A Useful Framework to Help Understand Terminology Usage and Identity:
The following will go from the broadest to the most specific. Please read the whole article before you respond angrily or happily. In fact, please not only read the whole article, but also do some thinking about the points I raise. It is not as long of an article as I could have made it simply because I wanted to put the basic ideas out there now. (As opposed to waiting until I finally get around to writing that book about Neo-Paganism and such, if I ever do so.)
Some of you may object to my use of the parallel between Pagan and Abrahamic religions, but it is the most common way to elucidate the framework, since most people are familiar with Abrahamic faiths. Some of you may object because Neo-Pagans as a whole are still a minority whereas Abrahamic religions have billions of members and are dominant in societies across the world. Keep in mind that member numbers have nothing to do with this framework. It is about ideas and approach, not population statistics. (And who knows? Maybe in one-hundred or so years, Neo-Pagan religions may become dominant or at least on a par with the Abrahamic faiths in terms of numbers of members. It could happen, since the Neo-Pagan community seems to be doubling in size about every five or so years.)
Pagan, or more precisely, Neo-Pagan:
Refers to a family of religions sharing similar characteristics and ideas that vary widely between individual religions or traditions with a religion. To help understand this, it may be useful to think of the word “Neo-Pagan” as a parallel to the word “Abrahamic faiths.” Just as the latter word refers to the groups of religions inspired or originally based off of the monotheistic religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, the former word refers to religions in modern times that are inspired or based off of earlier Pagan religions mixed and created from within modern developments and insights. (Thus “Neo-Pagan” is more precise of a term than “Pagan.”)
The parallel is useful in that it illuminates why Pagan religions can vary so much and yet have similar characteristics and outlooks. Just as the Abrahamic faiths are based in monotheism and a revealed collection of sayings attributed to the God of creation, there are many variations and even bitter differences between not only the three major faiths but also between various sects within each Abrahamic faith. (There are distinct movements and sects within Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, as well as differences that identify each religion as distinct from its sister faiths, as many of you are well aware.) Likewise Neo-Paganism, based off a polytheistic conception and a sense of the divine being immanent, lends itself to a wide divergence of ideals and practices across various Pagan religions. The difference between Asatru and Wicca would be most obvious to those who know them both. The same wide divergence can also be seen between, say, Islam and Christianity, despite the argument that both religions acknowledge the same original God.
These are just ideas to help think about when using the term Neo-Pagan. I use the terms from within a Wiccan outlook, but some of you may choose to adapt this framework to help explicate your own Pagan religion and how it fits within Neo-Paganism as whole. (Or you can trash the whole thing altogether and come up with something better. In fact I encourage you to do the latter, since it is high time those of us Neo-Pagans start to hash out this issue.)
The term was coined by Isaac Bonewits to refer to all of the Witchcraft and Wiccan traditions and faiths that have arisen or have been created since the founding of Gerald Gardner’s tradition. Using the framework established above, we can more precisely view the term Neo-Pagan Witchcraft within Paganism as a parallel to the term of Christianity (to use one example) within the Abrahamic faiths. Neo-Pagan Witchcraft refers to a grouping that ultimately came from what Gerald Gardner was doing, and various religious groups within this fold share certain characteristics that would distinguish them as religious branches distinct from other Neo-Pagan religions. Like Christianity, there are many different sects, traditions, and faith-groupings (some would say the word “religions”) within this identity. Wicca would be the most popular religion that falls under this term.
Again, using the above framework, we come to Wicca and can see it as a parallel to one of the major branches of Christianity – Eastern Orthodox, Catholicism, or Protestantism. As each one of these also has variations and various traditions or groups within their respective branches, Wicca also has various sects, groups, and traditions within the Wiccan branch of Neo-Pagan Witchcraft. Religions are not monolithic, despite what fundamentalists of all stripes would wish. But this doesn’t mean that there aren’t distinctive markers or identifications that can be used to distinguish between each religious tendency or grouping. Otherwise why even bother using terms at all? Communication is impossible without some basic shared framework of reference. (I can hear some of you Pagans gasp. “What? Definitions? How dare you?”)
I feel the above framework is quite illuminating for us and points to one way of how we may choose to use the terms so that we may actually be able to start communicating again, as opposed to just arguing inanely over definitions because of the one Pagan in the crowd who will always disagree with other Pagans’ use of a term. Just as it is time we start allowing ourselves to define terms clearly because definition in no way destroys ambiguity or nuance, it is also time to stop the useless pedantry of the hyper intellectuals who cringe and argue in hair-splitting games that result in more confusion and muddled thinking than any fluffy-bunny’s misguided statements. Just because Wicca has no one definition does not mean that it doesn’t have a set of core definitions. Just because Paganism is loose with each group having autonomy, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be able to define where each group may fit into the larger community at least as a framework for communicating.
Now keep in mind that my framework is just an approach that may be useful in seeing how these terms can be used in precise ways without placing shackles on anyone’s supposed authenticity, religious rights, or such. I don’t imply that there is any sort of equivalency between Neo-Pagan faiths and Abrahamic faiths, I just wish that people would start aiming for some definitions so that we don’t seem like uninformed idiots when we attempt to bridge out or connect with those of other faiths or religions. Think about it the next time someone of another religion asks you what Paganism is. Or think about it when an informed person asks you what the differences are between Pagans and Wiccans, or why some Pagans call themselves Witches but not Wiccans. Or why some Wiccans will not call themselves Witches. Or why there is so much variation between Pagan traditions and religions and yet they all seem to share some common outlooks about divinity, life, nature, magic, and the world in which we live (or through which we live, or with which we live).
-Irreverend Hugh, KSC
drafted on April 14th, 2006 (or as the Irish say “Aoine an Chéasta”)
Copyright ©2006. All Rights Reserved by Author.
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Originally posted 2014-11-08 13:58:12. Republished by Blog Post Promoter