(RE)Defining Paganism Pt 3: Proposing A New Definition of Paganism

In Problematic Pagan Definitions, I talked about the current definitions of Paganism- both Dictionary and Community- and broke down the problems with each definition. Those problems ranged from archaic usages no longer relevant to modern society, to full blown racism, to improper generalization and a failure to represent all ideals under the Umbrella- which is, let’s face it, a difficult task to accomplish.

So what do we do now that we have managed to render all currently “accepted” definitions completely irrelevant to the Modern Pagan community? Well, there’s two options. The first is to continue using them regardless and continue grinding out teeth over the fact that they’re still not right. The second is to propose a new definition and grind our teeth while we attempt to make it a common and acceptable one… Either way, there is a lot of teeth-grinding, hair pulling, and frustration involved.

I am personally of the mindset that- like with any attempted change- we cannot rely wholly on our ability to deconstruct prior definitions. We must then propose new ones to take their place. Unfortunately, this is something that must happen within the community and the community itself cannot reach a consensus either. Many people- old and new- wish to cling to the old (and provably problematic) definitions.

I would like to propose a new (albeit wordy) definition of my own for consideration; I propose that Modern Paganism is defined as:

  1. An Umbrella Term encompassing a large rang of Religions, Spiritualities, and Personal Practices that may share a various amount of characteristics with one another but are not necessarily related- only so long as the practitioner chooses to identify as Pagan or is a member of a religion, practice, or spiritual system that identifies itself as Pagan.
  2. A group of individuals, religions, personal practices, or spiritualities that do not fall into the category of A. an Organized World Religion, B. An Abrahamic Religion (considered world religions), or C. an Indigenous Spiritual System, yet identify as Pagan.

This definition is still pretty close to the original definitions. However, while the differences are small, they are important.

Really the biggest difference is in the fact that the newer definition does not contain all of the erasure, generalization, and racism of the originals; only includes those who wish to be included by placing emphasis on identification over theism or practice – and therefore maintains the rights of those religions and individuals- who do not wish to be included- to not be generalized and lumped in as well; and allows for future expansion and acceptance of practices and religions that may wish to consider themselves Pagan as our community and it’s umbrella grows.

Under this, Paganism is an umbrella term as it correctly should be. One which does not inherently cover everything (we would never reach a conclusive definition if we tried to), but yet still allows for people who are not inherently covered to still opt into being a part of it (simply by identifying as such) while simultaneously not erasing anyone underneath it, or generalizing practices like most other definitions are wont to do (and generalizing is generally considered unacceptable as it leads to the erasure of valid practices). It also offers the ability for expansion, growth, and the creation of new Religions- which other definitions did not provide.

I fully believe that individual capability and rights to identify as Pagan must be upheld- especially with a history of some faiths to force the identifier on individuals and entire systems, and double especially when it is taken into consideration that there are, today, several Pagan religions that do not share any common ancestry, practices, spiritual foundations, etc., but who feel that rightfully they are a Pagan religion too.

So now all that is left is to bring this option to the community and decide whether or not we- as a group- wish to use this definition… And let’s face it… Our only other option if the community doesn’t is to either rehash it again, continue using outdated and problematic definitions which already exist, or begin to splinter into smaller more cohesive groups which then choose their own religious identifiers- vs continuing to try and smush everyone under a large and rather shakily defined umbrella.tumblr_od9z4kycsq1urp3f5o1_540

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