When people ask me what I do for a living, I generally reply with, “Write Pagan books and do some other Pagan stuff.” When talking to people outside of the magickal community, this often leads to questions such as, “Just what is a Pagan?” I think we’ve mostly moved beyond people equating Paganism with the imagery of the 1980’s Satanic Panic, though I’m not sure it will ever completely go away.
Today, when dealing with preconceived notions of Paganism I find that it generally falls into two camps. There are many who equate Paganism with atheism, and while I know many atheist Pagans, I’m certainly not one of them, and most of my Pagan friends aren’t, either. A little bit closer to home is the assumption that Pagans are tie-dye wearing tree huggers, eager to recreate the aesthetic of 1960’s counter-culture. While I do sometimes listen to the Grateful Dead, and certainly enjoy hugging trees, I don’t see either of those activities as strictly Pagan.
When I first got involved with the Pagan community in the 1990s, Paganism was generally seen as a religious or spiritual grouping. The idea back then was that Witches, Druids, Ceremonial Magicians, and several other magickal groupings shared just enough in common with one another that we were probably all members of some sort of “larger community.” To some extent I think this is still true. Many of us who identify in such ways share spaces (online and off), festivals, books, and several other things. I’m not a Druid, but some of my favorite people in the world are, and there are certainly places where their beliefs overlap with my own Wiccan-Witchcraft ones.
But the greater “Pagan world” has gone through a lot of change over the last twenty-five years, and there is now a great deal of variety under the Pagan umbrella. Sometimes what’s there is rather familiar, other times less so. There are days when I wonder just what a hardcore-devotional-polytheist-believer-in-all-the-gods has in common with a steadfast Atheo-Pagan dismissive of both deity and magick.
There’s a growing trend to define Paganism not as a religious or spiritual identity but as a social grouping. There’s probably a lot of wisdom in this. With so many disparate definitions of Paganism out there, this provides an inclusive way to keep the category “Pagan” and have it applied to a broad range of people. However, while the various parts of the Pagan umbrella still share a lot of spaces, I think we do it with less frequency than we did fifteen years ago. There are just so many resources out there now, and it’s easy to find a specific and narrow community and just stay there. We no longer have to all use the same resources because of the growth of the various traditions thought of as Pagan.
As people debate just what it means to be Pagan today, I can’t help but wonder if we are looking at it the wrong way? The spiritualities that we tend to think of as Pagan are generally not about fancy definitions—they are about doing, practicing, and feeling. Perhaps Paganism is less and less something that we can define, and more and more something we simply feel?
I know that I’m a Pagan when I stare into a beautiful sunset and feel the magick of the natural world. I know I’m a Pagan when the Goddess whispers in my ear, either on the wind or in the body of my High Priestess. For me Paganism is about embracing the divine, however one defines it, with wonder and awe. And everyone I know who identifies that way has had similar experiences.
Our thanks to Jason for his guest post! For more from Jason Mankey, read his article, “5 Ways to Connect with Your Craft.”