Right now there is a heated debate going on in the community about labels, specifically whether it is better to call ourselves pagans or polytheists. Pagan has come to mean any non-Monotheist, whether the person is an atheist, agnostic, or polytheist, and is often used as a general term to cover all neo-pagans. Neo-pagan is slightly more specific to those people following a more modern pagan spirituality, including Wicca, Druidism, Asatru, and Reconstructionist religions, but neo-pagan is also a broad term and is often used interchangeably with pagan by many people. Polytheist is even more specific to people who believe in and honor many Gods, and avoids the vagueness, and pejorative connotations, of pagan.
The current round of discussion on this issue began after several prominent bloggers started posting about whether they felt pagan or polytheist better defined them which led to a wider public discussion of the value of each term. Some people embrace the umbrella term pagan as a way to focus on our similarities within a very diverse community, while others prefer the more specific polytheist, even though it focuses on our differences. Neither is better or worse than the other, in the and, but each expresses a different viewpoint.
It does not surprise me that our community is going through these labeling growing pains; in many ways we are still very young. While other wide religious communities have had hundreds or thousands of years to define themselves within their own communities, including all the subsets and varieties they contain, we have only been around as a public presence since about the 1950’s. We are still trying to define who we are as a community and these moments of turmoil are inevitable and are something that, in the long run, will be a good thing for us all.