I live in the greater Boston area. Following the shooting at the Sikh gurdwara in Oak Creek, Wisconsin this past August, an interfaith group was formed here called SolidarityBoston. Members of that group are now working to produce another event and I volunteered to help find Pagan participants. This event will be focused on the Israeli/Palestinian conflicts, and so I specifically sought out a practitioner working with the Canaanite pantheon. When I did find such a person, I asked if she’d be willing to represent Paganism at the event.
And, she said no.
It wasn’t that she wasn’t willing to be a part of the event; in fact, I suspect she probably will. The issue was that I asked her to represent Paganism and her feelings are that she cannot. From her point of view, she is not a Pagan. Instead, she practices a religion, called Natib Qadish, that is similar to Paganism in a variety of ways but one that is different enough that she feels it is separate.
Another project of mine is to create a Pagan chapter for the Foundation for Religious Diplomacy (FRD). I’ve worked with a few other Pagans on this project and I encountered a similar voluntary separation from the term Paganism during that work, this time from Heathens rather than Qadishuma.
I have encountered that separation on a number of occasions over the last few months and every time I have found it to be jarring and personally worrisome. Primarily, this is due to the fact that I think a vibrant, growing community is one that is diverse. In such a community, the ideas of one person can be challenged by the ideas of others and by discussing and working through those challenges, everyone’s faith is made stronger and better. It is for that reason, among others, that I involve myself in interfaith activism, but perhaps it’s time for a little intrafaith work.
I contend that there are two primary branches of modern Paganism: the reconstruction or revival of ancient faiths in a modern context and newer faiths descending from ceremonial magic techniques, Jungian archetypes, the work of Joseph Campbell and a variety of other sources to create something that is very different from anything that we would have seen in the ancient world. Does that mean that these two different branches can’t sprout from the same tree? Of course not, but at times it seems that people of the former branch have distanced themselves from the latter.
I would love to see a pan-Pagan group form to begin to create a creedal document for Paganism. The goals of this group would be to create a document that would be specific enough as to define Paganism for other communities that need a little bit of information about us but general enough that a variety of different faith traditions and theologies could exist under its umbrella.
Partly, I want to see this because I encounter others through my interfaith work that are confused by what it is to be Pagan. Usually, they desire some sort of statement about what a Pagan is and what they do, and I’ve been called upon on a variety of occasions to offer my point of view on panel discussions or the like. Too often, others have remained confused about who we are because I have lacked the words to help define us to them. I worry, though, that I actually lack the words to describe us to myself.
I want our family to be as large as possible. Maybe that means that I just have to get used to people using different labels that aren’t the same as mine. But, frankly, I spent a long time to find my labels and I’d like them to apply as broadly as possible. I think that such a broad application is better for the community and it gives us the support of more people if we should ever need it. It makes us a louder voice, and if we can articulate our similarities to others as we speak, it makes us a stronger part of the chorus.
The creation of such this pan-Pagan group would be a task in and of itself. My aforementioned efforts to build a small team of people to work with the FRD has taught me that it’s hard to get us all moving in the same direction. The individual nature of our faiths is part of the problem, but I think it’s also that we have too few members of our community that are empowered to be organizers and leaders without also having to be doctors, lawyers, librarians, teachers, parents, and sometimes even web application developers. As a result, we have concerns of daily life that often are forced to supersede our spiritual interactions especially if those interactions are separate from our own spiritual practices.
That said, simply finding representatives to meet and discuss our similarities and differences seems so daunting as to make even me shy away from the idea — and it’s my own! Assuming that these representatives could be found, I worry that the process of distilling our ideas to find the commonalities in an effort to produce the sort of creedal statement that I mentioned above would not bring us together, as I hope, but might even separate us further.
But maybe that’s just part of the risk inherent in growth. Maybe my dreams of a large and better-defined Pagan family are just that: dreams. But, if there’s nothing else I’ve learned from my Pagan brothers and sisters, elders and advisers, and even from those who remain Pagan-friendly, it’s that dreams can be come reality if we work at them long enough.
Perhaps it is time for this dream to become reality, or at least for us to attempt to make it so. I’d enjoy the chance to speak with others about how this process might take place. Even if it doesn’t happen now or if it never happens, these are the sort of processes that I think we as a community need to begin to think about. I feel like we’ve been primarily concerned with our own practice but if we’re going to become a part of the larger, global spiritual community (and I believe that we should), then we need to figure out how best to do that together before we are pigeonholed in a way that we disagree with.