I’ve been reading through some psychology articles today, trying to figure out why everyone seems so obsessed with labeling people. Apparently, it’s human nature to label things. We like to categorize. As my psychologist (who I see because I have ADHD) put it, “Humans look for patterns, even when none exist.” We weren’t talking about labels that day, but the words fit.
I found another quote that I happen to agree with quite strongly:
“A label is an attempt to assert control and manage uncertainty. It may allow us the security and comfort of a mental closure and encourage us not to think about things again. But life never comes to a closure, life is process, even mystery. Life is known only by those who have found a way to be comfortable with change and the unknown.” ~ Rachel Naomi Remen, M.D,
I can’t think of a better way to define labels. Once we have a word for something, we stop exploring. We stop asking questions. For those who separate people who self-identify as pagan into multiple subgroups, what you are doing is labeling. You’re basically saying, “Stay on your side of the fence, I’ll stay on mine, and we can ignore each other.”
To me, that seems like an incredibly boring way to live. Never asking questions. Drawing lines. Building fences. I’m reminded of the refugee situation where there are countries building fences to keep Syrian refugees out because those countries are afraid of what it would mean if they admitted those refugees within their borders.
In essence, what they fear the most is change.
That is the driving force of life. The driving force of evolution. And yet, it is also the process that everyone fears. No one is immune to the fear of change. Some of us have learned to live with that fear, to accept the uncertainty of life. But not everyone has done that.
There are those who cling to their paths with desperate hands, terrified that if they let go for even the breadth of a second, the entire path will crumble before their eyes. It is no wonder, then, that the highest amount of criticism within the pagan community comes from those who feel like they have the most to lose. Because these people haven’t come to terms with their own fears, they project that fear outward, and fear turned outward tends to take the form of anger and aggression
For a long time, I have wondered why there are so many people within the pagan community who seem determined to stir up inner-community conflict by telling people what they can and can’t believe or the ways the can and can’t practice their faith. I feel like I’m finally starting to get a glimpse of the answer.
In Paganism, there are no central tenets, no answers to spiritual questions that are 100% accepted by everyone. There are an infinite number of paths to take and an infinite number of ways to get to each path. The only resources we really have are our clergy, but the truth is, all of our spiritual leaders had to forge their own paths. And none of those leaders will have the same answers as another. There is no central truth.
There is, however, a uniting fact – most of us have come into Paganism after being raised in a monotheistic faith. There are second and third generation pagans now (perhaps even more than that now, in some places), but the influence of monotheism can still be felt. Instead of acknowledging that, however, there are those who wish to cleanse paganism of all types of monotheism while claiming that the original pagans were not monotheists.
I’m sure there will be those who find me rude for saying this, but seriously? Sit up and pay attention. We are the original pagans. The polytheistic cultures of the past did not refer to themselves as pagans. We are the ones throwing that label backwards into the past, trying to make it fit to the cultural spirituality each polytheistic tradition is trying to revive.
If we want to see what a polytheistic religion looks like, the ones we need to learn from are the Hindus. They can explain polytheism better than anyone else in existence. They are the original polytheists. Hindu is one of the oldest religions in the world. They have explored questions we’ve only begun to ask ourselves. The Gods they worship may not be the ones we honor, but they still understand polytheism far better than we will ever hope to.
Instead of being humble, however, and acknowledging that there are people out there with a much deeper understanding of what it means to be a polytheist, there are some people within the pagan community that have allowed their pride to be their guide. There’s a famous Hindu saying “There are hundreds of paths up the mountain, all leading to the same place, so it doesn’t matter which path you take. The only person wasting time is the one who runs around the mountain, telling everyone that his or her path is wrong.”
There is an inclusivity in that saying that the pagan community should be striving to emulate. That proverb isn’t condemning the person running around the mountain ridiculing other people’s paths – it is saying that is the only path that wastes time. It doesn’t say that the path isn’t a valid one. Just a longer path.
All paths are valid. When the pagan community as a whole can come to understand this, we will grow by leaps and bounds. Right now, we are still in the adolescent years of paganism. It is no wonder, then, that there are people desperately trying to cling to their sense of identity, trying to avoid change.
But the weird thing about change – the more we try to resist it, the more determined it becomes. Change is the providence of Loki, and He will make things happen. Whether you view Him as a physical God, a primal force, or an archetype – there is no denying change. And no stopping it.