Sunday, January 27, 2013

What is it? Paganism

What is it? is one of several types of posts I have planned for Polyamorous Paganism. I hope to use it to outline the basics of an identity, concept, practice, or act that not everyone floating around the internet may be familiar with. These aren't 100% comprehensive posts, and they aren't infallible. I can only explain my personal views on what a subject is, and I don't speak for the entirety of any community. Additionally, I'm still learning. In many of these communities I'm still a student and in some of them I'm still new. What is it? is only meant to be an introduction to a subject and an invitation to start learning along with me. 

I am a Pagan. This has been true to varying degrees over the past ten years of my life, sometimes in the guise of Wicca, sometimes as a general polytheist, and, since starting college, a fully embraced identity label with an understanding of what that commitment entails.  To me this is one of the most meaningful parts of my identity. It's also part of the second word in the name of this blog. So what is Paganism?

The Pagan Pride Project provides the definition I've come to consider to be the most accurate to my understanding of Paganism.
A Pagan or NeoPagan is someone who self-identifies as a Pagan, and whose spiritual or religious practice or belief fits into one or more of the following categories:

  • Honoring, revering, or worshipping a Deity or Deities found in pre-Christian, classical, aboriginal, or tribal mythology; and/or
  • Practicing religion or spirituality based upon shamanism, shamanic, or magickal practices; and/or
  • Creating new religion based on past Pagan religions and/or futuristic views of society, community, and/or ecology;
  • Focusing religious or spiritual attention primarily on the Divine Feminine; and/or
  • Practicing religion that focuses on earth based spirituality.
If this sounds vague it's because it has to cover a huge swathe of people. Paganism is accurately understood as more of an umbrella term than the name of a single religion. Under that umbrella lies hundreds of belief systems both new and ancient which are further subdivided into covens, churches, temples, groups, and solitary practitioners.  Most of the people in all those different groups worship some number of thousands and thousands of gods, goddesses, and spiritual beings. I say most because one of the truisms of Paganism is that there are very few truisms. We're an incredibly individualistic bunch that come to a lot of different belief systems mostly through experience rather than direct conversion.

While avoiding expectations of universal identifying factors here are a few characteristics that tend to be accurate about Pagans:

  • We're a non-proselytizing religion. You'll never find us knocking on your door during dinner because we don't care what your practices are as long as we're allowed to practice ours in peace.
  • We tend to be based around experiences rather than texts. There's a joke that refers to Pagans as "People of the Library" since we have so many books, but our connection with the divine tends to be based around personal gnosis, not scripture.
  • There are more of us than you think. Due to both subtle and overt forms of oppression that are enforced by more populous religious groups Pagans aren't always out about their religious beliefs. You may know a few without even realizing it.

All of these points and the ones above are contentious. The number of different ideas about what Paganism is and what it involves are staggering. I'll go into much deeper depth later on for those who are interested, but this is a good functional definition going forward for people looking to understand how Paganism connects to other identities.

If you're interested in learning more about Paganism is an incredible starting resource. Patti Wigington really knows her stuff and she even has an article on Pagans and Polyamory. For more advanced information check out the Pagan portal over at

Update: I'll be adding basics, intermediate, and advances labels to content so readers can find an identity they want to learn about and read from their own individual level of understanding

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