It’s hard to believe that such a long time has elapsed since my last post here. Admittedly, I’ve made a couple of posts to the now-finally-defunct Pagan Monastic blog, but even so…..time really does slip away.
In a previous post I tried to make it clear why it is that I no longer wished either to self-identify or to be identified by others as ‘pagan’, or neo-pagan. Since then, Mrs M and I made a decision in January to resign from the Pagan Federation, in which I had had an active role. We took this decision because we no longer felt that the PF represents us or our interests as Polytheists – in fact, as will become clear, we felt just the opposite.
An email was duly sent to our area co-ordinator, with copies to the Secretary and President of the PF, and in return I received, almost immediately, emails from both Secretary and President expressing extreme disappointment, saying that the PF was there to represent all groups within modern paganism, and that no group should feel excluded.
Shortly after this I received a further email from the President of the PF asking me to give more details of how it was that we felt excluded, and of the reasons for our resignation, and in response I sent the following:-
“As promised this will be my attempt at a proper response to your kind emails. Since it will probably end up being written over a few sittings, I hope you’ll forgive any repetition or occasional incoherence, which I’ll try to keep to a minimum!
“As I’ve said previously, I don’t regard myself, and am not, a spokesperson for anyone or anything, so these are purely my personal thoughts, in the nature of a private and personal communication, and certainly not for publication!
“I don’t propose, either, to ‘pick over the bones’ of the brief-but-sharp disagreement which occurred among the committee in last year. I think the certainty of many conflicting accounts springing up of what occurred would make doing so unedifying, and that it wouldn’t solve anything. Also, I’m sure I played a part in generating the disagreement in the first place! Rather, I would prefer to get ‘under the skin’ of the issues generally, and try to shed what light I can. As I’ve again already said, I’m just an ordinary bloke who worships the Greek Gods. I’m a trained theologian and my approach is theological – sometimes overly-so – so I’ll try to bear that in mind as I write.
“Although unable to find the PF article or reference to the Pagan Symposium which you mention, I have been able to find and read a very full account of the event via www.druidcat.wordpress.com, and it sounds as if it was an interesting day. It’s interesting to note that if the author’s account of the attendees is correct, then there was very little representation from Polytheist groups, beyond the Kith of Yggdrasil on behalf of Heathenry, which is, of course, by far the largest and best-represented Polytheist grouping in the UK, if not the western world.
“This brings me to the point that, as you have already mentioned, Polytheist groups are a very tiny minority within UK Paganism generally, and as a Hellenist, I am part of a tiny minority within that tiny minority. I seriously wonder how realistic it is for Polytheist groups to expect, let alone demand, equal representation alongside the Wiccans and Druids who make up much of the PF’s membership. I think, therefore, that (in your words) understanding is much more realistic a goal than representation. In fact, the question of understanding goes to the heart of things. It seems to me that most Polytheists (if one discounts the recently-emerged and frankly unhelpful ‘ranting Polytheists’ in the US who prefer to spend all their time raining down polemic on everyone, fellow Polytheists included), do not expect to be represented so much as to be understood at events and meetings. Rather, it is a question of feeling not so much misunderstood as not understood at all. My impression is that there is a tacit assumption within PF circles (as well as local moot circles) that to identify as Pagan is more or less equivalent to identifying as Wiccan, Druid or (more recently) Heathen. I have therefore largely stopped identifying myself as Pagan when asked, and started using the term Devotional Polytheist (which is what, in fact, I am). It’s interesting to see that on the rare occasions when we (my wife also being a Hellenist) attend Pagan meetings, there is little or no interest in knowing more about what that means, and therefore presumably little or no interest in understanding. Obviously there is such a majority of Wiccans and Druids that that assumption of identity is tacitly made unless challenged, and challenging it tends to lead directly to being seen as ‘difficult’ or ‘a trouble-maker’.
“As a Polytheist I believe in the autonomous, sentient agency of a diversity of Deities. This makes me uneasy when I’m expected to participate in Wiccan-style open ritual, often without being asked, and the assumption being made that because I am Pagan, I am either also Wiccan, or at least willing to ‘join in’. Polytheistic belief renders me unable to tacitly sit by while ‘the Goddess’ (which Goddess exactly?) is honoured, or while quarters are called. I have good theological reasons for believing that there are a multiplicity of Deities, and I can give an account for them if asked. I have yet to find a Duotheist who can do the same, and the whole Duotheism project seems to be ‘Monotheism in disguise’, and an attempt to make Paganism acceptable in a theological landscape which is accustomed to offering monotheism or atheism as the only options available for consideration.
“A common response we’ve received from others when all of this has come up is a variation of something along the lines of “some Wiccans and Druids are also polytheists so we’ve got it covered, you can stop complaining now”, or words to that effect, without the person making that comment seeming to realise that We Do Things Differently in Polytheist paths. It’s not just a case of having a Wiccan ceremony and calling upon Greek Gods (or Greek aspects of The God and Goddess as I suppose they’d see it). The whole process and theology is utterly different.
“On a more mundane level, it also concerns me to receive emails from PF representatives or members suffixed with ‘BB’ or ‘Blessed Be’. Clearly since I am (in their eyes) Pagan I am also Wiccan. Likewise, it seems anachronistic that an organisation which represents (in the wider sense) people of all Pagan paths should publish a magazine with issues linked to specifically Wiccan/Druid festivals. Would not Spring, Summer etc be just as informative without driving this wedge of expectation in further?
“Conscious of the fact that I am descending rapidly into ‘rant mode’, let me recount something which happened to us during the Summer when we were invited to the handfasting of two friends of ours (of no specified Pagan path). This was clearly ‘flagged up’ as a handfasting (following a lovely legal registry office wedding the same day) so we went dressed in a Pagan ‘way’. The handfasting was conducted by a lady whose name I do not recall, but who is apparently well known in the South West as an officiant. It was a lovely ceremony, and as we posed for photos afterwards, alongside a group of people dressed more for the registry office than for the handfasting, this lady was heard to say, “I’m going to stand with the Wiccans”. She didn’t know we were (not) Wiccans, and she hadn’t asked. It was an assumption made on the basis of either probability or laziness. Oh dear.
“One further observation which might supply reasons why the current situation has come about is, in my opinion, that most Pagan groups appear to have some kind of membership organisation. Druids have OBOD, the BDO, the Druid Network and others. Heathens have the Troth, and now the KoY for UK representation. Hellenists have Hellenion and other (very) small groups, all at this time predominantly US-based, although open to members internationally. However, there seems to be no equivalent for Wiccans since the decline in influence of the CoA in the noughties (I have my own theories concerning this). This might leave Wiccans to regard the PF as a membership organisation for Wiccans. I suspect that if there *were* such a group, representation issues might be less problematic than they currently are – and, of course, the natural propensity for members of *all* these groupings, Hellenists included, to generate five opinions for every three people present should not be under-estimated!
“I suppose I should therefore ask, what can we, generally, and as Polytheists, do? Can we do anything to address this? Should we even want to? Is equal representation possible, or even desirable? Probably not, in my opinion (certainly in the case of possibility). is equality of understanding possible? Almost certainly.
“What *would* be helpful is for Polytheists to resist raining down polemic on others (although as I have said, this is happily mostly a US-based phenomenon for now), and for Wiccans and Druids to be willing to take the time to stop and realise that not everyone else in the PF is also a Wiccan or Druid, and that there are not just issues of preference, but also issues of theology which need to be engaged.
“Practically, it would certainly engender a feeling of greater understanding if 98% of ”in house’ PF emails were not signed off ”Blessed Be’, and even more so if Pagan Dawn didn’t arrive emblazoned with a Wiccan/Druid festival name as its issue identification. It would be lovely to feel that people were genuinely interested in what Polytheism actually is, and if they took the same time to understand Polytheists as the time they expect Polytheists to spend in Wiccan-style ritual without being understood first.
“Obviously I speak as someone who is currently ‘outgoing’, and I have equally obviously ranted on for long enough! I do hope these thoughts will be of interest, or even of help, and I would be very happy to discuss further if you wish. Please forgive any hubris which may have crept in, and I certainly look forward to hearing from you again in due course. Comments and criticism always welcome!
“With best wishes once again”
Entirely co-incidentally, the following day I received the following ‘routine’ email from the press officer of the PF:-
“The Imbolc PD goes to press on Monday.
“For those of you with conferences and similar events between Imbolc and Beltane, do you want a batch of PDs to sell?
“It’s best if I know now so I can make allowances in the print run and send you the issues direct from the printer.
“Usual deal: you pay the actual print cost (approx £1.70 per issue) sell the issues for whatever you want and pocket the difference for your District.
“Thanks & bb”
I forwarded this to the President with the following comment:-
“Further to my long and rambling email yesterday, I think the email from below illustrates the point rather well. Is there anything about this email which *doesn’t* scream ‘Assumed Wiccan Culture’? “Imbloc edition…..between Imbolc and Beltane….thanks and bb….”
“Small wonder that Polytheists feel ‘alien’ within this culture.
“I don’t think , or anyone else, is doing it deliberately to alienate people. It is a classic case of institutional bias.
“Just my two-pennyworth, but I hope it serves to illustrate the point.
“Best wishes as always”
Since that time I have heard not a word from the PF, so I can only assume that institutionally they are happy in their exclusion of all of us who are not content to accept Wiccan culture and jargon as the standard for all pagans. I have a Big Problem with this, and am very glad to be out. The Pagan Federation neither represents, nor, it would appear, wishes to represent the interests or hear the views of those of us who are not content to endure the institutionalised bias against us. This wouldn’t be tolerated in the case of gender exclusion or racial bias, so I wonder on what basis the Pagan Federation thinks it can act in this way towards those of us who happen not to be followers of Uncle Gerald or Uncle Scott. We have already arrived at (and beyond) the point where to identify as Pagan is to send the message that we are Wiccan/Druid, and now (although this is a separate matter for another day) it seems that neo-pagans are busy obfuscating and confusing Polytheism with generic wicca-druidry, stating that they are Polytheists when in fact they are to Polytheism what Nero was to babysitting.
So here is a message for neo-pagans everywhere: You may have successfully hijacked and stolen the meaning of ‘Pagan’, but you will not do so with the word ‘Polytheist’.
More in due course.