Wednesday, December 9, 2009

What is Pagan?

*As new iformation comes in I return to this blog to provide updates. That way the thread or conversation stays in one place.      Greg - 12/13/09

Over at the Parliament of the World's Religions our National Interfaith Representatives are very busy with a number of other Neo-Pagans and Witches representing our interests. For years at countless meetings in many national and international interfaith groups Don, Rachael and Rowan have been presenting the idea that Wicca is the continuation and recreation of "European Indigenous Traditions." In political terms this position seems to give us more sway with big religious leaders because we move from the category of new "fad religion" to older "Indigenous Tradition," and therefore should be taken more seriously. Don and Rachael have done quite well in meeting with indigenous native groups in South America to make this case. Many of the folks there really feel that we are spiritual brothers and sisters.

In the Pagans at the Parliament blog: Ed Hubbard has this to say about what is transpiring there:

"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."

The ground work that many of our COG and other Pagan representatives have been doing is beginning to pay off in a positive way. However, there seems to be some internal controversy on the horizon:

"Andras Corban-Arthen, who is a Parliament official and COG member, is of the opinion 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. "

Needless to say that if this is the position from one of us and a Parliament official  it is a bit controversial.
Jason at The Wild Hunt  responds:

"So what does it mean if the Pagans who are representing us on the Parliament Board of Trustees are indeed willing to separate the “New Religious Movement” goats from the “European Indigenous Traditions” sheep within the global interfaith movement? How would we even quantify when a Pagan tradition crosses from “NRM” to indigenous? Claims of lineage? Claims of heritage? Would any proof be necessary? Or is this mainly a political act, with the “right” groups grandfathered in? Are book-taught reconstructionists “indigenous” while second or third-generation eclectic-tradition Wiccans part of a “syncretic” new religious movement? It just seems like a minefield"

Another COG member - Catherine Chapin-Bishop has this to say about Andras's reported position:

“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!”

Still later Pagan scholar and writer, Michael York had this to say in the comments section of The Wild Hunt:

"The definition and re-definition of paganism is part of an ongoing and never-ending dialogue which itself is as much a part of pagan expression as is its nature veneration and worship of gods/goddesses, the Goddess and the God, and the Earth and her children. But at the same time, the conversation is not just one among ourselves but one with other humanities as well. If 'European indigenous spirituality' works or helps us in this more extended endeavour, there are those of us who will employ without any intention of defining an exclusive paganism that includes some but not others. Without a pope, central authority or official list of membership, there is _no one_ who can speak for the movement as a whole. But that being said, there are many of us who wish and attempt to speak _for_ the movement in the attempt to secure it legitimacy and acceptance in a world that misunderstands our traditions and may even seek to eradicate them"

Just now -12/12/09 - Aandras has posted to one of our COG lists that his origional statements have been misrepresented. He says this:

"I would just say that most of what I've read that has upset some people appear to be Ed Hubbard's own confused interpretations and conclusions, not what I and other speakers actually said or believe (e.g., I never said that Wicca isn't pagan, but rather, that I think Wicca doesn't fall within the category of "traditional paganism" which I defined as "geographically, culturally & ethnically specific," but rather fits under "neopaganism.") How Hubbard concluded one thing from the other is beyond me. Unfortunately, the number of jerky knees within the pagan movement doesn't seem to have decreased over the years"...

Here is a quote from retrieved from The Pagan Newswire Collective
Catherine Chapin-Bishop  Dec 12 09:48AM -0500

"I think someone needs to do a follow up story/fact check on the Ed Hubbard report from the Parliament about Paganism being "redefined" by attendees of the Parliament of World Religions. This story appears to be growing in the retelling, and at least Parliament attendee Michael York's comments (on Ed Hubbard's original blog post, linked from Jason's Wild Hunt story on the issue) call the existence of the remarks in the first place into doubt.

However, I think the rumor mill is getting very busy with people's reputations. This one needs some fact checking, ASAP... Not a reporter-type, myself, just a blog-bloviator, so I won't be the one to do it."
Cat Chapin-Bishop

Again from The Pagan Newswire Collective:
Oberon Zell-Ravenheart Fri, Dec 11, 2009 6:13 pm

"Indeed. This is pretty much exactly how we were defining Paganism around 40 years ago, right at the very beginning of the Pagan movement, when a handful of us first began using the word as a self-definition. I myself came up with the early definition of Pagan as "Indigenous folk religion." By this, however, we intended to be inclusive rather than exclusive. We did not intend this definition to be exclusively Euro-centric, but rather for it to create solidarity among all indigenous folk religions everywhere; to proclaim our solidarity as European Pagans with Native Americans, Africans, Polynesians, Hindus, Australians, etc. This usage enabled us to refer to, say, Native American spirituality as a basis of comparison (as most people
are fairly aware of Native American religion as being nature-based, honoring the Earth Mother, the Circle, 4 Directions, etc.). To this end we went to a lot of trouble to forge alliances with all these other Pagan traditions: Green Egg, as the premier Pagan journal, exchanged subscriptions and articles with everything from Akwesasne Notes to Hinduism Today-and those publications (with their very large constituencies) in return affirmed that yes, Native Americans, Hindus, Ifa, Kahunas, Shintos, etc. were also Pagans. There were some great articles about all this back in the '90s, as well as interviews with traditional shamans from Australia, Nigeria, Peru, Hawaii, Japan, North America, etc. along with those of European trads."

Clearly our National Interfaith Representatives will have allot of continuing in the trenches work to do when they return from Australia. Let us not let our own squabbles or misunderstandings undo the great work done by all of the Pagan representatives.