#paganvalues the Overculture and the Subculture

This entry is part 22 of 27 in the series Pagan Values Month

If I had to choose a single cause to dedicate myself to within Wicca or even in greater Paganism, it would be establishing cultural legitimacy. What I mean is that I really want to see “Oh, you’re Wiccan?” to be just as much of a not-big-deal to non-extremists as Judaism and Christianity. There are some camps already on their way there – ABC Family has added throw away lines about the mail lady practicing Wicca, and on the show Greek, a sorority girl commented that “I think one of the pledges is a Wiccan.” ((Yes, I am a grown woman without children who watches these shows. I must offset my copious reading of very thick books with viewable fluff.)) It’s a good sign: someone writing TV scripts knows we’re real, and at least does not feel threatened. It’s an improvement even over Felicity, where her vaguely threatening but ultimately loyal roomie went off to Witch Camp. ((Witch Camp is a real event.))

I’ve heard some arguments against this, and I think I understand the logic. I also think there’s a generational factor: the people who argue the most vehemently against any type of cultural integration come from eras prior to mine, where differentiation, secrecy and to some extent shock value were the only ways to effect change. Just as you can’t enjoy both anonymity and fame, you can’t really enjoy the benefits and protections that society offers if you drop out of it. At the same time, earning the benefits of society takes time, work and a slow daily appearance of unity. By unity, I do not mean conformity. To unify does not mean to “become the same.” It means “to engage together for a higher purpose.” The point of unity is that it brings together the strengths held by individuals.

We’ve made strides – gaining IRS recognition takes a lot of work, and we got it by the 1980s. Having Wicca mentioned without show resorting to “very special episodes,” also helps, and there are shows outside of ABC Family that do this: some don’t even make the “crazy witch” joke about the character. Lisa Simpson, a character built to represent virtues and the effort it takes to be a good person  in a world that appreciates neither strength nor virtue (and by that I mean Springfield) is Wiccan.  The overculture has noticed the Pagan – at least, the Wiccan – subculture – and outside of certain religious fundamentalist subcultures, is starting to accept us.

I know from living in the Midwest that we still have a long way to go. My father repeatedly tried to ask me questions about my practices, and then would interrupt himself, because he had so much superstition and fear built up from his own cultural background. Neither set of in-laws took to me particularly well, and religion was a big part of that. The in-laws, like my father, are actively afraid to ask, as though knowing will somehow cause the devil to appear and suck them up in some infernal Kimball. I still show up to family events, listen politely to the prayers and once in awhile, usually at the behest of a friend whom I respect, will go to a church service here and there.  ((I will not attend services by certain denominations, however. While Baptists are great social activists, the services I’ve attended have left me with a nasty taste in my mouth.))

The Pagan subculture is established, distinct, has its own languages and customs including methods of negotiating among the different Pagan religions. As these are living traditions, and we are all alive, we too engage in the shaping and adding to of those phrases, customs and rising forms of etiquette. Pagans also own property, run businesses, pay taxes, use roads, drive, shop at grocery stores, buy things online and in person and travel, just as their non-Pagan neighbors, friends and family do. Pagans could not do these things without being part of the overculture.

So when we talk of overculture, we are actually talking about ourselves, too. I’ve said before that culture is oxygen: you just can’t live amongst any people without absorbing it as an unconscious part of every moment of your life. We have buying power. We have voting power. We even have grassroots activism power, and all we need is a unified vision and the practical-minded organizers among us to make the changes that we all want  happen.

Pagans are a subculture within the overculture. The demographic has risen enough to actually be a demographic, and it’s well worth doing our best to appear in Nielsen ratings and Gallup polls. We may sometimes fantasize about a Pagan world, or isolate ourselves from daily stressors – but we are part of it, all of it, without exception. In the bid for cultural legitimacy, I believe we must also demonstrate ourselves as good neighbors, co-workers and partners to those who do not share our religious beliefs, because we are part of that greater culture, too. Wicca may give us ritual satisfaction, but it’s our taxes and our fellows on the ground among us that keep the stoplights working and the roads smooth.

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