Labels are tricky creatures.
Used wrongly, they can be incredibly harmful. Used correctly, they have the ability to inform and helpfully categorize. In faith-based circles, labels are used to help serve as a spoken or written shorthand that summarizes what we believe much faster than a paragraph or a list. It may not be exact, but they seldom need to be 100% precise.
I don’t have a label.
I don’t have a metaphorical badge on my chest I can use as shorthand, to others or to myself.
I love Lilith, who is but a piece of a much greater Goddess that exists unseen, unfelt, and uninteracted with all around me. I’m proud of my Norse and Celtic ancestors and all that they accomplished — but that same accomplishment causes angst that I might not ever measure up in their eyes or even my own. I am fascinated by my ancestral gods and find great wisdom in their teachings that have come down to me, but I’m now ready to say that I don’t really follow or worship them in any conventional sense.
I’m not Wiccan. I’m not a Druid. I’m not Asatru or Vanatru.
I don’t get to have a word that really says “this is the gist of what I cherish and believe to be true about the world”.
I get a paragraph, at the shortest.
The closest word in the pagan community seems to be “eclectic pagan” but that’s not really a solution. All that really says is that one’s beliefs tend to fall outside the more mainstream frameworks. If you want to be any more precise, well, get your flashcard with your best descriptor paragraph on it ready.
You mean you don’t have flashcards?
…Okay, I actually don’t have flashcards either.
But “Eclectic Pagan” still doesn’t really communicate anything but “Fringe” on it’s own. It still needs to be explained on a case by case basis if your beliefs are to be understood.
There’s got to be a better word than that, but damn if I know what it is.
“Agnostic Pagan” is imprecise and arguably worse.
“Self-made Pagan” just makes us sound pretentious and somehow spiritually hipsterish in the worst possible way (not that I have anything against hipsterdom in and of itself, but let’s not kid ourselves: most people do).
Perhaps we ought to take a note out of Plato’s book and refer to ourselves as “Disciplined Pagans” if we are shooting for maximum precision. Plato, after all, regularly and frequently maintained that the definition of discipline is “to know oneself”.
Valdis Leinieks wrote the following in his book “The City of Dionysos: A Study of Euripides’ Bakchai” to clarify Plato’s views on discipline.
Plato characteristically gives a highly intellectual twist to his definition by further defining knowing oneself to mean knowing what one knows and what one does not know. The definition of discipline as knowing oneself, however, need not be taken in this restrictive sense. The definition includes not only knowing what one knows and what one does not know but also knowing what one is able to do and what one is not able to do. It involves the recognition of one’s strength or lack of it with respect to other men and the gods. This aspect of discipline leads to recognition of one’s weakness with respect to the gods and is equivalent to thinking like a man.
I almost like the sound of that, to be honest.
If we are to take Plato at his word, then it’s an apt term that calls for us to garner a personal understanding of ourselves, our beliefs (especially those that set us apart from more mainstream movements) and how we judge ourselves to fit into this world spiritually through our strengths and shortcomings, and how all of this relates to the gods we have chosen to worship. Of course that’s easy to say on paper. Almost everything is easier said on paper.
What would it mean to be a Disciplined Pagan?
I posit that it’s a better term than Eclectic in the 21st Century.
While Eclectic is, let’s be clear here, a perfectly chosen word (at least for those who give a damn about word meanings), we also live in an era where word meanings are becoming irrelevant to on the spot touchy-feely emotion. Eclectic carries a feeling of randomness or cherry picking the best aspects of something, and in today’s world where a burrito-stand can be shut down for “cultural appropriation”, I’m not sure that that’s a target many pagans want to paint on their backs for today’s rabid social justice warriors.
There’s a big strong word. It commutes a meaning of orderliness, honor, and inner strength. Combined with its Platonic definition, I think that’s a term that could serve us “Disciplined Pagans” well into the future.
I doubt the term will catch on, and honestly, even if it did, it still isn’t frankly a brilliant solution for the root problem of lacking a word that can sum up my beliefs or someone else’s in a single word. But maybe some things aren’t well suited to being described in a single word. After all, the Author knows better than anyone else that a thousand words can often be better than a single picture — just ask Geoffrey Chaucer or William Shakespeare (or if you’re one of those ultra modern types, ask JK Rowling).
Just remember to carry discipline in your practices, whatever they may be, and your future will be all the better for it.
Gods guide you.