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Pagan “Unity” – why so forced?

December 6, 2010

Have you ever been to a Pagan Pride? I did, this year. Mine was extraordinarily divided: excluding the main rite, people only attended their own tradition’s rituals and events.

Commercially-speaking, Pagan Pride had universal appeal:  everyone certainly shopped at more than one vendor booth. But religiously, most people seemed perfectly happy to just do (and see, and hear) their own thing.

Much lip service, however, was paid to “Pagan Unity,” despite the fact that clearly (judging from people’s actions) we’re not all the same anymore and we don’t want to be.*

Sorry.

(I’m not sorry.)

Asatruar don’t believe in the reincarnation that the Celts do. The Celts don’t believe in the elemental attributions that the Wiccans do. The Wiccans often don’t believe in the hard polytheism that the Reconstructionists do. The Reconstructionists don’t care about the Divine Feminine like the Reclaiming witches do. The Reclaiming witches….well, who cares what they think.

These are big, core differences.  You can’t be a unified religion if your divisions are this deep.

I would think that if you were a real (in the sense of “historical”) Pagan, this wouldn’t bother you. Paganisms were local, not universal.

Maybe people are confusing our common past (our Neopagan one, the one that came from 19th and 20th century Romantic writers, magicians, and mystics entranced by the ancient Pagan past) with our much more diverse present?

Who cares about the reason though: division is healthy. We aren’t all one religion any more because we’ve come to very different conclusions and we are exploring them further. Case closed. So why are Pagans so excited by the idea of pagan “unity?”

Probably the main reason we portray Paganism as unified is because we want legitimacy. We’re a little too invested in the idea of being taken seriously as a world religion.

Example: The Druid Network recently convinced the UK Charity Commission that they are both unified enough AND influential enough (lies) to be recognized as a charitable organization (apparently in the UK, this is paramount to “government recognition” of your religion). Despite the fact that TDN is actually a pretty small, inconsequential affair, Pagans worldwide are lauding this as a victory for our side.

I wonder whether a group of 300 or so people who really, really like Emma Restall Orr should be called a “charity” (although I guess some of them plant trees sometimes?). To be clear, it’s a group that has a mailing list and does rituals. It’s not a charity. But most of the Pagan coverage focuses on the religious recognition piece anyway (not that charity one) so we clearly care about showing the outside world we’re here and we’re queer more than anything else.

Even the interview with Phil Ryder on Meadowsweet and Myrrh barely mentions charity. Ironically, most of it is about defining Druidry. Or maybe it’s that Druidry can’t be defined. Or something.

What a triumph.

Apparently Pagans will do all sorts of things to be recognized as “official,” so if we want to be recognized as a real religion, that means we have to be unified. Unity will win us legitimacy, “official” recognition, and cool stuff like Pagan Pride, Pagan stores, Pagan sections in bookstores, etc.

I can see why people find unity valuable or psychologically comforting, but it’s dishonest. Just read that interview above: nothing unifies us all. Not polytheism. Not magic. Not the Goddess. Not even deeper things like similar values, mindsets, or worldviews. Just…nothing.

TPH

*For a hilarious discussion of what happens when some Pagans don’t want to get unified, listen to episode 27 of Raven Radio. The funny stuff kicks in after about an hour.

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