Saturday, June 07, 2008

Stop calling us NeoPagans

I am dismayed by the re-emergence of the term "NeoPagan". It is being used by Christians to refer to Pagans, and also by polytheists and reconstructionists to refer to other Pagans.

Stop it. Just stop it. Here's why:
  • Ancient "pagans" didn't refer to themselves as pagans; the term was invented as a supposedly pejorative one by the early Christians to refer to "those hicks from the sticks" who weren't hip to the new religion. Ancient "pagans" were following a particular tradition, such as Stoicism, Epicureanism, Pythagoreanism, Platonism, the Eleusinian Mysteries, Mithraism, or their local ethnic religion. If we have to refer to them as pagans, we should use lower-case p to indicate that they didn't identify as such.
  • Modern Pagans are Pagans because we identify as Pagans and have adopted the name for ourselves.
  • It makes no sense for polytheists and reconstructionists (who have only been around for the last decade or so) to refer to Wicca (which has been around for 50 years) and Druidry (which has been around for 200 years) as NeoPagans. Like it or not, we've been around longer than you. If anybody is "neo" it's the reconstructionists. Nor can reconstructionists claim to be 100% accurate in their reconstruction of ancient pagan traditions.
  • It makes no sense for Christians to refer to NeoPagans either. People don't refer to Protestant Christians as Neo-Christians; so please don't refer to us as NeoPagans. And use the capital letter please, it's rude to use the lower-case p unless you're referring to ancient pagans.
  • I'm not a character from The Matrix.
Here's some suggestions for terms to use instead:
  • If you are trying to distinguish between ancient pagans and contemporary Pagans, just use the terms "contemporary Pagans" and "ancient pagans". (Don't use "modern" because we're now living in the postmodern era, so modern is now retro.) It's not hard. There may be a case for Isaac Bonewits' coinages MesoPagan and CryptoPagan, however (but then no-one uses those terms pejoratively).
  • If you want to distinguish between reconstructionists, polytheists and other types of Pagan, just use the term "eclectic Pagan" to refer to people who don't belong to any specific tradition, and refer to Wiccans and Druids as such.
Of course if anyone wants to self-identify as a NeoPagan, I don't have a problem with that, I'm just fed up with the snide use of it by others.

10 comments:

Makarios said...

On the other hand, Gus diZerega, who is a Gardnerian, uses the term regularly.

Evn said...

But then, the word "Gardnerian" was originally coined as a pejorative, too...

Bo said...

When I'm pissed off with pagans it's 'Neo-Pagans' for me every time. When I'm feeling expansive, I drop the Neo-.

Grian/Lee said...

I guess I'm not all hip to the post-modern era.

Yvonne said...

When I'm pissed off with pagans it's 'Neo-Pagans' for me every time.

Y'see, it's a pejorative term :)

IronAgeWill said...

I've never had a problem with being called a NeoPagan, In fact I've used the term to describe myself to people before now.

I'm inclined to think of the above arguments as fairly pointless semantics but since people do take offence and I have no desire to cause any I'll try and restrict myself to contemporary pagans although I disagree that modern pagans is wrong.

Yewtree said...

I think it very much depends who is using the term. When it's used by certain outsiders, reconstructionists and polytheists, you can almost hear the condescension.

catvincent said...

"...modern is now retro"
That's *so* 2008...

And I think we should push to refer to all evangelical dominionist xtians as 'neo'. Sauce for the goose...

Ali said...

Wow, I had no idea "NeoPagan" was meant to be pejorative. It always sounded semi-academic to me (like "neophyte" and "neolithic"). Since the prefix "neo-" means not only new but revived, it always made perfect sense to me that modern--er, I mean... "contemporary" Pagans (even those from a generation ago who are not, technically, my contemporaries) were aptly described by the word, since we're reviving ancient traditions, regardless of whether or not they were conceived as coherent traditions originally.

Anyway, I can't keep up with the political correctness of terms these days. I never called myself "Pagan" at all until other people online started referring to me that way. I kind of miss my high school days when people just called me a "hippie" (though apparently that's a derogatory term, too). So many things to be offended by, so little time in which to be offended....



P.S. There is a Protestant denomination that refers to its theology as "neoorthodoxy." There, again, is the use of "neo-" to mean "revived-orthodoxy" rather than "new-orthodoxy."

Yvonne Rathbone said...

It's okay as long as they only use the term "neopagan" in constructions like: He claims to be neopagan. Then it makes sense because you're thinking, why would a Pagan call himself a perjorative like "neopagan"? Is Bo pissed off at him?