Definitions…

Definitions are important.  Words have meaning and power and how we use them is an important thing.  Words are one of the most basic tools we use in our lives to interact with and shape the Universe around us.   Words are one of the most basic tools of religion and Magic(k) and are worthy of our careful consideration.

This page explores the definitions of some of the words I use frequently in my writing here, as well as hopefully helping to answer any questions folks may have after stumbling across this little blog of mine.

The Acrostic Eye

The Acrostic Eye is a concept I first saw mentioned in one of Starhawk‘s books, and while she specifies it as a Witch thing I would suggest that ALL Pagans and Polytheists experience this phenomena.

Now Acrostics, for those unfamiliar with them, are both a type of poem and a type of puzzle… basically you can see different messages and meanings in the poetic style depending on how you read it… for example if you take the first letter of each line or sentence or word you may get a hidden meaning.

The Idea is that as a Witch or Magick Worker dives into their studies they begin to look at the world around them differently.  One begins to consider the literal and symbolic, the metaphorical and the material and the metaphysical, and their relationships at work in the world around them.  My basic contention is that for ANY Pagan or Polytheist the process of learning about the myths and stories and Gods and Spirits… that the symbolic and mythopoetic and the everyday overlap in much the same way…

After all in looking at an approaching Thunderstorm is it all that uncommon for Pagans to see, both and at the same time, the complex interplay of atmospheric and meteorological phenomena, and the Presence of a Diety?  That sort of double-vision moment, that’s the Acrostic Eye.

Cultural Misappropriation

This is a rather difficult point within the Pagan Movement.

Cultural appropriation is the adoption of some specific elements of one culture by a different cultural group. It denotes acculturation or assimilation, but often connotes a negative view towards acculturation from a minority culture by a dominant culture.[1][2] It can include the introduction of forms of dress or personal adornment, music and art, religion, language, or social behavior. These elements, once removed from their indigenous cultural contexts, may take on meanings that are significantly divergent from, or merely less nuanced than, those they originally held.” ~ from the extensive article on this topic at Wikipedia (9:46 am 04/24/10)

Many Native and Indigenous peoples are very much against these “borrowings”.   Their view is that their Religions are, well, theirs.   I have some links on Native American Spirituality that speak quite clearly to this!

Now there are a number of folks involved in the Pagan community, and some traditions including Neo-Shamanism, that have borrowed spiritual techniques and elements of ritual from indigenous peoples.  Techniques here includes things like drumming, vision quests, and working with animal and place spirits.

This is where things get tricky… some Native peoples are against even the hint that their Sacred traditions are being desecrated.  At the same time, techniques such as drumming, or spirit questing, or purifying with herbs (among other techniques) is not necessarily Cultural Misappropriation because there is some indication in the historical record that many of the Indigenous Religions of Europe may have used many of these same basic techniques.

We of European descent have lost a lot of our indigenous traditions with the spread of Christianity, and as some of us try to reconnect with the Gods and Spirits from the time before Christianity

An example would probably be best here.

If you are using Sage to purify a space for a religious ritual because it works, and because Sage grows naturally in your area… then at least I  wouldn’t have a problem with you.  Even if you were using one of those Sage smudging bundles, that is how Sage is widely available after all!

If however, your are not a Native American and you are using a Sage smudge, a seashell, and an eagle feather (possession or purchase of which would be terribly illegal for a non Native American in the United States by the way) to purify a space while listening to Native American Flute Music and calling yourself EagleHawkMoonWandersTheDesertWolfSong… THEN you are committing Cultural Misappropriation, and that is not good!

It doesn’t matter how sincere your intentions are if you are using indigenous religious rituals or cultural forms lifted wholesale from the indigenous culture and you are not a member of the indigenous people in question, nor are you at all involved or in relationship with them, and neither are your audience/participants….. it would be no different from someone stealing a Gardnerian Book of Shadows and then either giving Gardnerian Initiations or hosting an Open Sabbat ritual with it.

I guess, for me anyway, its the difference between using an idea or technique versus using a full on ritual or cultural symbols.

Hellenic Polytheism / Greco-Egyptian Polytheism

In the last couple of years I have been moved to explore other branches of Paganism in addition to Witchcraft.   This has been due to some significant experiences I have had in with Deities outside of Witchcraft.  I have made room in my heart for Hecate and Dionysus, and made offerings to the Olympian Gods.  I have also recently become involved with the Greco-Egyptian Polytheist organization Neos Alexandria a very welcoming  progressive Reconstructionist organization.

Basically a Reconstructionist path seeks to examine and honor the Gods of an ancient culture/faith such as the Greek Gods, in my case (and among others), and using rituals based on the ancient ways bring their worship forward  into the 21st century.  You can find some Hellenic Polytheist links here, and there are a number of other Reconstructionist paths outlined on the Online Pagan Resources page.

(and yes, I DO need to do more work on this definition, it’s on the list friends, its on the list…)

Paganism

After 18 years of active study and practice, I think that the many self-definitions I have seen of Paganism were so concerned with who we are (or are not), or have been concerned with demonstrating to the outside community that we are good and law abiding people,  that they have neglected what we are and helped to lead to some confusion within and without the Pagan Movement.  Not that there aren’t some good self definitions out there, like the Pagan Pride Project’s definition…

What is a Pagan?

The following definition is for the purposes of the Pagan Pride Project. Others may define themselves or their group in different ways, and that’s OK. Some groups that fit the categories we list may not call themselves Pagan, and that’s ok too – that’s why we say that first and foremost the definition of a Pagan is someone who self-identifies as a Pagan. But the following was created in order to have a functional definition to help educate the public about the spiritual paths we cover:

Definition:

A Pagan or NeoPagan is someone who self-identifies as a Pagan, and whose spiritual or religious practice or belief fits into one or more of the following categories:

  • Honoring, revering, or worshiping a Deity or Deities found in pre-Christian, classical, aboriginal, or tribal mythology; and/or
  • Practicing religion or spirituality based upon shamanism, shamanic, or magickal practices; and/or
  • Creating new religion based on past Pagan religions and/or futuristic views of society, community, and/or ecology;
  • Focusing religious or spiritual attention primarily on the Divine Feminine; and/or
  • Practicing religion that focuses on earth based spirituality.

~Pagan Pride Project site Who We Are page accessed 6:17pm 12/11/2009

Now that’s a good start, but their definition was designed for working with the general public in community outreach.  Wikipedia’s entry on Paganism(6:19 12/11/2009), especially the Classifications Section is in some respects helpful.  There is also an interesting discussion of this complicated term over at ReligiousTolerance.org.  Well they all have reasons, good ones as a matter of fact, for defining Paganism.

Why then am I defining it again?

Well, for me I have realized recently that some of my work, and Work, in this lifetime  that the Lady and Lord have laid before me involved active involvement within the Pagan Movement building greater Community.  So a good sized chunk of this definition is for myself to clarify my own understanding.  I suspect I will also use bits and pieces at those times when the situation demands I explain to those not of the Pagan Movement who or what we are.

Anyway, here is my attempt at defining Paganism…

Pax’s Definition/Description of

Paganism

Paganism is a religious, spiritual, and social interfaith movement made up of several interrelating and overlapping religious and regional communities.  These spiritual and religious communities are a complex network of individuals and groups, including….

  • Spiritual and Philosophical and Religious Movements grounded in the Western Mystical and Occult Tradition. (Golden Dawn, OTO, Thelema, Society of Inner Light, among other Traditions)
  • Religious Movements inspired by the Western Occult and Mystical Tradition and the indigenous religions and folklore of Europe.  (Druidry, Wicca, Feri, Traditional Witchcraft and Other Traditions of Western Religious Witchcraft, Queer Spirituality, and some segments of the Men’s and Women’s Spirituality movements)
  • Those who seek, either inspired by ethnic heritage or profound spiritual experiences, to reestablish and revive and recreate the indigenous religions of Europe.  (Celtic Reconstruction, Druidry, Heathenry, Hellenismos, Romuva, and  other Traditions)
  • Those who have chosen to use a number of spiritual techniques and technologies found across time and in many cultures to access the spirit world in a direct and personal manner.  (Neo-Shamanism)
  • Those who seek, inspired by ethnic or cultural heritage or profound spiritual experiences, to reestablish and revive and recreate the religions of the Ancient Mediterranean, the Fertile Crescent, or other Ancient peoples. (Aztec, Canaanite, Hellenismos, Khemetic, and numerous other traditions)
  • Those who are respectfully taking an active and welcomed part in the indigenous religions of other countries/peoples which are active in the West; where there is overlap into the rest of Paganism.  (Brujeria, Buddhism, Candomblé, Hinduism, Santeria, Umbanda, Voudoun, and other traditions)

Within the Pagan faiths there are certain common religious themes differentiating them from other Religions prevalent in their areas (in general) that emerge.

  • In general, but not in all cases, a personal rejection of Monotheism in favor of an active engagement with varying degrees and combinations of  Duotheism, Henotheism, Polytheism, Pantheism, and Panentheism.
  • Pagans are often more concerned with how your are relating to the Divine/Universe, that what your personal beliefs are regarding It/Them.
  • Specific Pagan Religions and individual Traditions (denominations) within them are often more concerned with an individuals Orthopraxy (correct practice) than an individuals Orthodoxy (correct belief) in the practice of their Tradition.  Indeed across the Pagan Movement there are sometimes a wide variety of theological/belief approaches present even within the same Tradition or Group.
  • The general acceptance of what might be termed Individual Religious Drift, where one enters into the Pagan movement as a member/participant in one Tradition and then moves, with generally little stress or strife for those involved, into a new Tradition.
  • The acceptance that one can actively be a worshiper/participant in more than one Pagan Tradition.

Within the interfaith movement that is Paganism there are also some very compelling shared interests.  Not only some of the obvious ones like Freedom of Religion, and Freedom of Speech.  There is also the widespread concern of Being In Right Relationship, not only with ones Deities, and ones Faith Community, and with ones larger Community, but also with the Spirits… of our Ancestors or the Spirits of the Earth and the World around us.

For the different Pagan faiths and paths there seems to be an overall theme of individual and group development into being a better person(s) (personal growth and perhaps enlightenment, although it is not necessarily phrased as such) by practicing certain rites, and developing our relationships with the Divine (or the essence of All That Is) and with the Spirits of the World Around Us (Land Spirits or Ancestors or Elementals, etc…), and living a number intertwining and overlapping Virtues and Values.

These virtues and values include  things like Courage, and Honor, Truthfulness, Hospitality, and Piety among many others.  These shared and similar values are extremely important to Pagans and are capable of being a tremendous source of connection, strength, and community within the Pagan Movement.

Through following our beliefs, and living our values, I think we Pagans end up building our relationships with others in our own communities and  groups and faiths and our regional communities.  This theme of growth and development leads us quite naturally into engagement with other branches of Paganism, and from there into engagement with the rest of Society.

Or at least that’s my take on it…

There are many religions and philosophies that overlap and intertwine within and with the Pagan movement.  Including Neo-Paganism, Polytheism, Polytheistic Reconstructionism, Pantheism, Wicca, Druids, Heathens, Thelema, …and many others.

For more direct information about these beliefs, and others, you can check out the Online Resources Page for a fuller survey of many of the faiths and philosophies involved in and related to and influencing, or intertwined with, modern Paganism.

A few other sources and ideas of  definitions of Paganism and ideas useful to have floating about about Paganism include…

Raven Kaldera’s On Being a Neo-Pagan Fundamentalist

Isaac Bonewits’ A Pagan Glossary of Terms

And, Jeff Lilly’s series of articles mentioned in the comments section at the bottom of this page…

Unitarian Universalism

As a Unitarian Universalist, I am not asked nor required to relinquish my religious and spiritual beliefs and practices, nor am I asked to even ~have~ religious or spiritual beliefs or practices, I am merely to take on the challenge of building and being in a beloved community and to agree to, or at least agree to consider and abide by the presence of the 7 Principles and to explore, acknowledge, and honor our living tradition’s Sources.

Upon joining the Congregation of which I am a member I was asked to Affirm our Congregational  Bond of Union,

“We associate ourselves together

for the study and practice of morality and religion

as interpreted by the noblest lives of humanity,

hoping thereby to prove helpful to one another

and to promote truth, righteousness, and love in the world.”

Unitarian Universalism is a non-creedal and non-dogmatic faith Tradition that emerged out of liberal Christianity in the mid 20th Century.  Lots of detailed information here, here, and here.

The following quote, taken from the Bylaws of the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations (link here) explains things better than I could…

“We, the member congregations of the Unitarian Universalist Association, covenant to affirm and promote

  • The inherent worth and dignity of every person;
  • Justice, equity and compassion in human relations;
  • Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations;
  • A free and responsible search for truth and meaning;
  • The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large;
  • The goal of world community with peace, liberty and justice for all;
  • Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.

The living tradition which we share draws from many sources:

  • Direct experience of that transcending mystery and wonder, affirmed in all cultures, which moves us to a renewal of the spirit and an openness to the forces which create and uphold life;
  • Words and deeds of prophetic women and men which challenge us to confront powers and structures of evil with justice, compassion and the transforming power of love;
  • Wisdom from the world’s religions which inspires us in our ethical and spiritual life;
  • Jewish and Christian teachings which call us to respond to God’s love by loving our neighbors as ourselves;
  • Humanist teachings which counsel us to heed the guidance of reason and the results of science, and warn us against idolatries of the mind and spirit;
  • Spiritual teachings of Earth-centered traditions which celebrate the sacred circle of life and instruct us to live in harmony with the rhythms of nature.

Grateful for the religious pluralism which enriches and ennobles our faith, we are inspired to deepen our understanding and expand our vision. As free congregations we enter into this covenant, promising to one another our mutual trust and support.”

The first 7 points are known in general U.U. parlance as the Principles, and the next 6 points are generally referred to as the Sources of our tradition.

The Principles serve as our framework, and each individual UU and Congregation hangs different things upon that framework using personal and collective inspiration and the guidance of the Sources.

I would say that Unitarian Universalism is a religious tradition that has come to the conclusion that how we live our lives and what we do to honor the sacred and the divine and/or the best in all of us, is more important than the names we use for the Divine, or the Good, or the Best Within Us All. We come together agreeing to, or at least agreeing to consider, the 7 U.U. Principles and to acknowledge and explore our living tradition’s many Sources, as we seek to build a beloved and democratic community, for ourselves and for the entire world. One where questions and doubts are welcomed and discussed. Where the many twists and turns of our individual and collective spiritual and life journeys can be sustained and shared.

Witchcraft

Properly speaking witchcraft could refer to any sort of folk magical practice.

When I write of Witchcraft with a capitol “W”, I am referring to religious Neo-Pagan or Pagan  Witchcraft, generally of the type commonly referred to as Wicca.  This would be the philosophy and practice and faith I gave myself to years ago.   I have outlined the ethics and ideals and values I have found within Neo-Pagan Religious Witchcraft in an essay here,  and you can check out links about Wicca and other Traditions of Witchcraft on the Online Pagan Resources or some of the books in the Suggested Reading page for more information.

Wicca, is a specific Tradition (similar to the idea of Denominations within Christianity) of Witchcraft.  Wicca is a family of Witchcraft Traditions that are initiatory, lineaged, and originated within the New Forrest region of England in Great Britain.  You can learn more by doing searches for British Traditional Witchcraft or through some of the links in the Witchcraft & Wicca section of the Online Resources Page.  The larger, and better known forms of Witchcraft popularly known as Wicca were inspired, in part, by the writings of a number of mid-20th Century Wiccans.

There are also a number of Traditions of Witchcraft having little to nothing to do with Wicca or with the streams of Neo-Pagan Religious Witchcraft.  These include the Feri Tradition, the Roebuck, 1734, the Clan of Tubal Cain, the Correllian Tradition,  Cornish Witchcraft, Stregheria, Cultis Sabbati, and others

Within the Pagan community, I call myself a Witch and Pagan.  When dealing with the outside world I will shorthand this to Wicca out of expediency, because while most folks don’t know a lot about Wicca there is not quite the emotional/cultural baggage on that word as there is on Witch!

And as several of the wise ones  have said…

“Witchcraft doesn’t pay for broken windows.”

~this is another one of those pages that will probably grow and expand over time folks!~

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8 thoughts on “Definitions…

  1. Pingback: Spirals and Arcs « Chrysalis

  2. Hey Pax! I really like these definitions, in their structure and substance, and I think they square well with what I’m driving at in my series of posts. In fact, I think you’ve covered the ground pretty exhaustively. In my posts, I’ll go into more of the linguistic theory behind word meaning and why “pagan” is such a tricky word to pin down, but I’m basically going to arrive at what you have here: a web of overlapping, interlinking archetypes. Awesome!

  3. Pingback: Wrestling with Definitions: Pagansim as Connection or Reconnecting « Chrysalis

  4. Pingback: A few notes…on what Paganism is NOT… | Chrysalis

  5. This is excellent and very well thought out, but I still don’t agree about orthopraxy versus orthodoxy. There is a lot more emphasis on orthopraxy in American Wicca than British Wicca, I grant you. I don’t know about other traditions, but Heathenry on both sides of the pond seems to vary quite a lot in terms of practice, but certain sections of it are very insistent on hard polytheism (though the precise details of that are fairly fuzzy).

    I am a Gardnerian Wiccan because I am initiated in an indentifiable lineage, not because I do the rituals in a certain way. I do certain things the same as other Gardnerians, but quite a lot of my practice is different, but no-one regards this as somehow not Gardnerian. (Not in the UK, anyway.)

  6. Reading this treatise, while interesting, was one of the most wearying blogs I’ve every read concerning defining Pagans and Paganism. I was so dismayed to find (once again) that certain Pagan scholars (is there really such a thing) have managed to completely confuse the issue for those who are seeking some peace of mind and simplicity on their religious journey. It is hard enough to be “on the outside” theologically, culturally and ideologically of all the other “organized” religions of the western world. When you start piling on all the idiosyncrasies of individual or “specific” traditions, or the differences between Native American religions or Wicca as opposed to non-neo pagan movements etc. or western European ( which is what I follow) as opposed to New or neo – pagan movements, you dig up enough worms to bury the true nature of paganism under the same heap of rules, dogma, and doctrine as most “organized” Christian, Hebrew and Muslim religions. It should come as no surprise to ANYONE that once that line of thought insinuates itself into a belief system for a couple of hundred years ( sooner in this modern world, news travels much faster) , everyone runs as fast as they can from it to seek something warmer, more comforting and less constrictive.

    Believe me when I tell you, there has to be some order and some ritual to create a sacred space bith physically and metaphorically in ones life . There has to be some solid relation with ones belief… and there is absolute truth in the premise that ones religion is sacred and private to them… but when you start telling the poor slob who wanted nothing more than to feel some connection ( especially if they are new at it) that they have crossed some unspoken but sacred line by the use of a conch shell, sage and a feather ( and who will no more likely be using a eagle feather than you or I unless a Native American friend gave it to him) you not only make them feel that somehow, even though they are non catholic and attended church with a catholic friend – they are damned now for dipping their fingers into the holy water font.

    I teach a class in “Ancient Path” – Early Pagan history with a little archeology and anthropology thrown in to keep things interesting. One of the things I emphasize is how little we actually know . We have only the consistent evidence of “ritual” with regard to burial, agricultural and natural (forest, water, stars and moon, air, water sun, etc.) elements. And most of this is represented by glyphs and pictographic symbols and later some early forms of writing. Myth has filled in a lot of gaps for early Pagans and still fills in much of what we know today. Myth is, of course, always tinged with a little truth and fact. How much of either is truly lost in translation.

    I guess my point is that the harder we try to define each and every nuance of anything, much less something as elusive as religion , the further away from us it becomes. Unfortunately, man seems to have an obsession with defining “his” particular belief system, his territory, his language, his culture, his myths, his rules, his ritual, his rites, his God and his Gods. If that makes one feel secure, if that makes one able to define his way of worshipping and dealing with the mysteries of the world and the universe… that’s fine… but when it starts desending into , “my way is better than yours, your’s isn’t valid, or if you adapt any part of my way of ritual or worship into yours you insult my religious belief and the tools I use to perform it”, you have accomplished much the same as the burning times…

    I noticed you referenced Native Americans and Native American symbolism in your treatise – I have 2 in my group – one is a Shaman and does ritual work for us in the Navajo language – we don’t understand a word of it but it sure leaves an emotional impact on all of us. He also teaches drumming and other simple instruments to the group and never at anytime said he resented doing it nor that he in anyway felt it was somehow wrong for us to learn his ways… He learns Ancient Path (which is Western European early Celtic Paganism) with great enthusiasm and remarked that he really appreciated the simplicity of the studies and the direction. Having only one foot (he lost the other in a motorcycle accident ) he doesn’t do much dancing with us, but he plays the flute and drums so we can. He has never had an objection to us using similar tools for ritual ( sage, feathers etc. ) and yes, he considers HIS Navajo roots and religion very sacred… but he shares all of it with us when he feels the spirit move him.

    If I have misunderstood parts of your treatise, I apologize in advance. I just want all the “competition” and comparisons (except for purely intellectual study) to cease. In the end, we are all part of the universe, we are children of the great Mother in my rituals, The great Spirit in others, Budda, Christ, and the 2000 + east Indian deities etc. in others. I am Pagan. I love it, it frees my soul and it makes me see things that those who strangle themselves in dogma and rigid ritual cannot see or experience. I am Pagan everyday – It is all around me, it is what I am , it is the earth, it is my fellow man, it is the sky, the moon, the stars.

    It’s like I tell my class… You want to be Pagan? Then surrender and make up your mind to truly believe in something, study with an open mind and ask questions. Try anything, any path, and tradition you wish.. but NEVER do anything that seems wrong or uncomfortable to you… and never use your religion against others or to shock them. And remember – The Great Mother is a very smart lady – she is not impressed with rules, with repetitiveness, caterwaulling the same phases hours on end or working yourself in a lather whirling endlessly in circles… Mother is a smart cookie – she gets it the first time. I have a feeling that is true in ALL religious belief systems and Goddess save us from the one’s it is not!

    Thanks for the forum… you are doing good work!

    • Well the definition is undergoing some tweaking, but I do think finding common ground and build community between the many disparate parts of what some wags have referred to as The New Aquarian Frontier is important.

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