What is it like to be a Pagan? In a given month, I hear this question asked about five to seven times. Usually offered in hushed tones, like the two of us are doing a covert drug deal in the open. I can grok why though. When someone finds out I am a Pagan, they think I am hiding in the open. That I am afraid I am going to be jumped on by any hardcore, overtly Christian that may be in earshot. or that I am going to be snatched up by a demon possession team for a sekrit exorcism. To be frankly honest, those pushy, overt Christian types are far and between in my experience. And it has been a long time since I was cornered in the Sembach Air Base Post Office lobby at three in the morning because I appeared in the centerfold article of the European Stars and Stripes newspaper.
Just Like Anyone Else
Over the years – let’s see, since 1986, which makes it thirty-two years – all I have really wanted to convey to anyone is that being a Pagan is no difference than being any other Spiritual faith. Much like a Christian believes in God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit; I believe in many more aspects of Gods and Goddesses. The difference is not in what we believe, the difference is in how we experience our Spirituality in the world around us. Same with any other faith. In fact, it is the same if you compare with any other Pagan, any other Polytheist, and any other Animist. We all have differences in our experiences with the world around us – both physically and spiritually.
No single moment of experience is exactly the same. There will always be small differences. Little anomalies that make our experiences unique. As each should be. I can stand in the exact same location as you, see the exact same view of a landscape as you – and have a completely different experience. Yours may merely be that the scenery is pretty or massively exquisite from others that you have seen. Mine may be more geared towards a massively detailed experience of the soul of the trees, rocks, ground, skies, rivers, seas, lakes, and animals that permeate that same landscape. The feel of the Spirits of Place might catch my breath and show me a deeper aspect – how this land lives and breaths. Or it might not. Even then, my appreciation of the beauty I see before me will be different from yours. Our experiences of the world around us, mundane and spiritual, are unique between what we experience and ourselves. We are unique beings, just as the Spirits of Place, Spirits of Ancestor and the Gods and Goddesses are unique beings. The connections we create with all of those and even with ourselves will be just as unique as we each are.
Still Haven’t Found…
In a somewhat recent article on CNN (which I cannot find again), there was a notation that Witchcraft had entered into the mainstream of religion here in America. And that Christianity had shrunk considerably. Witchcraft, the article had noted, had 1.5 million adherents within the United States. After I finished the article, a few quick thoughts kicked through my mind. 1.5 million adherents, yep, and they all attend Pantheacon in San Jose each year. Each. And. Every. Single. One. of. Them. Or at least that’s the way it seems to feel. But all of that makes me wonder, how are these folks defining “Witchcraft”, and to think further, how are they defining “Christianity”?
Certainly, I have watched the Neo-Pagan movement, what some might define as the “fluffy-bunny” or “New-Ager” movements, get larger and larger every year. These are generally the folks that are seemingly at the edges of the Pagan model. The fuzzy edges of the circle, if you will. And there is the well documented shift away from the overtly conservative Christian model that has been happening for quite some time. Using those aspects, I can see where the article is pulling its descriptive perspectives from. However, now that we have a slight understanding of where this comes from – let’s step away from the politics of what is and what isn’t a Pagan or a Christian.
People are constantly searching for a spiritual home. For most of them, a spiritual home need only be a few inches deep in the dirt around them. There is little or need or desire to dig deeper, find a more solid foundation for what they are trying to do. They only wish to be part of the larger crowd. This sheep-herd mentality is common. I saw it when I was searching for my own Spiritual home. The way that all the folks I hung out with in high school flocked to the Southern Baptist faith because the “hot girl” was there. There was no desire to learn more about the faith they were getting into. They dug a few inches deep so they could stake their claim to land they had no desire to cultivate. I dug deeper and found a faith that couldn’t support my way of thinking. It took a long time to formulate who and what I was, to find a label that would work for me.
Labels Take the Guesswork Out of Knowing
Labels are wonderful things, particularly when curating disparate data sets. A few meta tags here and there and you have a wonderful system that keeps things organized and in separate containers. Awesome stuff for a library, a dataset or even a collection of things, but not so much for working with people. Or is it?
Yes, this is a slight divergence from my usual positioning on labels being adhered to people. I am quite well known for the manner in which I eschew the concept of labels being applied in any manner to a group of people, much less to a single individual. However, despite the very bland, very non-descriptive way that labels tend to be utilized as convenient non-thinking manners of classification – labels can be useful for simplistic organizing of categories. A Druid is a Druid. OBOD, ADO, BDO, ADF, what have you…all of these are Druids even though they are all very different organizations of Druids with emphasis on methodologies and types of magickal use. Take a step further back, and those differences all set back into the fact that these are all Druid orders. So, if we use these labels are quick methods of organizing and classifying thoughts in our minds, while remembering that each order has significant differences that make each of them unique, we don’t have to dig too deep. If Druidry is not your thing, you know you can set all of these groups off to the side, and search elsewhere in your quest for a Spiritual home. Just remember, if you still haven’t found…circle back to these and have a quicker, deeper look. You might actually find what you are looking for.
Same As It Ever Was
I have watched Christian friends go through similar searches. Moving from church to church, seeking a fellow group of people that accept them for who they are and whatever minor idiosyncrasies they may be carrying with them. Perhaps, the plastic Jesus glued to the dashboard of their car is more important than wearing a necklace with a crucifix. Maybe they like to throw out a loud “Amen” during the sermon. Or they prefer a potluck spaghetti dinner be held in the basement for the church’s youth. Yeah, whatever. They go through the same searches that we have all done as Pagans. Shuffling through the deserts of our Spirituality, trying to locate the sweet tasting water of a Spiritual oasis that soothes our throats. We all search for our Spiritual homes. And what’s the difference? We disagree on how many Gods and Goddesses exist. We disagree that monotheistic Christianity is the ONLY way to personal fulfillment.
Yes, my usual answer to folks asking “What’s it like to be a Pagan” tends to be a flippant “Is it Thursday or Monday?” But there’s a hint in that answer too. It all depends on the day. Because each day brings a new experience. Sometimes similar to others. Sometimes not. But unique regardless.