I’m not sure why I’m a Pagan. I type those words, and I know I’m taking a risk by making this admission, but it’s what’s going through my head.
My Paganism, as well as my Druidry, is feeling more like subject matter for this blog rather than a way of living my life. Being Pagan doesn’t feel very immediate to me. It feels like a construct. It’s a bit like drag; like something I’m putting on, or that I’m trying to assume. I wrote about being a convert. Perhaps this feeling is an extension of that process of conversion. But I’m still not clear on what I’m converting to.
The Pagan Community feels more like an idea to me than anything else. There are Pagan gatherings which I attend from time to time, and groups to which I’ve paid membership dues. But for the most part, the Community lives in the ether, and I’m not exactly certain that I fit into it, or what exactly I should call myself. The labels come with baggage.
I never felt comfortable calling myself a Christian, either. I always told people that I was an Episcopalian. Somehow, identifying with my denomination was easier for me to explain. For me, being a Christian wasn’t as much about what I believed; it was about what I did. I think my Christianity was very Pagan in that way.
By being an Episcopalian, I was liturgical, rational — as much as any “person of faith” can be — and unwilling to accept fundamentalism. I sought out a balance of intellect and emotion, listened for the subtle, soft voice of the Spirit, and opened my awareness to the unexpected ways in which God might be present in the world. That’s what being an Episcopalian was for me, and so, by extension, that’s how I was a Christian.
But there were squabbles within the Christian community about which denomination was getting it right. Christians are constantly arguing amongst themselves about what is the best or most correct way to be a Christian (similar to the arguments between Revivalist and Reconstuctionist Druids on who is actually a Druid, or the talk about which Witch among us is a genuine Witch). Episcopalians were often viewed as too liberal, or sometimes too formal. Some Christians viewed them as too affluent, and too white. Gays had a home in the pews and behind the altar, and for many Christians that was a sure sign that Episcopalians weren’t actually Christian.
It was a hot mess.
My present conundrum is partly rooted in questions of identity, but also in experience. Christmas left me feeling confused. I opened myself up to certain aspects of it, and now I’m wondering what it was that inspired me to leave.
Do I think Christianity has it all right? No. Is God a man? No. But neither is God a woman. God is a metaphor. I’m not sure my Christian or Pagan brothers and sisters think of it that way. I reject the doctrine of original sin (as did many of the Christians I knew back in the day), and I understand how the religion has historically been a breeding ground for greed, power mongering and institutional corruption. But even still, there are discussions happening among more progressive, less institutional, “Emergent” factions of the Christian community — discussions about greed, power mongering and institutional corruption — that have an immediacy and potency that I’m not hearing in other places.
I guess what I’m wonder is — What does being a Pagan get you. Personal freedom? The ability to put together your own tradition? Or, perhaps the chance to structure your life around an ancient tradition? In a way, Christianity offered that to me, too. So how is Paganism different?
I feel hesitant to post about this because I’m concerned with what kind of response I’ll get. I feel like Pagans want to read about proud Pagans, or Pagans who are firm in their identity, and that those of us who are engaged in a discernment process should just get with the program already. There is a streak of militant activism among some of the Pagans I’ve read online, and I’ve been reticent to subject myself to their criticisms.
But, this is where I am. I’m not sure that the direction of this blog can be anything but an honest exploration and examination of my perspective. I’m not an ideologue. I’m not here to push a Pagan agenda. I’m here to unpack my perspective. I’m here to engage in respectful dialogue.
The truth is, being alive right now — being a modern, Western, American human being — is very confusing. It would be simple to say that all one needs to do is firm up their religious identity — be a better Pagan, Witch, Druid, Asatru, or Christian — and then everything would be easier. But I don’t think it works that way. Identity and religious expression are much more complicated than a single word would imply.
Am I alone in this experience?