This whole post is a disclaimer, meant to clarify certain statements and intents that have arisen since writing Part One: The What. I consider it an interlude before Part Two, still forthcoming, to help keep its writing and message orderly.
Since writing the previous post, I have received some slight push-back online and in personal conversations with friends and loved ones. I consider them to be, more helpfully, questions for clarification and suggestions. This is a subject near and dear to my heart, therefore, I am inclined to explain further what my intent is for “pagan culture” and where it is all coming from.
First and foremost, I do not intend to “standardize” or canonize any aspect of the myriad pagan belief systems we love and rely on for meaning. There is no reason to. Many, if not all of us, are attracted to paganism because it blends and mixes different sources of inspiration–both ancient and modern–and gives us the freedom to express them according to our highest Will.
In fact, I would wager that this is such a central and unique feature of the Big Tent of Paganism–everyone’s included, everyone’s accepted–that it should be one of the central tenets of our culture.
That said, there are many similarities among the many different paths and traditions. This could be due to historical accident–after all, the “family tree” of modern occultism often crosses paths again with itself–or it could be a simple truth. We are uncovering the roots of European/Mediterranean belief structures, latent in our cultural and genetic heritage. It is those similarities that must be acknowledged and celebrated, rather than letting small differences keep us apart.
Second, I would like to dispel the confusion regarding culture once more, especially the culture of a religious group/movement. In order to do so, we must seek understanding of other well-known minority religious groups/movements. Below is one example:
The Jewish people in modern times share many similarities with the pagan movement. Both had diverse “homelands” that were crushed by imperialistic powers, both were forced into hiding/diaspora, both were threatened by dominant overcultures, and both endure. There is a difference, however, between the Jewish faith and that which is considered culture. (I would argue, this is mainly due to the “rise” of secular Jewish people, but I only have conjecture, here.) In this example, faith describes the set of beliefs held by a historically persecuted people, while culture is the acts done by them to remember, celebrate, and preserve that culture. Faith is the story of Exodus, culture is the seder at Passover.
For the pagan movement today, faith is the beliefs associated with the Wheel of the Year–say, the upcoming Mabon and Samhain–and the culture is the act of coming together to feast, note the changing of the seasons, and remember our ancestors. The same thing follows for any other sabbat or act. We focus on the culture, the acts that set us apart from other folks and give us a sense of shared identity.
Thirdly, I feel the need to specify how culture functions in a movement as diverse as ours. While one can recognize elements of pagan culture in each individual–the similarities of our actions–it takes full expression in larger groups and communities.
It is unsurprising, then, that this is also an area of struggle and “lack” for paganism. We often fail to manifest a full-range of cultural practice in our communities because the patterns of the overculture dominate our consciousness, and we follow them blindly. That is, we set up rigid schedules by experts, we attend as individuals rather than groups, and we allow the blatant commodification/commercialization of our cultural identity in vendor shops. (This already feels like a sweeping generalization, so I am completely open to critique on this point. Please indicate specific gatherings and festivals organized to foster community, bonding of people and groups, and foster a barter model of exchange.)
The pagan culture spoken of here exists in an “otherworld” of its own, while it becomes praxis and concrete in community settings. Culture, then, can be seen as the “social mores” we all/each ascribe to in relationship to the world and each other.
Therefore, when individuals or groups have a limited experience of community, our culture becomes stunted. Compare how a average CUUPs chapter or large temple/coven function with the average Christian, Jewish, or Muslim communities. Do we collect donations to help members in financial needs? How often do we minister at sickbeds and deathbeds? Do we recommended fellow pagans to job openings we know would suit them? I have rarely seen that happen in the average pagan community, though I have seen many express a desire for such support networks.
Fourthly, we must address the issue of authority. Even this call for a (supposedly singular) pagan culture has no doubt been seen by many as an overreach on my part, yet I claimed no authority from the outset. I continue to claim none of it, and I speak to this audience as individuals, skewing authority figures entirely. In my humble opinion: a culture is not created nor dictated by authority, it is woven together by the acts of its members.
By the same token, we must admit to a deep-seated problem. Pagans are notoriously anti-authoritarians, and that has created more hindrances than we’ve been able to manage collectively. We suspect ego and manipulation whenever strong opinions are voiced and all-too-often, we take criticism of the whole community personally. The reasons for this may be varied–and justified–but many worthy endeavors have been torn down or discarded, rather than mediated and amended to suit the needs of our greater community.
I want to pledge here that this search and expression of common culture need not have leaders. The choice is within each of us to make, hopefully guided by our highest Will and the spiritual counsel of ancestors/spirits/gods.
Fifthly and finally, I would like to leave you with a symbolic structure of how I, personally, envision our pagan culture.
Forest ecosystems are, undoubtedly, given a great a appeal within the wider pagan community, even if most us are urban-dwellers. Therefore, let us recognize the interconnectedness and interdependence that takes place in forests. Let us recognize that no two trees are alike, and each are supported by a network of deep roots (our ancestors and historical nations). Let us recognize that while the forest is a definite, manifested reality, there is a great deal of exchange between its members, from lichens to beetles to tree bark, to fungi, to underbrush. It is fed and recycled by the powers of Nature (divine beings) and exists for a greater purpose (helping to balance the planet).
Our pagan culture must be a forest: just as rich, complex, diverse, decentralized, and unified. Not unified in belief, but in the way we act toward the world and each other.
Do we say “Merry Meet” or even recognize it as a greeting? Do we say “thank the gods!” instead of singular? Do we more readily defer to the leadership and authority of women, as vessels of the Goddess? Do we find ourselves automatically standing in a circle, even when other arrangements are possible? Do we inherently recognize the spirit and dignity of life around us, domesticated or wild? Do we feel great loss at the careless destruction of an environment, or the damage done to Earth by industrial civilization? Do we still mourn the conquest of the Gauls, the erasure of Celtic lifeways by the Romans, the slaughter of the Druids at Anglesey, or the systemic suppression of herbalists and cunning people by the Christians?
These are all pagan culture.
Read Part Two: The How here. Thanks for reading so far!