Paganism 101

Firelyte from Inciting a Riot made a facebook post that inspired this train wreck of a thought.  😀  Though to be fair, it really had nothing to do with what I’m planning to talk about.

What he said that got me thinking (and we know how hard that is!) were the words “paganism” and “101” in a related sentence.

And I end up thinking “is it possible to have a Paganism 101 book?”

I don’t think it is.

We have Wicca 101s and Heathenism 101s and it certainly wouldn’t surprise me to see Druirdry 101s and there are tarot 101s and rune 101s and herbalism 101s.  Or in other words, there are intro books to all kinds of topics that are of interest to pagans.

And oh gods, I’m going to do it.  I can’t believe it, but I am going down the road that all sane pagans should avoid:  defining paganism.

My gods, there are almost as many definitions of paganism as there are paths within it.  With nuances and blatant differences, arguments and bickering.  It’s a point that pushes us away from each other rather than drawing us together (funny, isn’t it? given that it is a community term?).  But I’m going there any way.

This is my opinion.  It is endorsed by no one by me.  YOUR WORLDVIEW MAY VARY.  And that’s perfectly grand and fine.  However, if you end up agreeing with me, I can’t help but think that’s a little grander and finer, but then, we’re all egotists at heart.

My definition is born out of what I witness as being included by those within and without the practices that get lumped under that poor maligned umbrella.

There are two components:  magical practice and spirituality.

Only one is required for falling under the pagan umbrella.  Yes, I am saying that you do not have to be spiritual to be pagan.  You also don’t have to be a tree-hugger.  Neither do you have to believe in magic.

Magical practices that tend to get lumped into paganism:  hermeticism, occasionally alchemy, thelema (yes, that’s the Crowley stuff), hoodoo (though this one is frequently debated), witchcraft as craft, not religion.

Spiritual practices that tend to get lumped into paganism:  wicca, druidry, heathenism, voodoo (sometimes but debated), goddess-worship, reconstructionist religions (particularly of Europe)

Some magical practices have a spiritual component.

Some spiritual practices have a magical component.

Any and all of these get lumped as paganism.  It’s no wonder that my paganism isn’t like anyone else’s.  And neither is yours.

Stage 2 of my definition of paganism.  How a person is identified.  You can be a) self-identified or b) identified by others.

We generally allow for self-identification of paganism…and not.  But you know what?  That’s only half the battle for me.  If you self-identify as pagan but your behaviour is that of a muslim, I will disagree with your self-assessment and do not consider you pagan.  If you do not self-identify as pagan but your spiritual practice revolves around goddess-worship, nature-worship and seasonal celebrations, well, then, you can deny it as much as you like but I’m still going to view you as pagan.

Not that I discount the self-identification.  But frankly, it alone doesn’t do it for me.

Now coming back for a moment to the spiritual component, obviously it is more complicated than just a simple list.  How do we decide which spiritual practices count as pagan?  Well, if they are european reconstructions or descendents, excluding Christianity, we tend to include them.  If they are nature-based, we tend to include them.  If they have goddess worship (but not Mary), then we tend to include them.

If a practice has a strong connection to one of the “big” religions, then it ain’t paganism.  But still, it’s not like we’re everything that’s left over.  Some people like to include First Nations practices in paganism.  I personally consider paganism to be a european creation, but I’m willing to negotiate on this one.  And that, my dears, is the fun part of paganism.

It is a communal fictional dream.

There is no one practice that constitutes paganism.  You can’t even say that a magical component is required because it isn’t!  You can goddess worship and nature worship and old god worship without ever touching magic.  Yes, many of the spiritual practices under the label do have a magical component but that’s cuz we like to have a combined world rather than a segregated one.  But when you look at what we include under the umbrella, it is most definitely NOT an AND situation.  It’s an either/or/and situation.

So given all this, how could there possibly be a Paganism 101 book?

To have an intro book on how to do something, there has to be a single, DEFINABLE practice that is done.  All of the 101s I listed above are definable and separable from the topic herd.  Paganism is its own topic herd.  You’d have to cover a dozen different items in a Paganism 101 book and even then, none of them would have to be included and you wouldn’t cover every possible pagan contingency.

None of them would have to be included.  Doesn’t that say it all?

I can’t think of a single requirement that applies to all groups that can be considered pagan.  Not one.  Okay, not one that can’t also be applied to any other major religion.

There is not a unique identifier to paganism.  Not one thing you can point at and go, absolutely, ALL pagans have that.  There are things that you can point to and will think ‘well, hell, ya, that’s pagan all right.’ but nothing that applies to everybody.

I’ve been in pagan groups with the hermetic, the thelemite, the druid and the wiccan, and the self-identified pagan who adheres to no particular path (but who embraces some of the components listed above).

Oh, those pesky “i’m pagan” people.  They make it extra tricky.  They’re not in one of the handy dandy defined categories listed above.  They’re comfortable as being just pagan.  Their spiritual practice may be earth-based, it may be goddess-based, it may not be.  But you watch them in their behaviour and you’ll either agree with their statement or not.  If you do, well they self-identified and you agree, ergo they’re pagan.  If they do, and you don’t, well they may not be.  They may be inappropriately using the label.  It does happen.

So given all this, do you think it’s possible to do a Paganism 101?

If it is, what would it look like?

Honour the seasons?  Hugs some trees (I don’t mean it in a derogatory way, I’m just enjoying saying it…now I want to go and hug a tree, either oak or willow I’m thinking)?  And don’t forget that if you’re interested, there’s this magical thing that’s possible to?

So, again, no, I don’t think it is possible to have a Paganism 101.

HOWEVER, none of this means that I don’t believe in the pagan label.  I do.  It unites us with people who also seek to elevate themselves, who celebrate the same things we do (mostly), with people who make the best conversations.  By banding together in a larger group we become a greater force.

And by allowing such fabulous diversity amongst our ‘bigger’ group, we help to keep ourselves open minded and flexible.  And that is a recipe for health in my book.

And with that, my beloved crazies, I have reached the end of this ranting tale.  Til next time, live strong!

~Abysmal Witch

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5 thoughts on “Paganism 101

  1. I agree… hey, ego, ((stroke, stroke)).

    I think of the word ‘Pagan’ as a unifier – the very word itself, and people’s identification with that word, IS the “unique identifier”.

    Before becoming a part of a mixed group of “Pagans” in my community, I never self-identified as a Pagan, nor did I feel the need to. I have been actively practicing a magical system and a spiritual path for 25 years, though – one that tidily fits under the pagan umbrella.

    It was not until I was in a mixed group of people, who self-identified with many different, specific, systems of magic and spirituality that a term such as ‘Pagan’ took on any meaning. In that context, identifying as a Pagan rather than, say, a Wiccan, put everyone on an even playing field. It didn’t matter that our magical or spiritual paths may even be at odds with each other’s, because the term brought us together as like-minded individuals.

    So, for me, it is a unifying term, undefinable in any finite way. I see it as a broad term, used as an inclusive designator to the subheading of each person’s specific path.

    If *I* was to write the 101 book, it would be rather short…

  2. Oh, I just have to ring in here. I enjoyed reading all the above (from both of you), but I have had it drilled into my head sooo many times, that no matter that I understand the current usage of “pagan” to be a unifying umbrella term, ol’ Roy’s words come bumping up to the surface saying:

    “Now, Little One (um, use to be;), why would we call ourselves pagans? We are not simple country bumpkins!”

    Saying such, I have been a country dweller for some time and might just qualify by old standards 😉 But for the old timers who know the Latin origins, pagan comes from the word “paganus”, meaning villager, one who lives in the country, a rustic, a civilian (and itself comes from pagus which refers to a rural district).

    I know Roy has had an uphill battle against pop-cultural usage for the term “pagan” and will probably just have to accept the evolution of the meaning, but I merrily join him on that journey. I don’t self-identify as a pagan, and though I have preferred heathen if not witch, the origins of heathen is mixed…likely to mean one who lives on the heaths (open, undeveloped countryside) -which is hardly different from pagan- to one who believes in a different spirituality than the 3 major monotheistic religions.

    If there is any umbrella term I would choose, it would have to be “heretic” …which in the old days meant “to choose, or to think for one’s self”.

    Now, all said and done, if “I” were to write a Paganism 101 book, I’d start by describing nature’s signs for when to plow and sow, reap and harvest…

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