by Lisa Spiral Besnett
As I look over the American Neo-Pagan population, at least those that attend large public events, I am struck by a number of interesting observations. Most Pagans acknowledge that any spiritual practice that works for an individual is valid. Many Pagans with Jewish families of origin identify as ‘Jewitches’. Pagans with Christian families of origin tend to consider themselves as ‘recovering’ from their Christian roots. Pagan of course being defined by Christians as anything that isn’t Christian does not help this dilemma.
This deep seated resentment of Christianity in the Pagan culture rears it’s ugly head in many unproductive ways. The most common theme of resentment appears in the form of Christian bashing. Christianity is a multifaceted and varied religious practice. Pagans can often be found lumping all of Christianity into a group represented only by the narrowest, most evangelical, most anti-anything that isn’t them form of Christian practice. It’s almost as though Christians were represented by the Klu Klux Klan or more accurately as if the newest, loudest, popular, rich, televangelist was speaking for all of Christianity. We know this isn’t true intellectually, but our language does not always reflect this as we generalize about the “horrors” of Christianity.
Even Christians are not all in agreement about who is or isn’t “really” a Christian. Mormans, Catholics, and Jahovah’s Witnesses all fall into the questionable category for some other sects of Christianity. Unitarian Universalists are sort of considered Christian and many of their members are Christian identified but their charter does not restrict their members to Christian study. In fact not all UU members consider themselves to be Christians. Other than the Christian identifying language there is very little philosophical difference between many new age thinkers (look at Matthew Fox the ecumenical minister) and many Pagans.
Much of the resentment/recovery issue many Pagans face is because we have been rejected by our Christian families and church communities because of our beliefs. It is interesting to note that a large number of Pagans studied Christianity deeply looking for ways to make what was in their hearts fit in with what their families professed. Part of the weaponry of Christian bashing comes from experiencing rejection by a Christian who does not know enough about their own religion to justify their position. Many of us have found that we can expound on Christian belief, philosophy and Biblical text more fluently than the average Christian we meet.
We talk about finding Paganism and feeling as though we’ve come home. We’ve always had the beliefs and feelings in our hearts that define our spirituality. We have been repeatedly rejected by the spiritual systems we were raised in, in spite of our efforts to frame our personal beliefs within those systems. Then we find a group of Pagans and Christians people with similar experiences who accepts that we are spiritual beings regardless.
Of course it feels like we have come home. We probably have this experience more in common than any actual spirituality or practice. (Ask 3 Pagans what they think about something and they’ll give you 4 different answers.) That shared experience of Christian rejection binds us. The Native American spiritual movement seems to have finally come to terms with this issue. They as a community have found a way to identify as Christian in the larger culture while practicing a “cultural spirituality” that is derived from their pagan roots.
This is also the basis for the ‘Jewitch’, a cultural identity with a spiritual component that can not be denied. Unfortunately, most white American Pagans only have the Christianity they were raised in to define their cultural identity. I believe the rise in Celtic Paganism and Heathenism is due to a desire to reach for, or build up, a foundational cultural spirituality acceptable in the mainstream world.
This issue is exaggerated when the accepted cultural spiritual identity is not an accurate expression of the Paganism being practiced. We are beginning to see Black Pagans writing about this experience. (www.patheos.com/blogs/daughtersofeve/) Black Pagans find great acceptance in practicing Vodun, or Youruba but are looked at askance when they identify more strongly with the Greek or Celtic or Norse Pantheons. We as a culture are still in denial of the European heritage of most American Blacks. Slave owners got around, and the European Culture is a strong part of the American identity.
Pagans carry their own prejudices. Often Black Pagans attending events are avoided on the assumption that they are Christian infiltrators. Most Pagans will agree that the Bible is a valid mythological text. Yet, heaven help the Pagan who wants to work with Jesus and Lilith in their circles. We even avoid the word God because it so strongly evokes the Christian ‘One God’ authority. We will clarify, ‘the God Pan’; we will broaden the scope ‘Gods’; and we will unite ‘God and Goddess’. Rarely in our dialog does the word God stand alone, and usually when it does we are Christian bashing again.
As Spiritual practitioners we have an obligation to call upon compassion rather than judgement. This includes expressing compassion for ourselves. In order to heal our own hearts we must find a way to embrace the whole of our Spiritual selves regardless of how others choose to define us. I was baptized in the Catholic Church, that’s for life. I was born again upon the altar of Jesus Christ, and continue to admire His compassionate teachings.
I am a Witch, a Pagan, a Mystic an Occult practitioner, Spiritual Mentor, Teacher and Pagans and Christians Healer. Unless I’m trying to join your church community why is this a problem? Unless you are trying to make me join your church community why is this a problem? If we as Pagans believe in the sacredness of all things and the presence of the Divine within each being what do we have to ‘recover’ from?
I would very much like to see our community open their hearts on this issue. I believe it is only through compassionate spiritual practice that we will find our way to wholeness. As frustrating as interactions with Christians may be, I will endeavor not to generalize the practices of a few across the scope of an entire religion. I hope I have convinced you to do the same.
Lisa Spiral Besnett has been Pagan identified for over 35 years. She has been active in the Twin Cities Pagan community and in the Blue Star tradition. Over the years she has presented workshops at PSG, Avalon, Heartland, Sacred Harvest Fest, Pagan Pride and the Women and Spirituality Conference. She has served on the board of Northern Dawn COG, Earth Conclave, WicCoM and The New Alexandria Library. She writes a weekly blog on spirituality in daily life at lisaspiral.wordpress.com.