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A Question of Definitions

by Greybeard Dances (July 4, 2001)

What's in a name? We humans, as a species, and particularly as a cultural entity in the United States, tend to try to classify things according to name so as to simplify our experience. In other words, we attempt to apply a solid framework to a constantly shifting and adapting reality. The blame, I suppose, goes back to Aristotle and his penchant for theoretically categorizing all things into little boxes so as to be able to communicate HIS frame of reference to others. This was the original application of "doublespeak" that was re-introduced to the world via George Orwell's anti-utopian vision.

The secret to not having to know someone, or something, or anything for that matter, is not in learning their name, but in "giving" them a name that you will know them by. In that way, "we" do not have to reveal all that much about ourselves to the other party, and we can make assumptions about that other party based on how WE want them to fit into our paradigm. For example, we can look out the window and say, "oh, look, there is a tree," rather than saying (in the first step away from classification), "oh, look, there is a magnolia," or saying (in the second step away from generalization), "oh, look, it is the magnolia outside my window, which is unique among magnolias in that it is growing within my immediate frame of reference," or even saying (in the third step away from impersonalization), "hello, Fred (or whatever the tree's name happens to be)".

This thought occurred to me in relation to paganism (or "Paganism," as every proper movement has a capitalized moniker), when I thought about what I perceived to be the difference between myself and some of those others in the world that apply the label "Pagan" to themselves. My thinking was this: when I look outside at the people who live around me, the first thought that rises in my brain is not, "oh, look, I am surrounded by Non-Pagans, and I live in a Pagan household." Quite naturally, to me, anyway, I look out and see the neighbors by name. I don't think of the one on the right side as "The Retired Government Worker Who Talks Incessantly" or the one across the way as "The Bitter Old Man Who Gardens". I certainly don't think to myself, "there's the Catholic, there's the Baptist" or even worse, "there are the Fundies."

As far as "Pagan community" is concerned, I am often concerned that some people who claim the name of "Pagan" seem to think that there should be some artificial construct (of course, it does not seem artificial to them) that connects us all at the level of our common beliefs, that there is some kind of "brotherhood" which all pagans should acknowledge and respect. I have a fundamental question regarding this "brotherhood", however ... is this a "brotherhood" of those who CLAIM to be at one with each other, or of those whose deeds prove it to be the case? As was said once earlier in the last century (if may have been FDR who said it), if you are a "Harvard Man", you don't need a class ring to prove it - your actions will make it obvious to all that you are of that caliber. For myself, I know my brethren (that are not tied by blood) by their deeds, and not their words. And if a brother (or sister, for in fact 'brotherhood' implies something that smacks of patriarchy and hierarchy, of closed rooms and inequality) makes what I feel to be an error, it is my obligation to discuss it with them privately, "on the way to the church" so to speak, rather than standing up and impugning them before the entire congregation. For if we are in fact ALL siblings, then any action that affects the well-being of one affects the well-being of all. All of which goes to show that one cannot choose one's "brothers" lightly. Yes, we are all related, we all share this plane in which to find our paths, we are all different shafts of the same light. But our "unity" is quite a different matter. The fact is that we are NOT a pagan community because we call ourselves Pagan, but are only a community if we act as a community.

It may only be a question of semantics (which is most likely our most recent "dying art"). According to my dictionary, craft is defined as "1. skill in doing or making something, as in the arts; proficiency.; 2. skill in evasion or deception, guile; 3. an occupation or trade requiring manual dexterity or skilled artistry; or 4. the membership of such an occupation or trade; guild."

My problem is not so much with the word "Pagan", or more specifically, "Witch," rather it is the addition of "craft" to describe what witches do, or refering to it shorthand as "The Craft." Surely, witches are skilled in doing and making; there is a certain manual dexterity required to properly wield an athame, a level of artistry necessary to properly dramatize a ritual; and finally, there is often membership (say, in a coven) involved. BUT to say that the spiritual and religious practice of a witch is a Craft is, to my ears, saying that it is equivalent to needlepoint, wood-working or even the plumbing and heating trades. It's bad enough that the word "CRAFT" was tacked on due to association with Freemasonry (the "Heavenly" building trade). That doesn't seem proper, to me. Yet, when asked what one does, to answer "The Old Ways" or "The Old Religion" is VERY vague. It doesn't say anything. After all, Judaism, Buddhism and Vedanta are pretty old, too. How ancient is my way of life? Well, honestly, right now, it's 36 years old. Period.

I say we need a new word for witchcraft. And for me, Wicca (an Anglo-Saxon derived word that ultimately is defined as witch - a great example of a circular [and therefore meaningless] definition) doesn't cut it. A Druid is someone who studies for 30 or 40 years and then is referred to by others as a Druid. It's not a self-applied label. A yogi doesn't call themselves a yogi, either. It's too egocentric, implying advancement on a path that the true wise person knows is only just beginning at each moment. And do we "practice" witchcraft the way one "practices" medicine, or Catholicism, or golf? Putting something into practice infers making it a habit, going through the motions, learning and working the rote. And all those Practicing witches out there - like it or not, when someone says "I'm a witch," they represent all others who wear that label, for better or worse. I don't like being in the same class as Silver Ravenwolf, or even Ray Buckland or Alex Sanders, let alone those who posit that witches are those who traverse the dark paths, the goths, vampiric, etc. And I'm not a fluff-bunny, either. Not a shaman or mico or channeler or psychic-hotliner or spoon-bender or sorcerer or magickian or whatever. My path is my path, not anyone else's. Don't give me their label.

So what do we call ourselves? As a group, when in fact we will never be more than individuals who have found a way to connect, personally, uniquely and privately, with the Divine? When someone asks me if I am religious, I say yes. When someone asks me if I am spiritual, I say yes. When they ask me if I go to church, I say yes. When they what I believe, I tell them, quoting the two Buddhist monks arguing (Monk 1 - I have never seen anything without seeing the god within; Monk 2 - Well, I have never seen anything but god), I believe everything, and nothing, and each little thing in between.

So what would you call me? A witch? A pagan?

Not me. I am Greybeard Dances. That's it.

And my path? Well, it doesn't have a name, and it cannot be put into a little Aristotalitarian box.


Because it isn't finished yet. It's a work in progress.

It won't be over until it's over.

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This site last updated:  21 Aug 2003 12:05 PM -0500