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?





15 thoughts on “Pagans Petition Chicago Manual of Style

  1. I confess that this petition doesn’t excite me in any way. It seems that I am finally leaving identification with the “pagan” term behind, because I don’t feel like any of this means anything to me. More and more, terms like “gintlíocht” (or “gentlidecht”), “heathen”, and “polytheist” seem like they better describe who and what I am.

    1. I’ve been reticent in the past to use polytheist as a primary term, due to its emphasis on theology but am starting to do so for those outside of our communities. Do you also do Norse practices? Heathen seems so linked to Norse/Germanic I’m curious about Celt-based people using it…

      1. I tend to think of “heathen” as referring to northern European practices in general, and the Celts are among those. Not to mention, it is really difficult to pinpoint a dividing line between Celtic and Germanic peoples.

        When you come down to it, though, it occurred to me after writing this that I don’t much care what other people call what I do. Labels placed on me aren’t really for my convenience, after all. I know who and what I am, and don’t really need any particular words for it. The labels exist so that other people can abstract it and not have to know everything that I do.

    1. {In reply to difficulty of finding the dividing line} Until you here them speak. I know archaeologists can’t see the difference on the ground. Did you ever read Peter S. Wells “The Barbarians Speak”? he has some interesting things to say about that, as I recall.

      What you say about labels make sense. I could write pages to describe what I do, or maybe some briefer poetic language that almost no one would understand, and then the fact is it’s all in motion anyway….

  2. I agree with you except the comment about magic focused paths. Wicca and Golden Dawn based traditions are not the only options out there and I don’t believe they should have the monopoly on the term “magic focused path”, since there are magicians who do look to older source texts, manuscripts, and folklore instead of traditions that came from the Victorian era, not unlike reconstructionist minded pagans. Some magicians have more in common with reconstructionist and tradition minded pagans than Wiccans, some don’t, some do a mix, it’s a very diverse crowd. 🙂

    Personally I have my own doubts these days about the effectiveness of Wiccan magic techniques and tend to see it more as a religion than something magicians should use, but that is an argument for another time.

    1. I was probably vague in that, but my point with that phrase was in the petitioners grouping grouping together of religions that have very different approaches in central rites of worship (as one entity), as Wiccan rituals, in my experience, are performed as a directed magical working.

      But, yes, I can see that many magical paths are marginalized in the Wiccanate codifying and defining going on. There’s a common assumption that magic follows a Golden Dawn paradigm, yet that leaves an awful lot out in the cold, including Gaelic and Norse approaches. Thanks for commenting.

      1. I understand, I’d just prefer people be a bit more specific, and there are many reconstructionist and folklore approaches to magic.

        That said, I really do appreciate that you’ve made a post about the problems with the definitions the makers of this petition have made, and I don’t think it it should be just up to those studying these communities to define them at all. There are still huge problems in cultural anthropology, and judging from a few who have signed has made me realize it is worse than I originally believed.

  3. Thank you for writing about this–and, my apologies for coming to the discussion rather late.

    I was somewhat interested in it at first, I have to admit; but, I am likewise finding that in my own usage of the term, it doesn’t need to be capitalized, and I don’t usually capitalize it on my blog (unless I’m responding to comments from certain individuals), whereas style guides kind of “require” it on’s Pagan channel, etc.

    Part of the appeal of the petition for me, I think, was that they were looking for “credentialed persons” to endorse it, and as I have a Ph.D., I thought it might be useful toward that effort. But, then as I read the list of names who signed it and people who were being implicitly (and occasionally explicitly) lauded for having signed it, I got rather disillusioned with the whole thing…that some of them have Ph.D.s is almost as upsetting as that some of them don’t (but they are nonetheless considered great “authorities” on certain matters).

    Similar to yourself, I suspect, I have an emotional attachment to the term “pagan,” and one that is habitual and based in, quite frankly, late high school (anti-)social politics, in which my identity was strongly based in and formed around having a pagan identity amidst a virulently Christian populace. I do still think that I fit the “classical” definition of the term more closely than many do, since I am rural and have a rural mindset (no matter how many degrees I might have!) and consider myself a person of the land where I come from in a very close fashion. But, as I’ve discussed in recent blog posts over the last two weeks, I think we are getting to a breaking-point, where those of us who are polytheists are actually being pushed out by any number of others.

    (There were comments in a recent Wild Hunt post, where I was quoted on these matters, by a certain well-known “Quaker Pagan” who suggested to Gus DiZerega that his inclusion of “polytheist” as a potential characteristic of what makes up pagan was “really not necessary.” Note, DiZerega [with whom I have more disagreements with presently than I would have a few weeks ago] was not suggesting any part of his definition was required, but that each term he included was possible…and yet here is someone who is pretty well-known who says “but do we really need to include them?” This doesn’t speak well for the state of things, I don’t think.)

    In certain respects, I think this is a publicity stunt, to some extent or other. If the Chicago Manual of Style *requires* such a capitalization, it *says something.* It would also *say something* if a well-known pagan appeared on Fox News (even to get preyed upon by one of the schmuck anchors there), or was on The Daily Show, i.e. “we have arrived” in terms of overall cultural recognition of this group of minority religions. While I think some of the discussion on one of my recent blog posts (where I objected to some of Don Frew’s writings) was good and useful and made some progress in various areas, there still is a general disinterest in the general modern pagan community for polytheism (especially polytheism that would dare to be based on actual ancient precedents outside of neoplatonic monism) and a companion lack of desire to genuinely engage with us or find out about what we’re doing…and, that all does come down to what Ruadhán McElroy called “Wiccanate privilege,” I think.

    In any case…there’s a lot there, and here, to discuss, and I’m glad you brought this up. I have not signed the petition, and will not be doing so–there are larger and more important political pagan/polytheist issues to confront and work on, and much larger devotional fish to fry, too. 😉

  4. Good to hear your thoughts on this matter. When I was a boy, I loved to check out library books on ancient cultures, customs, games, folklore, archaeology and the lot; these pre-Christian peoples were always called pagan. Well, the word is a contested one (as well as its historical meanderings–I go for the”civilian” meaning, though certainly relate also to the fitted into a place one), but I think we should fight for our understandings of it. I can only hope that the “Quaker Pagan” missed the word “potential”! Even worse has appeared recently: Aultman and his ilk of materialist atheists (I differentiate between non-theists) will to thoroughly muddy the waters–and what could this “culture that provides a web of common reference and language” he refers to be other than that one of casting circles and the 4 elements? One can only guess.

    1. I haven’t read it yet (though I saw the excerpt on the roundup at TWH earlier today), but I’ll go do so now…I’ve had some arguments with him before online about some of what he’s written. In person, he’s nice; he has been to some of our PantheaCon rituals, and liked them (and was actually quite moved by one of them–Lupercalia 2010), but the way he described in his post about “Care and Feeding of Your Atheist Pagan” many months back that atheist pagans are there to “use your gods how we see fit” really rubbed me the wrong way, needless to say. Hmm…

  5. From a strategic activist viewpoint I think this is really a waste of time. For one, people who are writing about modern paganism and know anything about usually capitalize it already. I think at one point paganism did mean something more than “country-dweller” “civilian” or non-Abrahamic, but it lost that meaning some time ago. Unfortunately a lot of efforts at “pagan activism” result in certain groups (Wiccans and their close cousins) trying to speak for the rest of us. Like the assumption that the victory of getting pentacles on military headstones was for *all Pagans*.

    As a UU as well as a polytheist (though I have some ambivalence about how the two combine) I’ve been watching with some concern the “humanist” pagans. Because frankly, secular humanism hasn’t been a good influence overall on UUism, IMNSHO. There are too many UU churches where people basically apologize whenever they use “God” language. Are we going to have to start doing that at Pagan Pride?

    1. To be fair, in regard to the Wiccan Pentacle on military headstones, the policy change that allowed that also made it easier for the Thor’s Hammer to be approved quickly and allowed for other groups to get quick approval, so it does happen to be one place where a victory for them turned out to be a victory for all pagan/polytheist/heathens, not to mention other religious and a-religious groups.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s