I almost named the MeetUp, “Greek Pagans,” but then, I thought better of it. The words seemed to resonate with baggage.
Besides, I said to myself, I’m not really a, “Greek Pagan.”
No, just because I had a deeply important, mystical relationship with a Greek deity or two, was deeply fascinated with Greek culture and had spent several years writing love poetry and little stories for Hermes, Apollon and Pan… that didn’t make me a Greek Pagan.
I wouldn’t be welcome, I told myself, in the Greek Pagan community. I remembered being uncomfortable in that community way back when and feeling shocked into silence when someone I respected was ostracized for belonging to a Unitarian church.
I’m not recon. I’m dual-trad and that other trad is Judaism. I wouldn’t be welcome in a Greek Pagan group. Or any Pagan group. That was what I told myself. People might tell me that I couldn’t be a Hellenic polytheist because I worshipped the Hebrew god, or because I practiced multifarious types of magic.
So, hoping just to find a few people who were interested in talking about Greek mythology, to whom the gods seemed alive, at least as characters in a book, even if not as sacred personalities, I named it, “Greek Mythology.” That seemed neutral and unassuming enough that no one would question whether or not I had the right to be running it. It was the only one of its kind in the Bay Area at the time. Do you know who showed up to the first meeting? Two people whose primary tradition was something other than Hellenismos, hoping against hope that by, “Greek Mythology,” I meant something more than talking about the stories as an ancient curiosity, or a literary influence on Percy Jackson.
While the details of my particular narrative may be unusual, the heart of it is sadly common. I hear the lament echoing across the country, from friends in the East and Midwest and even here in California. Groups with mission statements spring up and then peter out, usually for lack of attendance. I remember very well looking at those groups from afar and feeling like I wanted to attend, but that I would be out of place or unwelcome if I did. I somehow feel like I probably wasn’t alone.
The problem is that the larger Greek Pagan community is both small and diverse. If we put every single person interested in some form of Greek Paganism in a “big tent,” we could probably all fit in one medium sized function room. What that means for us is that, in order to have community, we need to avoid narrowly defining our focus before seeing who shows up.
I think the pitfall certain people run into — and I think this because I have heard people say as much — is that they feel that their identity in the larger Pagan community is defined by the exact mission statement of the group with which they are affiliated. I know a guy — a Heathen, actually — who sits at home because he’s “not recon” but doesn’t want to be associated with “Wiccatru.” There is no group doing exactly what he is doing, so he remains solitary rather than compromising on his identity. Greek Pagans are no different. I’ve seen people quit groups because they simply contained members who participated in mysticism, and the person in question identified as “non-mystical.” Then, they got together with other non-mystics and tried to start a specifically non-mystical branch of Hellenism. Frankly, we don’t actually have enough Greek Pagans to support that sort of thing.
I like to think about the community we are building as being like a cake. The people are the batter. The space we create for those people is our baking pan. Belief in the gods is the heat that bakes the cake. The exact ritual practices we use to connect to the gods is icing.
Before you even ask, yes you can have icing without cake. Look at my blog, some time. I am the metaphorical epitome of the lady sitting on the floor next to her fridge eating out of a plastic Duncan Hines jar.
However awesome it might be to eat frosting sometimes, we never talk about having a birthday frosting. We talk about having a birthday cake. Until we have that cake baked, (to finally wrap up my metaphor, and come to the actual point) it is silly to argue about what sort of frosting we’ll put on that cake, once we have it, or to throw out our only box of cake mix because it doesn’t fit with our frosting concept.
Just so, it’s better not to define the our local Hellenism until we’ve all gotten together. It’s a thing we don’t need to decide, so much as discover by learning about one another. Until we’ve gotten to that point, we’ll maybe have to compromise on ritual and cut one another a lot of slack.
It’s ok to have an identity label that is different from the sort that other people in the community have. Right now, the important thing is making space for one another, and making sure to avoid those narrow definitions.