(RE)Defining Paganism Pt 2: The Importance of Labels

I see it a lot in the community that people will say “why do we need Labels?”. It is usually said in a misguided attempt to encourage cohesiveness and acceptance among community members by reducing violence associated with the religious labels that one takes. Unfortunately it is misguided, especially when it comes to a religious umbrella that is so wide and diverse as the Pagan and Witchcraft umbrellas are.

All languages are made up of a series of labels and the words and rules which connect and codify them. Those labels exist for a reason, and that is to accurately and concisely convey what we are, what we feel, what we see, what we believe, and what we are talking about in that exact moment.

These labels within language can generally be broken down into two distinct groups: Simple Labels and Complex Labels. Simple labels are those like “Blue” or “Chair”. They are labels which express a general idea or category whereas complex labels like “Cyan” or “Chaise” are specifiers as to what specific kind of “Blue” or “Chair” that one is speaking about.

Of course, you could just call yourself “Pagan” and be done with it. But if you’re a Hellenic Polytheist, then why would you when inside of a group where it is safe to claim such a label? Simply calling yourself “Pagan” and allowing the identification to stop there does not give you the nuance of belief and practice that saying “Hellenic Polytheist” would.

It’s kind of like pointing at a room full of items in varying shades and hues of blue (all of which have formal names) and saying “that blue thing over there” when asking someone to fetch you something. It’s much more concise to say “That Cyan Jar on the shelf to the left”- which communicated much more effectively the particular item you are asking them to fetch for you. “That blue thing over there”, on the other hand, while shorter and less of a mouthful as far as phrasing goes could literally refer to anything in the room at that moment. They are all still blue, after all.

Umbrellas work much the same way. It is nothing more than a Simple Label that communicates a general idea. It is the individual words for the various Religions, Traditions, and General Practices beneath those umbrellas which are specifiers that more clearly convey our beliefs.  This is why, in my opinion, it is necessary to put effort into more clearly and concisely defining what is “Pagan”- and, as a byproduct, what Complex Identifiers fall beneath such an umbrella.

Ultimately, though, the infighting and violence within communities does not come from the use of these specifiers or Complex Labels. Removing the usage of Complex Labels- in this case, the individual names of the Religions themselves- would do nothing to actually erase the problem. The problem is not the Labels themselves. Instead such problems come from fear, close-mindedness, a refusal to understand / a lack of understanding, and a lack of education and acceptance among many other contributing factors.tumblr_od9z4kycsq1urp3f5o1_540

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