Pagans at the Parliament



Is Paganism About to be Redefined from the Parliament?

In the world of Interfaith relations, where religions, faiths and traditions seek to find cooperation and peaceful coexistence, the labels and definitions and how they are used are important. Descriptions of faith practices are the way interfaith speakers share information that leads to greater understanding, and the clearer the language used, the better chance all parties will be able to find common ground. In this case, for a very long time Paganism has been defined by the Christian definition of any non-Abrahamic religion. This has been considered a derogatory term by many faiths, and seen as insult to many including members of Hinduism, Buddhism, Native and Indigenous faiths. They each desired that they be seen as an equal religion with their own title and definitions to be used. In this, by agreement, Paganism is not used to directly describe any faith simply because it is not Christian, Muslim, or Jewish. This agreement has allowed each faith attending to put aside the use of this word as a central description of their faith.

So the term Pagan itself is being redefined from this old Christian based definition. Part of the Teaching of Traditions series, created with the help of Pagan Trustees, describes Paganism as follows: “Paganism” is a collective term that most aptly defines Indigenous cultures of pre-Christian Europe, the Celtic and Germanic Tribes, The Balts, The Scandinavians, The Basques, The Slaves and many others.

The first Pagan presentation of the Parliament helped begin this change of identity and was called “People Call Us Pagans-The European Indigenous Traditions”, by PWR Trustees Angie Buchanan, Andras Arthen, and Phyllis Curott. The opening of the description is as follows: As the World confronts environmental devastation, we are beginning to appreciate the wisdom of Indigenous peoples who have lived thousands of years in sustainable harmony and spiritual connection with the Earth. After hundreds of years of suppression, most Westerners have forgotten that their ancestors once shared this wisdom as the Indigenous traditions of Europe. *

This concept of Paganism as being based deeply in European Indigenous Traditions has fascinated and found ground among American, European and Australian members of the Parliament. It helps move Paganism from being a New Religious Movement to an Indigenous tradition, and offers many more opportunities to reach out at the parliament.

As described by Andras Corban-Arthen most forms of modern Paganism can be described as part of the New Religious Movements as they were formed in the 20th century, yet there are several Pagan ethnic traditions that have survived Christianization. One such example is Romuva of Lithuania. It is these ethnic traditions that fit better into the description of Indigenous traditions, instead of New Religious Movements. It allows Pagans to be part of both New Religious Movements and also recognized as part of the Indigenous traditions. By accepting that Pagan Traditions are indigenous to Europe, then individuals must take another look and it presents them with a different paradigm of what Pagan stands for.

Further, Andras Corban-Arthen points out that Wicca, for example, cannot be seen as an indigenous Pagan faith practice and is instead a modern syncretic movement. Under this description Wicca therefore would not fall under the definition of Pagan, and would be squarely a New Religious Movement, while British Traditional Witchcraft could be considered a Pagan and Indigenous faith tradition.

This concept of redefining Paganism as Indigenous Faith Practices of Europe has been seen as a way to change perceptions. River Higginbotham, Author and Pagan, who has heard this definition for the first time at the Parliament, describes this change as one that will benefit many Pagans, and he accepts that most Pagans he knows draw on European traditions to form their own practices. This allows them grounding in culture, and this description has given them a better understanding of where their faith is coming from.

Angie Buchanan offers that recognition of Paganism as an extension of the faith practice of Indigenous European Religions gives modern Pagans grounding in their own traditions. This will help them find their own customs and rituals. This will discourage modern Pagans from raiding other Indigenous faiths rituals and practices, which is also known as Cultural Appropriation, which many Native Americans and other culturally based ceremonialists describe as a form of spiritual theft. By having Pagans focus on their own European roots, they can avoid creating situations that would aggravate cultural appropriation that harms interfaith efforts.

Linda Hart, Interfaith Liaison for Pagan Awareness Network of Australia, feels this is a good description for Paganism, and finds it useful for non-Pagans to understand. It is a useful tool in dealing with other indigenous faiths, which do not see themselves as Pagan. Instead this allows Pagans to share as fellow Earth-Based Spiritualists.

So we see that Paganism is beginning to be used to describe Indigenous European faiths, and that other practices by Indigenous people are being seen as part of a larger family of Earth-Based Spiritualists; That some forms of what we call Paganism are really independent of that term and are better described their own name under New Religious Movements.

In all cases, the definition that Pagans are those who practice a faith not covered by Christianity, Judaism, or Islam, should be discarded as politically and socially unacceptable. That we must look beyond a definition forced onto the world by missionaries as a way to divide us, and instead accept that each faith practice can and should be called by the name of their choice.

For many self-described Pagans, this is a different lens to view themselves with, and offers a chance to reexamine their faith as Pagans, Earth Spiritualists, New Religious Movements, or something else yet to come. It may be time to examine the entire Pagan movement under this new definition and allow it to evolve into more than simply one community; that understanding these differences and the labels they generate can allow us to interact more fully in a multi-religious and pluralistic Interfaith World, as shown at the Parliament of World’s Religions.

*PWR Program Handbook, 2009, pg.142-143

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42 Comments for Is Paganism About to be Redefined from the Parliament?

Annyikha | December 8, 2009 at 1:26 pm

Is there a distinction being drawn between European and Mediterranean Indigenous faiths? Honestly, it doesn’t matter to me because I don’t use the label “Pagan” anyway … I think it’s a very derogatory term. However, the scholarship still refers to the Ancient Mediterranean faiths as paganisms.

Freeman in Alabama | December 8, 2009 at 2:08 pm

Yep, this definition still leaves me out, as well. Sumer was definitely not part of Europe last time I looked at a map, nor are reconstructionist faiths “earth based” or meaningfully “indigenous.”

Most of us who have been around for a while know that defining modern Paganism is hard, and that trying to enforce a synthetic definition is divisive.

I also don’t think defining Wicca as some sort of “other” by the stroke of a pen is wise.

People who are so hot to be seen as “indigenous” are just creating another clan of the Wanabi tribe anyway.

Cat C-B | December 8, 2009 at 5:05 pm

So Pagan is redefined to include only indigenous religious movements? And Wicca is therefore not Pagan (despite its position as the forerunner of the Pagan resurgence of the 20th Century)?

But British Traditional Witchcraft somehow is Pagan, presumably because it is “indigenous”?

That’s just daft. There’s little plausible historical evidence for a continuous indigenous witchcraft tradition, inside or outside Britain, and what I know of BTW falls squarely within the history of Wicca as described by Ronald Hutton and others.

I agree with Michael York that the Western Pagan movement does share some vital common ground with indigenous religions worldwide, and I am willing to be convinced that certain European Pagan traditions might plausibly be described as “indigenous.”

But it flies in the face of both the recent history of the Pagan movement as a 20th and 21st Century phenomenon, and of what we know of the history of Wicca (including BTW) to redefine Paganism in this way.

Plus, I’m not budging. I’m Pagan, and I know I didn’t delegate anybody at the Parliament to speak for me or to define me out of the religion!

Robin Artisson | December 8, 2009 at 7:41 pm

Thanks to Andras Corban-Arthen for protecting the dignity of indigenous faiths by insisting on a distinction between “new religious” movements and faiths like Romuva and Asatru and others. We Asatruar have long suffered under the “lumping” system that had forced the historically-attested traditions, Gods, and ritual patterns of our indigenous religion into close quarters with the eclectic, ceremonial magic-influenced hodge-podge of Graves, Frazer, and Crowley that everyone seems to think qualifies as “Paganism” these days.

Donald Engstrom-Reese | December 8, 2009 at 8:55 pm

Well, if nothing else, this redefinition will stir up the cauldron and yet more discussion shall surely follow. But, if anyone actually expect this new definition to become the definitive definition of Paganism … in my experience, they need to get out amongst the people a little bit more.

I have noticed that most of the Pagans, Heathens, Witches, Wiccans, etc. that I know well, are growing a way of life that is a rich mix of ancestral and emerging Mysteries. It appears that folks are engaged in living traditions. And you know how it is with life, it just doesn’t stop growing until it is transformed by the kiss of death. It is also good to remember while discussing this topic, that the only constant in the multiverse is change. With these things in mind, I suspect that many of us will not find a home within the new proposed definition. Nevertheless, I do feel it is a good thing for us all to continue to examine who were are and how we describe ourselves no matter what others decide to call us.

May we all dare to dwell in beauty, balance and delight.

Robin Artisson | December 8, 2009 at 9:13 pm

A superb response, Donald. I think the issue lurking behind all this is the idea of “representatives” for our diverse “community”, such that it is. Who can really be chosen? What group of people can be chosen? To be honest, I personally might prefer a scholar or group of scholars of modern Pagan religions and movements, as opposed to actual members. If they are worth their salt, scholars should be relatively well-informed, historically informed, and unbiased, able to place modern Pagan movements within the larger context of world religions, and give good information. Members of Pagan groups will always have agendas or personal politics that they can’t separate. That’s not to say that scholars don’t also have those things, but the “scholar” I have in my head- that perfect man or woman- wouldn’t.

roberto quintas | December 8, 2009 at 9:38 pm

This is odd. To define ourselves to others, we have to make a defitinion in therms that they can visualize or understand. This can’t be made otherwise. Since we are talking to a world that is shared by persons who believes in one of the Three Grand Monotheist Faiths, all of them founded by Abraham, we can’t discard this reference just because someone don’t like it.

Paganism: Defining Ourselves… « Chrysalis | December 8, 2009 at 10:04 pm

[...] inspired in part by a discussion on the Pagans at the Parliament site, about how Paganism is defined,  as well as bouncing mentally off of the definitions I found at the Pagan Pride Project site and [...]

The Wild Hunt » After the Parliament: Who’s Indigenous? Who’s a NRM? | December 9, 2009 at 5:15 pm

[...] gain greater respect and visibility among the world’s religions. In a post yesterday to the Pagans at the Parliament blog, Ed Hubbard, who has been covering the Pagan presence at the Parliament, noted a trend towards [...]

Sia Vogel | December 9, 2009 at 5:55 pm

As someone who trained to be a scholar and an academic, I understand the impulse to connect the cultural and historical dots. Personally, I love reading about the indigenous roots of my tradition which comes from my Celtic/Germanic/Nordic ancestors. Even so, What I practice as a Green Witch and eco-feminist is a living, breathing, active, earthwise tradition, one that is informed by but not locked into the past. Another point of difference is that I do not “worship” anything or any being(s). Rather I choose to celebrate the Goddess and her gifts and I revere what is sacred, as I understand it. While my earthwise ethics and practice are well defined and strong, my lack of dogma will no doubt push my tradition to the scholarly sidelines. To my own work, which is practical, spiritual, charitable and community based, this means nothing at all. The Pagans at the Parliament, as Cat and Donald have noted, do not define me or mine. I wish them all the best in their work, but their word is not my law.

Jo Amie | December 9, 2009 at 6:50 pm

i agree with Robin that this is positive action. I don’t feel like this is re-defining the term “Pagan”, but rather breaking it apart into more accurate taxonomies. I certainly identify with European Indigenous Traditions, but have never felt a connection to other groups that are currently labeled as Pagan. i would welcome such distinctions.

Amy Hale | December 9, 2009 at 8:27 pm

I, for one, am quite uncomfortable with this. Despite attempts to affiliate with native European Pre Christian traditions, most contemporary Paganisms are modern. The original contexts for those beliefs and practices are really quite remote in time, and this should not be a problem. What this feels like to me is an attempt to gain cultural and political legitimacy in a particular space (the World Parliament of Religions) by hitching a wagon to indigenous peoples. Given the genuine issues of displacement and difficulty indigenous peoples face, issues which really don’t apply to most Pagans, this is kind of insulting. Also, I find the suggestion that “real Pagans” should be aiming for some sort of mythic European cultural purity in their practices very disquieting indeed.

Absolutely there is a great deal of scope for internal discussion about different types of Paganisms and what this term means, but why can’t we make genuine connections with other faith groups based on common cause, shared values and purpose? That strikes me as a stronger tactic rather than promoting internal division and setting up the straw man of authentic cultural inheritance. When we do that, we all lose.

Gaarik Daruth | December 9, 2009 at 9:02 pm

In many Pagan and Neopagan groups, the question of definition is often debated. Some groups that many consider Pagan – even many within their own faith group – are vehement in their denial of the Pagan label, such as Kemetic Orthodoxy. Others, such as ADF, embrace the label despite, or maybe because of, their emphasis on scholarship of their indigenous cultures (our focus is on the polytheistic cultures of the Indo-European language group).

As a member of an ADF protogrove (a minor branch of the organization), I like the terms, but I am quite concerned about the direction the use of them could take the greater Pagan community. One of ADF’s goals has been to provide gathering and fellowship of a public nature to Neopagans in the area. This includes Asatru folks, Celtic Recons, Kemetic Recons, and Kemetic, Seax, Celt-based, and other Wiccans, who have all come to share in fellowship at various Groves’ rites. We’ve had great discussions and debate, and a lot of good times, as a community. Now, I am sure that there are plenty of groups that want to stay apart from the Pagan community, and that’s fine, but there are other members of these various named groups – and other groups, as well – that find our differences many times bring us together. What I see these new terms doing is driving a verbal wedge between these groups.

New Religious Movements, as they are currently termed, face quite a lot of misinformation, misunderstanding, and even outright persecution, on top of what seems to be a common misconception that they are somehow invalid because they are newer movements or recent offshoots of older ones. While these new terms do better describe some groups, such as Asatru, Celtic Recon, etc., they at the same time deny the same legitimacy to Wicca, which falls outside the “Pagan” umbrella under this new language. That doesn’t seem right to me, considering that regardless of their origins Wicca did head the Neopagan movement since the 1960’s. I may not adhere to Wicca, but I can find much common ground between their religion and my own. Further, I feel the terms deny the sense of community that Neopagans have had for a while, a sense of belonging to a greater whole than one set of traditions or beliefs. They divide a community verbally, at a time when we are still searching for acceptance from other faiths, especially in rural areas of the United States.

Ultimately, as I said before, I like the terms, but I feel the categorization could have been better handled. I totally agree, Paganism should not be used to describe Hinduism, Buddhism, and some other faiths; however, I would prefer to have seen European reconstructionist and (some) revival traditions under the Indigenous Traditions description, with Wicca being considered a New Pagan Movement, all underneath Neopaganism. I feel that doing otherwise will have drastic divisive effects on the current Pagan community.


Cat C-B | December 9, 2009 at 11:42 pm

Actually, Gaarik, I find Michael York’s emphasis on the commonalities of indigenous and non-indigenous polytheistic and animistic religions to be useful. I would not insist on classifying a Hindu or a Shintoist or a practitioner of one or another of the world’s indigenous religions as Pagan if they objected, but I think there are commonalities beyond simply not being one of “the big three” monotheisms.

And while I agree vehemently with Robin’s point that lumping all neo-Pagan groups together is problematic (and that, Wiccan’s sometimes arrogant assumption that all the different varieties are Paganism are no more than flavorings in the Wiccan broth) I don’t think that makes it reasonable to exclude Wicca from the definition of Paganism. Only in Iceland is there anything resembling a continuous practice of Asatru, and most other Pagan paths, from Kemetic to the various reconstructionist practices, have discontinuity of practice for hundreds of years.

It was Wicca, at the midpoint of the twentieth century, and the magickal lodges and societies (even more syncretistic than Wicca!) that awakened interest in the West in exploring our Pagan heritage. I’ve known many individuals who began their lives as Pagans training in a Wiccan coven–only to find a better fit in an Asatru hof or a Greek reconstructionist temple or a Druid grove.

I know that, as a Wiccan High Priestess, I have celebrated every time one of my students found that the path they really belonged on was not mine, but a different Pagan path. The old gods call to us, and the point is to answer, not to pad our own covens or reputations! The important thing is that people find the spiritual homes that they are meant to.

And, just as for many individuals, Wicca has been a doorway into other forms of Paganism that better suited them, so too has Wicca been historically the groundbreaker for much of the rest of the Pagan movement. Yes, the time has more than come for Wiccan arrogance and culture-blindness to be laid aside. But Wicca is still the most widely known of modern Pagan traditions, and many who will turn out, ultimately, to be seeking other forms of Paganism will find their way through that very public presence.

Wicca has a lot of good to contribute to the Pagan movement. And a lot of us are more than willing to share the good that we have… without wanting to subvert the distinctions that set one Pagan tradition apart from another. It’s possible to acknowledge the interrelationships between Wicca and other Pagan religions without implying that all Pagans are duotheist, work in cast circles, or call the quarters. All that’s needed is a basic grounding in the diversity of the many traditions that live among us, and even a minimal level of common sense.

We don’t need to become splitters in order to avoid being lumpers any more.

Cat C-B | December 9, 2009 at 11:44 pm

Grr. Editing problems. I apologize for the places I’m less than coherent. (Turns out it’s hard to type lying on your back; you wouldn’t think a back injury would affect your fingers, but, well, there you go…)

Erynn | December 9, 2009 at 11:59 pm

Separating modern Pagan faiths into “indigenous religions” and “new religious movements” is disingenuous. We’re not indigenous. Even the most faithful reconstructions are still loaded with modern rituals, modern sensibilities, and modern culture. We’re all “new religious movements”, all of us. The idea that someone living in the Bay Area in 2010 practicing Asatru is an “indigenous European” is ludicrous.

There are many varieties of Paganism. We do not all look alike. That doesn’t mean that we’re somehow the equivalent of indigenous peoples like the Ainu, the Dine, or the Zulu. To pretend otherwise is to insult the real indigenous peoples. We may have many threads in common with them, but what reconstructionists are doing isn’t indigenous just because we’re trying to rediscover, revive, and rebuild pre-Christian traditions.

Matt Gerlach | December 10, 2009 at 12:50 am

“We don’t need to become splitters in order to avoid being lumpers any more.”


At least where I live, although there are Wiccans and Druids and Recons and more, we all are part of a specifically Pagan community, and one of the greatest strength of that community is that we can all come together under one label and not kill each other. (In fact, from this discussion it seem quite the opposite, divide us up and see our wrath.)

It seems to me that people who want to no longer feel uncomfortable about having to deal with or be shown as similar to “Pagans” are looking for different words to use for us. That may be an incorrect interpretation though.

Robin Artisson | December 10, 2009 at 5:49 am

The only reason anyone gets worked up over “indigenous” is because they think that people saying “we belong to an indigenous faith” are trying to claim some legitimacy over others. But as a person who belongs to the indigenous faith of the Germanic people of Europe, I am not using the term with that intent.

Despite the attempts on the part of some peoples to try and stake an exclusive claim to the word, “Indigenous” is defined simply as “originating in and characteristic of a particular region or country”- and it also means “inherent” or “innate”. Asatru did originate in the Northern regions of Europe, and it is characteristic of what pre-Christian Europeans of those regions were doing. Further, we believe it to be the inherent, innate religion of people of Northern European extraction. That’s all. That’s what it means, and I reject as political manipulation any other attempt to give this term “indigenous” any other meaning.

Wicca originated in England, but cannot be said to be “characteristic” of anything that historical Pagans or witches in England were doing before it, as the structure, while workable and sufficient, is new, pioneered by Gardner and other contemporary occult groups. I don’t doubt Wicca’s power or efficacy in the lives of the people who believe in it, and Wiccans are certainly allies to all Pagans today in the struggle for recognition. Also, Wiccans, insofar as they pray to Pagan Gods, ARE “Pagan”, as I see no further definition for “pagan” needed beyond “People who believe in and/or worship Pagan Gods and Goddesses.”

What qualifies as “Pagan” has been debated a long time; for the longest time, anyone who wasn’t a member of an Abrahamic religion was classified as Pagan, but Native Americans, Buddhists, and others are offended by the word, for their own reasons. Now, it seems to be used for European non-Abrahamic faiths, and that’s fine by me. I don’t mind it at all. But the “indigenous” distinction is important to me, because all Pagans/New Religions cannot and must not be lumped together as a whole. That would be insulting to the truth about them all- different varieties of Pagan have different histories, different worldviews, different focus, and these things are very, very important to their thoughtful membership.

If we want an intellectually honest appraisal of the situation, we have to cease the lumping and start studying the great variety that we’ve all inherited.

Donald Engstrom-Reese | December 10, 2009 at 1:41 pm

“People who believe in and/or worship Pagan Gods and Goddesses.”

Robin, I really like this definition. I would only tweak it to read:

“People who are in relationship with Pagan Gods and Goddesses.”

Low Key | December 10, 2009 at 4:15 pm

This will cause nothing but division and bad feelings among many people. Especially since they decided to split hairs. Suddenly, the vast majority of pagans are no longer considered pagan. How nice. Now I’m considered pagan but my wife is not. WTF?

Lezlie Kinyon, Ph.D. | December 10, 2009 at 4:55 pm

Why on Earth would any self-respecting Pagan go along with this? Who are YOU to dictate to the REST of the Community who and what we are?
I am as much of an Elder as any of you would-be Pagan theologians and I say that you ARE WRONG! And – You need to make copious apologies to the REST of YOUR community whom you have soundly and roundly offended.

Gaarik Daruth | December 10, 2009 at 5:27 pm

I agree with you that if a religion is based on what we know of the indigenous practices of pre-Christian Europe, “European Indigenous Tradition” fits just fine. What I disagree with is this apparent classification that Wicca is not included in Neopaganism. The Wiccan “God” and “Goddess” for example, while not of any specific European tradition, are amalgamations of various European-style deity forms understood under a more “modern” context. The ideas of what facets go into those two figures can be traced back to their pre-Christian roots, even if they are no longer in “indigenous” form.

As Cat pointed out, Wicca was kind of the forerunner and flagship for Neopaganism starting in about the 1960s. I especially like Margot Adler’s take on the process (in “Drawing Down the Moon”), because she doesn’t just cover the Gardnerians, but also the Alexandrians, NROOGD, Dianics, and other Wiccan organizations, all of which would probably end up being called “New Religious Movements”. She mentions that attempts like this to define what was “Wiccan” or “Pagan” have fallen flat on their face before, because the Pagan religions have since the mid-20th century been of a broad spectrum of ultimately-similar (though by no means the same) concepts of belief. It’s nice that now we have a term for the Recon part of the Pagan religions, but I personally feel we need to recognize that they are a PART of that larger body, not APART from it. Like Cat said later in her comment, many Pagans come to ADF, Asatru, CR, etc. from Wicca, or at least do their research and find it because they first learned of Wicca as a viable alternative to the Abrahamic Religions.

Moreover, community is stronger in numbers, and that includes the Pagan community. If we start splitting hairs over this issue, and cutting Wiccans out of the community, we’re cutting out over half of our number, and of what this community can do together, despite or even because of our differences! We still can discuss myth from a mythic living standpoint rather than a literal one. We can still understand and discuss basic magickal and energetic theory and practice. We can still see the similarities in our rituals regardless of which of the Gods we work with – yes, there are differences too, but we can learn from those just as well. Wiccans still work with Runes and Ogham, and sometimes they find really good references with which to work with them. Ecstatic technique should probably be called such rather than “Shamanism”, because the European pre-Christian traditions had their own versions, but core Shamanism was the vehicle that started much of the community’s interest in more indigenous forms, and that recognition should not be thrown away.

Sorry for the long post, I just do not feel that this was a strong, informed move for an interfaith conference to make, and hopefully this view will not go unheeded.


Cat C-B | December 10, 2009 at 5:37 pm

For the record, I’m pretty confident the position being represented here is at least a distortion of what the presenters at the Parliament likely said.

It simply does not jive with any of what I know of their reputations or actions in the public eye in the past, though I do understand the instinct to show solidarity with indigenous religions worldwide; whether Paganism is to be considered an indigenous religious movement or not, there are some important commonalities between Pagan religious traditions and indigenous ones in terms of how we approach our ancestors, the land itself, and the world of spirits and/or gods.

I can readily believe any of these folks working to build ties with indigenous leaders worldwide.

I am not convinced I’m going to find out anyone in attendance at the Parliament was actually claiming that Wicca is not Pagan. (I might not eat my Witch’s hat if I am wrong, but I’d be willing to nibble off the brim.)

Gaarik Daruth | December 10, 2009 at 5:50 pm


On the subject of cultural appropriation:

It’s been my experience through reading both lore and cultural studies of the Celts and Germano-Norse that cultural appropriation was a common practice of both these religions. The Celts and Romans both borrowed from the Greeks, the latter heavily, the former perhaps not so much; there is evidence that the Celts and Germanics traded concepts of religious practice back and forth, especially in areas of close proximity. And while it may be unpopular to point out, the Celts – in specific the Irish – were just fine with adopting the new Christian religion as a veneer and an addition to their own cultural practices, which lasted until about 600 CE or so, when Rome put a stop to it, at least on the overt level.

If Christianization had not occurred, the Pagan European belief systems would still be in quite a few ways different today from what they were in the late BCE to early CE. Would they even be recognizable as Iron-Age paganism, I wonder, with all the changes Christianity has undergone in its ~2000 year history? Human civilization, after all, does not exist in a vacuum; perhaps stranger beliefs than monotheism would have developed and been adopted as a result. Would the Celts have adopted some Native American traditions if they had reached the “New World”? We might never know, but I bet they would have, considering that many Celtic tribes had a more land-based religion, as evidenced by their reverence for local areas (the Paps of Anu come to mind). The local spirits would definitely have had an impact on the religion.


Gaarik Daruth | December 10, 2009 at 5:53 pm

Cat –

I truly hope you’re right. We’ll see when and if an “official” statement comes out.

Even if not, though, how can they enforce this change in the language?

RedBird | December 10, 2009 at 7:35 pm

Once again, people in the power of public audience are trying to define my religious identification out from under me. I was once Christian, but I stopped using that identification when I realized that most people had understanding of the term which was not congruent with mine — for me to say I was Christian would turn into a lie when viewed through the popular lens.

So far, I have been able to say I am a Witch without fear of a firm definition to the contrary. And I am just completing a course in contemporary global Paganism where the fuzzy edges of Pagan identification were explored. I am comfortable, for now, saying I am Pagan.

My ancestry is from all over northern Europe. After this many generations, it is hard to claim anything in that heritage as indigenous. My religion is of today, with many ancient roots and many post-modern understandings — one of which is that a word has no inherent meaning.

Pagan is not a trademarked brand name, and to no one has the authority been delegated to make it so and restrict its use to one group or another. It is a convenient name, defined more by connotation than denotation. Attempting to restrict its use is importing divisiveness into a beautiful community that relishes its diversity. The world does not need that.

The word in not coinage — something that can be used to gain recognition, power, acceptance, identification with others who achieved those already.

If you must assign categories, do it under the Pagan umbrella, and leave plenty of room for me.

Sam Webster, M.Div., mage | December 10, 2009 at 7:38 pm

To the proposers of this: I think you have this all backwards.

Paganism is the new religion. Indigenous religions deserve their own names and not to be tarred with the same brush as us. (Go ask them if they want to be called Pagan.)

We busy building something new, they are busy trying to survive. We should not be claiming continuity with them and appropriating their political capital in an effort to acquire some kind of legitimacy. (If you want to claim continuity with indigenous religions, I’d like to see the evidence. I’ve been looking for it.)

We are legitimate religions because our ways work for us. That is our authenticity, not because we have relationships with older cultures. We need a name for this new phenomenon that builds solidarity amongst us. We’ve been using Pagan to do that and no one else has a claim on that word.

Nor has anyone the right to take it away from us.

Pax / Geoffrey Stewart | December 11, 2009 at 12:27 am

So over on my blog/site I have been hammering out my own definition, which has generated a few comments and discussion. Feel free to come on over to Chrysalis to comment or we can discuss it here…
(taken from the Chrysalis Definitions page)

” Paganism is a religious, spiritual, and social interfaith movement made up of several overlapping and intertwined religious and regional communities. These spiritual and religious communities are a complex and sometimes overlapping network of people, including….

* New Religious Movements grounded in the Western Mystical and Occult Tradition. (Golden Dawn, OTO, Thelema, Society of Inner Light)
* New Religious Movements inspired by the Western Occult and Mystical Tradition and the indigenous religions and folklore of Europe. (Druidry, Wicca, Feri, Other Traditions of Western Religious Witchcraft, Queer Spirituality, The Men’s and Women’s Spirituality movements)
* Those who seek, either inspired by ethnic heritage or profound spiritual experiences, to reestablish and revive and recreate the indigenous religions of Europe. (Celtic Reconstruction, Druidry, Heathenry, Hellenismos, Neo-Shamanism, Romuva and other Traditions)
* Those who have chosen to use a number of spiritual techniques and technologies found across time and in many cultures to access the spirit world in a direct and personal manner. (Neo-Shamanism {See definition of Cultural Misappropriation})
* Those who seek, inspired by ethnic or cultural heritage or profound spiritual experiences, to reestablish and revive and recreate the religions of the Ancient Mediterranean, the Fertile Crescent, or other Ancient peoples. (Aztec, Canaanite, Hellenismos, Khemetic, and numerous other traditions)
* Those who are respectfully taking an active and welcomed part in the indigenous religions of other countries/peoples which are active in the West; where there is overlap into the rest of Paganism. (Brujeria, Buddhism, Candomblé, Hinduism, Santeria, Umbanda, Voudoun, and other traditions)

For the different Pagan faiths and paths there seems to be an overall theme of individual and group development into being a better person(s) (personal growth and perhaps enlightenment, although it is not necessarily phrased as such) by practicing certain rites, and developing our relationships with the Divine (or the essence of All That Is) and with the Spirits of the World Around Us (Land Spirits or Ancestors or Elementals, etc…), and living a number intertwining and overlapping virtues and values.

These virtues and Values include things like Courage, and Honor, Truthfulness, Hospitality, and Piety among many others. Shared and similar values are extremely important and are a tremendous source of connection, strength, and community within the Pagan Movement.

Within the interfaith movement that is Paganism there are also some very compelling shared interests. Not only some of the obvious ones life Freedom of Religion, and Freedom of Speech. There is also the concept of Being In Right Relationship, not only with ones Deities, and ones Faith Community, and with ones larger Community, but also with the Spirits… of our Ancestors or the Spirits of the Earth and the World around us.
Through following our beliefs, and living our values, I think we Pagans end up building our relationships with others in our own communities and groups and faiths and our regional communities. This theme of growth and development leads us quite naturally into engagement with other branches of Paganism, and from there into engagement with the rest of Society.”

Witchery = “witch*er*y/ n. 1 witchcraft. 2. power exercised by beauty or eloquence or the like.”

Cat C-B | December 11, 2009 at 5:07 pm

I note that Michael York’s comments over at the parallel discussion to this one, over at The Wild Hunt, support the idea that no one at the PWR was attempting to redefine Paganism out from under anyone–nor to exclude Wicca from the family of Pagan religions.

It is looking as though my Witch’s hat is safe for the moment. I think that, in the interest of an eye catching phrase, Ed Hubbard’s reporting of the remarks we’re all discussing may have distorted the meaning of what was said.

It worked–we’re all talking away. But I hope that he will clarify his intentions here or elsewhere on this blog. At the moment, I think there are a number of Pagans out there angry with people for things they didn’t actually say.

C.B. | December 12, 2009 at 3:36 am

It should be remembered that the Parliament does not publish dictionaries, nor does it hold any Authority of any kind. And nor should it ever.

But it is a significant crucible and forum, and it is in this context that the following observation is offered:

I feel that the essential thing to remember is that it is the Future, not the past, which is the real issue here, especially for European-Australians.

We must not ‘try to drive into the future using only the rear-vision mirror’, as one of my favourite modern Magi once said (T. McKenna).

The opportunity which lies before us in this country today is perhaps unprecedented anywhere, mostly because of When we are (as well as what).

Therefore- identity with historical, ethnic, racial or tribal notions must NOT define what ‘pagan’ is taken to mean. It can inform that definition by example, but must not limit it. Especially in the New World, in the present time.

‘Pagan’, like most ancient European religions and magical traditions, is ultimately a bardic, poetic or shamanistic enterprise in its essence, not a ‘Past-’ or text- based one. The stream must keep flowing. And any true modern definition of ‘Pagan’ simply has to include things like Thelema (and its surrounding harmonics), which is, in fact, essentially Pagan, and yet inherently -uniquely, perhaps- futurist/contemporary as well. And it must remain ‘open-source’ if it is to grow, and remain relevant.

It is therefore essentially individualistic, and must necessarily live in, and through, the generation who is currently pumping warm blood through its hearts. That is where it manifests. To be truly pagan, it must speak the same tongue, and live and breathe the same air, of those whose minds hold the living waters of memory, inspiration, love, and dream.

Therefore, the Child must be present in that definition, if it isn’t going to be outgrown before it actually becomes useful in any sense.


C.B. | December 12, 2009 at 3:45 am

In response to Robyn Artisson above, let me say that those things you mention do, in fact, qualify as paganism these days.

These days – where we are now.

Paganism is not, and was never, a Society of Creative Anachronism (though it was often antiquarian).

It has far more to do with shamanism – and shamanism is always current.

Those things which you mention but don’t seem to like ‘being lumped with’ are in fact simply temporal garbs of the shamanic impulse.

What is behind all of it is much bigger than personal taste or other egocentric concerns. It is high time this fact was fully recognised, and used to empower the magical revival as it should.


Peg Aloi | December 14, 2009 at 2:01 am

Cat said: “I think that, in the interest of an eye catching phrase, Ed Hubbard’s reporting of the remarks we’re all discussing may have distorted the meaning of what was said.”

Look, I have nothing against Ed and the work he has done to try and report on pagan news. But I have never found him to be terribly articulate as a writer or as a speaker (and I have read plenty of his articles and heard him speak in a number of different contexts). And perhaps by doing this kind of writing more often his skills will improve. Perhaps not.

But in the meantime, it may be best to simply consider the source and read carefully to make sure there may not be a possible distortion of meaning stemming from a lack of clarity of language. In other words, we should all approach journalistic accounts in as discriminating a manner as we might, say, an account of someone’s magical initiation by their Scottish grandmother.

I read passages like the following and immediately the writing instructor in me starts wielding a red pen:

“This has been considered a derogatory term by many faiths, and seen as insult to many including members of Hinduism, Buddhism, Native and Indigenous faiths. They each desired that they be seen as an equal religion with their own title and definitions to be used. In this, by agreement, Paganism is not used to directly describe any faith simply because it is not Christian, Muslim, or Jewish. This agreement has allowed each faith attending to put aside the use of this word as a central description of their faith.”

This kind of writing would very likely not pass muster in most legitimate news venues (although these days online news “reporting” does tend to contain a surprisingly-high incidence of misspellings and grammatical errors), but since Ed does not (as far as we are aware) have an editor going over his work before it is published, this is what we end up having as an example of reportage on this important event. We may wish for it to be more clearly written, but it’s certainly better than having no reportage at all. And I for one appreciate the perspective of someone who is there in person. I attended the first Parliament in Chicago in 1993; I’m afraid a two-week trip to Australia (or Barcelona) is not within my modest means as an adjunct professor.

BTW, I have been reading the resulting discussions with great interest, both here and on the Wild Hunt Blog.

You’re only pagan if… « southern pagan | December 14, 2009 at 3:41 am

[...] Pagan Newswire article on redefinition of paganism [...]

The Wild Hunt » After the Parliament: Statement from Andras Corban-Arthen | December 14, 2009 at 11:02 am

[...] 200 comments, I think we can safely say it struck a few nerves. At the heart of the discussion was Ed Hubbard’s quotation from EarthSpirit founder and Parliament Board of Trustees member Andras Corban-Arthen that seemed [...]

Lilinah | December 18, 2009 at 7:07 pm

First, i understand this is a working definition, not a finality, in order to carry on dialog with other religions. They are not attempting to define this for most people who considers themselves to be Pagan, neoPagan, Heathen, Witch, Wiccan, or on another related path.

The short 16 year history of the Parliament shows that great advances in communication and understanding among religious leaders have been achieved. I really do appreciate the hard work of the Pagans, neoPagans, and others who have been involved in calmly and articulately presenting the many and varied practices and beliefs of “us” to religious leaders who used to reject us, and are now willing to have meaningful conversations with “us”.

This may make little difference in our own personal practices. But it can eventually make a HUGE difference in reducing persecution and getting our rights recognized around the world.

I do have a complaint, however. Those of us practicing Southwest Asian paganisms have been left out. Where are we, the Canaanites, Phoenicians, Mesopotamians, Sumerians, in their definition? I’m not entirely surprised we’re not there yet, since we are often not as well organized in a public presence as neoPagans, neoWiccans, Brit Trad Wiccans, etc., and various European oriented Reconstructionists.

I look forward to the PotWR continuing to further communication and understanding among religions. And i look forward to the eventual inclusion of Southwest Asian pagans, and others who have been omitted from the dialogue.

Michele | December 18, 2009 at 8:51 pm

I follow a pre-Christian, earth-based spirituality that has a multitude of deities. I am a Pagan. My path is Sumerian. I am not European but that does not make me any less Pagan. I wish people (fellow Pagans, no less!) would quit excluding us from the rest of the tribe. I am so tired of being dissed by my siblings.

Todd Jackson | December 19, 2009 at 10:23 am

As I see it, the problem here, ultimately, is with the word “pagan.” The issue that began this thread was the fact that several traditions reject that term. Accordingly, another term was found for them.The rest of this discussion largely consists of fighting over that term (“indigenous”). I’d like to stand this issue on its head. Why is anyone at all content to refer to themselves as “pagan”? Maybe the “new religious movements” ought to take a cue from the “indigenes” and simply drop this term.

I submit that the term has failed, in this sense: after all these years it still elicits a negative response, a flinch, from people not, themselves, in the “community.” Even for that group most bonded to the term – Wicca – the case is that where Wicca is socially accepted, it tends not to be called “paganism.” It tends to be called…Wicca.

“Paganism,” as a term, is devoid of content aside from the fact of not being Abrahamic.

There is a fine text which might point the way toward a more useful term. It’s “Moses the Egyptian” by Jan Assman. What Assman does is look at Abrahamic but also Akhnatenite monotheism (he links the two) from the outside, as Christianity looked at nonChristianity in deriving “pagan.” His term for the monotheisms is *counter-religion*. What he means by this is that the prevailing characteristic of monotheism isn’t so much its belief in one God (an unstable basis for identity) as these religions’ insistence on *anathematizing and rejecting other religions.* In short, intolerance.

This term, counter-religion, is one we would do well to put into the air, as it were. What is it,finally, that each of us, whether Wiccan in Spokane or Hellene in Athens, reliably has in common? This thread has pretty well established that it isn’t any sort of indigenous status. It isn’t being Earth-based (which would exclude Hellenismos that follows Orphicopythagorean lineage, as well as much of the Indian traditions). It isn’t polytheism. It’s that we tolerate each each other, to the point of being ritually allowed to participate in each others’ rituals.

Forget about dividing us between “indigenous” and “NRM.” Accept Wicca as a modern irruption of the indigenous.

They, the Abrahamics, are *counter-religion*. In other words, our collective posture toward Christianity is “You are exclusivist. Fine. You are a counter-religion.” Notice that we would also now have a way to bring progressive friendlies within the Abrahamics, whether Sufis, Kabbalists, or Gnostics, who certainly wouldn’t call themselves “pagan,” under our tent. We, who once were “pagan,” now take up the mantle of “religion.” Of course we’d need to tweak that so as not to confuse the public.

“World Path.”

Or shorten the California “pagan” meeting, “Pantheacon,” and derive from it: “Panthea”

Kathryn NicDhàna | December 22, 2009 at 8:16 pm

Sam Webster wrote:

“[Indigenous Peoples] are busy trying to survive. We should not be claiming continuity with them and appropriating their political capital in an effort to acquire some kind of legitimacy.”

Thank you for that, Sam.

For non-Native Americans to be claiming to be indigenous is just a new round of colonialism. From what I’m seeing in other fora, it is actually alienating the very indigenous people I assume some meant to ally themselves with. Again, I think what we have here is non-Indigenous people speaking to and for non-Indigenous people, and not taking into account what actual Indigenous people are saying (and have been saying, for decades and longer). And tokenism doesn’t count; I’m talking about community-wide principles and standards.

Defining groups from the outside is generally a bad idea. While I don’t identify much with the current state of the Contemporary Pagan/Neopagan community, it is true that, by the technical definition, my earth-based, polytheistic tradition that combines cultural survivals with revivals of older practices, is “Pagan”. But I don’t understand Americans who claim to be “traditional” (of any culture) but then perform their rituals in a kind of Generic, Neo-Wiccan structure, or who profess to follow an ethnic tradition but aren’t doing anything to preserve those cultures. Often they seem to know very little beyond the basics about the cultures in question.

I’m also bemused that some think “reconstructionism” and “traditionalism” are distinct, rather than overlapping, categories. I can’t really speak to non-Celtic traditions, but from what I’ve seen as a Gaelic Polytheist, and one of the founders of the Celtic Reconstructionist movement, we are not just sitting around with books and trying to slavishly recreate ancient history. My practice is largely focused on what has survived in the living Gaelic cultures. When we don’t have a surviving practice, we have to piece things back together from a combination of recorded folklore, Old Irish manuscripts, and even archaeology. But these things are only augmentation to what survives. If you grew up in a community that lived these traditions, that’s “traditional”. Once you do anything to augment it or put the pieces back together, that is “reconstruction”. If you are filling in perceived gaps with things from other cultures – that’s an eclectic or syncretic practice and outside the umbrella of reconstructionist or traditional.

As anyone who has worked with me over the years knows, ecstatic practice is a big part of it. But if you’re adding in bits based on UPG, you need to have the checks and balances of people who know the culture well before you assume that what you came up with is harmonious with that ethnic tradition.

While designations between different types of earth-based religious traditions are useful and important, these definitions need to arise from the groups in question. And they do. We’ve all had quite a lot to say about these things. It’s frustrating to feel like those who are trying to define others haven’t been paying attention to these community definitions. I join so many others here who find the designations proposed at the Parliament to be inappropriate and largely inaccurate.

Syed Prakash Mathew | January 1, 2010 at 7:40 am

There are 8 references to Pagan in the NIV Bible.
One of them says ” Luke 12:29 And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it.
Luk 12:30 For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them.
Luk 12:31 But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.”
According to this, Pagans are those who have no idea nor faith in a living God who cares for them, and who always worry about what they will get to eat etc.
So it is not about what tradition or culture you come from, that defines if you are a Pagan. Even Christians who do not have faith in God will be pagans.

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