The Green Eclectic

I’ve been away, and pondering.

There aren’t many people following this.  I understand the reasons why.  But I wonder if the energies I might pour into posting here or having more people read my thoughts here wouldn’t be a misdirection of my energy.

I’m (yet again) realizing that I’m solitary for a reason.  I’m a solitary sort of person, and my views aren’t the views of the majority.  It’s not that I’m better than others, more that I don’t necessarily mesh with other Pagans on the key points.  Heck, I even disagree with a lot of the Pagan community on what the key points are, it would seem.  And all the angst that flows through and around our community redirects energy into places I wish it didn’t have to go.  Granted, there’s merit in some of the intracommunity discussions, and there’s an immense amount of importance in our fight for religious freedom in a (seemingly) increasingly nonpluralistic religious society (what a tongue-twisting phrase).  And some of the big (resurfacing) blow ups that occurred in the Pagan community right after I tried launching this thing (e.g. should we ditch the term Pagan?, among other things) haven’t helped either.

At various points I’ve considered different blogs, and a podcast.  Would I connect with other Pagans, or ignore them and go my own path?  Having a place where you self-reflect but don’t connect is an echo chamber.  There are pros and cons.

And what’s the point of putting my thoughts out there if I’m not wanting to convert anyone?  If it’s to find and gather up the people out there who share my views (such people undoubtedly exist), am I looking to be some sort of leader?  I’m a leader and an advocate and an activist in so many aspects of my life that it’s exhausting.  Can’t my faith be one place where I am only obligated to myself?  Where there’s peace and no pressure?  The energy I expend on my spiritual life should be directed toward helping me grow, shouldn’t it?  Or is that a selfish view, and that in fact by connecting with others I will do good things but also learn and grow?

I was going to delete this blog, but perhaps I just don’t recognize its purpose yet.  I’ll continue to consider.

And despite what I’ve implied in this post, I do welcome any thoughts or feelings you might have concerning this.

PS — I hope you had/have a wonderful Lughnasadh, if that’s something you celebrate.


Seemingly the entire Pagan blogosphere is wrestling with the term Pagan this week.  I’ve wrestled with the term myself over the years, and I’ve already weighed in with some thoughts on the current dialog.  Over the past few days, in between walks on the beach, meals with friends, collecting local and sustainable food for our table, sleeping, bathing, and otherwise living life, I’ve been checking for updates to this ongoing conversation at various sites, not only in the blogs themselves but in the resulting comment threads.  (Some suggested posts, threads, and links to other resources worth checking out: Star Foster’s Link Roundup, T. Thorn Coyle’s Can We Share a Common Fire?, Alison Leigh Lilly’s Religious Branding, Ruby Sara’s That Troublesome Term… Again, Resa’s Labeling is Complicated, and two posts at The Wild Hunt: Paganism, Solidarity, and the Way Forward and The Pagan Terminology Discussion Continues.)

There are (to me, at least) a few thoughts coalescing:

  • To some, the term Pagan is so ambiguous as to be pointless, because even as an umbrella term it means nothing definitive.
  • To others, there are so many Wiccans out there that the terms Pagan and Wiccan are taken at face value by many to be (not accurately) synonymous, so what’s the point?
  • To yet others, the term Pagan has been hijacked by the New Agers or the Non Europeans or the [Insert Group Name Here] and because language is apparently an unchanging and not at all dynamic thing, the word Pagan can mean nothing besides what the Group Self-Appointed As Most Authoritative On The Subject desires it to mean.
  • To still others, the term Pagan is a dirty word that implies we’re somehow less deserving, because the Abrahamic faiths have so much negative baggage associated with the word and maybe if we found a different word to describe ourselves the people of the Abrahamic faiths would realize we’re okay after all. (Setting aside the fact that no one word will ever inclusively describe all of our belief systems, nor cleanse us in the eyes of the Big Three Religions.)
  • To many others, while the term is imperfect, it’s the only way a number of smaller faiths can ever possibly hope to achieve religious freedom in countries dominated by non-Pagan faiths.  While this group appreciates why people might want to abandon the term Pagan, as is their right, there is a hope that we can all still work together toward this shared goal.

While the dialog online hasn’t been without its share of heated language, and the occasional but inevitable trolls have reared their heads, I’m very, very thankful for this discussion that’s taken place.  For the most part the conversation has been exceptionally mature and very well-thought out, with many interesting points made.  Before this week I thought I was pretty much okay with the term Pagan to describe myself, even if it was an imperfect label in some respects.  However, I guess deep down there was a part of me that was still waffling on the issue, and having all this excellent discussion and synergy on the topic brought the idea back to the fore, gave me more to think about than ever before, and sped up the pace of that thought process.

So, what have I decided?  Does the term Pagan work for me?

Here’s an interesting approach to making decisions that I sometimes use:  when I truly can’t decide between two things, when I truly think I have no preference one way or the other, I toss a coin.  Seriously.  Why not?  If you think you’ve weighed both possibilities and considered the potential consequences of each, and you still really don’t have a preference, what harm is there in flipping a coin?  And, in fact, there’s an interesting phenomenon that might occur while that coin is flipping side over side through the air: you may suddenly feel the answer in your gut.  You may suddenly find that you are really hoping that the coin lands a certain way.  Et voila… you’ve found you do indeed have a preference.

And so, as I’ve read through the various thoughts on this, and heard people say that there’s no point in the term Pagan because it’s so often conflated with Wiccan, or that Pagan is such an ambiguous word as to be useless, or how I can’t be Pagan because I live in North America… as I’ve been reading all this stuff, it’s as if I’ve watched the coin flipping through the air.  I’ve experienced a feeling in my gut.  That feeling screams out, “Don’t take this term away from me.  That’s my decision, not yours.  It can mean different things, even if that makes it less useful.  Do most words ever just have one meaning?  I may be sick of people associating Paganism with things I don’t believe, but in the absence of that word, what starting point do I have for explaining my beliefs or finding potential common ground with others?”

Pagan is a term I’m going to continue to use, and a term I don’t want to see taken away from me.  Not that anyone can take the term away, but there have certainly been quite a few people stating that they’d like to… just enough to elicit that surprising (to me) response.  At the end of the day, explaining my various beliefs out longhand is the only true way to define my faith, but shorthand is helpful, and I’m glad we have the term Pagan to bring us together and help us initiate dialog.

It might not be the perfect term, but it’s the term we’ve got.  It’s a term that most of us (at least loosely) define in the same general way.  It’s a term that starts conversations, that helps us find one another.  It’s a term that facilitates gathering together around the fire when working toward equality and religious freedom.

Pagan actually is a term that can unite us.

A contrived tag cloud

Blogging about blogs...

There are lots and lots and lots of blogs out there this week addressing the appropriateness of the term Pagan.  It’s a once-again-crescendoing debate, which has its lulls but never seems to die.  If you want to read some of the buzz, the Wild Hunt (as ever) is a good hub for linkage.  My favorite of all the essays I’ve read, I think, is this one by Resa over at Labeling is Complicated. (Talk about summing up something complex in three words!  Well done, Resa.)

This grand discussion is a macrocosm of what many Pagans go through internally at some (or many) point(s), I think.  I know I certainly have.  I call myself Pagan, but I’m not polytheistic, I don’t believe in magic(k), I don’t assign a gender or genders to the Divine and consequently avoid the words god/goddess, lord/lady, etc.  I don’t have any reconstructionist leanings, there’s no text that holds the necessary dogma, and while I definitely have mentors, I don’t see any way that anyone could be my priest or priestess.

While I use the word eclectic to describe myself, even that’s a bit misleading: it implies to some that I pull my beliefs from other religious traditions.  I don’t, for the most part.  I believe what I believe, what I’ve always believed, as arrived at through observation and experience.  There are the places and events that feel sacred, the moments when you sense things greater than yourself, the eternal patterns of how the world works, and the obvious interconnectedness — the way ecology works not only in natural ecosystems, but also in human relationships.

This of course does not mean that I don’t have a great deal in common with people of a variety of other faiths — there are threads of universal truths which are interwoven through all cultures and belief systems (but which manifest differently depending on the context).  So of course I have bits and pieces in common with people of established traditions: we’re all human, and there’s nothing new under the sun.

So why call myself Pagan?  I’ve wrestled with that, believe me.

While I don’t seemingly fit within any of the defined denominations of Paganism, the more widely agreed upon tenets resonate with me.  A belief in the interconnectedness of all things, of a sacredness in the natural world, and a respect for the eternal cycles of birth, life, death, and rebirth… those are observable universal truths for me.

Paganism is also the one religion from which I have overtly adopted my religious traditions.  I observe the Wheel of the Year, though I’ve made it my own in a way that differs from the way it’s practiced by most other Pagans.  And I like that name for it — the Wheel of the Year — because it speaks to the continuity of cycles.  However, I’ve slowly been discarding a number of the other commonly used Pagan terms and definitions associated with it.  I don’t use the word sabbat, preferring instead the world holiday (defined as a day which has special significance).  I don’t generally use the Pagan names of the holidays, except for a common frame of reference when celebrating with other Pagans.  I observe the cross-quarters at the exact midpoint between each equinox and solstice, such that Mid Autumn (what most Pagans term Samhain) will fall on November 7th this year, rather than October 31st.  And I don’t think of that date as the start of the new year… for me that coincides with the Winter Solstice, when we celebrate light returning to the world.

I think I’ll close by quoting the conclusion to Resa’s guest post at Pantheos (which you should go read in its entirety), because it sums things up pretty well for me as well:

If I don’t have some easy shorthand for what I am, it makes it burdensome to try to connect with other people. For me it’s also intellectually dishonest. I would not be the religious practitioner that I am today without the experiences I have had in the neo-pagan community. Pagans welcomed me and taught me and offered love and trust. As much as I don’t want to be mistaken for a circle caster who can’t wear synthetic fabric and can’t use a timepiece, I don’t want to disenfranchise myself from the community that has been my home for many years. For now, I suppose I’ll stick with the Facebook trope: Religious Affiliation– It’s complicated!

A photo of a creek that runs near Hystery's home.

Plainly Pagan

I recently happened across Plainly Pagan: A Quaker Journal.  I have been musing over this post from that blog for a few days now.  I thought about simply replying at her site, but this is sort of a post unto itself; my thoughts lack the succinctness required for a mere comment.

Is Paganism a single religion or many?  It’s something with which I wrestle a lot.  I can recall that feeling, years ago, of ‘coming home’ when I learned of the label ‘Pagan’.  I recently heard someone describe it like this: “I’ve been on this path my entire life, but I’ve only been aware of it for a couple of years.”  That was how I felt a couple of years down this path as well: Paganism seemingly encapsulated so much of what I’d always felt inside.

But I quickly learned that it also encapsulated a lot more things to which I couldn’t really relate.

My core beliefs have never changed, but my willingness to be lumped under various labels vacillates wildly sometimes.  I’ll go from “of course I’m Pagan” to “well, yes, I’m religious — but it’s complicated and it’s personal” with a hefty unspoken dose of and I don’t particularly feel like discussing it with you so please quit asking me about it tacked on for good measure.  Were it not for some of my ‘more mainstream’ Pagan friends (i.e. polytheistic, or Wiccan, or non-solitary Pagan friends), I probably would have abandoned the term Pagan long ago.   But those friends listen patiently when I go through my “I am not like those other Pagans” phases and then calmly reply, “You’re right, you’re not like most of the outspoken Pagans everyone sees, but you’re Pagan, and there are probably a lot of Pagans out there just like you.”

So I suppose in the end I’d like to think that there are many different sorts of Pagans out there, and that we can all claim that label, if labels must be claimed, and that we can all be truthful in our claims, even if we sometimes believe wildly divergent things.

I am thankful for the entries that can be found over at Plainly Pagan.  I’m enjoying them and will hopefully be following them well into the future.

{May 14, 2011}   Books and Journals
The book in which I chronicle my path.

My Journal

Pagan Blog Prompts has yet another useful prompt this week: the classic question of your Book of Shadows, Grimoire, journal, or what have you.

Not being Wiccan, I don’t keep a ‘Book of Shadows’ or a ‘Grimoire,’ but I do have a special journal that I use to keep track my path and my explorations of the Wheel of the Year.

I picked up my most recent journal at a Barnes&Noble while visiting Washington, D.C. last summer.  It was the only such journal they had in stock at the time, and it had (or, should I say, “still has”) a small flaw on the cover, but I was too enamored with it to let a blemish stop me from my purchase.  Only later, when I saw one at a B&N on the opposite side of the continent, did I consciously realize that it’s clearly a mass-produced journal and that I could have gotten one at any B&N.  In fact, you can even get one online.  (Will the wonders of the Internet ever cease?)

But hey, we all have flaws, right?  And this one reminds me of that rainy afternoon in the big city, when my eyes settled on its cover, the curiosity as I pulled it from the shelf, and the appreciation I felt at its weight in my hands.

It’s my newest old friend.  And it’s huge… two inches thick.  I only really write in it on special occasions, not daily — mostly to chronicle my holiday celebrations — so I think it’ll be with me for a very long time.

et cetera