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Pagan Problem Children: What Can We Do About Them?

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 Author:    Posted: Nov. 17, 2002   This Page Viewed: 5,989,622  

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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 


Being Your Own Apr 9th. at 6:42:54 pm UTC

Ronnie (Fort Irwin) Age: 26 - Email


To answer the question are pagans too idividualistic, I don't think that a person can be completly unique. All of us are different in one way or another, but to say otherwise is just ego talking. At times I have gone along with things I haven't fully agreed with, and to justify the action to myself I have to ask, will it hurt someone, and if it will is it for the good of the whole. Sometimes a little pain is needed. Take a garden for example if you pull the weeds you are killing them, but to leave the garden unattended will kill all the other plants. The next thing I ask is, Can I live with my choice, and is this something I will be shamed by. Nothing in life is easy so why would our choices be any different?
Brightest Blessings to All


Not So Much Too Individualistic, As...... Apr 9th. at 6:38:04 pm UTC

Night Wind (USA) Age: 2500 - Email


that Paganism is so far unable to give rise to an ideology strong enough to channel Pagans' personal energies and agendas. This is a problem for anyone who hopes that Paganism might help to make a better world because, so far, Pagan ideas are proving much weaker, as influences on the behavior of Pagans, than are things like region, nationality, and social class.

To me, the debate on the War has shown this especially clearly. For the most part, the people who expressed pro-War views were the same general classes of people who did so in the general population: mostly Americans, of rural, lower-middle or working class, and southern or midwestern origin. Likewise, most, though not all of the anti-War people were the same groups who tended to be anti-War in the general population: large numbers of Europeans and Canadians, mostly urban, middle class or underclass, and, when American, of northeastern or Pacific Coast origins.

More telling, the opinions expressed were expressed in ways absolutely identical to the general run of people. Once in a great while someone would talk about harming none, but about 90% of all posts were merely reiterating either pro-War or anti-War ideas drawn directly from the media, with very little real attempt to see how such ideas could fit into a coherant philosophy of life. There was no real attempt ANYWHERE in the debate to determine, "what do Pagan values and teachings have to say about this, or about wars in general?"

The sheer bitterness of the War-Debate was also fascinating. It would appear that pro-War Pagans have far more in common with conservative Republican Christians than with their fellow Pagans, and the level of name-calling in the debate showed that. Likewise, anti-War Pagans are so much more like liberal atheists than like pro-War Pagans that I don't think we can say that pro-War and anti-War, or, more generally, Liberal and Conservative Pagans, belong to the same communities. Perhaps more accurately, we can say that the label "Pagan" says so much less than the labels "Liberal" and "Conservative" that it no longer can be said to have any real meaning.

In part, this is due to Pagan individualism. But, Pagan individualism goes along with something that is now strikingly obvious, at least to me: Pagan "teachings" are so simple, vague, and open to individual interpretation that there ARE NO Pagan values. There is no real core, no center to which Pagans as a whole can say, "yes, this is who we are". I have seen this over and over, now that I reflect on it: pro-War conservative Pagans, and anti-War liberal Pagans, but also things that seem (to me) like contradictions in terms, such as bitterly anti-feminist Pagan divorced guys, or Pagan Republicans who support the Religious Right, and boast of having brutalized prisoners during earlier American wars.

This is, of course, part of Paganism's appeal. It is a religion that doesn't tell us what to believe. But, it also doesn't apparently have any core values at all. This becomes a problem, because then, _how can we say what Paganism is_, except maybe a social club for misfits, or a brand-name that people attach to themselves? In short, those who say that Paganism may not be a religion may well be right, just not in the way they expect. They are (partially) right, not because Paganism is a "cult", or "Satanic", or any such thing, but because it is really just another postmodern subculture, rather like Goths, Ravers, Fans, Geeks, or what have you.

If that is true, then Paganism is at bottom not really about Gods, or myths, or magick, or values, or transforming our lives. It is really about posturing, posting, dressing in freaky fashions, and finding new ways to rationalize what we were going to do all along. If that is true, Paganism is less about religion than it is about recreation.


Individuality Is Suppressed In Many Pagan Groups... Apr 9th. at 4:08:40 pm UTC

Gawain (Plattsburgh, NY) Age: 24 - Email


I've experienced this firsthand. When my friends and I questioned some of the ways things were done in our local group, we were expelled from the group. Some pagans, unfortunately, treat open circles like congregations from the mainstream faiths. While these faiths are geared toward the individual, egos unfortunately often get in the way of individual expression in group activities. This is why I have yet to join a coven, as well.


Individual Agendas Vs. The Greater Good Apr 9th. at 3:35:28 pm UTC

FullMoon (Central Mass) Age: 50 - Email


I work within a Pagan organization that welcomes anyone with an open mind and heart, although our direction is primarily Wiccan. Lately, we've been trying to get some events off the ground, but the individual agendas of the members throw unnecessary roadblocks in our path.

While we all agree, in theory, that we believe in environmentalism, healthy living, cultural diversity, biodiversity and respect for all natural things, in practice some of us are more 'rabid' than others in each of these areas. Somehow, in the din of arguing every tiny point, the larger purpose, that of planning and promoting a sacred event, is drowned out.

Those who are most attuned with the spirit of Mother Earth are concerned that our dance might trample an endangered plant in the park (that may or may not exist) . And Goddess forbid that we cut down a dead/dying tree for our Maypole.

Those who worry about cultural diversity think our flyers are "too Celtic" and should depict many Gods and Goddesses, no matter how cluttered and unreadable that becomes.

The organic/vegan folks are upset because there are carnivores bringing dishes to the potluck. And the majority aren't even organic! (gasp!)

Then there's the faction that thinks we shouldn't provide parking as it encourages distruction of the environment.

To all of these people, I want to say: TIME OUT!

Life is compromise. If you aren't ready to accept sacred community and to see the other person's viewpoint, then perhaps you need to return to the solitary life.

Our individual beliefs make us who we are. Our inability to bend in the least makes the open expression of our beliefs impossible. If we can't hold a single event, how will we ever build a true community? How will we spread our message within the community and out to the public? Will we forever be a group of individuals unable to achieve group consciousness?

It's important to step back and look at the larger picture, the greater good. Would the Goddess prefer that we never celebrate Her in ritual rather than leave a single footprint on the ground? Will it harm the vegans if non-vegans eat meat? And if we outlaw parking, how will anyone attend the event?

I came to this path later in life than most, with a lot of life experience in the mundane world. I understand that to be successful, you have to be able to make decisions and carry them out. You have to have action items at the end of each meeting, and individuals who are willing to take them on. And you have to be able to stop, look at what we're trying to accomplish, and look inside yourself to see what you can and can't tolerate.

In short, our individualism is giving me a migraine. I respect everyone's right to do what best expresses their beliefs in their own spirituality. But I also see where a little flexibility in the group setting could bring huge rewards to the spirits of all concerned.


Yes, We Are. Apr 9th. at 2:29:22 pm UTC

Zenith (Linden, Michigan) Age: 21 - Email - Web


Are Pagans TOO Individualistic?

*sighs* As much as I regret to say it, we are for the most part. While this is in most cases our strength, it tends to cause conflicts within the pagan community. *chuckles* Pagan community, what a joke. I'm sorry, but most of the pagans in my community are still too afraid to come out of the broom closet due not only to Christian persecution, but the fact that other PAGANS tend to ridicule their beliefs!

As I've become more aquainted with other pagans, I've tried my utmost to learn from their differences. Even when those differences seem laughable to me, who am I to judge? How do I know they don't really see fairies in candle flames, just because I can't?

The only way to be truly pagan in this day and age, and I mean in the community sense of the word, is to accept all belief systems as proper and correct. You can't draw a line between traditional and ecclectic. Are we practicing paganism if we read a horoscope? How about if we set aside a special day to celebrate spring by coloring eggs?

We are all pagan. We can at least agree on that, right? So what do the minor details matter? Oh right, we need something to complain about when we aren't being harrassed by society at large.

*shakes his head* I'm sorry, that was uncalled for. I've just grown exceedingly tired of the conflicts brought about by intolerence in the pagan community and society at large. There doesn't really seem to be anywhere to go anymore to be an individual, without someone telling you that it's wrong.


Yes, Thankfully Apr 9th. at 11:22:27 am UTC

Thomas D. Jones (Las Vegas NV) Age: 26 - Email


" A mob is a creature with a million legs and one brain cell "- Robert Heinlein.
Why not? At the core of my heart there are a handful of people whom I prize above all others. I love people as much as possible; but these ( perhaps twenty or so ) I would do and have done anything for.
I have done rituals and raisings with only a few of them. I have made the brave and often vain attempt to be with covens, mostly by drifting in with them. It never gets much further than that. On my side I must say that the God is very much with me, I am inquisitive, open with my feelings and opinions, and I don't shy away from challenges, perceived or real. I know that those qualities, and the negatives that come with them, rub decent peaceful folk the wrong way.
I have terrified people before with my emotions, though I never intend it. Friends have said before that they have seen my eyes glow red, or have lightning flashing in them when I am angered or displeased. I play this to the hilt and no matter what I do or where I am in a ritual I am whatever I am called upon to embody. I am rewarded for this, the deities love me and prove it every day I live.
I gave up on Christianity when I was seven. I wasn't really raised Christian but my parents were at the time. We were allowed to make a conscious choice. I drifted for a few years but got an interest in mythology and philosophy - so, at the age of ten I reasoned that the gods worshiped by the ancient civilizations were as real to them as God and Jesus were to people now. I wondered if they were still alive, and I got the answer immediately: a powerful prsence entered my mind and said, " YES, we all still live."
Well.
So I went on for another eight years testing my spiritual limits and mental limits, always being guided by my patrons
( at the time, Apollo and Artemis ) , consuming as much as was available to me of theology, and philosophy. Classical, Eastern, African Animism, Hinduism, Cherokee and Sioux beliefs ( I have a bit of both tribes but it is largely drowned out by the Irish in me ) , even Christian and Jewish and Muslim thought. In retrospect, I shoulda spent more time paying attention to Calculus and Biology. But no, it was not to be, when I wans't poring over scriptures I was reading Heinlein and Herbert and Zelazny and Moor*** and all the Conan ( Mr Howard and Mr. DeCamp ) I could get my grubby hands on. I lifted weights, I studied aiki-jitsu and moo doo kwan.
So, you see, I am a product of an environment that I created for myself. A lot of Pagans became that way as a result of a conscious choice. I am one of them. A lot of Pagans were introduced to the concepts of magic and self-mastery and wisdom by fantasy and science fiction writers. I am one of them. Many pagans are either part of the hippie generation or the children and grandchildren of that generation. I am one of them.
The issue lies at the feet of those facts. It is in the nature of our religions. We arrived at these conclusions because we sought the truth, both inside and outside ourselves. In organization we are not allowed to act on our personal beliefs and desires; we may not seize hold of the organization's power to use as we see fit. Those covens that are organized, and those churches that are organized are most likely filled with people who need something to belong to. People like that are simply begging to be misused and abused.
I haven't seen many covens. I've investigated a handful of them. There always seems to be someone in the group who has a desire that he or she believes can be fulfilled by the coven or group. Most times, it's something positive. But I steer well clear ( and you all would do well to do the same ) from groups that make themselves public, or who insist on the fulfilment of childish sexual desires, or who use mind-alterants, or who make a living off of their position.
As a group, we are nothing but malleable by the will of those we have placed in authority over us. Systems and rules ensure that only those most capable of manipulating the system will rise to the top.

As individuals, acting to the same end, we are unstoppable.


Plea. Apr 9th. at 11:14:54 am UTC

Drewsilla (Woodstock) Age: 15 - Email


My parents would freaksoi so I mostly keep to my self. sometimes i talk with my friend about it but they think that im a little strang.
I love to write poems but you cant hear them.
Ok maybe one......

When I sleep I live

When I wake I dream

Forever to be in the daze of sleep

I am all that is

I live and dream

The way that I want to live would never be accepted where I am.

So all I do is dream.


Huh? Apr 8th. at 11:07:55 pm UTC

Lugh Branwen (Brooklyn NY) Age: 34 - Email


Individualism is one of the things that Make the Current Pagan Movement such an attractive Spiritual path to begin with. One of the things that Mucked up Paganism in the past was the fact it BECAME an organized, State-Mandated religion.
Then The Monotheists capitalised on that dissatisfaction (Christianity, Judaism and Islam) gathering converts when Our Ancestors (Wink WInk Nudge nudge) were feeling a bit too stiffled in the regimented old religion.
Now the Monotheist religions are having the backlash and Many of Us are leaving the Stiffling shackles to pursue a faith that allows people to decide for themselves what they believe and why.
I think at this point, we should remember where we Mucked up and avoid those mistakes.


A Most Perplexing Question Apr 8th. at 8:06:57 pm UTC

Copper Lion (Los Angeles, CA) Age: 51 - Email


The more I thought about it the more unsettled it made me. As many of us Pagans know, we are by nature very individualistic. That's the driving force that makes us what we are. Would you ask if the great cats (i.e. Lions Tigers, Pumas, etc.) are too carnivorous? I have often pondered the differance between our modern, congested urban, technological society and the late stone age tribal society of our ancestors. You might call those ancient societies our "spiritual roots". Today, as individuals, we are costantly bombarded by media and institutional conditioning designed to get people to confom to what ever agenda is being promoted. We can choose to either "tow the line" or question, analyze and decide for ourselves. But often either choice is made alone in a somewhat isolated void created by our technology and "me " oriented economic society. It's hard to feel a sense of belonging or responsability towards something that only exists as a concept. Our ancestors seemed to have had a much more tactile basis for their decision making, survival for one. Kinship and mutual support also probably played a prominent role in the thought process. It's a lot easier to consider the "Good of the Group" when the Group is physicaly surrounding and supporting you. To sum it up, I have no definitive answer. Only more questions.


Where The Line Is Apr 8th. at 6:52:15 pm UTC

Dragonfly (Texarkana) Age: 19 - Email


Pagans as a whole are a little to individulistic. But so are others. We are humans and as a result no two humans are the same, ever will be, or ever can be. We all have different experiences in life that shape our views, beliefs, and attitudes. The Pagan curse is knowing this. All Pagans realize this, which is good, but it also seperates us from each other.

We as a religious community will unite one day, I know this in my heart and my mind. Hopefully when we unite we will do it without any destruction to our individuality. But as a community we NEED to come together and perhaps what unites us can be our individuality. But as humans we need to know and understand the word compromise. For it is only when we give and take things ever get done.

Follow the light--Dragonfly


Inspired Thoughts On My Self Apr 8th. at 1:10:57 pm UTC

Sheisskerl (Atlanta, GA) Age: 20 - Email


I feel that I am on the more extreme end of the individualistic spectrum, but being a virgo I find myself going along with the crowd quite often. Anyways, reading everyone's entries gave me a little inspiration this morning, so I thought it fitting to share with all of you...

( yes, this is a poem, now you've been warned =P )

-----

Hark and hello, it is my Self.
Yes, I'm back once again;
But I have not found our home.

I saw the Other; she had
a most beautiful face.
I sought to see
the capacity
of her warm Embrace.

As there was room for me,
I had hope,
room too for you...
but no.

That was taken
by another
And I am left
to recover...

With you, Self--

Fill our wounds
with strands of Order.
And call the mind
to put up a defensive border.

For you, Self, I am sorry.
As for me, all I have is regret.

I ***ed up again,
Maybe next time,
That is life?

I'll get back to my feet--
to you, Self, I am forever in debt.

-----

take care!
Sheisskerl


Individualism And Responsibilty Apr 8th. at 12:32:49 pm UTC

Rev. Jeva Singh-Anand (Sioux City, IA) Age: 37 - Email - Web


To me, the relevant question here is where to draw the line between individualism and selfishness and irresponsibility. A religious movement, such as neopaganism, that values the worth of individual self-expression needs to place an equally great value on individual responsibility.

We must be responsible to model our values to nonpagans, to build and maintain our own religious communities, to take care of each other and ourselves, to reach out to people from other faiths (not to proselytize, but to fellowship) , and to proactively work to make our neighborhoods and cities better places to live in.

Unfortunately, that seems to be too much work for some characters who hope to find in Paganism a spiritual free ride.

What does it matter whether this group does the charge of the goddess differently from another, or whether the initiator pushes or pulls you into the circle? Those are all points of ritual each group or solitary must decide individually.

What is important is that we recognize the individual worth of each individual we meet.

Every man and woman is a star.
Namaste.
Love thy neighbor as thou lovest thyself.
My civilization has taught me that all men are ambassadors of God.

End of sermon. Quiz Thursday.


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