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