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Article ID: 6423
Age Group: Adult
Posted: July 6th. 2003
Wherever You go... There You Are!
"The bravest are surely those who have the clearest vision of what is before them, glory and danger alike, and yet notwithstanding go out to meet it." *
You've seen that bumper sticker: No matter where you go, there you are. I don't know just where the Pagan communities are going (Does anyone?), but I am sure about one thing and that is that we will definitely end up somewhere. Whether we reach that place by wandering about, trying first this thing and then that other thing or by just 'seeing what happens', Paganism will be...uh...whatever. Err...I hate to even suggest this, but shouldn't we be giving our future a little more thought than that?
Now don't get me wrong. I am a firm believer in the organic process. Modern Paganism may owe its beginnings to a few national organizations and groups, but it wouldn't be anywhere near as strong and as prolific as it is if not for all of the local groups -- big and small -- that have sprung up across this nation and across the world.
I am definitely having a non-PC moment here when I tell you that I am not a fan of national organizations. Not for Pagans anyway. And while I am on this roll, I might as well add in the rock and say that I am also not in favor of many 'interfaith' ventures. Not for Pagans anyway. And, yes, I'll be happy to explain why I feel this terribly non-PC way.
Let's take an example. Let's use Christianity since it is a religious system that most of us are familiar with and that has features in common with Paganism. Say what? Could you run that by us again, Wren?
What I mean to say is that Christianity was once the same age that modern Paganism is now: about 50-75 years-old. (Give or take a few.) Once we put our seemingly gut-level adverse reactions to Christianity aside, the parallels become evident. And the warning signs are clearly there as well: The real possibility exists that we Pagans are on our way to becoming Christians.
Oh my! Of course, I do not mean that we will all suddenly see the 'error' of our ways (So sit back down, Pat.) and dramatically en-masse convert to Christianity (although some us may and that's okay if that is where your heart leads you.) But as a 'system' Paganism is heading in a similar direction as Christianity did those many long years ago. To keep it simple (And do be aware that this is a very simple reconstruction of the reported events in both religious systems), I will mark the following sections as either Christianity or Paganism.
Christianity: You all know the story: Almost immediately after the death of Christ, his Jewish followers spread out sharing the 'good news' message of the faith. As these new 'Christians' refused to acknowledge the Caesars as gods as required by law, the cult was persecuted by the Roman authorities and driven underground. Small secret communities however continued to spring up across the lands. And while these new 'churches' kept in touch with each other through letters and messengers, each budding church was autonomous. Each interpreted the 'good news' in their own way and even wrote some scripts for celebrations, prayers and worship services. The grapevine being as unreliable then as it still is today, some 'official' messages got garbled and even just a few years down the road, these separate little churches became very different in emphasis and doctrine.
What they initially had in common was their love for their 'God' and Messiah and their love for one another. Even their enemies were forced to remark -- when they weren't accusing the Christian cultists of sacrificing babies and practicing cannibalism -- "Behold how these Christians love one another."
Paganism: Modern Paganism revived based largely upon Gerald Gardner's work on Wicca and the teachings of others of his like-minded generation. Still illegal in England, Witchcraft/Wicca (used interchangeably at that time) was a secret society consisting of small groups. As more groups formed under new or different teachings, the gap between 'doctrines' began to widen. Within a few years, many broke entirely with Gardner's form of Wicca and founded 'schools' of their own.
Initially, modern Pagans placed great emphasis on the concept of "Perfect Love and Perfect Trust." That rapidly eroded to mean 'perfect' amongst those of their particular group as the groups were also already arguing over the fine points of ritual, secrecy and various other things. The baby-killing accusations from Wicca's enemies.... well, you know about that and some folks refuse to let that dead herring go to this day.
Parallel Universe Alert: Both Christianity and modern Paganism started out as small underground cults. Groups became separated and autonomous in just a few years. Squabbles over doctrine broke out between groups. Some information was faulty due to miscommunication. Some of it was deliberately made up to edify a particular group leader or the reputation of the group. The various groups or churches had less and less in common as time went by. Questions and accusations over which group preached the correct doctrine grew increasingly strident and that love...well, it was becoming a bit a strained at the very least.
Christianity: Enter Saul of Tarsus. Saul, better known as Paul, took on the task of straightening out the doctrinal errors of the various churches. His famous "Letters" are filled with explanations and exhortations. He warns of charlatans and divisive forces. He compliments the leaders that are on the right track. Perhaps no other man for many generations to come had as much of an impact on the future direction of the Christian church system as did Paul.
Paul was the right man at the right time. Someone needed to take charge of the Gentile churches that were mixing pagan beliefs with Christianity or otherwise perverting the message. The churches were fragmented, fighting amongst themselves and going in all sorts of directions. The time was ripe for a take-charge kind of personality to arise and tell everyone what was right and what was wrong and how the true Christian life was to be accomplished. Paul was there to fill in the gaps and his views on what makes one a 'real' Christian are still the standard after two thousand years.
Paganism: Is there a Saul of Tarsus in our future? I don't know and I, for one, fervently hope not. But the stage is indeed set for one (or more) to arise. Many folks of the modern Pagan persuasion want definite answers, defined terminology and less fighting. Someone who could construct such a message might just be welcomed with open arms. If someone actually could define Wicca, Witchcraft and/or Paganism in a way that the majority could accept as both a valid premise and as a welcome relief from the constant bickering over the terms, he/she/they could start of wave that might well sweep over all of Pagandom.
Who is a 'real' Witch? Consult the doctrine. Can we mix pantheons? Consult the doctrine. Which political platform or party should Pagans support? Consult the...well, you get the idea. And lest you think that this scenario is too far-fetched, I am sure that many of those autonomous little Christian churches thought so at the time, too. But those who did not 'convert' to Paul's vision of the system faded into oblivion. Many people want order and discipline and a list of rights and wrongs to guide them. It is wise to remember that Pagans are people too and at least some might find such 'official' guidelines reassuring and rewarding.
The initial concept of 'Perfect Love and Perfect Trust' has become a joke in some Pagan circles. Only 'fluff-bunnies' believe in that anymore. And the very real excitement and wonder that many felt when they first discovered these Pagan paths and religions has faded away. So some pagans have turned to politics or social programs to fill in for the lack of real joy or a sense of purpose. Or they simply drop out altogether and no one really cares if they do.
And so that is why I am very leery of any national programs or organizations. At least, for Pagans. At least, for now.
It would be too easy for someone -- or some faction -- to gain enough support and momentum to roll over all of the autonomous groups that -- I believe -- are our greatest source of strength and indeed our greatest treasure. The warning signs are there. Of course, you may see it otherwise and I can respect that. This is, after all, only my personal opinion and worth no more than anyone else's would be. And I hope that I am wrong.
My real point is this: If we do not know where we are going -- or do not care where we end up -- we could very well find ourselves somewhere we never expected to be simply by default.
And wherever it is that we are going -- and wherever it is that we end up -- I think the most important things to keep in mind are that it doesn't really matter who 'tolerates' us (as toleration depends entirely upon the good will of the one granting it and can be revoked at any time.) or what other religions 'accept' us (Some never will and so what?). What matters is that the law protects our right to define ourselves and to practice our paths and religions as we will. We must see that continue if we are to have the time in which to become whatever it is that we shall become. And, to my way of thinking at least, as long as the legal protections surrounding the freedom of religion remain, it is not important what other people or other religions think of us.
It is what we think of ourselves that is important...
So that wherever we go -- and when we finally end up 'there' -- we will still be proud of who we are.
Co-Founder - The Witches' Voice
Monday, July 7th., 2003
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