I attended Sabina Magliocco’s (Professor of Anthropology at CSU Northridge) “Folklore, Culture & Authenticity in modern Paganism” on Thursday for the Cherry Hill Seminary Winter Conference in San Jose. PantheaCon provided the room for our Winter Conference.
Sabina raised may good questions which led us to more good questions. Being a philosopher, this was a great time for myself and will give me plenty to think about for the next few years. The basic question is what counts as authentic within modern Paganism? Sabina express this through her field of study—folklore. There were lots of questions and great discussion. However, I am going to address just one point, which I think is key to the issue of authenticity that of context.
In general, I do not believe in idea of an absolute truth where there is one final, correct truth that is universal such as neo-Platonic ideas of the forms or the one. Being a polytheist, I feel there are multiplicities of truths. What counts as authentic is in context with what is being examined. Modern science provides a great methodology of determining truth within the confines of a material world where there is an agreement of observable and reproducible experiments that lead to a common language reviewed by peers. There is lots of math and counting involved. If I wanted to understand the material components of stars, I would ask an astronomer; however, that does not mean Vincent Van Gogh’s Starry Night is not an authentic representation of stars. If I wanted to understand the nocturnal beauty of stars then Van Gogh’s work is authentic and speaks to a truth about the nature of the stars.
So what then is authentic Paganism? What would I count as warranted facts? I tend to look at historic evidence within the framework of a conservative academic approach. So that I tend to reject unverified personal gnosis (UPG) is not because I think it is not true only that I do not include it with what I think is warranted for historical evidence. It often lacks verifiability and any kind of peer review nor should someone’s experiences be subject to these kinds of tests. Self-identification as a modern Pagan is simple good enough for me to accept a person as Pagan. I may ask questions, what good philosopher would not; yet, for the most part, a personal claim seems to be all that I really need. Anymore and I worry that a person would need to create some kind of authority, history, or credential to pass as Pagan. I do not mean lie, only look for what they would think of as authentic. I may judge my own Paganism through the lens of a post-modern humanist view point but I would not want all to do so. My context is not suited to all people. I may reject UPG; however, I am still left with a very personal opinion on what warrants do I permit to inform my actions, experiences, and believes.