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Article ID: 11154
Age Group: Adult
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Posted: September 17th. 2006
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I have recently had the unfortunate opportunity to spend some time contemplating both my past and my future. I say unfortunate because the opportunity was predicated upon the premature death of my mother. She died on the 1st day of January. An auspicious day perhaps, marking as it does a transition of the calendar year. It will however be a day forever marked with sadness and accompanied by a call for reflection, even introspection. As we approach the start of the Pagan New Year, that introspection will, as it has in the past, force me to ponder the future. Not just a future for myself but also a future for my own children and the circumstances in which they will find themselves when I too, as we all must, pass into the Great Beyond.
What will comfort them when that time comes? To what will they turn for solace? Will they find it in their personal faith and in the knowledge that death, like birth, is not just an end but also a new beginning? What will that faith be? Will it be the same Pagan path I follow?
Most of us come to our particular religious paths after years of soul searching and personal introspection. While some of us claim to be born into that path as members of one of the various Family Traditions, I would hazard the opinion the vast majority of American Pagans today are first generation Pagans. They have found a path upon which they wish to tread and they are following that path, perhaps in the hopes it will, as Frost suggests, make all the difference.
Is that enough? If the Pagan community is to survive as a vibrant and viable thread in the fabric forming the American religious tapestry, it is going to need to move beyond first generation Pagans. Even if the next generation and the one after that and the rest ad infinitum have their share of Seekers, they will do little more than sustain the existing community. It will not grow. If the Pagan community is to grow beyond the tiny minority it now comprises, it must take root among our children.
This brings me to the point I wish to discuss: Family Traditions. Within the Pagan community, Family Tradition means far more than what meal we serve on which holiday. It means an inheritance or legacy of Pagan practices passed down from mother to daughter, from father to son. For some, it is tantamount to fraud as the sad fact is many who claim to be Family Tradition Pagans are, to be charitable about it, indulging in a flight of fancy. I think those days are just about past.
As I said, if the Pagan community is to survive, we are going to need to involve our children. Many pagans are Eclectics or Solitaries or followers of some other individual path, often one they have created or perhaps discovered for themselves. If this silent majority of Pagans pass these practices on to their children, we will have witnessed the birth of literally thousands of new, but real, Family Traditions.
Soon enough, we will not be able immediately to write claims of being a Family Tradition Pagan off as fiction or as fancy. They are increasingly becoming reality. Even now, we can see the possibility of legitimate claims to membership in a Family Tradition among a third generation of Pagans, albeit rather young Pagans. When my own sons or daughter tell their friends that they are Pagans, Pagans belonging to a Family Tradition, they are telling the gods honest truth. This new truth is sure to have an impact on our community.
What will that impact be? Will we see the American Pagan community drown itself in an ever-deepening sea of religious diversity? Will the American Pagan community gradually coalesce into some sort of hegemony akin to the Christian diversity we see with the variety of Protestant sects, different but recognizably Christian? The answers to the questions are important to us. As a military Pagan, one faced with the very real possibility of dying in the current wars, these answers are important to me from a very personal perspective. For instance, what symbol will adorn my own grave?
The Department of Veteran’s Affairs gives as one of its reasons for refusing to accept a Pagan grave symbol the lack of cohesiveness among Pagan beliefs and the lack of organizational hierarchies. Will the explosion of Pagan Family Traditions even further muddy the waters on this issue, among others? Will these nascent Family traditions all be recognized as “valid” Pagan paths under some broader rubric or will each individual Family tradition be confronted with the need to fight for official recognition? What can the Pagan community as a whole do to help fellow Pagans win the recognition to which we are all entitled?
There is strength in our diversity and nowhere is that diversity reflected as well as it is within Family Traditions. However, there is weakness within the growth of Family Traditions. We risk factionalizing the Pagan community. We risk diluting our strength even as our numbers grow. We risk allowing an increasingly hostile government to divide us as a community into such microscopic pluralities that our voices can be ignored with impunity. There is another even more insidious risk though.
We risk being forced to forsake our diversity in favor of the protection afforded to us as members of a broader community. We risk the herd mentality of Christendom. I suspect that most of us were drawn to Paganism because it rang true to us. It allowed us to explore our individual truths and at the same time did not require us to deny the truths of others. Where does that leave us though?
We need the strength and power of numbers, of a mass movement, if we are to protect our rights. At the same time, we risk losing the very uniqueness that drew us to Paganism if we come together to protect ourselves. It seems almost an oxymoron to speak of Family Tradition paganism as a particular Pagan belief system when it is by definition a collection of disparate, even incompatible, belief systems. However, it seems to me that this is exactly what we must do. We must find someway to speak with one voice, in public at least, while at the same time we preserve the very foundation of our belief systems.
I wonder if perhaps we do not need a Pagan umbrella group or “church” to which individual Pagan groups and families can belong. Individual covens or Family Traditions would be like individual congregations, free to believe as they wished but part of the broader “church.” I suspect many American Pagans already envision themselves as having such a relationship with their fellow Pagans. However, we have done very little to convince the government of this. Instead, we allow it to see us as individuals rather than as a movement. This allows it to treat us as individuals rather than respecting us as a movement. As a result, we have widows unable to get a grave symbol on the head stone marking a fallen Soldier’s grave or a coven unable to convince a local zoning board that its woodlot and cabin is in fact a house of worship and thus entitled to tax-free status.
I certainly do not have all the answers. More and more, all it seems I have are questions. I am faced with a conundrum that defies any simple resolution. I need help to defend what I am building, a Family Tradition that allows me and mine to practice our religion as we see fit. At the same time, in gathering that help, I risk forging something that places that very freedom at risk. I find some small solace in knowing that I do not wrestle with these issues alone. As the veil between the worlds thins with the approach of Samhain, perhaps some of my mother’s wisdom with return to guide me.
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