Spirituality can be a very personal thing. We are each of us trying to learn and grow as a spiritual person as much as we are an intellectual, physical and emotional person. So why are some people more confident about being openly pagan?
Of course we could just answer this by saying maybe they are just a more confident person, or they have been following a pagan path longer, or any number of short excuses, but as with a lot of things in our lives, a good question benefits from a deeper examination to find a good answer.
Seemingly Dangerous Differences.
As a youth I was handed the christian playbook, or Bible as its called, and told that this is spirituality. I later learned that we were called catholics and that there were other forms of christianity and that though they did most of the same stuff we did, there were differences.
Those differences became scary for me as a kid growing up in the 1980’s in Ireland. Before I even knew what made Catholics different from Protestants, I knew that people were hurting and killing each other in the North of the island over these supposed differences. Eventually I did learn more of the history of our world. I learned that, time and again, differences in spiritual pursuit were often used as justification for horrific treatment of our own kind.
Misunderstanding, compounded my misinformation can mobilise entire nations to commit atrocity. From the age of the Roman empire, through the european ‘crusades to the Holy Land’ to the Nazi genocide of Jewish people within the last one hundred years, all manner of horror is seemingly justified when people are ‘othered’ en masse for their spiritual path.
No wonder we learned to be fearful. No wonder we learned to be private.
Definition, Comprehension, Understanding.
When we talk about Paganism it’s worth taking time to first define what the word actually means. I struggled with accepting it in my own way and it was only once I got beyond my own fear and misinformed perceptions that I really began to find understanding.
Pagan is not one singular spiritual path. It is instead a collective term that covers many paths all of which are unique in their own ways, but share four common elements. In a broad sense those elements are;
- Reverence for nature.
- Introspection / Meditation
- Energy work / Magic
- A belief in many Gods / Polytheism
I have come to understand that in the same way there are many ways to engage with a christian belief, there are many ways to engage with pagan belief. We live in a world of many cultures and many ways of expressing ourselves. Definition does not lead to demystification, it leads to shared comprehension, and from there opens the pathway towards deeper understanding.
Labels are Just Words.
I have had many ‘labels’ placed upon me in my life, from ‘nerd’ ‘Geek’ and ‘metal head’ to ‘rat’, ‘weirdo’ and ‘liar’. At the time each had a serious and significant impact on me. Some positive in enabling me to find tribe with like minded folk, and of course others negative in defining me as outside, other, and essentially unwelcome.
I won’t sit here and claim to have moved beyond labels and their impact on me, but I have found a perspective I choose to adhere to, a perspective that helps.
Labels are just words.
Words exist for the sole function of facilitating the transfer of thought from one person to another. Words provide each of us with one of many frameworks against which we can receive and process information from sources outside ourselves. Words may inform our perspectives but they should never be given so much weight that they overrule our personal thoughts. Words do not get to define us. Only our own will can do that.
Once I reached this realisation of myself and for myself, I was able to shed a lot of that which no longer served me. I was able to let go of the power I had let the ‘labels’ build over me, both the ‘Good’ as well as the ‘Bad’.
I came to a point approaching a form of self acceptance that allowed me to see the labels others wish to put upon me as something belonging not to me, but to them. These ‘label’ are just words that help them process information relating to me for their own needs. Either to better understand and connect to me, or to rationalise a rejection of what they perceive as me or my words.
There are many people in the world who still exist under the weight of unjust and harmful labels because of that fear and misinformation. When we talk about concepts of privilege in our world these labels and their power can be most easily seen.
In my case I have the labels of both ‘white’ and male’ as well as ‘cis’ and ‘Het’. These labels have not been seen equitably in our world. Regardless of what you may believe there have been many advantages attached to those words, not least of which being that they are not certain other words. The very real and harsh truth of our world today is that my labels keep me safer that those with different words placed upon them. Simply swapping one of them, for example ‘cis’ to ‘trans’ or ‘ het’ to ‘gay’ would shift my perceived status and value in our society to such a degree that I could easily be the victim of an assault of even murder solely based on the fear and misinformed perceptions of others.
Labels are just words, but words have power.
This is a terrible truth of our world and the power that simple words twisted by fear into ‘labels’ can have on the lives of our fellow humans. Though it is in no way comparable to the plight of gay and trans people or even female presenting people in our world, the same inequity exists for the labels ‘christian’ and ‘pagan’. One affords a certain acceptance and safety as it is mistakenly seen as the ‘norm’ or ‘better’ that other spiritual paths. The other is seen by many through the same filter of fear and misinformed perceptions so that it is safer for many to stay private about their spirituality.
Being Openly Pagan.
Hopefully we have seen how our past still affects our present and how misinformation coupled with ignorance can be twisted towards hate and harm.
If we accept that as true then might not the opposite also be true? Could it be that respectful and open minded discussion can lead to compassion and acceptance?
We can learn the lesson from our history and allow clear definitions to lead to through comprehension and on until we can all share in deeper understanding, not just of spiritual beliefs, but also of each other.
We can embrace uniqueness and use our words as a pathway to connection and community, overcoming fear and misinformation by the act which forms one of the foundations of our species, communication.
The only way fear and misinformation can be overcome is with authenticity and real information. It is about those who can safely stand up and be seen, doing so. Despite the ‘labels’ and the inequities, despite the persecution and even the adoration, some people need to stand up and simply offer a different perspective.
The only way we can overcome the inequities is by normalising the respect and acceptance of the many amazing unique and varied aspects of humanity that make up our species.
The only way we can make it safe for others to explore themselves and their spiritual pathways is by some people being openly pagan. This is the realisation I finally reached after my long and uncomfortable process of learning and indeed unlearning. I am not openly pagan for me as it is just another word to me.
I am openly pagan for others. I am openly pagan because I have the advantage of so many other ‘labels’ which mean I am less likely to be ignored, ostracised, or straight up attacked.
I am openly pagan as a service to my community known and as yet unknown. So that when any other person finds themself on their own spiritual quest, they might have it a little easier than I did, overcoming the fear and misinformation to reach a place of informed self acceptance.
I am openly pagan, not because it benefits me in some personal way, but because I can do it safely where others cannot. I can do it in such a way that it can’t be easily ignored. I can do it in such a way that the path is hopefully made a little safe for those who follow after me.
So why then are some people more confident in being openly pagan? Because somebody has to be.
Where To Now?
If you think that Paganism is interesting, and might even be something you’d like to explore further, you can always:
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Again, love your work