If there is one subject that comes up regularly in pagan circles, it’s the issues surrounding labels, specifically whether people choose to either attach, or not, them to themselves. A current acquaintance on Face book has been experiencing issues surrounding this issue which got me thinking around the subject.
It is fascinating, and also slightly unsettling, how the attachment of labels to a person can have such a wide range of reactions. The term can have meanings that appear to represent polar opposites, enabling one person or dis-enabling another.
Enabling because it can help define a person if the label and the consequent direction taken through the understanding associated with the label, give the person involved direction and meaning that was lacking previously.
Dis-enabling if the constricts surrounding the label inhibit or restrict the person in a way perceived as damaging.
Same term, different results.
This creates a friction within the terms meaning, with peoples conflicting experiences sometimes leading to accusations of certain people trying to impose their “view” of a label onto others. The polarization of the definitions lead people to choose closed positions and when positions are closed, there is little, if any, position to manuever. Impasse leading to strengthening polarizations.
It is curious that for a supposedly “free-thinking” society as paganism tries to promote as self-evident, the use or not of labeling can be so destructive and where most other situations dealt with tend to be subject to some sort of compromise, labeling carries an almost inbuilt polarized positioning. People who normally exhibit common sense, for want of a better phrase, become almost zealous in their position surrounding the issue and consequently the issue over labeling assimilates any further discussions with its polarized positioning.
It is the apparent duality surrounding the label that, IMO, leads to the problems regularly witnessed. And, almost in a negatively enforcing mystical appropriation, leads to the falling out sometimes between previously good friends who shared a similar commonly held perspective before the term was introduced into the discussion.
Take for example, the label of Druid. There is a multitude of definitions for the term. For some, this broad spectrum leaves them grasping for a specific definition from which to work and to all intents and purposes negates it to almost meaningless. To others, the term gives a freedom to experience a wider range of experiences than a more specific definition would offer. The experiences within the term can, therefore, often be contradictory, demonstrating the polarizing duality mentioned previously.
It therefore strikes me that there are two actions that a person could take that could reduce the destructive influence the term “label” could impose.
One would be to agree to some sort of disclosure as to how a person defines a label before any sort of rational discussion could commence. This is an unusual position to have to take, that is identifying how the participating parties identify with a specific term, but if this could be disclosed beforehand, then I would suggest that the power of the polarizing dualities associated with the term could be minimized if both parties wanted such a thing.
The other would be for the persons involved evolving their label into some sort of specific definition. I can offer an example of this with my own appropriation of the label “Druid”. For me, adding the descriptor “land” to “Druid” has given me enough with which to work with both practically and also to be able to concisely define the label in any and all discussions, thus negating the possible negative duality as discussed here.