Being Wiccan and Pagan at the same time. Or not.

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?

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7 thoughts on “Being Wiccan and Pagan at the same time. Or not.

  1. Stacey

    In my ongoing struggle to figure out what I’m still doing in Pagandom, I’ve found it helpful to remember that most religions have popular manifestations (whereby the chaplains and clergies) and mystical and/or esoteric ones. And varying degrees of friction between them.

    I also find it helpful to remember that witches and cunning folk were things long before the word ‘witch’ came to mean a religion; and the image of the specialist practitioner on the edge of a community that believes in magic but mostly just believes in getting by comfortably has helped me a lot.

    Reply
  2. mlecalvin

    Call me ignorant (which it seems by the tone of this post that you will) but what’s wrong with associating Paganism with nature?

    Reply
    1. thornthewitch Post author

      Hi there! I’d never call you an idiot. I’m pretty opinionated, but I’m not as much of a dick as I sound sometimes. ❤

      First, welcome to Charlotte! Your best bet for hooking up with other Pagans is going to be through Moon Circles NC, which meets once or twice every month in the University area at a Unitarian Church. It's run by one of my best friends, and we'll hook you up with the local scene (which isn't huge, but it's definitely here). You can find Ali's blog at http://www.lazy-witch.com if you'd like to stalk the group's organizer first. 🙂 She's also not as much of a dick as she sounds.

      As for the nature thing…there's nothing necessarily wrong. For me, it's just inadequate. First, because many Pagan traditions are not nature-centered (I'm thinking of reconstructionist traditions, contemporary Heathen traditions, and various kinds of witchcraft). Second, "nature" is just a really ambiguous concept. I think we tend to have really romantic ideas about expansive forests and mountain ranges inhabited by packs of wolves and leafy, humanoid guardians, but most people who identify as Pagans live in suburban and urban settings, rarely encountering anything like wilderness. And if we then decide that nature encompasses parks, back yards, and flower beds (all of which are as fabricated as any highway or building), I don't see what's stopping up from stretching that definition to the point of uselessness. I don't say that to profane the city, but rather to sacralize it. Nature, whether it's "wilderness" or our back yards, is constructed and usually just seems to mean "things other than human." Which to me comes to embody hubris. Humans are set apart, so we need to "get back" to nature. We–along with our skyscrapers and genetically engineered produce–are as natural as anything you'll find in the woods.

      That's the short version, anyway. But I wouldn't criticize you for disagreeing with me, and I certainly wouldn't call you an idiot. I just dig when people respond to me at all. 🙂

      Reply
      1. mlecalvin

        Whooo! Thanks for the link and the community suggestions. I didn’t mean to make it sound like I thought you were a dick. I’m a Cancer so I’m moody, not to mention sarcasm & tone get lost in the Internet. To be honest, I’ve been lingering your blog looking for a chance to reach out to you, so I’m just glad to connect with you. 🙂 I’ll check out your friend’s site now, and I’ll definitely make sure to look into these Moon Circles. The fact that you even exist and you blog about this stuff and you live where I’ve just moved to is an inspiration to me. I read your blog, and I don’t feel so alone. Hopefully we’ll meet one day! ❤

  3. mlecalvin

    Also, I just moved to Charlotte. Is there any way you can point me to any Wiccan and/or Pagan communities? I feel like based on this post you probably think I’m an idiot for being open to either/or, but I’m really at this point just looking for people of similar minds…I don’t necessarily need someone to believe in exactly what I do in order for me to relate to them in a community way. Any direction you can point me in for community in Charlotte is greatly appreciated. Thanks.

    Reply
  4. amieravenson

    Wow, it’s like you took what I’ve been feeling for 20 years and put it on a page. When a lot of people get together and start agreeing about spiritual things, I begin to break out in hives.
    To me, there’s a huge difference between religion (social) and spirituality (personal). I enjoy gatherings for the fun vibe, but I usually end up feeling disconnected with other pagans for similar reasons. I believe what *I* believe, and practice how *I* practice. 🙂

    Side note: I’m definitely a woogie, nature-loving, eclectic, Goddess-centered kinda pagan. But I would never assume that my path is someone else’s. It’s all personal to me. 🙂

    Reply
  5. Michael

    Well put! I understand a lot of the Wiccan alienation, and not just amongst non-Trad initiates, but if also belonging to another group or tradition that makes it a point to disassociate with practises associated with Wicca of any flavour(that even being unknown a good lot of the time) I guess that’s the crux of adhering to a mystery tradition, and having a recognised personal practise as well. I guess it’s good to have somewhat of a concensus if fulfilling communal roles, but I wouldn’t have the first clue to what that would be :O Diversity is good, and something that needs respected, but that lack of sense of belonging will always be there if the demographics are more than unbalanced, which will likely be a given.

    Reply

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