As I said in my last post, I’m not the first one to define “pagan” as “European pre-Christian, non-Abrahamic religious traditions”, and I likely won’t be the last. I’ve always found this a bit odd, that the community seems to have ostensibly defined “Paganism” as coming predominantly from Europe and the Mediterranean (though few remember that Egypt isn’t in Europe, nor is Mesopotamia, where the goddess Astarte was first worshipped), even if only a handful have ever had the guts to admit it.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, though it understandably carries a lot of baggage. I remember a few years ago, when the Council of Ethnic Religions(?) dared to propose a European-based definition of “pagan” and “paganism”, as an umbrella term specifically for the pre-Christian indigenous religious of Europe (and maybe the Mediterranean?), and half of The Wild Hunt’s commenters practically had an aneurysm, screaming “Racist!” left and right —as if this isn’t something they’ve been doing, as a community, for decades. No, seriously, look at ANY “Paganism For Dummies” sort of primer, and very little —at best, a few deity names, maybe an incense or two, but almost never any rituals— is based outside practises of European or Mediterranean origin, and most of it comes from the British Isles or Germany. I’d understand the anger if that announcement was clearly against the current status quo of the pagan community, but the truth is, it’s only been fairly recently that pagans have been at all interested in African diaspora traditions, and before that, it was Far Eastern Asia, and before that, it was Indigenous American tribal traditions —and it’s usually been something that’s been a very trendy, flash-in-the-pan sort of interest. Like suddenly, High Priestess (self-appointed) Lillywhite Wykkanmoon rrealised that Black people had religions outside Baptistism and decided to act like she cared about forging a relationship with some Akan “face of Goddess” so she can feel good about “not being a racist”. To be perfectly blunt, after the novelty wears off for most people, and assuming they’re still identifying as somehow pagan after that, most people hopping on the Hip New “Ethnic”-Wiccan Fad™ are going to go right back to their Eurocentric way of doing things, maybe recon-influenced, maybe Wicca-influenced (which, as far as I’m concerned, is a new indigenous religion of England —but maybe that’s just me), but only a few of the white people hopping on any non-European/Mediterranean pantheon fad are going to stick with it and actually remain interested in it, even looking beyond the “exotic” façade and getting into cultural assimilation.
The thing, though, is that the communities those religions come from almost never (not enough for any practical estimate) refer to their religions as “pagan”. “Pagan” is an English word, based on a Roman root. Amongst indigenous tribes of the Americas, “pagan” is a word of the oppressor, it’s not what they do. I imagine a lot of other “coloured” ethnicities see it that way, too. Might some of the more diplomatic try and forge bridges with pagans, on the grounds of religious minority status? Sure, but to conflate the two would be like calling a heteronormative transsexual woman “a gay man” because she may share some similar oppressions with effeminate gay men: It’s not only offensive, it’s inaccurate to the lived realities of both parties.
And don’t get me wrong, it can be a good thing to bond over similarities, and it’s always beneficial to use those similarities to band together in hopes of protecting the civil rights of all, but similarities don’t mean you’re doing the same thing.
There’s also some serious baggage with the realisation that “Pagan = European and Mediterranean traditions”. Hell, you can barely throw a stone in any direction in the Heathen community (at least according to my own research) without having a 50/50 chance of hitting some fucko into Nazi mysticism, or distorting certain passages in that community’s ancient sacred texts as justification for their own self-styled brand of “white separatism”. And the Heathen community isn’t alone with that baggage: During my brief interest in CR, I encountered some racist fucks repurposing Lugh for their despicable purposes, and considering the fact that Golden Dawn —a.k.a. the Greek “Nazi party”— once actively engaged the HR movement, I can’t help but roll my eyes at the few people I still see, occasionally, describing Hellenismos as “like Greek Asatru/Heathenism, but without Nazis”. So yeah, needless to say, there’s some… history than can make admitting the fact that “Paganism’ has been implicitly defined by having European and Mediterranean roots for decades a thing many people are rather reluctant to do.
I’ve always had kind of mixed feelings about this. On one hand, I have no problem with being incredibly blunt, when necessary, and it bothers me when people like to tiptoe around uncomfortable truths, as if they’re afraid of waking some slumbering dragon if they say anything too specific about the facts. On the other hand, like any other white person who tries to be decent, especially one who was raised in a predominantly poor and Black neighbourhood (and who honestly feels more comfortable living surrounded by lower working class Black people, or elderly mid-to-low prole English people than any other demographics —why? That’s what I grew up with, poor English grandparents and a neighbourhood filled mostly with poor Black people), it makes me feel like a complete failure at life when someone falsely accuses me of being some kind of racist.
Think about it, though: What religions do you put under the “Pagan” umbrella? Are you careful to point out that most African diaspora religionists, Hindus, Abroiginal religionists, etc…, very seldom call their religion “Pagan”? For extra points, how much first-hand knowledge of that do you have to back it up? (I admit, I don’t have much, most of it is second-hand knowledge, but it’s been from ostensibly well-informed people.) Be completely honest now, looking back to the first question, how many of those religions can be directly traced back to Europe, the British Isles, or the Mediterranean? Of those without a direct link to that area of the globe, is there a clear influence in those religions from that region?
I’m willing to bet $25 that a bare minimum of nineteen out of every twenty people who read this will answer the above questions and realise (or at least confirm) that they have a Euro/Med-focused definition of “Pagan” and “Paganism”. There’s nothing really wrong with that, and no, it’s not “erasing” to refer to other religious groups by their preferred terms. It’s also OK for words to mean things, even if asserting the meaning of that word might invite some baggage, at the current point in time. But a wise man once offered a seeker, when asked, a phrase that would be true at all times, and that phrase was “At some time, this, too, shall pass.” The baggage isn’t going to be around forever.