(RE)Defining Paganism Pt 1.3: “Subculture” As A Definition of Paganism

In response to publishing the original, long form version of my article on Problematic Pagan Definitions (originally titled “What is Paganism, Really?”), I received a Pingback to another user’s WordPress where they talked about their own definition of Paganism, citing my article. In it they said such on the subject of how Paganism should be defined:

Yet by accident I found perhaps the best description of paganism I have ever come across: “paganism is a subculture.”

Wikipedia’s article on “subculture” defines that word as “a subculture is a group of people within a culture that differentiates themselves from the larger culture to which they belong.”

And there you have it. That’s why paganism is best defined as a type of subculture. It is not the primary definition for someone, or the primary culture of a person, but it can be part of someone’s social identification. And while that still hints at some shared “something”, that “something” is as simple as “we have no other place to talk to others about our faiths/spiritualitities/religions.”

Thus, in short: I see paganism as a subculture for people who identify with the subculture. This is why you will find polytheists who don’t identify as pagan, and why you’ll see Christians who do.

Generally, I think this definition may have worked if not for a few kinks that make it not work- and what makes it not work is the definition and classification of what a Subculture really is.

A Culture is a particular form or stage of civilization, as that of a certain nation or period. More importantly, it the behaviors, beliefs, characteristics, language, arts, and customs that are passed from one generation to the next and define a particular social, ethnic, or age group.

A Subculture, on the other hand, is a group of people within a culture that has beliefs, arts, language, and other things which differentiates its from the larger Culture to which it belongs. Is it a derivative or deviant group from the greater cultural norm.

Opposite of that, though, is Counterculture- which is a way of life and set of attitudes that are specifically opposed to the prevailing social norm and Culture- usually on the basis of politics, socio-economic, or other reasons.

In most cases- like with Countercultures- these Subcultures also involve or include a specific lifestyle that most members adhere to, and contain all of the trappings that determine a regular Culture- including beliefs, arts, specialized language, territory, and more. Because of this, the predominant way in which Subcultures and Countercultures are determined in Sociology is through the study of the symbolism attached to clothing, music and other visible affects by members of perceived Subcultures, against the ways in which these same symbols are interpreted by members of the dominant culture. This is also a predominant method of identifying Countercultures, with a group or movement being identified as either a Subculture or a Counterculture based on the amount of differences between when set against societal norms, and the mentalities behind those views.

To put things into perspective for a moment: What we commonly refer to as “society” is the dominant Culture; and “Vintage” and “Goth” may be considered Subcultures (arguably rooted in fashion, but which often share similar art, music, and other culture-defining tastes); whereas the Pinups of the 1940’s through early 1960’s- and the Flappers of the 1920’s- are arguably Countercultures.

In other words, it is a sliding scale from Culture to Counterculture- and Subculture is stuck in the middle.

Up until this point, yeah. Maybe the definition of Paganism as a subculture would world. However, if we delve deeper into Sociology it begins to really fall apart because Sociology often does not consider Religion to be a Subculture for a big reason… That reason being that Religions often already function as cohesive Cultures due to the fact that Religions may often dictate things such as acceptable dress, language, activity, arts, and more.

Instead, in order to qualify as a Religious Subculture, there must be a visible and cohesive “norm” within the specific Religious branch, and then there must be a group with an obvious deviation from that norm so much so as to create another “Culture”- either Subculturally or Counterculturally. Examples of accepted Religious subcultures are Progressive Judaism, Mormon Fundamentalism, New Order Amish, Quiverfull, and more; in other words: groups within specific Religions which deviate from the common Culture of that specific Religion.

Paganism itself as an Umbrella term which we can’t even agree on a definition of. The sheer number of different (and usually unrelated) practices beneath the umbrella, lack of cohesive religious doctrine, beliefs, and practices- and more- means that there is no genuine cohesiveness to Paganism; despite there being stereotypical portrayals of Pagans and Pagan faiths, there is no actual common art, language, dress, music, etc.- even if a vocal minority makes it appear that there may be(and I assure you that Wiccans and Neo-Wiccans are actually a minority, albeit a vocal and pervasive one which has a lot of privilege in both greater society and beneath the Pagan Umbrella). As such, it cannot constitute a legitimate sociological culture.

It also cannot be a Subculture because there is no greater Culture from which it can deviate. There is nothing “above” Paganism on the cultural “scale”. There is no real “norm” (and Stereotypes are not “norms”, I assure you) by which to dissent from to create either a further Pagan Counterculture or Subculture.

We are nothing more- at this point- than a hapdash group of people with only marginally similar interests and philosophies who are stuck using problematic and outdated definitions to identify themselves, and are unable to agree on a better one.tumblr_od9z4kycsq1urp3f5o1_540


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