Lately I’ve come to the realization that my personal pagan theology doesn’t ‘fit’ with anyone else. I don’t call myself a wiccan, druid, heathen, Lokian or even a polytheist or pantheist. Sure, I can fit into all of those labels from time to time, but they don’t always describe my personal religion or my spirituality.
That realization has at times given me comfort, but other times I’m distressed by it. Not having a label means that I don’t ‘fit in’ with a specific pagan group. And while being solitary is awesome, there are times you just wish that you had a group around you to celebrate a holiday, full moon, or other special occasion. And don’t get me wrong, I do have pagan friends, but because my path is so personal, none of them will ever ‘fit’ into my personal paganism. Even my husband’s paganism doesn’t fit my own. His has his own personal beliefs and history with specific forms of divinity that very much revolve around his forge.
I don’t think I’m the only one that fits in this category of not-fitting anything. Many people in my pagan community have to use more than one label in order to describe their specific paths. Sometimes it’s because their paths span pantheons, sometimes because they span different traditions. The more paganism grows as a religion, the more labels are going to be necessary to explain the differences. And the more argument is going to occur about what the definition and intent of that label actually is.
So perhaps not having a true label is the right way to go. Perhaps in a way that is where paganism needs to be headed. After all, we are all unique individuals. We all have different talents and needs. We think differently from one another. We communicate differently. It makes perfect sense that our paganism would be different. Even if we practice in the same coven, that doesn’t mean that we do our personal ritual and disciplines the same as our coven sisters and brothers.
Our Different Paths: Too different to connect?
Our paganism is also going to be different because of our own past experiences. There are those who came to paganism late in life, while others were born into this belief system. Still others had different training prior to joining together in a specific tradition or style. Those are all things that will influence the individual work that we do.
So if we are all different, then how can you say any particular style or tradition is the ‘right’ one? How can we say if you don’t do this specific style of heathenry, or that you honor a specific God it means that you aren’t doing it ‘right’? Really, you can’t. Because one person’s version of heathenry is not going to be right for someone else. You may visit the same topics as someone else when trying to figure out your path, but if a particular practice doesn’t feel right to an individual,it may not be because that individual isn’t trying hard enough. It may just mean that the particular practice doesn’t fit that individual. Instead, something else will have to be found that ‘fits’ better.
There are always caveats to any rule in paganism. So even though I say perhaps we need to get to a place where labels aren’t needed, I know there is a caveat here. We pick and choose our paths, and perhaps some of us will choose to work under a specific teacher. in those cases, perhaps a specific label WILL fit for the time they are with that teacher, or that coven. There will be people who are happy in a coven and that is where they choose to stay. There will also be people that follow a certain heathen teacher and choose to stay on that specific path under the guidance of that teacher. There is nothing wrong with that. But I don’t think that particular style of paganism is meant for everyone.
Growing up in primary and secondary school here in the United States, it was pounded into my head that we are a ‘melting’ pot of people from many different areas of the globe. People came here to start a new life. They brought their culture with them, and that culture morphed into things we see and take for granted today. Mardi Gras/Carnival, St. Patrick’s day, and Paczki day are great examples of this. While somewhat watered down or modified, these are still ancestral traditions that have made their way into common holidays celebrated by the general population. It makes perfect sense to me that our ancestors would also look to us to follow other traditions in ways that would celebrate our ancestry as a whole, and not just a specific piece of that ancestry. Add the matter of oathed or claimed ancestry and an entirely new facet of someone’s personal paganism is born.
So I’ve come to the conclusion that my paganism is going to be exactly that; mine. Others have given me the labels of Lokian, Heathen, Witch, Shaman, Spirit Worker, Druid, Bard, Spiritualist, and perhaps they all fit, in their own way. Perhaps more general terms would be better to explain like the Venn Diagram discussed in John Beckett’s essay on the Big tent of paganism.
The important bit that’s easily forgotten
But there is one very important part of this conversation that seems to get missed. The definition of a religion for a pagan means that which who you are as defined by your actions. Being defined by our actions means we own our beliefs. We own our beliefs so strongly that we act upon them. We don’t just debate them or talk about them for a couple hours once a week and go back to being whoever we were before the conversation.
So when someone decides that someone else’s belief is wrong or judges that belief, it isn’t something easily dismissed. Because it’s not just a judgement about a simple religion. We have internalized our belief systems enough to act upon them, so that judgement is about someone’s very nature.
Perhaps that is why we seek people out to worship with in the first place, and why we get so heated about others criticizing our beliefs or the labels we give ourselves. And perhaps it’s why I feel so very radical when I say my own way is good enough. Perhaps it’s because too many of us have been brought up in another way, where the only religious validation that we may get is from others. And now we are asking others to validate our beliefs as before, but our paganism is so individual, we cannot get that validation.
John Beckett has recently written posts about pagan unity, and what paganism will look like in the future. I agree with his optimism. But I do believe that more of us have to come to terms with our own personal systems of belief being exactly that – OURS. Let’s recognize that we are all unique and different and come to terms with that. Let’s also recognize that everyone else’s religion is just as valid as our own before we open our mouth to judge something we don’t understand. And let’s work on getting these two skills down first before we start attempting to unite as a whole.