Pagan, Paganism, Religion

A Definition of Pagan (or a Story About Allergies)


1. (no longer in technical use) one of a people or community observing a polytheistic religion, as the ancient Romans and Greeks.
2. a member of a religious, spiritual, or cultural community based on the worship of nature or the earth; a neopagan.
1 :  heathen 1; especially :  a follower of a polytheistic religion (as in ancient Rome)
2 :  one who has little or no religion and who delights in sensual pleasures and material goods :  an irreligious or hedonistic person
noun \-ˈpā-gən\
:  a person who practices a contemporary form of paganism (as Wicca)

These definitions aren’t very useful to me. Of all of them, the very first is probably the best, except it’s “no longer in technical use.” What? Since when?

Merriam-Webster doesn’t understand that there’s a difference between Pagan and Heathen, and I can’t remember the last time anyone used “Pagan” to mean hedonistic. There are probably some members of restrictive religions that might consider Pagans to be “irreligious,” but that doesn’t matter, because that’s not my definition.

And, well, that last one isn’t even trying.

Most modern Pagans that I’ve seen would probably relate most with the second of’s definitions, specifically the part about worship of the earth. Whenever I’ve read modern Pagans’ definitions, that’s usually a big part, if not the entirety of, their definition.

It would be really, really nice to not be severely allergic to most things outside. I’d love to be able to make nature part of my practice, because I do believe in the sacredness of nature, and that even if Mother Earth can heal Herself once we’re gone, we should probably try to do a better job of taking care of Her. It’s just polite, you know? And would show a respect that our species as a whole hasn’t shown in quite some time.

I do try to do little things. I don’t run the water any more than necessary when I brush my teeth or wash dishes. I don’t have control over the way this house disposes of its trash, but when I do have my own place, I will recycle, and try to be a responsible consumer and not generate a ton of waste if I can help it. (Does being a pack rat count? It’s not waste if I don’t get rid of it… right?)

So, I do try to be respectful of the earth and of Nature to the best of my currently limited capacity, I just can’t immerse myself the way I would like, the way a lot of people who define Paganism can.

See this lovely, leafy pentacle? It would make me itchy.
See this lovely, leafy pentacle? It would make me itchy.

I only had an allergy test a couple of years ago, around the age of 32. I’d been living with allergies for so long that I didn’t even know what actual breathing felt like, and didn’t really understand that I didn’t. Things had been getting worse, though, back-to-back sinus infections, and clogged nose and post-nasal drainage so bad I couldn’t sleep very well (and I’ve always had trouble getting and staying asleep anyway). So, I went to see an allergist, and was tested. It was an… interesting experience. I’m relating all of this just to make clear how very allergic I am to the out of doors.

For those of you who’ve never had the pleasure of being tested for allergies, this is what happens: the person administering the test takes a marker and marks your skin with evenly-spaced dots. If you’re being tested for every possible form of allergy, this will probably be on your back. Since I know from having managed to live into my thirties that I don’t have any food or medicinal allergies (with the exception of Neosporin, weirdly), this happened on the insides of my arms. After all the dots are there, the tester goes back over them and puts a single drop of a liquid extract of the allergen on a dot, and each dot is a different allergen. For me, the left arm was all the outside allergens like trees, grasses, pollens, etc., and the right arm was inside allergens like pet dander, dust mites, molds, etc.

Once all the drops are placed, then the real fun begins.

The tester will then go through with a little tiny pointy metal thing and make just a single prick through the liquid in your skin, so that the extract can get under there and react if it’s going to react.

This? This right here is what you absolutely cannot do.
This? This right here is what you absolutely cannot do.

If reactions do happen, you’re not allowed to scratch, because scratching spreads things around and makes the welts worse, and messes up the test.

For me, the tester had barely begun to put drops on my right arm when I said, “Oh, this is starting to itch a little.”

“Um. This is starting to itch a LOT.”

“Oh my gods, can I blow on it at least???”

Blowing is okay. And it helps. A little.

By the time she’d finished pricking my right arm, my left arm was already red and awful-looking, and it would only get worse.

Once all the pricking was done, she left me in an exam room to let everything fester for about fifteen minutes so the doctor would be able to see just how bad it could get. The door was kept open, presumably so they could easily keep an eye on me and make sure I wasn’t scratching and also that I didn’t die. At one point, one of the assistants was in the room across the hall, setting up for the next patient, and she looked at me across two rooms and a hall and said “Wow, you’re lit up like a Christmas tree, aren’t you?”

Me: *whimper*

When the doctor finally came in after what seemed like an endless eternity filled with itching, she asked me several times if I’d been scratching. Why? Because on my left arm the welts were so large and awful that they’d migrated and run into each other. Which pretty much made my left arm one huge welt. She said she’d never actually seen a reaction that severe.

Don't you worry, though. We're pretty sure you won't die.
Don’t you worry, though. We’re pretty sure you won’t die.

My right arm wasn’t nearly so bad, but almost everything on it still had some reaction. Conclusion: I am severely allergic to all the outside things, and mildly allergic to most of the inside things. Including cats. Which makes me sad.

The point to this whole story is that I cannot define my Paganism wholly or even partially around worship of and being in Nature. It won’t exactly kill me, but it’s definitely not healthy for me. When I realized this, when I really understood that my adult aversion to being outdoors  was actually my body trying to save itself, I realized that I would have to define my Paganism in some other way, one that works for me.

I really grateful for John Beckett and his work with clarifying the nature of Paganism. Some people will agree with him, and some people won’t, but for me, his writing has been invaluable to helping me figure out where I fit in the Big Tent of Paganism. Mainly, his writing about the Four Centers of Paganism, and how it recognizes that Nature may be part of one’s central practice, but it also might not be, and that’s okay. There are three other centers to choose from: Community, Self, and Deity. For me, currently, the centers of Deity and Self are what I’m closest to, focusing on devotion to my gods, and work on myself. One day, I want to include Community.

Unfortunately, I’ll probably never be able to include Nature to the extent that I would like.

So, for me, a definition of Paganism cannot include Nature-based practice. It’s a sad truth of this lifetime for me.

My definition of my Paganism, then, would probably go something like this: A religious and spiritual practice that seeks to honor the gods of one’s choosing (or who have chosen one), to craft the best Self one can craft, and to serve one’s community.

Yeah. That sounds good.


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