Oh yes, I realize this is a hot-button issue. I have read many posts in forums, in blogs, and elsewhere regarding the social issues of the Pagan community.
Our community seems to be at a fork in the road. One we have been standing at for some time. We are divided by ego, misunderstandings, hate, fear, and worse.
Many authors, writers, and leaders are calling for peace and acceptance within our communities. They put forth the effort to strengthen and build our communities, while on their heels, others seek to sabotage any positive efforts made.
It seems that within our struggle to become our own spiritual pillar, we forget that others are on a similar path. We forget that someone else’s journey looks differently than our own, and for good reason; it’s personal.
Your spirituality is yours alone. Only you can relate to it wholly and fluently. Our spiritual paths are not forged from cookie cutters or symmetrical molds designed to make us act, say, or experience things in the same strict way.
I have seen gossip, greed, tempers, and ego, destroy friendships, brotherhoods, sisterhoods, covens, and entire organizations. I have seen the inability to communicate and know one another create incredible fissures between people who were once happy and peaceful.
The beauty of our community is our diversity. We are not bound by any one doctrine or religious study. We don’t have a single hierarchy pointing its condemning finger at us as we live our lives and learn our lessons. We are free, and yet we choose to remain caged and broken.
In contrast to all the ugliness I have seen and experienced, I have also know the beauty of the Pagan community. I have seen Pagans come together as they share, cry, and heal one another. I have walked a labyrinth with women who all had a different purpose for their journey. I have cried as I reveal my soul to people I only just met. I have been knocked down by the magnitude of energy raised by those who dissolved their walls to accomplish one single Magickal task.
I have walked forest trails barefoot, under the full moon at midnight to reach a sacred grove where Pagans following different paths worshiped and connected. Ultimately we developed an energetic union that remains years later.
I have been around for many years, and I have experienced a lot of happiness and pain on this journey. I have been knocked down by the heartache caused by those who cannot and will not find peace in their hearts and acceptance for those around them.
“Those who will not reason, are bigots, those who cannot, are fools, and those who dare not, are slaves.”
– George Gordon Byron
The fact is we cannot build a community when we refuse to accept or even tolerate one another because of our differences. We cannot become cohesive if we continue to raise our pitchforks as we look for another “Witch Hunt”.
Frankly, we have enough people outside of our communities seeking to tear us down. We need our communities more than ever. We can’t afford to burn ourselves at the stake.
I have been on both sides of the coin, as a Christian and a Pagan. I have experienced the differences in how each community interacts and reacts to a variety of situations.
It is time we recognize where we fall short as a community and how we can improve. No one is perfect, and you should never have that expectation placed on you; by another or by your own doing. I am also not expecting us to look and act like Christians. What I am presenting here are opportunities fro us to improve, but remember – perfection is an illusion.
Witches and Witchcraft show up in Western literature around 800 BCE to modern times, and the Witch figure has been infamous for over 2500 years. Wicca is the modern revival the Ancient beliefs and traditions of Witchcraft. Sure Wicca and Noe-Paganism is only a few decades old, but why should that be an excuse for ignoring a basic need; community? We have had time to get our community together and yet we often fail to do so. We ignore and discredit the power and value we have in unity.
Now some of what I say doesn’t apply to everyone a crossed the board. There are groups scattered here and there who have their perspective shit together. These groups are few and far between, but I believe we can change this. I trust we can create for ourselves bigger pockets of positive, cohesive communities where we can love one another, thrive in our practices, support one another, and become better human beings.
Here are 10 areas where I know Christians excel and Pagans tend to fail. In each area, I know that we can improve if we only work at it. Through our efforts, we can strong and become healthy.
1. They stick together – Even when Christians don’t necessarily like one another, they are united by their faith. Part of their union is due to the fear mongering dogma of their leaders, but this is not the entire motive. They understand the idea that they are stronger in numbers. When one is attacked, they all unite and react. Strength in numbers is something Pagans lack, but we can change this. We can come together to create strength as we support one another, we only need to find or create the means.
2. Christians support Christians – Christians buy from Christian business owners. They congratulate newlyweds, new parents and they look out for their elders. When someone passes on, they grieve together and hold sacred space in their honor. When someone’s health is failing, they pray together, light candles, cook and eat food together, and more. They come together when they are needed most strengthening their bond as a communal entity.
3. They commune regularly – I know many of us don’t like the idea of weekly church service, much less the idea f Wednesday Bible study, or more. But this regularly dedicated social interaction and communal worship is a means for each member of their community to get to know one another. As Pagans, if we are lucky, we might see our Pagan congregation or community once or twice each year at our local PPD event, retreat or festival. Unless you are part of a dedicated group, you might not see other Pagans, ever. In many cases, when you are a part of a single group this group of people/Pagans is often all you ever see of the Pagan community. I am sure you have heard the phrase, “it takes a village,” this wisdom is valuable and is something we should consider for our daily lives.
4. They follow in faith – Sometimes this can be viewed as the “Sheeple” mentality, but Christians don’t look to discredit or mock the services and messages they are about to experience. They have faith in their leaders and their God. While I believe that Pagans (in most cases) have opened their eyes to organized religion and the negativities within, our fierce resistance has blinded us as we denounce it’s positive aspects. We have the option to question our beliefs and the beliefs of others without the threat of damnation. However, we don’t always use this awaken insight in the best ways. Most often we use it to tear other down instead of engaging in thoughtful and intellectual discussions. This path is an intellectual path. One that requires us to educate and improve ourselves. We cannot become well educated and balanced if we close ourselves off to and scold different ideas and theologies.
5. Respect –Christians have respect for their leaders and elders as well as for one another. This is one confident guiding principal more Pagans should once again adopt. There is a reason our elders hide. We have treated them with a level of contempt that would send any soul running for cover. After all, Pagans were the first to recognize that their elders were a valuable source of insight and wisdom. Tribal leaders and the people respected their Sages, Crones, Witches, Seers and more without unwarranted skepticism, hate or discrimination. They were never jealous of their elders because they understood the importance of their position within the community. The same goes for their neighbors. They recognized that we are all connected and to disrespect another was to disrespect yourself. We need our elders if we are going to know the esoteric knowledge we seek.
6. Formal Clergy Training – Perhaps the widespread skepticism we have in our Pagan communities is because we lack well trained-experienced elders, leaders, and guides. Christian Clergy has a slight advantage because they are trained to be leaders. They go to seminary (and colleges) and work on their internal baggage (in theory) so that they can be closer to Divinity and help others do the same. In the Pagan community, we discredit our elders and teachers. We bash them and disrespect them. I know part of this is because there are too many selfish people posing as leaders when really they were predators looking to satisfy their own egotistic desires. The good news is that not every leader is like this.
As a seeker, you must be responsible and interview and research each perspective elder or leader you want to learn from. You must take personal responsibility. This can be done easily and without malicious intent. I consider myself a skeptical believer. I will feel people out, and get to know them before I trust them as a leader or wise counsel. As a result, there are few I trust, but I will not tear down another simply because their type of guidance or level of experience is not right for me. Wisdom comes in many packages. While it is admirable that anyone in our community can become a leader or elder, we lack any formal guidance that is necessary to becoming a well-rounded and efficient leader or wise counsel. To become a leader must heal yourself before you can lead and heal others. You must work through and begin to eliminate your own baggage before you can help others do the same. You also cannot lead when all you have done is read a book or two. You have to get out there and experience. You have to get your hands dirty to know what it means to lead others.
If you want to be a leader, leave your bags stuffed with your personal and emotional issues at the door. This ability takes time and effort. You have to work on yourself daily. I am not saying you have to be 100% free and clear of all your baggage, but you at least need to reach a point where you recognize the influence your baggage has on you and others. You have to gain the ability to allow yourself to let go of your ego and desires, thusly leaving your baggage at the door.
Subsequently, as Christians train and multiply their leader base, they create for their community the opportunity for their leaders, clergy and elders to commune with one another. This gives them a chance to learn and grow from a deep well of knowledge and experience. This is another aspect our greater Pagan community lacks.
7. Christians utilize their elders –When disagreements, gossip, and other matters pop up, Christians turn to their elders for advice and guidance. This applies to marriage counseling, legal issues, tiffs between friends, and more. In some cases, a meeting might be called, and the two opposing parties will be asked to speak with a minister, priest, or the like to help them resolve the issue. While this might be done in a coven environment where the atmosphere is more intimate, this does not happen in forums or online groups; much less at Pagan gatherings. Most likely, the perceived aggressor is removed from the group, and each is left to deal with any residual negative energy on their own. We don’t have a central resource of wisdom that can help us move through domestic or social issues. However, this poses a grand opportunity for our community. We have the chance to grow our networks and become healthy and widespread for the purpose of healing one another.
8. Love and Trust – Christians don’t go to church with an enormous chip on their shoulder, and if they do they tend to keep it to themselves. Ideally, they go because they trust in their God and that their God has chosen the best clergy for them related to their current point of their path. Pagans do the opposite. We go into most situations or gatherings with our walls up, and we seek to discredit everything the leader is trying to achieve. The interesting thing I find about this is in the Wiccan community, where “Perfect Love, and Perfect Trust,” is highly valued, but not exactly honored. Don’t get me wrong. I believe that trust has to be earned, which is why I don’t follow this belief in my practice. BUT… Even when the leader has the best intentions for us, and is only trying to do good in our community, we find a way to make a mockery of their efforts.
If we cannot come together with our walls even half way down, we will never achieve the positive results we need. Now, I have seen the opposite be true, and I know what I say does not apply to the whole of the community. A great example of people coming together with love and trust in their hearts is at the various women’s retreats and gatherings you might find popping up from late Spring to early Fall. Women seem to have an innate ability to bring down their walls (in most cases) and trust the work about to be done by the leader performing the task. I also know from experience that this ability seems to leave us when we exit the atmosphere of the gathering, as we return to mundane life.
9. They accept “Newbies” – I often see newbies apologizing for their questions. They begin their question with “I know this might sound dumb, but…” There is an overwhelming sense that coming into this path; you should “already know” whatever it is you seek. This simply in not possible. When you are new at something, you need to learn about it in order to know it.
In the Christian church, the congregants and leaders are eager to teach their faith to anyone. This is a double-edged sword because as we know, some people don’t want to hear it and there are other who will not shut up about it. BUT, they are willing to take time with seekers and help them understand their theology. They do not make them feel stupid or ridiculous for asking questions. They express their faith with passion and actualization. They encourage questions, and they do so without a patronizing tone.
While I agree that all we need to know is already available to us, we still have to go through the process of stripping away our own limiting beliefs and blockage. Baggage that prevent us from fully recognizing and understanding the wisdom we have within. These programmed blockages are constructed by years of social and family conditioning. It takes time and effort to relieve ourselves of the muddy weights that hold us back. That is why having experienced elder, leaders, teachers at the forefront to guide is absolutely critical.
10. Their community is abundant – Christians don’t hide. Everywhere you look, there is a Christian church on the corner or Christian-based charitable organization helping someone or a Christian based business selling products. Pagans have become accustomed to hiding. Well of course we have. We have been “forced” to hide for about 2000 years. After a while it becomes a habit; a habit we seem to accept as normal.
As with all things done in excess, this habit harms us. It allows those who seek to destroy our theologies to say what they want about us, and we are nowhere to be found in contradiction. We cannot show the greater community that we are indeed valuable members of society when we hide away and act in ways that validate their blasphemy. I am not saying you have to divulge your most sacred secrets to the world. What I am saying is that we should not hide out of fear or habit. We do ourselves and our community a disservice by allowing the negative propaganda posed by other faiths be confirmed by our actions and worse our absence. Instead of showing the beauty and honor that our traditions offer, we are seemingly content with allowing the greater community to fear us and mistrust us.
The fact is, most Pagans despise organized religion because it seems to justify crappy, bigoted, self-righteous beliefs. So why does it seem that so many Pagans indulge in the same actions that they claim to hate dynamically?
When we tear someone else down, we perpetuate the cycle of bigotry we supposedly condemn. Sure there are some out there who are simply wrong in what they say and do, but who are you to judge them? What gives anyone of us the right to point our finger and shout at someone for being different? Perhaps the opportunity is to educate rather than destroy.
Expressing your opinion about something is acceptable, choosing to have a meltdown over it is not. If you plan to comment on a post or in a forum about how someone is wrong, you are positioning yourself as an expert or at least knowledgeable in the field of discussion. This action can either bring us together or alienate us. When you seek to prove someone else wrong, you need to understand your position. Are you in a position to be the wise council or are you simply taking a few tidbits of knowledge you picked up along the way and posturing as an experienced and knowledgeable leader? Or worse are you seeking self-righteousness fueled by your own delicate ego?
The attitude you take will determine the outcome. Remember we are all connected and when you disrespect someone you are revealing to the world your own insecurities and baggage. When you feel drawn to intervene, it’s a good time to ask yourself some revealing questions.
- What do I really know about this area of discussion?
- Do I fully understand the context of what this person is expressing?
- Do I have the right to judge this person and their situation?
- Might my opinion about the subject change if I came back to it in a couple of days?
- What will I accomplish by being rude or judgemental?
- How can I express my thoughts and experience without coming off as a bully or hypercritical?
- How can I be compassionate as I relay my thoughts or opinion?
I teach my student that there is a time and a place for everything. It is up to you to discover when and where your judgments, anger, and hostilities are appropriate. I can assure you that when it comes to building community, slinging around our baggage and aggressions will never work.