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No one knew why the woman sitting beside the Orpheus Pagan Chamber Choir was wearing a black, feathered, Carnival mask, and I doubt anybody asked. Pagans are known to be eccentric with their attire, after all, and who’s to say she wasn’t paying homage to a deity or something? Tres faux pax to question a Pagan’s choice of bling. You’re treading on holy ground there.

Her display may have seemed a bit dark for 9:15am on a Sunday, but who was I to judge? Me, with my purple bow-tie and thistle blossom lapel flower, proudly donning purple to show my Pagan pride. I stood out just as much as she did from my mostly white haired, much more plainly dressed neighbors, and none of them were giving me any grief.

There was occasion for pagan pageantry on this morning, whether that be pentagrams and feathers or labradorite and velour robes. The Witches had showed up in force at the Unitarian Universalist church, and they were ready to cast a circle.

Who Are The Witches In Your Neighborhood?

The Sunday service at Jefferson Unitarian Universalists Church, appropriately titled, “The Pagan Next Door,” was led by a prominent Wiccan Priestess and Priest from the local Pagan community with the help of several UU Pagans. Unlike other UU services, where individuals representing a single faith tradition might sprinkle in bits and pieces of their religious language and practice into a standard UU framework, this was set to be a full-fledged, Wiccan rite.

Now, I’m not a Witch (and I can’t type that without hearing in my head a certain auto-tuned political parody), and this service was all about the Witches. The Four Quarters were called, Deity was presented as Lord and Lady, and a circle was cast — something that we don’t do in ADF Druidry. But that was all okay with me. I didn’t need for the service to reflect my own practice in order for it to be relevant. This event mattered for one simple reason:

It was a moment to practice proclaiming our legitimacy.

The occasion was worthy of a bow-tie.

Preaching The Legitimacy Gospel

The Priestess spoke for great length about the normalcy of Witches, and I found this to be particularly interesting. Covens, in seems, are as apple-pie as your HOA. Little Witch-kids are playground stomping next to little Christian soldiers, and big Witch-adults are ringing up your groceries, policing your streets and suing your insurance companies. Witches are just like you. Well…mostly.

I appreciate the sentiment, and I see the value in this kind of preaching (though I doubt the Witches in question would use the word “preach” to describe their sermon – another iffy word). But as I see it, that’s what they were doing. Making the case for normalcy and commonalities is important for people living on the fringes. Take if from a Gay.

Just a few days ago, LGBTQIA activists (i.e. “Queer Folk”) and supporters claimed a victory in New York after gaining the right to legally recognized civil marriage. That would have never happened without thousands of Gay-vangelists preaching the Legitimacy Gospel, not unlike what these two Witches were doing at the podium.

WE’RE HERE!! WE’RE WITCHES!! And we’ll meet you in the common area after service for coffee and snacks. Please join us. 🙂

This evangelism may not appeal to everyone out there, but it is necessary work. You’ve got to get in there and mix with the muggles, let them know you’re not a monster, and say quite plainly and with respect that who you are and how you practice your religion is valid.

First, though, you have to believe it yourself.

How Do You BECOME Legitimate?

Simple answer: you behave as though you already are.

My husband calls is, “acting as if”. Its a technique we’ve used to get us through some hard times, and I think it would be useful to Pagans who are seeking greater recognition outside of the Pagan community.

In our case, we aren’t recognized as a “legitimate” married couple, but we act as if are. We treat each other as if the world already saw us as legitimate, both privately and publicly, and in so doing we begin to create a life for ourselves that functions similarly to any other legitimate relationship.

In the case of the Witches, most churches won’t have anything to do with them. They villainies them, misconceive them and distort that which they hold sacred. But on this Sunday, the Witches greeted people at the church door, congregated in the commons area, and shared the limited variety of crackers and coffee available. They handed them program leaflets, passed the collection plate, and most importantly shared sacred space with people who do not identify as Pagan. They acted as if they belonged.

And they did. We did. We were welcomed, and it was a good feeling.

Maybe I’ll Be A Churchy Pagan

I intend to return to the UU church on a less witchy Sunday to see what a normal service is like. I’ll be sure to wear a bit of purple and I’ll plan on engaging with parishioners about my spiritual journey, the evolution of which I feel needs to be examine and unpacked longer form.

See, I am on my own personal quest for legitimacy. As much as I know, I still must re-learn constantly how to act as if my path–my life– is legitimate. I must learn and re-learn the language that best communicates what I know in my heart and what I practice before my altar to people who may practice and believe differently than me.

I take inspiration from the Withes, though, and their churchiness. Perhaps I’ll follow their lead.

What about you? Do you find any challenge in acting as if your spiritual path is legitimate? Have you ever been in a position where you were able to preach the legitimacy gospel? If so, please tell me about in the comment section.

But first, be a kind blog-lover and share this post on Facebook or Twitter.

Post Updated on July 4th to include links to Orpheus Pagan Chamber Choir and Jefferson Unitarian Universalist Church.

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  • AlanHeartsong

    The "as if" acting becomes, with practice, not acting in my personal experience. My faith is healthy, my approach to it rational, and I don't treat myself like anyone or anything odd. I'm a gay wiccan, currently solitary, and there is no true dominant world religion so I fit in just fine with everyone else who is unique.

    • I agree completely with you, Alan. In time, "acting as if" is something you forget about. Its really just a catalyst to help you push through whatever injustice you may be experiencing.

      I'm glad to hear you've found a practice that works for you, and that you feel comfortable expressing that with others!

  • The age old 'fake it til you make it' is a cliche, but then cliche's are cliche's because they are fundamentally true. People expect us, as pagans and witches and heathens (oh my!) to stay on the fringes because that is our perceived 'place'. And what does society use to enforce it's perceived social pecking order? Shame, embarrassment, guilt. As long as we let ourselves feel that, in even the tiniest way, our faith is something that needs to be hidden because 'others wouldn't understand' then we are only enforcing the social order and keeping ourselves on those fringes. That's not to say that there are not serious reasons and valid concerns that keep a lot of us in the broom closet. Some of those social back lashes can destroy lives and families. But that is why those who are out and doing the legitimacy dance should get a rousing cheer from the rest of us.

    • Indeed! Thank you for voicing this comment, Traveler. I hope your journey brings you back to this blog for more conversation!

      I believe in being "out". It can be a hard road to walk, but from my experience it is the only way to live a life free of the shame, embarrassment or guilt. First, you believe that you're worthy of being seen, being understood, and then you proceed accordingly. It takes bravery and courage.

      Here's to the heroes who take the risk of living fully as who they are!

  • Pagan UU

    I am an eclectic pagan and also a UU. For me they go hand in hand, they are not separate parts of my life. I absolutely love being a UU. I am very active in my congregation. There are a lot of people with diverse religious beliefs, and while that sounds like it wouldn’t work; it actually works wonderfully. We have no dogma or creed; rather we celebrate a diversity of beliefs. We have 7 principles and 6 sources that we draw from (which I have found are very in tune with what most pagans believe): http://www.uua.org/beliefs/6798.shtml . There is a saying “Unitarian Universalism: Harder, because they don’t tell you the answers. Easier, because they don’t tell you the wrong answers”. 🙂 Here are some additional links that may answer any questions you have about Unitarian Universalism:

    Beliefs and Principles in the UUA: http://www.uua.org/beliefs/index.shtml

    Paganism and UUA: http://www.uua.org/beliefs/welcome/6678.shtml

    P.S. For the previous commenter, UU is also welcoming to the LGTB community. See the following link for more resources: http://www.uua.org/leaders/idbm/lgbt/index.shtml

    • Brilliant! Thank you for sharing these resources. I'm glad to hear from someone with your perspective — I think there are many our there like you… and like me. 🙂

      Many thanks to you for this comment!

      • Pagan_UU

        I don't know if you've seen this resource or not, but if you plan to return to a UU congregation; this may be of interest to you. It is the Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans or CUUPS for short. http://www.cuups.org/

        Many thanks to you for the article! Blessed Be!

        • I love CUUPS! That's how I found out about the service in the first place! I've attended a few CUUPS services, mainly around the Full Moon. Our local chapter is filled with some extraordinary people!

          Thank you for sharing!

  • I am also an eclectic Pagan and UU. I'm an ordained interfaith minister, a Wiccan High Priestess, and a UU Worship Associate. I read and preach regularly from the pulpit in my Fellowship-sometimes about Pagan issues, but mostly about things that concern us all…because everyday issues are a part of Pagan life, too. We really are no different than anyone else sitting in the pew. We have the same needs and desires as other human beings and we dream the same dreams. We express our spirituality in a way that is unique to each of us as individuals, and my UU Fellowship is a safe place to begin the process sharing that expression with others. We had 100 attend a Winter Solstice ritual for the second year six months ago, and we just included a celebration of the Summer Solstice in Sunday's service.

    • Brilliant! Thank you so much, Kate, for sharing in this dialogue. I'm delighted to hear your voice.

      The more time I spend at the UU Church, the more I think it may be a good home for me. I'll continue my studies with ADF, which acknowledges itself as a religious fellowship of Neo-Pagan Druids. But UU offers something that an exclusively Pagan group does not: interfaith fellowship. I think this is key to a well-rounded, holistic spirituality. At least, the one that I feel called to.

      Again, thank you for sharing your experiences here.

  • Jennifer

    As a green witch, the local UU is probably the only place I fit in lol. Our local UU is very inclusive of Pagans and marks the major Pagan calendar events with a celebration each time! The UU really is the way to go for an liberal minded person who is spiritual in nature and does not wish to be drug down by dogma.

    • Thanks for the comment, Jennifer. I'm hearing this message from several people, and I think you all may be onto something! I'm glad to hear that you've found a place where your practice is respected, and where you are able to build community!

  • Although every UU congregation is a little bit different I think you’ll find it complementary to an ADF path. I have been associated with UUs and especially with CUUPS (Covenant of UU Pagans) since 1986. I helped start the first Pagan-identified congregation that joined the UUA, and when I lived in New York, Isaac and I were members of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Rockland County.

    • Thank you for your comment, Phaedra. It made my day. I'm glad to hear that UU and ADF can be complimentary of one another. My instincts were telling me that they would be, and I'm glad to get some confirmation –especially from you.

      I would love to know more about the congregation you helped form. Would you be willing to share more about that, or is there a place where I can find more information?

      Thank you again for taking the time to contribute to this conversation. I sincerely appreciate it.

    • Paul

      On a random note: Rockland County? That's where I grew up!! I'm from Piermont. Phaedra, where were you living?

  • This was a lovely article and you make good points. May I just say that many of us who are Pagan and Wiccan have been doing just this for many years — in some cases, decades — acting “as if.” And, also, actively learning from the Gay Pride movement and applying those “lessons learned” to claiming our own place in mainstream America. You may not see it in your particular place, and so you may know it, but believe me: thousands of Pagans and Wiccans every day are doing just what you ask. Also witness the ever-growing “Pagan Pride Day” movement. My state, North Carolina, had over 2,000 Pagan and Pagan-friendly folk at the state fairgrounds last September. So be of good cheer: the lessons are being learned, and applied with zeal.

    • Thank you, G, for the important reminder. Each person who "acts as if" is helping to move forward the cause, and as I've written in other posts, I'm a newbie in the Pagan community. It is encouraging to hear from people who've walked this road before me, and who see real progress being made!

      Blessings to you!

    • Paul

      I second this. I think I love Pagan Pride more than Gay Pride. But both are a lot of fun.

  • We've got a new Pagan community center in Utah, we're about to celebrate our 10th annual Pagan Pride Day, our CUUPS Chapter is 10 years old, and we've been doing public ritual in SLC for 26 years. When I was the National President of CUUPS Continental in 2009, when UUA General Assembly was in Salt Lake City, I celebrated CUUPS' Annual Summer Solstice Ritual on the front lawn of the Salt Palace, in the shadow of the Mormon Temple. I am a member of the Utah Pride Interfaith Council, and was a speaker at this year's Pride Interfaith Service–the eighth time I have done so since 2001. My point is–keep "acting as if", because even in the most theocratic state in the Union, Pagans have a place, as do LGBTIQ folks–because we have taken it. We're here, we're queer, we're Witches, and we're legitimate. Get used to it–Utah has!

    • You are awesome, Maureen! Just awesome!! What an inspiration. Thank you for speaking up here, and for sharing your experiences. I wish we could sit across the table and have a cup of coffee — I'd love to know more about what you've learned throughout your journey.

  • My hubby and I are also Pagan (and UU) and both of us are also veterans…which has left us with some interesting experiences in both worlds. I think what you said here is the key "as if the world already saw us as legitimate, both privately and publicly". It has been my experience that by expecting people to take me and my beliefs (and in the Pagan community, my (former) profession) seriously, they tend to do so. In six years of active duty service, I had very few issues with being very openly Pagan, and was even consulted a time or ten for that very reason–that I was just a sailor who happened to be Pagan. I think, in the end, if (on a personal level) we seek to be seen as people first, then the way in which we engage Divinity becomes just another detail about us and not that big of a deal, and we sort of become ambassadors for our "cause" (be it religion, race, sexuality, gender, etc).

    • I like that you use the word, "ambassador". That seems right. Its a responsibility some people don't feel they should have to assume, but I think its important that we all do. If you want the world to change, you've got to become that change first. Gandhi was spot on.

      Thank you for your comment, and for inspiring me to move just a little further toward full and total "out-ness". 🙂

  • Nicole Portalatin

    Thank you for your beliefs & ideas. In a place where sometimes the energy? vibes? are so feral (Oklahoma, alas) that I’m not comfortable enough to feel my next breath is legitimate, knowing you & others breathe freely & publicly is a tall glass of cool water.

    • I'm happy that you found the post, Nicole. Thank you for taking the time to share your experiences here.

      Your life is absolutely legitimate. Anyone who tells you otherwise is a fool. Breathe deep; remember that your breath connects you to all other living things. You cannot control the world around you, but you can learn to be at peace inside of yourself.

      I will hold you up in prayer, Nicole, and ask that the Kindreds – the Gods, the Ancestors, and the Spirits of the land – be with you and give you strength.

  • Acting ‘as if’ is key to getting taken seriously I have found. Working with my local City Council has shown me that this applies not only to my faith but to claiming my rights as a resident. By acting as if I have legitimacy, I give myself confidence to stand up and be counted (another cliche, I know).

    In fact, I have been so successful with acting ‘as if’ that I was asked to give a presentation to members of the Council about Paganism. Most of the presentation I devoted to normalising Paganism. I opened up by finding out their perceptions and was pleasantly surprised to find only one reference to the Wicker Man! I think that in order to get people to be able to hear the message that Paganism isnt all about sacrifice and so forth, we first have to show them how ‘normal’ we are.

    (Incidentally, the person who asked if I really went naked in the woods fell asleep during my presentation, I think some people aren’t ready to listen).

    • Thank you for your comment, Kitty, and for sharing your experiences of "acting as if". It occurs to me as I read it that there is a moment where the "projection" of legitimacy is replaced with the "acceptance" of legitimacy. Does that make sense? You walk into that City Council room projecting your own legitimacy to them — acting as if — and you walk out with them accepting that your path is legitimate. That's alchemy, right there.

      Thank you for doing this important work on behalf of the greater Pagan community. Many blessings to you!

  • Yes, I'm constantly getting the inner battle as to whether I'm "legitimate" or not; not only am I a wiccan druid (which more often than not leads to the "wow, how does THAT work?" question, if I tentatively mention it), but I'm also a disabled one who writes science fiction and fantasy. Usually the latter brings out a cocked head and the overly-polite "oh, that's nice," remark which for some reason irritates me, and occasionally "so what book have you published?"

    Once I found myself as first a wiccan, then a druid, it worked for me, but that took a long time. As for writing, to my parents it was either considered "well, that'll never make you money," or "you'll write the next best-seller and be instantly rich." Neither's specifically true, of course. I've written both while on disability and way before that, since I started halfway through highschool (I was considered "different", an anathemic word at that age,) and also while working in college and after, and only just now, twenty-some years later, have I gotten a story in a fairly big magazine and an ebook "coming" at some point soon. Do I feel legitimate as a writer? My husband tells me I should, my friends do, but I still don't. Do I feel legitimate as a wiccan druid? Same thing; because of my disability (lupus that's given me 2 + strokes over time, and severe depression and PTSD), I can't always feel up to practicing or doing ritual in the way I feel I "should." So no, I don't feel legitimate there either.

    It's funny; in the past decade there's been trend for people to "tell their story" usually by way of an autobiography. Anything that's gone a little unusual or hard in their life, and bam that's clearly the answer – for some reason that makes a person with this or that quirk, lifestyle, cultural difference, or religion "legit" to others. I have some friends who've done it, for various reasons, and have been told on and off I should.

    But honestly, why would that make me any more legitimate, more "who I am," than just living out my life does? If women are still being brought up from birth to believe the color blue is "male", then all the bra-burning in the world has done very little to get girls themselves to believe enough in themselves to do other things than be cheerleaders or healthcare workers. If disabled people have come so far from all our stories being "out there finally," then how is it that there's still so many stigmas about us, and that I feel self-conscious about being able to walk after 2+ strokes but being on disability?

    I think the best thing that a person can do is show who they are. There's a saying among writers that it's better to "show" what a character is doing than to "tell" it, because that reads better. I think in the next service you attend at that church, your idea about wearing purple and mingling speaks volumes more than a thousand people marching and demanding "this is who we are."

  • Thank you for "telling your story" here in the comments, Jess.

    I agree that pain and hardship aren't what legitimizes one's personal narrative, and I also agree that the we're all made better by showing who we are. Showing ourselves–showing our pain and hardship, if that's part of our "story"–takes courage, and I appreciate you having the courage to speak up here.

    It can be discouraging for anyone who feels stigmatized or subjugated to have to tell and re-tell the same stories, to continue pushing forward in the direction of equality and recognition. It's tiring. I know. I get tired myself, and there are many people who've undergone much greater challenges than me.

    But, with each new generation there is a new opportunity to recreate the world; to come to new understandings and make change. We do this by having the courage, the patience, and the will to tell and re-tell these stories. It's an act of faith — a faith crafting, if you will. We do it to help realize the change we wish to see, and we have faith that, in time, that change will stick.

    For what it's worth, I presume your legitimacy in all that you do. I hope the best for you in your writing, and in your healing. You are worthy, by default, of peace and happiness in your life.

  • Ursyl

    I found this article interesting because at my UU church, my perception has been that we Pagans haven't had to work quite this hard at being accepted as legitimate. Now maybe that is because when I got there 8 years ago, I knew my beliefs are legit and just assumed they would be accepted as such. I also was not the first open Pagan to be attending there. Far from it in fact, though it was after my arrival that we started to also have our own rituals in addition to the Sunday services, which vary widely in topic. We have tended to do presentations about various aspects of Pagan faiths on Sundays, saving the actual rituals for our own time, when we don't have to do as much explanation.

    As far as dancing naked comments, I've heard that some such have been made there, which makes me laugh and ask "have they checked out the ambient temperature at night around here?" We only finally got to be outside this year for Summer Solstice, and even with the fire, once the sun went down, ponchos and sweaters were going on. Not to mention random thistles and pine twigs, though hedgehogs at least are not a hazard for bare feet in this area.

  • I adore this post and want to kiss it on the mouth.

    • That is the sweetest comment. Thank you!

  • I'm curious. From whom (or what) do you seek approval ("legitimacy")?

    In parts of Colorado and Utah, your social standing is a little above a dog if you aren't Mormon, and lower than a dog if you're also a Democrat. Fundamentalists say you and I are on the Path to Hell. My sister thinks I worship Satan (though she'd also vote for Sarah Palin if she ran for President). Neither you nor I would get any approval from these sources as Druids or Pagans (or in your case, Queer). Not today, not tomorrow, not if Hell itself was paved over and turned into a parking lot.

    There are many other places, such as the UU church, or Dragonfest, or Beltania, or Burning Man, where no one would bat an eye at a Gay Pagan Druid. Well, they might, actually, and then you'd have to explain that you're married. But you know what I mean.

    In trying to understand this "legitimacy" question, I think the need to seek it outside myself was burned out of me so long ago that I almost don't remember. I feel a very strong desire for a sense of belonging, which I think is a little different. But legitimacy?

    I am a legitimate writer. I'm not a very good writer. Yet. I practice, I'm getting better, and someday I may even get published. But I was legitimate from the day I read someone's horribly-written (and heavily-publicized) book, declared "I can do better than this!" and started writing a novel. I was legitimate from the moment I decided to write.

    I am a legitimate composer. I have not a single award under my belt, my only CDs are the ones I printed myself and gave away as Christmas presents, and no one beats on my door in the middle of the night to commission me to write a funeral mass. I have no degree or credentials in music, though I drove past the Juliard School of Music once when I visited Boston. I think. But I write music. I think I'm actually pretty good at it. Good or bad, I was legitimate from the moment I started to compose.

    I am a legitimate software architect and developer. I am also extremely good at it. I have not a single class or degree or credential to my name, other than the fact that I've been doing it professionally (for pay) for nearly thirty years, and free lance for the last fifteen.

    Oddly enough, I don't feel I'm a legitimate physicist, though it's the one thing for which I have the credentials to prove my "legitimacy." I remember what it means to commute a Hamiltonian. I couldn't do it now to save my life.

    I'm certainly a legitimate neo-Pagan. I'm a legitimate Druid, since those are the rites I practice. I'm not "devout" in the sense that I have an obsession to connect with the gods at every full stop. But they've never asked that of me, and our relationship would go downhill pretty fast if they did.

    Hmm. Now there's an interesting question. Would I be a legitimate neo-Pagan if the gods disagreed? And how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, and how many get bumped off if it turns into a salsa? Imponderables.

    Am I missing your whole point here?

    • Thank you for your comment, Themon. You brought up some interesting ideas. I'll see if I can clarify my meaning.

      The function of "proclaiming our legitimacy" that I wrote about in the first part of my post is quite simple: we are speaking up against the widespread perception that our religious expression is illegitimate. The perceived illegitimacy is not just foolishness that can be dismissed; it can have devastating repercussions.

      When I say that I'm "on my own personal quest for legitimacy," and that, "I still must re-learn constantly how to *act as if* my path –my life– is legitimate," I'm speaking more from a personal perspective. Here I use legitimacy to mean efficacy in my actions, or validity, or purpose. There may be a more accurate word to describe what I'm after, and perhaps after another 50 posts I'll get clearer on it.

      But in the meantime, thank you for giving me cause to reflect deeper on what I've written.

      • Ah. So you are seeking legitimacy in the eyes of the general public ("widespread perception").

        So is it something like this: a Roman Catholic priest walks into a party wearing his black shirt and white collar, and everyone immediately recognizes him as a priest and treats him as such. A Druid walks into a party wearing purple and maybe carries a "druid bag", and everyone looks at him and says, "What the Hell? This wasn't a costume party, dude."

        Or is it more like having a discussion at that party, where someone says, "I'm Roman Catholic," and someone else says, "I'm a Libra," and you say "I'm a Druid," and you're the one who gets the funny looks?

        Or something else?

        • The conversation that first started me thinking about this had to do with the ins and outs of grove formation. The idea that was presented went something like this:

          If Neo-Pagans wants to engage in religious or spiritual dialogue with people outside of the Pagan community, there needs to be a presumption of legitimacy from within their own community and religious groups. How do we organize? What do we stand for? Could we explain with conviction what it is about us that people of other traditions could relate to, how we are served by our path and how we serve the greater community through our religious traditions?

          I think these are valid questions for Neo-Pagans to be asking themselves.

          The thing is, I am *a part* of the general public. And, I'm also a part of a tradition that is relative new and without the cultural history of the Roman Catholics, I feel it warrants discussion as to how I wish to be treated. What am I, exactly, and what am I perceived to be? How accurate is that perception, and what about it would I wish to challenge if I had the chance?

          Does that make sense?

          • Yes, now I think I may be starting to understand.

            This seems to me part of the larger question of the legitimacy of religion in our modern culture.

            Phillip fairly recently posted a YouTube video of Stephen Frye excoriating the Roman Catholic Church. He frames his entire argument in his opening by saying that, whatever you might want to say about the Roman Catholic Church, you cannot possibly argue in any reasonable discourse that it is at this time a force of good in the world. You may agree or disagree with Mr. Frye in the end, but he makes a strong argument. One could make much the same argument regarding Fundamentalist and neo-Evangelical Christianity in the US. The mainstream Protestant denominations have lost the leadership role in US politics and culture they enjoyed two centuries ago. I think there is a very big question that might be phrased: what is the bloody POINT of religion, after all?

            I'm not sure it's a simple matter that can be addressed by just inventing a new religion, be it Wicca or Druidry or Pastaferianism.

            Which brings up an interesting division within any religion: the inner (spiritual) and the outer (organizational). Gods — whatever they were and are — haven't changed much. They are part of what it means to be human, which changes very, very slowly. The last 120,000 years have seen completely "modern" humans that can't really be distinguished from one another. I have a hard time believing that humans only 3,000 years ago were so mentally different from us that they had a spiritual experience of the world totally different from ours.

            Our social and cultural organization has changed radically over the last few millennia, however, and "religion" — the organizational part — has played very different roles depending on the culture. Religion in the Celtic social organization — the traditional roles of Bard, Ovate, and Druid — has no direct fit in our culture. Greek religion in its role of providing patron deities and identity for the city-states has no direct fit. Roman Catholicism as a unifying cultural mythology for an empire has no direct fit.

            So what is the bloody POINT of religion? Does it have any legitimacy in a general sense in the modern world?

          • Yesterday we returned home from a road trip via Nebraska. At the KOA campground near Grand Island, we encountered a non-denominational Christian youth group — twenty-plus teen-agers and a handful of adults.

            They were immediately identifiable as a church group by the "uniform" the adult women wore — calf-length skirts (while camping), and long, unbound hair — and by the polite restraint of the kids. We chatted with the neighbors on both sides of us (neither involved with the group), and they cast sideways looks at the teens and speculated quietly on their identity. Both seemed to favor Mennonites. No one went over to ask.

            Matters were further confirmed when the group sang together before bed. I recognized a number of the songs from my own youth.

            The next morning as I waited with the crowd for a turn at one of the four bathrooms, I complimented one of the older girls on their singing, and asked if they were some kind of church choir group, or if they were just singing together. She said they were just doing their evening devotional singing, and that they'd be singing again after breakfast.

            Her sister came over to me a little later as we were folding up our camper. She handed me one of their promotional items and invited me to come sing with them. It must have taken a little guts — I was wearing my pentacle for the first time in years, and I caught her eyeing it. I had to decline, as we needed to get on the road, but I thanked her and wished them well.

            I glanced over their material in the car, and they were a "non-denominational" Christian group promoting the Rapture, the Tribulation, the End Times, Heaven, Hell, etc. "Can you be sure you are going to Heaven? Come to our services and find out!"

            I'd have loved to sing with them, though I suspect some of the more theologically obnoxious Jesus songs would have stuck in my throat. It helps a lot when you sing Latin and don't know what the words mean. The inevitable religious hard-sell afterward would have been interesting but probably would not have ended well since I know their pitch, probably as well as or better than they do. Their reaction to my stating that I was a Pagan Druid would have been very interesting. I wish, for the sake of this discussion, I had stayed to find out. But we really did need to get on the road.

            I've called myself Pagan for fifteen years. I'm trying to remember what it would have felt like to have had that same encounter twelve years ago. By that point I was definitely no longer Christian, but I was a bit on the fence about the Pagan part. I was trying it out and didn't have much experience with it. It would have been a very different discussion than the one I would have had yesterday. But I was already thoroughly committed to the idea of "many paths to God," so it would not have occurred to me to doubt the legitimacy of my personal spiritual path. Some take the broad way, some take the narrow, and a few of us fools insist on going straight up the face of El Capitan.

            Had he asked, "What does your 'church' do?" I'd have translated 'church' as 'seed group', and the answer would have been, "Celebrate the turning of the seasons with high ritual, then go out to eat, drink, and enjoy each others' company. As a larger community, we ponder the nature of the universe and our place in it." For me, that's about it. We don't proselytize. We don't build cathedrals or membership rolls (unless you count the e-mail invitation list). We don't have enough youth to support youth gatherings of the sort they do. We don't engage in any unified "programs" for social justice, poverty eradication, or even highway cleanup.

            For us, that seems to be enough to justify our existence as a group.

  • Wish you had referenced the church….Jefferson Unitarian in Golden Colorado. We have a very active Pagan community there, and a CUUPS group. We welcome all faiths at our church and visitors are welcome at any and all services. Blessed Be.

    • Thanks for taking the time to comment, Joy. I will be happy to update the post to include links.

      I understand why you'd want to bring attention to what Jefferson UU and Front Range Pagan Pride is doing in the community; you're doing a great work, indeed. I wrote this post less to publicize any one group, and more to engage in a dialogue about legitimacy and the way my experience at your service informed my understanding of that concept. If you have any thoughts along those lines, especially considering how close you are to the subject, I would love for you to share them here.

      Blessings to you.

  • Doug

    It was great seeing you at JUC again, Teo. Fun post! One observation, building on what Joy said, is that we are a well-integrated part of the community of this particular UU church. No question of our legitimacy: we serve on committees all over the church, and some of the UU church leaders just happen to wear pentacles as they serve. Thanks for updating the article to include the JUC links. Our CUUPS chapter may be found at http://www.meetup.com/JUCCUUPS .

    • Glad to hear from you, Doug! Thanks for the comment.

      Indeed, I think you serve an example of a Pagan group that fully engages in a "church community," and I love that about CUUPS. When I said that the service was a way "to practice proclaiming legitimacy" I meant that because the legitimacy of Pagan religious expression is often in question, there is a need to gather and speak a message to the contrary.There was never a question about your group's legitimacy – you prove it by your example.

      Thank you again for always making me feel welcome. I look forward to seeing you again soon.

  • you got me thinking about the word "legitimate". here's what the dictionary says it means:
    1. according to law; lawful: the property's legitimate owner.
    2. in accordance with established rules, principles, or standards.
    3. born in wedlock or of legally married parents: legitimate children.
    so maybe the debate is really about what actually are the current established rules. I think those rules are changing so quickly (An African American President, gay marriage legalized, Pagan symbols allowed on military gravestones, dictatorial governments toppling. . . . ) wonderful new changes in the world, that yes, have some trauma attached for some people.
    Mostly I think as 6 billion caretakers of this planet, we are understanding we are all connected, and no one group owns the rules anymore.

    • Thanks for the comment. You bring up good points here. There is change afoot, and it's important to make not of the positive movements we see in our culture.

      "…no one group owns the rules anymore." — That's an interesting idea to me; the idea of "owning" rules. Rules are administered, and we're subject to them, but I've never thought of them as things which could owned. I'll have to think about that for a bit.

      I'm glad that you're a part of these conversations, Emily. Thank you again for being here.

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