Why Pagans Aren’t Taken Seriously

Pagan symbols on stones

Various Pagan symbols etched and painted on stones.

A very dynamic discussion opened on Mystic Wicks titled Is Paganism Taken Seriously?. I answered (first clarifying that “Paganism” itself isn’t a religion anymore than “Monotheism” is [both are categories]) that some people I’ve found are politely curious, but most either immediately change the subject or give me a “WTF?!” double-take.  I’ve also been told, in a roundabout way, that all mythology is hokey.

The discussion led to a spread of answers all circling around the same theme, in keeping with Pagan style.  There are a lot of quotes below, but trust me, I’m getting somewhere with this:

Truthfully no. I hear to many that still equate it to teenage revolting against their parents and the establishment. In that light it is seen as a fad that they shall grow out of. – MonSo_LeeDra, April 29th, 2010

I could give a rat’s ass if someone takes my religion or any other religion seriously. Some Traditions are underground and initiatory Mystery religions for a reason. There is no need for them to be out there for public consumption *or* validation.

On the whole – Pagans (generally speaking) shouldn’t need or expect validation. What we should expect is the right to practice our religions as we see fit. – Twinkle, April 30, 2010

Nope. Its not even taken as seriously by the people who practice under the Pagan umbrella…We get less flack than Muslims do, and contrary to some have taken less persecution historically than the Jews have. We also have had fewer scnadals than the Catholics.

So we aren’t as respected, but we do next to nothing to earn the respect of the community [by organizing charities as a large group]. We just do not stand out in the crowd…

We do not even have a single accepted text that we all adhere to, though my suggestion would be Robert’s Rules Of Order. You can point to the religions that get the respect and see one single book that each group refers to: the Quran, the Bible, etc. They may all interpret it in different ways, but it still gives them the illusion of a group cohesion. Terra Mater, April 29th, 2010

A handfasting ceremony at Avebury in England, ...

A NeoPagan Handfasting Ceremony via Wikipedia

And then, straight to the heart of the matter:

I wouldn’t argue that those two elements [fluidity and relativism without a rigid orthodoxy] have drawn many to Paganism. What I would argue is that both are not only tacked-on and superficial elements of Pagan belief, they are actually harmful to the development of any religion into a respected (or intellectually honest) tradition.

If paganism remains devoid of any orthodoxies (I suppose there are a few minor ones in Wicca and Druidry, but nothing to write home about compared to other religions), it remains fundamentally inaccessible to those outside those personalized traditions. How do you explain to the media or your neighbor or your mother what “paganism”, or even “Hellenic recon” or “Wicca”, is when your definition, my definition, and Twinkle’s definitions are wildly divergent, perhaps even directly at odds with each other? Quite simply, you can’t. Nobody on the outside is going to take the time, or should be expected to take the time unless they’re a very important part of your life, to understand the hundred giant differences of opinion between my tradition and yours, even if we both use the same label. Hence, the public just doesn’t get paganism.

Further, the lack of orthodoxies is directly tied, I believe, to the dominance of relativism in the neo-pagan movement. “Nobody has a monopoly on truth”, “If it’s what you believe then it’s true for you”, etc., etc. We’ve all heard the feel-good phrases. Most of us have even regurgitated them. But they tend to do nothing but promote intellectually vapid, theologically rickety belief systems with barely enough internal logic to get by on. You can’t debate with “We’re both right”. You can’t hold an honest discussion concerning the validity of your beliefs if everything and anything goes in terms of “truth”. Paganism becomes a matter of saying, “This is what I believe because this is what I believe and it sounds cool to me!” Is it any wonder that religions with hundreds or thousands of years worth of philosophy and eminent theologians don’t take neo-pagans seriously? To them (and to me) it ends up looking like we can’t even be bothered to examine our own beliefs with anything like sincerity, so why should they?

And ultimately, while both elements of neo-paganism may have drawn many to the community, that doesn’t mean they’re essential components of belief. How many gods demand that you be a strict relativist? How many Wiccan doctrines treat “everybody’s right because they believe they are) as a cornerstone of their teaching and practice? How many Druidic circles preach a lack of orthodoxy as necessary to belief? These are, by and large, just holdovers of teenage rebellion (at best) that most pagans have never purged from their systems along with the angst and persecution complex (actually, now that you mention it…). They aren’t necessary to most neo-pagan belief – they’re just emotional remoras, along for the ride. – Tiberias, May 1st, 2010

The degree of fluidity and relativism varies between Pagan paths, and less so among those aiming at reconstructing the ancient religions, as there is a more objective and unified goal (reconstruction). It’s generally accepted in Hellenic Polytheism that orthopraxy (correct practice) is the central focus and not orthodoxy (correct belief). However, there is a push towards more unified belief in order to inform orthopraxy (See Mano and Lesley’s Is the Ancient Hellenic Religion an orthopraxy?).

Hellenion's Symbol

Hellenion's seal: twelve-pointed star (for the Olympians) around the hearth fire (Hestia)

The central problem is, so far as I’ve seen, that no one wants a supreme authority (like a Pope) to decide once and for all what is true and not true for that particular pagan religion.  The best solution seems to be organized “churches” (like Hellenion, for those who practice Hellenic Reconstruction, as it has 501(c)(3) status) with governing bodies voted in by members of the group.

People can decide whether or not to be members of such “churches” based on the unified approach of each of those organizations. The members, then, have something solid to hold on to when describing their religion to curious outsiders.  Furthermore, people recognize groups more than they do individuals as something to be taken seriously; therefore, by belonging to a “church” the particular religion (and Pagans as a whole) is more as a movement and less as an angsty non-conforming individuals acting out against the establishment.

Why do you think pagans aren’t taken seriously?  What do you think are the solutions?  Should pagan paths have “churches” or “clergy” in any way shape or form?

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6 comments on “Why Pagans Aren’t Taken Seriously

  1. Khryseis_Astra says:

    “The central problem is, so far as I’ve seen, that no one wants a supreme authority (like a Pope) to decide once and for all what is true and not true for that particular pagan religion.”

    Exactly. 🙂 IMHO our religion is more united by its deities and the ways in which we honor them. Beyond that, we’re each free to reason things out for ourselves. There’s no one reincarnation theory in Hellenismos, nor is there one political position, philosophical position, agreement on the exact nature of the divine, etc. Nor should there be as far as I’m concerned.

    I read the LiveJournal post, and one sentence stands out for me: “How can we possibly know how to do the right thing if we do not have the correct thoughts to guide our actions into becoming correct?” So just who decides what the “correct thoughts” are?

    Yes the ancient Hellenes prized reason, but two people can reach very different conclusions and still be applying sound reasoning. This would be one reason (among many) I abhor anything that even approaches a “One True Way” type philosophy. Not only because I feel that there is no such thing as an “Absolute Truth” when it comes to things that cannot be quantified or measured, but because IMO it denies reality.

    There is not always going to be one correct way to do something. *Everything* depends on its context. Murder is okay when done in self-defense, but not okay in most other situations.

    If this line of thinking is too difficult for non-Pagans to grasp, then their opinion on my religion doesn’t really matter to me. IMO the “One True Way” philosophy espoused by most monotheists is the most unnatural and dangerous idea ever to gain dominance. We shouldn’t allow ourselves to feel pressured into defining our religions on their terms.

    • There are a lot of different opinions on this issue, and yours is very grounded. You make a great point that what unites us are the theoi – and maybe that’s something we all can agree on and refer to when explaining what we believe to others. I also abhor the presumption of “One True Way”.

      But at the same time, I’m not worried about people getting together (who already believe similarly) and appointing a group of people to organize [i]them[/i]. Then, once those groups gain public recognition, others can say “I believe similarly to what X group says, with the exception of Y.” I think it’s basic human nature to take people more seriously when they’re in a group than when they are on their own, and that itself is not necessarily modeling ourselves on how monotheists operate or defining ourselves on their terms.

      I suppose you could say that I want to have my cake and eat it too. That’s why I suggested a movement towards more “churches”, without groups of leaders (like a republic system of government), in which one can opt to a belong to a particular group or not. There’s room for both groups of people with similar opinions, and those who want to strike their own paths.

  2. Well, with Reconstruction religions like Asatru, Kemetics, and Olympian, there’s the historic record to rely on for a “true path.” For neo-paganism, yeah, there isn’t that, and considering it arose to be a non-dogmatic religion, who is to say.

    I would disagree on monotheism being a category rather than a religion. Yes, it is a category, no question, but that being said the only monotheistic religions in the world are the Abrahamic ones of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, which all technically worship a the same, single, god. So a case can be made that Monotheism is a religion as well, but that’s just my opinion.

    I like the blog, I may come back

    • Good points. I can only speak on Hellenic religion with any authority, but regarding this group, I would argue that (although they had a lot in common) since there were different countries within Hellas; different time periods with emphasis on different gods, practices, festivals; and different cults; there was no “one true path”, even then.

      You have a good point that the Abrahamic religions all worship one god (granted, Catholics worship a trinity which could be construed as “three-gods-but-one”, plus saints) yet from what I’ve observed, Christians define themselves as belonging to different religions… or rather, branches of religions, as the Reformation and Counter Reformation produced two (I would even hazard to say more than two) divergent religions from the Catholic Church.

      To put it bluntly, I would consider groups belonging to separate religions when they are willing to murder each other over their differences.

      But it does really depend on how you define religion. Yet, I get what you mean, and point taken.

      Please do come back, I like your thoughts on this. I’ll also check out your blog!

  3. Osa Taas says:

    I think you hit upon the fundamental problem. Paganism is NOT a religion. Followers of Kemet don’t worship in the same way as Druids. Their gods do not have the same name. Their rituals, rites and feast days are not substantially connected. So you can’t have one orthodoxy that meets both of their needs. The historic based religions will have a faster and easier time of creating an orthodoxy than the newer neo-paganism because they have texts to base their beliefs on. But I think before we all rush to say “We must have an orthodoxy” we should look at the past of Christianity. How long did it take for a single text to be agreed on? How long were there tens to hundreds of different sects of Christianity? How long did the world believe that it was ‘just a fad’?

    As all religions have, I believe that the different pagan traditions will some day each agree on their own orthodoxies. But it will not be within my lifetime, nor perhaps my daughter’s. This does not concern me. The approval of the world will come with time. Time is the only thing that can prove that we are not a fad and are here to stay.

  4. Sean says:

    I disagree with the conclusions here. There are many forms of paganism that are taken seriously. Taoism, Buddhism, native american traditions, shinto (Just to name a few ) are all respected widely. Most of the “Neo pagans” happen to live in predominantly christian countries. Christianity dosn’t take ANY other religion seriously. Nor do most christian sects take other sects too seriously. I don’t think the Pope will be praising the mormons any time soon. I do understand the sentiment of the article though.

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