It's a Mystery (Part II): Healthy Pagan Groups and Individuals.
Article ID: 10141
Age Group: Adult
Days Up: 5,003
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Author: Sia@FullCircle [a WitchVox Sponsor]
Posted: September 11th. 2005
Times Viewed: 37,531
Healthy Pagans * The Lost Children * Difficult People As Gifts *
Learners * * Emotional Intelligence * Solitaries & Mystics *
When Healthy Pagans Work in Smaller Groups & Circles * Not the Momma!
Hiding in Plain Sight: Doing Good in the Dominant Culture *
Functional Pagan Organizations: Yes, Virginia, They Do Exist * *
The Guru Trap * * A Little Soup Couldn't Hurt *
How Organizers Cope Today * Finding & Training Volunteers *
What "Pagan Doers" Are Doing Now * 21st Century Pagans *
What are Witches For? * EarthWise Ethics *
Healthier, Happier Pagans: How Ever Did They Get That Way? *
A Guy Falls Into a Hole * Who Does She Think She Is?
Endnotes * * Bibliography * My Friend Sia
The people I consider successful are so because of
how they handle their responsibilities to other people,
how they approach the future; people who have a full sense
of the value of their life and what they want to do with it.
- Ralph Fiennes
In 2003 I wrote a two part series of articles titled The Shadow Knows and The Bard and the Poser. The Shadow Knows deals with metaphysical teaching through positive and negative archetypes. (1) Part I of It's a Mystery linked to this article because it asks a very common question, which is:
"What are the lessons that go beyond Level One of Pagan practice, and how can we find these classes?"
My answer is this:
Life itself offers us these classes. In a Trickster-like fashion, it offers us the test first and the lesson afterward. . . . The challenge here involves claiming our power, living responsibly and accepting the consequences of our choices. All great teachers teach the 3 C's; that is: Consciousness - Choices - Cause & Effect.
If you have not yet read this essay, please do so now.
When I finished The Shadow Knows, I began work on a companion piece titled the Bard and the Poser. B&P was written to compare healthy and unhealthy Pagan archetypes in terms of behavior and perception.
I would like to emphasis a very healing and humanizing mystery. It's this: When dealing with positive & negative energy no one works wholly out of one or the other; we each have full access to both aspects and to all the elements within. Which energy and elements we choose to use in any given situation is up to us.
Since we are discussing healthy Pagans in Part II of this essay, I will ask everyone to read The Bard and the Poser before proceeding further. (2)
THE LOST CHILDREN:
My father says that almost the whole world is asleep.
Everybody you know. Everybody you see. Everybody you talk to.
He says that only a few people are awake, and
they live in a state of constant, total amazement
- from Joe and the Volcano
One question that often comes up among Pagans is this: We know that everyone has baggage and that every group has their share of dysfunctional people, but why do Pagan groups have so darn many of them?
I have two answers to that. First, there are a lot more happy, functional Pagans out there than we realize. (I'll discuss this point more fully later on in this essay.) Secondly, we Pagans pride ourselves, quite rightly, on being inclusive, and any path which teaches tolerance and acceptance is going to attract a wide range of people at various stages of health, including those my colleague Ashli refers to as The Lost Children.
The problem is not that we are accepting, the problem is that many Pagans haven't yet learned that accepting an individual and accepting bad behavior from that individual are two different things. It's important to know that we can love the one, and not put up with the other. This also requires that our teachers, organizers, and circle leaders work to establish healthy boundaries and standards, something that many of us don't know how to do, or fear doing.
Here is another mystery: The Lost Children are not a "Them", they are Us, and we are a very mixed bag. (3) The Lost Children are a part of that tribe of Outsiders I mentioned earlier. Outsiders are a group that includes most of the great writers, artists, leaders, scientists, and thinkers in human history. They are those who don't "fit" into their culture's rigid little mold.
An Outsider may be hiding in plain sight. They may look like a part of the dominant culture, but they do not think the same thoughts, nor are they caught up in the cultural trance. Conversely, they may be someone living a very alternative lifestyle in a very public way. However they appear, Outsiders are those who question both authority and learned helplessness.
Among the Outsiders, the Lost Children in particular are looking for a place to call home. Many have been rejected by other groups, religions, or scenes, and then they come here, looking for acceptance. As Ashli points out, the situation in modern Paganism is not so much that of a round peg trying to fit into a square hole, it is more like a variety of shapes coming into a place where shape doesn't matter at all. That's fine as far as it goes, but it becomes a problem for us when no standards of conduct are ever applied, no matter how healthy or necessary these might be.
I say this with deep sadness: Our culture has failed our Lost Children. Their parents have failed them. The schools have failed them, their peers have failed them, and, Goddess help us, we have failed them. They come to us, looking for meaning and True Tribe and what do we give them? Poses and platitudes. They come to us with a hole in their soul because they are lacking the unconditional love, guidance, and stability they deserved but never got as children, and we give them Witch Wars and yet more dysfunction. Very often they will try to fill this hole with alcohol, drugs, unhappy sexual encounters, food, and whatever else comes to hand, and we offer them no understanding of what the hole really is or how to heal it. They come to us seeking acceptance and a safe place to practice their path, and we allow predators and abusers into their circles. Some day, we will answer for this.
The Lost Children are often so because they were raised with either too little healthy parenting or far too much harsh discipline by adults who were deeply unhappy themselves. Sometimes they fear to grow up because they believe it means becoming like "them". Sometimes they grew up far too fast and have no experience of joy, play or wonder.
The Lost Children are not lost because they are somehow bad or wrong. They are lost because they were never valued as they deserved, or because they never got the guidance they needed or because they were abused or because they had to try and cope with mental, physical, emotional or spiritual challenges all on their own. They come to us, instinctively knowing that Paganism holds healing at it's core, and when we don't help them they can morph from being Lost Children to Problem Children in a heartbeat.
A Pagan gal named Tree wrote this to me just recently:
I've been torn about recommitting to the Goddess and the Earth, because I thought I'd be lonely. . . A couple of weeks ago I was wandering around despondently thinking, "Where on Earth am I going to find Pagans who want do the tough work of growing up?"
What do the Lost Children really need? They need support as they walk a very challenging path. They need trustworthy companions, and connection. The Lost Childen need to be around joyous, free, spiritually mature human beings, who are comfortable with their power and compassionate in their wisdom. They need to be around creative people who are in touch with play, wonder, healthy sexuality, and the divine; people who also know how to work hard, honor their word, and pay the rent. We Pagans claim to honor the divine, wherever we find it, however we understand it. We claim to respect what is sacred, both within and without. In teaching this, we must also teach our people to honor others as they wish to be honored themselves. We must consciously model for our students and circle members what it looks like to be in touch with our Best Selves and the God/ess within. This requires an emotional, mental, and spiritual evolution on the part of all here. It's not easy, but nothing less will do.
DIFFICULT PEOPLE AS GIFTS:
I would now like to share another mystery. It is this: Life will send us teachers for a particular lesson and they will often take the form of difficult people, people who do not really matter to us in the greater scheme of things. These people are sent as a lesson so that we have that wisdom we need later on, when it really counts. For example, we will often be offered a lesson about trust in our teens and twenties, so that we don't make stupid, jealous mistakes down the road with a cherished partner. Alternatively, and this is key, if we have not learned a lesson when it was offered to us, we might not have that wisdom available to us when we need it the most.
This mystery has a second part: Life will also send us people who will model what healthy behavior looks like, and we can choose to learn some of our lessons by watching and knowing them. Sometimes these people will be sent to us; sometimes we need to seek them out. The readiness is all.
In a time of drastic change, it is the learners who inherit the future.
The learned find themselves equipped to live in a world
which no longer exists. - Eric Hoffer
Healthy Pagans are learners. They learn (have learned and are learning) the lessons that life offers us. But there is yet another mystery to this experience, it is this: Life will offer us these lessons again and again.
If we choose to learn these lessons at the first level, then we move on with new wisdom, power, and strength. (4) If we choose not to learn a particular lesson the first time, then life will offer us the lesson again and again, making it harder on us each time until at last we either learn the lesson or life drops a house on our head. In some cases, such as alcohol or drug abuse, the end of the lesson can be a painful death. In other cases, the lesson could include the loss of friends, jobs, resources, and relationships. As I said in The Shadow Knows:
If we choose to make right choices, the Laws of Cause and Effect and the Laws of Energy and Attraction will support our healthy sides. If we allow our Shadow archetypes to make our choices, then we choose to learn our lessons through them.
We all have lessons to learn. The difference between a happy, functional Pagan and a less healthy Pagan is:
- Whether we choose to learn the lesson in its positive or its negative form,
- How long it takes us to learn a particular lesson,
- Whether we choose to ever learn a lesson at all.
- The compassion we show, both to others, and ourselves as we walk this path of learning.
As I said, we learn on many levels. This is a very complex subject, covered by a wealth of good books, so I will try and be brief. To wit: there are several basic levels on which we learn.
1. The Tribal level.
Tribal lessons are those lessons passed on by our culture, our belief system, and our family. The tribe teaches us what we "should" do and how they want us to do it. It teaches what we should value and who. As you can imagine, many of these lessons are dysfunctional. As Carolyn Myss notes, the tribe is in place to teach us lessons about vengeance and honor and the tribe is most concerned with group behavior. The tribe is not concerned with our personal happiness or enlightenment. Its teachings are about law and custom, cause and effect. These teachings are meant to insure the survival of the tribe as a whole.
2. The Individual Level:
When we begin to question what our culture, faith, school, or family has taught we are on the road to learning at the individual level. Self-Actualized human beings do this sort of learning all their lives. They also question what their friends and peers believe. It's important to remember that tribe will usually not reward us for this kind of questioning.
When we work on the Individual level, we decide our own rules of conduct, based on values that we alone have identified as being important or crucial to us as individuals. We walk a path that may fall well within the tribal code, but we are on that path by our sole choice, not because we are afraid of expulsion from the Tribe. If our path takes outside that prescribed by the tribal code, we accept the consequences, attempt to change the tribal code or (in the case of people like Gandhi, the Suffragettes, and Marten Luther King) we do both.
3. The Archetypal Level:
Archetypes are patterns of influence, both ancient and modern. Through them, we see the larger patterns of life. When we say that life is puzzling, we acknowledge a series of patterns we perceive but have not yet put together in ways that make sense to us. Thinking archetypally helps us put the pieces together in order to view the whole. It also helps us to access power and ways of being not directly modeled by our tribe.
When we think archetypally, we see that there are larger patterns to relationships and between individuals and in our own psyche. We see that these larger patterns are visible within many different cultures and traditions and across time. We choose to look beneath the surface of this culture, to the meaning beneath, and we seek to find the greater meaning and the lessons in our own lives, and to respect this search in others. As a result we grow in both wisdom and compassion.
4. The Perception of Unity:
When we work at this level we look at the relationship between the patterns and begin to perceive the binding unity of the universal energy. We seek to connect to that energy and to honor the sacred as we understand it.
A writer I admire sent me a note recently on the subject of creativity. What she says here can be applied to many different aspects in our lives:
It is at the Individual Level that originality and creativity begin to appear in one's life, but they don't take wing until one's creativity is informed and infused by the Archetypal Level. Creativity becomes a permanent part of the Great Library of Human Richness, when it is infused still further by the Level of Unity.
I never met anyone who lives at the level of unity all the time, although I've met some people who have access to it more often then most. For the rest of us, it takes the form of occasional transcendence or euphonies.
Be happy. It is a way of being wise
I spent ten years of my career working in an academic library. During that time I met a great many PhD's, and lots of published experts, great thinkers and fine creative talents in a wide variety of fields and I can tell you this: A lot of smart people are really, really dumb when it comes to coping with real life and having people skills.
This brings us to another mystery: There are lots of different kinds of smart. There is book smart, but there is also people smart, and intuition and creativity and business savvy and people with green thumbs or a special way with animals or kids, and people with common sense and people who are inspiring leaders, and people who think ahead, and people who can sell just about anything to anyone. There are people who make music, and people who are good in disasters and people who can "talk" to machines, and people who really know how to listen when you're upset, and on and on and on. But the very best smart of all, is what is known as "emotional intelligence" because that is the kind of smart that helps us be happy. For this reason, I recommend a very wise book titled "Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ by Daniel Goldman. Goldman defines emotional intelligence in terms of self-awareness, altruism, personal motivation, empathy, and the ability to love and be loved by friends, partners, and family members. He argues "people who possess high emotional intelligence are the people who truly succeed in work as well as play, building flourishing careers and lasting, meaningful relationships. "
Readers may also wish to look at this very useful EI website, which has some information on dealing with anger, depression, disappointment, empathy, fear, guilt, resentment, respect, understanding and the various other emotions. The EI Consortium also has useful information on emotional intelligence in organizations and in the workplace.
SOLITARIES & MYSTICS:
"Be vwery, vwery qwiet. . . . I'm hunting rwabbits!"
- Elmer Fudd
At this point, you may be asking, If Paganism is so empowering, then where are all the healthy folks?" Well, frankly, many of them are in hiding, and not just from the religious bigots. In some cases, they are actively avoiding other Pagans. Often as not, they practice their spiritual path in a solitary fashion.
There have always been Solitaries among us, and there always will be. It's important to note that this is an authentic and viable path, especially for those of us who are mystics. I say this because all mystical religious or spiritual paths require a high level of individual maturity. Mystics connect directly with the sacred in order to experience the divine, both within and without. They cannot do this work if emotional garbage is blocking their spiritual path. They cannot do this work if they lack honor. To quote Rowan Fairgrove's insightful saying, "If your word is no good in this world, then it is no good between the worlds. " The Solitary Path, to put it mildly, is not a practice for people in denial.
Solitary Pagans tend to be quiet, individualistic types. They are often introverted, strong-minded, and very self-sufficient. These people are usually not "joiners", so it's not possible to count them accurately, but lately, their numbers appear to be growing. (5)
More and more often the Solitary Way is chosen by those who have no desire to mix with the dysfunctional behavior they find in so many Pagan groups. If they choose to perform a ritual with others, it is usually for a special occasion and done with a very small, carefully selected group of people. A Pagan gal named Raven wrote this to me just recently:
"I have semi-retired from working with other Pagans, outside of a few individuals and my writing. I found the drama, posturing, gossip, and hate mongering that goes on in public groups tiring, and never ending. I also saw a trend: When there were individuals in the community who had some kind of life outside of the tiny local Pagan fish pond (careers, kids, homes, bill-paying and contributing to other causes) this tended to bring out jealousy "
Whether such Solitaries will ever come out to play with us again is anyone's guess. But if they do come, they will surely do it on their own terms. If we wish to attract more healthy Pagans to our events (Solitary or otherwise), we'd better have something meaningful to offer them.
This is not to say that all the healthy Pagans are in hiding or that all Solitaries are healthy. In fact, there are good number of healthy Pagan circles, functional organizations, and great community groups out there. The trick is to find them.
WHEN HEALTHY PAGANS WORK IN SMALLER GROUPS & CIRCLES:
"Vitality is mightier than size"
Healthy smaller covens, circles, and ritual groups do exist, and they do great work. To understand these groups, it helps to remember the old saying that "Birds of a feather flock together. " To put it another way, emotionally healthy Pagans will seek out and circle with other healthy Pagans. Here we have yet another mystery: It works like this: If one Pagan in a dysfunctional group should choose to become healthier, they will soon find that they no longer fit in with that group's energy. Alternatively, should a less healthy Pagan enter a healthy group, they can easily make the entire group unstable. It is a sad fact that healthy people do not tend to make an unhealthy person better, rather one dysfunctional person can make an entire group, office or circle codependent and crazed. This is why self actualized Pagans (or those on the road to being so) tend to be ever so careful when they choose circle members, lovers, students, or friends.
We may discover (or be in) a group which is healthy, patient, knowledgeable, supportive, and empowering. Such groups do exist, but like anything of value, they can be hard to find and there is a price to pay. They will demand that we work hard. They will expect us to have good boundaries, manners, ethics, some perspective, a sense of gratitude, and a sense of humor about ourselves. They won't lie to us and they won't accept excuses. If we choose to lie to ourselves or about someone else, they will call us on it. If we drop the ball, we will hear about it. Such groups know that if our life is out of order, our practice isn't going to be to too good, either, and they will encourage us to grow. (They can do this because they are walking the same healing path, themselves, and they know quite a bit of the road.) Finally, they will require that we do the three things that form the solid foundation for any type of spiritual practice: Show up, pay attention and tell the truth.
NOT THE MAMMA!:
It's all very well calling for eye of newt,
but do you mean Common, Spotted or Great Crested?
- Terry Pratchett
My friend Sage is a wonderful Pagan teacher. We had lunch the other day and in a middle of a conversation on ritual energy she said, "I'm not building a social group for my students, this is a teaching coven. " Fair enough. As I said before, not everyone is true tribe for us. Teachers like Sage should not feel obliged to create a new spiritual family every time they take on a new set of students. I would add that we don't have to become friends with everyone in our circle or even mingle socially at all, if we don't wish to.
If a group's mandate is purely for study, ritual, politics or charity work (in other words, if it is goal or action oriented as opposed to community oriented) then we might want to be very clear about that. If we set our emotional boundaries at the start, and keep them maintained, then we will not raise any false expectations for deeper relationships later on. In such as case, we can be friendly colleagues and seekers, and no other ties can (or should) bind us.
I would also recommend that teachers who do not wish to create connection outside the ritual circle could offer their students guidelines on how to find or create a healthy Pagan community when their training is complete. There are some Pagan teachers (me included) who include some "self help" titles along with their Pagan book list in order to facilitate this process.
Whatever our relationship with others in circle, we need to play nice, set boundaries and communicate our expectations, goals and standards.
HIDING IN PLAIN SIGHT: PAGANS DOING GOOD IN THE DOMINANT CULTURE:
"Let the beauty we love, be what we do" - Rumi
There are many Pagan people who avoid the dysfunctional Pagan groups and many who are naturally solitary who still choose to work for the good of all. These folks will often choose to do their community work with mundane groups.
Some of these people choose to become active in interfaith work. Others volunteer with animal rescue efforts or environmental causes. Some choose to work with social or charity organizations (such as battered women's shelters) or become involved in political causes (such as voter registration drives). Others choose to work with their local schools, educational foundations, or groups that support reading and the arts. Others among us have their hands full trying to raise healthy, happy, creative, free thinking children in a culture that teaches just the opposite. These folks tend to operate on the idea that they have more in common with a healthy, functional Buddhist or (gasp!) a progressive Christian than they do with the dysfunctional Pagans down the block. One community activist named DragonLady wrote this:
I work with many good Christian, Jewish, Hindu and Buddhist people within the Feminist and the Ecology movements. I see these people working at women's shelters and soup kitchens, lending a hand on coastal clean up days and volunteering in our local animal shelters and I choose to stand with anyone who does this sort of work and who respects my rights. What they do matters. What they call their deity, or whether they even have one, makes no difference to me at all.
There are positives and negatives to living in-cognito. As long as solitary, functional Pagans choose to keep their identity under wraps, their skills, example, and wisdom are lost to the larger Pagan community. However, they still serve as public examples of Pagan Pride, they just prefer to do this one-on-one, and among those co-workers and friends they trust. Happily for us, they continue to do good work and we all benefit from this. We refer to them as The Great Hearts. May the Goddess bless and keep them.
FUNCTIONAL PAGAN ORGANIZATIONS - YES, VIRGINIA, THEY DO EXIST:
"You know, it's kind of fun to do the impossible"
Functional Pagan organizations, (both large and small) face a unique set of challenges. In the last 12 years I've worked (and become acquainted) with several Pagan groups which truly empower people. Ironically, they do this so well, that often the core staff work with them for a year or two, learn what they needed to learn, gain new powers, confidence, experience and friends, and then go on to fulfill their personal dreams. This leaves the Mother Group with an immense sense of satisfaction, fulfillment, and pride and the problem of replacing really good, hard working people. Such people do not grow on trees. But they are out there. I know this because I've had the privilege of working these last five years with some of our best very and brightest.
In Part I of "It's A Mystery" I said this:
"Some exceptions to this lack of any real Pagan community can be found among a small number of well-run Pagan festivals, groups and events, often as not, among the dedicated volunteers. These folks tend to be funny, tough minded survivors, the kind of people you'll also find working in a MASH unit or teaching kids or working in the theatre; you'll find them pretty much any place that requires both practical talent and true grit. "
(For further information on this subject, read Professor Sarah Pike's insightful anthropological study titled Earthly Bodies, Magical Selves: Contemporary Pagans and the
Search for Community.)
If we want real community and we have something to offer, then now is the time to step up. I recommend that volunteers do their homework and find a group that a) supports what they care and about and b) is functional, well organized and fair minded. A volunteer should come prepared to play well with others and be willing to follow through on their commitments. If you are interested in becoming either a Pagan Organizer or a volunteer, I recommend reading my essay titled "Pagan Doers: How To Get Things Done".
For the sake of this discussion, I will point out some key points contained in Pagan Doers.
Here at Full Circle we have always insisted on things like accountability, responsibility, and kindness. We also have a wicked sense of humor and a collective bit of life wisdom. Using these, we were able to support one another (sometimes as friends, sometimes as colleagues, often as both) through some very rough times. (6) Are we perfect? Gods, no! Have there been tensions or disagreements among us? Well, sure, we're only human. But we do our best to work out any conflicts with honestly and respect. We also believe in empowering others, and in sharing responsibility so our more experienced staff members often act as mentors to the new folks. This means that the work we do at Full Circle is mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually challenging.
- Over time, we've found others who share the vision and, equally important, they are people who share our work ethic. . . . We always knew in our hearts that responsible Pagans were out there and they've proved that to us.
- Flaky people are everywhere, not just in the Pagan community. Alas, they are often the most charming and enthusiastic people we encounter.
- Some people come to us and want to give us their power. To this we say "Thanks, but no thanks". None of us want to be Gurus. We believe that being Pagan means accepting responsibility for yourself, your actions and for the quality of your life. We believe that it means claiming your own power and not giving it over to someone else. Ideally, it also means that you use your power to better the world you live in. That's what Pagan Doers do.
- Not everyone has healthy tools placed in their Life's Toolbox during childhood. Some of us have to add them in as adults. I know many Pagans who can claim to have 50 books on ritual techniques in their library but they don't own a single book on conflict resolution. I believe that this is one reason why so many Pagan groups don't last. So, I ask our people to read books on subjects such as Active Listening, Positive Confrontation, Codependency & Dysfunctional Family Systems, Group Dynamics, Stress & Anger Management & Effective Management Techniques.
- When we do use a title such as "Leader" we have a Wyrd way of defining it. A "Leader" at Full Circle is the one you see doing the donkeywork. This comes as a shock to some people. We've had folks approach us who want to have all the "fun" of leading, that is, they want to pick and choose all the interesting tasks for themselves and they want to have other people do the dull and boring jobs. Other types think that leading means telling other people what to do and doing nothing at all themselves. Here at Full Circle we think differently. We think that being in charge of something means that you do the most work of anyone in your group. It means you're the first one to arrive and the last one to leave. You do whatever needs doing. If that means you clean the toilets before an event, then so be it. Don't laugh, I've done that. The closest I've ever gotten to holding a Staff of Office is that toilet brush.
We've been lucky because we tend to attract people who are willing to do their emotional homework, and who recognize the need for healthy boundaries. This wasn't easy, and in some cases it took us ten years of going to various Pagan events for us to find each other. I should also note that by the end of 2004, the staff was profoundly tired from five years of active service here at FCE. Last year, I choose to use my winter meditations to do some inner work and discover what was next for us. These essays (specifically the section coming up titled "What Pagan Doers Are Doing Now") come out of these meditations.
HOW ORGANIZERS COPE TODAY:
Common Sense is not so common - Voltaire
Those of us who teach, organize, run open Circles, lead workshops, and host festivals must cope with the dysfunctional Pagans among us, whether we like it or not. They aren't very hard to recognize. While functional people are willing to share, learn, grow, and give back, dysfunctional people use this path as an excuse to act out and show off. They won't volunteer for much, but they are quick to criticize the work of others. Or, if they do volunteer, they go from group to group to group; making a royal hash out of anything they touch. (7) Their first thought always seems to be "What's in it for me?". But a functional Pagan will ask, "What are Witches' for?". In the case of people like the Great Hearts, people who care about more than just themselves, their next question will usually be "How can I help?".
Enthusiasm and good intentions
are no substitute for
competence and hard work
In the last 25 years, I've worked with several different non-profit groups, including my own. I've also spent time working behind the scenes at a number of different conventions, meets, and community projects, some of which I've also directed or planned. Based on this experience, I can say that reliable, committed volunteers are hard to come by even in good times. In times of tragedy, such as 9/11 or the Indonesian tsunami or Hurricane Katrina, people tend to come together for comfort and support. They will give their time, money, or supplies to the charities that directly address the disaster. This means that they often give a little less to their usual charities, such as the Humane Society. Bad economic times offer a different challenge. When money is tight, prices are high, and jobs are scarce, most people tend to circle the wagons and take care of their own. Charitable giving plummets across the board and volunteers are even harder to find. It's not just Pagans who have this problem. Since 9/11 and the economic downturn, non-profit groups throughout the U. S. are hurting for both funds and volunteers.
Over the years, we at FCE have been blessed with a wonderful group of Regular Volunteers (people we know and trust, who will show up and do a great job on the day in question) and what we call "Organizing Volunteers".organizing Volunteers are the Holy Grail of non-profit organizations. Only one person out of a hundred has the life experience, as well as the desire, commitment, people skills, and time available to chair a committee effectively, let alone serve as Director and/or Council members. Oh, these people are out there, believe me, but those who can, do, and those who are doing are often overbooked. So when you find these folks, cherish them, and try not to burn them out from overwork. (You may actually have to tell them "no" when they want to take on more projects, projects you know will be the last straw to their camel's back. You may even have to take a task away from them, and give it to someone else, if you perceive that they are overloaded. It's not easy, but it's part of your job). The care and feeding of such magickal creatures is a principal focus for effective Pagan Organizers. (8)
Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes.
Art is knowing which ones to keep.
Those of us who are Pagan organizers, volunteers and teachers have a responsibility to model healthy behavior like showing up on time, or doing what we say we will do. We also need to understand the use of Builders and Barriers in relationships, in order to be the most effective in our work.
For more on this subject, please read Pagan Doers.
WHAT "PAGAN DOERS" ARE DOING NOW:
"We few, we happy few" - Henry V
As Fritz Jung has noted, many Pagans who have worked in the community for years are pulling back. Some are resting, some regrouping. Others look for guidance or make plans. Some wait for the right time to begin new projects. It looks like the end of an era, a period when certain energy called on us to get out there and be proud Pagans in public. Many of us heeded the call to build something meaningful. In some cases we Pagans have succeeded in our goals, and in other cases we missed the mark. As one wise Witch said to me recently, "It's as if the Goddess tried an experiment, and then, for her own reasons, decided it's finished". It's my belief that Paganism has been used to create a tipping point for change in Western culture in much the same way that feminism has done. Now that these EarthWise ideas are out there, and available to those in the mainstream, I believe it's time for us to move forward in ways that work best for us. These are difficult times, and we must proceed with caution and remember to rest when we need it.
We must be willing to get rid of the life we've planned,
so as to have the life that is waiting for us. - Joseph Campbell
If you follow current events you know that Momma Gaia needs our ethics desperately. I believe that what we Pagans have to offer the world will be valued by our culture(s) someday. Mark Modford wrote an article for the San Francisco Chronicle just recently about the spiritual tipping point he sees coming. In Come All Ye Faithful he said:
Spiritual self-determination among the intelligent and the educated and the independent- minded in this country is nothing new. . . . But something feels different now. There is this palpable sea change. There is this deep simmering electrical pulse. There is the return of the divine feminine, the flip of the cosmic coin, what the mystics and the seers call the Great Awakening, happening within the next decade or so (for those who are ready).
Is our time really coming or is this just the calm before a great and terrible storm? Whatever happens, we'll need to be ready. Soon after 9/11 I wrote an article titled Kuan Yin and the Year of the Snake. In there I discussed a mystery I'd been taught about change and direction:
And every time I've needed to be shaken up, whether it is spiritually, emotionally, or physically; that has happened. I moved forward in the direction that seems right to me and often, I hit a wall. I wailed at the wall. I resented the wall. I complained bitterly and at length about the wall. "I never deserved this!", I cried. (Just between you and me, I sometimes did). Then a friend and teacher said this to me, "You'll always know which direction the universe wants you to take because it will stop you with a wall to get your attention. When you hit that wall, turn left. " And so I do.
Based the issues that confront us on so many fronts these days, my colleagues, and I have chosen to make some left turns. Nowadays,
- We choose projects and co-workers very carefully
- We keep watch on where and how we spend our resources and our precious life's energy.
- We do what is necessary to refill both our creative and spiritual wells.
- We consider our next projects, and wait until the time is right to bring them out into the open.
In the meantime:
- We speak our truth.
- We circle with others of like mind.
- We reach out to those who share our values.
- We work for positive change.
- We try and keep a healthy, EarthWise spirit alive in the world.
We don't obsess on what should be or what might have been. We focus on what is and what can be accomplished now, with the means we have at hand. Finally, we ask ourselves three very important questions:
THE GURU TRAP:
All I want is a warm bed, a kind word, and unlimited power.
While it is pleasant to be admired, those of us who teach or act as mentors are constantly at risk for becoming "Gurus" to some of students. Healthy Pagan teachers require respect and commitment from their students, not unquestioning obedience, and they avoid the Guru Trap like the plague. They do this for many reasons, including self-preservation. Here are three of the main reasons why wise teachers, circle leaders, and organizers try very hard to avoid this trap:
- If students put their teacher on a pedestal, they will inevitably notice that the teacher has feet of clay. At that point, the teacher falls off. The higher the pedestal, the greater the fall. The resounding crash will deafen these students to anything else the teacher has to say. Flying shrapnel can wound anyone caught nearby.
- If students idolize their teachers, and the teacher allows it, this lets the student off the hook. After all, why should they work so hard if the teacher is "great" by definition, and they are not? Surly they could never reach the great teacher's level, so why try?
A teacher's job is not to swan around looking mystical. Their job is to model healthy, empowered Pagan practice and to say: "I have this knowledge and these skills. I learned what I know in the following ways. You can do it, too. It's not easy and it's not quick, but it's possible. Let's get to work. "
- Some students will often approach teachers and try and give them their power. The subtext to such teacher worship is this: "Make me better. Fix me, magically, so I don't have to be responsible for my life. Fill up the hole in my soul. " Gods help the teacher who buys into that. Eventually, the student will come to resent the teacher for A) having their power and B) not fixing them. The anger the student feels at this perceived betrayal will come back to haunt that teacher later on.
21ST CENTURY PAGANS:
Where there's a Witch, there's a Way
I can't say this too often: There are many wise people are out there, right now, doing an immense deal of good in their neighborhoods. There are also some larger, well-run groups which offer advice, training, networking, and support. Some even perform charity work and host Pagan Pride events (a pretty gutsy thing to do in these harsh times). The most hopeful thing I know about present day Paganism is that these good people are finding one another. Thanks to the Internet (and specifically, The Witches' Voice) Pagans can share resources and contact lists for good groups, festivals, teachers, other Solitaries, and events.
Organizers also know a lot about the Problem Children, too, not to mention the abusers, divas, flakes, would be gurus, thieves, and cons who lurk among us. Most organizers keep lists based on their experiences with these people. While mere gossip is discouraged, we do share information and we will warn each other about troublemakers when we need to.
We also keep lists of what my friend Snakemoon calls, "The Ordinary Pagans"; the fun loving, hard working, talented, trustworthy folks. (9) So don't be afraid to ask for references when you begin working with someone new and don't hesitate to make some phone calls before you give someone responsibility, especially if a project involves working with minors.
Paganism is changing as we speak. Will we Pagans truly support each other or will we let jealousy, Witch Wars and dysfunctional modes of behavior ruin the Circle? A lot depends on how healthy our community chooses to be, and whether or not we work together and share information in responsible ways.
Pagan groups that wish to thrive in this new century can do the following:
- Be flexible and adapt to the changing mystical, economic, political and social realities around us while keeping our core values intact.
- Model healthy personal boundaries and group standards.
- Practice constructive ways of handling conflict and sharing power.
- Learn how to deal with stress, and avoid doing too much and risking "burn out".
- Require courteous, respectful behavior from all our members.
- Find ways to support personal growth, health, and harmony within our group, and in the larger community.
- Set up a system of consequences, including ouster, for those members who are abusive or untrustworthy.
- Unite with other Pagan groups to stand against the abusers and predators among us.
- Share information and resources with other responsible groups.
- Practice what we preach about tolerance and abide no hate speech or bigotry among our members.
- Use open, transparent, real world accounting practices with regard to any collection or expenditure of funds.
- Protect the children in our midst from abuse (either within or outside the group) and help them to grow strong and flourish.
- Decide what we want to create, as individuals and as a group, and support each other as we work towards these goals.
A LITTLE SOUP COULDN'T HURT:
Many people who come to Paganism have been raised in a different belief system. Some of our folks need to heal from religious abuse. Others choose to keep the progressive, supportive or charitable elements from their old belief system alive in their new practice. Pagans often say that they feel like they have finally "come home" when they find this path. I know that feeling. Even so, many miss the community and the caring that some churches and temples offer. As one Pagan gal put it, "No one in my circle is going to bring me soup when I am sick. "
If we want to really build healthy communities (no matter how large or how small) we are going to have to learn to really care for one another. That doesn't mean we pay a circle member's rent, but offering bit of soup, or maybe doing some babysitting for a hardworking parent really isn't asking too much.
There are some things to admire about the way the other groups do things. Why? Because they work! We Pagans have a right to keep whatever works (like that soup), and leave the rest behind. For a discussion of this issue, I recommend reading an essay titled. "The Christians & the Pagans. "
In that essay, I ask about another mystery: "How is it that a People so willing to point out intolerance on the part of other faiths can be so blindly intolerant themselves?"
Ladies and gentleman, the issue here is a human one. Every group has people in it who share our values, some we don't want to know, and some we will have to defend against. (10) Every group also has within it those people who inspire us by their charity, compassion, and courage. Once that is understood, we can seek out the Great Hearts and work together on something that is really important, like war and peace, world hunger or whose turn it is to watch the kids at the pool.
In Kuan Yin, I wrote about the dual mysteries of strength and compassion which I learned, in part, by living with a partner who is a both martial artist and a Buddhist:
Whenever I am tempted to lash out in anger (I am reminded) that compassion is a dynamic force. My tradition teaches that this force must be directed outwardly, as well as inwardly, in order to be effective. For me, this means that I cannot fight intolerance or prejudice directed towards me with more of the same. I can defend my loved ones and myself, never you fear, but I can do so in a way that leaves my integrity intact. More then once the thought of Kuan Yin has kept me from playing the fool in someone else's game. This is what is meant by right action. It does not mean "no action" or "reaction"; it means action that is taken from a position of wisdom, understanding, and strength.
WHAT ARE WITCHES' FOR?
I am only one, but I am still one.
I cannot do everything,
but still I can do something….
I will not refuse to do something that I can still do.
- Edward Everett Hale
At some time or other, healthy Pagan asks themselves, "What are Witches' for?" I believe that the answer is both tribal and personal. As individuals, we Pagans are responsible for becoming our best and most joyous selves. I support all our people in this goal for lots of reasons, among them the fact that the more healthy, creative, happy people we have in the world, the better we all are.
Let us now address this issue on the tribal level. The search for self and meaning is a luxury permitted to the very few. Others here in the U. S. and all around the globe are mainly concerned with survival. While I don't wish to minimize anyone's personal struggle, the fact is that if we have two sets of clothes, a roof over our head, and we know that we will eat tonight we are better off then most of this world's population. So, while I sit in my garden and meditate, other people are threatened by war, poverty and hunger, natural disasters, slavery, disease, sexual abuse, and other, very real and very constant dangers. For this reason, I agree with Terry Pratchett when he says, "A Witch speaks for those who cannot speak for themselves. " While I support every one of us in our search for our best selves and our highest good, I teach that it is not enough to "do no harm". I believe that it is my duty to do a bit of good, as well. While I can't speak for all Pagans, I do know which sort of Pagan I respect and choose to work with. They are the ones who see this Path as both a life long blessing, and a great responsibility, and who act accordingly.
In 1999, I sat down to write a general checklist for our Full Circle website on basic Pagan values and practice. I thought it would be a simple task. Five years later, it's still a work in progress. When making this list, I was less concerned with rules or dogma, and more concerned with principals, ideals, and ethics. I present the latest incarnation to you here, in the hope that it may be of use.
This is another mystery I would like to offer. It's this: There is so much unfairness and cruelty in the world that it's easy to be against something but in order to live an authentic and meaningful life we must also know (truly, clearly, deeply) what it is that we stand for.
This is our list. What's yours?
We all have rules and guidelines we live by. They form the foundation for each person's belief system, otherwise known as their spirituality, philosophy, ideology, faith, practice, moral values, tradition, or religion. Whatever we call our beliefs, we respect these basic principles.
(1999, 2005: SV)
- We recognize that all beings are connected.
- We have a reverence for earth and all creatures. We believe it is important to protect and heal the environment, and we try to "Step lightly" on the earth and to live in harmony with nature.
- We celebrate the changing of the seasons, our holidays, and the important moments in our lives according to our chosen path, tradition, faith, or philosophy.
- Our personal practice is a source of joy, comfort, empowerment, and growth. It includes self-acceptance, courage, understanding, and compassion. We treat other people and ourselves with respect.
- We support free inquiry and we honor learning, knowledge, ideas, and creativity. We value discovery and understanding, rather than unquestioning obedience.
- We believe in spiritual, legal, and social equality between men and women.
- We believe that every human being is ultimately responsible for his or her own actions, and we endeavor to make choices that are wise, healthy, and responsible. We acknowledge that our choices matter greatly to others, both in the present and for future generations, and we act accordingly.
- We have a desire to help those in need and to be a force for good. We work to prevent the mistreatment of children and animals, and to help those less fortunate than ourselves.
- We oppose cruelty, abuse, and the exploitation of others, regardless of religion, nationality, age, race, sex, or social status, and we stand against fanaticism, and hatred.
- We acknowledge that human sexuality embodies a wide variety of qualities that range from the playful to the sacred. We honor the blessings and the responsibilities of healthy, loving, life-affirming sexual relationships between consenting adults and we respect the right of each individual to choose that form of sexual expression which is right for them.
- We believe in the four basic freedoms: Freedom of Speech & Expression, Freedom of Worship, Freedom from Want, and Freedom from Fear.
- We respect the beliefs of other people as long as these beliefs do not violate basic rights and freedoms. We believe that each person will find the path that is right for him or her, and we do not claim that our way is the only one, true or right way. We offer information on our beliefs to those who are interested but we do not proselytize.
- We honor our own cultural heritage and respect what is positive and life affirming in every society. We support economic and civil justice for all.
- We honor the past but avoid repeating the mistakes of history. We celebrate the present with a sense of perspective and gratitude, and we take action to create a better future for all.
- We choose to act with integrity and to speak the truth, as we understand it. We accept the challenges life offers, and we seek to grow in strength and wisdom.
- We claim the right to be loving, joyful, creative, fulfilled human beings and we support the right of others to do the same.
HEALTHIER, HAPPIER PAGANS: HOW DID THEY GET THAT WAY?
You get a great view from a glass house.
If you were very, very lucky, you were raised in a healthy, loving, supportive family. The odds on that (at least in western culture) are about 900 to 1. Now let's assume that no tragedies, losses, illnesses or bad influences have ever touched your life. I'm not very good at higher math, so let's just say that it's rare, real rare. The point here is that everyone, everywhere has some emotional baggage. Some of us get handed more weight than others. Some of us try to carry our bags, and everyone else's, too.
So, then, how do we drop all that baggage and move forward? We begin by seeing ourselves as a work in progress. We embark on a journey, a kind of quest, wherein we uncover, discover, recover, & discard.
Uncover: We go back and look at how we were raised. By the time we are five years old, we have absorbed many thousands of hours worth of "parent tapes" about who we are expected to be, what we are worth and how we are to be treated. Imagine now how much information we've taken in by the time we're fifteen. These messages are now a large part of our unconscious, and they form much of the basis for our self worth. They are, in effect, our life's script. So, to heal we go back, we look at our childhood, and we examine any dysfunctional messages given to us by our family, this culture, our teachers, and our friends. Why? Because we can't heal if we don't know what's wrong.
Discover: We learn how that these messages have become part of our worldview, how they followed us into adulthood, and most importantly, how they affect us today.
Then we take a look at our Life's Toolbox. In theory, our tribe is supposed to supply us with a full set of useful life tools, things like fighting fair, delayed gratification, healthy sexual behavior, self esteem, and trust. In reality, some of us have been using a hammer to do a job that requires a crescent wrench, because no one ever gave us the right tool. If we've made a hammer do the job this long, then we get points both for creativity and for survivor skills. . . . and we still need a wrench.
Some of us got a wrench, but we didn't know what it was for or how to use it. We can honor the fact that we made it this far, and then go out and get that wrench and learn how to use it. If we do that, then the next time we have a job in our life that needs a wrench, it will be done easier, faster, and much better.
Recover: We use our new tools and insights to create the life we have always wanted. We work to recover our energy, creativity, and enthusiasm, too.
"But what if we never had these things?" some ask. Well, it's true; some of us never did have these gifts. In that case, we'll need to Discover them for the first time. Either way, this is a wondrous journey and quite possibly the best magick we'll ever do.
We also stop asking our family for approval, their unconditional love or any of the other things we may have wanted from them which they just didn't had to give us. Here is another, difficult mystery: Going back to some families for unconditional love is like going to the hardware store for a loaf of bread. They just don't have it in stock. In order to heal, most of us must learn how to parent ourselves.
Discard: It's been said, "If you show some people a rut, they'll move in and furnish it. "We choose instead to discard unhealthy behavior which is keeping us stuck, and we find ways to let go, to grieve, and to forgive the pain we've been carrying. We do not do this work for the sake of others we do it for ourselves. We do it so that we can live free of any anger, fear, shame or resentments that drain our precious life's energy. This is another mystery I'd like to share: We cannot accept the gifts that life would put into our hands because our hands are already full. In some cases, we may be holding on to things that aren't good for us, and we're still afraid to let go. It is only when we drop the baggage we've been carrying that everything becomes possible.
We do not dare because things are difficult.
Things are difficult because we do not dare.
We can also choose to let go of people and situations which are bad for us. This does not mean that we have a right to avoid our responsibilities. For example, we do not have the right to abandon our children in order to "find ourselves", but it does mean that we do not have to stay in an abusive relationship. If a relationship does not nurture our spirit and support our Best Self we can break those ties. At the same time, we must ask ourselves, honestly, "What was it about me that attracted this person?" This brings us around full circle, to a very basic mystery: Spiritually and emotionally speaking, water seeks its own level. So if we want healthier people and circles in our lives, we need to become healthier ourselves.
We do not have to do this process alone - we can ask for a little help along the way.
A GUY FALLS INTO A HOLE:
This guy's walking down the street when he falls in a hole. The walls are so steep he can't get out.
"A doctor passes by and the guy shouts up, 'Hey you. Can you help me out?' The doctor writes a prescription, throws it down in the hole and moves on.
"Then a priest comes along and the guy shouts up, 'Father, I'm down in this hole can you help me out?' The priest writes out a prayer, throws it down in the hole and moves on. "
"Then a friend walks by, 'Hey, Joe, it's me can you help me out?' And the friend jumps in the hole. Our guy says, 'Are you stupid? Now we're both down here. ' The friend says, 'Yeah, but I've been down here before and I know the way out. '"
- Aeron Sorkin (from The West Wing)
While Part I of It's A Mystery was causing so much stir, the good folks at Vox published a different article at their site, one that explains just why I feel I can talk on the subject of dysfunctional behavior. You see, I've been down the hole, and I know at least one way out. If you would like to read that article, you can: It is titled Making a Sea Change: The Spiral Steps Support Groups and it talks about Spiral Steps, the support groups I started several years ago. These meetings are for anyone who value EarthWise ethics. All are welcome.
This article was my coming out party. I'm not coming out as a Pagan (I've been out of that closet so long I forgot where it was), but as a person in recovery. I felt I owed it to you, and to myself, to say just what my qualifications were for speaking like this. So now you know.
As I wrote in the endnotes to Part I: I, myself, am both a particle and a wave; I can be a particle of light on the one hand, or a wave of destruction on the other. I have tried, not always successfully, to choose the path that is positive.
My friend, DragonLady, thinks I'm nuts to do it this way. She wrote: "Are you mad? The Problem Children among us will use the fact that the messenger is flawed to disavow the message!"
Well. . . . they can try. It's been rather amusing to hear the reaction from some quarters to Part I, especially since I'm such an unknown factor. I'm told that the buzz among the discontented has gone two basic ways: Either I'm some Grand Witchy Pooh Bah trying to tell other Pagans how to live, or I'm some nobody (from California no less!) and so there's no reason to listen to what I have to say. The fact is, I know my truth, and I've said it. Now it's up to you to decide if what I've said hits home. Keep what you need and leave the rest. In any case, no one here at Full Circle has any illusions that I'm perfect. If anyone outside our group tried to paint me as such, the general reaction here would be to fall down laughing.
WHO DOES SHE THINK SHE IS?
"Teaching consists of causing people to go into
Situations from which they cannot escape except by thinking"
I'm a teacher by trade and a priestess by calling. A priestess in my tradition isn't someone who shows up all decked out just to eat a feast prepared by others. Our kind of priestess rides from village to village on a steady little mule and she carries gifts, and some useful supplies. We arrive quietly and greet old friends. Our first question is not "Where's the party?" but "Have you dug the new well? "Are the seeds planted? "Do you need help getting the hay in?" "Are you building up enough supplies for winter?", "Can you use these things I've brought?" and most importantly, "How are the children?" If every person and every animal in that village has what they need, then we put on fancy dress and party, and we party very well indeed.
It's in that same spirit that I've written several articles over the years, including:
The Elephant In Our Circles: Pagans, Tolerance and the War in Iraq
Nudity at Festivals
In Praise of Pagan Men
What's Past, Is Present: Post Election Thoughts from a Maven.
As a result, I've had my share of nice and nasty letters. But nothing that has gone before prepared me for the reaction to "It's A Mystery".
When we first published Part I of IAM I thought we'd get the usual rants, and a few quiet nods from our friends, but I had no idea the sort of large scale discussion it would generate on the internet. It seems to have struck a chord. I'm humbled by the grateful reaction to this piece, and grateful in my turn to all those who shared the link. Since Part I appeared, we've gotten hundreds of wonderful letters saying "Thank you for saying out loud what I've been thinking for so long!" These letters go right to the heart of the matter. You see, it's not that I'm so much wiser then anyone else, I've just said what so many have been thinking. If I've said it in a way that supports our people in setting boundaries and making healthy choices, then I'm glad.
If you would like to join us at Spiral Steps, you are most welcome. The cyber group, in particular, is open to all. That's one of the roads towards healing, but there are lots of other ways to make that journey. However you get there, please know that it's OK to ask for help. Take courage, you are not alone.
Wishing you all good things,
Council Leader & Founder
Full Circle: http://www.fullcircleevents.org
Spiral Steps: http://www.spiralsteps.org
The Pagan Voting Project: http://www.fullcircleevents.org/pvp/
Many Thanks: The following people contributed their insights and experience to this essay: Ashli S. ("scenes" and how they operate/the Lost Children), Fritz J. (healthy requirements for groups/ teachers & handling power), Lynn W. (learning levels/ introverts, extroverts & mystics), Rowan F. (community work & cooperation/ interfaith work), Sage (teaching circles & metaphysics), Snakemoon (creativity, healthy sex, ritual work & practical Paganism), Thalassa P. (real world courtesy & manners/the care and treatment of staff). I am deeply grateful for their generosity and for the long, fascinating conversations via phone, in person and by email which made this essay possible. Any errors herein are mine and mine, alone.
To quote Rob Hindmarch: "Archetypes are a philosophical/psychological concept used to describe energies, forces, principles and patterns that determine the structure and dynamics of the human mind, the world around us, and indeed the entire cosmos. Archetypes are intangible and cannot be directly observed. The existence of archetypes is inferred from the effect they have in the world and on our psyche. An analogy is the way the underlying discharge of electrons that make up a lightning strike cannot be directly observed and can only be inferred from the spectacular display created.
In the physical realm these archetypal effects manifest as the basic patterns we see in nature and the cosmos. The development in the sciences of chaos theory, quantum mechanics, and molecular genetics are all attempts to describe these basic archetypal patterns.
Socially and culturally, archetypal effects manifest in the patterns and structures at the core of our societies, the institutions we create, the legislation we enact, the social mores we adopt and the ethical values we hold.
Psychologically these effects are expressed, both individually and collectively, on several different levels of being. Archetypal effects manifest in dreams, altered states of consciousness and those moments of insight that lead to great works of art and scientific breakthroughs. They influence thought, and operate as drivers of the behaviors and emotions that pattern human experience. From an archetypal perspective, ideas, thoughts and feelings do not exist as independent entities, they are meaningfully connected and belong to an archetypal pattern. "
I do this for another reason, as well. A number of well-intentioned people wrote in after Part I appeared to say: "But you didn't say this!" when in fact, I had. It turned out they had a) read the piece too quickly or b) Did not read the information in the linking articles (which were placed there for good reasons or c) skipped the Endnotes (ditto). Now, I'm not a perfect writer by any means, and thoughtful responses from our readers are always welcome. They can only make me better at my job. However, in some cases, I do gently remind certain readers that the whole is more than the sum of it's parts, and that its best to wait on a discussion of an article's merits until one has thoughtfully read the entire piece.
This is graduate school, folks. If you don't want to do the reading, don't bother coming to class.
Ashli is writing an article on this subject for Full Circle as we speak. Look for it in future.
I would like to symbolize this mystery by using a familiar image of the spiral. This spiral is our life and along its length are all the colors in the world, repeating over and over again. The colors that travel along this shape are the things we are meant to learn and understand. They are represented here both as colors and as energy attached to those colors (If you practice yoga. meditation or other healing techniques, you can image that these colors relate to the chakras and consider that the lessons are learned along the lines of mind, body & spirit.) As the colors move through the spiral they reflect the fact that many of the same issues, problems, challenges, gifts, joys and strengths will spiral throughout our lifetime here on earth. Some colors will gain brightness, clarity, and strength as they move through the spiral, and others will become dim, washed out or muddy. As we change, so do the colors. (For example; some these colors appear as painfully bright at some point, and then disappear. These are the lessons of forgiveness and release. The energy represented by these particular colors is now freed to support our spirit in other, healthier ways).
I doubt we'll ever be able to count them all, but it's my belief that Solitary Pagans make up the largest number of Pagans, worldwide.
Over the years we have supported and advised each other as Staff members have coped with serious illnesses, job losses, the demands of new jobs, divorces and break-ups, moves into and out of state, deaths in the family, grieving, love affairs, pet loss, births, weddings and handfastings, caring for ill and/or elderly parents, caring for young children, career changes, college and/or retraining, supporting loved ones in the military, getting our kids through the teen years, emergency room visits, sobriety, burn out, graduation, money troubles, Saturn Returns, menopause, learning disabilities, depression, euphonies, the effects of long term stress, croning, coming of age, interfaith relationships, and blended families. . . . you name it, we've helped each other dealt with it
When the work gets hard, such people disappear. One of the best books I've found on dealing with difficult volunteers was written by a Christian pastor. It's so good, that people from many different groups refer it to each other. The title is "Antagonists In the Church: How to Identify and Deal with Destructive Conflict" It is by Kenneth Haugk. There is also a very helpful workbook. It is written from a Christian perspective, but the information contained in here is incredible useful, especially the parts on identifying Problem Children and heading off destructive behaviors. Take what you need, and leave the rest.
When working with volunteers, whether they are Senior Staff, trusted regulars or new folks, we recommend the following:
- Praise publicly and correct privately
- Take the time to set up training for each job, and write directions for the tasks involved. The more we train folks up front, the less correction we have to do down the line. This saves us eons of time
- Make it clear who answers to whom and why.
- Set clearly defined standards, deadlines, and timelines.
- Communicate, communicate, communicate
- Do check in on a regular basis, and make sure that everyone has what he or she needs to do his or her jobs.
- Model for the group what it means to a) make a mistake, b) say you are sorry, and c) get back to work. (One of my finest compliments as a leader came from Chronic, a long time consigliore and friend. She said, "You know what I like best about you Sia? You know when you're being an ass. ")
- Listen to other ideas and be willing to change your mind if someone does indeed have a better way. Conversely, be willing to say "Thank you. We've believe dong it this way works best for us. " if you know you are on the right track.
- Give credit where credit is due.
- Expect the unexpected.
- Have a Plan A, a Plan B, and a Plan C. If Plan C doesn't work, improvise!
- Place principles before personalities.
- Let troublemakers or the flaky sorts go, with blessings, when you have to. Do it quietly, courteously, and professionally, but do it.
- Celebrate what is best about your people. Overlook their minor flaws as you wish them to overlook yours.
- Correct a person's behavior, as needed, but always show respect for the individual. (Show some of that same compassion towards yourself)
- Learn and practice Active Listening.
- Know your limits and remember, "Less is more".
Ordinary Pagans are people who have homes, jobs, friends, and families. They also have very rich lives outside of the Pagan scene. As Snakemoon notes, these people walk between worlds. Sometimes they work as professionals or are active in local charity efforts, schools, or interfaith projects. No matter what they do for a living, they are not afraid of responsibility and their lives are not full or chaos, drama and trauma.
Ordinary Pagans bring concentration, professional, "can do" attitudes, dedication and, standards, to this practice. There are more of them then anyone realizes.
Let me be clear: These folks are not superior to those Pagans who choose to live in a more bohemian fashion, nor are they any less Pagan because they own a business suit or wear a bit less jewelry. Don't expect to find them unless they want you to. With some Pagans you can tell they are Pagan from space, but with ordinary Pagans you might have to know them for a while before realizing that their practice is much like your own. Their mindset is just as tolerant and just as rich as those of us who live on the fringe and they do not judge other (healthy) ways of being Pagan, however, they do bring certain life skills to their practice.
Some Pagans who use this path to act out or annoy Mom and Dad often judge Ordinary Pagans as "middle class" or "sell outs". Such judgment is defensive, naive and ill informed for there are many Ordinary Pagans who walk between both the professional and the alternative worlds, including those who are joined in polyamorous families, many who are involved in the arts, people who are active in the leather and tattoo communities, as well as those who teach tarot and practice other magickal arts. It is not so much a lifestyle, as an empowered, creative, and capable state of mind.
As I said in Part I, being tolerant does not mean we become a doormat. For example:
- Does this mean that I will tolerate the abuse of my practice, or any curtailments of my civil and religious rights? Of course not. I use my money, our network, and my time to protect those rights, both for others and myself.
- Do I agree with everything other religions teach? No, I do not. Do I stand by silently when Paganism is disparaged by ignorant and bigoted people? Again, the answer is "No". But if I speak or write on these subjects, I do so in a civil manner (so as not to embarrass my colleagues or myself) and I get my facts straight.
- Do I feel that Paganism needs to win the approval of other religions? Nope. But I do choose to work with people of all faiths who share our core values, because that's how things get done for the good of all.
I try hard not to be blinded by prejudice, and I no more believe that all Christians are out to harm us then I think that all Pagans are wonderful; I choose to take people as they come.
It's a Start: A Short Bibliography:
These are available in print, tape and CD formats
Adult Children of Alcoholics (Expanded Edition) by Janet Woittitz
Antagonists In The Church by Kenneth Haugk (book & workbook)
Bradshaw On The Family by John Bradshaw
Codependent No More: How To Stop Controlling Others and Start Caring For Yourself by Melody Beattie
Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ by Daniel Goldman
Families & How to Survive Them by Robyn Skinner & John Cleese
Healing the Shame That Binds You by John Bradshaw
Life & How to Survive It by Robyn Skinner & John Cleese
Positive Discipline by Jane Nelsen
Many Roads, One Journey: Moving Beyond the Twelve Steps by Charlotte Kasl
Raising Self Reliant Children in a Self Indulgent World by H. Steven Glenn & Jane Nelsen (part of the Developing Capable People Series of workshops)
Revolution From Within by Gloria Steinem
Sacred Contracts by Carolyn Myss
The Circle of Life: 13 Archetypes for Every Woman by Elizabeth Davis and Carol Leonard.
The Two Step: The Dance Towards Intimacy - by Elieen McCann
You Just Don't Understand: Men and Women in Conversation by Debrah Tennan
Why People Don't Heal & How They Can by Carolyn Myss
Location: Portland, Oregon
Author's Profile: To learn more about Sia@FullCircle - Click HERE
Bio: My Friend Sia
My job is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable
Sia's resume will tell you that she has twenty-five years of experience working behind the scenes at a variety of conventions, events, gatherings, and charity efforts. She has also worked with seven different nonprofit groups on a wide range of social and educational issues, including serving several terms on the boards of directors for various wildlife rescue groups.
Her academic background is in renaissance literature (she will tell you that this makes her fun at parties) with a further emphasis on women's studies and art history. (Some people just don't know when to quit). She went on to a teaching credential before we could stop her, but we're pretty sure she's over it by now.
Her resume won't tell that you she has worked since she was 16, and that she paid her way through college and graduate school by working full time and going to school at night. Sia has worked as a writer, and manager at various corporations and university campuses, doing what she likes best, which is bringing order to chaos and information to them that needs it. Midway in her career, she choose to spend several years teaching high school English and English as a second language in the Los Angeles Unified school district. That is where we first met. I remember her then as someone who tried to learn how to swear in as many different languages as possible. She got quite far in that regard. She was a dedicated teacher, too.
Sia lives in northern California with her partner of many years, a pride of felines, and a very silly dog. In her spare time, she gardens, hikes, and works as a volunteer rehabilitator for various wildlife and companion animal groups. These days, she is the co-owner of a small software business. She says she is semi- retired. I don't believe her. In any case, she is currently writing two books based on her experiences working with Pagan groups, one titled Herding Cats and the other The Spiral Steps.
In the past, Sia has been the guiding and financial force behind MUSE Camp (2000) and The Witches' Ball (2004, 2002, 2001, 2000). The Witches' Ball was FCE's costume ball and charity fundraiser for the Humane Society. Overall, the WBs have raised over $7,000 for the Santa Clara Humane Society and Full Circle has also awarded over $1,000 via the annual Gaia's Guardian Award to local heroes and heroines. The WBs have hosted over 1, 790 attendees in total (not counting staff, volunteers, and entertainers). Like Sia says, this work has only been possible with the help of many good people, and the support of Full Circle's members. (For a list of other events over the years, such as March Hares & Black Light Bowling, please go here.)
The WB has been so successful that it has inspired other Pagan groups to host charity costume events in their areas, as well. These include some events modeled on Full Circle's Beltane Balls and various Witches' Balls. Full Circle Witches' Balls were family friendly, drug free and involved a large number of people of many faiths who gathered together with their Pagan friends to party, and do a little good. These were great evenings, even for those of us who don't usually attend Pagan events. Sia and Full Circle wishes other groups much success in their own balls, and she hopes that they use these events as a way of giving back and supporting Pagan Pride.
For the last 12 years Sia has presented lectures and led workshops on such topics as wildlife preservation, conflict resolution and Paganism. Sia has studied Earth Based spirituality since 1980, and she practices in a Green Tradition with Taoist flavors. She is the Council Leader and Founder of Full Circle Events, the support groups known as the Spiral Steps and the Pagan Voting Project.
She is funny, tough, and far too soft hearted. She can also be mule headed, and a real pain in the neck when she wants volunteers for her charity gigs, but there is no one else I'd rather count on when the chips are down. I've known her for many years, and I am glad to call her my friend.
A grumpy Dianic Solitary
Other Articles: Sia@FullCircle has posted 23 additional articles- View them?
Other Listings: To view ALL of my listings: Click HERE
Email Sia@FullCircle... (No, I have NOT opted to receive Pagan Invites! Please do NOT send me anonymous invites to groups, sales and events.)
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