I had the opportunity to talk to Pagans about polytheism on Sunday. It was Nottingham Pagan Pride – which has fast become one of the highlights of my year – and I was giving a talk entitled ‘Beyond Earth Worship: Diverse Paths under the Pagan Umbrella’. (I went back and forth over that title for ages, and decided that while it wasn’t perfect, it would do!) On a rainy Sunday evening, in a damp tent, with a small but wonderful audience, I talked about Pagan paths that people might not have heard about, ones outside of the familiar Pagan mainstream: Kemeticism, Hellenismos, Heathenism, the Feri tradition, Flamekeeping and pantheistic paths, and some others that I mentioned, but in less detail. We talked about why these paths matter, and what diversity can do for the Pagan community. We discussed the kinds of barriers that people from smaller paths can face, in terms of things like community and visibility. I outlined what might be some sociological explanations for the over-emphasis on ‘Pagan unity’ that can leave people feeling deeply excluded if, for example, they celebrate different festivals from the eight familiar ones.
At the end, one member of the audience, a Hellenic polytheist, made a really good point. She said that those of us who follow slightly less mainstream Pagan and polytheist paths need to be a beacon for our traditions, to those who don’t know about them. So many people didn’t know that there are still those who worship the Greek gods, she said – and then they met her. Yet I know that a lot of people have the opposite response to a Pagan community that doesn’t understand their paths and religions. Polytheists are leaving Paganism at quite a rate – declaring that if the Pagan community won’t understand them, then they’ll define simply as ‘polytheist’ and have no more to do with Pagans or Paganism. I had been talking about the related ‘dancing monkey’ phenomenon, where some polytheists have told me that they feel the need to explain and justify their beliefs as Pagan beliefs, all the time. And I still understand that reaction. But there is also another view, that resists the ‘run away!’ mentality of many modern polytheists, and that says Yes – I am willing to stand as a beacon in the mist, a lighthouse on the shore. (Or, possibly more accurately in my case, as one of those annoying flickering fluorescent lights that you have endure in the office whether you like it or not…)
Day one of the ’30 Days of Paganism’ meme asks, ‘Why Paganism?’ I skipped that question to start with. If I’m honest, I’m mostly a Pagan because that’s where the community is. There’s a lot about Paganism (or at least UK Paganism) that just doesn’t fit me. I don’t do a lot of the stuff that I see as sort of ‘New Agey’, I suppose – chakras, energy healing, that kind of thing – not because I dislike or condemn it, but because it isn’t part of my path. I don’t see my gods as archetypes, but as real, individual spirits that are worthy of my worship (and yes, I use the word worship). My spiritual practice is more about making offerings than anything else. I’m really more of a polytheist than a Pagan.
And yet. There’s a diverse, fascinating community out there that I can be part of, that I can serve. It’s full of people that I can honour and show hospitality to, and they honour me and show me hospitality all the time. I have never once experienced rejection from them for being a bit different in my Pagan path – and while I know that other polytheists have done, I can only speak for myself.
I’m trying very hard to work out where I ‘fit’ at the moment (while simultaneously starting to plan a house move, attempting to write thesis chapters, you know, all small stuff). I wouldn’t quite call it a spiritual crisis, but it is a sort of a spiritual ‘get yourself out of the woods you’re lost in’ thing. I’m holding onto something that I believe my gods said to me a few months ago. They said I needed to dedicate myself to the Tribe. I drew a total blank at first. But I’m very slowly getting closer to understanding what this means for me. The great diversity at Pagan Pride this year, and their wonderful welcome for my talk, was a reminder that there *is* a reason why I’m involved with the Pagan community. They are my Tribe – and there’s nothing more important than that!
The ‘Say Pagan’ campaign starts here. ;)
P.S. I had a disturbing dream during a headache-induced nap today, involving crows flying through thick fog and a scary black cat. This has absolutely nothing to do with this post. I just wanted to write it down here, so that you can see how much of a ridiculous cliche my brain is. Thank you.
I have a new blog for my sociology of religion thoughts: Accidental Auguries. I might post about why I’m a Pagan there, soon, from a slightly more sociological perspective. Which means I’ll write basically this again, with a few slightly longer words, and a couple of ‘research shows’ cliches thrown in. Enjoy.