Saturday, May 28, 2011

Why I Am A Pagan

There seems to be a debate going on in the Pagan community regarding its very name: should we call ourselves Pagan or not? Many have voiced their views, so here's mine.

Before I express my view on why I prefer the term Pagan for myself, I want to present some background as well as the definitions I use and have designed as a student of Theology.

Definitions of Paganism:

What is Paganism?

Paganism is the whole of those religions, spiritual paths and faiths that are a) inspired, b) influenced, c) based on, d) revivals/reconstructions and/or continuations of old and ancient religions and systems of belief and worship of the Old World (Europe, Mediterranean lands and Mesopotamia), which are simultaneously NOT parts of the Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam and all their "heresies" and related faiths).

Paganism is divided into: a) Paleo-Paganism, b) Meso-Paganism and c) Neo-Paganism.

Paleo-Paganism includes the ancient religions and systems that resided within the borders of the Old World (e.g. ancient greek religion, anglo-saxon/norse faiths, sumerian religion etc).
Meso-Paganism refers to the various revivals (mostly short-termed and with little numbers in followers) of the ancient religions and faiths during the Middle-Ages, hence the "meso" prefic, meaning "middle". An example of this is Georgius Gemistus Plethon, who lived during the later Byzantine times and advocated a return to the Olympian Gods. He followed a neoplatonic, archaic-esque, eclectic one could say, form of the Hellenic religion.
Neo-Paganism is the term referring to the whole of those religions and belief systems bearing the characteristics mentioned in the above, first definition of Paganism and which are followed AFTER the 18th century (aka in the modern times).

Now, some background. I realize that in countries such as the USA and the UK, with the decades-old presence of Wicca and with the growth and publicity Wicca has acquired, "Pagan" sounds to lots of people as "Wiccan-ish". Let me inform you that in Greece, it's nothing like that. Wicca is surely known here, but it has almost no actual presence and influence. We have Masonic Lodges as well as A.:.A.:. initiates and an OTO branch but we have zero Wiccan Traditions and covens, save for some obscure Eclectic gatherings.

Our major Pagan population are the Hellenic Recons. Unfortunately, there are lots of problems with that group. First, they are (and in many cases, rightfully) associated with ethnicist and extremist political parties and ideologies. Some of the most vocal organizations (YSEE, Church of Hellenes etc) often engage in bickering and fights over who hosts what event, attacks on Christianity using the most degrading of expressions, dogmatic and ethnicist behaviour etc. All that overwhelms and overshadows any productive work they might yield.

In addition, the no. 1 word used, by media and (academic) texts on Pagan religions is "idolatry". Some theology books (such as the ones I have for my university) use the term "polytheism" to denote all non-Abrahamic religions when comparing them with Christianity as a religious subcategory. Pagan religions are also treated (in university nonetheless!) as dead religions and any modern systems, be them reconstructions/revivals or not, are considered fruitless and unrelated cults or "phases".

Paganism, from my experience with other Greeks, is associated with nature and polytheism. It is not dominated by Wicca, it is not tainted linguistically (since few Greeks are aware of the Latin meaning).

My personal reasons for using Pagan as a self-identifying super-label (the specific name of my path is NeoHellenic Witchcraft) are as following:

1. It is an evolved word no longer being used with the exact meaning of its Latin origin (like "gay" is no longer used with its older meaning of "happy").

2. According to the definitions I provided, it is a term applicable on exactly those religions that often choose to call themselves Pagan (as opposed to, let's say, Hindus or First Nations who abhor the term); the religions being those within the Old World, which is exactly where the Latin term would have been used in any meaningful context.

3. Within Greece, it is a relatively "clean" term, without the burden/taints it has in the USA, the UK etc.

4. It has been, so far, the only term to fully encompass and thoroughly fit my path when I need to present it to non-Pagans (polytheist, Ethnic Hellene, Witch etc apply only on PARTS of my path and leave out other core elements).

In conclusion, I am and will identify myself as PAGAN. I must also note that as a theologian, in any and all possible projects of mine where Pagan religions are mentioned, I will use it as a valid categorizing label. Of course, I will indicate that some/all members of this or that system self-identify differently.

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