Capitalisation

I’m very late to this party, but it has bothered me for a while that people insist on capitalising pagan and paganism. The reasons for it are aggravating at best.

The typical reasoning goes:

Pagan and Paganism are now the well-established chosen self-designations and internationally-recognised nominal identifiers of a defined religious community. The same terms are appropriately lower-case only when they refer to ancient “pagans” since, in that context, the term does not refer to a discrete movement or culture. In short, “Pagan” and “Paganism” now function much as “Jew,” “Judaism,” “Christian,” and “Christianity” do.

But this is wrong. “Pagan” is no more a discrete movement than monotheism collectively. It’s not a single religion in the slightest and some groups—especially us Heathens—want nothing to do with the term often enough, let alone the other religions forced into the label. Rarely do I wish to associate with Wicca, for example.

Worse yet, it’s a term defined what it is not: we’re not a part of an Abrahamic religion. That’s an awful way of defining oneself.

But let’s move on:

Thus contemporary Paganism (sometimes referred to as “Neo-Paganism” to distinguish it from historical pre-Christian folk traditions) should be understood as a revival and reconstruction of ancient nature-based religions, or religious innovation inspired by them, which is adapted for the modern world. Paganism is also called “The Old Religion,” “Ancient Ways,” “Nature Worship,” “Earth-Centered Spirituality,” “Natural Religion,” and “Green Religion.”

Ouch. These other terms are stunningly incorrect. While one could argue that Fyrnsidu is semantically similar to “The Old Religion”, I’ve never used the latter, nor have I ever heard anyone other than Wiccans use it. I am amused that the term is brought up in the same paragraph to mention “religious innovation”, so nothing old in and of itself necessarily.

Donna Bianca sums this whole issue up nicely on a post by Sermons from the Mound:

The word ‘Christian’ refers to one single religion, with many distinct sects or denominations – such as Catholic, Baptist, Lutheran, etc. It’s proper and fitting that the name of a specific religion should be capitalized, as well as the names of its various sects or denominations. But we already have that: ‘Wicca’ as one specific religion is capitalized; and so are the various sects of Wicca, such as Gardnerian, Alexandrian, Georgian, Majestic, Cymmry, Stregheria, etc.

But the word ‘pagan’ is an umbrella term – just like monotheist, pantheist, polytheist, mystic, etc. Paganism does not refer to one single religion, like the words Judaism or Wicca or Asatru or Hinduism do.

If someone is advocating the capitalization of the term ‘pagan’ then logically they should also be advocating for the capitalization of words like pantheism and monotheism and many others. There are many umbrella terms out there; where would it all end?

No matter what happens, though, I’ll be stuck seeing people posting comments like the following from Terra Gazelle:

Please capitalize the word Pagan..as you would with the word Christian.

And there’s just no way to fight people like this without derailing conversations. How unfortunate.

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