Blackadder: [rewriting the dictionary] Baldrick, what have you done?
Baldrick: I’ve done “C” and “D.”
Blackadder: Right. Let’s have it, then.
Baldrick: Right. “Big blue wobbly thing that mermaids live in.”
Blackadder: What’s that?
Blackadder: Yes. Tiny misunderstanding. Still, my hopes weren’t high. Oh, and “D?”
Baldrick: I’m quite pleased with “dog.”
Blackadder: Yes, and your definition of “dog” is?
Baldrick: “Not a cat.”
A fun quote from one of my favorite TV series, and one that was very much in mind as I was reading the “Outgrowing Paganism?” article on Jason Pitzl-Waters’ Wild Hunt blog. Reading though the many comments left there, I found myself wondering whether every different poster was using a completely different definition of Paganism. Some people say they can’t imagine Paganism without spirituality and/or gods, others think that most pagans don’t believe in any gods. As an umbrella term, apparently the only definition that can really be applied is a slight variation on Baldrick’s: “Not a Christian.”
This is nothing new, of course. In the ancient times before I joined ADF, at the ripe young age of 27, I’d been with a few other more generically pagan groups, but never found something that quite worked for me. I knew that I believed in the gods and that they were more than just thought-forms bouncing around inside my head, even if I didn’t (and probably never could) have a concrete idea of exactly what they were. (Thirteen years later and deep into a pagan clergy training program, I still don’t. >8) I had no interest in honoring amorphous blobs of energy in my ritual workings. That sounded far too much like an episode of Star Trek, and not even a good episode of Star Trek. I tried the Wiccan duotheism thing but that never really clicked for me. The “gods are aspects of a greater being” thing was far too impersonal. And I never thought my gods were omnipotent. Living in a world with multiple omnipotent deities sounded far too much like an episode of Bewitched, and not even a good episode of Bewitched. I really lucked out in finding a local congregation of a pagan org where believing in multiple non-omnipotent deities was the norm. If SLG hadn’t been here, I really don’t know what direction my personal practice would have taken. I’d probably have joined Hellenion or one of the other more Greek-centric groups, but not having a local group to work with would have been… well, I can’t know for sure. I’d probably have tried to be involved in some pagan group or another, even if I didn’t feel like I quite fit in.
So I do have a little sympathy when reading though the replies in that Wild Hunt thread, for the people who feel like they don’t quite fit in. I’ve been there, if from the other side. And yet the tone of the threads – yes, I know how risky it is to infer a tone from any Internet posting – but it seems like people are assuming, if not a conspiracy against them, at least a strong dislike of them because of their particular belief(s) in deity. I don’t know, maybe there is some grand anti-agnostic sentiment out there in the pagan community at large. Personally, I’ve always thought that people have a certain level of paranoia that they need to maintain, and if real life doesn’t give them enough oppression to sustain that level of paranoia, they’ll start making up oppressions that don’t really exist, often within the people they interact with regularly. (I’ll call it “Rob’s Conservation of Oppression Theory” until I come up with something better.) Just because people don’t agree with you means they hate you and your beliefs, or even care about them really. I’m sure there are Web sites out there that say such things, but really, nobody should assume that any article on the Internet represents the opinion of more than one person. (Including this one.) But here in ADF and SLG, that’s not a concern for us. I know several of our members do believe in the gods, and I know some who don’t. That’s cool. The question for us is never “what do you believe?”, but “does it work?” Most of what we do seems to work, and when it doesn’t, well it’s time to try something else and see if it does.
So yes, not all Pagans agree on what the nature of deity is, or even whether it exists. Some Pagans think that the other Pagans who disagree with them hate them, or want to exclude them. Some Pagans think that some of the people who call themselves Pagans aren’t real Pagans at all, and some Pagans think it’s silly to argue about such things. And the real kicker? Replace the word “Pagans” with “Christians”, and all of those statements are still true. And they’re the ones that some of us accuse of being a single big entity working together to convert us or shame us or call us “nasty and bad” on national television or whatever we’re accusing “the Christians” of doing these days. Maybe there’s still hope for us Pagans to get along with each other and work together after all.
Feh, it’s late and this article is long as it is. I leave you with one of the few inspirational quotes I know that sums up how I feel about theism and atheism and monism and all that, a line I first heard on a TV show written by an avowed atheist, oddly enough: “We are the universe trying to understand itself.” The end result may not always be pretty, but it’s sometimes beautiful, and always worth pursuing.
Rev. Rob Henderson
Senior Druid, Shining Lakes Grove, ADF
PS – Oh right, I almost forgot that all five of my readers were eagerly awaiting my decision whether to continue this blog. The answer is “yes”, and I’ll try to continue the weekly posts, but no promises at this point. Reading the Wild Hunt and writing this article convinced me that I do still have a few things left to say on behalf of the Grove and my own role within it. See you next week!