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Posted by on in Culture Blogs
The meaning of Pagan

I have written much about my feelings of the word "pagan" on my primary religious blog, Of Thespiae.  I've written about how the use of the word in the pagan community has become so loose that it's meaningless for all practical purposes.  I've written about how, in spite of regular protests from the pagan community, the implicit "positive definition" of "paganism" ("positive definition" meaning "defining what something is"; whereas "negative definitions" define by what a word is not) is incredibly Eurocentric [2].  I've even mentioned how the "negative definition" of the word "pagan" isn't necessarily true, as the tradition of Christopaganism certainly makes it hard to say where the Christianity ends and the paganism begins.  I've written about the incredibly secular climate of the pagan community in current culture.

The word "pagan" is not one I've been terribly fond of.  Early on in my spiritual journey, earliest possible point being around either 1989 (when a nun at my old Catholic school gave me a copy of D'Aulaire's Book of Greek Myths and, I swear, I felt touched by Apollon in ways that Jesus and El Shaddai just never really could) or 1993 (when I first really started exploring ostensibly "pagan" paths), the word "pagan" was practically interchangeable with "Wiccan" or "witchcraft", or so it seemed  when trying to find any books on the topic; there was a minority of books about Heathenry, Celtic polytheism, and neo-Druidry, but there was no uncertainty to the dominance of witchcraft-based paganism, and frankly, that only barely interested me, and not enough to really look too deeply into it.  For a very brief time in high school, I practised a hodgepodge "Celtic reconstruction" of my own design, but I eschewed the word "pagan" because this didn't fit the common idea that most people had of "pagans" in the modern days, which was pretty much synonymous with "witchcraft", even if one knew that religious witchcraft wasn't as phantasmagorical as scenes from The Craft or even Practical Magic, they didn't really conceptualise it as simply "worshipping the gods of the British Isles", which is what I did, then.  Toward the end of high school, I just gave up on my self-made Panceltic religion, cos most of those gods barely seemed "real" to me, and I joined the Church of Satan briefly, which is adamantly not pagan, in its self-definition, and though most members describe Satanism under the definition of Anton LaVey as "atheistic", further reading into LaVey's later essays, and not to mention certain interpretations of passages in The Satanic Bible and The Satanic Rituals, suggest that he himself was better defined as Maltheistic (a word of earliest use in print traced to Usenet in 1985, and defining one who ostensibly believes in one or more gods, but deems It/(S)He/Them as unfit for human worship; see LaVey's "God of the Assholes", which appears in Satan Speaks! ©1997, for the most clear evidence of LaVey's maltheistic, rather than atheistic beliefs).  I was never a good atheist, somewhere in my head, I always believed in the gods of Hellas, and I was never maltheistic, either, because even if some deities don't want, need, or even deserve my worship, there are others that do, and by the time I was twenty-two, I basically outgrew the need for LaVey's church that I briefly had. But pagan?  To see if that word fit, I put a toe in the on-line pagan community for the first time in six years when I was about twenty-four, and at that time, I'd discovered a vibrant and thriving community of Hellenic reconstructionists, most of whom had mixed feelings about the word "pagan".  I pretty much only interacted with other recons for about another two or three years, and though I forget what ultimately teased me out, I had never really fully embraced "pagan" as a part of my religious identity.

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Recent Comments - Show all comments
  • John Halstead
    John Halstead says #
    I'm not saying Jesus is an archetype to Christians (from an Eric perspective). I'm saying Jesus is *archetypal* to Christians. (
  • John Halstead
    John Halstead says #
    I meant "etic" not Eric -- damn spellcheck.
  • Ruadhán J McElroy
    Ruadhán J McElroy says #
    You mean autocorrect. Spellcheck just highlights or underlines the misspelled words.
  • Ruadhán J McElroy
    Ruadhán J McElroy says #
    So I'm just supposed to ignore the first portion of your comment, cos in juxtaposition with the rest, it clearly means what I infe
  • John Halstead
    John Halstead says #
    Surely you will agree that the type you described so lovingly does not represent a majority or even a plurality of self-described

b2ap3_thumbnail_wisdom.pngA new book has come to the shire filled with all the wisdom one could want to live a Hobbit-like life. It's called, Wisdom of the Shire: A short Guide to a Long and Happy Life, by Noble Smith. At first glance it looks like another marketing ploy to get a piece of the Tolkien money-pie, but with a second glance, you can see Smith delve into the principles of a good life that Tolkien envisioned, that can ultimately be evoked today. 

For the Pagan audience, it's a treasure of ideas to continue cultivating a connected life with the natural world, for eating local foods, for gardening and sharing in community and honoring the seasons. 

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Why Pagans Need a "Passover Seder" of Our Own

You know by now that I do (and advocate you doing) interfaith work. It isn't easy and sometimes it isn't even rewarding but it's important for people like me to be at the table with other religious folk for any number of reasons.  But this post isn't about that.

Because I do the aforementioned interfaith work, a rabbi buddy of mine invited me to his family Passover seder a couple of years ago. When I asked what I should bring, he suggested flowers or kosher wine. I had never heard of kosher wine but there's rather a lot of choices out there. I brought both.

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Recent Comments - Show all comments
  • Byron Ballard
    Byron Ballard says #
    I'm considering writing a Pagan Hagaddah. Kate Laity is, too. Who knows? I think it would be very good for us.
  • Joseph Merlin Nichter
    Joseph Merlin Nichter says #
    I love this post. We have our own "Seder" within our tradition, but we need one for the whole of Paganism. Now more than ever.

Posted by on in Culture Blogs
Nona Sabbata

Nona Sabbata is my Latin jargon for "The Ninth Sabbat."


For over five years now our Coven has been providing open public [Wiccan] community rituals a minimum of twice a month. In all that time, of all of those rituals, we only cancel one of them each year. Because we're at PantheaCon. And by "we're" I mean over eight of us. We all load up one very large van, and pile into one very nice hotel suite. It's like a non-stop four day slumber party with your best friends, at your favorite intergalactic spiritual space station. Which no one seems surprised to find located in California's Silicon Valley.

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This week, my wife and about 60 fellow members of the Reclaiming tradition traveled to rural Wisconsin for Winter Witchcamp. Staying behind is hard for me, despite knowing I need the year off. Winter Witchcamp is a spiritual home-away-from-home, and many members of my home community will be there, as well as friends I only see at that time. I miss them fiercely.

What is witchcamp? For many, it's integral to the Reclaiming experience. It's part summer camp (even in Winter), part symposium, part family reunion. For several days, we learn together in groups small and large, eat together in a lodge and sleep together in cabins (and tents, in Summer, but this is February in the Upper Midwest, and we're not crazy) , and make magic and ritual together.

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Peter Dybing gave Sunday's keynote speech, "Stirring the Cauldron of Pagan Sensibilities."  A worthy pursuit to my mind.  In an animated talk, Peter emphasized that Paganism was not a monolithic institution.  He also spoke of the need for boundaries, avoiding what he called "the 2 a.m. crisis."  During feedback, I reminded folks that one of the required courses for degree-seeking students at Cherry Hill Seminary is Boundaries & Ethics.  I took the proto-class from Cat Chapin-Bishop back around 2000 and found it one of the most valuable classes I've ever taken.

He itemized several issues and then compared the attitudes about them of older Pagans and to those of younger generations.  He said that older Pagans generally held tightly to beliefs whereas younger ones welcomed debate.  I think this is true of any social phenomenon when it achieves some years; however, I don't think it's universal.  I count many Pagans, myself among them, as being open-minded, adaptable, and willing to engage on current issues, far from being hidebound.

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I join the chorus of voices reporting on the general wonderfulness of the 9th Annual Claremont Pagan Studies Conference.1  I found the overall quality of presentations exceptionally high, as they were the last time I attended two years ago.

I arrived Friday night after a long solo drive from the SF Bay Area to Los Angeles, through rain and the hairy Grapevine Canyon through the Tehachapi Mountains, stressed and with intense pain between my shoulders.  Cranky, in other words.  Soon Lauren cheered me up.

Saturday morning's first session consisted of four speakers.  Joseph Nichter, an Iraq war veteran, spoke of using Tarot in healing PTSD.  I loved his ideas about what he calls "peripheral exploration," wherein the querent draws a single card, places it on a larger sheet of paper, and draws a scene that embeds the image in the card in a larger picture.

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