Over the weekend, I once again found myself in a situation where I was surrounded by other Pagans and thinking, “I have nothing in common with these people. What am I doing here.”
There continues to be a lot of talk, as always, about Pagan solidarity. Letting go of differences, coming together as a community, and even forming institutions. Any time there’s tons of Cherry Hill folks in the room there’s going to be sighing and lamentation over the perceived lack of Pagan social programs: chaplains, counselors, charities, government representation, etc.
I get it some of the time. We live in a country where “real religion” equates to “religion that looks like Protestantism,” and not having some of the things that go along with that can put individuals at a disadvantage. Coupled with the weirdly Jesus-y language people use to talk about “the Goddess” and “Nature,” it’s gotten to a point where I’m very confident in asserting that I am not practicing the same religion as these other people. This is particularly evident when we start talking about “Pagan values.” It seems that we can all more or less agree that there can be no definitive list of values that will adequately blanket everyone who considers themselves Pagan, but we keep right on trying. You guys let me know if you come up with anything, because I sure as hell can’t (and please don’t say “Nature,” for the love of all that is holy).
It’s weird being part of a community while simultaneously not part of it. I sort of imagine it being like warring nation-states vying over ethnic identity. Or something. I’m Pagan by default, but I’m Gardnerian specifically, and those obligations and affiliations trump anything that happens in the larger community. Whether it’s because I’m shallow or just because I’m human, it matters to me that I have some kind of distinct identity. My Craft has no place for chaplains, seminaries, churches, and the all-loving Jesus-Nature-Goddess, and if that’s what my community cares about now, then can I continue to count myself one of them?
It’s a bizarre place to be in. It turns out that the question isn’t, “Can you be a Wiccan and a Christian at the same time,” (because Cherry Hill is hell-bent on demonstrating that you can) but rather, “Can you be a Wiccan and a Pagan at the same time?”
And, of course, I upset people further when I add that by “Wiccan” I mean “Gardnerian.” That’s its own conversation, and a tired one. Suffice it to say that, whatever word you’re using (and who cares), I’m talking about something very specific, and it’s not the same thing that’s described in Scott Cunningham.
I’m sure it seems silly to some of you to fret over labels and identity categories like this. But I’m of the mindset that these categories create selves, and not the other way around (see my post on the High Priestess). They’re constructed and sometimes arbitrary (and, always, changeable), but they matter. Labels are constructed and arbitrary, but we nonetheless think it’s important to mark the bottle of bleach so we don’t mistake it for something else. That’s oversimplification perhaps, but it matters that we understand that all traditions are not one tradition. If we’re all the same and it doesn’t matter, then why have a community at all?