Archives For Polytheism

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.

Pagan Community Notes is a series focused on news originating from within the Pagan community. Reinforcing the idea that what happens to and within our organizations, groups, and events is news, and news-worthy. My hope is that more individuals, especially those working within Pagan organizations, get into the habit of sharing their news with the world. So let’s get started!

PFI PhilippinesIn the wake of Typhoon Haiyan, which has wreaked havoc and destruction through the Philippines, the Pagan Federation International in Philippines has started raising funds to aid in providing food, water, and shelter to those directly affected by the storm. Quote: “Let us help ease the burden of our friends from Northern Cebu by helping with our mission to give aid to the Northern Cebu Typhoon Victims such as Daan Bantayan and Bogo. Pagan Federation International is needing volunteers and donations.” Vivianne Crowley, a longtime member and organizer within the Pagan Federation, added, quote, “many of you will have seen on news programs the devastation in the Philippines following Typhoon Haiyan (known locally as Yolanda). The Pagan community in the Philippines seem to all be safe, but some have lost their homes and many people are lacking food, water and shelter. Our friends in Pagan Federation International Philippines are appealing for help.” The Wild Hunt’s Heather Greene is currently following up with PFI Philippines on this effort, and we hope to bring you a more in-depth report this Sunday. I have embedded a poster created by PFI Philippines below, which lists contact information and a list of needs.

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Peter Dybing

Peter Dybing

Meanwhile, Pagan activist and disaster relief first responder Peter Dybing has issued a challenge to our community to give during this time of crisis. Quote: “Here is the challenge. I ask that every individual identifying as part of our community do the following things. 1. Select a relief organization that is doing work in the Philippines and donate what you can. 2. Post a link to the organization and call on everyone you know to take a similar action. 3. When the disaster fades from the news show support for the idea of a Pagan lead disaster relief organization. I have never directly asked you to share my blog posts. Today I am, please share this challenge far and wide.” Dybing added on his Facebook profile that “The American Red Cross has an outstanding record of being of assistance in small local disasters. Their record in large scale disasters is however, marred by very poor performances in responding to disasters like Katrina and Haiti. Millions of earmarked funds unspent years later. Better to donate to the local Philippines Red Cross directly.” A link to the Red Cross in the Philippines can be found, here. I’ve also provided a link to Doctors Without Borders, here.

worldwide heathen census asatru norse mythology blog norsemythBack in October I mentioned the launch of the Worldwide Heathen Census, a project of the Norse Mythology Blog that is attempting to “establish an approximate number of adherents through an anonymous survey with only one item: a pull-down menu where the respondent selects his or her home country. It is hoped that the anonymous nature of this census will attract responses from heathens who may not want to put their name on an official form from a governmental agency or research institution.” According to Dr. Seigfried, the census was in part sparked by frustration over Heathens being “mostly invisible in major surveys of religious affiliation,” and seeks to remedy that. Below, I’ve embedded a graphic from a November 9th update on the census, which will run through December of this year. So far, the United States seems to hold an overwhelming majority of contemporary Heathens, with Germany running a distant second, and the UK and even more distant third. Regarding the UK number, we do know that the census of England and Wales counted nearly 2000 Heathens (with another 150 or so in Scotland), so that number should climb a bit if participation increases. I’ll keep you posted on the final results once the census closes.

November 9 Worldwide Heathen Census 2013 Results by Country Norse Mythology Blog

In Other Pagan Community News:

  • Several Pagans, reconstructionists, and polytheists have spoken out over a stunt “God Graveyard” put up by atheists in Wisconsin. Sannion has rounded up many of those voices at his blog, here. P. Sufenas Virius Lupus noted that “they [atheists] are so concerned with evidence and proving things and making sure everything they say is factual, that they get to ignore all of religious studies, history, real people and traditions that are occurring today, and other matters that might shed light on anything that has to do with religion since all religion is unreal/false/nonsense, etc.” At Baring the Aegis, Elani Temperance adds that the atheist group’s stunning lack of ethics in this matter undermines their argument for unbelief, quote, “ethical behavior is not religious, but social, and the AHA would do well to remember that.” Or, as Sannion puts it in a follow-up, “it’s a dick move to tell another person that their god is dead; doesn’t really matter whether you’re laughing while you do it or wielding a knife.”
The "God Graveyard" in Wisconsin.

The “God Graveyard” in Wisconsin.

  • Last week I mentioned Operation Circle Care, a program that sends care packages to active duty Pagan soldiers serving overseas during the holidays. This week, OCC wanted to add that they are urgently looking for names of individuals who want/need this service. Quote: Service members can submit their own names, or those here at home can submit their information. We keep all contact information absolutely confidential. To submit a name we’re asking people to send the full name, rank, branch of military service, country where serving, postal address, email address, and spiritual path for the Pagan service-member, and also include your own name and contact info, plus your relationship with the service-member. We keep contact information confidential to circle@circlesanctuary.org with cc to: occ@circlesanctuary.org.” For more information, see Operation Circle Care’s official page. So if you know someone who needs this service, please get in touch!
  • Publisher Bibliotheca Alexandrina has announced that they are lowering the prices of all their titles effective immediately. Quote:  “Bibliotheca Alexandrina has lowered the prices on nearly all of our print titles. In general, books with a page count of 0-199 pages will be $10.99 US, 200-299 pages will be $12.99, and 300+ pages will be $14.99. There are a few exceptions, as some books have higher production costs, but we plan to stick as close as possible to this pricing scheme moving forward.” They also add that the new prices are effective immediately on their CreateSpace store, but will take a couple of weeks to migrate to places like Amazon and Barnes and Noble. There are some excellent titles in their roster, so stock up!
  • Pagan chaplain and activist Patrick McCollum has launched an IndieGoGo campaign to fund a trip to India where he has been invited by Sri Tathata to help facilitate the MahaYaga. Quote: “Sri Tathata, a great spiritual leader in India, has asked Patrick to be one of the primary facilitators at the MahaYaha, a 6-day event of rituals and prayers designed to create world peace. The intention of this ritual is to shift the course and consciousness of our planet.  This is a revival of an ancient and sacred Hindu ritual called the MahaYaga, which is written about in the Vedas and goes back many thousands of years. This ritual was stopped a couple thousand years ago and is only now being re-created. In addition to facilitating the ritual itself, Patrick has been asked to be a keynote speaker both as an individual and at a round table with some of the foremost religious and political leaders from around the world where the topic is world peace, women’s issues and planetary sustainability.” Patrick is trying to raise over $10,000 dollars for the trip, and has less than a month to do so.
  • In a recent update sent to supporters, Cherry Hill Seminary puts the spotlight on Dr. David Oringderff, Chair of the Department of Pastoral Counseling and Chaplaincy, and co-founder of the Sacred Well Congregation, for ten years of service to the Pagan learning institution. In the piece, Dr. Oringderff stresses the importance of accreditation for CHS. Quote: “Because I work a lot with the military, and we’ve got a lot of fine young military people who want to become military chaplains, and of course, it’s a very rigid procedure to be accepted as a chaplain in the military. The biggest hurdle is the educational requirement. And so they’re stuck. They have to go to a traditional seminary, or they have to go to a traditional seminary; there’s just no alternative.  Yet.  Until we reach that point.”

That’s all I have for now, have a great day!

We’ve long known that Pagan and polytheist revival and reconstruction movements are a global phenomenon, and that has included, quietly, tentatively, the Middle East. While most countries in the Middle East are culturally, religiously, and demographically dominated by Islam, that hasn’t stopped a few adventurous souls from embracing various forms of modern Pagan religions. This isn’t safe, and in some cases it has led to deadly tragedy, but this thread persists, alongside the sorts of syncretic esotericism that have always existed on the margins of the dominant monotheisms. A recent article in Arab Times, notes that in Kuwait people are buying statues of pre-Islamic gods, much to the outrage of some local officials.

Statue of the goddess Anahita in Maragha, Iran.

Statue of the goddess Anahita in Maragha, Iran.

“MP Abdulrahman Al-Jeeran has recommended banning the sale of statues of the gods followed by idol-worshippers during the pre-Islamic times of paganism, indicating that he had discovered the sale of statues as works of art and gift items by some shops, reports Al-Rai daily. He revealed that statues representing gods believed by non-Muslim pagan worshippers during the primitive era are commonly seen at various shopping malls across the country. He added that the retailer sells these items under the pretext of selling accessories and fashion materials without considering the real meaning behind those artifacts.”

There’s been a school of thought which posits that polytheism is humanity’s default religious setting, which is why religions like Christianity and Islam must constantly be in a process of conversion, re-conversion, and solidifying power to maintain the massive numbers they currently enjoy across the globe. If they don’t, or if they are limited by secular governments, the “old” beliefs start to re-emerge. As scholar Jordan Paper put it in his book, The Deities Are Many: A Polytheistic Theology, quote:

The goddess Isis.

The goddess Isis.

“Given the history of homo sapiens, it may be that polytheism is inherent in human nature, not so much in the sense that is part of our DNA structure but that it arises from the human experience in conjunction with our nature. For unless we accept the arguments of the ur-monotheists that is contrary to  the above, monotheism is extremely recent, given the sweep of human history; arose in a tiny part of the planet; and is constantly breaking down.”

Of course, that “tiny part of the planet” happens to be the Middle East, and there are immense vested interests within all the monotheisms to ensure that the birthplace of their theology remains solidly in the hands of those who believe in the God of Abraham (though they also struggle amongst themselves for dominance). But, if religious freedoms were really guaranteed, could polytheism, Paganism, truly emerge in the Middle East? Right now, Egypt, which has been rocked by revolution, coup, internal fighting, and unrest this year, is currently trying to write a new constitution for their country that will be accepted by both Islamic hardliners, the military, non-Muslim religious groups (like the Copts), and a large secular-minded minority. A key point of contention is what form religious freedom will take in this new constitution, and by extension, this new government.

“One significant change, says committee head Amr Moussa, is that Article 3 which guarantees Christians and Jews the right to exercise their religious rites will probably be extended to include all non-Muslims. Article 3 currently states that ‘For Egyptian Christians and Jews the principles of their religious law will be the main source in regulating their personal status, matters pertaining to their religion, and the selection of their spiritual leadership.’ The amended version is expected to state that ‘for all Egyptian non-Muslims the principles of their religious laws will be the main source in regulating their personal status…etc’. The proposed change is opposed by Mohamed Ibrahim Mansour, the newly-appointed representative of the ultraconservative Nour Party. In a closed meeting on Monday Mansour issued the melodramatic warning that the term ‘non-Muslims’ would open gates to ‘religious sects like worshippers of the devil’.

Expanding religious freedoms beyond the “People of the Book” is increasingly seen as necessary by religious minorities and secular Egyptians, first, because faiths like Baha’i “cannot legally marry and continue to have trouble with matters such as inheritance because the law does not properly recognize their presence.” In addition, there is a growing number Egyptians who aren’t simply secular, but have embraced atheism, despite the grave social disadvantages inherent in that choice.

“‘Atheists are all around Egypt,’ said Othman Othman, pointing to a group of young people sitting at the table next to us. The number of atheists in Egypt is not less than three million, Othman claimed, but they do not label themselves ‘atheists’ as society would disown them. Those who have come out publicly as atheists have been not only isolated by their friends and families, but also society in general. However, others who turn down their familial religion have faced many worse trials than mere isolation. Asmaa Omar, 24, who has just graduated the Faculty of Engineering, said that once she revealed her beliefs to her family, they began to physically and mentally torture her. Her father slapped her in the face and broke her jaw. She was not able to eat properly for seven months.”

Once you open the door to Baha’i and atheists, it is only a matter of time before we see a Kemetic/Egyptian polytheist revival (or even Egyptian Wiccans). After all, Egypt is already a global hotspot for seekers, New Agers, and yes, Pagans, wanting to see the many ancient treasures and wonders of the country. Once the chaos abates, Egypt will want the massive tourism revenue to return, and with it will come the exchange of ideas that results from a flood of visitors. In fact, we know that there are already Pagans in Egypt, but a more open society might spark unexpected growth.

A view of the pyramids at Giza from the plateau to the south of the complex. From left to right: the Pyramid of Menkaure, the Pyramid of Khafre and the Great Pyramid of Khufu.

A view of the pyramids at Giza from the plateau to the south of the complex. From left to right: the Pyramid of Menkaure, the Pyramid of Khafre and the Great Pyramid of Khufu.

The question remains: can Paganism emerge in the Middle East? Will it be allowed to? If secular governments (or at least pseudo-secular hybrids) start to emerge, it could happen, and if/when it does, what happens next?

Pagan Community Notes is a series focused on news originating from within the Pagan community. Reinforcing the idea that what happens to and within our organizations, groups, and events is news, and news-worthy. My hope is that more individuals, especially those working within Pagan organizations, get into the habit of sharing their news with the world. So let’s get started!

Patrick McCollum with Jane Goodall.

Patrick McCollum with Jane Goodall.

September 21st marked the United Nations International Day of Peace, and Pagan activist Patrick McCollum was there. McCollum, who is a board member of the NGO Children of the Earth, escorted a group of refugee youth to participate in the UN’s ceremony and held meetings with UN officials and prominent activists like Jane Goodall. In an update sent to The Wild Hunt, McCollum described some of the interactions and experiences he’s had. Quote: “I got to shake hands with the Secretary General of the United Nations, and to have casual conversations with numerous other movers and shakers on the world stage. In particular I was moved to meet Monica Coleman who has been designated as the UN’s Ambassador for women’s and girls rights. Having given one of the two Keynote addresses on empowering women at the largest gathering of women in the world last February in India, I feel powerfully called to work together with Monica to change the status of women worldwide. As I have said in the past, until women have equality worldwide, we can never achieve world peace or planetary sustainability.” Of the refugee children he worked with, McCollum said that he “was quite proud of both their presence and their projects toward peace. They are the future, and to have a part in sharing the path with them and helping to mentor them, is wonderful to say the least.” You can read further updates at the Patrick McCollum Foundation website, or the Patrick McCollum Foundation Facebook page. This an important and historic moment of inclusion for modern Pagans on the world stage, one that has come about through Patrick’s tireless service on behalf of modern Pagans, and a pluralistic, peaceful, world.

vikingdomOn September 16th, Dr. Karl E.H. Seigfried of the Norse Mythology Blog published an open letter to the makers of Vikingdom, a low-budget Malaysian production with Norse themes. In it, critiques the production for “wholeheartedly accepting the darkest propaganda of the Christian missionaries and their allies who violently persecuted followers of the Old Way.” Quote: “I hope that you have not set out to insult the memory of the many, many followers of the Old Way who were tortured & murdered for their refusal to abandon their ancient faith. I hope that you have not set out to insult the international community of followers of Ásatrú, the living religion that venerates the Norse gods & takes Thor’s hammer as its holy symbol. I understand that this is simply “a fantasy, action adventure” aimed at a mass market. However, pop culture can make a serious statement, as well. What statement are you making with this movie?” This open letter ended up getting nearly 25,000 likes, over 60,000 views, and the attention of Malaysian news media. This prompted director Yusry Abdul Halim to respond in Malaysian media, insinuating that Dr. Seigfried may not be qualified to criticize, that the jury is still out on the existence of vikings, and that the film is ‘just fantasy’ (despite the film trumpeting their research). You can read Dr. Seigfried’s reactions to Yusry Abdul Halim’s response, here. He’s inviting people to respectfully give feedback to the production company, and suggests that the filmmakers donate “all profits to interfaith charities that build bridges between religions, for that is the truly righteous path.”

The Maetreum of Cybele's building.

The Maetreum of Cybele’s building.

Pagan teacher and activist Shauna Aura Knight reports that The Maetreum of Cybele, Magna Mater in Catskill, New York, was attacked by a young man throwing rocks and epithets at the order’s house. Quote: “Last night while I was enjoying talking to Cathryn Platine at the Maetreum of Cybele, a teenager/young man started throwing rocks at the house. At first we thought it was just branches falling, but then the window in the kitchen broke from two rocks that were thrown through the window. It was just Cathy and I downstairs so I followed her outside. The young man ran from the bushes near the road across the road, and then began taunting us [...] Cathy called the police, who responded a few moments later, but the police didn’t catch the guy. Cathy filed a report and they took a cursory look at the rocks and the window, but they wouldn’t file this as a hate crime.” Rev. Mother Cathryn Platine of the Maetreum added that “unlike the past, the police response time was fairly fast but they didn’t even take a proper report and ignored my telling them it was a hate crime as evidenced by one of the little bastards hiding in the bushes screaming anti LGBT slurs, swearing and taunting us [with] anti Pagan slurs.” The added expense of the broken window is one the order can scarcely afford, as they are still locked in an expensive ongoing legal battle with Catskill over their tax exempt status. A “stop the hate” rally is planned at the Maetreum on September 28th.

The Warrior's CallThe Warrior’s Call, a public Pagan ritual to protect Britain from fracking, to be held at the Glastonbury Tor, is coming up on September 28th. Here’s a description from a recent press release sent to me: “We, as Pagans, believe that the natural world is profoundly sacred. In particular though, sites such as Chalice Well are our holy places. To have them desecrated is a direct attack upon our ways and upon us. Fracking will not alleviate fuel poverty, nor will it provide us with greater fuel security. Its long lasting destruction to land and water is neither needed nor wanted. There are many practical alternatives, yet they are being ignored (with catastrophic consequences) because of corruption and ideological extremism within the government. Corporations should not dictate state policy. Around the world on the 28th of September, rituals (both large and small) will be held to protect these sacred islands from harm. Although we all come from many different pagan paths, on that day we will speak with one voice. The Warrior’s Call is that unified voice. And it sings with the blessings of the Gods and Goddesses.” One prominent supporter of this action is Druid leader Philip Carr-Gomm who has posted a suggested ritual/meditation for those who want to join in, but cannot come to Glastonbury on that day. Quote: “If you would like to protect the Earth from the invasive and toxic process of fracking, you might like to join in spirit with thousands of people around the world who will be holding rituals and meditations at 12 noon GMT on Saturday 28th September 2013.” You can read my previous reporting on this upcoming event, here. I’m hoping to bring you more insights before the action begins, and reporting after the fact as well, so stay tuned!

In Other Pagan Community News:

Abraxas #4 Launch Party. Autumn equinox 2013 Speeches

Abraxas #4 Launch Party. Autumn equinox 2013.

That’s all I have for now, have a great day!

Value

You Are What You Believe

Or

You Are What You Do.

 

We fall somewhere on the spectrum between these two statements.

 

We are either driven by our beliefs, or we allow our beliefs to be informed by our practices.

In this regard, there is a distinction to be made.

Many Pagans have a spiritual practice that starts from the ground up (quite literally). For them, the lived experienced and the wisdom gained from their engagement with the earth, the land, or with their own sense of self is paramount.

Many polytheists (particularly non-Pagan identifying polytheists) have a religious practice that is deity-centric. For them, the relationship with their Gods, informed as it is by the precepts of their tradition, is of greatest importance.

But some of us float in between. Some of us are not so certain of how comfortable we are with either of the extremes. Some of us are in a process of unpacking our beliefs in order to inform our practices, and close-examining our practices in order to articulate belief.

We are not simple creatures, human beings, and there is no need to try and simplify the complexities of our spiritual lives in order to have dialogue with one another.

We can remain complicated and still have community.

I am not seeking to begin a new debate, nor am I interested in hashing out an old one. This post, and the by-products of this post, will be an attempt at sparking more intra/inter-faith dialogue within and around our communities.

Plain and simple:

I want to know what your values are.

When I asked you to crowdsource Pagan theologies, you came out in droves. You represented yourselves in ways that, in my opinion, demonstrated a healthy approach to interfaith dialogue. You started with your individual perspective, and you offered it up to the community. In turn, the community responded with respect. We listened. We took in the meaning. We saw the contradictions, but we did not rush to criticize. In my view, this was a healthy and successful activity.

Now, as we approach the 5th annual Pagan Values Event that begins on June 1st, we have the opportunity to try out this approach another time.

See, I think our community gets a bad rap. There’s a story that’s told about how we’re unwilling to communicate with each other, or that we’re so hell-bent on seeing the world through our own perspective that we can’t meet others with differing views where they stand. I think some of us are willing to perpetuate that narrative because it’s familiar. It feels easy. It keeps us from holding one another accountable, and holding ourselves accountable. Respectful dialogue, especially on the Internet, requires patience and intention. The story goes that people in our community don’t have a whole lot of that.

I don’t believe that story.

My experience in community is that we are a direct product of the stories we tell about ourselves. We are the thing we describe ourselves to be, and if we decide to describe ourselves as a conflicted people, one who will not or cannot be in community with each other, then we will have that experience.

But, likewise, if we begin to work with the narrative that we are a people of respect and honor, who listen patiently and who resist the impulse to lash out at one another, then that is the people we will be.

The Pagan Values Event is a month-long event which encourages people of all traditions to share, through whatever media is available to them, what their values look like. It is, as with the crowdsourcing theology exercise, an opportunity for people to bear witness to their own inner-experience.

These are some things to ask yourself as you consider participating in this crowdsourced event:

  • If you are a person who structures your religious life around a devotional practice to your Gods, how is that informed by your values? Or, how does your practice inform your values?
  • If you do not see yourself as religious, but rather as a spiritual Pagan, what informs your sense of personal values? How are your values lived out in your spiritual life?
  • If your tradition is being grouped in with “Pagan,” but you do not feel that comfortable identifying with that term (and all of what is associated with it), how would you define the values of your tradition? Do they line up with your values? If they are divergent, how do you reconcile the inconsistencies?

 

Write about these and other thoughts on your blog, or speak about it on your podcast. Once you’ve penned your contribution share a link at the Pagan Values site, on the Pagan Values Page on Facebook, or tweet @PaganValues with the URL and hashtag #PVE2013. Be sure to tag your blog post with “Pagan Values Event 2013″ or “PVE2013″. This will make it easier for your post to be curated on the site.

As you’ll see in the PVE archive, the process of curation is extensive. There is a record of dozens upon dozens of individuals sharing their values with the world, saying in effect:

This is who I am. This is why I do what I do. This is what gives my religious or spiritual life meaning.

I believe that at the heart of all of our divergent traditions is a quest for some greater meaning. We may be reaching for something meaningful in different ways, using different tools and technologies to uncover that meaning. Our vernacular may be divergent, and our viewpoints may be irreconcilable. But this desire for a meaningful life may just be a commonality that is worth greater consideration.

For more information about the event, visit the Pagan Values website, or read this post from 2011.

A Few Notes on Palo

Stacey Lawless —  May 24, 2013 — 9 Comments

Nsala malongo! I’ve been learning about Palo cosmology and history over the last couple of months, and slowly unraveling some of the confusion I had about how the religion works. I thought I would offer up some of what I’ve learned, detailing a little of our worldview and the fact that there are different denominations, or ramas, of Palo. (By the way: any mistakes here are entirely mine, while the goodness in this piece must be credited to my teachers.)

And without further ado . . .

The dead

The dead are the basis of everything in Palo.

We call them the bakulu, which means ancestors, but the concept of “ancestors” tends to make Americans think of family trees. “Bakulu” can (and does) refer to lineal ancestors, but the dead are so much more than that. They are the basis of all life. They are the stuff of the material world, and the sea of possibilities that configure and reconfigure the fates of the living.

Kongo cosmogram, showing the cyclical nature of human existence.

Kongo cosmogram, showing the cyclical nature of human existence. The horizontal line represents the boundary between the living and dead.

We do think about and work with individual dead people: named ancestors, spirit guides, the beloved dead uncle who always gave you good advice. Sometimes they come to us in dreams and intuitions; sometimes, if we’re fortunate, they come to us in possession and bless us with their healing and wisdom.

But we also think of the dead as an anonymous collective, a force, a field, a sea. The KiKongo word “Kalunga” means simultaneously the collective dead, the saltwater ocean, and the cemetery. To the people of the kingdom of Kongo in central Africa, whose traditions gave birth to what would become Palo, the land of the dead lay below the sea. The surface of the sea was the demarcation between the living and the dead, a site of creative tension and power. Graves, too, were points of contact, and dirt from a grave carried the power of the deceased person within. You can still find seashells left on graves in Black family cemeteries in the United States, a trace of the old philosophy.

The spirals of conch shells symbolize the cyclical nature of existence in Kongo thought: death is hardly an end, merely a transition to a new existence. The dead are being continually reborn, crystallizing into their lineal descendants, or appearing as trees, pools and stones, plants and animals. Everything in the material world is a form of the dead, precipitating out of Kalunga like grains of salt out of seawater, to exist for a while before being dissolved again.

Nzambi

The source of the living and the dead is Nzambi a mpungu. Nzambi is neither male nor female, and is the ever-present majestic force that brought creation into being and permeates it. In Palo we tend to think of Nzambi in these terms, as the creator, because the Kongo traditions in general have been in continuous dialogue with Christianity for centuries. But Nzambi can also be thought of as the first ancestor, emphasizing the continuous cycle of life and death. In that sense, creation just is, with no beginning and no end.

The mpungos

And then there are the mpungos. Mpungu is a KiKongo word that refers to power generated by something, or, as my Tata once put it, “a hot stove can have an mpungu.” So in essence, it’s just a force. However, some lines of Palo have developed certain of the mpungos into major powers, even to the extent of conceiving of them as divinities. The Internet is full of descriptions of the mpungos, who have names such as Chola Wengue, Siete Rayos, and Zarabanda, and the tendency is to syncretize them with the Orishas of Santería. Not all ramas (which are, essentially, Palo denominations) work with the mpungos in this way, however.

The Ramas of Palo

The way a rama regards mpungos and the dead seems to be one of the major distinctions between lines of Palo. (There are many other distinctions, but they have to do with ways of conducting ritual.) There are numerous ramas, but the three main ones are Mayombe, Briyumba, and Kimbisa.

Palo Mayombe is probably the oldest one. It works primarily with the ancestors of blood and spiritual lineage, and in the past, if you were not of Bantu descent, you could not be initiated into Mayombe houses. (“Bantu” refers to a group of related African languages, of which KiKongo is one, and by extension to the ethnic groups that spoke these languages.) Mayomberos tend to see the mpungos as natural forces only, not divinities, and to downplay them in Palo practice.

Palo Briyumba developed out of Palo Mayombe and broke away from Mayombe’s ancestral focus. Briyumberos began to initiate non-Bantus. They also developed pacts with dead spirits who had no blood or lineaged connection to the Paleros, putting them to work and in some cases effectively enslaving them. Briyumba came into its own during Cuba’s wars of independence, and saw justice in conscripting the bones and souls of deceased oppressors to serve those they had formerly abused. In Briyumba, the mpungos are used to give attributes and direction to the dead who serve the Briyumbero.

Kongolese crucifix

A Kongolese crucifix

Palo Kimbisa developed in Oriente, the eastern part of the island of Cuba, and has absorbed influences from several other traditions, including Haitian Vodou. (There is a long history of contact between Oriente and Haiti, which is only about forty miles away from the eastern tip of Cuba.) Some Kimbiseros make extensive use of Christian symbolism, and some work with the Catholic saints. One theory of Kimbisa’s origins is that they lie with Kimpa Vita’s Kongolese Christian reform movement, which blossomed in the kingdom of Kongo for a few years in the eighteenth century, before being brutally repressed. Kimpa Vita had thousands of followers, many of whom were subsequently sold into slavery in the Americas. It is an intriguing theory, but nobody knows for certain if it’s true.

It is Kimbisa that regards the mpungos as divinities, finding parallels between them and the Orishas, and focusing much of their work and veneration upon them, instead of upon the dead. The dead in Kimbisa are the medium that the mpungos use to affect the world.

 * * * * *

Dear readers, I hope you enjoyed this. When I was starting out on this path and trying to read everything I could find on Palo, I was very confused about who or what Paleros worked with, and what was up with all the crucifixes and Orisha comparisons and whatnot. If I can straighten a little of that out for other readers and seekers, that’s great. In fact, let me try this: if you have questions about Palo, bring them up in the comments section and I’ll try to answer them in my next post. (Just bear in mind that I’m new at this and there may be things I can’t answer due to ignorance or oath.) Malongo yaya!

"God" printed in many fonts on many colors, Essex Studios, Cincinnati, Ohio.

“God” printed in many fonts on many colors, Essex Studios, Cincinnati, Ohio.

The following statements are true:

★ There is one god.

★ There are many gods.

★ There is a god named G-d.

★ There are gods that are nameless.

★ There is a God and a Goddess.

★ There is one god, but that god is broken into two gods; one is male, and the other is female.

★ Gods have no gender.

★ Gods have no physicality.

★ All of what is, is God.

★ All of what is, is god-less.

★ There are no gods.

★ The gods are imaginary.

★ The imagination is the birthplace of deity.

★ The imagination is a temple, in which deity can be honored, spoken to or summoned.

★ We are God.

★ God is love.

★ God is not love.

★ The Gods are unique persons, each with their own temperaments.

★ The gods are merely aspects of one Deity.

★ The gods are aspects of ourselves.

★ Everything is the Goddess.

★ The Goddess is in everything, but also distinct from everything that is contained within her.

★ My cat is a god.

★ We are all deities.

★ You are divine.

★ We are only human, and that is enough.

★ We are human and divine; incarnate.

★ The gods are present here.

★ The gods are both present and absent.

★ The Goddess is omnipresent.

★ The gods are not omnipresent.

★ No one can understand what the gods are.

★ The gods can communicate exactly what they are.

★ The gods are….

This list could go on. Forever, perhaps.

I say that these statements are all true, recognizing full well that they are also (depending on the statement and particular reader) equally false.

Subjectivity is a Pagan value.

I’m musing on these statements of “truth” on the eve of Beltane, and will continue to do so as I prepare for my joint-presentation on Pagan theology at the annual Beltania Festival in Florence, Colorado. William Ashton, the Organizer for Mountain Ancestor’s Protogrove in Boulder, Colorado invited me to share the stage with him and teach this 101 course as a part of Beltania’s Stepping Stones series. I gladly accepted.

During our initial planning sessions, William and I discussed the various ways that Pagans conceived of deity. We’ve covered most, if not all of the general categories:

Monotheism
Polytheism
Dualistic Monotheism
Pantheism
Monism
Panentheism
Atheism

But the more I think about it, the more I believe that it isn’t enough to tell people, “These are the categories of belief. Here’s how it looks on paper.” You have to provide them examples. They need context in order for these -isms to be relevant.

That’s where you come in.

I would like to turn the Wild Hunt’s readership into a lecture-hall of teachers, each of you explaining to the average Pagan noobie what Pagan theology is.

More specifically, what your Pagan theology is.

We’re going to crowdsource theology. That way, when I join William at Beltania I will not just come with my perspective, but I will bring all of yours, as well.

Here’s how it will work:

1. Post a comment on TWH

Explain your Pagan theology in the comment section. Use one of the “truth” statements above as a writing prompt if you like, either explaining how it is what you believe or how it is exactly not what you believe.

Write honestly. Write about your perspective, your vision and experience of “truth”. Be the teacher you wish you had when you were just developing your own paganism. And, keep in mind that there will be many differing opinions and perspectives here. No one need to feel the need to correct others – the point is to crowdsource multiple perspectives, and to hold space for those differing perspectives.

2. Tweet your Pagan theology

For every day between Beltane and the beginning of Beltania (May 9th) I will tweet from @TeoBishop the following question:

What is your Pagan theology?

Respond to this question, and include the hashtag: #mypagantheology

Your tweet might look something like this:

I honor one god, but I also believe that there are many gods. #mypagantheology

3. Write your Pagan theology on your own site

Many TWH readers write for other Pagan media sources, including blogs and other online journals. If you’re among this group of people, write your 101 explanation of Pagan theology on your site, then post a link in the comments of this post.

Then, when I join William to explain the basics of Pagan theology, I will direct our students to this blog post and to the #mypagantheology hashtag. They will find your words, read your stories, and learn – from you – what a Pagan theology can look like.

 

So have at it, friends. Unleash your vocab, unlock your mind and explain to the questioning Pagan what your Pagan theology looks like.

 

Rev. Tamara L. Siuda is the founder of Kemetic Orthodoxy and Nisut of the House of Netjer. The Wild Hunt reported on her successful crowd-funding venture earlier this month, and I caught up with Rev. Tamara to find out more. We talked about her project, the Ancient Egyptian Daybook, and her experiences with using Kickstarter.

Let’s start with the Daybook. It sounds like the ancient Egyptians used multiple calendars. Could you talk about that a little, and how the Daybook will help modern users keep track of important dates? (Also, did I hear that the Daybook will actually be a book and a planner?)

The ancient Egyptians had a minimum of four different calendars in use. They’re all the same length (except for one weirdness in the lunar calendar), with 12 months of 30 days each, and five extra or epagomenal days to round out the 365-day solar cycle.

The Sothic calendar or stellar calendar starts its New Year based on the heliacal rising of the binary star system Sirius (Sopdet to them, Sothis to the Greeks) over a certain geographic location, usually the royal residence. This usually happens in modern Gregorian August today.

Egyptian_calendar_dark

An Egyptian calendar on papyrus

 

The lunar calendar designates New Year as starting on the day of the first New Moon that occurs on or after the heliacal rising of Sirius. Otherwise, it’s identical to the Sothic calendar except that it occasionally adds an intercalary/epagomenal MONTH when there are 13 moons in a year.

The civil calendar designates New Year as starting on an arbitrary date. Once upon a time, the civil year matched the Sothic year, but because of the slippage of time (each of our years is not exactly 365 days long, and ancient Egyptian calendars had no actual leap days until the late period), the New Year kept moving earlier and earlier in the year until it was occurring in completely different seasons than the celestial events it was supposed to match.

The Alexandrian calendar is a fusion calendar, created by decree under Octavian/Caesar Augustus. It is a civil calendar at its base, but it fixes the New Year date to the Sothic rising date. It then adds leap days as necessary once every four years, and some of the lunar-based holidays retain their lunar dating schema.

The Daybook will explain how each of the calendars is created, and then provide the actual holidays matched up to the various days (each calendar has the same days/months/seasons, except that extra month in the lunar year). So anyone who gets the Daybook can choose a new year date and a calendar type, and then go from there. The project will also include an optional perpetual calendar planner, with Egyptian dates only and a space for people to write in which Gregorian dates they correspond to in that person’s chosen format.

Was this your first venture into crowd-funding? How did you choose Kickstarter as your funding platform? How did you decide to present your project the way you did?

This was my first crowdfunding project. I chose Kickstarter after reviewing various platforms and formats, and finding one that I felt provided enough exposure to get the project done, as well as enough protection for potential investors so that they wouldn’t feel like they were taking too much of a risk providing me with funds for a project that isn’t yet completed. I spent more than a year watching similar campaigns, getting to know other content creators/project owners, and learning how crowdfunding really works, before I created a video and jumped in myself. I decided to go with something fairly light-hearted as I have always believed that academic things don’t have to be utterly boring, and that there is a lot of interest in ancient Egypt that could be captured with the right presentation. I wanted to provide something that represents both what I want to do with the Daybook, and would accommodate the particular interests and concerns of anyone who’d be willing to back it.

Now that you’ve seen the Daybook Kickstarter through, is there anything that in hindsight you wish you’d done differently?  Conversely, is there anything you’re really glad you did do?

I wish I’d spent more time before the project went live, to talk it up amongst my friends and family. Having a wide base of people who already support you before you begin is very important, both to build a starting momentum, and to keep people interested in the project as the days go on and on until the goal is met (or not met). I wish I’d not been as uncomfortable with the idea of asking people for money to help with the project earlier. I could’ve started this project years ago! During the campaign, musician Amanda Palmer, who did a very successful Kickstarter herself last year for an album, appeared at TED and gave a talk called “The Art of Asking” that has since gone viral. In it, she talks about how crowdfunding isn’t so much about asking people for money, as giving people permission to help you. It gave me much to consider, and anyone who is considering crowdfunding a creative project should check it out.

More stamina/more understanding that the project was going to require hours and hours each day to keep working on, would also have been helpful. It was really my day job during those 30 days to get the pledges going and keep the publicity happening. It’s grueling, and if you are not employing anybody to help you promote the project, as I was, you’re doing all of that yourself. The last 24 hours of the campaign I don’t think I got more than an hour of sleep, between both the sheer amount of “push” PR that had to be done, and the excitement of watching us meet and exceed stretch goals.

I am very glad that I went through with the campaign, even after I’d been afraid to start it. I’m delighted that there was such a wide interest, even from complete strangers, and enjoyed interacting with the backers and potential backers during the process. It was also exciting and fun to take part in Kickstarter with other projects that went live around the time mine did – we all contacted each other and provided support and advice back and forth, and had little celebrations at every success. I’m glad that I was able to connect to such a diverse group of people for a project that I think will be beneficial to many, and that others seemed to agree it was worth doing and were willing to provide financial support to make it so.

Were you able to tell if any social media platforms were especially helpful in drawing attention to the Daybook?

Luxor_Temple-Egyptian_calendar

Egyptian calendar on the wall of the Temple at Luxor

Kickstarter provides project creators with extensive metrics. More than a third of the attention, in terms of both page views/video views and actual backing, came from Facebook, and at least two thirds of that came from specific promoted posts at a low cost threshhold (specifically, five promoted posts at $10 each, spaced out across the campaign, promoted to “friends of friends”). A significant amount of attention also came from Twitter, where I somehow got the attention of a number of important authors including Neil Gaiman, Laurell K. Hamilton, and Judith Tarr, who “re-Tweeted” information about the Daybook to their own followers. Smaller responses came from LinkedIn, Pinterest, Tumblr, and Reddit, in that order. It does seem that social media is an important tool in getting one’s message out for a Kickstarter campaign.

Have you got any future projects lined up that you might crowd-fund?

 I have been asked by a number of my backers about whether or not I’d be willing to open a second Kickstarter campaign to meet the final “stretch goal” that we did not achieve in the campaign, which was a fully-interactive calendar app for mobile (iPhone and Android), that was estimated to cost between $36K and $40K to produce. I’m not ruling that out, though I’m certainly going to take a break between campaigns if only because I’m exhausted from the first one! Thirty days of having to be on top of a Kickstarter campaign is a lot of work. I put in between 5-8 hours each day, with no days off. Any day that you don’t promote your campaign is lost backers. You have to stick with it constantly, and continually stir up publicity, to succeed. It’s like running a marathon – you can’t stop until the finish line.

Do you have any advice for Pagans who are considering crowd-funding for their own projects?

 Do your homework before you begin. Decide which of the several crowdfunding sites is appropriate for your project; there are completely different philosophies, acceptable project types, and audiences on each site. Once you decide which site you want to use, start looking up projects that are similar to the one you want to do. Contact the project creators. Most will be very happy to talk to you about their process. I had four Kickstarter mentors, all of whom were successful and who were tremendously helpful to me as I planned and executed my project. Make sure you contact your existing family, friends, and audience – most extremely successful projects are presented by people who already have a following/established brand. And don’t be afraid to ask.

 

Kinship and community

Stacey Lawless —  March 22, 2013 — 31 Comments

Although I came back from Pantheacon with lots of anecdotes and experiences (most of which were extremely positive and fun), I find that the only story I have to tell you right now is one I didn’t want to tell. It won’t leave me alone, however. It’s just this: I had a dreadful time with the Morrígan devotional ritual, “The Heart is the Only Nation.” I know many people who attended absolutely loved it. Teo Bishop, in particular, seems to have been deeply affected by it, and I envy him. I went to the devotional hoping to be moved by it. I guess I was, although not in the way I wanted.

It’s a quirk of my personality that I react badly to being asked to identify with a group. Damned if I know why. If I voluntarily align myself with said group, that’s okay, but being confronted with any sort of team-building, identity-merging activity irrationally unnerves me. It feels like an attack. When I was a kid, I had recurring nightmares about being infected by zombies or assimilated up by Borg-like collectives. I don’t have that kind of a strong reaction anymore. But, unfortunately for me, the Morrígan ritual pushed my fear-of-loss-of-self button, hard. Maybe if I’d been expecting it, it wouldn’t have thrown me, but I wasn’t. So, suddenly, I went from opening up to the ritual to slamming closed, feeling threatened, depressed, angry, bitter, alienated. And I was much too far from the door to make a discrete exit.

So, I breathed and tried to work with the emotions, and went through with the ritual. It was a rite about deepening the bonds of kinship and community. I value these, so by gods I was going to grit my teeth and be in community. To try to be gracious and as open to the experience as I could be, even though what I really wanted to do was crawl away into a dark corner. It never occurred to me that I could have just stepped back from the circle into the darkness at the edge of the ballroom. I didn’t want to distract anyone around me from the work they were doing, so I worked too.

I spent the rest of Pantheacon, and a good part of the following month, mulling this experience over and thinking about religion and kinship, so I suppose the Morrígan devotional did its job even on my cranky self.

Anyway, this story really is not all that important. It wanted to be told, but I think the real reason to tell it is because it gives me space to say that sometimes, being in community is the worst. Doing anything with other humans is too often a real drag, and sometimes you can’t escape. You have to grit your teeth and go through with whatever it is you’re doing with all these people just because it has to be done. The reason I’m stating the beyond-obvious here is that I’ve been thinking about the post yesterday about Yana, and kinship, and solidarity with other Pagans. The costs of being in community, and the effort it can take to return to the work of building and maintaining those bonds again, and again, and again.

As Jason said, Paganism is international now. And I hope it’s not speaking too strongly to say that now modern, international, post-Drawing Down the Moon Paganism has a martyr.

After I post this, I’m going to light a candle on my boveda for Yana in her journey to her gods. Then I’m going to meditate on what I bring to this community, to “Pagandom,” as I like to call it in lighter moments. What I can do to contribute to the ties of kinship and affection and religious experience that strengthen this community. What work needs to be done for our safety and well-being. I haven’t done a lot of interfaith or intrafaith or outreach work before, so this is all going to be new. Will you walk with me?

In ways the various founders, visionaries, and clergy could never have anticipated, modern Pagan faiths have thrived and become world religions. In many instances our faiths have entered the mainstream. Sometimes, embedded within the interconnected Pagan communities, dealing with the day-to-day controversies and obstacles, it’s hard to see just how far we’ve come. This isn’t to say that no challenges remain, or that we enjoy complete parity with other, more dominant, faiths, but we have reached a place that few could have initially hoped for. Further, larger shifts in Western culture towards a post-Christian social and political reality, along with important advances in interfaith initiatives, create a fertile soil for a number of religious minorities to grow at impressive rates in relative peace.

Pagans at Stonehenge.

Pagans at Stonehenge.

This relative safety, this freedom to venture outside the dominant monotheistic paradigm, has seen our community grow and change faster than its already established leaders and clergy have prepared for. Changes that in other contexts could have taken decades, even generations, are now happening in a matter of years. This has caused increasing tensions among different generations, religious groups, and schools of thought. It has caused many to critique, and in some cases completely abandon, the label “Pagan,” finding the term too limiting, too burdened with preconceptions as to what one might find under the Pagan “umbrella.” These debates over the term “Paganism” are not new. You could argue they began with the emergence of modern Heathenry in the 1970s, and grew only more heated as the second wave of modern polytheistic reconstructionism coalesced in the 1990s. A compelling argument could be made, looking at Chas Clifton’s “Her Hidden Children,” that the limitations of creating a “Pagan” community were apparent from the very beginning.

“Much of the credit for the popularization of Pagan and Neo-Pagan goes to Church of All Worlds (CAW). In a tract published in the 1970s, “Neo-Paganism: An Old Religion for a New Age,” Tim Zell, who was chief CAW spokesman, makes all the popular, if sometimes historically inaccurate, arguments that characterized the movement at the time [...] by the early 1970s, with Green Egg serving as the official journal of the Council of Earth Religions – a brief successor to an earlier pan-Pagan group, the Council of Themis – the utility of Pagan and Neo-Pagan as umbrella terms has become well established [...] the word Pagan, with its overtones of nature religion, was a good fit for these groups, and it rapidly shouldered aside its only competition, Aquarian (as in “Age of Aquarius”), which has been chiefly used in the title of the Aquarian Anti-Defamation League (AADL).”

Those early “councils” faced the problems of how big (or small) to make one’s umbrella, and often suffered for it, usually imploding over personal conflicts and arguments over who could and couldn’t be included in their ranks. Meanwhile, the very groups that would challenge the effectiveness of Pagan as a political label were already emerging, as a growing number of Witchcraft Traditions, Druid groups, and organizations like CAW, were settling on Pagan as a descriptor for the larger religious movement that they all saw themselves as a part of. For twenty years or so this accord largely held, as Heathens at that time had their own internal issues to sort out, and the second wave of polytheistic reconstructionism was still largely pre-formative. Long enough for Paganism (with and without the “Neo”) to be adopted by religious scholars (instead of “New Age”), and for the movement to establish a number of important wins in the realm of equal treatment under the law. To seep its way into our pop-cultural consciousness, and in some ways, to become something out of the control of the groups that adopted it as an umbrella term.

Which brings us to the present day. As I mentioned earlier, the climate today is very different than what it was in the 1970s. Wiccans and Pagans in the United States number anywhere from 700,000 to over a million, depending on how you crunch the available data. In England and Wales, official numbers for Pagan faiths jumped from around 40,000 to around 80,000, with many thinking the true number is larger still. Likewise, Australia also saw census counts rise, though more modestly than in the UK. This is all good news for us, but perhaps more importantly the number of religiously unaffiliated individuals, the “spiritual but not religious,” has exploded in the West, and non-Christian religions like Hinduism and Buddhism have seen ongoing strong growth. The unaffiliated and “other” non-Christian religions made up 32% of Barack Obama’s winning coalition in his recent re-election to the presidency. The unaffiliated are now on statistical parity with evangelical Christianity in America, creating new paths to victory that don’t depend on courting Christian culturally conservative issue stances. It’s natural in such a climate to perhaps reevaluate the Pagan label, and for groups dissatisfied to voice displeasures that were before muted due to more pressing political considerations.

Erynn Rowan Laurie and some anonymous blogger.

A Wiccan and a Celtic Reconstructionist.

This brings us to the issue of solidarity. When we say “the Pagan community,” that is a form of solidarity in action: several discrete groups (Wiccans, Druids, etc), with their own identities, banding together for a common purpose. Similarly, the initialism “LGBT” is another term of solidarity, showing the political alliance of gay men, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgendered individuals (expanded in various permutations, like “QUILTBAG”). While there are a growing number of people who identify their religion simply as “Pagan,” we must remember that this term started as an umbrella that could be used for shorthand when encountering groups outside the established (albeit permeable) boundaries. It was a way to say, We are allies in a common struggle, and an injustice against one is an injustice against all of us. However, solidarity is not unity. Too many battles have been fought over well-meaning but wrong-headed initiatives to get us all singing from the same choir book (so to speak).

In the last twenty years a growing number of Pagans have allied themselves with, and sometimes even joined, a variety of faiths outside the Pagan umbrella as it was understood in the 1970s, including African Diasporic and African Traditional Religions, Dharmic faiths like Hindusim and Buddhism, and, to a lesser degree, Native American and other indigenous religious expressions. This tendency finds its perfect expression at a convention like PantheaCon in San Jose, which while a “Pagan” event, also draws polytheistic reconstructionists, practitioners and initiates of Palo, Vodou, Hoodoo, and Santeria, Hindu converts along with representatives from Hindu groups, and a good number of Pagans who have embraced or converted to Buddhism over the years. In short, it’s a place where new ideas of solidarity are being negotiated in real time, and the utility of the Pagan label is both strengthened and regularly questioned. PantheaCon isn’t necessarily unique in this, but its size and proximity to large urban areas facilitate more diversity than at some of the outdoor festivals or smaller conventions.

Zan Fraser (Second row, far left) at NYC's Pride Parade.

Zan Fraser (Second row, far left) at NYC’s Pride Parade.

So should the Pagan label be scrapped for something better? Something more inclusive and flexible? I’m certainly open to the notion, and perhaps it could even come to pass as the next generation who embraced, or were raised in, Paganism comes into their full power and leadership. Until then, perhaps we can acknowledge that we are doing solidarity differently in 2013 than we are in 1970. That “Paganism” and the “Pagan Community” may still work for a large number of individuals, but feels stifling to some who would be our allies and friends. We should encompass an expanding Venn diagram of coalitions that have overlapping goals and features, but are still distinct in identity. There can still be a “Pagan Community,” but it will exist in a constellation with the “Polytheistic Reconstructionist Community” and the “Hindu Community” and the “African Diasporic Community.” There will be a growing number of individuals who have a foot in more than one of these communities, and we can attend each other’s open events without the expectation that we will also be forced to adopt the labels of those gatherings. More importantly, we can work on the many issues that still face non-Christian religious minorities in the West (and elsewhere) without re-litigating who is and isn’t a Pagan.

Finally, speaking personally, I think that the act of leaving the Pagan label behind casts a new light for those who want to keep being “Pagan.” It should inspire us to think, to reevaluate, to constantly question our goals. The debates over terminology and theology within the Pagan umbrella have led me to view my membership within the Covenant of the Goddess very differently than when I first started the process, over a year ago. I now see that COG needs to revitalize and strengthen its place as an explicitly Wiccan voice and advocacy organization. While I may be comfortable being called a Pagan, I need to spend more time existing within a Wiccan frame of reference. By enriching Wicca, I better prepare it collectively for what the future may bring.

Our models of solidarity are only as strong and vital as those who use them, and the component parts need to be strong enough to shift and reform should we change, or our needs change. None of us has clairvoyance enough to fully anticipate what our culture will be like in another twenty years, but I can guess that we will still have political and cultural goals to rally around, and that our movement’s name will shape itself to the times. Who can say if Paganism will be that name?

I am happy for my Polytheist brothers and sisters for emerging into and finding their preferred collective identity, just as I am happy for any group or individual that realizes itself and acts to claim the power in naming. This time does not need to be rancorous, and we all need to rise above the fear and anger that can come so easily when these shifts happen. There is still much we can share, can have in common, and can work together to achieve; we just have to do so differently, with greater mutual respect and consideration — with more outreach, and more listening. If these developments result in the Pagan umbrella shrinking, I find solace in the fact that my faith is still there, my conception of the sacred is still there, and my friends are still there.

I have much more to say on this issue, but I will save the rest for a talk I’ll be giving at PantheaCon this February entitled “Preserving our past, Preparing for our Future.” There I will lay out some suggestions, and some thoughts as to how we, how Pagans, how our friends and allies, should confront our successes and the challenges ahead of us. I’ll make sure to have an audio recording for those of you unable to come, and hopefully will have even more to share once I’ve given the talk. If you are attending, I hope you’ll come and share your own thoughts.