Is the Term “Pagan” a Cop-Out?

I don’t want to resurrect the whole debate about should-we or shouldn’t-we call ourselves pagan. That’s an issue that’s gone way beyond my purview, and though my Latin-scholar future husband tells me that the context of the original word never really implied anything offensive, I don’t want to split that hair right now.

No, I’m wondering if calling myself a pagan instead of a druid is an act of cowardice.

Let’s back up, though, and I’ll tell you a couple of quick stories.

My fiance and I reached a point in our wedding-planning when I was upset about who would officiate. My fiance is not a spiritual person. We can him an “apatheist”: he doesn’t believe one way or another, but just doesn’t care. Originally, I pursued a Unitarian Universalist minister because I wanted spirituality in the service, but I didn’t want to offend the sensibilities of people from a different religious tradition, including my future-husband.

I waited too long to book her, though, and she ended up having plans elsewhere on the date of our wedding.

When that fell through, I panicked. I didn’t want a UU minister I hadn’t met, I really didn’t like the idea of the city clerk performing the ceremony, and I really didn’t like the idea of the woman who runs our venue performing it. I wanted someone from ADF, but I’m not “out” to my extended family, and I didn’t want to freak them out at my wedding.

Finally, my fiance said, “Look, either you’re a druid or you’re not. You’ve been doing this for awhile now, and it seems pretty clear that you are. But you need to own it–or let it go.”

Ouch. Talk about a wake-up call.

So I did what I really wanted to do the whole time and e-mailed ADF to help me find a priest in my region who could marry us.

That ended happily, but it got me thinking about owning my spirituality.

It’s not an easy world to come out in as a Neo-Pagan of any stripe. A friend of mine are taking a social media class together. The class required us to list 100 words about ourselves and send them out to the class–naturally, she and I included words like “druid” and “pagan” and “Celtic deities,” because, as a Wiccan and a Druid, those words are part of who we are. At one point my friend spotted another classmate saying in a public forum, “I wouldn’t want any non-Christians guest-posting on my blog.”

Another ouch. We came out to a small group of people, and were immediately excluded from a portion of the work-exchange. Now, I could probably say that I didn’t want trade work with someone so judgmental, but the fact that this classmate blindly excluded me based on a few words was very hurtful.

What all does this have to do with calling myself “pagan” as opposed to “druid,” you ask? Why would it be cowardly to call myself one word and not another?

There’s a lot to unpack.

1. “Pagan” is a blanket term, one that covers anything from warm-fuzzy New Age goddess worship to hard polytheistic worship. I fall into the latter camp, but the warm-fuzzies seem to get less judgment. By calling myself a pagan instead of a druid, I allow people to associate me with New Agers–and if that’s easier for them to swallow than hard polytheism, so much the better for me. In other words…

2. More wiggle room means more freedom on the judgment spectrum. Calling myself a druid doesn’t leave much room for interpretation. (Of course, it actually does, but that’s an issue for another day.) I am a polytheist, I honor the ancestors, and I venerate the Earth and her inhabitants, visible and invisible. People who are upset by worship of a deity not their own could not choose to overlook what upsets them if I define myself clearly. By being vague, I allow them to put me into whatever box makes them most comfortable. But…

3. By feeling vulnerable enough to hide what I am, I implicitly give others permission to take advantage of that vulnerability. I can’t really own my identity if I’m ashamed to define it and wear it proudly. If I don’t take myself seriously as a Druid, no one else will either. I don’t want to martyr myself, so to speak, and I’m sure no one expects me to do so, but shouldn’t I have some pride of agency in my druidry? If I own my religion, I prevent others from turning it against me or from willfully misinterpreting it.

What do you think? Is it a fair protective stance to let others interpret what I am? Or is it, as I fear, an act of cowardice?

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2 thoughts on “Is the Term “Pagan” a Cop-Out?

  1. You need to do whatever is most comfortable to you. However, if you relate best to Druidism, are called to that path, and work with its symbols… why not? Calling oneself a Druid is still calling oneself a Pagan most of the time. Sure, there will always be different types of Druids trying to tell you that you’re doing it wrong, but that will be true no matter what. Whatever you tell people, you still know in your heart what you are. That’s the most important thing. 🙂 Best of luck!

  2. I think it’s best to tailor your answer for the audience and your own comfort level. In daily practice, people have a variety of reasons for asking what religion you are, and you have to decide how much they need/deserve to know on a case by case basis. As long as your wedding service is recognizable as a wedding service by average standards, most people aren’t going to notice or care about much else. Anyone likely to throw a fuss if the service isn’t Christian/Jewish/Muslim/Hindi/Pastafarian enough for their tastes should stay home. 😛

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