1/30 Definitions: Pagan and Paganism

30 Days of Definitions: Pagan and Paganism

I know I came up with the list, but I really picked probably the most controversial and non-universal word to begin this 30 Days of Definitions. So let’s pull some resources and lets see what others say about the word.

To start, let’s see what the online dictionary has to say:

pa·gan
noun
1. one of a people or community observing a polytheistic religion, as the ancient Romans and Greeks: no longer in technical use.
2. Disparaging and Offensive. (in historical contexts) a person who is not a Christian, Jew, or Muslim; a heathen.
3. a follower of any of various contemporary religions that are based on the worship of nature or the Earth; a neopagan.
4. Disparaging and Offensive. an irreligious or hedonistic person.
5. Disparaging and Offensive. an uncivilized or unenlightened person.

adjective
6. Disparaging and Offensive. pertaining to the worship or worshipers of any religion that is neither Christian, Jewish, nor Muslim.
7. of, pertaining to, or characteristic of pagans.
8. Disparaging and Offensive. irreligious or hedonistic.
9. Disparaging and Offensive. (of a person) uncivilized or unenlightened.

The first definition was heading somewhere to how the word is used within Pagan Communities, but then lost it with the addendum of “no longer in technical use.” Considering these polytheistic religions are very much in use, I think that’s a misstated opinion. Perhaps what Dictionary.Com wanted to go with was “not a wide-spread religion” or something. I don’t know, but it missed its mark.

The third definition is a popular one I see, but it has problems and is misguided (I’ll explain further on.)

The second, fourth, fifth, sixth, eight, and ninth definitions are historically accurate but most modern pagans would take offense to thinking that the word “pagan” was an offense.

Next, I went to a resourceful pagan blog to see how they defined the word. Gleewood has an article titled “What is Paganism?” Part of their definition of paganism is:

The first thing to know is that most Pagan religions focus on shared practice more than shared belief. Obviously, the two are connected, but this is a reversal from Christianity (which focuses on shared belief, with much wider variation in practices.) This means that you might have two people in a Pagan group who have quite different ideas about the nature of deity, what happens after death, or any number of other topics, while still getting a lot out of specific rituals, celebrations, or other practices of the path. (This is, in fact really normal and common.)

I use to agree with this premise, but the similarities between my practices can be very, very thin. I consider it a huge difference when someone eats an offering, opposed to letting it decompose outside. I consider it a huge difference of practice when someone invokes duotheistic deities, opposed to inviting a certain deity to join the ritual. How someone celebrates is also vastly different, since not everyone’s holidays revolve around the Earth’s cycles or Moon cycles.

I then went to the article my friend posted about paganism, entitled: “What is Paganism, Really?“:

We can now  establish that Paganism may potentially be defined as:

  1. A group of individuals, religions, personal practices, or spiritualities that fall beneath the Pagan umbrella;
  2. A group of individuals, religions, personal practices, or spiritualities that do not fall into the category of A. an Organized World Religion or B. an Indigenous Spiritual System, and may share a few common theistic or other foundations among themselves and other religions (but are not necessarily all the same or related) so long as the practitioner chooses to identify as Pagan or is a member of a religion, practice, or spiritual system that identifies itself as Pagan.

This is the definition I agreed with for the longest time: that Paganism is an umbrella term for whoever wishes to be put under it. (As an aside, you should really read Sandra’s entire article “What is Paganism, Really?” since she deconstructs the popular definitions of paganism and explains why they’re problematic and/or wrong better than I could do.)

But I’ve beginning to have conflicts with that definition implemented in practice. My blogspot blog is a testament to how indirectly unwelcomed my beliefs are in an in-person pagan community. (There is also loads of racism and enabling problematic behaviors, but that’s a whole ‘nother discussion.) When I went to the first ritual at the UU Group, for example, they didn’t know what hard polytheism was. They didn’t know what a Recon Faith was. And more over, they (on a whole) did nothing to embrace my beliefs.

So I’m beginning to see paganism less and less as being about practice, since that is not as unifying as a factor as people think it is. For a while, I thought about paganism being more or less a term to describe a community of people. But Sandra addresses this very well in the same article linked above:

However, a community is a social, religious, occupational, or other group sharing common characteristics or interests, which perceives itself as distinct in some respect from the larger society within which it exists; in other words, in this aspect it is a group of people who share similar interests, goals, views, etc.

And in this way, paganism is not by default a community.

Yet by accident I found perhaps the best description of paganism I have ever come across: “paganism is a subculture.”

Wikipedia’s article on “subculture” defines that word as “a subculture is a group of people within a culture that differentiates themselves from the larger culture to which they belong.”

And there you have it. That’s why paganism is best defined as a type of subculture. It is not the primary definition for someone, or the primary culture of a person, but it can be part of someone’s social identification. And while that still hints at some shared “something”, that “something” is as simple as “we have no other place to talk to others about our faiths/spiritualitities/religions.”

Thus, in short: I see paganism as a subculture for people who identify with the subculture. This is why you will find polytheists who don’t identify as pagan, and why you’ll see Christians who do.

[Day One of Polytheism] Introduction

1. Introduction: Paganism/Polytheism & Your Path – Your story of how you came to your paganistic/polytheistic faith and what your current path is.

I inadvertently answered most of this with my first post

But, I guess I didn’t go into depth about why I am now a Gaelic Polytheist instead of what I was prior: a Eclectic Pagan with a Celtic Focus, or a Celtic Eclectic Pagan.

Firstly, I slowly have begun to understand why the word “eclectic” is a dirty word in some religious circles. To quote the CR FAQ: “Though some self-identified Neopagans are respectful of the cultures they are inspired by, there are, sadly, many other Neopagans who exhibit the worst examples of cultural appropriation and disrespectful eclecticism.” After seeing how some Neopagans who consider themselves eclectic decide that means a “take whatever I want and do whatever I want” approach to spirituality… I kinda wanted to shy away from that. Not that there aren’t eclectic neopagans out there who are respectful (I know one in fact! They exist, I promise you!), but I was hyper worried about it with myself.

Secondly, learning that “Celtic” was an ambiguous word for various European cultures, I began to decide to focus accurately on Gaelic cultures. Simultaneously, I learned that the Gaelic culture still exists today–it isn’t dead! The religion hasn’t been around for quite some time, but the culture persists into modern day.

Thirdly, reading materials by Gaol Naofa, I learned that I agreed with the Gaelic Polytheist Lifeway being a primary focus over just a religion that wasn’t integrated throughout my life. The more I learned about pre-Christian Gaelic polytheism, the more I decided that I could not just be religiously Gaelic Polytheist without incorporating the cultural attitudes too. Things like taking Honor as a virtue, upholding hospitality, and supporting those in my community. (That latter half is going to be inspiration for a whole ‘nother post later…)

Lastly… “Pagan” has a lot of problematic ties to it. I have yet to be part of a self-identified pagan community that did not allow or endorse problems. The best of the communities, so far, has been that of the Tumblr Pagan community, but that’s taking a very “loose” definition of community. I’ll probably go more into my ideas about what paganism is and why I don’t identify with it in the 30 Days of Definitions posts.

To the accumulation of all those different realizations made it so that I realized I want to live a Gaelic Polytheist life. This also lead me to applying for membership in Gaol Naofa, which I was accepted into.

I still have a lot to learn, a lot to adopt to, and a lot to discover. But I’m excited to to be on this path.

 

30 Days of Definitions Masterlist

This list is by me. In religious communities, I’ve noticed various terms that are used but don’t have concrete definitions. And worse, I realize don’t have a concrete definition for these terms. Thus, I’ve decided to make a list and go through them–one by one–and define them for my sake. Obviously (and I’ll write this when I post my definitions), these aren’t concrete definitions and are subjective. Which is why I want to define them so I know what I mean when I say “In this spell I used energy” vs what Jane Joe down the street means when they say “In this spell I used energy.”

So, in 30 Days (or posts) I hope to define…

Day 1 –  Pagan and Paganism
Day 2 – Witch and Witchcraft
Day 3 – Religion and Spirituality

Day 4 – Magic
Day 5 – Energy
Day 6 – Prayers and Spells
Day 7 – Ritual
Day 8 – Devotion
Day 9 – Oath

Day 10 – Sin
Day 11 – Blessing
Day 12 – Sacred

Day 13 – Myth
Day 14 – Legend
Day 15 – Folklore

Day 16 – Spirit
Day 17 – Soul
Day 18 – Deity

Day 19 – Fae / Fairy
Day 20 – Demon
Day 21 – Ghost
Day 22 – Vampire
Day 23 – Werewolf
Day 24 – Angel
Day 25 – Monster

Day 26 – Astral Planes
Day 27 – Sacred Space

Day 28 – Any other miscellaneous terms?
Day 29 – Any other miscellaneous terms?
Day 30 – Any other miscellaneous terms?

31 Days of Polytheism Masterlist

This list is made by Ruin! I’ll be slowly working my way through all these topics.

1. Introduction: Paganism/Polytheism & Your Path – Your story of how you came to your paganistic/polytheistic faith and what your current path is.

2. Foundations: Cosmology – How you see the universe and its make-up.
3. Foundations: Nature & Earth – How you view nature and the earth, and your relationship with it.
4. Foundations: Day-to-Day Practice – An explanation of your day-to-day practices, and how you incorporate those practices into daily life.
5. Foundations: Rites of Passage – How you see the “cycles of life,” and how you view reincarnation, death, the afterlife, and milestones.
6. Foundations: Non-Theistic Beliefs – The non-theistic/secular aspects of your faith.
7. Foundations: Tools, Altar/Shrine, & Sacred Space – General beliefs on tools, the altar/shrine, and your sacred space.
8. Foundations: Places of Spiritual Significance – Any locations that you believe to be intrinsically holy.
9. Foundations: Festivals & Calendar – The holidays in your path’s calendar year.

10. Relationships: Gods/Deities/Pantheon – General beliefs on the deity or deities on your path, as well as how you came to the pantheon you now worship.
11. Relationships: Patronage with the Deities – How close you believe your faith can allow you to be with the deity/deities of your path.
12. Relationships: Relationship with a Deity or Deities – Your relationship with a specific deity or deities (can be considered patrons).
13. Relationships: Other Relationships – Your relationship with any beings other then Gods, such as ancestors, spirits of the land, etc.
14. Relationships: Deity Gender Roles – Gender roles as prescribed by the mythology of your path, and your beliefs of their gender roles.
15. Relationships: Ritual, Worship, & Reverence – Your own way or worshiping and revering various deities, etc.
16. Relationships: Priesthood & Clergy – Whether you have priests and clergy in your path, and what would normally entail within your path.

17. Inspirations: Prayer & Reciprocity – Your beliefs on or practice of praying, and the Gods reactions to your prayers.
18. Inspirations: Meditation – Your meditation practices.
29. Inspirations: Ethics, Virtues, & Values – Both your own ethics and values, along with the ethics and values of your path.
20. Inspirations: Divination and/or Magic – Your divination practices, and your view on magic according to your path, as well as the various magical practices of your faith.
21. Inspirations: Mysticism and Philosophy – Beliefs in truths that are believed to be intuitive or above normal understanding, as well as beliefs that are rooted in rational investigation and knowledge and how they work together. (transcendental/intuitive vs scientific/historic/practical)
22. Inspirations: Music, Poetry, Storytelling, Myth, & Aesthetics – What do you include in a ritual, and the aesthetics of ritual and/or magic.

23. Experiences: Faith & Times of Need – An experience you had that you would not likely have come through without your faith.
24. Experiences: Ritual and/or Magic – Your personal experiences with magic and/or rituals.
25. Experiences: Other Explorations – Your experience with other paths and faiths, as well as beliefs you may incorporate into your practice from them.

26. Everyday Life: Paganism/Polytheism & Family Life/Friends – How your conversion has affected your various relationships with your friends and family.
27. Everyday Life: Paganism/Polytheism & Romance – How your conversion has affected your love life.
28. Everyday Life: Paganism/Polytheism & Work/Career – How your conversion has affected your work/career.
29. Everyday Life: Paganism/Polytheism & Community – You, your community, and your ties with other practitioners of your faith.

30. Conclusion: Misconceptions – Clear up a misconception or more that you believe that most people nowadays have about your path/faith/religion.
31. Conclusion: Advice to the Seeker – Any advice you have to give to others who are seeking a paganistic/polytheistic path.

I hate making the first blog post.

Most of what is important is already in my “About” page. I’m not really done organizing the blog yet, but that’s because I haven’t written enough for me to have anything to organize…

Ugh. Back story I guess?

When I was in middle school, I knew someone who was Wiccan (or probably NeoWiccan.) Whilst at the library I saw a book on Wicca so I picked it up. Then, about a month later, I returned it having never read it. But it was my first “exposure” to paganism.

When I was 14/15, I was suppose to get the Sacrament of Confirmation in the Roman Catholic Church. However I did not feel as though I could do so without lying about my own beliefs–which did not align with Catholicism. I refused to get confirmed–to my mother’s disdain–and went on my agnostic way. 

When I was about 17, I was at a bookstore and saw an idiot’s guide to Wicca and Witchcraft in the “Occult” section next to the Philosophy books. I decided to thumb through the orange book, and realized that some of the stuff there made sense for me. So I bought it, brought it home, and read it. About a few weeks later, I had a very thrown together ritual inviting Brigid and Lugh to be with me and help me with depression. During that evening, Lugh told me He would take care of me. Since then, I’ve been honoring Him–regardless of how my actual religious practice changed.

Over time, I slowly realized that everything in the original books I read was almost utter garbage. Not all pagans worshiped The God and The Goddess, not all pagans were earthcentric, not all witches were religious, etc etc etc. Along side my spiritual development, I was learning more and more about social justice issues. I started to learn about cultural appropriation, I learned about white privilege and other sorts of privilege, I learned about my internalized misogyny, and so forth. 

I eventually found another Tumblr blogger who honored Lugh. She introduced me to Gaelic Reconstruction Polytheism, Gaol Naofa, and the GP Facebook group. I’ve been so happy and blessed to be part of those communities.

Meanwhile, while I came to love Gaelic Polytheism even more, I grew to loathe Neopaganism even more. I am starting this blog because my previous blog has “pagan” in the title. It will stay active to document the pagan community happenings as I run into them, but this blog will be just about polytheism and myself. 

That about catches everyone up to speed… On wards!