What do you do if you're into pagan and witchy things, but not sure how to identify yourself when people ask? Are you a Wiccan? A Pagan? What does that even mean?
It's difficult these days figuring out any sort of identity when you're challenged both by the sheer volume of philosophies and categories out there and at the same time stymied by a culture that seems to want to subsume everything under "new age" or "lightworking." While there really isn't any need to label one's self, not having a sense of "what you are" makes it hard to find other people with who you share a similar approach.
Technically, "Wiccan" comes from the pre-christian term "wicca," meaning "wise one." This is also where the word "witch" came from. Some people argue that "Wiccan" refers to those who study under the Gardnerian system of magic, since he kind of invented the term as referring to an organized group.
"Pagan," on the other hand, has its meaning in contrast to Christianity -- it refers to the people of a certain area who weren't Christian and had their own religious beliefs and practices. So a pagan from Europe is different than a pagan from Latin America. And that raises the question, too, about whether it's offensive or even applicable to begin with to define cultures relative to Christianity who didn't give a crap about it (or suffered greatly at its hands). What about Asian cultures, or the Native Americans? You wouldn't call them pagans.
Given that many of us are many-generations-ago transplants from other cultures and places, what does it even mean to identify as Pagan? If you're in the United States, what do you do that isn't either cultural appropriation or a genetic hand-me-down? What do you do if you want to piece together something meaningful from many cultures, like Kemetic Egypt, the myths of Avalon, and Taoist sigils?
Well, that makes you eclectic. Whether you want to call yourself a pagan is another thing. But it's somehow unsatisfying to define yourself by opposition, in the sense that Pagan means "Not Christian." "Wiccan" almost does the trick in that it gets the feel of the wise ones everywhere, or those that were here before and always. Unfortunately playing around with the thesaurus to find something better doesn't help--starting with "indigenous" gets you things like "endemic," "aboriginal," "chthonic," and "congenital." Never mind "original," which given that we're watching the last season of Stargate here in Ravenland, just doesn't sit right.
So, the best we've come up with when people ask, unless you're definitely a Wiccan, is "eclectic pagan." Of course, the real answer to this is that when anyone asks you "what you are," just launch into everything you're interested in and the problem will be solved when they either look scared and run away, or get really excited and tell you about their crystals.
We'd love to hear how you handle this situation, and what works for you! Write us back here or join in the Raven In A World Tree Facebook page.