I recently read an online post composed by a woman who does not like Pagans and is especially offended by Pagan Pride Day celebrations. Her local Pride celebration, it seems, is too Wiccan in flavor for her. To some extent I understood her frustration (public, open Pagan gatherings do often focus on Wicca to the exclusion of other paths) but the woman’s rant completely alienated me. In the first place, she states that she is “not Pagan”, which begs the question of why she would care one way or another about her local Pagan Pride Day. Here’s the answer: She is Pagan, but she’s too much of an elitist to embrace it. And she is not alone. There are many Pagans today who claim they are “not Pagan”, although they are clearly not Christian, Jewish or Islamic. And apparently they also have no access to dictionaries because one of the definitions of the word Pagan is any person who doesn’t follow any of the Abrahamic religions. By definition, every polytheist is a Pagan. It doesn’t matter whether or not that person wants to be identified as such – there are also countless closeted queers who don’t want to identify as Gay, but that doesn’t make them heterosexual.
The self-proclaimed “non-Pagan” was horribly offended over the practices of the majority of Pagan people who attend her local Pride celebration each year. Hmmm…maybe she should follow one of the Abrahamic religions. Her attitude reminds me of the Jesus Freaks of the 1970′s, who would point their index fingers upwards as they chanted their mantra, “One Way”. But for Pagans there is no one way. That, in fact, is what distinguishes Pagan practice from monotheism. It has nothing to do with which gods you honor. Does anyone really think Pagan Rome objected to the worship of Christ? Rome acknowledged 12,897 gods and goddesses. Why would they object to deity #12,898? (I made those numbers up, but you get the point.) Paganism is tolerance for other paths.
Oh, but our “non-Pagan” blogger is sure that the demand for tolerance is nothing short of hypocrisy. She proves this by pointing out that none of the attendees would tolerate a religion that sacrificed kittens with butter knives. Ignoring how ridiculous this is, it isn’t a religious issue, I’m pretty sure killing kittens with butter knives would fall into the secular realm of animal cruelty. Your religion also does not give you license to rape eight-year-old children or to pick off redheads with an assault rifle.
My patience has reached zero tolerance level for people like this who discover Paganism and then lash out because we do not all conform to whatever their romantic fantasies might be. If you think we Pagans walk around slowly, reeking of dignity and serenity, speaking like Tolkien elves, you are going to be seriously disappointed. If you think we all relate to our gods and ancestors the same way that you do, you are going to be seriously disappointed. If you are incapable of putting your unrealistic expectations to one side and accepting us for who we are, you are going to be seriously disappointed.
For the person who is new to Paganism, here is what you should expect:
Paganism is an umbrella term for countless spiritual paths. This means that most people will not agree with what you believe and how you practice. It is not something to argue about, although civil discussion is acceptable. And if you are not Wiccan, let me clue you in, many of the public “Pagan” rituals you encounter will indeed cater to the Wicca crowd simply because they are the majority. Just try to compose a ritual that is equally meaningful to all Pagan paths. Until you have done this, do not be so quick to criticize the work of others. Instead, get involved with your local community and show by example that there are other paths than Wicca.
We did not come out of the box this way. Even now, the majority of Pagans are “first generation”, meaning that they were born and raised in non-Pagan households. We come into it with baggage, and it is not always easy to put that aside. So, yes, you will meet homophobic Pagans. You will meet racist Pagans. You will meet Pagans who still essentially worship the Biblical god, only now he is a female goddess. Given enough time, you’ll meet every sort of person imaginable. This does not mean you should accept homophobia or racism or any other offensive behaviors. You can disagree without flying off the handle. I have a Pagan friend who was very homophobic at one time. He got better. So be civil, give other Pagans a little slack, and keep in mind that you have your own baggage, even if you are not always aware of it. And this leads me to…
Every Pagan is a human being. We err, which I understand is a very human thing to do. The best of us are going to do things now and then that will really piss you off. That is the one thing you can count on. Expect imperfection as you explore Pagan culture and you will not be disappointed. In fact, you will discover that we are, overall, a decent mix of people.
Certainly an interesting mix.