Chains Around The Mind
Article ID: 13309
Age Group: Adult
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Posted: September 6th. 2009
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I got a number of emails from people after Witchvox published an essay I wrote some time back with a message of tolerance. In fact the same theme was repeated over and over again with the private messages. Basically it went along the lines of “why are people so determined to put everything spiritual in a box?”
Are we? I mean seriously, in many of the essays I’ve seen on Witchvox, it seems that people are frequently unconsciously expecting conformity and deriding anyone who steps outside of narrowly defined boundaries. So are our habits of mind actually to blame? Are people making assumptions about modern Paganism (Wicca, Druidism, etc…) that are part of the problem? This essay is about the notions and attitudes that color how we shape our beliefs, and the way we look at others whose beliefs don’t always match our assumptions.
Lets take a look at this notion that assumptions are a problem shall we? Now I’m not trying to practice “Politically Correct” thinking, but rather go into how we tend to let assumptions and lazy thinking cause problems. I don’t have the answers, but like that Greek guy Socrates, I sure have a lot of questions and misgivings about fancy word games I’ve seen being used in place of sound thinking. So I’m not trying to tell people to be correct in their thinking, but I am going to point out where this takes people. A few people are undoubtedly going to find some of the things I say offensive, but I feel impelled to shake a few branches and drop the fruit that has hung there too long. Want a bite?
First off, what are “habits of mind”? In the field of education according to the theory of teaching called Dimensions of Learning™, this is the highest form of instructional goal. Case to make my point: teaching scientific thinking and thought processes. For what its worth, I am borrowing the vocabulary here, not necessarily the educational theory. So when I refer to “habits of mind” I am talking about notions and habits of thought that are acquired from life and lessons through studies and interactions with others.
As you will see however, I consider these to not being carefully thought out since they are unquestioningly accepted. Or worse, these are being treated as given truths, such as religious catechisms are.
So how does this translate about in other areas of thinking? How about religion for instance? First lets use a real life example from my own past: I was in church on Ash Wednesday with my family (my mom twisted my arm to come since my nephew was being christened) . After the service, the priest began his weekly message to the congregation. His daily sermon was full of what the Pope said that Catholics must do to be among the faithful. (My dad and I looked at each other and rolled our eyes…LOL) . It did get me to think.
Every week, if you are a churchgoer, you go to church and are told what to think. Even if 95% of what is said each week rolls right past you, how much still becomes a part of your unconscious thinking? Ever wonder at the sheer knee jerk reaction of many mainstream Judao-Christians at the term “Witch”? Think about it. For the practicing church or synagogue going members, they have heard nothing but dark prejudice at every worship service…for how long? Mental programming can be very strong, and very destructive if it is the negatively labeling someone, some group, or even just a word.
How language affects our notions of ourselves:
So now lets take the very terms Pagan, Heathen and Wiccan. What do they mean? I personally hate all three labels. 'Pagan', to me, comes from the Latin term for what was considered essentially an uneducated rustic. Heathen means a complete nonbeliever (or equally bad, a person with false beliefs) and Wicca is a hot button term that seems to mean whatever people want it to mean. I wish there was a term that I could use comfortably, but there isn’t. Guess I’m stuck. Anybody else feel the same? I mean, in some ways being called a Witch or Satanist is better, at least there you don’t have the ambiguity of meaning.
Secondly, people throw around labels too easily as a way of defining what they aren’t, or what they find wrong with others. It isn’t hurting people physically (yet) , but it does lead down some rather disturbing paths if you follow the reasoning behind them. So, what buttons do you push when you use these labels? People being people, we almost always want to categorize our thinking to try to avoid blanket stereotypical labels. So what do we do?
We make more labels: neoWiccan, New Age, or terms like Dianic Wicca, Celtic Wicca, etc… Okay, I could go on, but you should have gotten the drift by now. Labels do have their place at times, no question. We need to sort and organize our world and it is impossible if people don’t try to find where things fit in the whole wide world. However what happens when you start trying to use labels as a way to make judgments?
Try this example: “Oh, I’m a traditional Wiccan, I belong to an Alexandrian Coven”. Are the alarm bells going off in your mind yet? What if the person said the same thing in a slightly different way? “I’m a religious fundamentalist”.
Isn’t implicit in either statement a judgment? “I’m doing it right, everyone else is doing it wrong”? Over and over again I see this kind of sloppy thinking and writing. I’m not trying to attack any person or their faith (I picked on the Alexandrians merely because I’d read the bio of the founder of this branch of Wicca) with my aforementioned example, but I am really down on the sloppy thinking and sloppier writing that has people saying these kinds of things, especially if they don’t intend to.
So folks, watch your words. Think about what you mean. If you actually need to invent a new word or phrase to correctly express what you mean, maybe it is about time! I’ve seen some folks (and other essayists) blame all of this on the duality of the Judao-Christian tradition. Let’s start making some progress right off the start by dropping the blame game!
People are the root of all religious movements. The divine is perhaps too big for mere humans to completely comprehend, so we humanize our interactions with these things. People sort, organize and categorize as a matter of course. So when did this natural tendency become a foil to hide prejudice and bigotry behind?
If the problem is rooted in people’s tendency to simply be people, recognize that and stop blaming it on the differences in belief systems. After all, most followers of mainstream religions can honestly point out contradictory parts of their own belief systems.
So are we better, the same or worse? It is up to each pagan to demonstrate their enlightenment by practicing the virtues that is claimed to be one of the traits of the movement.
Onto the next area where assumptions can cloud things is politics:
Politics? What do you mean? Aren’t all Pagans, Heathens, whatever, of one mind?
What do you think? Somehow there seems to be an assumption with many in our community that you are automatically a follower of Starhawk or Isaac Bonewits’ political agenda. Are we all expected in our community to be “greens” or “vegans”, or “pacifists”? Can’t a person’s personal political belief system and social agenda be separate from their religion? Can a person hold political values that aren’t all characterized as being Left, Democrat or Green?
Perhaps folks need to remember that the United States founding fathers wisely decided to keep one’s personal religion out of much of the discussion of political beliefs. For too long the mainstream media (There, I placed some blame!) have fostered an idea that all politics needs to be polarized between left and right, conservative or liberal, Democrat or Republican. The media may like to characterize the extremes out there as a way of improving their ratings, but this is a façade that only binds a person if they unquestioningly believe this kind of falsehood. Life, and people are much more than a religious belief system or political label.
One’s religious belief system is not an automatic rubber stamp of approval for attitudes more rooted in 1960s era counter culture. There has been a recognition that we need to move on beyond such simplistic ideas in pagan religion, and so it is also with political issues. Maybe we modern pagans need to do the same. Our strength as a part of the society we live in lies in our very diversity.
Pagans are a part of our society after all, and our culture will find its place where it belongs without an assumption that all of its members need to march, lock step on political issues. Certain groups out there also practice this mindset. One of the labels they used was “moral majority, although they were neither. Do you want to be lumped into that group’s mindset yourself?
Did I need to say that? You be the judge.
If a person wants to have a basis of interacting with the world based on open minded principles, perhaps more folks need to read what Liberalism really means by going back to its source: On Liberty by John Stuart Mill and first published in 1859. Mill’s view of liberalism is closer to the notion of what it means in “harm thee none” than any other I’ve seen. Perhaps if more people read what he says instead of wrestling with what other authors (even some of those who are authorities in the pagan spiritual movement) want to interpret it to mean, we’d have less angst about other aspects of the faith that bear upon it. Don’t want to spend the time to find and read Mill’s works? Search his name and read the summary with all its direct quotes in Wikipedia.
So, I’m sorry if this essay isn’t a rubber stamp on all things Pagan/Wiccan/New Age. I am a very spiritual person though I don’t have a great ritual to share, and I’m not going to gush about my personal version of Deity (I do have one, but its more or less a private thing) . I gladly read the essays posted from across the spectrum each week on Witchvox, even if I don’t always share some of the points of view expressed.
I do have something to say however because I feel that this spiritual movement needs to show more of its potential intellectually. Most of us joined this movement as a way of breaking away from the dead weight of the past, and wanted something better. However as the modern Pagan movement becomes more mature, more aligned with the mainstream in our society; the greater is the need for its members to demonstrate they are an improvement.
So I say this to anyone who is willing to listen, don’t go looking for self-proclaimed leaders to tell you what to think, or how to practice your beliefs. That is part of the paradigm that reflects what you said you wanted to leave behind. It is up to each to study with an open mind, and learn all they can with a critical mind.
For goodness sakes however, don’t think whatever you are in your professed beliefs gives you a right to look down on anyone else merely over differences of belief. To be a Pagan means you want to be free. Light a candle or however you go about doing it and meditate about this: How are you trapped in old habits of thinking, old patterns of behavior and unconsciously continuing those ways?
Break those chains around your mind. Now, unlock the magik that your freedom brings and change the world. It all starts with you.
Mill, John Stuart., On Liberty, (1859) and available in a variety of reprints, some unabridged, others with works by related authors or with additional writings by John Stuart Mill.
Copyright: Andrew Mychalus
c. 2009 original writing
Location: New Park, Pennsylvania
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