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Pagan Problem Children: What Can We Do About Them?

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 Author:    Posted: Sep. 8, 2002   This Page Viewed: 10,354,233  

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Question of the Week: 77 - 9/15/2002

Pot-Kettle: Do We Have Our Own Fundamentalists?

Does religious fundamentalism exist in some Pagan and/or Heathen communities? Can a closed group or tradition be considered as fundamentalist? Are there some Pagans and/or Heathens who 'preach' one true Pagan or Heathen way? Is resistance to the 'mainstreaming' of Paganism/Heathenism a form of fundamentalism? How can we approach the preservation of Pagan and/or Heathen spiritual and/or cultural integrity and identity without falling into fundamentalism? Is fundamentalism even necessarily a 'bad' thing? You can also check out Isaac Bonewitt's essay on fundamentalism at: A Call to Arms for definitions and other background material.

 Reponses:   There are 91 responses posted to this question. Reverse Sort 


Traditionalism Vs. Fundamentalism Sep 18th. at 4:08:13 pm UTC

Two Crows (Ohio) Age: 37 - Email


I like to think of Paganism as the thinking person’s religion, one in which its adherents not only seek the truth wherever it may be found, but who also entertain the fundamental question of what truth really is. In this pursuit it is often necessary to delve into the origins of various beliefs, accrue a collection of viewpoints on a given subject, and endlessly compare notes with others, both living and otherwise. Inevitably anyone who is seeking the truth will form opinions, and it is only human to have preferences, passions, and trepidations about certain beliefs, particularly after long exposure to the record of history, which illustrates the actions of true believers throughout the ages.

In my experience Pagan seekers are also doers, and not just thinkers. Paganism tends to be an experiential path, or collection of paths, that doesn’t simply take another person’s word on the efficacy, or quality, of various practices, particularly in the case of magick. This leads everyone to different experiences of a subject that is deceptively simple in its little label, “magick.” Sometimes these experiences are sought after as proof, a sort of final analysis in the determination of what truth is. Is experience truth? Is it the whole, ultimate, and inalterable truth? Does it prove anything at all?

All too often experiences lead us, yes even typically open-minded Pagans, to conclusions that seal the question of truth prematurely, and prevent us from further experiences, further investigation, and further enlightenment. It is as if the seeker has found what they were after, and no further investigation is necessary. In many instances this is exactly the case, and a resounding “I’ve come home” declaration is made. Unfortunately one of the goads of Mystery is ever-present, that being the Paradox of the Other, and we are left defending our comfortable “truth” from the reality of others who have found different truths that leave us unsettled, and at the crossroads of deciding to seek again, sometimes simply to regain that place of comfort and safety where “truth” was no longer a mystery to us. What is a tradition, a path, or a belief system, if not a place to find comfort, the company of others of like mind, and a sense of belonging? Does this comfort ever really constitute the truth? What is a tradition anyway? Do we need one at all?

One definition of tradition is: A mode of thought or behavior followed by a people continuously from generation to generation. This definition would make things like the celebration of Christmas, and the institution of slavery, both traditions. It would also make “Traditionalists” anyone who advocates, adheres to, or practices a generational thought or behavior.

Perhaps the lesson Mystery is presenting us with is that reality that transcends thoughts and behaviors, that in the final conclusion we are simply a people…

BB
TC


Fundamentalism By Itself Is Ok. Sep 18th. at 4:12:31 pm UTC

Tamo (CA) Age: 33 - Email


Any subculture, any "scene", and any social context can foster the development of fundamentalism. Fundamentalism is a natural part of human creativity.

I've seen it happen in music when folks argue over how much artistic license is too much in the playing of a piece. Some people insist upon playing exactly as written, especially in classical music. Some people allow more interpretation. Some allow lots of it.

I've seen it happen in karate class when folks differ over how rigorously to adhere to historical techniques. Some respect the founder. Some worship the founder. Councils of high-ranking black belts play the same politics seen anywhere else. What to teach? What to improve? What to reject?

I've seen it happen in fashion when folks debate over who's "keeping it real" and who's a wanna-be/poser/dork. I've heard a non-racist skinhead from the 60's bemoan the modern racist hijacking of his subculture. He's a fundamentalist in that regard. I've heard a Goth list her "friends" in 2 columns: one for "true" Goths, the other for "fakes".

I've seen it happen in driver's education. My own mother is a fundamentalist on the freeway. Nobody should pass on the right; passing is done on the left. The little newsprint booklet from the DMV is the equivalent of her bible.

I've seen it happen in cuisine. Traditional foods must be prepared the traditional way. Or do they? Some sushi purists insist that a Califoria roll (with avocado as an ingredient) isn't "real" sushi. What's the line between being innovative and horsing around?

Religion can be no different.

Of course Paganism will have its share of fundamentalists. It already does. Our numbers are still too small to show great schisms (or even great unity for that matter). But as a segment of humanity, we will inevitably have disagreements over the right level of rigor and tradition.

Now, to have such disagreements is not bad in and of itself. It is natural and healthy to display a spectrum of conservative to liberal attitudes in anything. If the debate is good-natured and good-humored, all can benefit from a productive and enlighting discourse. The insertion of negativity comes only when resentment enters the conflict.

Whenever stakes are raised, and power or influence become important, then we need to watch out. Then the desire to gain something (or at least avoid losing something) threatens to overshadow the common bonds between us. That's when differing camps begin to actively work against each other. That's when energy is directed towards harm.


Simple Answer No, Long Answer Yes Sep 18th. at 10:47:32 pm UTC

Jason J. (Baton Rouge) Age: 24 - Email


The simple answer is nobody BUT Christians can technically be Fundamentalists, as the term applies to an treatise on the fundamental theories of Christianity. But, by modern standards, yes, anybody can be a fundamentalist, even Pagans. I don't think of it as really being fundamentalist in nature, more along the lines of extremism. There are definitely a lot of Pagan snobs, my-coven-is-better-than-your-coven attitudes. But that's true of all spiritual paths, and its a trait of 21st century human nature to want extremes, to turn the amp to 11, so to speak. And extremism isn't necessarily a bad thing, as long as there are defined limits acceptable to ALL parties involved, believer and infidel alike.
Recently here in Baton Rouge, I witnessed a Fundamentalist Christian preaching his religious doctrine on LSU's campus. No blowing up abortion clinics. No gay bashing. Only one reference to witchcraft being an evil. If you've been a Pagan long enough, you've heard it all before. But what really caught me was the reaction of the oblivious undergrads, taunting and baiting the evangelist, calling him names, etc. I actually felt sorry for the guy, not because he was a "Fundie" or because he'd made some comment derrogatory to my faith, but because he was being percecuted for what he believed, for his speech, by a bunch of kids wearing Abercrombie & Fitch and flip-flops. I've had a similar experience with people I've worked with, been in relationships with, etc. Its things like that that define our limits. The 9/11 hijackers weren't Islamic fundamentalists, abortion clinic bombers and militiamen are not a Christian fundamentalist...people like that have stepped outside the boundaries of civility into a realm darker than anyone needs to know.


My 2 Cents Worth Sep 19th. at 2:01:39 am UTC

Morrighan (Somewhere in the South) Age: 24 - Email


I agree with the first post. Technically, only Christians and other religions with an actual written doctrine can be fundementalists. However I also agree that all religions have the potential for extreme negativity. Honestly, I've seen it in some of the responses to the question. People, while arguing against fundementalism, have been black-balling various Wicca/Pagan/Witchcraft traditions.
Its hard for us, because we *don't* have a set doctrine. We don't have set rules, unless you're specifically Wiccan and the threefold law applies. We are coming from a reanimation of ancient traditions that have been changed, lost, and misinterpreted over the years. So its hard for us to really find common ground. Sometimes, I think, it seems that a fellow practitioner is being extreme, but really its just an attempt to understand something that is over a few thousand years old.
We have to be careful and not be the pot calling the kettle black. We have enormous potential for a very open minded network of various faiths and traditions within Witchcraft. I don't think there are people who are experts on the subject, because of the fact that the information that we have today is conveluted at best. Mostly, Witchcraft is an extremely personal religious or spiritual tradition.
For me to say, "The Goddess has changed my life," may be viewed by some as being a kin to a Baptist praising Jesus. However, it is only that I am admitting my faith. On the same hand, some one telling you that a particular tradition is the only correct tradition is similar to the accusatory dialouge between Catholics and Protestants. So we have a bit of a harder time coming to the table.
Many of us are so anxious to get out of the rut that major religions have thrown us into. We can have a tendency to get blind sided. It is only by looking at both sides of the coin that we are able to extricate ourselves from extremism. That's, of course, true of any religion, but I think we have a real opportunity to put it into practice given our historical problems.


One Pagan Fundamentalist Or Many Sep 19th. at 5:30:18 am UTC

Tyrvald (Santa Clara, CA) Age: 20 - Email - Web


I've only ever met one definite fundamentalist Pagan. He was almost always in the old Ask a Witch chat room on America Online. He wasn't just one of the many bitter Pagans I've met there, who yell at newbies, he was a fundi, and even self proclaimed and proud. His definitions of Paganism, Wicca, and such were all written in stone. Anyone who disagreed was seen by him as his enemy. He made the chat room a very miserable place for almost everyone.

Very strange he was, among Pagans. He was cruel and arrogant. I've been lucky to have never met any Pagan like him since. I've dealt with many evangelical Christians, some very cranky Pagans, Wiccanites, and devil worshipers and Christian magi claiming to be Witches, but no other definate fundamentalist "witches" or Pagans. I'm happy about that.

Wiccanites:
1.
Those who call themselves "wiccas" and "followers of "wiccan" and believe every Witch to also be such. Yes, they get the noun and the adjective confused.
2.
Those preachy Pagans who insist that every Pagan must follow the modern "wiccan rede", especially as translated to "harm none". Perhaps this form of Wiccanite is fundamentalist, but merely in the lesser sense of the word. Not evil, not stupid, just poorly read and annoying. I actually prefer these over the stupid Wiccanites of definition #1.


By The Book..? Sep 19th. at 8:52:10 am UTC

Hawthorn (east tx) Age: 22 - Email


Where I am from we have many of what we call "Book Wiccans" They form there beliefs completly from what they read in Wiccan texts. Personally I feel books are a great beginning and work well as a refrence. But I believe I can honestly say that a few of these witches have never so much a written an orignal spell or ritual. Also they enjoy refering to themselves as High Priests or Priestesses after they have only studied for a few months, and love to brag about there degrees. They refuse to accept anyone who dosent follow the degree system, and they automaticly assume anyone with any occult interst is a Wiccan. They also have a tendency to buy the most expensive and elaborate looking tools, and they wear about 12 pentagrams in pulic. I don't know if that is a form of fundieism or not, but its most certainly annoying and they set a bad example for other pagans of the area. I chose to end this post now before I starting ranting... well at least before I ranted any more.... :->


Response To Your Question Sep 19th. at 10:37:15 am UTC

Allison (Florida) Age: 40 - Email


"Does religious fundamentalism exist in some Pagan and/or Heathen communities?"

I believe it does, yes.

"Can a closed group or tradition be considered as fundamentalist?"

This has to be judged in an individual case-by-case basis. There are some traditions that, in my observation, are clearly fundamentalist in their methods of practise but if they are happy that way then that is fine by me. I choose to be a solitary so that I do not have to deal with other people's egotism and politics.

"Are there some Pagans and/or Heathens who 'preach' one true Pagan or Heathen way?"

Oh, indeed yes. And I just let them talk while I politely smile and nod and pity them.

"Is resistance to the 'mainstreaming' of Paganism/Heathenism a form of fundamentalism?"

No, quite the contrary actually. This is a difficult religion in a way. It shares the same downfalls with any other religion, but the one thing that Paganism/Heathenism has to deal with that other religions don't is the trend factor. In my observations and experience with people I have noted that there are a great many people who claim to be "Pagan" (or Heathen) who haven't a clue what it's really about and they misuse sacred symbolism, subsequently misrepresenting us. Then there's the ones who never pass up half the opportunity to waffle on about they are the third degree high priest/ess this and ordained that and lineaged from whomever. Those kind of people I do not consider to be Pagan, they are posers on a power trip. And it's precisely these people who want to keep this religion underground because it increases the "coolness" factor of it. The more the religion is veiled in mystery and secrecy the less chance it has to be mainstream. Personally, I would like to see Paganism/Heathenism mainstreamed because I think that a lot of positive things could come of it and these children and teens who genuinely want to follow this path would have more free access to information, training, etc. without legal repercussions from their parents against people who want to help these kids along what is a very positive path.

"How can we approach the preservation of Pagan and/or Heathen spiritual and/or cultural integrity and identity without falling into fundamentalism?"

Well, that's a difficult one to answer. I think a good way to start though is by being tolerant of every tradition of Paganism/Heathenism and respecting them all as part of a collective. Learn from each other rather than criticise each other's methods. Each tradition has its own origins and having said that, there are some that cannot be totally sure of their origins save for a very few preserved manuscripts. There's nothing wrong with studying outside of one's chosen tradition. It can only breed tolerance. :)

"Is fundamentalism even necessarily a 'bad' thing?"

Fundamentalism is ok as long as it is based on historical FACT and not on doctrines that have been written and re-written and edited many times to suit the self-proclaimed elders of the religion. It's nice to know the history of one's belief system, provided the history given is an accurate one. With regards to practise - I think this is where fundamentalism goes awry - especially in a Nature-based religion. People tend to read books and feel that if they do not recreate an ancient ritual down to the very last detail that it won't work. One must move with time here - 3000 years ago things were different and those people had to adapt their practise to fit their resources and environment as did those before them and since. I believe that if one is truly in touch with the Nature and elements around oneself, he/she will be able to very easily adapt because the Nature will guide them and present solutions to questions concerning these


Fundies Sep 19th. at 10:55:15 am UTC

Joy J (Maine) Age: 30 - Email


I agree that without doctrine and/or dogma, written down or otherwise there can't reaally be a fundamentalist pagan in the traditional sense. Are there people out there who think that their personal belief system is the only system that is correct, oh definately.

The times that I have run into people like this I find that they are so much like fundamentalist christians it is almost creepy. They tend to have a set way of doing things and any variant of that way is heresy. They get the same feverish look in their eyes when they zealously expound on how right their beliefs are. They can get almost violently angry when some one should contradict them. Personally I try to avoid people like this.


Are There Pagain Fundamentalists Sep 19th. at 12:34:53 pm UTC

Nitestar Boudicca (Hammond, Louisiana) Age: 49 - Email


Yes, paganism is a broad fold, embracing a great variety of beliefs and practices. It would be pretty hard to define exactly what fundamentalism would be for us, though the first thought that comes to mind is any mindset which says: "My path is the only right and true path". There really is no RIGHT AND TRUE path, for what is right for one is right for another.

Now, we come to the underlying emotion related to the above: intolerance. I know because I struggle with an intolerence towards Christianity every day. But then I am new to the Craft, so perhapst this is just a "phase" in my development. But phase or not, I do struggle with it because I honestly believe that there is NO right and true path for everyone.

Closed Covens and Groups: are they fundamentalist? No, I don't think so. The Burning Times are not so far behind us that everyone in the non-Pagan world is going to embrace us with love, light and understanding. It is frustrating to me to live in rural Louisiana and not know of any open groups, but I really can understand privacy and safety concerns. In some parts of the country and the world in genearal, keeping one's existsence a closely guarded secret is not being fundamentalist; it is good common sense and shows a desire to survive!

As long as pagans try to understand and tolerate others' paths, including those of the non-Pagans, I don't believe there should be a problem with fundamentalism. At least I hope not!


A Questions With Many Layers... Sep 19th. at 5:27:55 pm UTC

Hazel (Regina, SK) Age: 27 - Email


The beautiful thing about Paganism is that one can define one's own path. There are guidelines and basic truths, but within the framework of these there is ample room to play. The lack of dogma, of written laws, and of the assumption that everyone involved believes exactly the same thing is one the reasons that I feel comfortable as a Wiccan.

Of course there are Pagans who preach one true path. Personally, I have never met one, but I have seen evidence of this tendency in a fellow witch who acts shocked every time we add something new to the list of beliefs that we do not share. She is not a fundamentalist, but the trait is there. It is a part of 'us and them'ing. It is the nature of human beings to want what we believe to be correct. We have an innate ability to convince ourselves of our own rightness to the point where everyone else becomes wrong. The majority of us can logically recognise 'what I believe is right for me, but it might not be right for another'. Those who cannot do this become fundamentalists. As a community, we would be deluding ourselves if we thought that pagans and witches were immune to this aspect of human nature.

It is difficult to create and build upon Pagan identity with most practitioners hiding in their basements. I mean no disrespect. It is a function of self-preservation that we have developed this means of protecting ourselves from the fates our predecessors. The burning times are not that far in the past that we can feel perfectly safe proclaiming our beliefs to the world. Therefore, a closed group is not necessarily fundamentalist. To know whether they are or not, it would be required to talk with them and discover what they teach. The problem is that we are not doing ourselves any favours by hiding. It is not impossible to avoid fundamentalism (and, yes, it is a bad thing) while upholding our integrity. What we need to do is stop hiding. There are voices out there, but not enough.

I'm not referring to preaching on the corners or mass recruitment. I am talking about visibility in the communities that we live in. Through indirect means we can educate those people who know nothing by simply treating the subject as everyday life. If your co-workers are discussing Christmas traditions, why not mention some of your own Yule traditions. It is surprising the amount of honest curiousity you will generate, as well as having an excellent opportunity to de-bunk common myths. Not only is mainstreaming possible without jeopardising our spiritual integrity, it can strengthen it.

My only piece of advise would be to those who think being a witch is 'cool' and treat paganism as a fashion trend. If you are going to lay claim to something openly, be prepared to own it. There are many negative people out there as we who have followed this path truthfully can attest to. Walking it requires spiritual fortitude as well as more than a little research and understanding. So don't get into a religious debate with your Christian father-in-law and don't offend a male witch by calling him a warlock.


My Answer: Yes Sep 19th. at 6:36:44 pm UTC

James (Louisiana) Age: 17 - Email


It would be arrogant to say that fundamentalist's do not exist in the pagan community.

I'm not going to say what I would consider a fundie or whatever, I'll just be saying that I am wiccan. I know that am part of no traditional path, but I am not part of any particular non-traditional path either. Eclectic? I don't know about that,either. I've only practiced for five years and, well, I am obviously seeking many answers.

But I do know that I don't feel that I have to please any single group. We all have our own paths to follow and I will be just fine following mine without any other persons approval.

When it all comes down to it, we are all brothers with many of the same basic beliefs. We just have to remember to love one another.

...plus, how are we ever going to find peace in the mainstream world if non-pagans see us fighting amongst ourselves?


Fundamentalists And Learning Sep 20th. at 2:28:08 am UTC

WInter Moon (Great Falls) Age: 29 - Email


Of course we have fundamentalists in pagan religion and beliefs. Its only natural to defend what you find to be true. I can't call anyone "wrong" anymore because every person is learning what they can in this lifetime. I do enjoy a good philosophical argument every now and then because it makes me think. It makes me defend what I believe and what I've seen to myself, and I learn from it. Even listening to others berate the "evils of witchcraft" or "You don't know what _____ is?" helps me learn (sometimes painfully) what I am and what I am becoming. The universe put these people in your path for a reason. Learn, laugh, or cry foul- Winter Moon


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