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Author Topic: Pagan Religions, Polytheism, and the Problem with Labels  (Read 4746 times)

Aiwelin

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Pagan Religions, Polytheism, and the Problem with Labels
« on: October 28, 2013, 11:44:09 am »
I've been thinking about this issue a lot lately, and even more so since I've seen it crop up in a couple of places.  I am a Pagan, and I also identify as a Druid and a Heathen, and I attend a local Wiccan group quite often since they do the most organized and best planned Pagan things in the area.  I know there are many Pagans who practice more than one path, or identify with more than one religion.  And yet, it seems there is a vocal minority who object to this.

Of course, they never say it in so many words.  Usually it shows up as people saying "well, you can practice this and (whatever other religion), but you shouldn't call yourself this religion".  I've met a few Heathens who have said I shouldn't be calling myself a Heathen if I'm also initiated in a Wiccan tradition, or working with a Druid group.  Sometimes it comes up in other ways, like a post on a Druid group I'm a part of where the poster felt it wasn't right to welcome someone to the Druid group who was also an initiated Wiccan.

I understand the need to distance a group from practices that it is often confused with.  I understand the desire to represent practices accurately to those who aren't well-versed in them.  However, most of these are Pagan religions that claim to be polytheistic and orthopraxic.  As long as I'm worshiping the right deities in the right way when practicing that religion, it shouldn't matter at all what other deities I honor in the right way when practicing another - as long as there's no oaths of exclusivity that are involved, of course.

Comments?  Thoughts?  Ideas on how to do some positive education or change in a community that not only requests you do things the "right way" but has an unspoken idea that this is the "only way"?
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dionysiandame

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Re: Pagan Religions, Polytheism, and the Problem with Labels
« Reply #1 on: October 28, 2013, 01:26:27 pm »
Quote from: Aiwelin;127301


Comments?  Thoughts?  Ideas on how to do some positive education or change in a community that not only requests you do things the "right way" but has an unspoken idea that this is the "only way"?

 

I think one of the main things that causes these kinds of kerfuffles is the fact that many pagans have a problem with "Words Mean Things" (I'm going to start a movement. Stay tuned for...um...absolutely fuck all.) Once you get past the umbrella term of "Pagan" you're left with a lot of words that have meanings to them based on history, orthodoxy, and orthopraxy.

For example, I used to classify myself as a Hellenist but, after a bit of soul searching and realizing that I don't worship the entire Hellenic pantheon, don't base all of my religious activities on the Athenian calendar, and have built relationships with deities/entities outside of the "accepted practices" of the greater Hellenismos community; I knew it was time to let that label go.

So "Hellenist" became "Hellenic Polytheist" which became "Polytheist" and that's OKAY. Maybe some of us are a little too attached to our labels anyway. I highly doubt some of the older religions we are reviving were nearly as stringent about it as we are now. But in a steadily growing community where people are seeking fellowship in minority religions that are often very small the labels DO need to match to the meaning to some degree. If only so that the ability to find fellowship isn't made all the more difficult just so a bunch of people can give themselves a bunch of labels that don't really apply.
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Re: Pagan Religions, Polytheism, and the Problem with Labels
« Reply #2 on: October 28, 2013, 01:29:06 pm »
Quote from: Aiwelin;127301

Comments?  Thoughts?  Ideas on how to do some positive education or change in a community that not only requests you do things the "right way" but has an unspoken idea that this is the "only way"?


If it's a group's policy to discriminate, then just leave. For individuals, you can remind them that not everyone believes what they do, and that their comments are offensive. Or you can confess to being one of those multi-religious people and you don't like how you're being talked about. Or you can say freedom of religion is a civil right and you can do whatever the blip you want. Hopefully they'll leave you alone.

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Re: Pagan Religions, Polytheism, and the Problem with Labels
« Reply #3 on: October 28, 2013, 01:45:56 pm »
Quote from: Aiwelin;127301

Comments?  Thoughts?  Ideas on how to do some positive education or change in a community that not only requests you do things the "right way" but has an unspoken idea that this is the "only way"?

 
One of the things that happens with openish-to-public Pagan groups is that they get a lot of people (comparatively) coming in who want to stretch the practices of the particular group to suit their personal practice.

In other words, the people who want to mingle and mix their Wiccan practice with their Druidic practice with their Kemetic practice, or whatever - not just on their own time, but want to drag that into the group work.

Which if the group is mutually interested might or might not work.

But if the group is unified on "We are a Druid group" or whatever specific thing, does not work so well, and can - and has - lead to a lot of really uncomfortable stuff for a lot of groups in the past.

Which makes groups often very sensitive to people coming in who are actively talking about other paths or traditions. (Also, some people are just really sensitive about the folks who appear to be doing the "I'm a Wiccan Druid Shaman" routine. (For those who aren't familiar, there's a filk song that parodies the tendency of people to collect religious traditions like Beanie Babies.)

Stuff that you could maybe do to help:

1) Quiet conversation (outside of a regular group event, or at least at a point in one where it's general conversation) making it clear that you want the Druid group (or whatever) because it is a Druid Group, not a mixing of various things, and you don't want to make them stretch their practices at all.

(Sometimes this is an easier conversation to have with a group leader or someone who's solidly been involved with the group for a while, rather than everyone, at least a first: they can then spread the word for you.)

2) Asking that reliable person or group leader if there's some history going on you're not aware of. Because there may very well be some.

Likewise, ask someone with ongoing standing in the group how to best go about dealing with the unpleasant comments.

3) Consciously backing off talking about your other religious interests most of the time when you're with a group that has a specific focus. (That doesn't mean 'don't talk about it ever', but it's an awful lot easier to convince people you're really focused on what they do  and focus on if you're talking about that 95% of the time.)

It's like coming into a knitting group and talking about how crochet does all these awesome things more easily, or into a group focused on a particular game  and talking about this other awesome game: there might be people who overlap on other stuff, but everyone's at *that* group to talk about the thing in common.

4) Generally being respectful of the specific focus - don't assume you know how things work, be careful of comparisons to other religious traditions for a bit, and so on.)

Usually, once someone has a track record of "I'm respecting this thing as its own thing" stuff gets better - just that can take six months or a year, depending on how often you see people in the group.
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Aiwelin

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Re: Pagan Religions, Polytheism, and the Problem with Labels
« Reply #4 on: October 28, 2013, 03:20:49 pm »
Quote from: dionysiandame;127318
For example, I used to classify myself as a Hellenist but, after a bit of soul searching and realizing that I don't worship the entire Hellenic pantheon, don't base all of my religious activities on the Athenian calendar, and have built relationships with deities/entities outside of the "accepted practices" of the greater Hellenismos community; I knew it was time to let that label go.

 
This is interesting.  Would you think of yourself as Hellenist if you did all the Hellenist things - worship the entire pantheon, etc - but still built relationships with other deities?  I am also a big proponent of Words Mean Things; but I wouldn't stop calling myself a Druid if I also joined a knitting circle, because that has zero impact on my identity as a Druid.  I view my participation in a local Wiccan group the same way - it literally changes nothing that I do in my Druid practice.

Quote from: Materialist;127319
If it's a group's policy to discriminate, then just leave. For individuals, you can remind them that not everyone believes what they do, and that their comments are offensive. Or you can confess to being one of those multi-religious people and you don't like how you're being talked about. Or you can say freedom of religion is a civil right and you can do whatever the blip you want. Hopefully they'll leave you alone.


I've never encountered it as a policy - and honestly, if it was put out there up front like that, I'd appreciate it.  It's more of an unspoken acknowledgement that those who are also involved in other traditions are somehow 'less' of a whatever than those who are only the first religion.  I'm interested in an approach that somehow maintains ties with others - I want to be a Heathen at a Heathen event and do Heathen things - without someone thinking I'm somehow 'tainted' by attending a Wiccan circle.

Quote from: Jenett;127324
...


You make some good points, and some good suggestions!  Mostly I've seen this at larger Pagan gatherings; my smaller local groups don't know exactly what I do or how I identify, but they're generally quite kind and seem cool with me being there.  At festivals during introduce-yourself-time, hearing that I identify as a Druid and a Heathen has elicited some scoffs; and reading a member of my Druid order talk about excluding a new person because he has a background as a Wiccan was just incredibly frustrating for me.

However, I think I see more of where this line of thought is coming from - previously I was honestly baffled at how religions which are polytheistic and orthopraxic could care less what you do outside of their rituals or groups (but then, I suppose I'm spoiled by ADF, which adamantly doesn't give a toss).  If (proverbial) you're running a local group which often encounters people trying to change what you're doing, I can see how that would set off warning bells when someone with experience in another tradition comes in.
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Re: Pagan Religions, Polytheism, and the Problem with Labels
« Reply #5 on: October 28, 2013, 04:41:29 pm »
Quote from: Aiwelin;127301
Comments?  Thoughts?  Ideas on how to do some positive education or change in a community that not only requests you do things the "right way" but has an unspoken idea that this is the "only way"?
A lot of this also has to do with the way 'religion,' is used to day, which at least I personally see as very cut&dry, and rather Christian even.

Another is that a lot of paths want to specify that they are indeed diffefent, and want to dissassociate with paths like Wicca. Most often also it's put down to worldview, as with many ancient polytheistic cultures, their religious practises were a part of that, and aside from actual historic syncreticisms, many view other types of eclectic beliefs or practises as violating or disrespecting those worldviews.

I understand being a Wiccan myself. Wicca does carry many stereotypes(the bulk majority false), and because of that many others in the community tend to already assume those stereotypes about you. Being an orthopraxic mystery tradition&Craft, where, "Our Gods aren't jealous Gods," there's nothing that prohibits me from other beliefs and practises. Being a Gaelic Polytheist as well, I still retain that wordview, and if anyone wanted to tell me that I'm not Gaelic for being Wiccan, then I'd hope that at least they can explain to me in Gaelic/Irish why it says so on my passport along with all of the other Wiccans in Ireland that are already well aware of their own culture.(presuming it was some Celtic group saying so. Luckily I've yet to see that, but have seen it in other circles already mentioned in the thread)
« Last Edit: October 28, 2013, 04:46:26 pm by Micheál »

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Re: Pagan Religions, Polytheism, and the Problem with Labels
« Reply #6 on: October 28, 2013, 04:45:28 pm »
Quote from: Aiwelin;127335

However, I think I see more of where this line of thought is coming from - previously I was honestly baffled at how religions which are polytheistic and orthopraxic could care less what you do outside of their rituals or groups (but then, I suppose I'm spoiled by ADF, which adamantly doesn't give a toss).  If (proverbial) you're running a local group which often encounters people trying to change what you're doing, I can see how that would set off warning bells when someone with experience in another tradition comes in.

 
Well, some people are just jerks.

But to say a bit more concisely a thing I was skirting earlier: there *are* people who are initiation collectors. And there are people who are making what is probably a sincere attempt to be several different independent religions, and are not doing any of them justice, and who end up being destructive to the groups they want to support.

And both of those are a little problematic on the community level.

The people who are very sincerely trying to do multiple things, the sincerity does show. But I think it's also very human and reasonable for groups to wonder how they're going to deal with things like conflicts in time/energy/schedule things, especially if more than one of them involves group work.

(Sometimes things don't conflict like that: for example, a fair number of people are Wiccan and also active in one of the magical orders - Golden Dawn, whatever offshoots. But mostly those two aren't asking you to be at rituals on the same day or within a couple of days of each other. People look just as much sideways at people who are Wiccan and say they're actively committed to two Wiccan groups, because they don't generally have experience of that ending well.)

It's usually easier if either there's clearly only one thing that has to deal with scheduling (i.e. one larger group, and then the other stuff is on your own, or family based, and always scheduled around the larger group commitments) or if someone's clear that their priority is X, and they have "welcome whenever, friend of the group" status with the others - and most of the time, they can make it, but if they can't, no one's relying on them for a critical bit of the group ritual, or whatever.

Because even if the actual scheduling doesn't conflict, if you're in ritual regularly that's designed to change you, it's not impossible to come out of one ritual and not be up for another, or for it to take some time to process. Which is fine if you have one big ritual that weekend, and everything else can flex around it - but it's a lot more complicated if you were expecting to spend Saturday at Group A and Sunday, the folks from Group B are relying on you to be energetically fully available to them, and suddenly, you just can't do that.

Basically, as I said, all sorts of possible things going on there, but asking someone familiar with the group history would help you sort out why, and whether it's just someone being jerkish, or if there are reasons for the caution.
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Re: Pagan Religions, Polytheism, and the Problem with Labels
« Reply #7 on: October 28, 2013, 05:46:57 pm »
Quote from: Micheál;127343
A lot of this also has to do with the way 'religion,' is used to day, which at least I personally see as very cut&dry, and rather Christian even.

Another is that a lot of paths want to specify that they are indeed different, and want to disassociate with paths like Wicca. Most often also it's put down to worldview, as with many ancient polytheistic cultures, their religious practices were a part of that, and aside from actual historic syncreticisms, many view other types of eclectic beliefs or practices as violating or disrespecting those worldviews.


 
Bolded for emphasis. I really do think that are the heart of the matter is that there is a very exclusive way of looking on one's theology that a lot of us have had installed in our headspace due to a heavy monotheist upbringing.  A lot of the more conservative types in the pagan community really seem to carry this hold over, that if you belong to one faith, you stay with that one faith and hold it up as first and for most, and anything that doesn't put that faith first is just posing. (This has been my experience, YMMV). Seeing as I follow a polytheist paradigm in more than just word, I've always found this kind of argument to be rather silly. If you wish to follow various paths because they bring you closer to the gods and Ultimate Divine Truth(tm) then more power to you, want to be a practitioner of Irish Polytheism, while still honoring the Aesir and Vanir as a Heathen then do that stuff man.

Anything further I have, it's been addressed and I don't want to sound like a broken record pratting about :p
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Re: Pagan Religions, Polytheism, and the Problem with Labels
« Reply #8 on: November 12, 2013, 01:28:26 am »
Quote from: Aiwelin;127301

I understand the need to distance a group from practices that it is often confused with.  I understand the desire to represent practices accurately to those who aren't well-versed in them.  However, most of these are Pagan religions that claim to be polytheistic and orthopraxic.  As long as I'm worshiping the right deities in the right way when practicing that religion, it shouldn't matter at all what other deities I honor in the right way when practicing another - as long as there's no oaths of exclusivity that are involved, of course.

Comments?  Thoughts?  Ideas on how to do some positive education or change in a community that not only requests you do things the "right way" but has an unspoken idea that this is the "only way"?

 
I think this has to do with what the labels are.

There are some religions that are very strict in how they worship and lead their lives. For example, there are certain Druid organizations that are very strict in how they approach rituals. There are others that are not. The title "Druid" is flexible and up to interpretation, but the claim of an ADF Druid is not.

There are also differences in how certain people with these labels believe and worship. I think I would be confused if someone was both Wiccan and a Gaelic Polytheistic, in that I am under the assumption that Gaelic Reconstruction Polytheists are hard polytheists and Wiccans are ditheistic (from my understanding of Gardnerian Wicca. NeoWicca is a bit more flexible in how they perceive deities, though it tends to then be soft-polytheistic and still not hard polytheistic.) Those are just the "labels" I know more. Usually I see this sort of problem crop up after someone claims a title they don't rightly own, similar to claiming to be a medical doctor when they didn't go through the proper credentials. None of the labels you identify with seem to need credentials so...I don't see the problem, but I also am not clear on how other Heathens define "Heathen" nor do I know for sure what Druid forum or platform you were on.
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Re: Pagan Religions, Polytheism, and the Problem with Labels
« Reply #9 on: November 12, 2013, 07:16:03 am »
Quote from: Allec;129141
I think I would be confused if someone was both Wiccan and a Gaelic Polytheistic, in that I am under the assumption that Gaelic Reconstruction Polytheists are hard polytheists and Wiccans are ditheistic (from my understanding of Gardnerian Wicca.


The comments I have heard from a sizeable number of Gardnerians (and Alexandrians, and other trad Wiccans) over the years is that while there's some space for variation, there is no contradiction in being a hard polytheist. A number of trad Wiccans I know honour the specific two deities of their initiatory tradition in trad work, and gladly honour/work with/etc. deities from other pantheons in various ways.

Some folks are hard polytheists, some are soft, some have different views on the nature of deity, but there's no explicit contradiction with any of these within the trads themselves, since the focus is on shared practice rather than shared belief.
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Re: Pagan Religions, Polytheism, and the Problem with Labels
« Reply #10 on: November 14, 2013, 06:36:25 am »
Quote from: Aiwelin;127301
Of course, they never say it in so many words.  Usually it shows up as people saying "well, you can practice this and (whatever other religion), but you shouldn't call yourself this religion".  I've met a few Heathens who have said I shouldn't be calling myself a Heathen if I'm also initiated in a Wiccan tradition, or working with a Druid group.  Sometimes it comes up in other ways, like a post on a Druid group I'm a part of where the poster felt it wasn't right to welcome someone to the Druid group who was also an initiated Wiccan.


Honestly there is no one single 'heathen religion'. You can call yourself heathen until the cows come home (although the term itself strongly implies Germanic pagan). What you maybe would not call yourself would be, for example, Asatru. Or Forn Sed. Or Theodish. Etc. Those denote highly *specific* types of heathenry, and if you are claiming to be Theodish (just as an example) there will be certain very detailed assumptions made about your faith practices. If you are then seen not to follow them, the members of the Theodish community would then have every right to declare you to be not one of them and not include you in their activities.

but heathen? That's almost as generic a term as 'pagan' and in fact at it's root has a very similar source and definition.

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Re: Pagan Religions, Polytheism, and the Problem with Labels
« Reply #11 on: November 14, 2013, 06:32:26 pm »
Quote from: Aiwelin;127301
As long as I'm worshiping the right deities in the right way when practicing that religion, it shouldn't matter at all what other deities I honor in the right way when practicing another - as long as there's no oaths of exclusivity that are involved, of course.

An attitude which makes you a very good reconstructionist! In Antiquity, if you traveled, you worshiped the local gods in the local way. In a Roman temple, you covered your head; in the Greek one, you bared it. In the Greek or Roman home, you burnt some of your dinner as an offering; in Egypt you offered it, and then ate it all.

What people have a problem with is others helping themselves to elements of a religion and altering them to fit their own preconceptions. I once picked up a "dictionary of goddesses" and read "Hecate is a crone...". Grrr!
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Re: Pagan Religions, Polytheism, and the Problem with Labels
« Reply #12 on: November 15, 2013, 09:41:11 am »
Quote from: DavidMcCann;129451
An attitude which makes you a very good reconstructionist! In Antiquity, if you traveled, you worshiped the local gods in the local way. In a Roman temple, you covered your head; in the Greek one, you bared it. In the Greek or Roman home, you burnt some of your dinner as an offering; in Egypt you offered it, and then ate it all.

I like to think so :P.  But really, this is what I do.  I just can't wrap my head around the modern idea that you can't be a good [blank] if you also worship some different deities in a different way at a different time.  It makes no historical sense whatsoever.





Quote from: DavidMcCann;129451
What people have a problem with is others helping themselves to elements of a religion and altering them to fit their own preconceptions. I once picked up a "dictionary of goddesses" and read "Hecate is a crone...". Grrr!

Here I absolutely agree.  If I honored Thunor by inviting Him to a Wiccan circle-casting, I would not call myself Heathen, as that is not a Heathen practice.  But I honor Him in a very Heathen way, pouring out some beer or somesuch on the ground and hailing Him.  The fact that I am also a student of a Wiccan group should have no baring on how 'real' a Heathen I am, as long as it does not affect my Heathen practices.
« Last Edit: November 15, 2013, 09:48:05 am by Aiwelin »
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Re: Pagan Religions, Polytheism, and the Problem with Labels
« Reply #13 on: November 15, 2013, 09:57:23 am »
Quote from: Aiwelin;129500
Here I absolutely agree.  If I honored Thunor by inviting Him to a Wiccan circle-casting, I would not call myself Heathen, as that is not a Heathen practice.  But I honor Him in a very Heathen way, pouring out some beer or somesuch on the ground and hailing Him.  The fact that I am also a student of a Wiccan group should have no baring on how 'real' a Heathen I am, as long as it does not affect my Heathen practices.

Here's the thing, though, that you may not be considering.

Your wiccan practices WILL influence your heathen ones. There's a reason why so many of us pretty much ignore Diana Paxson these days, she seems unable to separate her Wicca from her Asatru and thus, is not really practicing either of them very well.

Does being Wiccan (or whatever) make one less of an Asatruar? Well, in some ways, it makes one DIFFERENT. That doesn't make one less, but it does mean that many things will be unrecognisable as Asatru and thus, the person performing these actions will be thought of as 'other'. (just using Asatru as an example here).

As I stated previously, 'heathen' is a pretty generic term, although with strong Germanic implications (and lately, more people are using 'heathen' to denote specifically reconstructionism), so being Wiccan shouldn't in theory have any impact on how 'heathen' you are, but it sure will have an impact on how you practice specific types of heathenry.

Aiwelin

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Re: Pagan Religions, Polytheism, and the Problem with Labels
« Reply #14 on: November 15, 2013, 10:29:02 am »
Quote from: bobthesane;129503
Here's the thing, though, that you may not be considering.

Your wiccan practices WILL influence your heathen ones. There's a reason why so many of us pretty much ignore Diana Paxson these days, she seems unable to separate her Wicca from her Asatru and thus, is not really practicing either of them very well.

Does being Wiccan (or whatever) make one less of an Asatruar? Well, in some ways, it makes one DIFFERENT. That doesn't make one less, but it does mean that many things will be unrecognisable as Asatru and thus, the person performing these actions will be thought of as 'other'. (just using Asatru as an example here).

As I stated previously, 'heathen' is a pretty generic term, although with strong Germanic implications (and lately, more people are using 'heathen' to denote specifically reconstructionism), so being Wiccan shouldn't in theory have any impact on how 'heathen' you are, but it sure will have an impact on how you practice specific types of heathenry.

 
I think perhaps you are making too broad a generalization.  I realize that Germanic Paganism, as a whole, has had a lot of trouble with people who also practice Wicca coming in and making things 'wiccatru'; but I just don't see that happening here.  For one, my Heathenry comes first - if anything is changed or informed, it's the members of my Wiccan circle who get to see some other perspectives from time to time.  

Secondly - I don't think it's impossible to make distinctions between two practices in one's personal life.  To use a rather mundane illustration: I can cook both Pakistani nehari, which my motherinlaw taught me how to make, and I can cook chicken parmesan.  Both of these are wonderful, tasty dishes in their own way.  But do I mix oregano in my nehari?  Would I think to add garam masala to my chicken parmesan?  No!  I know that these two dishes are best left to stand on their own, separately; and I am quite capable of making and enjoying them both separately.
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