How Pagan is “Pagan Enough”?
Author: Bronwen Forbes
A couple years ago I attended a Pagan pride celebration as a workshop presenter. I won’t mention the name of the city, but will tell you it was in the southern part of the country – which means that even at the end of September the temperature was expected to hover near one hundred degrees by the middle of the afternoon’s events. Consequently I dressed my family, including my then 18-month-old daughter, in shorts and t-shirts. Silly me, I thought the attire was perfectly appropriate for the heat and the event.
Apparently I did not get the memo that “appropriate attire” for a beastly hot Pagan Pride event was flowing skirts (at least for the females) , glitter, and faerie wings and/or fuzzy cat ear headbands. Ordinarily this wouldn’t bother me, but a few days after the event I received a nasty email from one of the other attendees wanting to know how I *dared* show my face, much less present a workshop when I clearly wasn’t “Pagan enough” (the e-mailer’s words) to be there. My fellow attendee even went so far as to ask me how dare I call myself Pagan.
Ever since then I’ve spent a lot of time looking at my fellow festival or Pagan Pride attendees, comparing my appearance to theirs. Shallow? Yes. A sign of low self-esteem? Maybe, but I do it anyway. And what I’ve discovered is that, for the most part, I just don’t look particularly Pagan.
For one thing, I recently cut my hair after several decades of wearing it mid-back length in an effort to look more professional for my post-college job search (it didn’t work, and now I’m kinda stuck with short hair, but that’s another story) . Worse, I’ve even allowed my daughter to have hers cut just as short – and what kind of Pagan mom allows her child of either gender to have above-the-shoulder-length hair? It seems to be an unspoken rule that Pagan women have long hair. Does short hair make me not “Pagan enough”? *I* don’t think so, but judging by some of the looks I receive when I’m out in Pagan public, I’m guessing some people do.
I also prefer baggy jeans over Indian print skirts, t-shirts (admittedly ones with folk music, Celtic or Pagan motifs, or plain old-fashioned tie-dye) over peasant blouses, sneakers over sandals (Birkenstocks excepted) , daily showers over regular patchouli oil spritzes, and the only person in my family who owns a fuzzy cat-ear headband is my daughter. I also wear my religion-identifying necklaces tucked inside my clothes unless I’m in ritual. Not only am I in danger of ending up on an episode of “What Not To Wear, ” I could be ticketed by the Pagan fashion police any day now!
I heard a story once (and I can’t remember the source, to my chagrin) from someone who attended an indoor Pagan festival like Arisia or Pantheacon and wore business casual clothes – khaki pants and a button-down shirt – one day. Sad to say, this person received a lot of odd looks, and even reported that fellow attendees were very cool and standoffish, giving definite “You don’t belong here” looks. The next day, according to the story, the attendee appeared in more Pagan-y attire. Needless to say, the reaction of the rest of the conferees was much more warm and welcoming. If we as a religious movement believe that one of our tenets is Respect Another’s Path, the standoffish Pagans at this event were clearly the ones who were not “Pagan enough” – despite their attire.
Speaking of paths, I also started to take a very close look at my own – something I was also asked about at that same Pagan Pride day. Apparently my reluctance to answer (topic for another essay: where I come from, asking someone specifically about their path is usually considered rude) and my not-very-eloquent answer wasn’t good enough. My angry e-mailer took me to task for that, too. I guess compared to an Asa Tru Corellian Reconstructionist (the e-mailer, near as I could tell) , yes, my spiritual path is probably pretty dull.
But who is to say which path is “Pagan enough” and which path is not? If I serve a specific dog-connected deity by caring for and training my beagle, is that more or less a Pagan activity than organizing a weekly drumming circle? What if I’m a pretty decent dog owner/trainer and a lousy drummer? Does that make me not “Pagan enough”? It shouldn’t. But sometimes it feels like it does.
I have to admit that I’ve accused others of not being “Pagan enough” in the past. Back when I lived on the East Coast, ran or co-ran a major Pagan festival, led a coven, attended the monthly Pagan coffeehouse/concert on a regular basis, and held office in the local Pagan umbrella organization (that oversaw the major festival and coffeehouse/concert) I often thought that anyone who was not as active in the community as I was couldn’t possibly be “Pagan enough.” I was convinced of this…until I moved away from the East Coast to the Midwest – a part of the country that has a much lower concentration of Pagans than what I was used to. I literally had to rethink my definition of “Pagan enough” overnight. When there is no festival to organize, when there is no coffeehouse to attend or community offices to run for, is Bronwen still even Pagan, much less “Pagan enough”?
Of course the Pagans I then met who didn’t include so many – if any – open activities in their spiritual life probably wondered the same thing about me, only in reverse. After all, just because I’d been invoking the four directions for decades didn’t mean I had the first clue how to actually *use* those directions to, say, drive to someone’s house (“Turn north at Vermont Street.” “Is that left or right?” “It’s north.”) . I got lost a lot. And which, ultimately, is the more Pagan activity – attend a concert in a city with too much light pollution to see the sky or spend five minutes in the middle of a small-town street admiring every star in the galaxy because you can actually *see* them? Either way you choose, you won’t be “Pagan enough” for someone. Trust me.
Just because a person chooses to dress or participate to a different standard than you’re used to or you think appropriate, stop for a moment and wonder why. I’ve worn loose, flowing skirts and peasant blouses and, yes, patchouli oil and glitter at Pagan gatherings back when I was a) single, b) child-free and c) younger. I can still “dress the part” with the best of them – when I choose to, and sans faerie wings. But the previously-mentioned Pagan Pride Day was in a rather large city a couple hours from the small town I was currently living in, and my family had made plans to do some “big city” shopping after the event. I know I’m not the only Pagan who shops at Sam’s Club and Petsmart, but I see no need to advertise my religion in these places. Does this make me not “Pagan enough”?
In short, my fellow Pagans, if you’re an Asa Tru Correllian Reconstructionist, don’t snub the Neo-Wiccans you meet (conversely, Neo-Wiccans, don’t snub the Asa Tru Correllian Reconstructionists) . If you’re comfortable wearing a suit to ritual, it doesn’t mean you’re any less a Pagan than the person next to you wearing a black crushed velvet cape. The only person who can judge whether you’re “Pagan enough” is you. With confirmation from your God (s) , of course!