Tag Archives: pride

Reflecting on Pagan Identity

It seems silly so late in that game to ask, “What is Paganism?” and yet, in my continuing interaction with the Pagan community I find that, honestly, I have very little idea of what Pagan actually means. The problem largely seems to be that we, as Pagans, have too many different ideas of what that actually means. Consider how many of us try to subsume Hinduism under the umbrella of Paganism, when Hindus themselves are largely disinterested with our attentions and frequently oppose the classification.

The most common generic definition of what classifies a Pagan religion is a non-Christian Earth based faith. However, that description includes faiths like Shinto, Hinduism, and potentially Buddhism which have long lasting traditions quite distinct from Modern Paganism, while at the same time excluding African Diasporic Traditions, like CandomblĂ© and Vodou, and frequently leaving no place for Appalachian Conjure and Rootwork. Let’s not forget, either, how heavily Christianity influenced Modern Occultism. The Golden Dawn and its antecedents are positively dripping with references to Christianity. What exactly, then, is Paganism? Can we really exclude Christian influence from Paganism?

So, perhaps we introduce another definition. Paganism refers to belief systems which incorporate elements of magic into the core of the faith. Now we need to define magic. Simply said, magic is the manifestation of change in the world according to will. So, what does this definition produce? Now we seem to be able to exclude some of the problematic religions incorporated into the first definition, but have we sufficiently narrowed field to the point that we exclude the Judeo-Christian Faiths? I remain unconvinced. Attend a Catholic Mass and tell me that magic is not built into the very foundation of that ceremony.

I think that it has become apparent that we need to back off and approach this conundrum from another angle. So many of us Pagans have emerged from Christian Faiths, frequently as a result of trauma, and we seek to distance ourselves as thoroughly as we can from those traditions, while at the same time never really coming to terms with the ramifications of our conversion. I propose that Modern Paganism is, in fact, a spiritual revival movement beginning with the birth and subsequent rapid growth of Wicca in the 1940’s. Modern Paganism has progressed in a fairly straight line from the Occult Revival of the Victorian era. I do not believe that it is in anyway controversial to assert that Wicca is the touchstone of Modern Paganism. Wicca itself is a modified form of Golden Dawn teachings combined with various other traditional and fictitious English Hedgework and witchcraft teachings.

I, therefore, assert that Wicca is a heresy of the Golden Dawn. The basic foundation of Golden Dawn ritual is preserved wholly in Wicca. The great innovation of Wicca is to reorient the gender of the Godhead and place the feminine divine at the center of its ontological structure. The male is preserved as a divine consort, in relation to the feminine. This ontological shift is the springboard of Modern Pagan thought. It is precisely this shift, with the maintenance of Golden Dawn structure that shows Wicca to be precisely what it is, a Golden Dawn Heresy.

The Golden Dawn itself is a Christian Heresy. There can be no real doubt of that, any substantial exploration of Golden Dawn teaching reveals it to be a very strange mixture of Christianity, Egyptian mythology, and a rather messy port of John Dee’s Enochian. The roots of Modern Paganism are fundamentally intertwined with Christianity. It may be a bit of a stretch, but a good deal of Modern Paganism could be described as simply a Christian Heresy. The story of Modern Paganism is tangled and full apocryphal tales, but with a little research it is fairly easy to tease apart the strands.

Of course, I do not mean to say that we, as Pagans, are still essentially Christian. We are not. What I am saying is that our community has its roots in Christianity, and it has grown and developed out of a society that is heavily infused with the Christian worldview. Christianity, after all, can be viewed as simply a Jewish heresy, but it would be patently ridiculous to say that we are all, secretly, Jews.

I think that we, as Modern Pagans, tend to forget our roots. We forget and disguise our history to our detriment. Knowing where we came from helps us to understand who we are now, and to see where we have yet to explore. Paganism is growing tradition, still very much in a stage of flux and transformation. It is important that we hold on to our history, our true history: history that we can verify and source. Every faith, every tradition needs its mythology, but we must understand how mythology and history function separately of one another and learn how not to mistake one for the other.

Essentially, I suspect that the question, “What is Paganism?” is a question that we are very much in the process of answering. We are looking for our identity as a community, but in doing so, we must resist the urge to allow our personal history, our pain and transformation, from blinding us to the history of the community that we are building.

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I Am Not Born This Way

I have always hated the popular assertion that someone is born gay or straight, as if that is enough of a justification for one’s behavior. I understand the popularity of the phrase, being “born this way” allows people to side step the charge that they have a choice in the matter. When closed minded bigots yell at you for being gay, for acting gay, you respond that you were born that way, you don’t have a choice, you were made to be gay. But that’s really not true. I suppose the hidden attack in that position is that, “I was born gay, and you weren’t born Christian/Republican/Evil/a self-righteous prick, you learned that behavior.” Of course, that’s not true. We all learned to perform our sexualities as much as we learned to perform any other identity.

The issue at hand isn’t whether we are biologically determined to perform gayness, it’s whether we have the right the perform our sexuality as we choose. One could make a stronger claim that someone born into a religious family is born religious, since they would be raised from moment of birth in that frame. One isn’t born gay, by that reasoning, but becomes gay with the development of their sexuality: straight families spawn gay children.

That said, I knew from an early age that I was unlike the people around me. I knew that I was different. That was, to say the least, uncomfortable. But, I wasn’t gay. I didn’t know that I was gay until I was twelve or thirteen. What I felt before was a sense of alienation totally unconnected from my sexuality. I was a very intelligent, shy, emotional child. I thought too much and too quickly. Most of what I encountered didn’t make sense to me, nor could I understand why a lot of the adults in my life believed and said things that I could reason through and undermine as a seven year old. I was raised in a religious household, and yet I can at no time remember believing any of it. I quite emphatically remember my confusion at the way the people around me blindly repeated nonsense as if it were undoubtably true. Of course, I knew all the right words and all the answers, but it was more like playing make believe or something: rearranging words to make a kind of sense within a very particular frame. I knew the stories of Jesus and the apostles and all the prophets and their prophecies, but I think I had more faith in First Officer Spock. My burgeoning sexuality was just a coincidence.

I think when people remember feeling alienated as children, they tend to elide it with other traumas. Sadly, in contemporary society, one’s sexual development is a severe trauma for a lot of people. One’s sexuality suddenly leaps back and invades all the queerness, all the awkwardness, all the alienation that one has felt. People aren’t willing to simply be other, to be really basically queer, it was their gayness all along, hiding and showing itself just long enough to make other people uncomfortable, but not revealing itself fully until… well, trauma.

I am not gay because I was born this way. My birth in no way relieves me of responsibility. I am queer because I have embraced that as a part of myself and act accordingly. I own my queerness, I live in my queerness. Had I so decided, I could have owned my religious upbringing, I could have made that the whole of my being, and today I woud be living a very different life as a Jehovah’s Witness. I didn’t make that choice. I had every right to, but I chose something else. I chose to live my life as I saw fit. I chose to make sense of the world and of myself for myself. We all make choices, and that’s the right that needs to be defended.

I am not born this way, I am this way because I chose to be this way. I have worked long and hard to make myself into the man I am today, and I am fully aware of the missteps and struggles along the way, all of which make me even prouder of the times when I have succeeded. I am not born this way because I take full responsibility for being who I am. I worked with the resources I had to transform myself into someone who, despite my shortcomings, I am quite proud to be.

We all need to be able to say that we are who we are by choice, and know deep inside of ourselves that this is true. That’s the right we fight for. Not the right to be what we were born to be, but the right to be what we make of ourselves.

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Butch, Like a Drag Queen

Yesterday, Teejay and I went down to watch the parade and mill around at Pittsburgh’s Pride in the Streets celebration. Were it not for Teejay, I almost certainly would no have gone. I have always found the whole concept of Pride to be a little irksome. In the past, the few celebrations that I have attended always struck me as strangely forced and not nearly as inclusive as they pretend to be. A lot of my discomfort comes from my belief that there is no such thing as Gay Culture, and I have always found attempts to create such a culture to be incredibly off putting. What exactly binds the Gay Community together other than a sexual orientation and persistant discrimination? These aren’t really enough, in my mind, to build a culture around. It always seemed to me like Gay Culture reduced to a celebration of a particular body type (slight, effeminate, and pale, with a disturbingly toned body) and bad dance music, with a decent amount of alcoholism and substance abuse mixed in.

I have never really fit that mold. My body is not, nor never was the Gay Ideal that popular culture constantly reaffirms. I am tall, hairy, and far from toned. My Eastern European heritage is far too strong for me to ever look like the idealized gay man. Of course, I realized that I am not alone in this, and that there have arisen a lot of other gay cliques, and I do think that is the proper word, for those who do not fit in the ideal. Bears, daddies, chubs, otters and plenty more tags that I’m sure I’m unaware of have sprung up to round out the gay cohort. Again, however, each of those groups tend to be just as protective of their discrete identities and roles as the idealized gay body is, despite their claims for acceptance of difference and inclusivity. I am not, despite the shape of my flesh, a bear or otter or whatever other woodland creature is deemed to be the most empowering. My role and my sexuality are not determined by my appearance. While I can certainly adapt my appearance to portray a particular role, that is a game played only in particular circumstances that I can choose to apply to discard at my whim.

So, I brought all of this with me to Pride. Honestly, I was not mistaken with my assumptions, but what I experienced showed me that I, recognizing the limitations of of a phrase like “Gay Culture” needed to allow myself to see the people themselves, and the what each brought with them to the celebration. The thing that struck me, and that turned the whole experience into something strangely powerful and effecting, was that I was unlike everyone else there, and that everyone else was unlike everyone else. The only thing that bound the celebration together, at the end of the day, was that all of us were human, fighting for our rights, trying to live as we know we must.

The parade itself was still kind of disturbing. The first ten minutes of it were dominated by corporate sponsors (Highmark, PNC, Walgreens, Giant Eagle, and several others that I simply do not remember), and while I was happy to see so many businesses coming out in support of Gay Rights, I still had to wonder how many of these corporations also donate to other, less savory causes. Business is business, after all, and corporations have no problem supporting contradictory causes if they think it will increase their profit margin. I understand that events like this are incredibly difficult to fund, and that corporate sponsorship is necessary, but I would be more impressed and have more faith in these institutions good intentions if they did not insist on showing you over and over again how good their intentions are. True charity, true concern, is quiet and persistent.

The other thing that struck me about the parade was how many churches were marching in support. Five or six Presbyterian congregations and two or three Unitarian congregations (no one is surprised by that one, though) came through. It was reassuring to see such a surge of support from Christians, especially after running into a horrifying Christian Bigot spouting bile on a street corner in the center of Pride. The truly faithful and the truly righteous recognize the that their salvation is not incumbent upon the damnation of others, and will do what they can to help those in need love and live as well as they are able.

I have to admit, though, that my favorite parts of Pride were the strange contemporary dance troupe that performed immediately after the parade, and seeing an acquaintance performing drag street theater randomly throughout the crowd. I’ve always been a bit uncomfortable with drag, as I feel that it can have a tendency to reinforce retrograde gender and sexual stereotypes. I have long thought that drag requires serious, dare I say, queering in order to be relevant and useful. My acquaintance more than accomplishes that wonderful queering, as thus typified: upon hearing a girl call out, “You’re so pretty!” he shouted back, “You mean butch!”

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