Apr 20, 2012

You Are Not A Pagan

I’m not sure how the conversation started…something about an uncle who likes to proselytize.  I mentioned that if he ever found out I was a Pagan, I’d be the new black sheep in the family.  To which, my mother said: “You are NOT a Pagan.”

“But, I am Pagan,” I said.
“No you’re not,” she replied.

I was a taken aback.  I was sure my mother knew I was Pagan.  We’d had conversations about witchcraft, plant and herb magic, folk traditions.  

My friends, bosses and my local metaphysical community know I’m Pagan.  Although I don’t talk about my spirituality with my extended family, as most of them are pastors and deacons in their churches, I had been sure my mother understood my path.  It didn’t occur to me that I hadn’t been clear.  And then I thought, what if I’m not clear, myself?

If you’ve read my blog for any length of time, you might have noted that it is rather eclectic.  My interests are fairly all-encompassing.  Myth, folklore, herbalism, witchcraft, Native American culture, gardening, farmers markets, travel, Kemet, Hoodoo, kitties, camping, seasons, celebrations, movies, yoga and chickens.  Theses are just a few of the things that flicker in and out of my mind, teasing me and sending me running to read more books and try new recipes and find more blogs to subscribe to.

I was diverse at birth.  Wandering and having my interest peaked all over the place is in my genes.  I have Ukrainian/Roma/German blood on my mother’s side where there resides a rather colourful story about my great-grandfather the con-man/gigolo.  On my father’s Scottish/Welsh/English side, there were some charming sheep-thieves and pirates in the family.  Oh, sorry - they called them “privateers.”  (Which is just a nice name for pirates.)

I grew up spending half of my weekends running through the woods up the hill from our home and the other half of my weekends were spent in a car, just driving wherever my father felt like taking us.  We were always going somewhere or doing something.  There was no room for being bored.  

I took an interest in growing things when I was eleven.  My grandmother was living on a large piece of land with an orchard on one portion of it and a wonderful stretch of garden on the other.  I started my gardening life weeding between her rows of veggies.  Back-breaking work in a garden that size, but I was hooked from that moment on.

It really shouldn’t have been a surprise for me that I would visit my pastor so many years later and tell him that I just wasn’t finding god in church.  In the hills, the garden, by the river and in the eyes of my nieces and the love of my dog, yes.  But not at my church.  

“Perhaps your church isn’t a building,” he said.  And that statement changed my life.

I’m sure he didn’t mean for me to leave Christianity all together.  And yet…

I left the church fairly quickly after that - ten years ago now - but it would be a couple years before I figured out where I was headed.  

I think I’m still figuring it out.  I use the word “Pagan” because it ties me to a certain community of belief systems that resonate with me.  But the word doesn’t necessarily feel right all the time.  Same with the word “witch” - it conjures a certain feeling, but to some that feeling is wisdom or comfort and to some that feeling is fear.  Part of the problem is, I’ve always shunned labels.  I’m having a hard time finding one that fits me now.

The word “eclectic” is a dirty word in Paganism.  It’s indicative of someone who picks and chooses belief systems, gods and practices with no regard to cultural propriety.  But what about those of us who have a genuine interest in many different subjects, societies and crafts?  I took two years of fairly structured Wicca training and enjoyed it, but it was very difficult for me to train myself to forget the more free-flowing way I practiced, and focus on a more rigid approach.  Now I’m back in the dirt and the rocks and the green and touching and tasting everything with little regard to structure.

I like the word “liminal.”  It speaks of a threshold.  And I feel this way.  And this word feels good.  But how long can you be on a threshold before you must go through it one way or the other.  I’d like to be a Liminalist (which is not a word - except that I just made it one.)  But again - how long could you be a Liminalist before you would have to move?  You cannot always stay ‘in-between,’ can you?  And yet…  I’ve always felt ‘in-between.’  I think that is part of what draws people to Paganism.  Feeling like they don’t quite fit in the other places.  Not quite here.  Or there.

So here I am, wondering how right my poor mother is.  My beliefs have not changed.  This is not a dark night of the soul.  But I do believe a large part of her struggle today was with the word “Pagan.”  And I think I may have to do something about that, because I’m struggling with it a little too.  It’s an easy word to use inside our own community, but does it really paint an accurate picture of who I am and how I practice outside the coven/online groups/conventions and festivals?  I don’t know.

I’ll ponder a while in this liminal space.  And when it’s time to cross that threshold, I will.


Sylvanna said...

Yes, I would call you Pagan. Is ecclectic a bad word to personally? If not, does it still matter to you that it sometimes is to others? Own your inclinations. It's alright to be Liminalist (cute). If that's as far as you have to go for meaning and fulfillment, well, it's your doorway. There's no one else standing there waiting in line awaiting your decision. Don't worry about Blessed Be, just BE. :)

Root said...

I definitely hear that. I feel solid in my beliefs, but it can be hard to find a way to label it that fits; both from an insider and outsider perspective. Even within the pagan community, I've had difficulty labeling myself as pagan at times.

Just remember that what you or others call your belief is not the belief itself.

The Cauldron Keeper said...

I think "Pagan" is a confusing word; it has four thousand years or so of history (starting with the Greeks, not Christians). I use it to say that I am not part of the Abrahamic religions, it's current common usage, but when it comes down to deciding what is and is not pagan, the borders are murky and essentially it comes down to self identification. Witch is just as problematic.

My thought for you is that if "Pagan" or "witch" or "deist" resonates with you, then that's what you are. As hard has it is to deal with the baggage and attitudes of our families (well meaning or not), we can only define and interpret ourselves.

Feel free to change your labels when you outgrow them. Some people need them, and other people are very comfortable in liminal spaces. Your journey is your own, and nobody has the right to deny that to you.


DJ said...

This is why I avoid labels. I answer to many and none. I'm just me.

Nichola said...

I call myself a "Pagan" when needed. I identify mostly as "witch". To be perfectly honest though, when someone asks I usually just ramble until a glazed look crosses their face and they become rather bored. Perhaps I need a new term... what do you think of 'Nicholaist'? I think it has a rather nice ring and sums me up perfectly lol

jaz@octoberfarm said...

you could have been writing about my upbringing and life! i am pagan but this word lost it's true meaning long ago. people think pagans are bad. i now tell people i am a child of the earth.

Lois said...

I'm in a similar spot in my life, although I tend to call myself a lapsed-pagan. I've begun going to open gatherings of a womens' group I used to belong to - my coven - and one kind soul cornered me and asked me "so when are you going to re-join the coven??" and I was a little speechless, because I don't know! It's a strange place to be in, but I guess it's a transition.

Chowz Creations said...

Thank you for this post. It is one of the most helpful things I've read in a long time. Maybe I'm not as lost as I thought, I was just trying to find a specific title, and there isn't one. Nice supportive comments have been left. I really like "child of the earth."

Danni said...

I typically identify as pagan, but I also call myself a witch. Both feel right to me at different times and to me when I say 'pagan' I mean it as an umbrella term for my spirituality and when I say 'witch' I mean specifically the way in which I work within my faith. Man, I hope that wasn't too confusing. I also identify as eclectic - I follow my gut and the call of the the deities and practices that hail me. I don't just work with a god or goddess because they're 'cool' or 'badass' but because they've connected with me and made themselves known within my life.

I'd prefer to call myself an eclectic tree hugging, dirt digging, fairy believing, earth loving, polytheist who practices magic but that seems like it's way too much to say. ;)

kymber said...

i find that most often, it's other people that need you to label yourself in order for them to understand what you are and what you do, or believe. one of the first things people ask each other upon meeting is "so what do you do?". i used to always like to answer that question (back when i was still in the workforce) with something like - "i spend time in nature. i think about pollen. i read diverse archaic tracts on alchemy. i make the most awesome smashed potatoes..", etc. and so on. the "professionals" in the group would become very uncomfortable. eventually i would tell them that i was a UN-certified Korean linguist who later became a financial intelligence analyst because the 2 fields are so agreeable - bahahaha! i have been called a pagan, a greenie, a hippie, an earth child, a maverick, etc. and so on. what do i call myself? usually just me. and that suits me just fine. like i said - labels and categories are usually something that people outside of yourself need in order to define you. if you don't need a label...well...you know...


Willow said...

Whatever you call yourself I love your blog and what you post.

I think the people that rewrote the bible have made some words into things of hate instead of what they orignally was meant as. I am not saying that they are bad people, just misguided.

Pagans as I remember were country folks not evil doers as churches now preach.

When I was growing up I never heard the word Wiccan, but now it is in some bibles instead of Witch.

Some witches will say they are not Wiccans and Wiccans will say they are not witches.

Just my opinion.

the wild magnolia said...

Eclectic Liminalist....your path twists and turns, travels through fields and caverns, under bridges, up a willow tree, into the sun, and to the moon and back, to the sea shore, and around the bend and back. Change, passionate observation, celebrations of life, in short a breath of fresh air.

and guess what, you are allowed to choose, and be who you are.

Be Blessed, and be your own wild and wonderful self.

Aine said...

I think that being a pagan, at least in the modern day, is really not about fitting in with a particular group. We are open and because we are - we are connected to so much that so many humans have completely lost the connection with.

This stuff we are connected with is basically energy and it is, by its very nature, diverse. If you think about the shamans, those who, so long ago simply practiced the way they knew to be true, you will find no groups, no churches, so set gods/goddesses/spirit. The spirits found them, called them. And they were open to them and responded. They may have spoken to the same gods/spirits that we do, although I'm sure they called them by different names. Or they didn't name them at all, or they spoke to totally different spirits. The point is, that they were open to them and didn't worry whether or not they were being too "fluffy" or eclectic. It was the very nature of their belief to be eclectic, to listen and to respond.

This is the ancient way. The most ancient way that we have any evidence of anyway.

So that's how I practice. I have my people, and sometimes a particular god/goddess will attract me and I will respond because I know that the entity associated with that name is speaking to me - not the character in a myth, or some god/goddess a book described to me - but the energy.

To be pagan is to be open and to respond in the way each of us feels is appropriate. And so we will, naturally, be eclectic and our path will be as individual as we are.

I have stopped explaining my beliefs a long time ago (except here in blogland) because I think we all eventually find our own way and that is exactly how it should be.

Cottage Tails said...

Me too I like "Child of the Earth"

Your post is very well timed, I was in the shower this morning thinking oh boy this new branch of study and group I am re Shaman..
I am still “a baby” my journey is unending

Love Leanne

Lisa said...

I hear ya. I did a similar blog post not so long ago. I had a very comforting thought last week as I was on spring break and had time to contemplate. I ran into some of my old church people and felt sad for a moment and then I realized, I still feel the same about "God" now as I did when I was in church but that the church limited that energy so much that I could no longer be contained just as the Goddess/God/Source cannot be contained. I'm fairly label-less. When pressed, I say Pagan. At times I long to just call myself a witch but sometimes I don't feel deserving. Sometimes I just feel like new ager kind of covers it. Probably MOST often I just call myself woo woo. LOL People seem to get that.

Deedee said...

Eclectic is a wonderful word and a wonderful thing! I too am interested in many spiritual disciplines and I honor the spiritual wherever I find it. My own spiritual identity is never threatened. Though I do worship regularly inside a church, I worship mostly outside, in nature. "God is nearer one's heart in a garden than anywhere else on earth..." Namaste!

Gaia said...

Peter Abelard wrote in the 12th century that all paths lead to the Divine; all paths were, therefore, valid. (Unfortunately, the Pope listen to "my way or the highway" St. Jerome). If I must put a label on what I do (still in the closet) I call myself an "Abelardian Foundationalist" and no one knows what the heck I am talking about.

AlphaBetsy said...

I am sooo eclectic and I don't care what people think about it. I refer to myself as an eclectic cottage witch, but really that is just to give people some idea of my system. I am all over the place, but never doubt that I am pagan. And neither should you. :)

Desert Willow said...

I use the term pagan to describe what I am in general terms so it's easy to understand and it gets the point across. I refer to myself as an American Witch and just let people make of that what they will :)

Anonymous said...

Hi, I could have written this. That is exactly how I feel too ; )
I have a lot of problems with labels too, a feeling of not belonging anywhere.
My husband is beyond that. He says he doesn't need a label anymore and doesn't want to conform to any religion. He has his own beliefs and they can't be labelled he says ; ) I wish I was that certain about how I feel !!

Anonymous said...

This is the second blog post I've read this moment about the label Pagan.

I'm not a big label woman so I don't have issues about what people call me.

It sounds as though you are comfortable with who you are and are a very Spiritual person. Why ruin it with allowing someone to tell you what path you walk. You're walking just fine.

It's the people who have issues with labels that have......issues. Try not to let that garbage get to you.

Andréann -Aux Demilunes said...

To go with other's people comments, I'd like to recite dr.seuz quote "Be who you are, because those who care doesn't matters and those who matters doesn't care".

There's very, very few "us" where I live and they are for the very major part either no-practicing cathos or atheist. I usually say I'm pagan, or that we just celebrate the nature's cycles and seasons. There's only my (athé) BF that calls me "sorcière", because he finds it funny I guess. Calling myself a witch would be too much weird here. I guess I'm not to fit labels either.

I think what is hard for us about being labelled is that we quite never fitted anywhere, thus never got proper label and never find a need for it. Others that fitted well in a group finds it reassuring. And they want to know where you belong too so they can place you into the little map of stereotyped people they have inside their head.

Dori said...

Wonderful post. I have read all of the comments. I don't care what other people think of me being a Pagan. If you like me, then you accept all of me. If not, I am sorry that my path causes you uncertainty or fear. I find it ironic that a person is accepted until something is learned that makes the other person back away. Such as "Oh, so you are a witch!" or "I didn't know you were ____." Then you don't see or hear from them again. I am still the same person you knew before you learned I was "different". I am eclectic and enjoy every day. May you do the same.

Rue said...

Thank you so much for all the insightful comments. I really appreciate hearing your stories and experiences!

And yes, Nichola - I would think that it would be great fun to be a Nicholaist!

Laurie Brown said...

'Pagan' cover so many paths- Wiccan, Norse, Celtic, Avalonian, etc- that to me, it almost means 'eclectic', anyway. And I'm definitely eclectic in my path - part Celtic, part Asian, part Egyptian, part Greek and all earth loving, plant loving, moon loving. There are parts of every path that I just don't resonate with, so I take what's best and leave the rest.

I wonder if your mom was doing the "You're not pagan!" thing because she doesn't want it to be true? Or is she totally okay with it?

Annette L said...

I have lived on the threshold for several years now, having left a Southern Baptist upbringing and education the better part of 15 years ago. Interesting that you write about this now as I just read an interview with the Dali Lama "it is better to deepen and preserve the religion of your ancestors". Where does that leave someone like me? or us for that matter? Before my parents, there was no set religion, other than that my maternal grandmother was a Hugenot. I am a child of the earth, torn between what I believe to be truth and what my parents believe to be truth.

nk/NIN said...

This blog could have been written by me, and i was proud to share it on my FB page. Bless you for being so open w/t us!!

My Grama's Soul said...

I've been hopping around posts here and I just have to say....I will be back.....and OFTEN. I believe a person can "be anything" they want to be....without anyone's approval.....it appears you do also.

I like that.


Colleen said...

Fortunately, paganism is not a strictly defined religion (how could it be?). You certainly sound like a pagan to me.

I'm with you in the eclecticism. And I like the idea of liminism, though I'm more of an overlapping everything kind than an in between kind.

Anonymous said...

I have to say this much I went on a search on Google today to find some information out on paganism. I have been told I am a hedge witch, okay find whatever it's a label to me. I feel more in touch with nature, I don't cast spells per se as most books or people want to believe witches do. I recently wrote a blog about how I believe and how I feel especially about the pagan/wiccan community up in arms among other things. Now apparently the pagans/wiccans who are reading it are telling me how wrong I am for what I think. Go figure. Also they telling me that a recent visit to the hospital for a heart episode is my karma for my belief.
In reading your post today it makes me feel better to think I am an eclectic spiritual whatever you want call me, pagan-witch-or whatever.
Thank you for sharing this with us all. It helped put me at ease. You have a new follower.