Eclectic is a Dirty Word

When I originally started on this topic a few months ago, I was very angry and wanting to completely rip apart this idea of “eclectic,” even though that’s the best term to describe myself to other Pagans without getting in too deep. It’s a semi-accurate label, though I loathe it.

But is it even a little accurate?

There’s a stigma attached to the word “eclectic” in modern Pagandom: you’re thought of as non-committal, unable to decide on a “set path,” and flaky. And yes, that’s a stereotype. But the truth is that this applies to a lot of people in today’s Pagan and Pagan-adjacent communities. People get distracted by the newest thing that catches their attention, whether it’s a currently “popular” god or the Fae Folk or shadow work or whatever else is this week’s trend. I’ve seen many Pagans and Pagan-adjacents try on so many hats that I’m wondering if they still have hair under there or if all the weight has crushed their follicles to dust.

That’s not even getting into all the other problems you see with eclectics, like cultural appropriation, but that’s a whole separate issue.

So what’s the deal with the word eclectic and why do so many people like using it? For me, I hate even saying the word. It clatters on my tongue like I’m trying to speak around a wooden block that’s knocking against my teeth – ec. lec. tic. But people like it, for whatever reason.

Perhaps it’s because saying “eclectic” is easier than saying “I work with Anubis mainly but I’ve also been tapped by Odin, The Morrigan, Hekate, some odd Horned Goddess that I can’t figure out who it is, and Thor, but sometimes Loki shoves his head in there and now Persephone’s just trying to get my attention but I’m too busy for that right now and just blah, but I also like working with land spirits and house spirits even though the Fae still owe me $40 from that one time they stole all my stuff and *deep breath*”

Yeah, I can see how that’d get confusing.

It’s easier to say “eclectic” than to explain every little detail about my path. When you tell another Pagan you’re “eclectic,” they have an idea that you work with a lot of variety, but there’s still that stigma attached. And gods forbid a non-Pagan asks you for a little more detail about what it is you do and believe. Having a set path like Kemeticism or Hellenic polytheism gives you a framework to answer their questions, like how you view our place in the universe, the idea of the soul, or what happens after death. Being eclectic…you appear like you’re just making stuff up as you go, leading to the even more skeptical eyebrow raise than the Kemetics and Hellenics get from people who just don’t understand non-Abrahamics. The stigma is always there, always the assumption that you don’t know what you’re talking about.
And perhaps that’s true, in some cases. Some of us are still just putzing around out here, gently bouncing against the walls of a room of faith and taking a little bit with us here and there, things that appeal to us and things that make sense.

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7 Responses to Eclectic is a Dirty Word

  1. Shine says:

    I’m not all that fond of the term “eclectic”, either, because of what it has come to stand for. Unfortunately, as of late it does describe some of my tendencies. So I tend to say that I’m rooted in Kemeticism, and do some other things in addition. It gives a different impression than just “eclectic”. In addition, it’s still the truth.

    Other people probably wouldn’t be able to phrase it that way, though.

    • I usually just describe myself as “nondenominational” but I dislike it due to the Christian overtones.

      • Shine says:

        It seems like there’s not many good terms for eclectics who behave, say, more “responsibly” (don’t know how to word it) than other eclectics.

        • I know what you mean; “responsibly” seems to describe it well enough. Maybe “knowledgeably” would work, too, or just having a sense of awareness about others? Not sure.

          And yeah, there’s no real good terms that I can think of.

          • Shine says:

            Maybe describing a “responsible” eclectic practice as one that’s sensitive of cultural differences is better. It’s the difference between incorporating and appropriating.Some consideration of overlaps and irreconcilable differences are important, too.

            It’s easier to come up with terms when you’re ultimately rooted in a single tradition, and your eclectic. . . stuff is related in some way.

  2. I have also felt that the word Eclectic has been stigmatized, but that it can be used as an Umbrella term for so much! Maybe we need to “Take it back”.

    • When it comes to my personal practice and feelings, I dislike it. It’s become so strongly associated with negative things that I don’t even like saying it out loud, like I mentioned in the post. If others use it and wish to take it back, though, that’s fine with me!

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