Definition of “Eclectic Pagan” Or What is an Eclectic Pagan?
“Anyone who knows they know gets my hair up.” – A.D.A. Jack McCoy from “Law and Order”
I am a man of many names. To most of my friends of over five years, I’m JD. To people with whom I have some kind of legal or otherwise impersonal ties to, (lawyers, doctors, producers, agents, teachers, judges, police officers, etc.) I’m John-Daniel. (And yes, that is my first name.) To people I’ve met in places like rehab, psych wards and jail, I’m known as Rev, a nickname I got during a short stint in jail not long after I was ordained in the Universal Life Church. To my fellow Pagans, I’m known as Dalamar Blackhawk.
These names have roles, each with its own personality. John-Daniel tries to keep his head down most of the time because he hates his name and usually only hears it from people he would rather not talk to. Rev is sober and fun loving. Dalamar is serious, dark, and devoted totally to Balance and God. And JD is the core of it all, wildly changing, often slightly inebriated, usually very crazy, and the center point of my entire being where all conflictions of my personality resolve themselves. Or not.
My reason for bringing up my own multiple names is to give an example of how I view God and religion. God has many different names and faces, all of which represent certain aspects of the whole. When you see the name Zeus, for instance, the first thought that probably comes to mind is of a Sky God holding a lightning bolt. Depending on your personal beliefs and your knowledge of historical fact, you may think of a being that represents the balance of Nature’s chaos and humanity’s order as well as leadership. Or you may see one of the Gods that the Judeo / Christian / Muslim God (Yahweh, Jehovah, Allah) was invented from. Yes, I said “invented”. Perhaps at some point in time, all Gods were actual people who held fantastic traits such as Jesus, Buddha, or Jim Morrison. Realistically, most were invented to explain the unexplainable and to give a name and face to a force that we, as humans, cannot define. In short, all Gods are inventions of man, but that is not to say God is not real.
This is the beginning of my definition for an Eclectic Pagan. Perhaps it would be best if I start out by breaking it down, first starting with the clinical Webster’s definitions and expanding from there:
eclectic > adj. Selecting or employing elements from a variety of sources, systems, or styles. [Gk. eklegein, select]
pagan > n. One who is not a Christian, Muslim, or Jew. [Lat. paganus, country dweller]
The Webster’s definition of “eclectic” is self-explanatory, and I’ll come back to that. The definition of “Pagan” on the other hand is an inadequate definition at best. First off, Pagan should be capitalized. I went many years with a dark hatred for Christians due to unresolved issues which I have since gotten over, but even at my most unsavory and despicable mudslinging, I still capitalized Christian because it is a proper noun. Same thing with Pagan. Besides Christian, Muslim, and Jew, the above definition should also include Buddhist and Hindi. Usually, when I am talking to someone who has no real interest in knowing what a Pagan is, I define it as “Someone who is of any religion that is not one of the main five world religions, six if you want to be an ass and consider Catholicism to be separate from Christian.”
This would be a good place for me to point out that I only use the word Christian to define all religions tied to it unless I am speaking of a specific group of people for a specific reason. This includes Catholics and Satanists, both of whom worship deities from the same mythology, but have different views. I should also point out that I have no real problem with offending people because anyone who thinks that they alone know the face of God and that they alone have the “correct” religion is an idiot.
Which brings me to the deeper definition of Pagan. A modern Pagan would be defined as anyone who has a one-on-one relationship with God and considers themselves clergy. (It is possible by this definition to be, say, a Pagan Christian, though I’m sure most of them would either call themselves, independent or “other” or would start their own denomination of Christianity.) All Pagans are priests and priestesses. For the benefit of keeping things simple, I’ll use the term “priestess” from here on out to denote both genders. This is a practice many male Pagans, especially Wiccans, already employ due to their skewed views in believing that the feminine is more important or powerful than the masculine. (*1 ) When a Pagan has had enough experience and training, usually under the guiding hand of a High Priestess and often with a coven, and has had plenty of experience organizing and participating in religious ceremony, has learned the magickal properties of natural items such as stones, colors, plants, celestial beings, etc., and has proven that they can stand alone as a solitaire practitioner as well as they can in a group setting, they may be ordained as a High Priestess, typically by the High Priestesses of the coven they most closely work with. (*2 )
The reasoning of defining “Pagan” as I did above – someone who is personally in touch with God – is because in the world of Pagans, dogma really does not matter. We all have it, but it is all symantic. I am a worshipper of Gaia, Goddess of the Earth and Nature, and Aries, the God of War. However, I will pray to any God whose main character is strong in an aspect I require access to. For instance, if I am praying for or thankful for my romantic life, I may pray to Aphrodite. Gaia and Aries are simply the faces of God I most relate to in my life, but that does not mean I do not recognize all other faces of God.
To be clear, God is everything. If God is everything, that makes God impossible to define, though I’m sure Webster’s has a pretty convincing definition of the word itself. We all feel that universal force which runs through and connects all things. Some of us see it in religion, some in math or science, some in art, some in a cause, etc. Even radical Atheists such as Douglas Adams can admit that while that force may not be some intelligent being, that there is more going on than we can understand. A true Pagan understands that it is all about individual perception. We do not need, and even abhor, the idea that a human middleman is needed between us and God, ie: Christ, Muhammad. (Remember, we are dealing with modern Pagans. Pagans of yore made Gods of humans all the time, such as Hercules, Christ, and the Pharaohs.) We simply understand that God, for being everything, must live within us as much as without us, so there is no distance between us and God except that which we attempt to create.
Going back a little to the dictionary definition, Pagan literally means “country dweller”. If you use your imagination and go back to a time when large cities were few and things like phones and computers did not exist – hard to believe, I know – most people lived in small villages or clans. Often, one farming family would be the population. They would have their own family religion, usually based at least loosely on the pantheon of local mythology. Terms like “Pagan” and “heathen” (“heathen” essentially means the same as “Pagan”), once simply adjectives to describe the lifestyle and living circumstances of a group of people, became derogatory with the growth of cities as well as the spread of monotheistic religion.
This is no different than the terms “redneck” or “gangsta”. We say those words in a derogatory way because often country folk and lower class people who band together to survive have less formal education than the typical middle class suburbanite. However, this does not make them less intelligent by any means. Their education and upbringing are not what is considered the norm, but they have knowledge that “normal people” do not have. A “redneck” typically has a much better working knowledge of nature than your average city dweller, and a “gangsta” or any other form of city dweller that is out for themselves alone, has a much better understanding of how the world really works. They both have survival skills that are not taught in classrooms. Yet, their ability to adapt, evolve, and make complicated decisions is overshadowed by stereotypes created by “the majority”.
This is essentially what happened with Pagans of yore. Even now, terms like “Pagan” or “Witch” are looked upon with little seriousness. Bringing all this back around to the point of this article, the definition of an Eclectic Pagan in simplistic terms is someone who studies many religions and takes from them all. I have been studying religion all my life. I can pull knowledge from a Bible as easily as I can from the Upanishads or from ancient Pagan myths. If I were to break down my beliefs into their separate spiritual roots, I could consider myself to be a Celtic / Egyptian / Greek / Roman Pagan-Buddhist-Judeo / Christian / Muslim-Taoist-Native American Shaman-Satanist with just enough of an Atheist mindset to understand that starting fights over religion is ignorant. (*3 )
I am a man who believes I am directly connected to God, cannot ever define God, understands that God does not care what I call It, understands that God presents Itself differently to everyone and therefore should not be doubted just because I may not have the same paintings over my alter as other religious people, understands that even if I study all religion, I only know the tip of the ice burg when it comes to God, and is a firm believer that Heaven and Hell are here and now on Earth. My views on the afterlife are too complex and not really important for this article, but I can sum them up by saying I believe we come from and return to the “body of God” and that bits of us are reincarnated at different times. (I do believe that in this incarnation, all I have is this life and when I die, I will not be this ever again, so I damn well better do whatever it is I want to do in this lifetime because there is no other that I know of. Part of me may reincarnate, but ultimately this body and this life is on lease from the rest of the Universe and will return to it someday.)
I understand the role of myths, which is often more to teach a lesson, entertain, or spread propaganda rather than report historical fact. A quick example of this is Jesus Christ. In the Christian Bible, Christ’s story stops at age 12 or 13 and picks up again in his early 30’s. There is no solid religious explanation for why this is, but there is good substantial historical evidence that he traveled to the Far East where he likely studied Buddhism during these years. There is also evidence that if he survived his crucifixion, he returned there with his wife, Mary, and raised a family, though I would only doubt his survival because the Romans were quite thorough about executions, especially of “enemies of the state”. We have now a. The religious story of Christ, and b. The most likely historical facts. Does the latter take away from the mystery of the former? In my eyes, no. Christ was likely a great spiritualist, a good man who saw the world with all of its potential for good, and who in the 1960’s would have probably been eating a lot of acid and putting flowers in peoples’ hair while making plans to hang out with John Lennon in India. There is no reason to believe a man could raise the dead or walk on water other than to either believe in the power of a deified human being, or to use it as proof of our inherent magickal abilities. Both reasons are valid enough to believe in the myths, but it does not change REALITY except in our own minds.
In short, I understand religion as being a personal connection with God. Organized religion is for people too lazy to do their own research and soul searching, in my opinion. If I were a Christian who believed in Judgment Day, which would I believe? That when I am before the High and Mighty that every other Christian is there next to me? Or that I alone stand before God in His judgment? Probably every Christian would agree with the latter. Rational thought dictates that if I will be judged by God as an individual, then it is my own personal adherence to my religion that will be judged. Therefore, it does not matter what other humans absolve me of my sins, nor does it matter if I picture God with a beard, because at that moment, God is judging me for me. If my judgment is only between God and myself, why would my religion not also be only between God and myself? This view makes me a Pagan. The fact that I can look at any religion and see the same God is what makes me an Eclectic Pagan. This is no different than a Christian who reads Eastern spiritual texts and tells themselves that it is not because my own religious views are inadequate, but rather my own spirituality is flawed and that by studying another’s spirituality, I will have a more solid connection with God. I would then be an Eclectic Christian because my core belief is in the Christian myths, but my spirituality is not narrowed to one view.
To end, it would be VERY un-Pagan of me to say that these are the views of all Pagans or Eclectic Pagans. This is my attempt to add my own personal definition to a sea of definitions so that the open minded individual can take what they see as relevant and form their own definition. I hit on some topics I will likely expand on in other writings in the future, but all of the topics here are up for debate. I will not even claim this to be a good clinical definition of an Eclectic Pagan, only that I happen to be one and these are the words I think will best get across what that means to me. Regardless of your religious or spiritual beliefs, if you are offended in part or by all of this, that’s fine. That means I am doing my job. I only seek to make others think, and I do not claim to always be correct. Argue with it, find flaws in my logic, – as if religion ever had anything to do with logic – give me praise or hate me. Just remember that unless you are thinking for yourself and doing your own research and soul searching, getting angry at me will accomplish nothing. If you think you know it all, that’s fine too. You don’t, and you are obstinate at best if that is your view, but if you sleep better at night and you do not go out of your way to hurt or insult others, then I personally have no problem with you or your views. I warn most people ahead of time that if your religion is less than 5,000 years old, I can and will give you the historical proof of how your religion came from a Pagan religion and is not original in any way. My suggestion is to use your heart to understand God as you are meant to and your mind to create the doubt that is required for faith to exist. I wish you luck and love on your own personal quest for understanding, and pray one day that all people understand that the important positive aspects of religion and spirituality are faith and the desire to live as a decent human being, not claiming to know what you do not and starting fights, screaming “My God is bigger than your God!” like a child.
May God walk always with you, regardless of your beliefs. Blessed be.
*1 – I believe in balance, but I happen to be a Pagan who puts the Goddess in slightly higher standard than the God, yet even with being guilty of slightly imbalanced views, the politically incorrect English major in me still refers to myself as a priest, not a priestess. There is a reason that most languages differentiate genders.
*2 – Legal ordainment is only a matter of registering with the Universal Life Church, followed by any local state obligations, typically involving a fee, to become a “card carrying” clergy member in that state. Beware people who become “clergy” without training and without being ordained by another competent High Priestess.
*3 – Taking a swing at me or a loved one is a valid reason to punch you. Telling me that I worship the wrong God is not. The latter, especially if I am solid in my beliefs, should only cause me to laugh and maybe pray that your mind will evolve.