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: Nov. 17, 2002
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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
| Yes ||Sep 21st. at 1:54:40 am EDT|
|Stella (Pasadena, CA) ||Age: 24 - Email |
I think there are a lot of intollerant people involved in the Pagan community. There are those that are intollerant of christianity, those who are intollerant of solitaries, eclectics, newbies, traditionalists, etc. It doesn't personally bother me what anyone else believes, and I don't understand why anyone gives a care what I believe. I think that respectful dialog on religious issues (or political issues, or any other kind of issues) is healthy, but too often we forget to be respectful. Absolutely nothing is acomplished with name calling, derisive comments and bitterness. Religion and spirituality are extremely personal issues. I think, especially on the web, that it can be too easy to forget that your words have a great capacity to hurt other people. It is my understanding that almost all aspects and traditions of paganism believe in some sort of responsibility to avoid being harmful to others. It can sometimes be all to easy to lash out in anger and frustration when you disagree with someone else's opinion, or they have hurt your feelings. It happens. We are only human. I personally believe that most of the people who engage in this sort of activity are really good hearted people acting in frustration. That said, as "civilized" adults I think are responsible for tempering our words with thought and understanding whenever possible.
| NO To Fundamentalism But YES To Balance ||Sep 20th. at 3:19:03 pm EDT|
|Telbane (Winchester, England) ||Age: 51 - Email |
Having practised as a Wytch for more than 30 years I have learned to be patient. There are many who believe their path is better than the next person's. Some become quite arrogant and insulting. Personally I could not derive half the peace and satisfaction from my path that I do if I adopted such an intolerant and authoritarian approach. This is one extreme that I find regrettable and although we will never (and should never!) achieve total agreement and harmony as a species I do believe a much higher degree of tolerance could be achieved. It's all about balance. ALL things in nature are a balance of one form or another. We Pagans profess to be close to Mother Nature however you perceive "Her" so it should come easy to those who want to embrace it. At the other extreme there are many who call themselves Pagan and wear it like some fashion item. 2000 years of religious intolerance has left a trail of death, persecution and destruction behind it. It continues today and also amongst Pagans. This is not acceptable but yetwe will not survive as a species, and we will not protect our planet adequately unless we have a minimum set of standards. It's all a question of balance.
| Fundamentalism = Hatred ||Sep 20th. at 2:23:32 pm EDT|
|Erin (Maryland) ||Age: 26 - Email |
I think fundamentalism does exist in paganism just as much as in any other religion or belief system. The problem I see with fundamentalism is the tendancy to look down on others that don't share the same beliefs, as if they're not worth as much as human beings. In my viewpoint, the idea that there is only one true path is ludicrous. Even the most bizarre belief systems have the same ideas at heart and have a similar purpose, whether they choose to see it or not. I don't see fundamentalism as being acceptable because the strong feelings that your way is the only way almost always lead to violence. I think everyone should be able to choose their own path for their own purpose. Violence, anger and hatred only take us backwards. Open mindedness and acceptance (not tolerance, which means putting up with something you can't stand, to me) will give everyone the freedom to reach their full spiritual potential. Having pride in your belief system doesn't have to lead to the belittling of other's belief systems.
| Fundies, Fundies Everywhere And A One To Stop............... ||Sep 20th. at 1:19:30 pm EDT|
|JDA (L.A., CA.) ||Age: 27 - Email |
It is true that once you have two or more people on the planet there is going to be a difference of opinion. And as surely as a difference exists there is always those people who are willing to do just about anything to enforce theirs over all others. Now I am, personally, fond of different thoughts and opinions because that is how you grow and learn. However, it gets to a point where it becomes unhealthy. In religious belief I have been on the recieving end from both pagan and non-pagan alike. As I had served in the US military for around 8 years one has only to imagine the trials there one the one side misinformation and fear of the unknown had stifled my belief and practice thereof, on the other I would get things like how can you call yourself pagan/wiccan and still serve in the military. This later comment was often accompanied with the term 'baby-killer' and someones saliva gracing my face.
All this aside the one thing I have ever taken as comfort to my decisions is "An it Harm none, do what ye will." The only core rule for us as followers of the Goddess traditions. I think that fundamentalism should not be a part of our belief system but there is nothing that can be done about it. I believe that we should organize for the common cause of our right to religion and peace from those who find us unacceptable. However, I do not think that we should forget that it is for each of us to decide where we take our belief and our responsibility for the actions we take and the consequences of them.
When I my family and I chose to align ourselves with the Goddess Traditions, we did so for many reasons but the chief among them was the desire to break from those faiths that force the belief of the few onto the hearts and minds of the many. We do socialize with other pagans and entertain their thoughts and beliefs but we are a solitary family with one thought. "We believe as our hearts believe, by the dictates of our own conscience. Let others believe what they will." In the military I found my chance to repay those that went before me and defended my freedom to choose as I saw fit. I, in turn, defended the right of my children and those who will come after me to choose the paths that they will travel. I concider it an honor.
"If we do not change our direction, we are likely to end up where we are going" -S. Jackson
| Unfortunately Yes There Are. ||Sep 20th. at 11:56:38 am EDT|
|Thaelo (central Illinois) ||Age: 50 - Email |
I tend to find fundies or fanatics of any ilk to be rather irritating. The unfortunate thing with discovering pagan fundies do exist was seeing how their contentious 'more pagan than thou' attitude has caused the local pagan community here to splinter apart and form great rifts between various 'strong personalities' who view themselves as most 'right' in their beliefs. It is one of those well known and silently acknowledged facts here where I live. I've kept myself a solitary for most of the years I have recognized my own spiritual beliefs (about 25-30 years) because I just don't want to be judged by those who consider themselves more perfect, knowledgeable and 'right' in their beliefs. About 2 years ago when I did comment, in the spirit of seeking to bring the community together to share our common beliefs and for celebration, that there were too many closed groups I was severly flamed by several people who didn't even know me! Their primary attack was "who the hell are you to come forward and make this observation?" The truth often hurts, especially when it comes from an outsider looking in. If there existed a spirit of true community it would seem to me the better response would have been to embrace an outsider and work toward building a more open community.
I learned that I will probably continue to remain solitary and silently keep my own spiritual practices because I simply will not deal with fundies or other brands of pagan politics anymore.
| Fundamenta-pagans ||Sep 20th. at 10:36:40 am EDT|
|GodIsAWoman (London) ||Age: 27 - Email |
Oh, there certainly are fundamentalist pagans, and ihave been on the receiving end. I won't bore you with the full stories but basically I was told I am an 'armchair pagan' because I don't use mind-altering drugs. I was also told that I couldn't be a pagan because I didn't believe that every plant has its own sentient spirit. Last but not least (this is the funniest) I was told that unless i gave blood to a tree in return for a branch, then I certainly could never be a pagan. So
So there you have it - fundamenta-pagans do exist. Hurrah.
| Fundamentalists And Learning ||Sep 20th. at 2:28:08 am EDT|
|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
| My Answer: Yes ||Sep 19th. at 6:36:44 pm EDT|
|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?
| A Questions With Many Layers... ||Sep 19th. at 5:27:55 pm EDT|
|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.
| Are There Pagain Fundamentalists ||Sep 19th. at 12:34:53 pm EDT|
|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!
| Fundies ||Sep 19th. at 10:55:15 am EDT|
|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.
| Response To Your Question ||Sep 19th. at 10:37:15 am EDT|
|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
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