What kind of Paganism do you want? Its a seemingly innocent enough question. However, when you start to consider the entire aspect of the question, it becomes a Gordian knot of epic proportions. I got this particular question via a Twitter Direct Message a few months ago. At first, I wasn’t really sure how to go about answering it. After a while of pondering the overall question, I wasn’t even sure I WANTED to answer it. However, its a fair question to ask – not just of me, but of yourself. What kind of Paganism do you really want?
Well, I am a fairly inclusive kind of person. I think that there is plenty of room under the huge sky called Paganism for everyone and nearly every thought. John Beckett, among others, likes to refer to the Big Tent of Paganism, but I see it slightly different. It still involves tents though. I see Paganism to be more like a huge campground area. You can pull your massive RV in, with all the bells and whistles attached to it. Or if your choice of shelter is a ratty old beat-up, two-person tent, you can pitch that right next to the RV. Or if your preference is a sleeping bag on the ground with the open sky and stars above you at night, there’s room for that too. You can come down to the main fire and sit around drinking your choice of beverage (adult or not) and singing songs with everyone else. Or if you like a little more intimate setting, you can build a fire near your shelter, and invite a few others around for long, deep discussions.
Its a quaint little picture, but it still begs the question, what kind of Paganism do you REALLY want? Does your Paganism utilize an approach to Polytheism or Pantheism? Perhaps, you see the Gods as archetypes of some Jungian perspective. Personally, I don’t see that, as I am a Polytheist and see the Gods as unique individuals, but within my ideal of what Paganism is, there is plenty of room for those whose perspective is radically different than my own.
Yes, I hear the clamors of the purists, saying that if you don’t lay down some rules as to what is or is not Paganism, you wind up watering down the concepts too much. Soon, instead of something that someone can embrace as a solid, definable concept, you wind up with a wet, sticky, goopy mess that won’t make pancakes. A watered-down batter, if you will. But I would contend that there is a difference between respecting and accepting a perspective as valid, and adopting that perspective as your own.
In my mind, Paganism is a much wider perspective than, say, my Druidry. My Druidry provides a closer framework for how I approach the Gods, how I connect with the world around me…but all of that is different than how someone else would approach it from, say, a Wiccan perspective. That Wiccan perspective doesn’t work for me, but I respect that it does for others and I would never demand that those individuals do things the way I do my Druidry. That wider diversity, that wider acceptance of other Paths, even diverse Paths…well, I consider that a strength of Paganism. People are provided the opportunity to explore their experiences and find the perspectives and methodologies that work for them. Yet, we’re all camping under the same gorgeous sky.
So, what kind of Paganism do I want? An open one. Where people are allowed to discover and explore for themselves. No hardcore dogma or rules that apply beyond your campsite. Well, except for two things. The required respect of the Paths and experiences of others. And that your Path does not intentionally harm others. Yes, I get that it hearkens back to the Wiccan Rede with the “harm none, do as ye will” perspective. However, I believe it is important to practice a Path that does not seek the intentional harm or oppression of others or requires an adherence to a singular way. But you did ask what I wanted in my Paganism. That’s essentially it.
Now, how do we get there? Especially with folks that rail against the dogma and one-Path adherence from the Abrahamic faiths (primarily, though there are others). I completely grok the knee-jerk reaction to the perspectives that so many have left behind before they have come to Paganism (in whatever form they have managed to find). We all carry various pieces of baggage from where we have come. We have the fresh scars of the beliefs that our parents may have forced us to practice. Where the chains of adherence have chaffed against our desires to explore and experience. How can we get those folks to understand the need to accept and respect the faiths where they experienced such abuse?
Through patience, time and healing. I grew up the child of Methodist parents who felt that a Catholic education would be best for me. I railed and chaffed against what I was taught in those schools, from the fifth grade through high school. The Catholic sacraments and the dogma of the Catholic faith were force-fed to me daily through “religious education” classes. For years, I marveled at how a belief system with such beautiful rituals could practice a stern adherence to a singular perspective without considering the beauty that prevailed in the world beyond their singular perspective. It took time for me to realize that I was rallying against a programming that had been dictated to me, and that deprogramming that would take patience and healing. I was lucky to have had teachers in my early years in Paganism who practiced that patience with me, while showing me how I could heal my invisible wounds. My concept of Paganism seeks those out in helping others to find that level of respect that they couldn’t find in the first steps.
My concept of Paganism can also be fierce. Seeking healing and compassion is a wonderful thing, but occasionally, there will be a need to fight. In our current world, there are plenty of issues to fight, many singular Path perspectives that seek to harm those that will not conform. Standing by to be slaughtered is not an answer either. You want to survive? Sometimes, you have to fight for that survival.
The essence of what I seek in my Paganism is simple. Compassionate, healing, protective, and respectful. What kind of Paganism do I want? The one that I need. The one that others need. Even where those needs are different. The differences make things wonderful, beautiful, and diverse. More important, and far more overlooked, is where those different perspectives intersect. Those intersections are the strength of what makes the wide, wonderful campground under the gorgeous sky of Paganism. Come pitch your tent, park your RV, unroll your sleeping bag. Have a seat around the fire, and share in the food and discussion. Bring your own food or drink to add to the feast. Kristoffer Hughes has discussed what is in your Pagan Square Mile? Well, mine is a campground.