Adopt an Elder!
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Article ID: 8881
Age Group: Adult
Days Up: 3,393
Times Read: 15,930
Author: Isaac Bonewits [a WitchVox Sponsor]
Posted: January 9th. 2005
Times Viewed: 15,930
January and February are the worst months for Pagan elders. The weather is cold, there are few (if any) festivals to pay them for teaching, authors' royalty checks from the Yule shopping season don't arrive until March or April, any food gifts from relatives have run out, and everybody in the culture at large is broke (or feels that way) . What does or should this mean to non-elderly Pagans? It means that now is the time to check on your local Pagan elders to see how they are doing. Is their rent or mortgage paid, or is their landlord/the bank trying to evict them? Is there heat in their home? Is there food in their pantry? Is their walk shoveled? Is there gas in their car or does it need work to make it safe and legal? Is their internet connection up and running? Is anyone visiting them or taking them to local events? Has anyone bothered lately to interview them and record their words of wisdom for future generations of Pagans? Or are they simply ignored until someone wants something from them?
Every local Neopagan community has one, two, or more older members who may be struggling to survive on a day to day basis. Regardless of what tradition they belong to or teach, or what local "witch wars" they may have been part of years ago, now they are getting old and needing help to get by. All too often the main reason for their poverty is having devoted most of their lives to serving a Pagan community instead of earning their livings in nice middle-class jobs at corporations with good retirement plans and health coverage—or, worse, they did have such jobs, and juggled holding them down with serving a community, and then got downsized and/or had their pension plan looted by the top executives. Either way, like most Neopagan clergy, the odds are high that they are living at an economic level lower than most of the other Pagans they serve or have served, often for decades. And, of course, there plenty of older Pagans around who may never have been leaders or teachers, but who are still struggling to keep their heads above water.
One of the ways that random assortments of people become "communities" is by caring for their own. So if you belong to a coven, grove, lodge, nest, or temple, consider "adopting an elder" in your town, whether they belong to your tradition or not. Local groups could get together to locate and support local elders, run fundraising events, and organize charitable resources to support those local Pagans in need. One of the discoveries I made in writing my new book on Pagan men and boys is that something like a third of the Pagan men who filled out my questionnaire said that they would belong to a Pagan men's group if they could find one. Well, here's a perfect opportunity to start one in your area, because doing charitable work is a classic men's group activity, and one that doesn't tend to make our sisters as nervous as other men's activities can. You may be surprised at how many Pagan men living near you will be happy to join a men's group dedicated to an honorable cause. See the website of the Royal Order of the Knights of Herne ("http://www.geocities.com/knightsofherne") for an excellent example of just such a group.
Why is it important to have Pagan charities, rather than just contributing to secular ones? Often I am asked by members of other religions, "Where are your charities—your hospitals, soup kitchens, or food pantries?" Unfortunately, I have to tell them honestly that we have only a handful of them across the country or around the world. The folks at the Pagan Aid Alliance ("http://www.paganaidalliance.org") are trying to keep track of such groups and are organizing a database of Pagan charities, but it's a pitifully small list so far for such a huge religious movement. They say they were inspired by my request for help last winter (and yes, this winter is almost as bad as last winter was) , but have gone far beyond worrying about one particular elder. Instead, they are planting the seeds to help many elders (and others in need) in the future. There is a Yahoo e-list called Elder-Pagan ("http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Elder-Pagan/") that is now discussing the long range plans necessary to create retirement communities and support systems for our most vulnerable members (no, you don't have to be an elder to join—in fact, they want young people) .
Establishing Pagan charities, or even just creating a culture of generosity inside Pagandom, requires us to face all our individual and group attitudes towards money and fundraising. Being a Pagan shouldn't be about just taking the goodies that others have to give, but also about returning your gifts to others, thus passing the good karma along. Yet the Christian Dualism that saturates our mainstream culture leads many to assume that money is profane, spiritual people don't need money, and that anyone asking for money in a religious context is "just like the televangelists" whom we view as dishonest and greedy. In an "us vs. them" worldview, anyone who has something about them that resembles something about someone else we consider evil, is of course, absolutely evil too— or at least comfortably ignorable. These attitudes, of course, justify hanging on to our money rather than sharing it with those in need. Indeed, it takes a major disaster like a 9/11 or a tsunami to shake us out of our complacency.
Here's an unpleasant fact that most Neopagans would prefer to ignore: the reason religious leaders and groups ask for money is that we live in a money economy and it takes money to handle most aspects of survival (yes, I know about barter systems, but landlords, utility companies, and pharmacies don't take barter) . It doesn't matter how well known Lady Pollyanna might be among Pagans in her town (or even internationally) , her fame as a microcelebrity won't pay her rent or buy her groceries, no matter how many hours she puts into teaching classes or counseling those in need. Dru Hornblower may be an annoying old fart, but he still needs help to pay for ceremonial supplies, sound equipment, transportation, and space rentals for the eight holy day rites he puts on for the community each year. The vast majority of Neopagans are middle class or working class residents of the wealthiest cultures in human history. Our poorest members—yes, even you students—would be considered middle or upper class in most countries today.
So the next time you are considering the purchase of yet another piece of Pagan bling-bling, a night of beer and pizza, a trip to the movies, or a new video game, consider instead giving the same amount of money to a Pagan charity or to a local Pagan elder. If some Pagan elder comes out and leads a spectacular ritual that blows everyone's minds, start passing a hat for her while the obligatory hugs are going on. She might be embarrassed, but her cats and her kids will appreciate the extra cash. Don't be afraid to ask for money at public Pagan events, for you will find that many people are grateful for the chance to contribute to a good cause. This can give you not just a short-term pleasure but also be a long-term investment in your community's future.
I have seen too many Pagan elders living and dying in poverty to have much hope for my future or that of my colleagues, unless our community makes a major turnaround in attitudes and customs soon. It's way past time for a major debate on Pagan charities in general and the support of our Pagan elders in particular. So go ahead and cast aspersions in my direction if you wish—plenty of people have accused me and other clergy of "wanting to live off of the community" —but, whatever your attitude is, start arguing with your Pagan sisters and brothers about this topic now, while there are still a few Pagan elders left!
Copyright: © 2005 Isaac Bonewits
Location: Valley Cottage, New York
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