Community Thoughts: The First
Posted on August 30, 2013
This is in response to someone’s blog post that I just read. I tend to see unlinked posts as passive-aggressive and one-sided. But a lot of what was written really bugged the hell out of me. I won’t link to that site as it is bad enough that I have already given it traffic. I do not want to send any more if I can help it.
Since the article itself deals with the sometimes turbulent nature of the Pagan Community, I thought I’d approach it from that angle. It seems community is the theme of 2013.
I make it a habit not to critique communities that I willingly set myself apart from. If I know the history of a community, or the actions of that community affect me as I experience it, then I shall enter into the dialogue about it. For instance, while I am not a Christian, a lot of Christian policy and dogma affects me as a Pagan. Not only that, I have some knowledge of Christian history and less knowledge of Christian theology. I cannot say the same for, say, African tribal religions.
The Pagan community is relatively diverse, as I have previously mentioned in an earlier post. It is a large term that is in the midst of an identity crisis. Paganism is growing, minorities within the community are expanding to the point where the older paradigms are no longer appropriately applied to the whole, easily. This is going to be a larger post, so I won’t get into it at as much of a length as I’d like to, here.
What are some of these paradigms?
As I see it, some of the few assumptions on and from the community that can lead to chafing (and people eventually leaving) are:
- All Pagans follow the Celtic wheel of the year (or even an agrarian calendar).
- Wiccan or Wiccan-themed rituals are the default rituals for non-denominational (non-specific) Pagan practices, or are good enough to be.
- The majority of the Pagan faiths believe that all gods and goddesses come from “one source” (pantheism/pandeism/monopolytheism/monism/whatever). Or, “all gods are one God, all goddesses are One goddess” (dualism).
- Perceived irreverence and appropriationist tendencies; eclecticism as a dirty word, coopting without academic or theological investiture, etc.
- All Pagans follow the Rede and the Three-fold law of return.
- All Pagans practice spellwork and magic.
- Lack of cohesive values; slippery theology.
And there are others. Part of the reason why I’m still here is to try to correct these mistakes and open up the idea of a more pluralistic form of Paganism. I’m here because I don’t want the community to be associated carte blanche with the above list. But these are some of the most common that I have run across.
But, here’s the thing about a community – especially if you find yourself outside of it. If, at any time, you no longer feel like you are right being there you are under no obligation to continue to partake in it. If, under some deep soul-searching, you have come to the decision that you are, in fact, not comfortable being in the Pagan community, you don’t need to be. Don’t go. It’s that simple.
If you don’t want to accept a friend’s invitation to go to a local Pagan Pride? Don’t. Don’t pretend that you’re doing it for someone else’s benefit. And if you are going to go for someone else, if you’re going to be at a place that puts you out, spiritually, for someone else’s benefit? Then grit your teeth, be honorable, and do it. I’m not comfortable even stepping inside a Christian Church. But I did last August to be part of my friend’s Catholic wedding. And you didn’t hear me complaining about it.
If you’re under invitation to go to a festival, or gathering, and it doesn’t speak to you? Don’t go. I wrote about how I felt while attending an Ostara ritual earlier this year. I feel that part of my disturbance with that experience came from the fact that I was unprepared to take a semi-central role to the religious performance. Not only was I unable to prepare myself for being in public, but it didn’t speak to me. That’s fine. It felt fake to me. That is fine, too.
What would also be fine would be turning down the next invitation for those reasons.
But what I do know is making scathing, unhelpful critiques about a community isn’t going to help anything. I’ve learned this: that I’d like to try to offer opinions on how to move forward, instead of being stuck in the issues. Work around them, work through them, work for the betterment of the situation.
Or don’t, and cut yourself completely off. You’ll be less hassled that way. Otherwise, you’re just looking for controversy.
Thanks for reading.
I did just that and I’ve never been happier, but be realistic: not everyone is willing to give up socializing with their friends, and let the people who were trying to control them by threatening to ostracize them, win without a bitter parting shot. I didn’t deserve what happened to me and the people who participated do deserve to be called out for it. Still, I did leave, and I wish I’d simply done so sooner. In retrospect, if I’d known myself better when I was the age at which I’d joined, I’d have realized I was in the wrong place. Given that, I’m not as mad anymore. On the other hand, I feel like I can’t go to any esoteric-themed events whatsoever without stirring up drama (and so I almost never do), which on occasion feels oppressive. It’s odd; my old involvement is like a phantom limb: it’s gone, but sometimes it still hurts anyway. It’s like having an ex-spouse. People don’t just walk away from something like that and not have lasting, complicated, often angry feelings about it, even if you realize the marriage had been a mismatch from the beginning.
What kind of community is it if you can expect people involved to cut ties without any feelings of pain? Give me a break. The people who want to run the show know full well the value of the hostage that they hold if they really have to power to kick somebody out. That kind of power, like any other kind, is subject to abuse. If they didn’t know that threatening to use it kept people in line, why would they want it? Getting rid of people who don’t like being controlled leaves the remainder at the mercy of would-be cult leaders, and that’s not a community either. Uncooperative types serve a social purpose too.
So what’s the point to consistently rail against a community that you’re no longer an avowed member of, and cannot do anything to work for, unless you’re a bitter, ornery individual just wanting to stir up controversy or drama? Perhaps that message was what was lost in my post, I wrote it pretty late.
I’m sorry, but I don’t make it a habit of going to places where I’m no longer feeling part of the group. If I feel sufficiently outside of my comfort zone. And when that happens, I leave, and I don’t bother to deal with it any more. I don’t write tracts denouncing the issue or dredging up controversy because I’m bitter or sore. If someone asks my experiences, I’ll give them truthfully, but otherwise I just can’t be bothered.
The issue of going to a Pride event, or being invited to an Ostara ritual is not one about “Giving up your friends”, unless they’re from miles away and cannot be easily seen on your own time. I’m talking about people who are rabidly anti-Pagan, yet still feel the need to comment on things that they’ve willingly taken themselves out of the equation for.
It has nothing to do with “getting rid” of people, at all. It has to do with the people who have gotten rid of themselves, and then still cling on to the fringes because it gives them something to piss and moan about. That’s not being uncooperative, that’s just being drama queen who can’t let things go.
We’re really different people.
Well, reactions and feelings don’t have to be logically defensible in order to be predictable. Being excluded from major social events sucks. It sucks for a five-year-old, it sucks for an 80-year-old. Most people will either go to them anyway anyway, of have a certain amount of butthurt about feeling like they really can’t. That’s one of the downsides of feeling that community spirit and then having it go badly wrong. You can’t expect people to both care about belonging AND not care about losing that. Love is famously a two-edged sword; exes hate; not always quietly.
The very nature of love is to grieve when it’s over, and not everybody grieves in a pretty way. It’s as if you expect them to figure out how an ideal person would handle loss, and then build their behavior around that model. Well, that’s not what most humans are like – not even supposedly cultured intellectuals. When they feel something strongly enough, they handle it like 10-year-olds. (And then deny it up and down of course.) It doesn’t matter whether that’s “right”, it’s the behavior to expect. People are all really little kids, a lot of them from crappy families looking for a place to be that welcomes who they really are. Imagine what it’s like when it dawns on them that they’ll probably never find one.