I was looking through some of the older posts that I have written over the years, specifically in 2014. I rolled up against one I wrote on 1/21 of that year. Its a short little screed called Living versus Practicing…. Its nothing really earth-shattering; being that the topic is essentially a push-back against the phrase of being a “practicing Pagan”. That’s a piece of phrasing that still has me wincing inwardly every single time I hear it. The phrase; however, is almost a deeply ingrained statement that can be heard in many different Paths.
I still hold that it sounds like a description of going out to practice one’s personal Path so as to be ready when the real moment comes along. However; railing against the usage of a word just because it does not sound right to my ears is somewhat ludicrous. To others, it may (and probably does) hold a far different meaning. Honestly, that is what counts most – the rightness that is heard in your ears. After all, its not up to me to determine how Pagan you are or are not. I am certainly not the judge of what that is in you, and neither is anyone else – except you.
I have been on my Pagan Path a long time (a bit beyond thirty years). I remember being completely “on-fire” as a Pagan. I read the descriptions in Uncle Bucky’s Big Blue Book (Buckland’s Complete Book of Witchcraft), and had felt my own outrage over some of the descriptions of how Witches and Pagans have been treated over the years in Starhawk’s “The Spiral Dance“. I railed against that to anyone who would listen to me. I was angered over what I noted as mistreatment and misconception over this new belief system that I had stumbled into, which dove-tailed nicely with what I had already perceived of the world around me. Yep, I remember those days well. I was not a very friendly person to non-Pagans, or even to Pagans who saw a softer approach that could be taken.
Over the years, I have mellowed on that perspective. My approach is still one of anger and disappointment, but I do not feel the need or the desire to fight those fights. Not because I feel that those fights are unwinnable or fruitless, but because my approach to my Pagan Path changed. My time is taking with my service to Crow and Coyote, along with getting to know Abnoba a bit more. My service to my Gods is first in my daily Path. The rest of my available time is spent on daily devotions, and my studies in my Ovate grade. Add to that, the daily things that I have to achieve in order to keep myself alive, my house in good order, cook my food, and my necessary sleep…along with the time I spend on other activities, such as writing or taking with my friends – and there is very little time left to spend on arguing with others whose minds are already made up.
The internet reminds me of a BBS Special Interest Group I used to inhabit all the time (back in the late 1980s to mid 1990s) called “Holy Smoke”. I cannot remember which Bulletin Board System (BBS) Distribution feed it belonged to – quite possibly PODS-Net (Pagan Occult Distribution Systems Network), but I am not completely sure. Anyways, the internet has started to devolve into a place where folks can scream into the Echo-Chamber of their choosing on whatever topic they feel like. Honestly, there is nothing wrong with that. Until one starts saying that others *must* participate as well. Sorry, not my cup of tea. I will be happy to take the long, protracted conversation/discussion (not debate) around the fire (see Around the Fire for what I mean) or wherever else such organic discussion happens. My days of screaming into the void are long gone.
Circling back to the “practicing” v “living” aspect that started this whole post… I am still a strong believer that words have meaning, just as actions punctuate the meaning of those same words. I live as a Pagan, as a Druid, as a Polytheist, as a Data Analyst. That’s right. What I do for a mundane living is a part of who and what I am as well. I do not practice any of these things. I live each perspective as an aspect of who I am. What I do in each of those perspectives define me as sharply as the definitions you will find in a Merriam-Webster dictionary. And just as those words in the dictionary may have more than one meaning, how these terms define who I am will be different than how those terms define someone else that uses the same descriptors. The differences come in how we go about living our lives within these perspectives. We can be different, and still be held under the same descriptives.
So, how much of a Pagan are you? That is really determined by you. You are enough Pagan for you. Trying to measure how much Pagan you are against someone else is a useless comparison. You don’t need to be me. I sure don’t want to be you or anyone else. How much Pagan you are is your choice, and your choice alone. As a final example, I am a HUGE Grateful Dead fan. I have several gigs of digitized albums, and fan-made concerts on my hard drive. I have dozens of versions of various songs – by the Grateful Dead, off-shots of the band, and other bands doing covers of those tunes. Other folks may be just happy with the album versions of the songs – maybe even just the songs that they love. Its not for me to say that they are not fans of the Grateful Dead, simply because I have more digitized music than they do. They can be fans of the band as well. The degree to which they decide to be fans does not change the way I am about the band. And the way I am about the band should not change the way they are about the band. The same holds true for Pagan beliefs…and nearly anything else.
What makes a Pagan a “true” Pagan? What is in your heart. What is in your approach. If what is in your heart clicks with what is in your approach – how you do your Paganism – that is all that matters. Spiritual perspectives belong to an individual, not a group. Peer pressure is so high school. The same holds true for your Spiritual approach. If you are unhappy with your approach to your Spiritual beliefs because it does not feel like it is enough for you – add to it. Conversely, if it feels like it is too much, dial it back. You have the controls. Stop playing the Keeping-Up-With-the-Jones’ game. Be you. That is all anyone should ever ask of you. If something offends you, be offended over it. Just don’t be offended when someone else does not share your righteous indignation. No one *must* feel exactly as you. Ever. We should never build walls separating us from others based on the degree to which we feel others are “serious” about what they believe. In case you’re wondering what that looks like – visit Northern Ireland, as a singular example…