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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: 5,332,296  

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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 


Excelent Question Apr 7th. at 12:33:08 pm UTC

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


Are Pagans TOO Individualistic? ...... Hmmmmmm Apr 7th. at 12:33:01 pm UTC

Dave (Atlanta GA) Age: 29 - Email - Web


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!


Paganism Is About Inclusion Apr 7th. at 12:11:21 pm UTC

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.

Generally speaking:

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


Can You Stop Them? Apr 7th. at 11:34:26 am UTC

Penny J. Novack (Berkshire mountains, Massachusetts.) Age: 62 - Email


Hi,

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?


Absolutely YES! Apr 7th. at 9:05:32 am UTC

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.


Incidentally Apr 6th. at 11:53:38 pm UTC

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?


Too Individualistic? Apr 6th. at 10:21:53 pm UTC

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!


We Follow Only The Good... Apr 6th. at 7:06:31 pm UTC

Ashlings (New Jersey, USA) Age: 30 - Email


As another post had mentioned, pagans by nature tend not to be followers. However, I believe that very few of us would ever place our own gains over the needs of the many. I like to think that we will follow and join with causes that we deem worthy by our own individual standards (moral and otherwise) .

If a group or cause does not meet with my moral standards, I may bend slightly, but I would not ever compromise my standards to an extent that I felt I was betraying myself or my beliefs.

I do assist with groups and/or causes that represent the same goals that I hold for myself. I know that no two people will ever have the same standards, so slight variations are both accepted and, quite often, appreciated. Without being exposed to others' standards, how would I ever be able to judge myself? (Which is the ONLY person I should be judging in the first place.)


Too Indivivualistic? Apr 6th. at 4:32:21 pm UTC

LoneGnome (Oregon) Age: 35 - Email


No, I don't think so. We're human and are individuals to begin with. Everyone has a right, and a need, to be themselves.
But as humans we're something of a social creature. With that said the good of a few (or one person) doesn't always outway the good of the many. One answer to the next two answers is the military and war.
In the military individualism is frowned upon since it doesn't foster team work. But with ther case of Pfc Jessica Lynch who was rescued (thank the Goddess for that. OOOOHHH RRRAAAHHH!!!) last week by a team of soldiers in atleast two copters, at times the good of the few can outweigh the good of the many.
As for the rest of it I'm a Solitaire and at times do not take to being in a group well. I take some things that people, in general, say or do with a grain of salt. It generally isn't worth my time to me to discuss (read argue) over them.
The main thing I try to remember is that my bottom line is that we are all human, regardless of all else. We're all in the same boat- and it's called life.


Hmmm.... Apr 6th. at 4:22:13 pm UTC

Susan (Northern Arizona) Age: 37 - Email


Most people who decide to become pagan are by nature not followers. They have an inquisitive nature and do not take things at face value. Ultimately, this is part of the reason they end up following an earth based path.

That in itself is not bad. The problem arises when people cannot agree on anything large because they are so focused on the details. Robes or no robes--and what color? Clothes or no clothes--and when? We perform the Great Rite at EVERY ritual or it's not proper--or we don't, and don't feel the need to. We shouldn't mix pantheons because the Gods and Goddesses might not get along--or we invoke whatever aspect of Deity we feel we need the most at that moment in time, or only invoke the most generic Goddess and/or God. We need to have the Goddess and the God, or our lives are not balanced--or we only invoke different aspects of the Goddess.

Particularly in America, we have conversely cultivated both individualism and conformity to their extremes. We judge people solely, in many cases (go to any high school) on their dress yet these same people want to be judged "for who they are" not what they wear. What this has produced is the problem we have in the pagan community. We are a very large, diverse group who is both proud of our individualism and in many cases judgmental of any lack of conformity when it comes to differing beliefs/practices.

Another problem with this is that it produces people who seem to want the authority without any of the responsibility that goes with it. Jesus brought that up when he talked about "he who would be first must be last, and he who would rule (or something like that) must wash the feet of others." There seems to be a subculture of people who feel they have an entitlement do what they want, when they want, and how they want without being held accountable to anyone else for their actions. These are the problem people in any Pagan gathering, group, or coven. They are also the problem people in life generally whether or not they are Pagan. The mere fact that someone wants to hold them accountable to a standard of any sort is cause for outrage.

On a personal level, I would hesitate to even classify myself at this point in time. I am too new and still exploring; I became a Pagan because it makes logical sense to me on both the mental level and the gut level. I cannot conceive of placing myself into a tradition without doing the research on its history, philosophy, beliefs, and practices to be sure it is where I belong. I think that true connection with Deity is much more important than the memorizing the catechism of any religion--Pagan or otherwise. BUT--I am respectful of others' need for that same catechism, if they feel true connection by using it. That's the goal of any religion, after all.


Everything Has Two Sides Apr 6th. at 2:31:21 pm UTC

Aireon (Pittsburgh) Age: 31 - Email


First, I'd like say ‘great question'. This is something that I've pondered over the years. To see any feedback on the subject is great.

I have read the other posts and agree in part with all of them. There are many contributing factors to an individuals actions and opinions, making everyone's response very individualistic indeed.

Where I am from, I see the want of Pagans to assemble so as long it doesn't focus on one group or organization. If it's a general Pagan night out, or discussion group, fine. If "so and so" circle is holding an open rite - forget about it.

Here I see most cringe at the "c" word - community, or any type of unity for that matter. Here, there have been many groups come and go, much infighting, and ego and opinions abound.

I feel, in part, that the modern Pagan culture has moved itself into this "individualistic" state of consciousness. Take for example Wicca. From its inception, the big 3 traditions were Gardenerian, Alexandrian, and Seax Wicca. Try to dig up info on any of these today........ good luck. Today, the most popular movement in Wicca is eclectic - take what you like, discard the rest. I'm not siding with traditional or eclectic practices, just making the point of trends in our community.

I feel, in part, the Pagan community reflects the society in which we live. Our culture today reflects the individualistic attitude. There is no need for the "group" mentality. We have been raised to rely on ourselves first and foremost.

In the study of theology, there is a idea that religion (hhuh... spirituality) has to change with the times, for the meaning (and teachings) to stay relevant to the people of that era and location. Religion has to evolve and change or it loses meaning to those who evolve past it. It may be that other religions of the world have stagnated and this "new age" movement has allowed religion to move into a more individualistic role to fit our individualistic lifestyles. Is this why there is a big push toward earth - based belief systems, for the lack of organization?

Are pagans too individualistic? Is our society? Are we not directly reflecting the society in which we live?

With the loads of great people in our community, its a shame its sooo hard to get "groups" together - at least where I'm from.

Brightest Blessings*


Who Else Is On My Path? Apr 6th. at 2:08:26 pm UTC

Wog (East Lansing, MI) Age: 47 - Email


Too individualistic? I hear folks saying I have got to follow my own path and I agree but too often they seem to assume they are the only one on that path. Wether it is a spiritual, philosophical or simple walking path in the woods, someone else has been on it (hence the path) . In my experience more often then not others are on the path the same time I am even. This doesn't make it any less my path. If I can use the walking path in the woods analogy; There are times when I want to be alone to revel in the mother as I walk. There are times when I see or "discover" something that I would love to share with someone else as I walk and there are times when I bump into others on the path and they pointout a new view or new jou that I had missed.

Sharing with others on the same path doesnot diminish what makes it mine and often expands my path. It is not even necessary to share with others that see things the same as you for in truth I learn most from those who offer something different.

I don't think it is that we are too individualistic but more often that we do not truly understand that being indiviudal is not the same as being alone or on our own.

I am not threatened by what others may bring only by what I might miss.


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