In an online discussion recently about “reclaiming” the word ‘pagan’ from it being used as a blanket term for “evil and uncouth person” by namy people in the United States today, I mentioned that there are times when I use the term instead of what is perhaps the more accurate term for my beliefs, polytheist. When I do this it is because I want the focus to be on something other than the “What is a polytheist? Is that some kind of Pagan?” response I have gotten in the past. Yes, I do prefer the accuracy of polytheist, but not when it gets in the way of getting other points across. During this discussion, another person brought into the mix a valid point however. His contention is that using the term “pagan” as a self-descriptive term carries with it another form of baggage based on the NEO-pagan religious movement.
As he put it, “While I love the idea of reclaiming the word “pagan” as something to be proud of rather than to be used as a slur by christians, I think this has become impossible. Nowadays when Western people hear the word “Pagan” they think “Wicca/Wiccan-derived” and automatically assume they know what you practice (i.e. the whole “Wheel of the Year”-thing, drawing circles, waving wands and athames around in ritual gestures, etc.) when this is not in fact what I practice.”
Another person replied to this “I don’t believe that it’s “impossible” to utilize the term “pagan” based on the reasons that (the first person) states. It’s a generic term, rather like referring to oneself as a “Christian.” When I term myself a Hellenic Pagan, people ask me what that means and I tell them.”
This got me thinking about both of their statements and I find that although in practice I am more like the second person, intellectually I am more like the first. And I think that, in my case at least, is the fact that for almost the first TWENTY YEARS of my life as a pagan, I simply did not know that there WERE “Reconstructionist” pagans is a major part of the reason. I did not know what reconstructionism was as a religious paradigm. Although I did know that “Wicca” was not for me and did not serve to fill my religious/spiritual needs, I simply did not see an alternative if I was to worship the HELLENIC gods as my heart called me to.
I knew the Asatru were not for me because I was not drawn to the Nordic Gods. I knew American Indian spirituality was not for me because I did not feel a connection to the Gods and Spirits of the pre-European inhabitants of this continent. And despite “fads” in which Gods most Wiccans of my personal acquaintance would honor in their circles, either the focus seemed to be on an artificial sycretism of various Gods and Goddesses (aka “All Gods are one, All Goddesses are one”) or there seemed to be a greater focus on the Celtic pantheon over other pantheons such as the Greek, Roman or Egyptian. As somone who the Greek gods were actively calling to, neither option was right to me, in part because equating Aphrodite with Artemis just did not work in my mind. I still have trouble, in fact with equating the Greek and Roman gods because although the overlap between those two pantheons is considerable there are gods and goddesses on both sides of the divide who do not cross over (such as Pompona on the Roman side and Chione on the Greek).
It was not until AFTER Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans (where I was living at the time) that I first discovered an actual Hellenic Polytheist internet presence. Finally, I had discovered a means to ground my praxis in a way that made sense to me.
Why does this personal journey matter to the issue at the beginning of this blog? Simply put, if there was NOT a publicity gap between Wicca (and Wiccan-derived traditions) compared to other Pagan traditions I would not have taken so long to find my true religious home.