We are a set of communities older and deeper than the blogosphere–which may surprise some of you gentle readers. I’ll try to tread lightly on your illusions.
In the recent controversy over the arrest of a Pagan musician who admitted to uploading the child porn found on his computer, several wandering and toxic issues have risen to the top of the pail. One is the notion that there is only one way to be a “real Pagan.”
I came up in the early days when the glory of being Pagan was that one could do that in many different ways. Certainly, if you chose to be part of one of the codified traditions, there were and are proscribed ways of doing things. But no one tradition owns Paganism. One person may be initiated and hold leadership in an old-school British Tradition, another may practice the Religio Romano. Many paths through the forest, many rivers to the sea. The Roman Recon certainly thinks her trad is the best and so does the Brit Trad Wiccan.
There wasn’t much proselytizing in those old days and there wasn’t a sense of one right way to do the whole Earth religions/Pagan/Heathen thing. We did it the way we did it (were trained to do it or invented it whole cloth) and if others didn’t like it, they were welcome to do their own thing somewhere else. My ritual, my rules. Your ritual, your rules. There were sometimes flame wars within traditions as one sect separated from Mother Coven, but we tended to not bother preaching to the choirs outside our own trads.
Now, though, it seems to me I hear more and more about what it means to be a “real” Pagan. Events perpetrated by a well-known, highly visible person in the larger Pagan community that triggers and shames us is often met with cries of “Pagans never do that!” and “That person is not a true Pagan”. If you have been in the Pagan community longer than a few months or you are one of those rare souls who has chosen to learn the history of these religious movements, you have learned–possibly to your surprise–that Pagans are humans and we exhibit all the traits (for good or ill) of your basic human being. All of them.
We are political wonks and we are bored by politics. We are Dems, Repubs, Independents, Libertarians, Socialists, Anarchists, Greens and nothing at all. We are pro-choice and pro-life. We are good at spelling and we suck at it. We are a wide range of genders and colors and ethnicities. We are tall and short, fat and thin. We are well, we are ill, we are healing. We are differently-abled. We are single, widowed, married, partnered, polyed. We are professionals and panhandlers. I could go on but I think you get it. We’re humans.
We have our heads buried in the sand or we are stationed in Cloud Cuckoo Land (and you should read that play, by the way, whatever your trad) if we think Pagans aren’t capable of the full range from feeding the homeless to abusing children. Yes, “real” Pagans have done that good thing and “real” Pagans are responsible for that bad thing. And all the sorts of things that lie in between and make up our non-binary lives.
I am also seeing this interesting drawing-back from confusing and hurtful situations by leaving it in the hands of “karma.” Most people in the West–and this is certainly true for many Pagans–have a shallow and incomplete knowledge of what “karma” is and we are wrong to leave the safety and the future of our communities to something so intangible, so poorly understood by most of us. “Dude, I wouldn’t have his karma!” or “Leave it to karma–she’s a bitch!” are hardly inspiring in the face of massive community dysfunction.
Our work–besides reaching down the throat of our complicated history and teaching the people new to Paganism that there is more to being a Pagan than commenting on popular blogs and forums–is to create places in the web of our diverse and argumentative communities where those communities can work through the issues that rise up and to strategize ways to repair the damage in the cloth of the community. We can try to insure that the bad things don’t recur because we have ignored them for decades and they have not gone “away.” We can actually listen when people express their discomfort or fear or anger and know we are strong enough to withstand our own deep scrutiny.
When we have been here for a few more decades, I hope people will look back on this time as the starting point for a renewed love of our people and a renewed commitment to protect the vulnerable. There is healing there, and honor.