On some level I understand this stance. “Pagan” comes from the Latin paganus, which effectively translates to “hick”. From this alone there are many reasons to reject the term – I live in the city; I am not ignorant or backwards; I do not worship any Roman gods; the Teutons and the Romans didn’t get along; I want a term that comes from the language of my chosen gods.
Words hold specific meanings, so the ones we choose are important. Etymology is important.
There’s also the divide between reconstructionists and syncretic faith practitioners – those who try to recreate old religions and those who create new ones based (loosely sometimes) on old religions. Many reconstructionists see “pagan” as referring only to the syncretic faiths and wish to differentiate their academic approach from the more experiential approach of other movements. These are fundamentally different ways of approaching religion.
In the modern vernacular, “pagan” is used to describe any group practicing a polytheistic faith based on pre-Christian (or pre-Buddhist in the East) traditions. It does not distinguish between single-source versus eclectic pantheons or reconstructionists versus syncretics. Paganism is attractive to people who deeply appreciate myth, folklore, history, and magic. To people who see the world without the finite dualism of heaven and hell, or the singularity of a masculine god. To people who feel daily living is far more important than what happens after death.
I view these as fundamental things we, as pagans, do have in common.
We also share a struggle for acceptance in a culture that is on the brink of recognizing us. On a philosophical level I don’t care what anyone else thinks of me or my faith choices. On a practical level, however, I want fallen warriors to be allowed Mjöllnir on their tombstones in Arlington. I want my future children to wear Yggdrasil or pentacles or whatever they choose to school and not be slighted by their teachers. I want hate groups targeting pagans to be called what they really are, a laughingstock of lunatics. We must unite if these wants are to be realized.
Within the pagan movement, we have our differences. Within the pagan movement, we can insist upon certain labels. We can debate faith approaches and whether or not canonical mythology, family tradition, and unverified personal gnosis are equally valid. But in order to effect change in a democratic world, we need to have strength in numbers. So to the outside world, I will take the most recognized name and be counted: I am pagan.
This is a major and potentially divisive issue in our community; what are your thoughts?