Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Sub-Cultural Paganism

 It is no secret that for a number of years there has been a raging debate among Pagans as what, and who "qualifies" or "constitutes" as being Pagan. In my time I've seen it rage again and again and I've begun thinking about how the word is used, and how it could be used. Any attempt to define it usually results in it excluding a large number of people who call themselves Pagan. "Pagans are polytheists" excludes Humanistic and Atheistic Pagans, as well as technically excluding some Duotheists and excluding all Monotheistic Pagans. Saying "Pagans are Nature-Worshipers" excludes folks like myself who are not nature worshipers, and I  know a Kemetic or two who feels the same. Saying Pagans are "Non-Abhrahamic" excludes Christo-Pagans and "forces" A LOT of people who would be horribly offended and disgusted with you if you called them a Pagan. All of these things, when looking at them through a wide-angle lens do not seem ideal. What are we to do then?

I have a suggestion. Maybe one that is a little crazy.

We move Paganism from being a "religious grouping" into being a sub-cultural grouping. It is really a wild idea, because it forces us to have a huge perspective shift, and I see a variety of ways that it would be useful to treat Pagan as a sub-cultural identifier (like "Gamer" or "Frat Guy" or "Geek") rather than treating it like a religious identifier (which is a sub-cultural modifier I suppose).

-It gives freedom to come and go

That's right, by moving it from "religion" to "sub-culture" it gives everyone the freedom to stay in the group, or to disassociate with it. We all remember when Star Foster announced her resignation and dropping of the word "Pagan", there was a lot of controversy and a lot of people going "NO! You can't do that because you are a polytheist!" and a lot of folks beating them over the head because they were "forcing labels on people." By looking at Paganism as a sub-culture we give people the ability to associate or disassociate as they please.

-It strips it of theological implications

When was the last time that you assumed that a gamer believed and worshiped a particular way based on his being a gamer? Sub-cultural groups may have certain ethical and philosophical assumptions made about them, but as a whole they aren't assumed to have a particular theological stance. Pagans ARE currently assumed to have a theological stance by outsiders, one of nature-worship mostly, but sometimes one that is based entirely on the outsider's interactions and experiences with Wicca or Wicca-inspired Pagans. Not to mention the fact that many Pagans immediately say "Paganism is seeing Nature as Divine" or "Paganism is the reverence of nature" or something along those lines. That is fine and well, but that excludes folks like myself who really aren't that at and whose faiths by and large, don't consider themselves to fall into that category. It excludes us, and many Reconstructionist (Kemetics, Hellenists, Germanic, and others) feel that we are on "the skirts" because of it. By viewing it as a sub-culture only, we remove that theological requirement and concern for the environment will become a sub-cultural staple (just as many folks  heavily involved in the Anime/Manga community are fans of Japanese culture).

-It solves the Atheist and Christo-Pagan issue

I feel like in the Pagan community there are some hostilities towards Atheist/Humanistic Pagans but even more so towards Christian Pagans or "Christo-Pagans". To reject one while accepting the other is kind of hypocritical in my book, as one disbelieves in a million gods and the other disbelieves in a million and one. Also, we should take into account that if a person is a "Christo-Pagan" the likelihood that they are a conservative Christian who believes that Christianity is the one true way is probably pretty low, and if they do have that attitude the sub-culture will have natural ways to curtail it (mainly through negative reactions to such an extreme stance). By treating it as a culture which one can freely associate and disassociate with, we open up the pathway for both of these groups to be accepted and for neither to be denigrated. It won't be an over-night change, but it will open up the channels for it to happen. Let us also not forget that a Christian and an Atheist who involves/invokes Ceres, for example, in some spell will likely end up treating the Goddess the same was (as an archetype or something of that nature).

-It doesn't marginalize differences

In the current Pagan atmosphere there is a strong tendency to severely downplay differences between faiths (I hate the word Path, I find it belittling) and overemphasize the similarities. The reason is because our faiths are seen as being some sort of denomination of an overarching religious categorization, due to Paganism being treated as a religion. By looking at it as a sub-cultural group, we don't have to up-play or downplay anything. Our faiths don't become the "uniting factor", the uniting factor becomes a desire for one another's company. We may find common-ground in our faith, or we may find that our faiths are radically different. That is fully and totally fine when you look at Paganism as a sub-culture, not as a group of faiths united by some common element (which no one can seem to find). We are all Pagans, because we choose to be so, not because we feel obligated to by whatever our faith may be.

I do see one downside to this change though, specifically for Eclectics. Many Eclectics refer to themselves simply as "Pagan", by moving from a religious to sub-cultural viewpoint, it may make them feel disenfranchised or leave them grasping around for what to call themselves. This is one "issue" which I haven't sorted out yet. I'd suggest just calling one's self an Eclectic among the in-group and referring to one's self as an Eclectic Neo-Pagan to the out-group. I'd much rather hear from Eclectics on that "designation" though, and their suggestions for an "alternative name"

Even Rarity is giving it a thought.

1 comment:

  1. I think that would be the most meaningful definition, from a social science viewpoint. It's rather like the term "geek" I identify as a geek, but it is very broad & hard to identify, and there are a lot of overlapping subcultures that can be considered "geeky". People may argue about what should be included, but at the end of the day I know when I'm among "my people".
    BTW- my spiritual blog is at


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A young man living in North Texas. He is an actor, a Hellenistos, and a proud member of Hellenion.