If you’ve cast even a passing glance at the Pagan blogosphere lately, you may have noticed a cauldron full of controversy brewing. Controversy in the internet sense of course, which means a few strongly worded blog posts and a couple of flounces off.
Anyhoo, this kerfuffle seems to be about whether or not to use the word ‘pagan’ to identify oneself. Some argue that everyone with a non-Abrahamic faith should be considered ‘pagans’ in a big-tent sort of way, while others are leaving the pagan label to call themselves ‘polytheists’, which is more narrow but also probably more accurate as a description.
Now, I’m not really into identity-politics and labelling, I found the ‘Atheism +‘ nonsense of last year deeply irritating and I hate dividing an in-group and an out-group arbitrarily. But it got me thinking how much I might consider myself pagan or not.
The OED defines pagan as:
‘A person not subscribing to any major or recognized religion, esp. the dominant religion of a particular society; spec. a heathen, a non-Christian’.
Well, in that sense I, as an atheist, am most definitely a pagan, though I don’t think that’s really how the word is understood by most people (and it would make Wiccans, a recognised religion, non-pagan by definition).
I think there are aspects of paganism that I feel close to. A reverence for nature, taking inspiration from pre-Christian myths and heritage, celebrating the Wheel of the Year, ritual, meditation, shamanism and imaginative visualisation, sure, I love that stuff!
But there are other aspects that I don’t get on so well with. Healing crystals, chakras, fairies and woo, for instance. People with names like Moonblossom Starchilde who claim to be reincarnated Atlantean priestesses. Charlatans who take money off gullible people and pretend to talk to the dead or heal cancer with magic.
I suppose a lot of that could be classed as ‘new age’ but I’ve yet to find a meaningful distinction between that and generic paganism. It’s probably telling that while I would be happy saying I’m a Druid (or at least studying to be one), I would never refer to myself as pagan. For some pagans (and some Druids), my being an atheist would disqualify me anyway.
However, as far as I’m concerned, what you call yourself is not important. What matters is what you do and what values you share with others. Take recycling. I don’t care if you recycle because the Goddess told you to, because you’re a Christian who believes in caring for God’s creation, because you’re an atheist who thinks it is good to help the planet you live on or because the council would fine you if you didn’t. I just care that it gets done.
Pagan, polytheist, monotheist, duotheist, pantheist, animist, witch, shaman, Druid, atheist, agnostic, humanist, Christian, Muslim, Jew, blah blah blah….we’re all just people trying to get along in the world. As always, the ‘what-to-call-yourself’ controversies that erupt online from time to time leave me reminded of this: