Sounds like an oxymoron, doesn’t it? Only that it’s not, and I have seen it happen in social media, at courses, and even in books now.
To make sense of the existence of “Pagan Catholicism” we need to look at the word “catholic” first. Although we associate that Greek term (καθολικισμός, katholikismos) with certain branches of the Christian churches, most prominently the Roman Catholic Church, the word actually means nothing more than “whole, universal”. The early Roman Christian Church chose this term in the second century CE to establish their superiority, by expressing what they thought of themselves. Which was that they are teaching, adhering to, and representing the whole, the one and only, the universal truth. Opposite to the heretics, who weren’t seen as “bad” in the beginning, just as some folk who didn’t follow the mainstream Catholic way of thinking. Only later, when the Catholic Church assembled, and wielded, more and more power, being heretic turned into being associated with or influenced by the devil.
I, for one, am always skeptical when someone claims that they know or represent the truth. And it feels like history confirms me in that belief. The horrendous atrocities that have been committed by people who seviewe themselves as the “Keepers of The Truth” – whatever truth that was – are just staggering. And it’s not only the Catholic Church here, Protestants have been just as bad, and Muslims, and – to a very limited extent – nowadays some orthodox Jews, too. Hitler knew everything about the purity of race, Stalin knew the truth about how an economy should be organized, and Dick Cheney knows the truth about weapons of mass destruction.
But let me tone it down here now, for we are talking about us Pagans, and I have not noticed any genocides or wars initiated by the Pagan community at all. Not by a far cry.
BUT…but…I have noticed something. A spark, a little glimmer of the same energy that eventually gave rise to these atrocities. I have noticed this seemingly human trait to claim to know the truth. Let me pick on one group here, but just as an example. I chose this particular group not because I don’t like them as such, but precisely because I think they do good work. I even consider myself a part of them. And that is why I am even more alert, want this group to not fall into the pits of and internal Pagan war of faith.
The group I am talking about are the Celtic Reconstructionists (CR). The idea is great; research what archeology reveals, anthropology discovers, and what the few remaining authentic successors of the old Celtic ways still do, or at least have done in the times of recent, better recorded, history. The recipe is to stick to that and only to that. Then, you couldn’t possibly go wrong, could you?
While that holds true, the problem is you don’t progress either. But that is only one of the problems, and I have as many doubts that the Druids of old wouldn’t have embraced brand-new philosophies that weren’t part of their traditions – and thus progressed – as I doubt that this Yoshua from Nazareth (provided he’s historic) would have been remotely as conservative as so many Christians are. It’s a point, but not the point here.
The point here is that I have encountered Scottish CRs who – after having yelled at me that it is not at all certain that there was a great Celtic invasion on the British Isles – tell me that they are the one and only keepers of Celtic traditions. The point is that I have seen verbal altercations between CRs and say, modern Druids, in social media over and over again. Because as a Druid, you somehow can’t follow Celtic traditions, for there were some folks a few centuries ago who thought of themselves as Druids but were also connected to Free Masonry. That somehow un-Celtics the modern Druid? And most recently (and to my great disappointment) I read in a book on Ogham that taking on a geas (a ritual injunction) is “serious business and should not be done by anyone just starting on the CR path.” For everyone else it’s fine? Others following a less narrow Celtic path can just get into trouble with the spirits for they are lesser people than hard core CRs?
Again, I am picking on the CR community simply because I do Celtic reconstruction myself. From my blog posts you know that I do a lot of research in old Alpine folk customs and lore that can possibly be traced back to Celtic times. I have found traditions and stories connecting us to the Celts of Hallstatt, and have incorporated these traditions in my Druid practice. The thing is, and that is the important issue here, that that doesn’t make me think of myself as “pure”, or “purer” and more knowledgeable than others. I could, but then I would become what? Catholic, I would practice Pagan Catholicism; and that would have unintended consequences that I would rather avoid.
Again, the CR community is not the only one where some whip up this attitude. I have seen, heard, read this attitude all over the place. I’m not immune to it myself. Thankfully, I am alert enough to identify it when it creeps up. And I certainly call it out wherever I see it.
Look at the old painting at the beginning of this blog post. It shows Catholics going at Protestants in utmost brutality in 1572. Over nothing, literally nothing. 99% of their beliefs are the same, based on the same old book. And then there is this little discrepancy in interpretation, which apparently was reason enough to torture and kill each other. The only motive for that behavior was attitude. The misguided belief that they, the Catholics, know the truth better.
This is not how I picture the Pagan community. We don’t need to be fluffy harmonious, but we do need to be a strong and coherent conglomerate of many different paths, not easily broken down externally, and definitely not internally by the worst thing of all: arrogance and attitude.
Let us Pagans be better than that.
More Celtic Reconstructionism of Alpine folk customs and lore in my book “Mountain Magic – Celtic Shamanism in the Austrian Alps”, which is available at lulu.com (preferred) and distributers such as amazon.com