Sunday, August 26, 2012

Does Paganism Need a Precise Definition?

DefinitionPaganI was about to pull an internet no no and just start writing while I was angry. Instead of creating a rant I’m going to attempt to create a discussion.

What Happened

Based upon various previous posts, (here, here, and here) I’ve written on my own beliefs and how though they are common pagan beliefs they don’t encompass all that is normally considered Pagan or Heathen. In my openness I have yet to receive a direct negative reaction.

There has been a lot of talk about Brendan’s Myer’s Guest Post over at The Wild Hunt about Humanistic Paganism. I’ve read a lot of it and generally most of the criticism is about his word usage. Not that Humanistic Paganism exists. Today, while reading through my blog roll, I read something that at first had me furious.

The post (which I deleted and unfortunately am having trouble finding) wrote about how it’s completely wrong for this to be considered under the Pagan umbrella. Also that Pantheists, or those who say deities as archetypes aren’t Pagan or Heathen either. Basically my interpretation was that anyone who wasn’t a Hard Polytheist shouldn’t use the label. If I am remember right the author of the blog is a Reconstructionalist and I presume they were meaning only in that frame of reference. The overall message was if you weren’t a polytheist then you shouldn’t be labeling yourself Pagan and should go back to your respective communities.

My Reaction

My initial reaction was anger. I wanted to first come up here and start a rant about someone creating strict definitions on what is or isn’t Paganism, a term that is by nature broad. I deleted the post from my reader and unsubscribed from the feed. (For me that’s huge I follow over 500 blogs and am always adding)
In the time it took to open up my writer and take a few deep breathes I realized a rant would serve Zero purpose. Based upon what I’ve stated my beliefs are and that I still use the Pagan label it’s obvious that this opinion bothered me. Let’s Move on.

Does Paganism Need an Exact Definition?

  • Does the lack of definition of Paganism hinder the faith?
  • Or are the precise definitions of each individual sub-faith, denomination, tradition, etc. sufficient?


Some criticism towards the “All beliefs welcome under our umbrella” philosophy is it gets in the way of outsiders taking us seriously.

  • Does a core set of beliefs need to be universal across all Pagan traditions and practitioners?
  • Does a Single interpretation of Deity need to be one of those core beliefs? (Example Polytheist, Archetypes, etc.)
  • We all know the joke ask 10 Pagans something you’ll get 15 different answers. Is this detrimental to the faith? Should someone be able to ask 10 Pagan something and get 10 similar answers?
I have my own opinions about these answers but I want to know what everyone else thinks.


  1. As I see blogs there are not much more than the ramblings of people who have internet access and need to share their opinions with others. When it comes to opinions keep in mind they are like assholes everyone has one and most of them stink.

    1. I think I'll leave the part where you are commenting on my blog about blogs being peoples ramblings and take it for what I think it's meant as a don't worry. Which honestly though I was initially pissed I've been in both local communities and blogging now a bit too long to let anything get to me for very long.

      What's more important though are everyone's opinions are how inclusive or exclusive the definition of paganism should be.

  2. I nominated you for the Sunshine Award! You can find the info over at

    1. Aww Thank you, that's 2 awards I need to post about next week. :)

  3. V, I don't think Paganism needs a definition. When I first started my journey, I thought it did. However, now I see it as a spiritual journey that is non-Pagan related. There are so many different paths under the "Pagan" umbrella and within that Pagans attacking Pagans for their beliefs, even though they are non-Christian. It's really crazy to me. I just don't understand it.

    1. Honestly this isn't the first time I've seen the "blank = pagan, blank does not = pagan" but never to such a small definition like excluding pantheists and those who define by archetypes. In small subgroups I'm all for it. If you say you're Alexandrian Wiccan then by Gods you need to believe in the same stuff, or you're Anglo-Saxon Heathen you should have beliefs that coincide with that tradition. But for the broad broad definition of Pagan, really it's just too tough too. You're right the umbrella is just too big.

  4. I think at this time, we are better served by defining, in very braod strokes, what Paganism is not. Which is to say, it is non-Abrahamaic, non-Buddhist, and non-Hindu. I include the last two, not because we don't have a lot in common with them (again, in broad strokes), but because they are their own worldwide traditions.

    We include, often, polytheists, duotheists, pantheists, animists, and even monotheists - though those tend to be of the Gaian monotheist variety. We include in our ranks agnostics and atheists - though not all agnostics and atheists are pagan, with or without the capital P.

    Our greatest common ground is that we stand outside (religiously speaking) of the main cultures that we live in - mostly Western Industrial - and yet demand to be given the same recognition and worth of those others who do not. And so long as we do not live in theocratic nations or societies, we should have it.

    1. Thank you so much for this greatly written response. I think you have a good idea about by describing what it is not. It's true everyone no matter what should have respect, even if their beliefs are in a Flying Spaghetti Monster. I hope one day it will come to be.

  5. I see it as an umbrella that encompasses many different spiritual beliefs, the same as the 'Christian' label does for religious beliefs. Under each umbrella are several denominations or traditions that disagree that the other should be labeled them same. Basically... No one can hold exclusivity on any label. And those that try are showing their ignorance. Just my two cents.

    1. I think that's a good comparison. I was just commenting on the Pagan Pathways blog on an article about Pagan Ethics and can there be a single universal code. Some similar points came up but two in particular I thought of.

      I think we often define and speak of Paganism from our own individual standpoint. At times this clouds our vision to really how broad that single term is.

      Maybe we should start speaking instead of with the term pagan but of the larger groups that share similar practices and ethics. Many already do so with Heathens who have grouped themselves separately but there are more like Wiccan's and Eclectics, Reconstructionists in general, Pantheists, Folk practitioners, ceremonial magicians, and probably a few more.

      So it's a PC nightmare to always have to remember stuff like that but I think if we each are cognizant of how different we all are then maybe we can move forward from there.

  6. I view Paganism as a living spiritual phenomenon, and it is best served by descriptions rather than over authoritative definitions. The argument that we must have rigid and exclusionary definitions in order to be taken seriously by non-Pagans is I think a non-starter. That wouldn't be looking to spirituality or accuracy of description, but towards influence and politics and perceived credibility, and I think that is misguided and very non-vital. There may be anomalous forms of Paganism, they may or may not last (and become non-anomalous), but we are not a dead, ossified religious movement looking for a box to bury ourselves in, and sell for perceived political gain. At least that's how I see it. I personally describe Paganism as characterized most usually by being either polytheistic, or being nature based, or both, but that is not a definition, it is a description of what I most usually see. We might also go through discussions of what is a religion, what is a spiritual path, what is a way of life etc, but if you describe the thing itself comprehensively, then you are dealing with the actual, rather than symbolic statements about status. Again I think description is more sophisticated as the relevant mental process.

  7. These are all good questions. My short answer, if I wanted structured, I'd be Christian. ;)

    I like that Pagan is a broad term. I think those who find it difficult to work under those broad terms are originally from a Christian background and like to be told what to believe instead of figuring it out for themselves. That might be a bit of a harsh opinion, but it's mine nonetheless.

    The different denominations are just fine with me.

  8. I think Paganism has a definition: "Any religion not Abrahamic (Christianity, Islam or Judaism)". I include Buddhism and Hinduism. Especially Hinduism.

    Now, can atheism/humanism be religion? Yes, if you define it as your religion. People have different definitions to the word "religion".

    I am monotheist, and I'm Pagan. I know there are people who don't think I am a Pagan, because - as "only polytheists are "real" Pagans". So be it.
    In my world there are no such religions as "Christo-Pagan" or "Messianic Jew" - both are Christians.
    There are plenty of Christians who claim other Christians are not Christians.
    An opinion is just that, and 100% irrelevant, how ever semantically or dogmatically correct :-D

    So - outsiders not taking us seriously? Outsiders judging the whole group by some of the members - or by their own fears and preconceived notions? And? There's a great saying, I have learned as said by Madea (Tyler Perry). It's not what they call you, it's what you answer to.

  9. I think we get in to serious trouble when we start thinking there can only be one way. As in I think this so everyone should think this and so this must be it. We all have different paths and that doesn't mean we can't all be pagans and get along. I doubt my path is the same as anyone else and I doubt even if I was in a strict coven my path would be the same as anyone else. We are all individuals and we must honor that. As far as what outsiders think of us well those who think wont be phased by it and those who don't think wont care anyway more to the point I am to old to be living my life worried what someone else may or may not think of me. There will always be people who no matter what don't like pagans but acting like a victim is not becoming. I just don't care. I live my life, I love my family and people can choose to be part of my life or choose not to.

  10. I think that some "Pagans" within the community are trying to move away from American pop culture references and general misinformation. There is far more misunderstood than understood or respected. I'm more of the opinion to say, this specific type of Wicca or Paganism (from this region who worship these Deities) is this sort of Wicca or Paganism (and not mess with the teachings and traditions of that sect [for lack of a better word]) rather than to try and say this is what Paganism is and this is what it is not.

    Being of Hispanic, European, Asian descent-- there are a lot of Deities and Spirit guides that I work with, including Hindi and Buddhist Bodhisattva. Which I don't believe preclude me from being "pagan", per-say.



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