What do we alternative spirituality types call ourselves? When people ask me, I say I'm "sort of pagan" or "eclectic" or "lynnish" (because my name is Lynn. . . so that's kind of a joke). If I don't think they'll be hip to any of that, and I don't feel like getting into some big long conversation, I'll just say "I have my own spirituality" and smile.
I'm aware that the written standard is to now capitalize “Pagan” in the same way we do the names of other religions. I do not follow this practice myself because I personally don’t relate to what I call “Paganism with a capital P.”
Capitalization seems mighty formal to me, and in my mind it cements the codification of paganism as a “collection of spiritualities based on European pre-Christian traditions.” If you ask most (white) Pagans about their practice, they'll go into the ancestral piece right away. So me calling myself a “Pagan” feels very inaccurate. Yet since the framework of my practice is rooted in the wheel of the year, I don't want to reject the term altogether.
I know, I know, it seems like a small thing. But there it is. I don't relate to that capital P. Not just a tiny bit.
Whereas paganism with lower-case “p” is more in keeping with the more ancient tradition of describing the overall state of being ‘non-Christian.' Not that I feel any particular need to define myself in opposition to Christians, but "pagan" seems more inclusive of those of us whose practice is non-Eurocentric. And rolling off my keyboard, “paganism” feels more fluid than “Paganism”. . . something an eclectic like me can definitely relate to. Formal religion after all is something I gave up when I stopped going to church.
As an aside I will add that it’s too bad the Northern folk have already claimed the word “heathen” for themselves as I’ve always been very partial to that one. As a child growing up in a secular household, “heathen” always sounded exciting and vaguely naughty, like extras in a Mad Max movie. Involving practices, no doubt, more flavorful than listening to sermons.
Along with “savages,” heathen was the word Anglophone Europeans very often used to describe the brown people they came into contact with when they colonized the world. Like the younger black generations who morphed “nigger” into “nigga,” “heathen” was co-opted by those it was used against -- meaning non-Christians -- and turned into a term of endearment. So props to the Northern types for grabbing that one first.
So until someone -- myself maybe -- can come up with something better than “pagan” to describe us non-Euro-oriented pagans, well, then pagan it is. But hey we black people are used to name changes, right? I was born a Negro in the ‘60s, grew up black and now folks are insisting I’m African-American. :-)
Not that there’s anything wrong with black folks who do identify as Wiccan, or Celtic or what have you; it’s just not my thing. My spirituality is a masala of Wicca, Buddhism, black American Christianity, nature worship and dibs and dabs of other things as I see fit. And it goes without saying that pagans of any flavor are welcome here. I’m also aware of the issue of cultural appropriation and will address that in an upcoming post. Would love to hear others’ thoughts on nomenclature as well.
NOTE: blackpagan.com (meaning me) is looking for people to interview about their spirituality. How do we practice, what gods do we worship, if any? What rituals do we observe? What are our sacred days? Are you group or solitary? How did you get to where you are now? Let a sista know at email@example.com as I would love to feature you in an upcoming post.