Paganism is a language.

It is, for many of us, a language that we are still learning to speak. We may have been speaking this tongue for many years--decades, in some cases--but it is still, nonetheless, not our mother tongue.

This fact has implications. We may have mastered the grammar and have a large vocabulary. We may, over the years, have become fluent speakers of Pagan. But we are still not native speakers, and we never will be.

Primarily what this means is that we need to listen, and listen carefully.

We need to listen to ourselves, and notice when we’re speaking Pagan and when we’ve lapsed back into whatever language it was that we originally grew up speaking.

We need to listen to the fluent speakers of the past. The ancestors continue to speak to us in many ways, literature and archaeology among them. Pagan was their mother tongue, and we will learn from them idioms and nuances that it would be difficult to learn elsewhere.

We need to listen to the fluent speakers of the future. For many of our youth, Pagan is their mother tongue, and they have profound insights to offer us, though they learned the language from us; the fact that we’ve spoken the language longer than they have notwithstanding.

We also need to listen to native speakers of other dialects of Pagan: the indigenous religions of the Americas, Africa, and Asia, Shinto, Voudun, Santeria, even Hindu. (I don't regard the Hinduisms as pagan per se, but insofar as they are polytheisms they represent a related—shall we say, cousin—group of languages.) From them we can learn how Pagan languages work. 

The point is that we must never assume that we know everything there is to know about the language, or that everything we say is thereby automatically correct. Learning a language is hard work, and it isn’t always fun. We’re going to make mistakes along the way, and when we hear those mistakes we need to be patient and correct one another, and try hard not to get defensive. Even native speakers of languages make mistakes sometimes.

But the most important thing when learning to speak a new language is not to be paralyzed by fear of the mistakes we will make. At some point one just has to say: Damn the mistakes: full speed ahead.

And that’s how we’ll learn: success by success, mistake by mistake.