Pagans Need to Stop Caring About What Other People Think
Author: Clever Brian
It is sound advice in every aspect of a healthy adult’s life: you’ll never be happy, satisfied, or even comfortable if you spend your whole life trying to please others. The only mind you can know, let alone change is your own. Life is short and the only way you can really make the best of it is under your own rules for your own reasons.
I think that a lot of people explore religious alternatives for that very reason. If you are of a character that needs to believe in the Divine in some form or another, but you don’t like to be told what to do or how to think, it’s only natural that you start looking for a set of beliefs that conform to your values and experiences. Paganism offers people a very loose framework where they are free to choose the images and practices that suit them, and have those choices respected in their religious community.
But for all the independence that is innate in choosing a Pagan spiritual path, there is something about the Pagan religious community that engenders a fear of what the religious mainstream thinks about it. Rituals have been bowdlerized, books made obscure, mysteries lost, and compromises made in order to appear “legitimate” in the eyes of the larger religious community.
The unease with the word “witch”, the endless vacillating over skyclad (nude) rituals, the disappearance of the fivefold kiss, the mass publication of “great rites” that are vapid symbolic plays without any context, horror at suggestions of using pain or self-flagellation in rites, the glossing over of the use of drugs in magic… they are all symptoms of the same impulse: The need to make Paganism and Wicca seem friendly and harmless to the mainstream culture.
It isn’t doing us any favours, nor should it. The message it really seems to send is that Pagans are happy to compromise on their beliefs, or that they aren’t truthful with outsiders about them.
Certainly there have been plenty of “Satanic Panic” conspiracy theorists that are happy to point out the inconsistencies from text-to-text and group-to-group to suggest that there are some secret inner teachings, and the public face Pagans present is a pack of lies that are there to suck in the unwary. Consider Steve Russo’s What’s the Deal with Wicca? as a prime example.
Another consequence comes from the bowdlerization of Paganism in the name of maintaining a friendly public face: the watering down of the Pagan religious experience. Many Pagans of my generation learned their practices from the books available at major bookstores. The watered-down rituals, noncommittal attitudes, and dancing around several major issues leads to a watered-down religious experience. For every practising Pagan I know who enjoys a rich religious and spiritual life, I know two who gave it up, because it seemed hollow and meaningless. In my conversations with the latter group I often discover that they were turned off by what they saw as a lack of relevance and meaning to it, or the endless political positioning that happens within the Paganism they learned from the bookshelves of Coles.
Let’s face the bare-bones facts: Wicca started as a sex-cult among a group of wild young actresses and society ladies in Britain. It was a modern mish-mash of Hinduism, Platonic philosophy, Celtic/Nordic folk traditions, magical spells borrowed from medieval manuscripts, and a very modern form of worship of old gods. Gardner then interpolated touches of the Sexual Rebellion ethic and “Babalon” workings from Crowley’s Thelema.
It was a wild, exclusive party that was thick with occultism and dripping with earthy sexuality. There are compelling arguments to suggest that either it grew because of a fluke burst of interest, or as a part of a scheme to provide a massive recruiting ground for the O.T.O., while pushing their sexual liberation agenda ahead.
It included naked worship, sex rituals, self-flagellation, and heavy use of alcohol, suggestions of partner-swapping, and openness to experimentation with drugs. There was no ethic against black magic, just the warning that what you do becomes who you are hidden in cryptic and theatrical language. Their were also tiers of initiation into mysteries borrowed heavily from Rosicrucian/Masonic/Golden Dawn – type sources, that were intentionally not offered to beginners, because some things simply have to be learned with experience, not told.
These are evident; they are our roots, and there is absolutely no use in sweeping them under the carpet.
These things probably don’t appeal to every Pagan, and they are perfectly welcome to take what they want and leave the rest. But should we care that Christians will have none of it? Should we worry if the mainstream media paints us as kooks, or a pack of lusty black-clad teenagers?
Truthfully, I can’t see why we would. Especially not given the damage we are doing to ourselves in the process.
The nature of the human thought is such hat we can never be persuaded of something unless we want to be. You have to choose to have an open mind going into a debate before you can possibly change it. If a person is absolutely set in their beliefs, and those beliefs include either A) that you are evil/insane/damned or B) that you are misguided and need correction, you will never get them to think well of you no matter what you do.
We can scream about not believing about Satan until we are blue in the face, but an Evangelical who is convinced that we are devil-worshippers simply will not be dissuaded from that belief without some immensely grand gesture. And unless that person is a loved one, why would you want to bother?
If a person is dead-set on accusing us of eating babies, do we really even want to give them the time of day or the attention they are so desperate for? And do we want to deal with the idiots who would believe such an absurd claim, either?
Moreover, this crusade for legitimacy has often put pagans at odds with others’ right to religious freedom. Pagan voices have strongly supported attacks on religious monuments in government buildings, openly attacked other people’s belief systems, and the right to practice them. I have personally witnessed Pagans put excessive amounts of energy into berating or limiting the freedom of groups like The First Church of Satan, who in many ways Pagans have more in common with than they ever will with mainstream religion.
It is a fact that we live in societies that remain overwhelmingly Christian. Christian iconography, language, and morals pervade our everyday speech our attitudes, our behaviour and our expectations. The voices of Christians will remain dominant for some time. Religious Chauvinism, the assumption that everyone else is Christian, or that people who aren’t Christian are ignorant and deluded is an inevitable byproduct of our society. Our own apologetics and attempts to make ourselves acceptable to Christians in many ways only prolong this chauvinism in our society.
I propose that we have to learn to simply ignore it, as many varieties feminists have learned to ignore male chauvinists; by assuming they are not worth your time so long as they aren’t interfering with you or others around you. Why bother with people who have such deep-entrenched ideas, what is there to gain out of it?
Of course, this does not mean we should not call “Bullsh*t!” when a person does interfere with a Pagan’s right to practice his or her religion. It is one thing to lightly bandy about the idea that America, Canada, and Britain are “Christian” countries. It is even true, interpreted in a few different ways. It is another to use that as the basis for passing laws that ban certain practices or give special economic advantages to Christian groups. It is one thing to ignore the ignorance; it is another to ignore ignorant action.
In these cases, though, it is better to stop worrying about what the legislator, basher, or bigot has in mind. Reading minds is hard, and inexact work, and changing minds nearly impossible. There is no gain to be made in educating these people. The only place that such actions can be countered is where you are in the same playing fields. Cite your constitutional rights, take people to court, use words to denounce the action (not argue with its author) , and in the case of brutality, answer it with appropriate measures of self-defence.
So long as we insist on holding to our principles as a society, the Constitutions and Human Rights movement will continue to put us in the right. And when those no longer can avail us, look around, because there will be a revolution in the streets you’ll be able to join.
In the end, the continued push to care about what others think will only make use self-censor waffle, and waver further. It will push away people who come looking for a meaningful religious experience, and it will cost us our identity as a religion and as a people… and it will do so without giving us any gains in the cultural arena.
It is far better to maintain a frank openness and honesty to anyone who is willing to take the time and research, or to find a Pagan and simply ask a few direct questions, than to try to persuade the whole world. And for the people who don’t like what they see when they explore Paganism, there are plenty of other faiths, they will find one they like eventually, that is not our affair.
This press for acceptance is also, on another level, incongruous to the position of total freedom that Paganism offers. We cannot really follow the injunction to ‘Do what thou wilt, ” if we are always looking for signs of disapproval in others. That would be bending our ‘doing’ to someone else’s ‘willing.’