he following article was a response to an e-mail I received from a young woman. In addition to commenting (positively) on the site (always a sure shoe-in), she was also asking for advice concerning how to react to those in her life who did not take her stance as a pagan seriously. Oscar Wilde said, "Advice is best given. It's of no use to one's self." So I dispensed liberally.
First off, I will apologize in advance if this comes across as preachy in any way. Part of your e-mail seemed to be asking my opinion and, dare I say it, advice. I'm in no position to be telling anyone what they should think or how they should feel, so please accept any advice with the good intentions they are meant to have and all of it as nothing more than the possibility that I might have some insight into the situation. This is merely what I have found to be true up to this point during this life on this planet. All is subject to change after a good night's sleep.
I specifically chose the term heathen for several reasons, none of which really matter. I too looked up the dictionary definition prior to the final decision.
The question of any label based on religion, nationality, race, sexual preference or even gender is two fold. To what extent are we labeled by ourselves? To what extent are we labeled by those who see us as different from themselves? A term derogatory from one source is a term of affection from another based upon their position to that arbitrary line.
The fact remains that this society is based upon the Judeo-Christian-Islamic religion. From my life-long research into world religions, I've come to feel that all three are one in the same. The arguments that ensue from the divisions within this seem ridiculous to an outsider such as myself. So objectively the dictionary definition fits. I do not accept this particular god. Although there are plenty of others I don't accept as well, I live in a society based upon this pre-Judaic religion. As a citizen of such I am a heathen, neither positive nor negative, just am. I have dear and close friends and family members that are Islamic and Jewish and Christian. It is by a mutual respect despite (and sometimes because of) our differences that we have such good relationships.
I think you hit the nail on the head in your description of your friend's attitude. It is not so much what he says as "the way it is said." I think it is even more important for you to hear your labels with pride be it heathen, pagan, woman or whatever terms lend to your identification of yourself. Once that's in place, surround yourself with people who also speak those terms with pride and tolerate little from those who don't. A label is a judgment, positive or negative. Anyone who tells you otherwise is not taking responsibility for the stance they are taking, again, positive or negative. Is my point of view really that of a "male"? Other than the dictionary definition, am I "male"? If I am, is it because I have become what the label dictates, or have I altered the label to fit my existence? I don't have a clear answer on that, nor do I need one, nor do I trust anyone who does.
Which reminds me of my father. He is very liberal, but he too is stuck in many of the labels common to most of us. I had a wide variety of friends as I was growing up, and their presence often led him to unsure ground. When I was about 19 he finally got the courage to ask if I was gay or not, ready to accept either answer, but wanting some definitive label. I thought about it for a moment. I knew that whatever my answer, it would affect the way he saw me from that point on. Finally I said, "Dad, I'll answer that question as soon as you no longer feel the need to ask it." He laughed and never asked again, at least not directly.
All that aside, part of my personal label is tongue-in-cheek. The image of a stereotypical "heathen" jumping around a fire wearing nothing but a loincloth by the light of the full moon is something I could seriously see myself doing. Maybe even sans the loincloth. I feel it is important for me to have a sense of humor when it is safe to do so. However, if that safety is threatened, if my livelihood, my family, my security is threatened due to prejudices towards my personal faith, that humor sheds quickly and is replaced by something bristling and charged.
Sorry to end on this note, but these words kept running through my head as I wrote this. A quote from a song by "Love and Rockets."
"Live a life you love.
Pick a god you trust.
And don't take it all too seriously."
Good words to live by.
I'd like to see a time when we are defined by only one label
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