When we begin our spiritual path as a Pagan, some people, myself included, latch onto a word such as Pagan, Wiccan, or Celtic and use that word to define themselves. And there’s nothing wrong with that. When you take on an endeavor that is as life altering as religion is, you need an anchor. And by choosing an anchor of your choice, you have a starting place. Words such as Pagan or Wiccan are not merely words, they are labels and boxes. They give us parameters to measure our practices against, and they give us a label to organize us. Without the guidelines of Wicca, how would many of us starting out on this type of spiritual path know what to do, or when to do it? Where would you begin looking for information or help, if you can’t identify what you are pursuing? Boxes and labels can be good things. And from observation, taking on a label when you begin a new path is actually conducive to learning and growing. It gives you that starting point.
But what happens when you outgrow that box, or that label feels confining? For the most part, we pick a new label that comes with a bigger box; giving us more room to grow. As this evolution progresses though, it seems like we end up changing labels (and identities) more than we’d like to. This can lead us to feeling like we don’t know who or what we are, and can make others question our sincerity.
And this is the journey that I have been on for the past few years. When I first learned of earth centered religions, Wicca was it. Any information I could gleam was Wiccan based. And when I identified myself, it was as a Wiccan. The first spiritual organization I ever joined was a Wiccan church.
But I am not Wiccan. It took me a while to figure that out, too. Wicca is a great path to walk, but it is not for everyone. But if I’m not Wiccan, then what am I? For the most part, I just say that I am Pagan. Many people have heard the term Pagan and generally it saves me from explaining (badly) what my religion is about. Anyone else who walks an earth centered path understands the term. Pagan is for me the big umbrella term for my brand of spirituality. It’s like a person saying they are Christian. You get the gist of their beliefs without the details of how their denomination differs from others.
So saying I’m simply ‘Pagan’ works in my life. It gives people a broad idea of my values, and keeps my personal practices just that – personal. But it also works because I can’t find a label under that Pagan umbrella. I’m not Wiccan because I do not believe that all Gods and Goddesses are aspects or faces of The Lord and The Lady. In this regard, I am what is known as a hard polytheist. "Hard" polytheism is the belief that Gods are distinct, separate, divine beings, rather than psychological archetypes or personifications of natural forces. Hard polytheists reject the idea that "all gods are one god." Generally, I am okay with this label because in its definition this concept describes me. But if you investigate the Pagan community, many who claim the title of hard polytheist or just Polytheist, also practice a Reconstructionist path. Reconstructionism attempts to re-establish historical polytheistic religions in the modern world, recreating ancient rites and modes of worship in favor of Neo-Pagan syncretic movements. I admire Reconstructionism but it is not a path that I yet walk. So when I tell people that I am a polytheist, there is a chance that they will assume I am a Reconstructionist.
My personal practice takes a very Shamanic approach. I worship my deities with prayers, offerings, sharing of myself, and learning about them. Yet when I want to work with them, this experience usually takes the form of a journey or messages received during a mediation. I spend as much time with my Spirit Guides and Animal Totems as I do with any of my deities. And yet I would not claim to walk a Shamanic path.
What path do I walk? For each of us, the real answer is “my own.” But as a human being, my nature seeks out labels and ways to organize not only people and things in my environment, but also myself. And when you can’t explain or define yourself, how do you explain or define your environment? What are your parameters for measuring things? What are your boundaries?
As the New Year begins, and we approach Imbolc, I invite you to ask these questions of yourself. Imbolc is a time of rededication, initiation, and starting a new cycle. Which makes this a great time of year to re-evaluate your own spirituality, goals, and practices. I plan to use the coalescing energies of 2016 to get a better grip on my concept of a “label” and see where my ever evolving spirituality guides me this year.
With wisdom and empowerment,