So Who Should Step Forward?

13 07 2008

Should anyone?

There’s a movement afoot among the pagan community, in dribs and drabs currently, but it seems to me to be picking up momentum. I read this post from magickfortherealworld, in which there seems to be a call for some kind or organisation, some sort of concerted outreach for new members. The poster regrets the fact that paganism has no mechanism for promoting recruitment and inclusiveness. The reason Christianity has this mechanism is precisely because it was given as a Christian duty by the man himself. No-one can give pagans that duty or that right, in my opinion.

The Pagan community prides itself on allowing anyone to believe their own beliefs without judgement, and while this may be good, there seems to a lot more difficulty in creating a community because of it. 

If we’re to move forward, we have to preserve that which makes us unique. There cannot be any merit in making us into a pop-lite version of the very religions we seek to be different from. Not fighting fire with fire takes guts; more, it takes an acceptance of the long game and the effort required to push the battle beyond our individual lifetimes.

Our lack of judgement of other religious paths cannot be seen as a lack of moral effort; to allow the person next to you to express their views when their views make your blood boil, and vice versa, is the essence of tolerance and free thought. This is the battle we have to fight and win, not the numbers game.

There are obvious problems with paganism; its fractured nature, its difference, its lack of a concerted effort; in short, a lack of a unified message. Not easy to spin, nor to easily explain, or explain away. 

Pagans are taught not to push their religion/spirituality on anyone else and this keeps our communities small and isolated.

This equation doesn’t balance. We are not concerted, because we aren’t all going the same way. If we were, Goddess knows, we might just be unstoppable. But life is full of conflicts, and we’re just as conflicted as the next human and fallible religious group, and we know it. This is actually a strength.

Paganism seems difficult to the modern world because it makes you think and it isn’t easy to explain. All you pagans out there know how hard it is to lucidly describe, in words the layperson can easily grasp, what it is you do and believe. This is a threatening thing to be faced with. Once you have a name and a description, you can categorise and compartmentalise that which threatens you and file it away. 

I can’t agree with what is proposed in the post, for the simple reason that it is not that we are ‘pushed’ not to proselytise, but that there isn’t anyone to push us in the first place – and thank the Goddess for that. If we seek to emulate the world faiths that do have a positive mandate to ‘spread the word’, who’s going to take the lead? Who has the authority? Surely, one of the defining characteristics of paganism is its plurality. There is no one true way… and so how do we shepherd seekers along it, if it is not defined?

The lack of a formal path, the lack of teachers, the lack of an accepted face of paganism is not a weakness, but a strength. It keeps us searching. It keeps us asking questions. It stops the ‘we’re holier than you’ argument. Finally, and I can’t believe it would ever get that far, but I bet that’s what Jesus thought too – it stops humans uniting in the name of the God / Goddess and going to war. If we need places to go, to meet, then we can find them. If we feel that it isn’t easy enough to bring our kind together, well, we need to effect long-lasting and slow-moving paradigmatic change, within our own individual societies. Witchcraft has only been a recognised faith path for 50 years in the modern world, and I don’t believe anyone seriously tries to include any of the preceding centuries in the pot for the purposes of census-taking. Fifty years isn’t long enough to form a coherent strategy in a religious movement unless you’re Scientology. And I don’t think, respect to them, that Scientology is an acceptable model for paganism to follow.

Without the doubt, the effort, the different paths, what are we? Children trying on their parents’ shoes. We’re better than this.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

This just seen on The Wild Hunt, discussing the internal construction of pagan religions and their perceived grouping. Very interesting indeed, in the light of the above posts, the discussion happening over at magickfortherealworld’s blog and comments here.

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24 responses

13 07 2008
Jessica

I have never met a pagan that didn’t express regret about not being able to freely and openly be pagan. While encouraging others to follow our faith/faiths might not be easy or encouraged due to a variety of factors, doing so does not require taking up the methods of propaganda, brain washing, violence and life-threatening manipulation of which the dominant/monotheistic religions are guilty. Simply describing the basic tenents of earth-based faith, explaining those aspects of a nature-based belief system, and opening the doors to questions in a frequent and public manner might create safety and a sense of curiosity, or at least make what we all call ourselves a household name enough for it to not be whisperable.

14 07 2008
magickfortherealworld

Well, as the author of the blog this post is about, I’ve got to step up and give a bit of explanation and possibly some answers to the proposed problems with the blog. First off, remember that I wrote a blog and not an essay so I put about 30-45 minutes worth of effort into writing it and therefore didn’t hit on every possible problem and its solution.

Now, it seems that your major argument with this has a lot to do with simple communication problems. I never said that someone should start a “Roman Pagan Church” or some sort of organization where a single group preaches to its members. What I proposed was simply an organization that could work towards the improvement of the Pagan image in the minds of the masses as well as provide a web of loosely connected groups for people to join so that they could have a community to interact with. I never proposed a unified central governing body for the Pagan community. I simply wanted the American people to not be afraid of Pagans and for the American Pagans to not be afraid of the American people. Someone or some group of people would have to step up just like any other time a group of people are looked at in a negative manner.

I truly disagree with your thoughts about how the spirituality that we all loosely call Paganism should evolve. I don’t think that it is a spirituality that should be shoved down people’s throats, but I do think that there should be a place to go for guidance when you’re stuck. Not only that, but I think that all of us can agree that our magickal skills are nowhere near what they could be if we could unify a bit. There’s no way we’re ever going to improve on this until we can work together to figure out the kinks and tricks, just like science did in the 1800 and 1900’s.

The other thing to remember is that we are a magickal group who absolutely know that we don’t have all the answers. We don’t say, here’s the book of god and we’re going to interpret it. We’re saying, we live in the world and we want to learn from it. We want to learn about ourselves. We want to become the most that we can be. This is absolutely not something that can be forced down a person’s throat because every person is different. On the other hand, if you want to learn about how to astral travel, I’m absolutely sure that a teacher/mentor would be beneficial. So how could this ever be a bad thing? We wouldn’t be breaking the tenets of our religion and we would gain an incredible amount of efficiency with our learning.

So where exactly is the problem with this?

14 07 2008
The Shepton Witch

This is such an interesting discussion.

I have never met a pagan that didn’t express regret about not being able to freely and openly be pagan. (Jessica)

You must have posted this before I replied to Magicfortherealworld’s blog, as I am openly Witch and there’s no expression of regret to be made. It’s perfectly simple living “out of the broom cupboard” and although I appreciate that it can be difficult in places like the bible belt, I feel sure the histrionics that accompany many people’s adherence to being hidden is part of the cachet of being the “fringe religion” you mention in your reply on MftRW’s blog, just in a different form.

Magicfortherealworld, while I can agree with much of what you say, I struggle to see how a more organised structure will give you anything better. Let’s take your example of learning how to astral travel – there’s nothing stopping you seeking out a teacher if it’s something you want to learn and groups and webs of people won’t make that any easier, though it might be more proscriptive.

Surely, one of the most important underlying tenets of Paganism is that we all find our own paths? I know it can be difficult if you’re used to a very strong and dominant structure that pervades society as well as beliefs, such as Christianity, but this offers such an opportunity to redefine how we interact with each other. I’m not saying contact is a bad thing, I know a number of solitaries and occasionally meet up or work with them, and that can be very good, but being grouped or affiliated isn’t the way forward for most of us.

Had you considered that a coven structure might offer you what you seek? It sounds as though it may offer the social and peer support that you miss.

14 07 2008
The Green Witch

Thank you very much for your further comments on this topic, magickfortherealworld – I must say I hadn’t assumed you’d fully formulated your argument, so I’m glad there’s a chance to hear more of what you have to say!

Looking around the internet for discussions about the problems we face as pagans, it’s clear to me that there are a number of proposed solutions. I think I was clear that we’re not trying to formulate one church under one set of deities; this wasn’t my point at all. However, if you have one body, or even a convocation of bodies, who stand for and to an extent speak for a disparate group, you’re going to get schism (not necessarily a bad thing, of course), and more to the point you’ll get dissention between the groups. The idea behind my post was simply to try continue your discussion on what other options might be available to us.

I like your vision, Jessica, and I hope that it will be possible to do something like this, without the trappings of the problems the earlier religions found.

What I probably do not appreciate enough is how difficult it is for American pagans, despite the much vaunted First Amendment, to really be at ease and to form part of a plural society. Britain doesn’t see half the problems in this area. Perhaps this is one area in which we’re slightly ahead of our American pagan friends; I have read with dismay the posts of friends of mine who are tentatively in support of Darwinian Theory and are in fear of losing their jobs as public schoolteachers. This doesn’t seem an attractive atmosphere into which to step out of the broom closet.

With all this, though, I come back to my central point.

I was raised Evangelical Christian, and so may be biased; but I can’t see how changing our modus operandi towards an evangelical outfit can help us. We’ve got all the evidence we need that it is a poor model for a religion. Your third choice, making it all right for all pagans to be out of the broom closet, is the best, in my view. And this is already happening, be it ever so slowly. Again, 50 years isn’t long enough to get this sort of image rehabilitation done. And it’s taking so long precisely because we’re not a unified front. But I don’t think we should be come more cohesive just to get the job done.

Perhaps I’m circling the central point – perhaps I’ve missed it altogether! The problem I see, MFTRW, is that the difference between a teacher / mentor on the individual level and the pastor / officiant on a group level couldn’t be wider. I have no argument with teaching or directed learning, but I do have a problem with mediated worship – which is what you inevitably get if there’s a person standing up and leading the group. Someone then has to be in charge of the person leading the group. Before you know it you’ve got a church-like hierarchy.

My main point was that our very strength is in our diversity, and in knowing we don’t have all the answers. As you said, we want to become the most that we can be. I just doubt that we will achieve this by banding together.

14 07 2008
The Green Witch

Mereth,

Surely, one of the most important underlying tenets of Paganism is that we all find our own paths? I know it can be difficult if you’re used to a very strong and dominant structure that pervades society as well as beliefs, such as Christianity, but this offers such an opportunity to redefine how we interact with each other.

Yes, I agree. A redefinition of the way we interact, rather than an adoption of the old ways of getting things done, might benefit us all enormously. I’m not saying it’s right, or any righter than MFTRW’s ideas – simply that we need a different paradigm here.

Everyone should need to find their own way – I think the value is mainly in the journey.

14 07 2008
fox

One of the biggest problems I have with the concept of an organized Paganism is the fact that in the 3+ years I have been on and exploring this path, I have yet to come across a single person that has view/ideas/practices that are close enough to mine that I would even consider anything other than the most basic interactions with. I HAVE managed to find a lovely group of women, Pagan and non-Pagan, that work wonderfully together. Do I see this as a possibility for ALL Pagans? No. There are way too many differing paths and believes and you would forever be dealing with infighting and bickering over the most basic running of such a group.

If the concern is for people new to the practice trying to find their place and their support, I honestly don’t think that there is much that needs to change. The ability to find what you are looking for, or at least a starting point, is already out there. It just takes a bit of research and time on the individual’s part to find it.

14 07 2008
The Green Witch

I agree, Fox. Strength and knowledge belongs in diversity in this case. There are plenty of pagans (for want of a better term) who object to being called ‘pagan’ because it puts them somewhere, terminologically, that they don’t want to be, nor feel they belong. So it’s not as easy as saying, ‘Let’s Unite!’.

14 07 2008
Andy

I’m confused! Haven’t the Pagan Federation been working toward this for some time? Other large groups, such as Pagan Network have also tried more recently.

Apologies for only skim reading some of the replies, it’s not through lack of interest, simply only through lack of time, but one reason Pagans don’t preach is because we don’t believe there’s a need to save anyone from anything. Christians preach to save ‘sinners’ from ‘sin’ a concept that we don’t embrace. We don’t have to be evangelical because there’s no need.

Our paths are individual and our paths lead us to our True Self, so they will be unique by definition. People will cross our paths who can offer us something along the way, as when we need those people, and we can all attest to this happening in our own experiences. The fact that we meet in ‘blogdom’ is testimony to that truth.

I think our paths highlight our diversity and individuality, not our conformity.

15 07 2008
The Green Witch

Good point indeed, Andy! I agree with you. And your conception of the lack of need for an evangelical approach is neat – I’d not remembered that point.

In terms of loose convocations of people who are trying to have a voice on the wider stage, I think pagans are adequately served. And individuals can still make a huge difference.

16 07 2008
louisey

Had just been musing along similar lines and find what is said here very interesting. But there is a need for an honest critique of what goes wrong — 50 years of exploring traditions is enough time to sit down and look at what hasn’t worked.

Mary

16 07 2008
The Green Witch

You’re right, Mary; thank you for commenting!

Commentary, I believe, is extant; the issue for me is the problem with criticism and peer review. We lack academic oversight in many of the key areas of emerging paganism. Certain authors are attempting to correct this, notably Hutton, Julia Phillips and so forth, but there is still a feeling in some areas that such analysis is unwelcome and unneccesary. From my own point of view I think it is both welcome and essential.

We’ve certainly had enough time to sit and look at what paths we’ve all travelled, what makes us similar and what makes us different; to revel in and celebrate our difference, and to perhaps think about ways the similarities can cement us. We could also do with some sober self-assessment: what are we doing that’s been done before, and wrongly? Where can we make changes for the better? Where do we need wholly new ideas and methods of progressing? These things could be immensely valuable.

16 07 2008
beweaver

What? Proselytize? No.

17 07 2008
The Green Witch

Agreed, no! 🙂

Having spent years in a system that makes it its business to go out and ‘spread the word’ I can state that I never want anything to do with religious witness or importuning other people about my beliefs. It makes me feel ill.

If people ask me, I’ll tell’em what I know. Isn’t that enough? I wish it was; it seems there’s quite a few in the community that don’t think so!

17 07 2008
starofseshat

That reminds me of a dream I had recently. I dreamt that I was walking through the central area of our town. This is usually populated by the drag net of charity workers. But in my dream they were Wiccans, all shouting out “Merry Meet! Merry Meet!” and handing out leaflets trying to get people to attend a conference the next day where attempts would be made to convert them! I’ve seen the future, and it’s psychedelic, dudettes 🙂

17 07 2008
The Green Witch

Goddess, I can’t think of anything worse. Nightmare! 🙂

17 07 2008
Andy

Sounds horrific! The path we walk is Mystery, how can we ever explain that?!? I actually don’t think we need to explain anything, all we have to do is be who we are. The reality and efficacy of our path is shown in the person we are, and that’s all that’s needed. I don’t feel a need to explain myself, or talk about my path, unless I am asked, and even then it’s not easy to explain, as I’m spending most of my time trying to understand it myself!

20 07 2008
Jessica

I’m curious to know how many people who object to the notion of proselytizing would object to the notion of active education for the broader public, NOT for the sake of attempting to convert others but for the sake of creating tolerance.

I suspect, few. My self included! However, the difference between proselytising (henceforth P) and education is choice. Choose to go see someone and listen to what they have to say comes under the heading of education in my book, although see below.

P is telling people about something whether they want to hear it or not, because you have an assumed divine mandate.

I’m curious to know how many of those that object to what is proposed are from the United States. If you are from the US, are you aware that not so long ago our president attempted to keep anyone calling themselves Wiccan or practicing witchcraft from so called “faith based” funding? The foundation of religious beliefs in the United States is fearful, right wing Protestants. We are not even 150 years out of the Civil War that ended the enslavement of an entire race in this land. Organizing for the sake of education and tolerance can only be beneficial to those who would like to openly declare beliefs, no matter what they are, or simply breathe more easily when they decide to go against the grain.

Pagans and political activists in Great Britain are only too well aware of the sinister creep of the religious totalitarianism explicitly banned under your constitution, but now supported countrywide by powerful interests. I read this week on The Wild Hunt about the enforced Christian propaganda being taught in schools by teachers unqualified in comparative religious instruction. They’re not just supporting Christianity, they’re denigrating other faiths. I haven’t ever minimised the effects of this hegemony, not underestimated the effect it has on those trying for religious freedom under its yoke. As I said on MFTRW’s blog, I welcome the efforts to give paganism a voice, but not any effort that might see paganism take on the methods of the religious right to get its point across. Just my opinion.

And why would it be so bad if there were someone standing in front of the world, saying positive things about what we all claim to be?

It wouldn’t be. And it is already happening, and good results are coming from it – slowly, true, but it will change and gather momentum. Your efforts, if well-directed, can only help this process.

Mysticism and mystery cannot be taught in the open, but a belief system, “pagan religion” or spirituality, can be explained loosely. There ARE unifying characteristics of the beliefs of pagans simply by the fact that all those who call themselves pagan do so for a set of reasons, b/c the denotation and connotation of the word fits what they are. We follow nature, the cycles of the Sun, Moon and Earth, we are generally polytheistic, and incorporate animism and ancestor worship, and are typically studying or incorporating some aspect of European mythology.

Agreed.

Anyone can call themselves Christian if they 1) believe that Christ was the son of God and Savior and 2) follow some variation of the teachings of Christ, but the dozens and dozens of denominations of Christianity in this country demonstrate that they are just as varied as we are. Does the fact that Christianity as a religion has the Ten Commandments, believes that Christ was the Savior, and preaches the teachings of Christ limit any Baptist minister to the practices of Catholicism?

It feels to me that there is a significant amount of judgment from those that are contemplating the notion of others WANTING to feel safe about being openly pagan and that if your beliefs were truly grounded, you would have no fear of an organization loosely defining paganism for the sake of educating the public and teaching tolerance.

Judgement? No, opinion. I’m not qualified to judge you, or anyone else. This is the crucial difference between ‘us’ and Christianity, for example. The odious practice of calling Christians who haven’t been at it as long as the next guy ‘Baby Christians’, as if they hadn’t yet collected enough Jesus Points should never be allowed to take a hold in the pagan world.

My beliefs are my own – and I don’t want anyone representing me, or talking on my behalf. I do all the talking I need to do for myself. This is simply my opinion. I do not have to live in the difficult situation we are all aware of in the US. If I did, perhaps I might welcome the chance to band together.

There are already institutions and organisations that do what you propose. Why not add your weight to one of those? It follows that, the fewer similar organisations there are, the louder and more concerted their voice will be. Is there anything to be gained by looking closely at the resource already out there and checking the fit? Caspar from Pagan Connection suggested this link to PEBBLE.

My main point in questioning the correctness of the path suggested boils down to the misuse of power. In the end, if someone’s in charge, who’s in charge of them?

20 07 2008
The Green Witch

The above post has TGW’s comments in bold italics. I wanted to answer Jessica as fully as possible, hence the intercalation.

27 07 2008
John.

Within the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland there is a self-elected hierarchy – in the literal sense – which calls itself title=”Pebble.” It believes that paganism is a religion and that it should be recognised by our government here. To this end it implicitly advances the fallacy that there is a single religion called paganism and that all pagans in the UK belong to separate sects of this religion, as can be clearly seen from title=”the first criterion” which must be met in order to become a “partner organisation” of Pebble. title=”The definition of paganism” which it has agreed with the government, or at least to which it does not claim to have objected, is the following:

“PAGANISM : The umbrella term for spiritualities and religions that recognise the sacred in nature, the environment, ancestry and heritage.”>

As you can see, no mention of Goddesses or Gods.

So far the UK experiment with a pagan hierarchy has effected no changes in the way pagans are regarded by the government which was not already addressed by UK treaties, rulings and laws and achieved nothing which may not be achieved by individual pagans acting as citizens, parents and tax-payers. What it has done, however, is to create straw men of things like reburial of pre-Christian remains, lexicography and chaplaincy, non-issues which while interesting to core members of pebble and looking good on curriculum vitae are completely irrelevant to everyday life as a modern, Western pagan. Their consultation with sundry organisations of the British government are a waste of tax-payers’ money and serve only to present British pagans as something they are – in the vast majority – not.

I would recommend that any pagan who cherishes their freedom of belief and practice resist any attempts to be represented to their government or society by unelected enthusiasts.

(Duplicated in an attempt to make sense of the tag guide given above the post box – no preview available that I can see. Apologies.)

27 07 2008
The Green Witch

Welcome John, and I’m enjoying reading your blog!

I suppose the fact is that if the enthusiasts – fanatics! – wish to ‘represent’ me they can go ahead and try, but they’ll be shouting one way and I’ll be quietly going another.

You are right to draw attention to disturbing trends in Paganism which might lead to straw men being erected… however, I’ve had a look at the premises on the Pebble site and they seem straightforward enough to me. If these folk continue to work to the furtherance of any kind of understanding of alternative spirituality, it is surely better for the general pagan population than not bothering? I’m not going to run out and join them, but I don’t mind them having a go.

As an umbrella organisation they’ve got the unenviable task of having to appeal to everyone, including the audience for the spin project. I wouldn’t want to have to come up with a set of defining principles for that mission myself!

I don’t find these organisations sinister, just not relevant to me personally.

Thank you for posting and I hope to see you here again.

28 07 2008
Mereth

I didn’t know about the Pebble group, so thanks for that insight. The definition of a Pagan is interesting as:

“PAGANISM : The umbrella term for spiritualities and religions that recognise the sacred in nature, the environment, ancestry and heritage.”

Would make Buddhists, Jain and most other world religions Pagan. There isn’t one system I can think of that doesn’t recognise the sacred in nature, whether is is the way I do as a Witch or whether it is the way a Christian would, as a manifestation of the creation of their God. The definition, while not offensive, is so vague and woolly that it could be applied to anyone.

It seems to me that in defining a pagan in such a loose way, in order to accommodate the many differing systems within the ‘umbrella term’, they have most ably demonstrated that they’re trying to do something that isn’t going to please or satisfy most of the people they hope to define.

As for dialogue with government, the best way to achieve that successfully is for the movement to which we belong to become so pervasive and strong that the Government seek us out. All other attempts are only ever going to be sops to what they consider an irrelevance. That’s just my view.

28 07 2008
John.

Oh, I don’t think there’s anything sinister about it. Cynical, yes. Pebble don’t have to appeal to anyone – Pebble is an unnecessary organisation.

Thank you for your kind words.

29 07 2008
The Green Witch

John, I can’t disagree with you there 🙂

Mereth, I agree that by switching the polarity like that, things may come to us, rather than us trying to be heard, which always feels a little pathetic and weedy when I see people trying to do it.

30 07 2008
The Tumblers Turn and the Door Opens… « The Green Witch

[…] discussed recently and in the comments thread of this post the difference between teaching and proselytising, so it ought to be clear that I see a distinction […]

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