Hyphenated Practitioners

    This article has caused some folks to get a bit upset over the years. And with good cause. There are folks out there who think they can straddle the line between paganism and any other religion and justify it as walking their own path. Sorry, but some things don’t mix, like water and oil. In the end, you are water or you are oil. Never both.

    The practice of hyphenating your belief system suggests that you have not yet decided who you are.  Or that you have not let go of what you once were, and you cling to those things that make you feel safe and secure.  Paganism is supposed to make you feel safe and secure.   So, maybe paganism is not what you thought it was going to be, or you have yet to embrace it fully.  Maybe a self examination is necessary.  In the end, you are only one thing spiritually, and hopefully that one thing is yourself.   Let the article below help you to examine your feelings, maybe it can help. This is a think piece to open some dialogue and get those thoughts going.

    As a community in general, we tend to be very tolerant of much of what goes on around us spiritually. Yes, as in all communities, there are the fundamentalists and there are the hard core purists, but for the most part, in paganism and in the craft you go on your spiritual path, we go ours. Probably because of our diversity as a spiritual community we seem to be more accepting of a chosen path. While it may not be what we follow, we are not all that concerned about the path someone else chooses.  For the most part, it is none of our business.  At least, as far as what you practice for yourself.  But when it starts to invade our community – it is time to consider our choices and see if maybe we should establish some kind of ending point – like paganism ends here…

    We have “fantasy paganism” and have seen the incorporation of so much fiction into spiritual paths. It was noted in a census in England (where the religion box is still on the census forms) that many people answered “Jedi” as their religion. While it may seem to be a joke to many, there are those out there who seriously consider Jedi to be a chosen spiritual path. Just as there are those who seriously consider themselves Klingon.  Gee, even Rosetta Stone has a course on learning how to speak Klingon.  That’s how far things have gone.

    That is fantasy.  Many of us recognize this.  And we tend to draw an invisible line and say, sorry, paganism stopped way back there in reality.  And we understand the difference between actual spirituality and religion and the stuff that fantasy is made of.  Although it can be argued that the adaptation of some modern religions can be found in the roots of science fiction, for the most part, we know and understand this.  Paganism – it stopped at the border of reality and that thin line into fiction.

    But what about the trend to accept a hyphenated version of pagan or witch. You know them; they get very upset when you ask them about their self description.  They seem to float around two or three different spirituality’s or religions and claim to be a “something”-pagan, with pagan ending up in second place.

    I want to state something for the record.  I believe that paganism and those who follow the craft are making a life style choice, not a religious one.  Your mileage may vary (YMMV).  Paganism and witchcraft have their own communities and are closely related, to the point where we include them in the same breath when discussing these life styles. The craft is another life style choice under the “pagan” umbrella.

    Within these communities are people who believe many things; most have a spirituality that they alone follow.  There are similarities in the defining of the individual paths – polytheistic for the most part, respect of nature, and walking a path that is less traveled. But these are the thread that binds us so closely together – our belief in the individual and their choice to choose their own life styles and their own spirituality.   So the inclusion of different philosophies and beliefs is a good thing.  It allows us to expand beyond the closed borders of many of the old established religions. It allows us to evolve our spirituality to meet our spiritual needs – something that is unique to our way of life and our spirituality.  And that is a key element of our difference from any other spirituality and religion.

    There are also religions within the pagan movement that are clearly defined by those who established them, and those who follow choose to do so as the religions were established.  Those religions have proven to be pretty pliable and also show the same ability to evolve to meet the need of the following, so we do end up with variations on a theme, but the theme is still recognizable as the original, with some changes.  These few religions blend well with the pagan and craft communities.   Most of the pagan community stand proud of their choices – and they live pretty much in harmony with the values we have in the pagan community.

    While there are many members of our community who are being brought up pagan, there are still many, like myself, who have left behind the religion of their childhood, and found the Pagan Path. I have spent many years on my path, and managed to leave behind the dressings, vocabulary and dogma associated with my former religion. I have embraced what it is to be pagan and of the craft.

    But what about those who can not leave behind the safety and security of their religion yet want to be included in our community?  What about those who explore new religious paths and find that they are more comfortable with, as an example, an Eastern philosophy, yet want to be included in our community?

    I have no issue with incorporating other philosophies into an individual belief systems.  Gerald Gardner proved that you can pick up various spiritual beliefs and roll them into a religion – as long as you label it your own.  He incorporated the basic beliefs of the craft system already established in England with other various beliefs picked up from his trips around the world.  To be honest, there are many spirituality’s that believe in reincarnation, respect of the earth, polytheism and more.  So nothing new was brought into this religion, just additions to an already established spirituality that makes a transition over to a religion.  An evolution, a revolution and a successful one at that.

    To be a pagan seeker is not a bad thing. We can and do adopt philosophies or ethics that are of importance to us. These ideals know no spiritual boundaries. We can be and are eclectic in our beliefs. There is good in each philosophy, and we adopt these and incorporate them into our everyday lives.

    But why don’t we call ourselves “pagan” and embrace all that it means to be pagan, without having to include an attachment or a label on ourselves to anything else. What is the need to be classified as different – while looking to be accepted as the same?

    Practicing a hyphenated religion is not going to settle well with someone from the religion you are trying to hyphenate.   Try discussing with a Buddhist about your being a Buddhist-pagan. See what kind of reaction you get. The Buddhist will tell you: you are either Buddhist, or you are not. This also disrespects their religion and gives us a bad reflection in their eyes.  Yes, we should care about how others see us – it is mutual respect we are looking to establish.  You can’t respect someone or have them respect you when you are trying to change their identity to fit your own personal needs.

    Same applies as a hyphenated witch. WitchCraft is, again, not a spiritual path; it is more a way of life.  Most will tell you it is being in tune with the cycles of earth, nature and the moon and living in harmony with nature and the earth. We tend not to notice the spiritual angle as much.  But there are those of us who practice a spirituality and there is even a religion that incorporates the craft with spirituality – Wicca.  There are more, but this is the one I am most familiar with.

    But what about those  who still want to identify with one of the “big three religions?”  Take, for example, Christian-Witches. I am going to say it again - witchcraft is not a religion.  It is a practice.  We have Christian-Witches. 

    The more orthodox Christian movements do not accept the practice of witchcraft, as they identify it as works of Satan.  But they exist just the same.  Yes, you can argue the point to doomsday, but they are going to believe what they believe, and witchcraft will never be accepted by them.  We move on.

    Yes, there are Christian based workers of magic.   We have, as examples: Christian Mysticism and Christians who practice “The Old Ways.”  Even Spiritualists seem to walk that line.  But they clearly identify with Christianity, not paganism.  There is nothing wrong with that – they identify with their religion and they have clearly worked out the issues between Christianity and their practices.  It is not for me to worry about.  It is between them and their God.

    But I find it hard to accept the Christian migration into the pagan community as just another entry into our path, as just another addition to our family. We have spent so much time disassociating from Christian dogma and Christian definitions of our gods/goddesses, our practices and philosophies that we should just forget all we have done and accept it now? Last time I checked, they still define paganism and witchcraft as practices against their core beliefs.  They have spent much time disassociating from the pagans.  And they still do.

      Many pagans left Christianity and its stuffy church edifices, closed static systems, plastic clergy and impersonal ritual for the personal interaction with our gods/goddesses in the open, sweet smelling forests on a level each of us can relate to.  Christianity is a very different spiritual practice.  And their dogma does not seem to fit our very lax and independent way of looking at spirituality.

    Christian-Wicca is the hardest to justify. Wicca acknowledges a god, a goddess and usually both. There is clearly a Divine Feminine.  Christianity could possibly be stretched to being “god” in Wicca, but how does the Rede mesh with the Ten Commandments. Or how do you explain “goddess” in a monotheistic religion that acknowledges the masculine deity only? Trinity could be stretched to be “Triple Aspects” of the God, but applying much of the Wiccan Dogma to Christianity, or visa versa, is a stretch of the imagination that borders on heresy in the Christian way of things.

    They are finding their own way in spite of the blocks, but it is another offshoot of Christianity, not paganism.  They are going to eventually rectify this with their own religion, but paganism really has no entry in the entire matter.  It's a Christian thang!  They will deal with it eventually.

      In my opinion, the answer does not lie in their abandoning the Christian Church.  What I usually tell those who come as hyphenated Christian-Pagans is that they have trouble in their own house, and maybe it needs to be cleaned up.  Two thousand years of history will bring along lots of baggage that needs to be sorted and examined and a separation of essential items and trash needs to be done.  Seeking shelter in the Pagan community is not going to heal the Christian community. 

    Being tolerant of other religions is a good thing and should always be encouraged. But when including a particular path in our own community we should examine what that path is and how it may or may not fit into our community, our belief systems and our life styles. We need to learn to be selective in who or what we choose to associate with as a community.

    As a community, we should be aware of how we are perceived outside our own community as well as within. While we embrace all that is pagan or witch, do we also embrace all that is Christian or (insert religion here) into our belief systems? Do we embrace all established religious dogma into our religion? Do we embrace all religion as an establishment in our community? Then what is it that made us pagan or witch to begin with if we can not clearly define ourselves as different from others.

    We should draw a line and say: paganism stops here, witchcraft stops here. Yes, it is Okay to say that there is a limit on what we will accept in our community as part of our community.  As a community, up to now we have allowed the inclusion of other paths because of the closeness of their philosophies to the independent pagan philosophies.   Christian-pagans do embrace a natural lifestyle and respect for the earth that we hold so dearly.  But what about the rest of the dogma that goes with it?  Does this mean that everyone who adds our path as a hyphenation is also part of our community?

    Christians are free in their religion to accept a reverence for nature as long as nature does not become a substitute for their god.  That is their covenant with their god – one god, no other god but him.  If a Christian fails this important piece of dogma, then they are no longer Christian.  So, what is wrong with a Christian who respects the earth and helps to keep it as pristine as possible for future generations?  Nothing.  And they can do it all on their own.  And I see nothing wrong in helping them to find their way.

    The reason I have “picked” on the Christian-pagan group is because they are pretty dominate within the pagan community as a hyphenated group.  We also have Jew-Wiccans – who seem to make the transition a lot more smoothly simply because Jewish beliefs are a bit more pagan-centric; there isn’t a condemnation of all things pagan as there is in Christianity.  And proselytizing from the Jewish members is non-existent.  We don’t see the Jewish/pagan membership out there pushing their personal agendas.  Rather, they seem to be blending a bit better, but there still is that hyphen there in some cases.  As for the Muslim world, I personally have not been exposed to any movement within the pagan community that attempts to blend these together.

    So, back to the point of this essay.  Pagans need to clearly define who we are, so we are not mistaken for someone else. We do not want to lose our identity and individuality… that special touch that makes us different from everyone else. There is a need to stand proudly in our community as who we are and not try to sneak in the back door as a “hyphenated” someone else. We need to be clear that if we choose to follow one of the pagan paths, we follow it. Do not try to cover yourself with the cloak of something else.

    And do not disrespect other religions. They are who they are, do not try to redefine them based on your own self illusion. You are either pagan or you are not. There is no middle of the road.

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