Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Let Us Be Pagan

  When I say that I'm pagan, people make assumptions, many of which are probably untrue. Because paganism happens to be the label for a beautifully diverse group of people, the pagan next to me doesn't necessarily hold my beliefs or do the things that I do. Some people think that this lack of central organization will lead to the downfall of modern paganism. Some of them even believe that we need to come together and create doctrines and creeds to bind us. I, however, feel that this diversity makes up our very core and that by taking away from it, we would take something vital from paganism.

   Paganism isn't the only religion whose adherents hold to a broad spectrum of belief and practice. Judaism is a perfect example of another. No one who knows much about Judaism expects everyone who calls themselves a Jew to keep kosher or wear a kippah or grow the hair on the sides of their head out. Some Jews do take these commands in their holy book literally and do these things. Others leave them and instead draw meaning from their sacred text in the form of rich symbolism. There are these two extremes within Judaism, and any number of Jews inbetween. What makes them all Jews is that, in some way, they all derive meaning from similar traditions and rituals and from their own self-identification as Jews. The comparison is not a perfect one. Neopagans have no one holy book or sacred text, and many different traditions are present within the pagan community. However, we can see from Judaism that such diversity is a valid, effective option for a lasting religion.

   When someone thinks of a pagan, a very specific image may come to mind. Not all pagans are that. Even many pagan books say that pagans are this or that, but the messy, beautiful truth is that not all pagans are either. Though some pagans believe we should define our beliefs, our doctrines, and our rituals more clearly and definitively in order to make us a more unified, effective whole, I believe that when paganism loses its diversity, it will lose the very thing most of us delight in. Many have come from religions of strict doctrine or dogma, and we want to be free, not simply from our religions of origin, but from demands from within the pagan community, as well. We were drawn to the openness of paganism that allowed us to explore our own beliefs and preferences, while giving us a framework to grow within. When paganism becomes like that which we fled from, we will be drawn away.

  Despite all that I've said, there are things that bind pagans together, that cause us to find meaning in the designation of being "pagan." In one way or another, the earth and nature are sacred to us, and a vital part of our spirituality. We all have holy days or festivals that we observe and we draw wisdom from natural cycles, particularly from what is sometimes called the "wheel of the year." Many of us believe that by focusing intent and consciousness, we can change our reality and take control of our own lives. There is frequently emphasis on some form of deity, from a "Great Spirit" to a God and Goddess to many gods and goddesses, seen as either real or archetypal. Many of us believe in a higher power, but some are atheists. Most are polytheistic, but not all.

  Let us delight in our diversity and in our ability to accept differences. Let us abstain from those practices that do not move us and believe only those things that make sense to us. Let us be a diverse, beautiful whole.

   Let us be pagan.