Way of the Sacred Fool: Disability Spirituality

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Labels, Identities & Boundaries

Posted by on in Paths Blogs

I often see the words “label” and “identity” used interchangeably, but to me they have rather different connotations. A label is something society thrusts on you, to organize information- keep track of possible discrimination, to access services and accommodations or medical treatment in the case of disabilities and medical conditions. It’s something that you don’t have a lot of choice over.

An identity by contrast may be chosen, or it is a choice to make a label one’s own. It is a way to connect with other people in a community. There are also some that I find are kind of in the middle- as in “I identify as X, but it’s easier to access community and explain things if I use label Y”

The word Pagan can be all three- there’s many folks who primarily identify as “Pagans Not Otherwise Specified” often-times this is when they are new to Paganism and haven’t figured out something more specific, or they have developed an individual practice/belief system that is very much their own.

Pagan, is for me a “label of convenience”. There are values, interests, pieces of shared history, significant texts and so forth that I share with many other Pagans. Though I am not Wiccan, I feel a certain amount of comfortable familiarity with a Wiccan-influenced style of ritual, versions of the Charge of the Goddess, songs and chants. At the end of the day, a lot of these commonalities may be more secular and social in nature. I’m a neo-romantic by aesthetic and philosophical influence, with interests in science fiction & fantasy, lefty-politics. As a polytheist with both reconstructionist and Neo-Druid influences, I sometimes encounter “default setting Paganism” type assumptions, but perhaps because I’m so used to weaving my way around Christian, secular, heteronormative*, and neurotypical** assumptions (often with more pressure and threat of possible marginalization) a few eclectic Wiccan style assumptions seem pretty minor by comparison. When someone decides they hate Muslims and want to attack them, they frequently end up attacking Hindus and Sikhs, or people who are “Mediterranean-looking” regardless of their actual religion or ethnicity. Likewise, if someone decides they don’t like Pagans, Satanists or Goddess-worshipers, and they see a Kemetic temple, they are going to smash it, not knowing the difference. At the end of the day, such bigots don’t really care who’ve they’ve attacked – it’s still The Other.

I do not discount however, the varied experiences of my fellow polytheists. Many of them have been dismissed, excluded or erased from general Pagan settings, even sometimes after multiple efforts to explain and educate about their traditions, attending many general community events and mingling and so forth. I also know polytheists who have been excluded by other polytheists for “Doing It Wrong” somehow. If someone isn’t part of your tradition, and they aren’t trying to mess with something that belongs exclusively to your tradition, it is not your job to tell them they are Doing it Wrong. If you’re part of a tradition, you and others might have to define what the limits and rules of it are- though this is a lot harder to do unless you have a specific organization or the bounds of a closed culture. ADF can’t say what Druidry in general is, and who counts as a Druid, but we can say “This is what ADF Druidry looks like, how we do ritual” etc.

I am both a Druid and a Unitarian Universalist- both of these are philosophical/religious movements that encompass many theological beliefs & practices. If I were raised in a Celtic-speaking culture, I might feel entitled to denounce the broad use of “Druid” in non-Celtic cultural contexts, but I chose to pursue an interest in living Gaelic cultures as an Anglo-American raised adult, so I don’t claim to be any more or less of “real Druid” than 18th century British aristocrats in funny hats.

Likewise, I’m not always sure how well polytheism, especially culturally based polytheism fits within a UU environment, but seeing the founders of both Unitarianism and Universalism considered themselves definite monotheists and Christians- then I can be every bit as UU as a UU atheist or Buddhist. 

At the end of the day, regardless of your labels or identities, I will judge you by your actions and words- what does your tradition teach you about hospitality, responsibility and honor, and how do you live by those values? I will admit that I am far from perfect in upholding my own values and I am a continual work in progress. I believe in forgiveness- from fellow humans, and redemption through one's actions. We have to admit our mistakes, learn from them and move on and work to make things better in cooperation with others. 

*heteronormative- assuming heterosexual. usually married, monogamous and gender-conforming social norms

**neurotypical- neurologically wired in such a way considered "normal" or standard by society

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Mariah Sheehy is an ADF Druid/Heathen and has a B.A. in political science from Augsburg College. She serves on the board of the Bisexual Organizing Project and lives in the Twin Cities (Paganistan) in an all-autistic adult household. She enjoys biking, camping, crafting and grappling with the Irish language.


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