In Gus diZerega’s blog today, I read an interesting article on the “edginess” of Paganism. Here. Read it. I’ll wait.
Edginess is hard to reconcile with Recon religions, such as Asatru and Celtic Reconstructionism (CR). On the one hand, they’re naturally edgy: many of the virtues and values are imported from over 1,000 years ago, which means you may or may not have a given Reconstructionist who adheres to “American” values. On the other hand, you’re speaking about groups of Pagans who are notoriously conservative in their interpretations of lore, and oddly at home with maintaining the status quo in modern politics, regardless of their political persuasion.
The reason I bring this up is that many polytheists are at some level Reconstructionists, or at least “Recon Lite”, such as ADF and similar groups (credit Ian Corrigan with that quip). The number of polytheists in the US who are more gnosis-based are very rare, and lore/gnosis balanced groups are also uncommon. In Recon religions, edginess and the ability to FReak Out the Mundanes (what I and my associates call “fromming”) seem to be largely a function of ancient culture rather than any actual modern attitude. Some of the freakiest Recons I know (who live in Denver, of all places) still are quite at home at a board meeting or in a “normal” social gathering. Their religion is something they talk about freely but don’t really display as a general rule.
On the one hand, it’s good to be a “normal” Pagan, especially in the workplace or in most public venues. Paganism is a way of life not unlike any other, in the sense that we value hard work and compensation for it. To be seen as a person first and a Pagan second is a worthy goal, and some of us have already achieved it. The question is, “Why?” Why do we wish to be mainstream, to not rock the boat or be outspoken, to go on with “business as usual?”
There is yet another question we should be asking. What is it that makes polytheism, and even Neopaganism, “edgy” or “mainstream”? There are several definitions of both words. A further fact is, Paganism need not be one or the other.
When I think of a mainstream religion, I think of a religion that is accepted as a viable choice of belief system according to the society of a given region. In this respect, Wicca at least has already gained some mainstream status, depending on your location. Being a Wiccan in Denver, for example, is about as important as being a plumber or a banker. It is just one more choice in a variety of choices available. On the other hand, down in the Springs, being a Wiccan still can earn illicit looks or put one’s job in danger.
There is another definition of “mainstream”, which I hope we avoid as polytheists, even as Wicca is succumbing to it. This is the “mainstream” of being available to the lowest common denominator, yet another selection with about as much flavor and importance as the green Jell-o you order at lunch. This is being a religion which does not counter corporate or consumerist values, a nice and safe predicament to be in. Our religion has never been “safe”, you want safe, join Christianity, that’s my opinion. Gus makes the same point, but seems to think that not being this kind of mainstream religion is being “edgy” somehow, as if countering consumerism in principle was somehow societally dangerous. It’s not, at least, not yet. What is dangerous is looking at a Recon and telling them the lore only matters so much in the long run, because it was all written by Christian monks when the old religions had all but been replaced. I’ve ducked more than one punch from that one.
Edginess is partially attitude. I don’t have an edgy attitude. Partially for that reason, people at my place of business can look at me and go, “He’s a little weird, but he’s OK.” They know I’m polyamorous, they know I’m Pagan, and this is in a fairly conservative district. It’s not Colorado Springs, but it is upper-middle-class status quo, and there’s plenty of Fundamentalist attitudes going around. Yet I’m treated as normal, even liked, partially because I try to be a nice guy, and partially because I don’t make a big deal about being different. I’m different, and I have different attitudes about things, yeah. No big.
Gus seems to imply that Paganism should return a degree of edginess to itself, in regards to countering the corporations and the consumer society they have created. I counter with, we don’t need to be edgy to do that. We can be normal, everyday people, and still tell a corporation to flock off. In fact, Paganism will have less impact if we designate and separate ourselves from others who feel the same way, but might not hold our world-view. This is where the Quakers succeeded: they weren’t they only abolitionists in that time period which Gus is speaking of; they coordinated with others who shared that viewpoint even if they didn’t agree with the Quakers religiously. This is not edginess, this is cooperation, *ghosti. This is what needs to happen.