So in response to my last post Kullervo posted a response. I feel I should respond to this in detail. I am also posting this as a blog post, rather than a reply in the comment stream, because I feel that this sort of a conversation and the points within are very important ones that we Pagans should be discussing and sharing with one another as so many of us seek community within the movement. So here it is…
Kullervo’s response to Paganism: Defining Ourselves…
Unfortunately, I think there actually is no real “common theme” to the various religious traditions that get lumped under the umbrella of “paganism.” At least, no common theme that’s not so broad that it could be applied equally to every religion on earth.
The best you are going to get is a list of movements that self-identify as “pagan,” which makes me honestly wonder if it is a coherent and/or meaningful category at all.
What do Wiccans have in common with Hellenic reconstructionists, for example? Almost nothing. Even when they invoke the same deities, their understanding of the nature of those deities is so different that the similarity barely goes below the superficial/cosmetic level.
We could meaningfully talk about Western Polytheist Traditions, but that might conceivably exclude duotheist Wicca–and Wiccans are almost certainly the overwhelming majority of modern self-identifying pagans.
I honestly wonder if “paganism” as a category is not only artificial but actually detrimental to a lot of the traditions listed above.
Thank you Kullervo,
Thank you for your response, first of all, because it is good to know that this is a discussion people are interested in having. While I may disagree with your points, your response has shown me that I need to dig a lot deeper within myself and into my topic and begun to give me clues as to where I need to dig and what needs dusting off and polishing.
In regards to your first two paragraphs, I already did a little more work on that Definition… although its rapidly turning into more of an encyclopedia entry rather than a definition… and I see I have more work to do. Part of the point IS that at the heart of things WHAT we are doing as Pagans is A) not so different from one another that we do not share commonalities, and B) that what we are doing as Pagans is not so radically different from other religions.
In addition to common practices, there are those intertwined and overlapping values… things like Courage, and Honor, Truthfulness, Hospitality, and Piety among many others. Shared and similar values are extremely important and can be a tremendous source of connection, strength, and community. Here in the U.S. the Civil Rights Movement is but one example, among many, of that fact.
Within the interfaith movement that is Paganism there are also some very compelling shared interests. Not only some of the obvious ones life Freedom of Religion, and Freedom of Speech. What about the idea, common across the theological spectrum of Right Relationship, not only with ones Faith Community, but with ones larger Community, but also with the Spirits… of our Ancestors or the Spirits of the Earth and the World around us? Especially in the West, where the Pagan movement is centered (although there has been growth in India and South America of Wicca, among other Pagan Traditions) the mere idea of acknowledging much less relating to Spirits (whatever your Tradition calls them) is a radical one and is a source not only of shared experience but often struggle for Pagans.
Why shouldn’t we come together, work around and discuss these common interests and values with one another? Ancient Paganisms did not exist in some sort of vacuum, there was trade and travel even in the ancient world… and now in the 21st Century when we are all so much more interconnected and crowded on Gaea’s Green Earth, why shouldn’t we come together?
“What do Wiccans have in common with Hellenic reconstructionists, for example? Almost nothing.”
Well, I suppose that does depend upon a number of factors. First off when you reference Wicca are you referring to the initiatory linneaged Traditions also known as British Traditional Witchcraft, the ones originating in the New Forrest region of Britain? Perhaps you mean the broader Religious Neo-Pagan Witchcraft Traditions inspired by, among other things, the writings of Wiccan authors that is popularly known as Wicca? Whichever of the two too which you are refering, even within the Gardnerian Tradition you will see a WIDE spectrum of theological belief as to who or what the Goddess and God, or the Gods, are. (at least that’s what I understand from having had some discussions with a few different Gardnerians over the years…)
Hellenic recon also involves a wide spectrum of theoligical belief when it comes to who and what the Theoi are exactly, and how best to worship them.
As for what they have in common, how about some of those shared or similar values and interests?
We could, conceivably talk about Western Polytheist Traditions at least within the broader category of the Pagan Movement… remember I see Contemporary or Modern Paganism as an interfaith movement, but as you point out it would leave out some Traditions and Individuals within NOT only Wicca and Witchcraft, but within other Traditions… but I am not against groups and individuals within the Pagan Movement coming together to share and discuss common interests and beliefs.
“…and Wiccans are almost certainly the overwhelming majority of modern self-identifying pagans.”
Uhm, says who?!?
I am willing to grant that as one of the most widely publicized and known Pagan Traditions that Wicca (or more accurately Neo-Wicca, as the Wicca most popularly known at the moment are the Wicca inspired Neo-Pagan Craft Traditions…..) is one of the first points of entry into Paganism…. but I have encountered PLENTY of recons who looked at “Wicca” and then moved onto something else more meaningful to them, and also a lot of folks who PREFER Pagan as a descriptor even though their holidays and ritual structure are of the “Wiccan” Sabbats, “Wiccan” Circle mold.
“I honestly wonder if “paganism” as a category is not only artificial but actually detrimental to a lot of the traditions listed above.”
Why would it be “detrimental”? For that matter what injury does it do to come together over the points of commonality, our similar and/or shared values and ethics, and our common interests, as Pagans?