Values in the Balance
We in the Pagan community pride ourselves on our tolerance for difference. Differences in lifestyle, sexual preference, orientation and expression, race, orthodoxy, tradition, ritual structure, costumes, positions on nudity, personal interaction styles, etc. etc. etc. etc. etc.
One of the reasons we value this ability to tolerate divergence from the norm, of course, has to do with the fact that we as a Pagan community differ so widely from the cultural norm with its strong framework of Christian thought. But it seems that we have now reached an impasse of abuse of tolerance.
Now, there are some religious extremists who pride themselves on intolerance, but I hope we need not go that far. These people work to restrict pleasures including alcohol, sex, dancing, enjoyment of any sensual pleasure, such as even the 'sin' of a good meal. All these things are proclaimed sensual and detract from a godly life. These constitute important parts of their values. Ours differ.
But what are our values? First let's define our subject. Values are "something, as a quality or principle, intrinsically valuable or desirable." (Websters 9th New Collegiate Dictionary) And morals? "expressing or teaching a concept of right behavior." "sanctioned by or operative on one's conscience or ethical judgment." That brings up the question of ethics ethical: "may suggest the involvement of more difficult or subtle questions of rightness, fairness, or equity." "Involving or expressing moral approval or disapproval..."
Paganism is much more open in its contemplation of values than many other communities. And more accepting of sensual norms. With a broad-based measure of "an it harm none" the indulgences damned in other communities can be honestly explored, reached, enjoyed and woven into the Pagan lifestyle with little condemnation. But have we gone too far?
We ignore smoking, simply asking its practitioners to be polite. We are sometimes subjected to scorn of vegans who take us to task for being omnivores, but food preferences are tolerated. People of all orientations sexual, including a multiplicity of partnerships for marriage and sex, are supported. Yet, few are willing to take to task those leaders of covens or groups whose behaviors differ widely from that considered acceptable. That wouldn't be appropriate. We don't define limits on others' expression of beliefs. Each group and its leadership make their own rules. Leaders are considered a sovereign expression of divinity.
It's time to reconsider.
Charismatic leadership is a strong component of Pagan dynamics. Covens range from Gardnerian influence to eclectic from open to tight control over the members. There are those groups which celebrate, those who specialize in energy work, and those which are dedicated to the High Priest or High Priestess to such an extent that professionals have dubbed some of our groups cults. We have unfortunately had the occasional individual who attempts to take advantage of our views of tolerance and sex, to provide classes only to nubile young women and demand the Great Rite as a graduation ceremony interested calls from equally nubile young men go unanswered. Individual covens take steps to neutralize some of these blatant opportunists when need arises, but still the question goes begging how do we as a community provide teaching and ethical environments for our members, new students and those interested outsiders, without compromising the one tenet we hold so dear, tolerance?
Tolerance is one of a host of values which are dear to us. We also include independence, personal power, privacy, social contact, community involvement, communication, spiritual path of choice, sexuality, and honor for each person's right to exist and thrive.
We attempt to foster maximum independent involvement in any or all of these areas based on an individual's informed preferences. Our goal would be for all people in our magickal community to experience their lives fully in any or all of these areas. One of the most important areas where our community and magickal values are evident is in those areas where people first learn about Paganism, Wicca and magick Wicca 101s.
There are many people teaching Wicca 101s. It is not at all uncommon for those who are fairly new to the Craft 5 to 10 years to be the teachers. These are people with broad knowledge of history, ritual and energy work, who still have enough energy left, and time, to work with large groups of seekers. They are rarely in the Sage or Crone stage of wisdom or life, since our elders tend to withdraw from the hustle and bustle of community. Thus, we have our young and passionate intellects teaching that which they are passionate about. Those who are passionate do not always seek first to understand or provide for another's limitations. This puts us in a position where it is difficult to provide guidelines which might be unnecessary from the Elder perspective. This article and the ideas we will present here are an attempt to bring some of our Elders' wisdom into a format, pattern or tool that we can apply to many of the social issues which now face the Pagan communities.
How do we redress, or address, unacceptable variations in values, practices and traditions within our community without conflict and without once again bringing about that type of social interaction which does not contribute to harmony? As users of energy, it is of paramount importance that we are responsible for our mental, emotional and psychic hygiene. As users of energy we have a direct and indirect link to the way we experience and create our reality and experience our world. We also effect our neighbors, friends and family's world.
If we are young and passionate about things, that energy splashes. To some of our mature magick users, this LOUD energy is almost painful, like scratchy speakers on a station that plays bad Sousa marches. Our Elders retreat to a calmer area, leaving us to work it out. We need ways to define what is and is not acceptable to our community without having to scream, holler and argue about it. I am always in favor of discussion; I love it! But only such discussion that honors many different points of view. When there are schisms sufficiently wide, we need a tool to help us make (unloud) decisions that are replicable and acceptable.
The first such tool I will address here was worked out many years ago by a group involving several covens, their leaders and some solitaries from the Colorado Pagan community. This document was dubbed the Marble Street Agreement for reasons I won't go into, and was the product of many meetings, passionate discussions and paring down prior to its present form. The list as follows is a broad understanding of what we consider Pagans to have in common and as an answer to questions for our local legal and law enforcement officials. It also provides broad definitions of our beliefs for those who are new to our paths, and have questions about our ethics and moral structures.
We as Pagans:
- Do not have any requirement for use of Drugs and Alcohol.
- Do not have any requirements concerning sex, or sexual activities.
- Value and honor life, thus we do not believe in the practice of necromancy.
- Respect and honor the earth.
- Respect and honor other's rights to make decisions concerning their personal, private and sexual preferences.
- Respect each individual's rights to religious preference.
- Do not condone/promote proselytizing.
- Value free will and independent thought.
- Respect and honor people at all ages of life.
- Encourage personal power, not power over.
Self-integrity, self-responsibility and responsibility for consequences of action are all aspects of the path we provide for spiritual exploration.
In the Pagan tradition of respecting each person's path, the student is in an honored position. One who seeks knowledge, is one respected in most cultures. In Paganism we elevate our students, and see ourselves as life long students of this world and that which we cannot yet see mysteries. In a teaching position, while the teacher may have assumed a responsibility to the student, the Pagan student has no innate obligation to obey or respect. In the hard knocks attitude of today let the buyer beware the student must assess the quality of the teacher. How do they do that?
The measure of a teacher is based on the student's or community's values. The regard the teacher is held in is based on the respect the seeker holds for the teacher's knowledge, delivery, integrity and character. "Listen to me and be guided by what I say" only works if you honor me. If any teacher treats a student with less regard than they expect for themselves, then there is a discrepancy between values and behavior. This leads one to question integrity and honesty, as well as the merit of this person as a teacher. Is this teacher going to be a good match?
Given the range of issues the decision-making tool addresses, it is difficult to see precisely where we need to set limits on learning or life issues. But we have looked within a very restricted set of considerations here. Let's move to some of the infringement areas. One of our new students is very intrigued with a man at work, and wants to know how to perform a love spell. A covenmate knows a friend who is sick, and wants the group to put together an energy ritual for healing. A friend wants to borrow $5.00. You decide you want a new job, and there's one open at work that looks good. The couple next door fight all the time. I really want the weather to be clear for our next outdoor ritual and decide to look at weather magick as an option to standard wait and hope. These are all very common events. At some point and under some circumstances we do set limits. How do we do that honestly? How do we set limits in such a way we are not unnecessarily harsh? These are fellow adults, whom we consider inherently divine. It is within our values never to impose restrictions unless brought to it through necessity.
In the magickal community we have been very careful for years to caution each other not to limit or bring about unwanted actions. "That could never happen, don't say that - don't even think it", "I take it out of the law", "be careful what you wish for", etc. On an instinctive level, we know what we think and say has power. So we caution ourselves, but worry about others. There are cultural prohibitions against speaking outside of our own areas and groups.
Cultural limits are powerful things. When I went to marry, my friends did not warn me that they knew it was a bad idea; they hinted, and then were quiet. When my friend became interested in a woman, I did not caution him that she had been unstable in other relationships. I hoped for the best. We have a cultural prohibition against saying anything bad, even if experience is a strong indicator against allowing the situation to continue. We in the Pagan Community are now at a place where we need to establish cultural formats that allow us to provide information, or at least options, to that which we consider questionable, unfortunate, unlikely to work, or dangerous.
When is it allowable, even honorable, to say no, to refuse to be involved, or to speak the truth even if it is unpleasant? The following guidelines are working rules. We as honorable individuals can set limits on our endorsement or involvement when the following values may be compromised or involved:
- When safety issues dictate.
- When health issues dictate.
- When public laws would be violated.
- When it effects a person's community participation negatively.
- When it interferes with another's preferences or rights.
- When it does not maximize a person's independence.
- When it contributes to dependent behavior.
So, let's look at the situations we laid out before: If my friend wants to borrow $5.00 to go out to lunch, no problem. If instead he wants to buy cigarettes, no. I will not lend the money. Why? Health issues, smoking interferes with other's rights and preferences, there might be some safety issues fires in the forest, that kind of thing. What if he wants the money for drugs? Whoa!!! Right out. Now we can add safety issues, public laws, and community participation; perhaps the drug use would lead to dependent behavior and not maximize independence.
The couple next door any magick I can do would interfere with their rights and preferences unless they asked for counseling or energy work. The person who is ill is it OK to do a spell for them? Maybe, maybe not. Does that person want to heal? Did they ask for help? Or are they learning a life lesson of some sort I do not comprehend? Am I interfering with another's preferences if I perform an unsolicited spell, love or otherwise? Yes, absolutely.
These are not the best examples. Only examples that actually apply to your life really make sense. But they give a clue as to how we use the tool. I could offer to listen to my neighbors' problems, give feedback, stand as a friend, but cannot ethically do unsolicited magickal working. If they were to ask, that would be different. OK, let's say we have a teacher who does not want their students to talk to any other covens. Is this ok? No. Not by these standards. It does not maximize a person's independence, it contributes to dependent behavior, community participation is negatively impacted and it interferes with another's rights and preferences. It does not lead to informed choices. And it would violate our standards of valuing free will and independent thought.
Next? You have to wear a tie to work. Yes or No? Yes, this interferes with your rights or preferences, but it's up to you how badly you want to work here. That sounds flippant, but I know several people over the years who refused to take a management job that would have required them to wear a tie, on the grounds that they would not be themselves if they wore a tie. Personally, decorative strips of cloth at the neck might be worth a few more thousand a year. But different things bother people differently.
As with all tools, this is only a tool and can, like a good blade, be used to create or destroy. It is proposed only as a tool to assist our community in making consistent decisions regarding certain preferences, practices or behaviors that concern members of that community. Inherent in our consideration of the rights and obligations of teachers, students and members of the Pagan community is an assumption that those members also are earnest in their responsibilities.
These responsibilities include, but are not limited to: offering their preferences, maximizing their independence, making informed choices, becoming informed, choosing to do for themselves, fulfilling daily responsibilities of living.
The Pagan community is at an impasse. Witch Wars are still known in some areas worldwide. Typically, cropping up wherever Paganism is new. We do not know how to address these conflicts. We have been immobilized by the twin ethics of providing the ultimate environment for people to experience all aspects of their lives, and the certainty that some aspects of these explorations are not good for the community or the individual. What do we do? And how can we stay in harmony with our values while providing an ethical environment for learning and growth?
Those who work with energy should invest it where they want its effects. In the past we have invested energy fighting that which we do not want, rather than encouraging that which we prefer. Let us reach for a new understanding. I'm not trying to tell folks what to do, and I'm not going to promise that it will be easy. But if we stop trying to fix that which will never work the way we want it to, and spend our time and energy creating a structure to bring that which we want into being, we stand a better chance of success.
If we are concerned about stated standards of ethical behavior in our community, let's provide an available, voluntary method for identification of those in harmony with our standards. Others with different goals and preferences can create their own organizational definitions. Those new to our ways can then choose, based on stated knowledge, values, goals or agreements, whom they prefer to work with. And thus provide a tool to honorably consider conflicts which may arise in relationships. We can channel energy into our chosen paths and not divert it trying to staunch other's choices. And we identify ourselves to those of like minds and we can join together in common tasks and goals.
The Marble Street Agreement and the Pagan Alliance provide an alternative to actions which could be divisive to Pagan culture and community. Standards provide people in the community choices, not answers. Responsibility for any interaction belongs to the individuals directly involved. Pagans advocate interacting with honor, standards and reliable social norms for both internal issues and wider cultural issues and exchanges.
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Suggested Web Resources
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