For a very long time, the Pagan community has been a community that has been under a sense of siege. Our belief systems and practices are mocked, mischaracterized and misunderstood. We are accused of all kinds of crimes against society and even humanity whether we are linked up with the Mosaic-era Egyptians, the bloody Romans or even the Hitler regime in Nazi Germany. Of course, the biggie that most of us have to bear in this age of evangelism in America is Devil Worship. Need I really quote sources that on an individual level for us, comes from friends, family, co-workers or disruptive protesters or individuals at our public events and rituals? We all confront such stereotypes. This siege mentality comes from a sense of persecution whether we, ourselves, have felt that persecution directly or whether we just read about it on Pagan news sites or hear about it from other members of our communities. I do not debate that there is a need for circumspection or out-and-out wariness when we come out of our broom closets. However, we also must be circumspect about the kinds of effects this constant guarded mindset has on our perceptions, beliefs and actions. I believe that our own preconceptions, prejudices and communal notions about our plight also can become a place where we can compose, all without our knowing it, whole volumes of propaganda against ourselves, our religions and our movement.
One of those pitfalls that we hear every year around the time of our local Pagan Pride Days is that we must all present a “united front” inspite of our diversity of belief, opinion or whatever personality differences we have with each other. I will not deny that it is a great ideal toward which we should strive in our dealings with one another. There would be nothing nicer, in my opinion, than a few million Pagans who could, indeed, present a united and progressive agenda of openness, education and strength and be able to lead by example in areas of service, environmental policies and overall societal tolerance. How nice would it be if the witch wars and personal feuds which pervade our communities could be set aside toward this greater goal . . . and maybe they can. Wouldn’t we all love to be able to speak from a position of personal and group power and leave the collective whining, powerlessness and victimhood behind us forever? However—and this is a huge HOWEVER—what are we asked to sacrifice in order to accomplish this monumental task?
In our local community, and in others and even on a national level, I have heard calls for this to happen. I also hear this call for unity at the expense of other, important issues of identity and values. Yes, values. Values! Yep, that word . . . one half of the tiresome mantra, “family values”, that has been used as a bludgeon against ourselves, our LGBT brothers and sisters and other progressives for the last thirty years or so, now. Just as some of the movements in Paganism have been reclaiming power words used against us over the years, like Witch or Pagan, why shouldn’t we be considering as a collective to reclaim the word, VALUES, as well? We have them, don’t we? Yes, we are very tolerant of others beliefs, lifestyles and worldviews as a general rule, but I don’t believe that having open minds and hearts mean that we find an abundance of those organs falling out and lying about like litter on the side of the freeway. Just as Yahweh/Allah has gifted his billions of followers with reason and minds (whether they are used or not), our gods have seen fit, even if only to keep up with the I AMs of our tiny Earth, to gift us with the same reason and minds or something close (whether they are used or not). In our thinking, reasoning and experiences, have we not also come to have some things which might be called *gasp!* values, to which we hold dear and around which have condensed the ideas, perceptions and strategies we use as tools to examine our world and act within it—as well as in other worlds?
Attend here, please. I think all of us, even those of us on a warrior path, have a strong peace ethic; that we will attend to our lives and business in a matter that eschews violence as a method of attaining one’s goals or personal satisfaction in life. Some of us believe that war and violence as unthinkable tools of personal pathworking or statecraft. Others believe that violence is only the utterly LAST possibility of action in self- or even national preservation. We are not a bunch of pre-emptive war cheerleaders for the most part. Peace is a value we have in common. Freedom of belief is another cherished value among us. Tolerance of others and our differences is also a very generally held belief among us. Not only do we learn and grow from the shared experiences of others, but our differences can enrich and wisen us in ways we do not always expect. We like to approach the world with open hearts and minds, meeting new people and experiences with acceptance and wonder and even something approaching the ideal of love we strive for constantly.
However, the world does not always approach us in a reciprocal fashion. Anyone here tried to give a wild grizzly bear a paw-shake in greeting? How about revelling in the sunshine while rolling about in a patch of stinging nettle? Maybe a lipstick-smearing kiss to a barking pitbull? Our reason and judgement tell us these things would be bad ideas, right? Then why is it we assign one set of caution toward our non-human milieu and a completely different one to the human one? We all WANT to believe that our fellow humans have EXACTLY the same values that we have. Some of us want to believe it so badly that we, to use a tired but useful phrase, “throw the baby out with the bathwater.” We want to accept people we interact with at their word, because our word is our oath, bound and honourable. We share ourselves with others in a value bath of peace and tolerance and love and goodness, or want to, without a worry that those very values can be used against us. Yet, for some reason, we meet up with frauds, abusers and schemers whose value set includes taking advantage of those better angels of our values and then bashing us with them when we cry foul. In fact, Pagans in particular, and religious groups in general seem to attract these types like moths to a flame. I think a couple of examples are in order . . .
Maybe someone comes into one of our communities with a theme or notion that brings us all together toward a greater goal. When I say “all” I mean from all of the diverse parts of the community. “Hey, let’s all get together and buy some land so that we can have our feasts and rituals without worrying about the prejudices of others!” “Hey, let’s all get some money together to help so-and-so fight their legal battle which will affect us all!” “How about the community use this space that I provide as a community centre?” Sounds great to me! Has anyone else leapt at such opportunities? Money seems to be a major Pagan pitfall for some reason. It is not because Pagans do not have it to put toward worthy causes and goals, but a lot of communities seem to want to put their money and time toward a goal or cause that has no mechanism to insure that those resources actually go toward what they are originally intended. What happens when the originator of the idea makes off with the money or diverts it toward a more personally satisfying goal? Witch wars happen, that is what. What happens if someone who has a space that is used as a community meeting space also uses that space to sexually or financially abuse those who come to use that space? More witch wars, it would seem. When a rue and cry is issued about such abuses, those who cry foul are bashed over the head with our values of peace and tolerance and love. Our united front becomes a united front at any cost, fuck the vitims! Our values are used against us very publically, to shame victims of fraud and abuse into silence so our communities can present a happy face at public things like Pagan Pride or our usual Halloween coverage. The victimizers are given a kind of carte-blanche get -out-of-jail-free ticket. The victims rail, the victimizers remain silent and free of accountability and witch wars rage. The victims suddenly become the bullies and villains in dramas that seem to overtake our Pagan communities with predictable regularity, taking advantage of our apparent disunity. Our values are being used against us by these victimizers and abusers, folks!
The vast majority of Pagan communities do not want to have to exercise their faculties of reason and judgement. Judgement is such a Christian word to many of them! Judgement has all kinds of baggage brought over from most Pagans’ former lives in Christianity. Aren’t Pagans themselves the victims of judgement in some sense from those who misunderstand us? However, judgement and reason are just what our communities are most in need of at these times. Fence sitters need to decide for themselves if their values are being used for or against them and make decisions about how to act, yet they sit on their Ghandi-like fences, pronounce great platitudes reinforcing our values of peace, tolerance and love, and divorce themselves from the dirty realities of the very real presence of frauds, con-artists and abusers in our midst. The “judge not, lest ye be judged” commandment is a Christian commandment that holds some kind of hallowed sway over our actions as Pagans. Are we judging at all? How will our lack of judgement be held against us? If we make ourselves impotent to deal with abusers, how are we to be judged? We as Pagans look to be completely impotent to deal with these hucksters in our midst and pity those who try to bring in secular authorities to deal with these matters within our legal system! We tend to judge those who do engage secular authorities in matters of financial, sexual of physical abuse as our enemies. In fact, they are judged harshly. Why is that?
Do you want to end witch wars? Do you want to end ethical hand-wringing and indecision? Then we must act. I believe that the first act we can accomplish toward the acceptance of our Pagan communities in greater American society is to demonstrate that we have some common values with the greater population. Not only do we really share our dearest values of peace, tolerance and education with all of America, but we also have values of responsibility and accountability in our leaders and institutions. This means that we actively court the assistance of civil authorities in instances of fraud and abuse. We freely give testimony against those who come to roost with us to use and abuse us. We must use our faculties of judgement and discrimination given us by the Gods to discern what is best for us and our communities and how to attain it. We also have the responsibility to create accountable bodies in our midst to handle the resources of larger, community-oriented projects which transcend our individual groups. If we choose to participate in these larger projects, there is a small element of group sovereignty that is given up toward participation. Each of our groups that participate in these larger endeavours is responsible and accountable regarding funding, policy and action. We must be transparent not only to each other, but to the greater society we reside within.
We can create a milieu, locally and nationally, in which Pagans can accomplish great things with our common values presented in a way that ordinary Americans can identify with. I believe that if Americans in general see us for what we are, we can lead in many spheres toward a nation we are all proud to be a part of, a nation where all of our voices are valued, and a nation that does not react to our presence out of ignornace and fear. However, it is paramount that we begin this great endeavour by cleaning up our own communities, removing elements of fraud and abuse that make us appear cult-like to our non-Pagan brothers and sisters, and participating in full faith in the institutions of law and political and community action and service that will open to us if we just do not stumble and fall when victimizers attempt, over and over again, to use those better angels of our nature against us. Yes, we should try to present a united front to the non-Pagan world. However, not at the expense of allowing frauds and abusers to find safe haven and even legitimacy within our communities. We need to put our “united front” into practice against these kinds of predatory individuals before it will have any credibility outside of our communities. We have a lot of practicing to do, too.
Our values can be our greatest and strongest tool—not a weapon, but a tool—to be used toward our liberation and understanding in the larger culture of the United States. We are not a Balkanized version of religious minorities in America, but another force for the ideals that the American nation was formed upon if we have the will to act collectively to clean up our Pagan act. Will we be a victim of our own values used against us, or a force for progressive involvement in the American future? It is not only something to think about in our current polictical and economic times, but an agenda to act upon if we have the collective will.