Homophones for Pagans: Updated

In the spirit of the back-to-school season, here’s seven (updated: eight) words Pagans often struggle with.

I seriously considered calling this The Dacne of the Sneasos:

[Tiffany looked at the title below the illustration.]

“‘The Dacne of the Sneasos’?” she said. “Is that supposed to be ‘The Dance of the Seasons’?”

“Regrettably, the artist, Don Weizen de Yoyo, whose famous masterpiece that was, did not have the same talent with letters as he had with painting,” said Miss Treason. “They worried him, for some reason. I notice you mention the words before the pictures. You are a bookish child.”

Wintersmith, by Terry Pratchett

I think there are probably a lot of us who are more comfortable with trees and spirits than with letters and words. That’s good; the Lady knows I look to them to guide and teach me when I’m not as comfortable in those realms. Since I am, like Tiffany, a bookish child, this is a small offering from my own interests to try to help all of us use language well.

These errors are probably common because most of them are homophones, that is, words that sound like each other but are spelled differently and mean different things. I’ve left out the most common homophonic mistakes: its and it’s, and their, there, and they’re, because those are far from limited to the Pagan community.

For us Pagans, these are also easy mistakes to make because some of the words aren’t as common outside our community or specialized religious discourse. A lot of us learn them as part of our new vocabulary when we become Pagan, and we may hear them in conversation before we encounter them in writing, so some of these are probably eggcorns.

When we communicate better – more clearly, more effectively, and more beautifully – we can do more with our words, whether by better sharing our experiences within our communities or by demonstrating to people unfamiliar with Paganism and Pagans that we can express ourselves well.

  • Deity vs diety
    Columbia is the deity who watches over the District of Columbia.
    (I don’t think diety is a word, but it sounds like the Power that guilts you into choosing celery instead of chocolate.)
  • Censer vs censor
    The burning coal makes the censer hot, so don’t touch it when you add the incense! (Notice the two e’s in incense to remember that they go together.)
    Thanks to the First Amendment, the government cannot censor people who want to speak or write about being Pagan in the US.
  • Altar vs alter 
    We had to cut a doorway in the circle for the paramedics because the sword fell off the altar and landed on my foot.
    Becoming Pagan altered my relationship to the environment.
  • Immanent vs imminent
    I like to worship outdoors because I believe that the divine is immanent in nature.
    The ritual was scheduled for 5pm, but we have to think about Pagan Standard Time – since it’s 5:30 now, I’d say it’s imminent.
  • Pore vs pour
    I have stains on my robe from where the priestess spilled wine when she poured it into my chalice.
    I pored over the text of the Havamal while studying the runes.
  • Edited to add: Tenants vs tenets (h/t to bohemimom42 for mentioning this)
    If the landlord found out how many candles his Pagan tenants used in their apartment, he might get better fire insurance.
    Honoring the natural world is a tenet of most forms of Paganism today.
  • Reign vs rein
    Persephone reigns as queen of the underworld.
    The fire alarm went off because the organizer gave him free rein to use as many candles as he wanted.

Okay, so that last one isn’t as specifically Pagan, but somehow I hate to see us making that mistake, because it comes from a time when humans worked with animals on a regular basis, and I’d like to see us remember that. Reins were used to control a horse: free rein meant letting the horse run, while reining in meant pulling back or limiting it. (Reign always has to do with kings and queens. Use the g in king to help you remember. – Or notice that “reign” is inside the word “sovereign.” h/t to inquisitiveraven!)

For a bonus track, I’d like to point out that I’ve seen multiple people using the not-a-word “submittal” lately to refer to something that one submits. Those are submissions, as in, “I had to edit my submission to the Pagan Pride Day handout so it wouldn’t be ten pages long.”

Happy writing!

Pagan is a slur?

I’ve been surprised lately to see more than one piece of right-wing propaganda using “pagan” (sic) as a slur. I think when people use it as a negative, that’s a clear sign that they think something else – maybe Christianity? – is the positive force that ought to be shaping our culture.

In both instances where I encountered it, “pagan” was being linked with QUILTBAG people: Gay activists seek “paganization” of society and homosexuality as part of a “pagan” plot. (By the way, if there’s a massive Pagan plot going on, I think I might have noticed. We can barely get organized enough to run a Pagan Pride Day. There are purely practical reasons no one should be afraid that we’re going to take over the country.)

Both of these speakers seem to be making some kind of connection between Paganism and QUILTBAG relationships. While I will be the first to say proudly that Paganism is, on the whole, one of the religious traditions most welcoming and affirming of QUILTBAG individuals, I don’t think that’s what these guys have in mind.

I think they’re trying to make some kind of allusion to the idea that Greek and Roman cultures allowed or encouraged certain kinds of behavior that might be vaguely similar to QUILTBAG relationships. Since Greece and Rome were (mostly) “pagan,” I think this is supposed to be a dog-whistle calling up images of wine-soaked orgies and pedophilia and so on.

There’s two things that are problematic about this. The first is, as I noted, that if “pagan” is bad, then the speakers are implicitly suggesting that there is something else that is good. Since I don’t think these guys are terribly aware of the Neo-Pagan movement (although they might be using this language because it’s barely starting to impinge on their awareness), the use of pagan in the old sense of non-Christian catch-all implies that Christianity is that good thing.

As a result, any time people are railing against “pagan” behavior in this sense, they are implicitly trying to undermine separation of church and state and trying to make the US into a Christian society. This is not an acceptable argument, and it should be challenged at every turn, not just for Pagans or by Pagans, but by anyone who doesn’t want to live in the kind of theocracy these guys would like to put in place.

Secondly, has anyone else noticed how classical cultures are either the epitome of goodness (democracy! liberty!) or the pit of perdition (persecution! paganism!) depending on the argument of the day? I swear I’m going to start calling people on that, too.