A Basic View of Paganism or Bambi Pagansim
"You people are all so nice! I like the idea of Paganism, but I don't think I could be that nice all the time." The writer was genuinely perplexed and driven to ask me if it is really possible that Pagans, Witches and Wiccans really lived such wonderful lives. This is one of the increasingly common questions I am asked about Neo-Paganism.
Like any religion, Wicca, Witchcraft, Paganism – whatever we call it – seeks to provide definitions of its tenets, ideals and general operating procedures. Since we are a religion that values independence, tolerance, creativity, appreciation for nature, self-reliance, etc. – this is what we write about when people ask for more information.
Wicca and Pagan beliefs are, in many ways, philosophies of pragmatism. We deeply believe that every person has the right to their own view, path and philosophy – until it interferes with someone else's view, path or philosophy. We also have an odd faith that every person, to some extent, experiences the things they do for some purpose – even if only to experience random chance – and learns from them. Whether or not that is by choice, well the jury is still out. Some Pagan practitioners assure you that you have chosen every sad, badly behaved, or horrible experience just to teach yourself something. Robin almost died in the hospital and a woman of our acquaintance asked him why he did that to himself? What did he have to learn? I don't go quite that far.
I believe that every person works within capacity. Some have more energy, intellect, social smarts, etc. than others. I think that the person who deliberately seeks to stir shit, or hurt others, is very rare. However, just because people may have their own motivation for actions, and the harm was not deliberate, they are still culpable for the consequences of their actions.
Witchcraft is made up of religious groups within an area which gather to observe the holidays and rituals of the year and nature. Covens. There has been a popularized theme of perfect love and perfect trust. OK, let's be real. There are many good people out there, but close exposure can bring us far too much information to indulge in perfect trust, perfect harmony. This could be an ex-lover. We may know that this guy OD'd regularly on drugs, but seems better now. Would we want to leave our kids with him – no. We may know that that person over there wrecked three cars in the last year – would we loan them the coven bus? No Way! How do we balance this out with perfect love and perfect trust? The only answer I can provide is that within the circles we construct and design for our ritual, we seek and offer perfect love and perfect trust. Within our celebration of nature and the gods, we seek and offer perfect love and perfect trust. The practitioner of the Craft is a priestess or priest of the Gods. They are not patsies or dupes by religious design.
There is a huge difference in a religion such as Paganism with its open minded definition of content and standards – and other religions with strict standards of belief, behavior and acceptability. Because Pagan religions include acceptance for such a broad array of gods, beliefs, behavior, rituals, celebrations, etc. it is very difficult to imagine how we would set rules for what to do with those who don't measure up.
I mentioned pragmatism earlier, and self-reliance. These are two very important aspects of the Pagan religions. In many traditional religions people are considered bad from the start, inherently flawed and expected to fail. Because of these negative traits and the acknowledgment of them, folks rally together, form a worship group and placate their God who has made them aware of their flaws and loves them anyway. If they work hard at apologizing for their mistakes, flaws and inherent sinfulness, they may have a shot at redemption and attain a favorable afterlife.
In some ways you could say Wicca and Witchcraft are both much easier and much harder on folks. We do not have a central book to refer to, but we do have some broad rules. "An it harm none, do as thou wilt." and "Whatever you do, shall come back to you – threefold." Now, you probably ask "just what does that mean?" We consider each person on the planet as much a mirror of the gods, as the gods are a reflection of us. In essence – you are divine. Your decisions are the product of your purpose, and we would not willingly interfere, even if we don't like your decisions, so long as it does not interfere with another's path or preference. How do I know what I'm doing is right? Well, I can't tell you that. I can share my personal strategies and measures, but do not mean to imply that you must use them, only that you are welcome to use them. What happens when people consistently screw up and don't measure up to these nebulous standards? Well, I mentioned this was a religion of self-reliance and pragmatism. You do what you have to do. Since we don't have hierarchical structure with layers of priesthood and laity, when a member of our religious group works in ways that are not consistent with our goals, we either put up with it, adapt to it, ostracize that person or go to them and explain that they can either conform to this group's needs or go away.
There are those folks who don't stay in this community due to this kind of information. Such times are stressful for all people involved. But within our community, we have to take care of these matters ourselves. And Pagan, Wiccan, Christian, Buddhist, or American Indian – it doesn't matter – every group will contain people who don't measure up in the good-behavior department.
How do we explain this, with all the good hopes that we are so public about? We don't really. This is part of the nature of our people. We are no different from the general population. Pagans tend to be individualists who have claimed this path, separate and distinct from what they grew up with. We have as many heroes, wise women, children, indigents, insane, spiritual, hopeless and good, honest people as any other population or religion. We are not hampered by a religious philosophy that assures us we must take in those who won't behave. That helps. But it is still very difficult to confront those who must leave.
Another aspect is that religion is based on a set of values, which have been translated into ethics for these religions. Individual application of these ethics have variations in them to suit particular circumstances. But the base rules for any set of community-culture defining standards will be absolutes. So, what you have been hearing from Pagans are those absolutes that state what we value and what we hope our members are and will become.
As far as being nice, smurfy as I call it... well, I have personal goals. These include being rational, not inserting my preferences into other's paths and choices, never saying anything that is strictly designed to please my need for equity, not giving opinions that do not contribute to harmony. Do I make it? Maybe 70%. Having a partner whom I trust, who will listen to what I don't want to share publicly helps. I try my very best not to let out negativity on the world – if that world does not deserve it. There is also the aspect of necessary truth. Does someone need to know what happened and what I think? Will it do them any good? Can they (or the world) benefit from hearing what I think? I try only to share painful information if that information will do some good, and generally when it is solicited. However, in at least one instance I have drawn together a group, gone to someone's house and announced that they were unethical, unwelcome and no longer part of my coven. Do I still talk to these people? Yes. But they didn't speak to me for years. Sometimes, it depends on what they learn from it, if they continue the unacceptable behavior. Do I always restrain myself? No. But I've gotten better at it as I got older.
There is also another aspect to your question that the community generally doesn't talk about publicly. Those of us who love a good argument, and to endlessly discuss the reality of our world, have gone over it a few times. I finally have labeled it the black, white and gray of religion. One of the pet peeves of Witches is this whole thing about white Witches, and black Witches, good Witches and bad Witches. Are there really black or white Witches? No. There are people involved in Witchcraft, as a religion, who indulge in a wide variety of behaviors. If these behaviors are selfish to the point of harming another or aimed at harming another I would call that dishonorable or negative magick. Mere self-indulgence is not dishonorable – bubble baths, hot fudge sundaes and silk clothes are not evil, on the whole we need to be much nicer to ourselves than we are now. So what is white, gray and black about Witchcraft? The same as any other religion.
First the milk, the cream of our beliefs. All the wonderful, great, marvelous, truths and beauty that we want to share with newcomers and oldtimers alike. This generally consists of the rewards, with only cautions of any drawbacks. It speaks of fellowship, and how that particular religion is favored by its gods. It will speak of the power and the glory of that particular deity and how this favor will further the causes of the group and the success of its members. Pagans tell of respect for the earth and nature, respect for all things as an inherent part of the larger view of the divine, our view of our deities as representatives of our own divine nature, respect for male and females, nurturance and strength, veneration for the older members. Respect and tolerance for other's viewpoints, respect and tolerance regarding sexual and personal relations. These are all the portions of our religion we respect.
Then we proceed on to what we will call the meat of the religion – the solid, the gray. This is a little more work and not for the casual convert. In this phase the foundations of the religion are explored. The history, an in depth look at those who have shaped the philosophy and the growth of this particular sect. Probably some discussion of the heretics and a touch on some of the differences of opinions which led to the current makeup of the organization. More of the responsibilities, not quite so sweet and light. Leadership. What do we do when someone in our religious community steals, infidelity, dishonor, how do we as a community deal with this? Concerns.
Yet, it also contains that which is attained through study and acquisition of knowledge of the religion's practices, rituals, holidays and ceremonies. Here is the investigation of history, both directly related to Paganism and to mythology. There are psychological aspects of our beliefs, the wheel of year, perception of time, perceptions of age, ethics, ritual, magick, definitions of all these things. There is the glory of joyful celebration of the gods, our sisters and brothers in Paganism, the comradery and fellowship of others of like beliefs, and the wonder, awe, joy and mystery of the holidays. There are all the reasons behind the holidays and how we make sense of our world. There is so much, there would never be time in this magazine to talk about it.
And finally, what we are calling the black, or shadow, of a religion. This is the area of danger for the faithful. This area contains all that might cause one to doubt, lose respect or fall away from the group. This would contain the reprehensible parts of the religion's past that we would prefer to forget. Leaders that made unethical – by their group's lights – deals, arrangements or compromises that furthered the group's cause, its philosophy and its formal structure. How do we explain such deep metaphysical and philosophical conflicts to our members, much less newcomers? Here we have to admit that we do not necessarily respect all those who call themselves Witches. Where we have to talk about the differences between European Paganism and what we in America are doing. These are issues of long standing concern, and can be deeply unsettling to even those who have studied and loved Paganism for long past. They are for conversation with trusted friends and fellow philosophers who already are grounded in the many contributing factors which comprise the issue. Not for casual contemplation.
So, I think there – at last – may be the simplest answer. Those who are not deeply involved in a religion, are not yet exposed to its secrets and inner conflicts. They don't have enough information and background to understand, to comprehend the complexity. It would take too long to explain it to a newcomer, who may not stay around long enough to extend their understanding.
When visitors are coming, I don't show my dirty house to an unknown guest. I throw all that stuff in the closet. If the guest stays around long enough to become a friend, whom I trust, one day they will see the closet, acknowledge the confusion, have understanding, and perhaps help clean it up.
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Suggested Web Resources
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