As I start this blog, I want to make sure that I am somewhat consistent from the start. It is a neurotic habit of mine, consistency. When I was little I tried to keep a journal several times. I started out wit a very neat handwriting and colour coding for everything. As time proceeded, the hand became less steady, the writing less frequent. At a certain point I decided I didn’t like the look of the journal any more, and started all over again. So, in order to be consistent – and to prevent an early drop-out of the whole blogging experience – I want to talk about terminology today. Don’t run away just yet! This post will not be about what Paganism really means anyway and who can or cannot call himself a Pagan. I do not mean to suggest that that particular discussion is only a semantic one or that I have no opinion on the matter, but it is not what I want to address right now. I want to explain my choice of writing ‘Paganism’ with a capital, but ‘gods’ without one, as to avoid future confusion.
‘Pagans’ versus ‘pagans’
I will use refer to ‘Paganism’ whenever I refer to the wider Pagan community or my personal religious quest to meet the gods, and ‘pagan’ when I describe a pagan sensibility that may or may not form part of Paganism as a religious category. For example , when writing about Sinterklaas – a secular or Christian festival day, I might discus the pagan remnants within it’s folk lore. When I celebrate midwinter with a friend who is not a self-identified Pagan, I might just do the same. I will use the small ‘p’ to denote that these customs are generally not experienced as religious or intentionally used as such.
To be honest, for me personally the difference is a small one, and I see myself as both pagan and a Pagan. Yet, Paganism still refers to a community of people I feel part of, which has fought to be recognized on the greater religious plain, and as such I will capitalize the term. This is political decision more than anything else. To be Pagan is as valid as being a Christian, and thus within the English language at least, both deserve a capitalization equally. To distinction also matters, because as Chas Clifton observes, some people persist in using the word ‘pagan’ in ways like this:
Paganism is a sustainable way of life that has existed for thousands of years. Sometimes mistaken as a religious path (true pagans do not worship deities), paganism will appeal to anyone who cares about the environment or is interested in maintaining an organic lifestyle.
Pagans are not gardeners. Well, no one could mistake me for a gardener to be sure. Yet, as the book reviews show, one can easily mistake this book to be Pagan if you are not the type to read back covers. (Are there still people who don’t do this before making a purchase?)
‘Gods’ versus ‘gods’
Next up, there is the God versus god question. Drew Jacob writes:
“When a minority is fighting for religious tolerance, grammar rules need not be the first priority. Doing things that get us treated as equals, and validating our religious beliefs, is more important. (…) So if it makes you feel like Lugh’s front line activist to drop big-G-God-bombs all over the internet, don’t let any grammar evangelists hold you back.”
Though I do feel the need to politically (and thus linguistically) defend the Pagan community as a minority group, I do not feel the urge to do the same thing on behalf of the gods. The gods manage fine on their own, plus they are usually addressed by their own personal names and titles anyway which are already capitalised just like ours or God’s for that matter. I also do not think marketing applies to the gods. We write about them, pray to them, make art in their name, yet we do this because we want to honour them, not because our end goal is to up there prayer count. It’s not a competition. Religion may be subject to marketing, the gods are not.
Yet it does beg the question: ‘To what extant do the gods need us at all?’
Remember Pratchett’s Small Gods (capitalized ):