Paganism: Defining Ourselves…

Dear Friends and Pagani,

If you read this blog with any regularity you know I’ve been going through some personal changes lately, and if you check out the other pages here you may have noticed that I have been hopping around the Chrysalis site like a tree frog on amphetamines editing here and rewriting there and otherwise fussing with the site!

Today inspired in part by a discussion on the Pagans at the Parliament site, about how Paganism is defined,  as well as bouncing mentally off of the definitions I found at the Pagan Pride Project site and at the World Congress of Ethnic Religions, I did some work on the Definitions page.  Including the following attempt at defining 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.  Here is my attempt at defining Paganism…

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

  • New Religious Movements grounded in the Western Mystical and Occult Tradition. (Golden Dawn, OTO, Thelema, Society of Inner Light)
  • New Religious Movements inspired by the Western Occult and Mystical Tradition and the indigenous religions and folklore of Europe.  (Druidry, Wicca, Feri, Other Traditions of Western Religious Witchcraft, Queer Spirituality, 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, Neo-Shamanism, 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 {See definition of Cultural Misappropriation})
  • 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, Umbanda, Voudoun, and other traditions)

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.

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.

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.

Or, at least, that’s my take on it.

First off I am still working on the Definitions page, along with a few of the others, as I refine and redefine myself and my thoughts in the wake of some big life changes.  I am still tinkering with this definition and with the definitions page, among others, but  I decided to offer this up here for input and discussion with others…

I think the above definition of Paganism has a lot going for it, including accuracy and not getting bogged down in discussions of ritual, theology, or magic/k.  However I’d be interested to see what other Pagans and non-Pagans think of it and maybe refine this definition further.

Pax / Geoffrey

4 thoughts on “Paganism: Defining Ourselves…

  1. Kullervo

    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.

  2. Pingback: Engaging the discussion on How Paganism is defined « Chrysalis

  3. Nacken

    Most definitions of paganism are so inclusive that they are meaningless. Generally they are worded by committees composed of disparate forms of paganism and their main concern is that they don’t leave anyone out. Their real purpose behind this is to form a political union of the various sorts of self-identified pagans so that they have some clout. That is fine, but the danger is of creating a one-size-fits-all brand of paganism–which isn’t what we are.

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