Tale of a Neo-pagan

Last week a friend sent me a link to Belief-O-Matic, a fun quiz on Beliefnet that features twenty multiple choice questions about your concept of God, the afterlife, human nature and related beliefs. It’s programmed to compare your pattern of responses to beliefs of 27 different religions. It generates a report showing how closely your beliefs align with each faith. The e-mail included a report of her top ten matches. To my amazement, her top one was Neo-Pagan.

Wow! I thought. She publicly admits to being pagan?

Then I stopped to examine my response. It was strong and immediate. And stunned. The word “pagan” carries lots of baggage.

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Before reading any further, take a few seconds to focus on your reaction to that name/label.

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My instant associations include earthy, sensual, orgies, seasonal, Earth worship, Gaia, priestesses and sacrifice as well as more sinister ones: burning at the stake, Satan, ignorance, heathens. Thoughts of warnings about pagans that I learned in Sunday School flash to mind. Pagans were to be avoided by all but missionaries for fear of contamination. No wonder I reacted strongly.

Over the years I’ve grown open to learning about other religions, and my beliefs have evolved far from my childhood training. Nevertheless, belief is a strongly personal thing, and may not be easy to talk about — or write about. Traditionally, public discussion of religion has been on a par with talking about money, sex and politics — strictly taboo. Some people are reluctant to take a strong stand on any issue, for fear of making waves, seeming foolish, alienating people, or being trapped if they should change their mind.

Then I saw the connection with life writing and Truth. “The Truth shall set you free,” may first have been uttered by the apostle John, but it resonated so strongly that it’s rare to listen to a motivational/inspirational speaker for more than twenty minutes and not hear that sentiment. It underlies much of the current memoir movement.

By sending that report, my friend spoke her truth. I checked with her. She has received no negative responses, and she feels empowered for having made this disclosure. A few friends have sent their results to her. Turns out there are lots of people in our midst who hold pagan beliefs, and she would not have known that if she hadn’t been brave enough to share. In fact, I was as astonished to find that I’m among that number as I was at her initial disclosure.

Write now:
Explore your reactions to the word Pagan. What is the origin of your beliefs and the way you value those words? How have these beliefs and values shaped your outlook and your life? Have they changed over time? Record your thoughts in a journal, essay or story. 

Photo by ; Kam


Anonymous said...

It's interesting what strong reactions we have to certain words!

If 'pagan' seems hard to handle, what about the word 'witch', which many people in the neo-pagan community claim for themselves?

Many years ago I read 'The Spiral Dance' by Starhawk and began to adopt some of those neo-pagan beliefs. I became friends with some of the local people in our community who self-identified as pagans.

In retrospect, I think there's a certain sub-group of people that enjoy the shock-value attached to labelling yourself as a pagan or a witch. Clearly that didn't apply in your friend's case and I'm glad that she was empowered at finding a new lens through which to view herself ... we all need that from time to time!

Sylvia Dickey Smith said...

Just found your blog this morning, coming over from Women's Memoirs blog. I WILL make this one of my favorites! Love the power of this post--hey--alliteration in progress here--I love the power of the pagan post! Keep up the good work!Sylvia Dickey Smith

A War of Her Own