I am a Pagan. But I am pagan first.

If the gods are real, they are real now. They are as real as they have ever been. If the gods are real now, they cannot be dependent on our knowledge of their past exploits. The gods do not cling anxiously to ancient traditions and customs. They do not claim Christmas or the Easter eggs as their own, neither do they denounce them as being infected by the great enemy, by which I mean the Christians naturally . The gods are doing fine.

It is us humans that cling to the past. We fear that when we lose what’s left of the ancient polytheist traditions, we will be utterly lost. And because conserving this past is crucial, determining what is and is not part of our heritage becomes of increasing importance. We think we have to extract what is truly pagan from its murky Christian contexts and we have to sanitize our Pagan history as to eliminate any Christian element. Why are we so fearful? Why do we put our history into a glass cabinet? If the gods are real, paganism can never die. As Dver writes here on pagan survivals:

It doesn’t matter if some particular pagan-seeming custom can be absolutely traced back to origins in the polytheistic past. Regardless, it is a survival (or re-manifestation, if you will) of the polytheistic mindset, the animistic worldview. In fact, I would posit that it’s better if these customs re-emerged in new forms post-Christianity. Then they are simply newer variations on the same themes, proving the primacy of those themes in the human experience (i.e., our natural state is paganism). They are a genuine and fresh response to the continuous perception of spirits and the immanent divine in the natural world, one that cannot be eliminated by strong discouragement by the Church or materialistic society, even when the latter two things manage to squash specific activities. They just find a new expression again, rising from the same basic spiritual understanding that has existed for all of human history.

Paganism will not die. Many have attempted to kill it though the burning of books, by destroying temples. Our stories were rewritten so that no-one could ever be sure what the Pagans truly believed and what was altered, fabricated or simply erased. This is all very sad, cultural vandalism always is, but it does not matter. Paganism cannot be killed. The gods cannot be killed. Our stories will tell themselves again and again. Even if all presently living Pagans will die today, the stories will resurface, through Christian voices if it needs be. Our natural state is pagan. We are pagan to our very bones. Even if all historical references to a pagan past would be destroyed, we can reconnect once more. We can reconnect to the gods, the eternal mythic stories, and what is right in front of us.

Easter bonfire (paasvuur)

In this East of my country small towns compete in building the biggest Easter bonfire. Is this a Christian tradition? It cannot be traced back to a pre-Christian tradition, no. But it is as pagan as it possibly can be. Yes, you can decide to celebrate the spring equinox instead, but why not do both? As Pagans we should embrace pagan resurgence even, or especially, when it happens at Easter. Even when its celebrants are Christians who unknowingly slip into some sort of polytheism or animism by default.

Sam Webster writes that “You can’t be a Christian and do Pagan things”.  Well, this entire weekend I will see Christians do pagan things. And their actions aren’t any less pagan for being spelled with a small ‘p’. Webster would have me tell them that they should stick to their own religion, but how would that help us? How would discouraging people to accept their inner pagan, help the Pagan cause?

I thought I needed to capitalize the word ‘Pagan’ to support our larger religious and cultural movement. I thought we deserved the capital letter as much as our Christian neighbours and that it would reinforce solidarity among different kinds of Pagans. I still belief this is the case, but at the moment I feel something may be lost by this usage of the big ‘P’. We may lose our connection with the natural paganism that can crop up everywhere. This is also one of the reasons I prefer to identify as Pagan rather than polytheist; at least the word is still the same.

Yesterday some evangelist on Patheos thought it was necessary to claim back Easter through arguing that Easter is “NOT based on a pagan holiday”. I urge you not to try to win this argument over the origins of this festival. The Christians can have the origins of Easter. I don’t care. I will celebrate the spirit of paganism. I will dance, eat good food and yes, I may even paint eggs.

I am a Pagan.
But I am pagan first.


5 thoughts on “I am a Pagan. But I am pagan first.

  1. I completely agree. I love to learn and try out all sorts of holiday customs, and even though it might be interesting on an intellectual level to find out which have evidence that they were done in the pre-Christian past and which weren’t, if it turns out they weren’t done pre-Christianity, that doesn’t stop me from doing them if they have what I consider a “pagan spirit”.

    For example, in early February I do a Charming of the Plow ritual where I bless my garden tools. Ronald Hutton says this is most certainly not a pre-Christian custom, but it just makes so much sense to do it in early spring that I do it anyway.

    I also read that there’s an old belief that bread baked on Good Friday has magical powers, so yesterday I went ahead and baked three loaves, invoking Freyr and Ostara. I’m hosting Easter dinner for my family tomorrow, and we’re going to eat them with our feast.

    I don’t mind if the Christians celebrate the rebirth of their god at this time of year. I see Jesus as just another god that I don’t personally worship, and celebrating his rebirth in spring just makes sense, just like celebrating his birth at Yule makes sense. There are also a lot of Christmas customs that I see as pagan-in-spirit that I like I participate in as part of my Yule celebration. I’m pretty darn sure that pre-Christians didn’t bake fruitcake like mine and eat it at the Yule feast, or put electric lights all over their houses, but for me Yule just isn’t Yule without it.

  2. There are quite a few things I also agree with on this post and its comments:

    *Paganism (don’t worry I’m using capitals on the beginning of each bullet-point so I don’t mean paganism with a ‘P’) will NEVER die because it is the core of our connection with all things. You could argue any ritual or habitual group gathering could be pagan.

    *The whole ‘P’ vs. ‘p’ thing is, to me quite new. I think modern pagans could start taking themselves too seriously and becoming self-important if we start adding the capital version.

    *Can’t both Christians and pagans both celebrate this time of year? We’ll have our celebrations and they’ll have theirs, if people want to celebrate one or the other, even both, that is surely down to choice?
    Like Amanda, I don’t really mind if Christians celebrate the return of their deity/prophet/saviour/ undead as to them he is as real as our gods, so cannot both exist?
    Everywhere I go, synchronicity shows me the Stag as though there is a message. Interestingly in Britain there was a stag cult practiced by the early peoples of the Isles I was born on. Is it a spirit? Or is it the gods of my lands calling to me? If so then the gods never die, especially when I never knew them before.

  3. I think in my case, I may be pagan without being Pagan. I’m of the variety of people that considers things most would label as “Pagan” as being part of my craft, or my relationship with the gods or spirits or fae, but not my religion. I was raised in a religion, and I respect that and honor my ancestral heritage in that department, but I was also raised with many pagan traditions passed onto me, through relatives who were Catholic, Baptist, non-denominationl Christian, Jewish, and Hindu. My mother was a kitchen witch and contributed to my relationship with the Rokkr. and the Irish fae.

    This is my heritage. It’s my craft. It’s my culture. It’s my family, and my ancestors, and to some degree, is part of my beliefs and “faith”. But it’s not my religion.

    I may enjoy talking about the myths and the relationships other people have with gods I know, but to me, it’s not the same thing as being a part of the Pagan community. My lack of animosity or resentment towards Christianity, and my lack of interest in ceremonial or formal Pagan-ness, leaves me hanging in the margins, and not very interested in the community.

    I may have never read your blog at all if it had not been for the fact that you wrote a piece on the Fomorians and compared that to the Jotuns of the Norse traditions, and brought up the issue of the shadow gods. I’m not interested in Paganism. My heart doesn’t lie in magazine columns and fringe festivals. My heart doesn’t lie in the gatherings, covens, or the “occult” tag on a tumblr post. It doesn’t lie in some initiation process, in robes pressed with a trademark, or some early 20th century dogma religiously adhered to by a group of fans of some occult author.

    My heart lies in the forest. It lies in the oceans. My heart lies in my mother’s garden, and the potions we’ve made together. My heart lies in the incense of Cathedrals, the turning of an ancient page, and the cleansing Mikvah. My heart lies with the lessons taught to me by a friend who is a Christian Reiki master, in how to use energy to heal. My heart lies with the gods, and with the shadows. My heart lies with angels, fairies, and character from books I’ve fallen in love with. My heart lies with Loki, and the trickster gods who proclaim a loud “FUCK YOU” to strict rules and repressive structure.

    My heart is wild, pagan, free. It can’t be Pagan at the same time, as I don’t see Pagan as being synonymous with wild and free. My heart is devoted, but not enslaved.

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