The opinions posted on the Pagan Perspective pages are those of individuals and are not neccessarily shared or endorsed by the Witches' Voice inc.
Posted: Sep. 8, 2002
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Question of the Week: 105 - 4/5/2003
Are Pagans TOO Individualistic?
We hear it said all of the time: Pagans are individualistic. We hold our own personal freedoms and acts of self-determination (and perhaps, our own self-worth and esteem) to be of the utmost importance and often view events, ethical and moral issues and Pagan-related teachings through this lens.
Does the good of the one always outweigh the good of the many? Should it? Are there times and/or circumstances in which such an individualistic mindset is detrimental to a bigger picture?
Have there been times when you have put aside your personal feelings in order to support a group or project even if you were somewhat ambivalent about ‘going along’? Or have you left a group or situation because you would not -- or could not –- go along with the crowd or leadership position?
How do you reconcile your individuality with the goals or teachings or codes of your group? With other Pagans? How do you decide?
| Reponses: There are 56 responses posted to this question.
|| Reverse Sort
| Too Individualistic? ||Apr 6th. at 10:21:53 pm EDT|
|RainRaven (Syracuse, NY) ||Age: 30 - Email |
We all bring our our own ideas and beliefs with us in whatever venture we attempt. After all, what else do we have? We all are individuals yet, groupmembers in some way; we are neighbors, family members, coven members. However specific, we belong to some group and are share common traits although each of these groups (Americans, New Yorkers, senior citizens) are made up of individuals all different from one another.
I think (here we go, starting off with "I" and individualistic as ever!) group ideas and goals sprout from individual ideas and beliefs for the gain of other individuals. It's a big circle as are so many other things. The individual gives birth to the idea, another agrees and maybe another and now we have a group who share or maybe modify that idea. The group can now proceed with the evolution of the idea and for what? So that the individual can benefit.
So, are we too individualistic as Pagans? Probably not. We need freedoms and individual expression/rights in order to foster those larger goals that ultimately benefit the individual.
Wow - that went round and round, as do so many things!
| Incidentally ||Apr 6th. at 11:53:38 pm EDT|
|Morrighan (Timbucktoo) ||Age: 25 - Email |
I read an article written in 1974. I found it in a back copy of the AAR (American Academy of Religion) . In the article, the author talks about how any "new" polytheistic worship would have to be individual, because the culture is not established around it. The article suggests that religion structures a culture, and not the other way around, as many assume. That's what I've been thinking anyway.
Having said that, I think that individualism is what gives Pagans their spiritual paths. All of us take something from the great pot of the ancient world and make it our own. Some of us even pull from modern traditions. This is also where we get into trouble.
Modern traditions (and many there are) aside, what we have on ancient cultures varies from scholar to scholar. We have too much of "No, that's not right. What you think is factually incorrect." However, that is a hard line to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt, considering what we're working with.
It's not only impossible to fault someone's understanding of the tradition in which they are working, but also unethical. It's the old syndrome of the pot calling the kettle black, especially since "individualism is a "new fangled" idea that arose out of the Enlightnement.
And that's my other argument. The individual in the ancient world, and some of today's cultures, didn't exist. It was the family unit that was central for survival. To be honest, in fact, there is no one person acting alone. We're all working together. It's the little intricacies that no one ever sees.
So in total answer to the question, "Are we too individualistic?" On the one hand I'd say we have to be. We're playing the interpretation game. On the otherhand, I'd say no, because who acts completely alone? Who doesn't depend on someone or something else for their purposes in life?
| Absolutely YES! ||Apr 7th. at 9:05:32 am EDT|
|DolphinSmile (Austin, TX) ||Age: 22 - Email |
Ok, let me explain. Of course everyone is an individual. That's a given, and I'm not saying we should be sheep. However, I do think that community is very important. There is strength in numbers, so even if people disagree in something, there are situations where you should put aside your differences and work out a compromise, for the good of the community. Sometimes you have to agree to disagree and move on. This is not a weakness, this is not giving in, this is sacrificing your ego for the good of your community, and sometimes this is worth it. If you aren't willing to do this, then don't join the group in the first place.
Not everyone can be a leader at the same time. There have to be followers too. All leaders and no followers is chaos. This doesn't mean that any one person has to stay a that way in all circumstances. This doesn't mean the leader should have absolute control, or is better than everyone else. You need someone to stand up at the front and organise and coordinate your efforts.
I am glad Wren brought this issue up, because I joined my university's Pagan student group this year, and now that the year is almost over, I have seen for the first time what can happen when a group of Pagans refuse to compromise. We're working on our booth for this big student group fundraiser towards the end of the year, and we need to figure out how to decorate our booth, and we need to make t-shirts for our organization. This booth and the shirts are going to represent our organization, so choosing a theme for them has turned out to be rather controversial. Our group is a pure democracy, so all our leader can do is take down nominatons and count votes.
Some members want to do something really flashy and exciting, to get people's attention. Others want to do something goofy and cheesy, and then there's this one guy, who thinks that anything beyond just a nice booth with our name on it is going to alienate "serious" Pagans out there, make us look stupid or fluffy, and/or piss off any fundies or Catholics who may be around. He has REFUSED to budge on this issue, and says if we do any other themes he will absolutely not participate in the fundraiser.
Which brings up another interesting point. How should an organization that is supposed to be open to all Pagan religions present itself? How do we walk that fine line between having trappings that are too tradition-specific that may alienate people of other traditions, and looking just plain boring, so people may pass us up for a more interesting looking group?
This comes down to the individualistic thing again. It seems that whenever you try to define what a Pagan is, you will immediately get lots of people saying "Well, I'm a Pagan, and I'm not like that at all!" Do that too much, and the word "pagan" ends up having no meaning, which makes it useless as a word. Our charter says we are open to people of all relgions that are not "Christian, Muslim, or Jewish", but we do have an atheist member, and a Muslim member, so actually we're pretty much open to anyone who wants to join. But we still have to have a purpose. We still have to DO something at our meetings. Or else, why even have an organization at all?
Pagans have to decide whether it is worth it to gather into groups. There are great benefits of doing this, but there are also drawbacks. You have to decide if the chance to be with other Pagans, with all it's advantages, is worth not getting your way all the time. I, personally, think it is worth it. If you don't think so, you should not join a group thinking everyone will agree with you all the time. You can't have it both ways. It will not happen, and you could end up tearing the group apart.
| Can You Stop Them? ||Apr 7th. at 11:34:26 am EDT|
|Penny J. Novack (Berkshire mountains, Massachusetts.) ||Age: 62 - Email |
I'm really enjoying reading people's views. I guess my experience is there's no choice about Pagans/Witches being individualistic.
In terms of organisations, if it's set up from the start to assume that at times a minority of members won't agree to the group vote -- or consensus -- then some kind of compromise can be made. There really is no need for every member to take part in every action. Honest. It could help if the first discussion in every planned action was "What do we really want?". A lot of times the ways in which people envision an action are widely differing so that what makes sense for one concept is complete nonsense from another. If it's a question of logos and t-shirts, it's usually best with logos to keep them very simple. Sort of broad-spectrum simple. And then if there are too many t-shirt ideas, make the disparate participants create their own t-shirts -- somehow incorporating the logo or just putting it on the upper corner of the shirt. If they feel so strongly they would otherwise block the project then they should feel strongly enough to do the work of creating what they believe is right.
Over-organisation ruins community feeling, in my experience. Let people contribute their strengths and at least give them credit for caring. So what if it doesn't always look professional! What's the goal here?
| Paganism Is About Inclusion ||Apr 7th. at 12:11:21 pm EDT|
|TishMaran (Pittsfield) ||Age: 27 - Email - Web|
What an interesting question! The only point I want to make is the following. Pagans may appear to be too individualistic, but are not.
Recently, I was reading some Hindu religious literature that commented on the rise of Buddhism. Now, Buddhism was born of Hinduism several centuries before the "Christ" movement happenned in the Mediterranean. And, Buddhism was born of Hinduism, like Christianity was born of Paganism.
Apparently, many centuries ago, a prophecy was made by the Gods of Hinduism which stated that the Gods had created Buddhism in the hope that its ultra-individualistic attitude would stimulate in humans extreme self-centeredness, and bring about the end of the world at a faster rate than if things "were allowed to happen in the normal way". The Gods, it goes, after little time, wanted the end of the world, so that all human suffering could eventually be ended once and for all; apparently the Gods did not realize that humans would suffer so much when they first established humans on earth from the stars.
Now, we have been conditioned to think of Buddhism as a self-less religion which denigrates the self, because so many practices in the faith are aimed at releaseing "egoic" connectiveness, and becoming pure minded, etc.: to be untainted like the Buddha. I bet many think that Buddhism might be the least selfish religion around. But, here's the catch...it is one of the most selfish religions around.
The Hindus believe the Buddhist religion to be the downfall of humans because, like the Christian faiths (and Judaism, Islam) , Buddhism makes so little mention of anything else in the cosmos except the individuals' mind and thoughts. A Hindu might wake up in the morning and say, "hello spirits of the world", "spirit of day, hello", "oh hello, little mouse in my kitchen", "hello, spirit of pregnant goddess", and "hello, spirit of my crops are doing well in the backyard this season". Because, the Buddhist pays no attention to everyone else in nature, except his own journey to enlightenment, they are doomed, it is thought, to bring about the end of our race, because they are so unconnected to nature and the hosts of nature, and only connected, ironically, to their own ascension away from matter. . Likewise, Christianity is conceived of similarly to Buddhism, in that it is considered a very un-selfish faith. But, true to color, it too pays service only to the individual and his emotional outlook, as he prepares to ascend to the heavens, again away from earth. That is individualism; more concerned with the status of one's soul, than with the crying of the tribe of babies down the street.
The Buddhist and the Christian refuse to honor others who are also making this journey of earthly existence because their faiths are so tied into their own self-consciousness, and to focus on such a superfluous situation would deter them from their mission. They do not honor the Gods of fire and wind, the Goddesses of life, love and death; the river spirits and the ancient human stories of animal guides and the feats of the gods; they are concerned only with an ideal of self-attainment, and perfection with a singular, selectively-manipulatable God.
Hinduism, like Paganism, is highly inclusive when it comes to nature and philosophy. While the Hindu or Pagan may have a strong sense of self and "can hold their own" perhaps with little difficulty, it is the sharing of life through an inclusive spirituality that sets them up as non-individualistic; they revel with the "whole company of gods and beings", not just their minds.
So while someone might say that Paganism is too individualistic because "those people just make it up as they go along" or "they venerate themselves and not a pontiff", or "they do not care for tradition, only what they want to seeand do", it must be remembered, that Paganism is a 'religion' of inclusion and friends. Paganism is built on the premise that we are in nature, a part of it, and that no lifeform on earth (whether a spirit or stone) is better than another, we're just all friends, potential friends, or enemies...but we do have a relationship with others, we have a relationship with "God" as well as everyone else.
It is individualistic to ignore other creatures because they can't do anything for you, or there is no story about them in your religion, or they are not a good fit for your idealogy. Paganism is not too individualistic, if something new comes around, incorporate it into your mindframe, if something old comes around, do the same. Paganism is community oriented and inclusive, it is interested far more in the interconnectedness of all lifeforms than it is on individual concerns and problems of reaching perfection (most Pagans probably don't even recognize the word perfection as applying to Life, unless all life is perfect as it is) . Pagans ARE interested in perfected themselves, but within the context of "we're just another kind of earth creature". Through the veneration of deities and spirits, Paganism connects unselfishly with the rest of the cosmos - as it exists through the combined desire of all of its children.
Paganism is not individualistic because it values the Web of Life and each person's place in it, and not just, "-my place in it"
I realize that this essay is pretty esoteric given the question, and that it pertains more to ideals than to physical reality in some areas. I also realize how relatively individualistic Pagans appear in a Christian World, where any self-generated thoughts have historically been frowned upon or eradicated. Pagans are interested in living the way that is right for them within the realms of nature, yes they are interested in their personal satisfaction with life. It may seem individualistic to worship "God" in a way that works really well for YOU, as opposed to the way it was several centuries ago, but when you start to believe that your's is the only way to do it, then you become individualistic.
Christians dislike and denigrate their self-identities, yet create highly exclusive communities of like-thought which require constant obeisance on the part of worshipper and selfishly tout the religion as the "best" around. The communities are socialized to become homogenous and when they become "the same" tend to ignore the validity of anything else outside the group confines.
Conversely, Pagans love and affirm their individual self-identities, yet create highly inclusive communities of dissonant-thought which requires a constant balancing of self and other. Individual groups are lauded for their achievements, but considered to be "just another path up the mountain". The groups constantly require a balance of self and other, or the rest of the coven will simply get up and leave! That is not individualism, that is working well with the group mind.
I hope that I have not offended anyone with my words
Link to More info related to this post -- HERE
| Are Pagans TOO Individualistic? ...... Hmmmmmm ||Apr 7th. at 12:33:01 pm EDT|
I like this question because I have known alot of people that have left groups because they could not bend in anyway. There is nothing wrong with up holding what one believes but one of the reasons I could not be of the Christian faith was do to the fact that most of the are too individualistic (why there are so many types of Christians) but we as pagans... and in my case Wiccan see things different... so why should be do the same as everyone else and be that unmoving. For me it is wrong to not help others simple because I don't want to compremise what I believe... because that is part of my faith... I should help others even if I don't totally agree with it. If we all would just try and find a way to see things through eye unclouded this world would be alot better place. Bsides help those that I don't agree with makes me feel better because I have shown I am better than that!
| Excelent Question ||Apr 7th. at 12:33:08 pm EDT|
|Dreamklerk (Arizona) ||Age: 38 - Email |
Pagans today, by and large, have CHOSEN their path, not been conditioned to it since birth. Indeed, they have almost always had to REJECT some other path to be a pagan.
Needless to say, that requires someone who is not a good conformist. However, most new pagans come from the democratic nations of Europe or it's cultural derivatives. One would expect that with that experience even a collection of strong-minded folks like us would be able to form some kind of cohesive group. That is not always the case. I do not think pagans are too far gone -- but more openness and toleration are clearly in order
| I Don't Think We Are TOO Individualistic. ||Apr 7th. at 2:55:16 pm EDT|
|Maleciah (Oregon) ||Age: 25 - Email |
I think that due to the fact that most pagans have chosen their own path and not been told it gives us a broader base to create understanding.. no, I think we are just fine.
| No Such Thing As Too Individualtistic ||Apr 7th. at 9:25:57 pm EDT|
|lilith (lost angeles) ||Age: 33 - Email |
when it comes to spiritual concerns i think the rampant individualism in paganism is a great and powerful thing, because ultimately all spiritual paths are personal.
when it comes to groups, however, i dont think pagans are any more individual than anyone else-- i have observed its simply a matter of personality, and if yr personality is extremely social or you tend to join, then being a pagan wont make you less prone to doing so, and if yr the kind of person who is really individualistic you will always be so.
i think the points made earlier, about the fact that nearly all pagans are in a position of rejecting the society around them because of their spiritual views, makes pagans look more individualistic than they necessarily are. i think the essay topics on pagan community shows this to be true-- i for one am not at all keen in linking up with other pagans, and i dont see any need for pagan community, but others clearly feel it would be a good idea to join together in some way, for the good of all. my reasons are hinged very much upon my experience within christianity, and my observations that groups can be extremely stifling to spiritual progress and to the search for Truth. others do not have that experience [or personality quirk].
in any case, i did enjoy reading some of the earlier posts on this subject, particularly TishMaran's writing about hinduism and buddhism-- extremely informative for pagans and witches.
) O (
| Individualism ||Apr 7th. at 10:32:34 pm EDT|
|Katherine ( (wish I weren't in) Canada) ||Age: 47 - Email |
Given the vastly infinite array of the Goddess' creation, how can we not be individuals? I have found that, all too often, in any group, there is what is known as 'identity thinking' in operation: that is, individuality tends to be elided in accordance with some ideology that supposedly informs that group. Even among Pagans, it is often taken for granted that, for instance, certain political stances are ubiquitous, or at least shared by all members of a given group. It's not so, and it's important to be able to disagree without disrespect for the positions of others. Often, I think, people are unable to do so, and so what happens is that the yellers dominate or the quieter ones, fearing lest they offend, do not offer what could be valuable insights on any issue.
| Each To Their Own!! ||Apr 8th. at 6:33:59 am EDT|
|Silver Raven (Jo Marriott) (Nottingham, England) ||Age: 21 - Email - Web|
I forget which author said it, but this is a quote I find appropriate in many situations - "The individual person is highly intelligent...but people as a group are stupid."
This is too true. As individuals we are unique and have the right to be so, which is one reason why I was originally attracted to the Old Religion, one is free to be oneself. But put a group of people together to make decisions about things (for want of a better example, a government) and things start going wrong. Democracy is all well and good, but a group set up to decide the right and wrongs for everyone to live by is NEVER going to please everyone and therefore things like crime will never be totally erradicated. Sad but true.
So Pagans, I feel, have the right idea with believing it's OK to do what you want, as long as your intentions are pure. But like everything in life, moderation is the key. Don't be so individual that you cut yourself off from the outside world - everyone needs someone at some point in life. Otherwise you may just become very sad and very lonely.
| The Importance Of Being An Individual ||Apr 8th. at 11:30:41 am EDT|
|amy (southampton, england) ||Age: 22 - Email |
The simple truth is that individualism is necessary to the survival of the Pagan faiths as they are. One of the greatest things about our beliefs is that they are in a process of continuous evolution. If it were not for the determination of our community to pursue their individual paths, I suspect Paganism would already be out of date.
To say that we are too individualistic would imply that we all need a set of parameters or criteria by which we define ourselves. This would threaten the inclusiveness of the Pagan umbrella. Even with the most traditional covens, you join because the nature of the coven's workings are best for you, not because it is orthodox or conventional. It's great that no tradition can lay claim to being the 'one true way', as it were, because this promotes tolerance.
Having read Kerr Cuhulain's series on Christian fundamentalists, I am aware of the dangers posed by fundamentalism of all kinds. These people are convinced that there is only one correct way to worship. I am afraid that if our community began to introduce restrictions on methods of worship, fundamentalism would increase.
With things as they are, I don't have to join a coven or group where I feel uncomfortable or where there is major disagreement. I believe everyone finds their own path to the Divine. Sometimes working with a coven can be beneficial and sometimes not, but compelling people to form into groups - or indeed to do anything - would be anathema to Paganism. Many of us, as other people here have said, have come out of restrictive and rule-driven faiths. I feel it is important for us to maintain the level of tolerance for individualism that we have in order to keep our faiths from becoming like those we have left behind.
The one thing it seems we must watch for, judging by the stories on here so far, is tolerance within a working group. Practising your individual faith does not mean imposing this onto everyone else you know, because they have their own ways as well. In groups, as in all relationships, I think the best thing to do is reach a compromise. Eventually a group finds its own way of working.
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