Because there is no central text or authority on the matter, defining Paganism for the understanding of outsiders and insiders of the Pagan community can be tricky, but not impossible as long as some things are kept in mind.
First off, Paganism is a term of self-identification. Period. No one person or path has a single claim to this term because it has no definitive meaning or specific association. However there are nearly a dozen ways for someone to ‘wear’ the term because of its versatility and with that said, it also has no set political affiliation.
Secondly, Paganism is a category or classification and not a specific path. It has no set practice or system of belief. It has no religious affiliation or implied theological or cosmological outlook. Paganism is not a religion or set spirituality unto itself.
Thus thirdly, Paganism is so nebulous in its implication that it often contradicts itself when the various ways and reasons people use the term get compared and contrasted. However, the quandary presented by that previous statement is the core and beauty of the term itself. Despite the difficulty in defining the term, those who are Pagan known why they are Pagan and why they identify as Pagan despite much of the confusion the term presents.
Usually referred to as NeoPaganism or Contemporary Paganism, Paganism to me has pretty much always been about personal spiritual diversity and individuality. If I had to explain the situation further I would say that Paganism is an umbrella term with a lot of holes in it and funny enough this is what is often missed when someone tries to explain the term to others. They forget to acknowledge the holes. They often leave out the qualifier that their explanation may not apply to everyone who identifies as Pagan.
In some of the definitions people concoct for Paganism they have been known to rely on what I prefer to call secondary characteristics of being Pagan. Secondary characteristics to me are things such as a specific religious affiliation or one’s personal politics not to mention personal agendas, causes, lifestyle choices, etc. to base their definition on which can often lead to an inaccurate and polarizing portrayal of what Paganism can be. Not all Pagans are witches, political activists or of a liberal mindset just to list a few examples because Pagans can even be non-magickal, politically passive, and conservative too.
Since there is no one way to define what it means to be Pagan, an accurate approach is to begin with those aspects that tend to be the most consistent between the variety of people who identify as Pagan. After all, it is the people of the community who define it and in my experience the best way to approach any explanation about Paganism is a multifaceted approach. It is for this reason that I designed the following diagram that depicts the Pagan situation when it comes to spirituality in today’s community. In my experience and opinion, modern Paganism floats somewhere within a range of the following three elements, those being:
- Nature Revering
- Western Esotericism.
For example, a Wiccan would most likely sit in #7 while a Thelemite may feel more akin to #5 in the diagram similar to some Satanists, who also identify as Pagan, and a Druid may identify with #4 or #7 depending on their practice. The following shows a breakdown of how these three elements may relate to someone’s practice either through identification or influence and better help them understand where they fall on the diagram.
Of course using Non-Abrahamic as a core element brings up the issue of those who identify as ChristoPagans which in fact argues this notion that Paganism is by default Non-Abrahamic. So, how does ChristoPaganism fit into our diagram? The path of Christian Paganism is one of those paths where the nebulousness of what Paganism often implies contradicts itself. Thankfully the issue of Christian Paganism fits in the above diagram as it also allows for Abrahamic paths as well. Depending on their practice, a ChristoPagan could list themselves as either a #3, #6, or #2 in the above diagram.
So in closing…
- Do you self-identify as Pagan?
- How does this diagram hold up to your experience?
- What number Pagan are you?