Monday, January 13, 2014

The problem with being as good as...

Years ago, when I was a baby Pagan living in the Big City, I was introduced to the local public coven. Every town above a certain size has one, that open its arms, welcomes everyone and dispels the myths about Witches coven. And they are usually run by the Media Witch, who gives interviews usually around Halloween. I've met the Media Witches in a couple of towns, and my local one was a real fluff bunny.

Not to say Media Witch was a bad person herself – her habitual pot use was legendary. Beyond that, she was pretty much Garden variety Wicca, which was handed down to her by her Grand Poobah, who became a Patron Saint after she died.

The coven had the typical politics and internal scandals present in any group of people, but overall was small potatoes. The interesting thing was watching the way she interacted with media any time she was Publicity Witch. One thing I consistently noticed, and has been repeated by several others I've seen, is the idea I call As Good As.

The comparison between Wicca and Christianity often came up, e.g. We don't believe in the devil, he's a Christian invention; We believe in a creator God; We have a Golden Rule; We believe in an afterlife; etc.

Later I happened to be at a meeting of a National Pagan Organization that will remained unnamed, where I heard much the same kind of discussion when it came to interdenominational work with the major religions. In this meeting they were discussing how effective it could be to have Pagan representatives on panels of many faiths. I couldn't take and stood up and addressed the group.

I have a habit of speaking my mind, and I have made some enemies. I'm not going to go into dialogue about what was said, rather I'm going to dispel some myths the Pagan community operates under, and hopefully make some salient points.

First point: You are not mainstream. You never will be. Make peace with it, because the rest of the world sees what you do as either a hobby, a pastime, a sin or foolishness. They generally don't believe in Witches or magic, and they certainly don't think there are any genuine witches left. What you are doing, in their minds, is a form of cosplay that the renaissance fair crowd is calling religion.

Second point: You are a minority religion. You will not have the clout or numbers that Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus or Buddhists have. You are on the fringe, and you are not going to be anything but an oddity. Make peace with this point too.

Third point: You won't be taken seriously, at Your faith seems to be a joke – who would honestly adopt the word “witch” to describe themselves? That's like saying you are and assassin, a sorcerer, or an alien. You must eat babies or poison crops. And you must be very naiive.

I contend that trying to draw parallels with the Big Boy religions of the Book serves not only to confuse the audience (“So if you are so like Christianity, why not be Christian?”), but it seems obvious that the speaker is trying to ride on the coattails of those religions.

Which is exactly what is happening.

Another problem here has to do with language. Words can be weapons, and thinking tactically, you have to gain control of the intellectual high ground. Most people think of the mainstream religions as the definitions of right and wrong, virtue and values. To come in from another direction and say that one rejects these concepts creates a problem. If you refuse Christianity (or Islam or Buddha) then what's to stop you from being a child-molesting, axe-murderer? This kind of question shows how much people frame the idea of morality in the terms of religion.

This is an area where the modern Pagan movement often fails.

We agree certain things that are important in the discussion of virtue, e.g. compassion, charity, brotherly love, are important, but we fail to define these things differently than our counterparts in other faiths.

For example, as Pagans, why should we exercise charity? Why would I show compassion? The Christians are commanded to do so because of the love that Jesus showed by dying for their sins, so they “pay it forward”. We could argue about the form that charity takes, but ultimately the act of charity is rooted in a sense of debt for the charity they have received.

Historically, Pagans have been very bad at charity – despite some more recent, infrequent changes. They rarely can raise enough money to keep their own covens going, much less help out other Pagans or even strangers. There's resistance to chipping in is rooted deeply, and I'm not sure where it lies. Maybe a concern of seeming too like the mainstream churches that use charity as a way to prosleytize? I suspect that this probably the case...

So it's easier to claim poverty than butch up and give something to improve the community. It's easier to claim poverty than to put trust into self-appointed leaders to spend your money well. We let our Pagan kin starve or lose homes of suffer medical problems because we're broke, but buy statues and incense and jewelry that would make a whore blush.

And that's just ourselves. We can't be bothered to do anything for the larger, non-Pagan community we live in.

The ironic thing is that where it's useful to point at the major faiths, like trying to gain acceptance on their backs, the Pagan community has few problems with pointing to them as an example. When it comes to putting money where one's mouth is, they distance themselves from the Christians and generally look like a herd of selfish cats.

So here's a solution. Stop buying junk at the metaphysical shop, and feed a starving kid. Or donate to a medical group doing work in Central America. Or donate to a soup kitchen, give an hour of time at the hospital with crack babies. Help people, and yes, wear a pentacle while doing it. Don't make a fuss about your faith, just do good stuff, however you define it.

This is how you dispel the myth of witches being silly, self-centered people – by not ACTING like silly self-centered people. Because frankly, if we want to be taken seriously as a community, we need to start acting seriously as a community. We need to be engaged in making our world better, not because we have a mandate, but because we want to live in a better world.

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