Sitting here looking at where else to peek into the Pagan corner for something to peel back for the future…I keep coming back to the group versus solo perspective. Wrapped up in all of that is an aspect I am reticent to even approach, but it’s a part of how our collective Paganism grows into tomorrow, as well as today: the perspective of “authentic” Paganism. How can you tell “authentic” Paganism from the “fake” stuff? Is there some kind of 3-d sticker affixed to it like Major League Baseball uses for baseballs used in actual play? How do we deal with this going forward into a future that already feels so nebulous and shaky?
To be perfectly frank, I don’t really have an answer. After all, there is some aspect of my own personal Paganism and Druidry that others would not find to be “authentic”. I’m not coursing backwards into history to find where and how our Pagan and Druid ancestors did their rituals. I’m not trying to locate scholarly fields of work to slap an “authentic” sticker on what I do. Instead, I’m doing what feels “correct” for me. I’m not worried about finding a common thread back to the past. I have that with my Spirits of Ancestor. Nor am I worried over those that would believe my approach to be “inauthentic” to theirs. I know my Path works for me. I also know that my approach is unlikely to work for others, which is the sole reason I do not denigrate how others approach their Paganism. Whatever it is, it likely does not work for me, but that doesn’t mean I have to treat it as inferior. Because it’s not.
I catch more than my fair of shit for taking this hands-off approach to Spiritual Beliefs. I should denounce this, showcase the incorrect aspect of this, proclaim the wrongness of these others. Look, I’ll be honest here, unless you are engaging in human sacrifice, enlisting people (especially children) for sex in exchange for the “secrets” of the occult, or mutilating/killing animals…I’m likely to move on from saying much about your approach. The rest of that stuff that I mentioned? Well, I’m more likely to contact the local authorities and let them sort things out. But I will state my opposition to those actions. So, there is a line that I draw in the sand. But I’m not here to denounce things – rather, I am here to discuss how beliefs that are different from our own move forward into the future as well.
Or do they? I have often wondered if some of the Pagan community was going to come together and form something akin to the Council of Nicea. Where what is or isn’t Pagan would be decided. This is Pagan, but that is not. I remember the ludicrous “Are You Pagan Enough?” diatribe that went on quite a few years back. I always wondered who had died made folks into a Pagan Pope that could decree what could and couldn’t be included under the wide, and very diverse umbrella of Paganism? Now, looking into a near future of Paganism, I can see where the sweet, delicious aroma fed that hunger. Being able to decide what could or could not be included within a single vision of what makes a Pagan…well, Pagan.
Yet, we have these inclusion arguments all the time. At Pantheacon, the year before I attended for my first time, there was an aspect that kicked off the TERF argument/discussion that has been going on since. If an individual identifies as a female but was born as a male – should they be allowed into a ceremony or ritual for Women’s Mysteries? And vice versa for a ritual or ceremony for Men’s Mysteries? I don’t have an answer for this. My gut feeling is that if you identify as a female – you attend stuff for Women’s Mysteries. However, not my ceremony – not my call. That’s like me saying that a Wiccan Priestess should be allowed into a grade initiation for my Druid Order. While I am a member of the Order, that’s not my ceremony – its not my call. Of course, this is moving off the topic slightly, so let’s push this back on-track a bit more.
Going forward, into our near future, we are going to see changes. This is what happens when the “new” Pagans begin to grow and feel the length of their legs. They begin to walk with more confidence in what they are doing. They begin to reach for something new, different, inviting to their senses. Things begin to evolve as the older generations shuffle off this mortal coil and cease to be unspoken obstacles to those changes. That cycle will repat going into the future as well, as the generations grow, and new generations come to take their place.
As I have said before, I have been on my Pagan Path for thirty-plus years. I’ve seen my share of new Pagans. Some stay on their Path, some alter their Path slightly, and some leave it altogether, confidant that this was not the place for them. All of that is natural. This that stick around will eventually come to this same point – being an Elder in the Pagan community. I hate the perspective of being an Elder, because I see so much more growing on my own personal Path. I may have been here for so long, but I still have that “shiny, new” feeling about Paganism as a whole. Regardless, I know I am looked at with the lens that places the nameplate right underneath me in the vision of younger Pagans: “Elder.” Just because of the years. In a manner of speaking, it also places me in the sphere of feeling like a parent to some degree. Where I sit and wonder if the Pagans that are stepping into those roles of leadership that open – do they have what it takes to continue to grow this movement that we have?
This, I believe is the crux of the question of looking into the future. Will all this still be here? I daresay that for many of us older Pagans that have traversed this Path for so long, it’s a thought that’s crossed our minds before. If you read the previous blog posts, you know – maybe in a subtle way – that my answer is “yes”, and “no.” Paganism is not going to wither and die. Some of the Paths, that could be true. But Paganism is a wide open, extremely diverse grouping of belief systems. Some might call it a catch-all grouping. Everything that doesn’t fit the “Big Five” falls here. That could be true. I view Paganism as being a set of belief systems that revere Nature as divine and spiritual. Worthy of respect and worship. For me, that’s the binding agent. Nature. An awe for the mystery of all that is Nature, in its many guises, aspects, faces, and senses. That reverence will be here long after my bones have dried, become dust, and scattered elsewhere on this planet. That reverence of Nature will not the same as it is now. The Paganism of the future, rooted in that growing Nature, will utilize the Paganism of today as its root core. Rituals, myths, legends, and even deeper resonance with Nature will be built up from the foundation that will come from our Paganism today. As Damh the Bard sings:
The Ancients opened the door,Damh the Bard, “On the Shoulders of Giants”
We’re the same as ever before,
We will hear you forevermore,
So by peace and love we stand,
Heart to heart and hand in hand,
On the shoulders of giants we stand.
…going into that future, we will be the shoulders that they stand upon. We will be the raising of the foundation, ever higher.
Is there a future for all elements of Paganism, I ask? “Of course there is, you git!” is the likely response I am to get. Its true, there is a future there. We don’t need a litmus test to allow entry into the future of Paganism. All the arguments on inclusion for this, that, those others – those will move forward into the future as well. Consider them as individual Rubik’s cubes. Currently unsolved, but one day – a few smart Pagans of the future will get together and find the way to resolve each one. I have faith that will happen. Because I have faith that all of us that identify as Pagans will always find a way to make things work. We’ve always managed to make do with our Rubik’s Cube solutions. Even if we just peel the stickers off and put them back on in the form of the solution. 😉
This post was written with Keith Jarrett‘s “The Köln Concert” album as my background music.
5 thoughts on “Howling Into the Wind: What is a Pagan in the Future?”
In some way, I view the reconstructionist and traditionalist pagan perspectives to be the ‘fundamentalists’ of the pagan movement. All of them trying to reach some bygone pagan experience that is as authentic and it is historical. And just like fundamentalists in other religious paths, anything less is considered fake, wrong, and/or dangerous.
But as we can see in other religous paths where fundamentalism reigns, the world is not the same as it was in thise bygone eras. People may be largely the same, but our experiences and frame of references differ greatly.
Of course there is a future for paganism. It is a living, thriving organism…but like the “heresies” (I’m using that loosely, heresy is a matter of perspective if you ask me) that made the Council of Nicea seem necessary, I would not be surprised if paganism or it’s fundamentalist branches attempt to do something similar in that future.
Time will tell of such a thing is for good or ill or even necessary. All in all, it’s worthy of thought.
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The entire concept of a Council of Nicea style of situation within Paganism is something that does disturb me. Especially given the large surge of new Pagans coming in – many with thoughts and concepts vastly different than the traditionalist veins within Paganism itself. In a manner of speaking, the wider popularity of Paganism is a boon to its growth in terms of numbers, but also a detriment, in relation to the wider acceptance of diverse beliefs. Those diverse beliefs will likely push Paganism towards that CoN (my shorthand for “Council of Nicea”) moment where authenticity and “purity” may become the battle-cry of the day. personally, I embrace and enjoy the diverse perspectives…even the silliest of those efforts (like the rituals of adoringness to chocolate). For me those different perspectives add new views, concepts and choices to the wider point. However, I know not everyone will embrace that diversity as I do. Thus, the looming shadow of that CoN moment. Like you noted…time will tell. Prognostication of that moment is unlikely to occur until the shadow of that moment and movement begins to set…
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I agree. The idea of a CoN is a little alarming. Many came to paganism to get away from fundamentalism and/or dogma, not see the same thing repeated.
One of the things that has turned me off from Norse paganism recently (my initial interest and draw back to paganism since my early 20s) is the thick vein of reconstructionidt thought that runs through it. I don’t live in Scandinavia. I’m not trying to be a modern-day Viking. I don’t want to die in glorious battle or spit in the face of the terrible Christians who buried the old ways. I just wanted to explore gods and practices which felt familiar and right somehow, which made me feel connected to nature and the spirit of things.
I eased out of Christianity because I couldn’t meet the laundry list of requirements marking a ‘real or true’ Christian and coming to paganism, I feel discouraged to see the same fundamentalist thought patterns.
I might be rambling, but I feel stuck between worlds. Not Christian enough. Not pagan enough.
Which is why I like this blog and the blog of Nimue Brown 🙂 I can exist here without needing to meet requirements. I can just be…and that’s worth quite a bit.
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That feeling oe being “between”…I grok that. Quite a bit. All of what you point out about the “quintessential elements” that seemingly get lumped into the various systems of belief or styles of belief. And that’s a lot of what I push back against….these sterotypical elements that get used as “gatekeeping” “laws”. There’s no litmus test for being into Norse beliefs. You believe, you believe. There’s no “smell test” that the Gods give to anyone. They call you, They call you. The only rule I’ve ever felt was a part of Paganism (or any belief system for that fact) is to be true to yourself. By who you are. Believe what you believe. Be true to who you are. Anything else, is just not true…its acting. Just my two cents.
I don’t belong in reconstructionist elements because I don’t believe that you have to practice as our ancestors did. Times change. Social mores change. Perspectives are eroded, built and rebuilt. Today is not Yesterday, nor will it be Tomorrow. As you noted earlier, Paganism is a growing, changing, evolving organism (I originally wrote that word differently). Keeping it in yesteryear, practiced without change…cages it and does not allow for growth and evolution. And much like the fictional Newt Scarmander, I don’t like to see free, wild, living things be caged. 😉
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