Language & Responsibility: 2013 Reflections

It was a year of disagreements, breaking out like rashes and blemishs upon the skin of paganism/polytheism (a threat to our ‘sovereignty’ as a whole?), people on whichever sides often using extreme rhetoric, not especially conducive to mutual understanding. The controversies over pop culture devotion, polytheisms and monism, manifest so often with people arguing over terms that were seldom defined (and I am guilty too). One thing that stands out is how obsessed people have become by theology, much in contrast from years ago.

Even in poly recon influenced circles there seems to have become this huge emphasis on what we believe rather than do. of course doing something leads to reflecting upon it and shaping beliefs based on that, hopefully in a reflexive way, but it can be limiting when we are then expected to then put all of that into several boxes like hard or soft polytheist or monist (that vague word with many meanings). Beneath this official public level of belief that is staked out we have our primal substratum that derives from experience.  This can be situational too, and dynamic. I think of the philosopher Gilles Deluezes’ terms of molar identity and molecular identity, molar identities attempt to freeze (are monistic) whereas molecular are dynamic, changing. This is also why I think we are best with definitions that contain various attributes, of which at least some will be present but not necessarily all.

Part of the problem arises from the fact that we often forget that we are communicating in language, a not transparent medium, and one that is mysterious in its own right.  At its most primal language is an expressive, gestural medium, before its civilized apportionment into rational concepts. Chimpanzees and monkeys share in this gestural communication. Primordial gesture is where language begins in  the awareness that there is a presence outside. Many of the words we use in these debates should require a whole discussion in and of themselves. Dictionary meanings are the merest beginnings. No wonder we have so much fruitless conflict (admittedly some of I may bear fruit of further knowing ourselves).

I really wish we can pay more attention to our use of language and rhetoric in the coming year. My anecdotal experience on the ground is that many poly/pagans aren’t really aware of these heated internet debates, but it is inherent to electronic communication for people to become more easily heated up. So even more attention to responsibility toward language is called for.

Happy New Year, readers!

Pagans Petition Chicago Manual of Style

A group of prominent neopagans and pagan scholars have sent a petition urging the Chicago Manual of Style (the style guide of choice for most US editors) and the AP Style Guide (used by newspapers) to change their usage regarding capitalizing pagan (to insist on capitalizing). I find this petition very problematic. I’ve written before on the issue of capitalizing or not:


Here’s an excerpt from the petition:


Pagans seek attunement with nature and view humanity as a functional organ within the greater organism of Mother Earth (Gaea). Contemporary Pagans hearken to traditional and ancient pagan cultures, myths, and customs for inspiration and wisdom….


The Pagan community is worldwide, with millions of adherents in many countries. Moreover, increasing numbers of contemporary Hindus, First Nations activists, European reconstructionists, indigenous peoples, and other polytheists are accepting the term “Pagan” as a wide umbrella under which they all can gather, distinct from the monotheists and secularists. They are using it positively, not to mean “godless” or “lacking (true) religion.”


The whole thing can be found here:




But what seems clear here is an attempt to hegemonize a Wicca-centric view of paganism, even though polytheists, reconstructionists and even Hindus are marshaled in at one point for what feels like a feeble attempt at diversity. And I wonder who are the First Nation activists who are calling for this? Humanity is a “functional organ”? Very odd language that. Perhaps dysfunctional organ at this point in time.:-)




One can argue for or against whether a broad grouping of religions and spiritual practices should have a common reference term that is capitalized; on one hand there are Dharmic religions, on the other ‘animist’ and ‘indigenous’ are not capitalized, nor the term ‘folk religions’. But most importantly, I suspect that this push for capitalization will result in pushing reconstructionists and polytheists further away and privilege eclectic Wiccanate neo-paganism even more so.


The promoters also make much of “Paganism” being a “Movement”, but again the use of the singular asserts an attempt at rhetorically imposing a false unified identity. Movement isn’t usually defined in this context, and it’s unclear to what it really refers. Are Odinists, Reclaiming witches and Kemetic Orthodoxy in a movement together?


The reality is that Self-centered and magic- focused paths have little in common with reconstructed religions based on sacrificial liturgies and reciprocities between humans and the Others, other than historical accident. While there are those I respect who have signed on, I feel a mistake has been made, one that will finally perhaps force some of us who have clung to the pagan label as an emotionally resonant word to have to relinquish it (though, I still hope I’m wrong).


I’m interested in others thoughts on this. Do you agree or do you think I am making too much of a capital letter?