Thursday, July 31, 2014

A Response to "Why I'm Not Pagan"

I was reading this article entitled "Why I'm Not Pagan" on Rogue Priest.  And admittedly, it's an ancient article.  It's from like 2011.  But it's new to me, so I'll write anyway.

I don't know if the person who shared this article meant to sing its praises, criticize it, or just present it as an alternate opinion.  Personally?  I think it's a frustrating article.  It's not offensive, really.  It's just that there's a lot in it that's confusing or inaccurate, and it's really reinforcing a lot of damaging, alienating issues within the Pagan community.

First, let me explain something about this that really is important:  "Paganism" as a non-offensive term is a self-identity.  First and foremost.  When deciding whether or not somebody is "Pagan," the number one deciding factor is whether or not they are OK with being called that.  And this author's reasons for not owning "Pagan" are perfectly fine.  Any non-typical Pagan will probably have experienced the frustration that comes with having people think they know what you practice and believe.  For instance, having people assume that I am a Goddess-worshiper, or adhere to a heterosexual-sex-based view of the seasons, or believe that nobody should ever ever curse--and having people interact with me as if these are self-evident facts--that's fucking annoying.  So if Jacob wants to bypass that whole muck by identifying as "polytheist" but not "Pagan," then so be it.  That's fine.  And there are plenty of other traditions and people that do the same.

Here's the problem, though:  He's using a really shitty definition of "Paganism."  Both explicit and implied.  And by using those definitions as if they themselves are self-evident, he's reinforcing that very same frustration for the rest of us.

So a few months ago I wrote on the subject of Wiccanate privilege, which is an admittedly-shitty (I didn't make it up) label for the way Wiccan beliefs and practices--and beliefs and practices mostly associated with Wiccans--are given too much preference in Pagan thought, books, festivals, and groups to the point where people erroneously define Paganism itself based on Wiccan beliefs and practices.  In it I wrote:
...a non-Wiccan Pagan who goes to a "General Pagan" event can reasonably expect that other people who attend will probably misrepresent us, define Paganism in such a way that it excludes anybody who isn't Wiccan or Wicca-inspired, lecture us about ethics that have nothing to do with our religious traditions, and insist that we shoehorn our Gods and our mythology into a Wiccan understanding.
What it looks like, from my perspective, is that Jacob and other members of his group felt out of place at Pagan events because the people at those events were running on shitty, Wiccanate definitions of Paganism.  It has nothing to do with whether or not Jacob would be "lying" if he called himself "Pagan."  He wouldn't be.  If he wanted to use that word, he would meet all of the other established criteria.  There's nothing about being Pagan that requires invoking the four directions, using the Greek elements, mixing practices between cultures, celebrating Sabbats or Esbats, expecting clergy to actually be trained, practicing Witchcraft, standing in a circle, or--and I find this one fundamentally insulting--not using traditional altar etiquette (as a Pagan who worships ancient Egyptian Gods, things like altar etiquette and purity are still important to me).

Saying "I don't identify with this term because of baggage" is enough.  Saying "I am not a Pagan" and then listing a bunch of New Age and Wiccan beliefs as evidence... no, that's not appropriate.  And it's stuff like this that reinforces the shoddy definitions of Paganism that Wiccans have crafted and continue to perpetuate.