.

            All society grew out of original societies of hunter gatherers and so far as we know the spirituality of hunter gatherers has a great deal in common and what it has in common are what I included in my definition. See High Brody’s “The Other Side of Eden” for a wonderful discussion.

            The religions of agricultural societies shared those roots, modified over time by the different relations that arose between people and towards nature. But there was no radical break with the past. Artemis was apparently once a bear goddess.

            The most radical break took place with the rise of monotheism that saw itself as hostile to earlier religions. Less radical, there was the rise of enlightenment oriented religions, or variants of earlier religions.

            Consequently, when I write about “Pagan religion” I am writing about religions with the oldest roots, and whose practitioners recognize one another as doing the same sorts of things. That is why I argue we are “nature religions.” We are part of a tradition that first recognized and encountered the Sacred in and through nature.

            A few years back it was trendy for some academics to argue NeoPagans were so different from tribal and African Diasporic religions that we should not all be lumped together as “Pagan.” That was news to practitioners of those religions who, once they knew something about us, regarded us as sharing the same broad outlook. The same holds for Native American traditionals today, once they know what we actually are. We work together amicably in interfaith work world wide. This is one of the benefits of interfaith work, by the way: dispelling misunderstandings.

            So- for many decades of interfaith work with other religions, including other Pagans, the definition I gave has fit comfortably. It is also in keeping with history- a very long history.

            There are two other dimensions of the issue.

            First, there is often a difference between “lay practice” and the outlook of those who have devoted their lives to their spirituality. Let me make it clear that while I am in the latter group I in no way look down on the first. We comprise an interdependent spiritual and social ecology and to my mind big problems arise when the ‘spiritual leaders’ or what-have-you get too full of themselves. In addition, lay practice in religions often is closer to what most Pagans in the second group do and believe than they are to what the most deeply involved Buddhist and Christian members of this second category. They seek help in daily affairs and often ask more than one spiritual power for that help. Less so with Protestants, a lot with some Catholics. Pagan outlooks seem to come naturally.

            So lay practice cannot on the one hand be used to define the ‘deeper meaning’ of a religion, but on the other hand, the greater the harmony between lay practice and the deeper meaning, the better. We are in good shape on that level.

            Second, no authority controls what a “Pagan” is. Unlike the Catholic Church, there is no committee of orthodoxy. Anyone can call him or herself a Pagan if they want. What keeps coherence in the term is usage, or “privilege” to use a trendy term. But it is a “privilege” that is given by use by others for the term has a life of its own. And that means the word will always have fuzzy edges. To me getting too wound up in what is a ‘real’ polytheist or a real ‘pantheist’ is a complete waste of time.

            The same is true even for “Christian” once people were free from political repression if they were different. (See my essay on “The Mirage of Monotheism” in Patheos.)

            So to return to your point about Pagans, Wiccans, and Druids, only the latter two terms referred to coherent or semi coherent ways of practice. There is and never has been “Pagan ritual” in the way there has been “Wiccan ritual” or “Druidic ritual.” The reason is that “Pagan” is a class of very varied practices existing for thousands of years and Wiccans and Druids are two groups whose practices fit comfortably within that class.

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            I get that definitions change, with time. However, words are still in possession of definitions.

            If anyone can call themselves a Pagan, what meaning does that word have? Quite simply, it has no meaning.

            I could call myself Christian but, since I follow none of the tenets of Christianity or celebrate any of its festivals, it would be entirely fair for someone to tell me that I am wrong and that I am not a Christian.

            The very fact that we can’t do that with Paganism is ludicrous. It obliterates all usefulness of the word, apart for a very few people who just want numbers on their side when discussing demographical representation.

          • Gus diZerega

            I wrote we have no authoritative way of saying who is or who is not a Pagan. That is far from saying words do not have meanings and that we cannot defend them against those who would distort these meanings. But it is a dynamic process. Or else all that I have written in this interminable conversation makes no sense.

            I get the impression some here want to just argue and take any statement out of context in order to continue the argument. I have no time for this. To them I suggest “Get a life.”

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            I once read that a genius is someone who can take a complex concept and explain in an understandable manner to a simpleton.

            I make no claims to being a genius; if you take offence at what I am saying, then it is my inability to articulate my thoughts, rather than any deliberate antagonism.

            I am confused, though. If we have no authoritative way of saying who is and who is not a Pagan, how can anyone distort the meaning?

          • Gus diZerega

            My last comment and then I am turning to other things. You have no authoritative way (in the sense of Vatican pronouncements) to say what a dog is or is not. Doesn’t seem to shut you up on that topic, does it? Read Wittgenstein.

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            I prefer dictionaries.

          • Tarian

            As I see it, part of the confusion is between the term ‘Pagan’ as used by practitioners and participants, and the term ‘Pagan’ as used by social scientists. If social wish to analyse religious practices and movements, then perhaps they should invent their own technical terms, rather than appropriating (and redefining) terms used by the people they are studying. Then they wouldn’t end up being accused of trying to impose their definitions.

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            I’d agree with that. But I’d go further, too.

            It is the way Paganism is being described as undefinable, and then being defined (via a dissertation) to fit in with a theoretical model rather than reality.

            Originally, The word “Pagan” was used to define anyone who did not follow the urban Roman theologies. Then it became anyone who was not Christian. Then anyone who was not Abrahamic.

            Then other religions began to get individual recognition, such as Buddhism, Hinduism, Shinto…

            but the basic ‘negative’ definition remained – Paganism is a definition of what a person is not.

            As more and more religions become independent from the “Pagan Umbrella”, what will Paganism be left with?

            An individualistic religious outlook largely informed by an eclectic understanding of religious viewpoints.

            That is hardly a bad thing, but there are those who worry that it isn’t enough or that being exclusive is somehow ‘bad’.

          • Tarian

            I think you’ve probably hit the nail on the head – Paganism isn’t so much a religion, or even a group of religions, but a particular approach to religion, which is sufficiently well delineated to permit people who sympathize with and practise that approach to identify as ‘Pagan’, and to recognize other people who do likewise.

            That’s why attempts to narrow down Paganism by defining it as an actual religion – polytheism, Goddess-worship, nature-worship, or whatever – inevitably arouse so much hostility in the Pagan community. Similarly, attempts to associate Paganism with a particular political outlook.

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            Perhaps, then, Paganism is best served by being the “middle ground” between various religions without explicitly including any of them?

            I have to say, the notion that Paganism (or any religion, for that matter) is tied to a particular political outlook reeks of theocracy. Whether that is good bad or even avoidable, I leave to others to decide.

          • WAH

            “It is the way Paganism is being described as undefinable, and then being
            defined (via a dissertation) to fit in with a theoretical model rather
            than reality.”

            Thank you! You put into succint words what I wasn’t able to accurately explain about my problem with Mr. diZerega’s earlier posts.

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            I like succinct.

            It’s what I like about dictionaries, rather than encyclopædias. They acknowledge that, sometimes, a single sentence explaining a word is better than a full article.

          • http://www.oddmodout.com/ Ruadhán J McElroy

            Encyclopædiae don’t really define words, though, they explain concepts and ideas and events. Sometimes a dictionary is necessary, but sometimes an encyclopædia is best, it depends on exactly what needs to be explained, the basic meaning of a word, or something more complex than the word itself.

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            That’s kind of what I was trying to say, thanks.

            All that this entire article and commentary has shown is that “Pagan” does not, at this time, have a basic meaning and any attempt to give it one is met with strong hostility from certain areas.

          • WAH

            “I wrote we have no authoritative way of saying who is or who is not a Pagan.”

            Yet you try and argue rather authoritatively when someone denies the term “Pagan” for themselves or their community.

            “I get the impression some here want to just argue and take any statement out of context in order to continue the argument.”

            I get the impression that people want to discuss it until the issue is resolved, rather than being silenced because the topic makes Pagans uncomfortable. You want to stop arguing? Accept everyone’s right to self-determination and to self-identify and there’s no longer anything to argue about.

          • Franklin_Evans

            Please forgive the lack of font enhancements. I’ve yet to successfully use them in a TWH post. The following paragraph is from a Wikipedia entry — http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religion_in_ancient_Rome#Superstitio_and_magic — not for any expectation of its authoritativeness but because it helps make my point:

            Excessive devotion and enthusiasm in religious observance were “superstitio”, in the sense of “doing or believing more than was necessary”, to which women and foreigners were considered particularly prone. The boundaries between “religio” and “superstitio” are perhaps indefinite. The famous tirade of Lucretius, the Epicurean rationalist, against what is usually translated as “superstition” was in fact aimed at excessive “religio”. Roman religion was based on knowledge rather than faith, but “superstitio” was viewed as an “inappropriate desire for knowledge”; in effect, an abuse of “religio”.

            The references I had in mind all describe a legal conflict between the extent Roman state religion (“religio”) and legal violations of it. “Superstitio” could mean “beyond the state” implying the illegality of the practice or belief, not a value judgment on its credibility.

        • TadhgMor

          I would argue there is no coherent religious outlook.

          Also, suggesting polytheism and pantheism are both major poles seems inherently contradictory to me. The worldview of each is fundamentally different. The pantheist and panentheist tendencies of mainstream paganism have always been on of the turn offs to me; it’s a modern concept with very little antecedent in the ancient world.

          • Gus diZerega

            I recommend reading some NeoPlatonists or for a modern author, try Thomas McEvillery “The Shape of Ancient Thought.”

          • TadhgMor

            I’m aware similar beliefs existed in the past, though Neoplatonists are about as far from my path as Christians are. But the concept is a modern one, as a unit or belief system, and I’d suggest very little of it’s modern pagan pedigree comes from Neoplatonists or ancient authors, rather than modern authors.

            Further, I still see it as fundamentally contradictory to a hard polytheist outlook. I suppose it is not to soft polytheists, but in many cases I fail to understand why they call themselves polytheists at all based on the stated beliefs of some I’ve talked to.

          • Gus diZerega

            They are not contradictions and the paucity of your understanding is exemplified by the arrogance of your ‘hard polytheism’ posturing as superior to other understandings. I engaged in a long discussion of the issue over on a hard polytheism site and I will not waste my time repeating what I said there. But I am so very very tired of the arrogance.

          • TadhgMor

            Yet you’ve been arrogant and rude repeatedly all over this thread. Nor do you have any idea what my understanding is, thank you very much. You are making assumptions, ones I can only assume are based in a prejudice against recons and hard polytheists based on your behavior in this thread.

            Posturing? I said I don’t see why they call themselves polytheists when they tend to be forms of pantheism in most cases. Show me some historical examples of soft polytheism. It’s a modern concept, like pantheism, and they are closely related. No ancient writing I’ve ever read has shown an understanding of the numinous similar to modern soft polytheism. As you state, words have solid meanings, and soft polytheism is quite distinct from the traditional definition of polytheism. I have made no value judgements about the worth of their beliefs. I am simply discussing classification.

            You know what, seriously? This isn’t about you. I don’t care how nice your credentials are in the mainstream pagan sphere. I don’t give a sh*t. Your arrogance and dismissive attitude, refusing to even ENGAGE the arguments of others here, shows your utter lack of character.

            If you are a scholar, I’m ashamed to share the label with you. I may be rude, I may be passionate, but I at least bother to engage the arguments of those I disagree with, rather than pretending I know everything then dismissing them.

          • Gus diZerega

            I have spent thousands of words engaged with “hard polytheists” just a few days ago. And my my my what ‘manly’ terminology- the ‘hard’ against the ‘soft.’ I bet it makes you feel all tingly inside, doesn’t it?

            If you cannot take the time to look up what I have said, you are not worth my time now.

          • TadhgMor

            You’re beating up a strawman. That is intellectually dishonest. Show some quality.

            This has absolutely nothing to do with “manly” anything. If you continue down this line of thought, implying I’m somehow a sexist, you can politely go f*** yourself. I won’t stand for such insults.

            Your superiority complex seems much much more developed than mine. Further, it seems clear you are relying on fundamentally prejudiced assumptions about me and others like me.

            You haven’t “said” anything. You made one reference to neoplatonists. I accepted the reference but stated why I found it to be not entirely relevant. Beyond that, you’ve done nothing but insult the intelligence and understanding of others why promoting your own writing. Yet you call me arrogant.

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            “Manly terminology”

            Being the well educated academic that you are, you doubtless are aware of the fact that therms are not TadhgMor’s but well established ones differentiating between “Actual Polytheism” and “Effective Monotheism”, right?

            Or were you on about the adversarial aspect; the “versus”? It is not, so much, that the two concepts exist in opposition, more that the two exist.

            Without hard, empirical evidence that is scientifically quantifiable, neither is the superior form of belief. They are simply different ways of viewing godhood.

            This is not Christian Dominionism. It is entirely possible for people to have different views and not undermine someone else, simply because of their difference.

            People are asking, not for their views to be the only views allowed. They are merely asking that their views are acknowledged and treated with the same respect that everyone else has.

          • http://www.oddmodout.com/ Ruadhán J McElroy

            Why do so many people respect you and allow you to have the institutionalised power in the pagan community that they have given you? Every time I see you in action, even if I have not interacted with you myself, you are petty and rude, dismissive to the point of it seeming a fundamental aspect of your character, and far more interested in dominating others with whatever knowledge you do have than actually engaging in discussions and debates with people who may know things that you do not.

            No man is so learned, but he may be taught; neither is anyone so illiterate, but he may teach.

          • WAH

            TIL honest disagreement is arrogance.

        • http://egregores.blogspot.com Apuleius Platonicus

          The “Heathen” versus “Pagan” brouhaha is completely bogus in my view (strictly in terms of terminology). The earliest records in which we find the Anglo-Saxon words “wicca” and “wicce” refer to those who practice “wiccecraeft” as guilty of both “heathenship” and of “idol worship”.

          Also, “Heathen” is simply the Germanic word for “Pagan”. In the modern German language practitioners of Wicca are unproblematically referred to as “Heiden”.

          Incidentally, the first known occurrence of the word “Heathen” is actually in the Gothic Bible, where it is used to translate “Hellene”, which was already being used by Jews at the time to refer to their polytheistic neighbors. And the particular “Hellene” in question was not “Greek” in the kind of “ethnic” sense we might give that word today, but rather a levantine Semite who was referred to as “Hellene” due to her religious beliefs (polytheism).

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            The terminology is a pretty simple thing. The claiming of Heathen over Pagan is a rejection of the cult of the Vulgate.

          • Franklin_Evans

            I always enjoy your posts, and often learn something, but how is this not dismissible as an “appeal to the dictionary” as argument?

            My first name has an etymology as a descriptive label (see Chaucer’s “The Franklin”). My last name is a form of one of the most common names in Wales. My mother chose my first name as a variation on her father’s name Frank. My father chose Evans when he became a US citizen because Ivanišević — one of the founding families of Montenegro and distaff relations to Serbian royalty in the 14th century — was in his words “too hard for Americans to pronounce”.

            Words have meanings. We are well advised to discuss those meanings in a relevant context. I have neither Frankish nor Welsh in my background despite my names. Context is critical.

      • JasonMankey

        I don’t think all Pagans are polytheists, but I do think that most Pagans speak using the language of polytheism. Even if someone believes the gods are metaphor or perhaps aspects of nature, they are still generally called using deity names. “I call to the Lord of the Sun.” “I call to the Great Mother,” etc.

    • WAH

      “my question is: why call yourself Pagan?”

      Many of us don’t. *My* question then becomes: why do so many people have such a hard time accepting how we identify ourselves?

      • http://dashifen.com/ dashifen

        For my part, I see a lot of similarity between what I practice and believe and what others who do not use the label Pagan practice and believe. Therefore, it’s less about my struggle with your identity but my struggle with my own. In other words, it’s not that I don’t accept your decisions and support them, but that they have an influence on my understanding of self and self-identity in ways that I’m not sure I fully understand yet and, in some cases, that I don’t like.

        • WAH

          Unfortunately this feeling often gets phrased or expressed in ways that dismiss the autonomy and decisions of others. Also, I mean this in as non-harsh a way as possible, but you or anyone else’s identity problems caused by this trend just aren’t my concern, and those problems don’t justify dragging me or any other non-Pagan into a debate over an identity we don’t bother with.

          That’s the problem: for us, it’s a non-issue. We’ve already solved the issue by dropping “Pagan,” “Paganism,” and “the Pagan Community” and we’ve gone on to happily do our own thing in peace. Often getting more done because we aren’t spending time and energy on navigating nebulous identity politics and schizophrenic community. It only becomes a problem for us when others keep *making* it an issue for us.

          • http://dashifen.com/ dashifen

            100% agree with you …. but (you knew that was coming) the only way for me (at least) to progress in my struggles has been to speak with and to those who have moved beyond them.

            Many within the Pagan community have told me to get over it and do something and an identity will be constructed from practice. But I’ve always been an intellectual theist rather than a practical one.

            As a result, I find that that the struggle is both revealed and only resolved through my conversation with people who also struggle or have struggled with the label Pagan. For my part, I’m not that interested in doing so with others against their will, but I’m not only happy but enthusiastic about working with those who are also happy to do so.

          • WAH

            Fair enough. My comment about being dragged into it was intended more generally than specifically to you as an individual. My experiences with you haven’t indicated that you’re the type to do so.

            Now, as to the process of conversing to figure out the problem for you, well that process has to conclude at some point. There reaches a point where there isn’t much left to discuss on the topic. I feel like there is plenty of info from people who don’t identify as Pagan and there’s plenty of info about why we do so that continuing to rehash a discussion that some of us have had for over a decade now just gets…taxing.

            I’m prefectly willing to engage with people interested in the topic and its reasons, but eventually I’ve said all I have to say on it.

    • http://egregores.blogspot.com Apuleius Platonicus

      These five points also serve to emphasize just how much modern Paganism has in common with ancient Paganism. In particular, each of these five points is well established in the Pythagorean/Platonic tradition, and even more specifically in Plato’s Timaeus.

      There is also a lot of overlap between this list from Gus and the nine areas of overlap among modern Pagans noted by Christine Hoff Kraemer in her recent book.

      It is really very easy to find large areas of commonality among modern Pagans (as well as common ground between modern Pagans, ancient Pagans, and also indigenous religions, Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, African Traditional Religion, etc). Seek and ye shall find.

      • Lēoht Sceadusawol

        Try hard enough, and you can find commonality between any flavour of Paganism or Heathenry and pretty much any religion, including Christianity.

  • fishers of men

    Ah..Sophistry.. So Glad I’m not part of the Highly Neurotic and Histrionic crew of the Pied Piper.

    • Merlyn7

      Pardon?

      • Franklin_Evans

        Um, no. Troll, maybe, but there’s not enough of a footprint to be sure.

  • Diare Turtlemoon

    Before the Catholics came along, we were in tribes, all over the world there were different Diety and we worshipped pretty much along tribal lines. The Catholics called us pagan and it was a derogative term. So, now that the Christians don’t own the world, we are finding ourselves, it is not surprising that the term pagan does not fit any more. It never really did, it was meant to shame and reduce us. I hope that we can find common grounds and ways to work with each other. I use the term pagan because it is easy for people to identify that I am not Christian, and that I have an earth based pracitice. We live in wonderful times that we can re-discover the Ancient Ones.

  • H Kenneth Porter

    “Infinite diversity in infinite combinations.” – Spock

    • Genexs

      i grok spock

  • David Quinn

    In any discussion in which I am asked to “define” Pagan religion, (after choking back a laugh of futility) I start with the simple fact that Paganism can not be defined accurately in religious terms. It is better described as a culture or social movement.

    • Lēoht Sceadusawol

      If Paganism can’t be defined (accurately) in religious terms, perhaps it should stop claiming the term ‘religion’?

  • Ken

    I’d say Paganism for me is an ancestral belief without core texts. Sure I have historic documents and surviving folk practices, but they are based on something fluid and not set in stone(unless you’re talking about runestones.)

    The fact that I grow and change (and my culture with me) means what was Paganism yesterday will be a sightly different paganism tomorrow. As each person changes we don’t all change the same way, or are not called by the same Gods.

    Maybe in the beginning of this process the predecessors of modern Paganism had far more similar belief, but with each new person ideas are introduced that expand the definition.

    I think as well, part of the issue is Paganism has the historic implication of not-Christian. Some people have this preconception when defining it so in that sense Heathens would be Pagan, even if they don’t consider themselves as such.

    I expect my views on the above to be different a decade from now.(Heck present a strong enough case, you may influence me now.) I see change as natural and lack of change as death. (I also see death as change so bear with me here.)

    As an ex-atheist I’m not sure where they fall in the grand scheme of things. I suppose the idea of orthopraxy over orthodoxy includes them. Then I have to wonder if orthopraxy is universal or at least a majority thing. Does a sacrifice mean any more or less if you do or don’t believe in the God or Goddess it is for?

  • Lēoht Sceadusawol

    Allow me to share the mainstream stance on Paganism:

    “It’s a bad thing when one sees a Christian that does not want to come
    down, a Christian that uses everything to show off. Not nice, eh? That
    is not Christian, that is paganism,” – Pope Francis

    Source:
    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/12/18/pope-francis-pagan_n_4467797.html?utm_hp_ref=religion

    • Lēoht Sceadusawol

      If Pagans refuse to define themselves, others will do it for them.

      • http://www.oddmodout.com/ Ruadhán J McElroy

        But you don’t underSTAAAAAAAAANNDD!!!! Definitions are PATRIARCHAL AND WRONG!! Words that mean things HOLD US DOWN!!!![/sarcasm]

        The funny part? I’ve seen people have essentially that reaction whenever it’s even suggested that the word “pagan” might benefit from some semblance of defining characteristics.

        • TadhgMor

          Oh no, look downthread. Apparently hard polytheism is some sort of masculine fetish or some such thing.

          How they correlate is beyond me.

  • Franklin_Evans

    I read once — as in it was a passing reference, not expanded beyond its mention — that the Latin word “paganus” might derive from an Etruscan word that means “sacred/divine place”.

    I love thinking about words. I enjoy just free associating and seeing where it leads me. I claim no scholarly or other authority, but the desire to share my thoughts and see how others respond.

    In this case, I see a clear track from that to “earth- or Nature-centered”. There’s many steps in between, to be sure. One can argue for hours about it (kinda why I love it!) and not come to any clear conclusion or consensus.

    Anyway, a common ground (ahem) seems clear to me. We have more of shared interest than just being a motley collection of minority religions. We also have precedents to look to for the efficacy of a shared advocacy. I’m thinking, for example, of organzations like NAACP, AARP, and even ACLU. They all have a very basic common point of identity.

    BTW: I don’t mean to make this US-centric, except that’s where I live and I can only use “local” examples with confidence.

  • http://www.oddmodout.com/ Ruadhán J McElroy

    Margot Adler, famous author of “Drawing Down the Moon,” has publicly said on more than one occasion that had she the option back in the 1970s, she would have become a Hellenic polytheist instead of a Wiccan, but Wicca was all she could find at the time.

    As a Hellenist, myself, that kind of feels like a cop-out. I know that there are people who’ve been practising Hellenic polytheists since the 1970s (“biggest name” in that group would be Robert Clark of Elaion); they had to do a helluva lot more legwork to build their practise than I’m sure even some Wiccans had to do in the ’70s, but they were there and practising, cos they were driven enough to do the necessary homework to do be able to. If she “couldn’t find it”, that sounds more like a personal failing, to me.

    • Franklin_Evans

      That’s a reasonable speculation to make. I would suggest, as another side of the coin (who says a coin must only have two sides, eh?), that a benefit of the doubt is also reasonable: Often, the most difficult thing to accomplish is figuring out what the right questions are.

      Margot and I are of the same generation (she’s 10 years my elder). All things being equal, I have a strong sympathy for “couldn’t find it” from my personal experiences at the beginning of my path. It was 3 years of research and questioning — a good example of trial and error — and some serious serendipity that got me to a solid rational point.

      I would ask her to share more of the details. Is she expressing regret, or just acknowledging a strong affinity to Hellenic polytheism? If nothing else, based on a limited personal acquaintacne with her, I would expect her starting point to be one of utmost respect for an existing tradition and personal discipline for her relative ignorance of that tradition.

      As always, YMMV.

      • http://www.oddmodout.com/ Ruadhán J McElroy

        I would suggest, as another side of the coin (who says a coin must only have two sides, eh?)

        The common definition of a coin. If it has more sides, I think the common definition is a die.

        • Franklin_Evans

          I have a severe bias against dice. I was traumatized by a marathon D&D session, and haven’t been able to use them since.

          • http://www.oddmodout.com/ Ruadhán J McElroy

            Stepping on a bunch of D4’s can do that, I hear.

        • Lēoht Sceadusawol

          When I was a teen, I went through a phase of calling “Edge” when a coin was flipped. (Blame Pratchett.)

          Took about 18 months, but I eventually won!

    • Lēoht Sceadusawol

      Perhaps it is people such as Adler that have created this mess. rather than leaving a redundant label behind, they seek to change it into something to suit themselves, regardless of all those who are happy with the existing definition?

      Alternatively, it could be that others, reluctant to see these people leave, kept applying their own definition onto those others in order to keep tied to them, for whatever reason?

      • Franklin_Evans

        Intriguing questions, worthy of serious investigation.

    • Deborah Bender

      I think, as someone else posted, that Margot was expressing her pleasure in seeing Hellenic reconstructionist religions gaining public notice.

      Your comments about Wicca being the easy path may reflect current conditions but they have nothing to do with the choices available to Margot Adler at the beginning of her journey. Perhaps you are not taking into account that in the early 1970s, Wicca was a semi-secret religious cult, in the broom closet as they say. Practicing witchcraft wasn’t a felony like homosexuality, but it was regarded as either delusional or intentionally wicked, and very, very few people admitted to knowing anything (or did know anything) about it.

      It wasn’t easy to “join up with Wicca.” There were no big festivals or popular books with do it yourself rituals. If you were a New Yorker from an educated secular Jewish family, first you had to overcome your own and your family’s cultural prejudices. Once you were determined to go ahead with it, it was damned hard to get a referral to anyone in a functioning coven, hard to find a coven that was accepting new members, and then you had to convince them that they wanted you, without knowing what qualities they were looking for.

      If you did eventually acquire a contact to a coven and decided to request initiation, you were to some degree buying a pig in a poke. Any public Wiccan style rituals that may have been done in New York around that time were very watered down. Margot would have been given some general information about Wicca before she requested initiation, but not details. Most of the books about what Wiccans do and believe had not yet been published. She wasn’t in a position to say, “Wicca is too different from the Hellenic religion that draws me.” Rather she was offered the choice between joining a knowlegeable functioning group that looked something like what she wanted, or carrying on as a solitary. Taking advantage of the opportunity presented her was a logical choice.

      Margot Adler has sacrificed opportunities to advance in her journalistic career by being public as a witch very early, while working in a field and a part of the country where most people in positions of authority think only ignorant rubes take any religion seriously. Adler’s groundbreaking book Drawing Down the Moon was a huge contribution both to the Pagan community and to public education about all forms of paganism. To suggest that Margot has ever been a lazy cop-out is untrue and insulting.

      • Merlyn7

        Amen, sister!