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Thoughts on Cultural and Spiritual Appropriation
NOTE: For a complete list of articles related to this chapter... Visit the Main Index FOR this section.
Something many of us lack, and a lesson we might learn
Article ID: 10593
Age Group: Adult
Days Up: 3,798
Times Read: 3,843
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Author: Cael SpiritHawk
Posted: April 9th. 2006
Times Viewed: 3,843
Because my path took me, during my teenage years, through the Christian community before leading me eventually to the Pagan philosophy I follow now, I have a perspective on the culture of Christianity that many Pagans lack. While some may disagree, I believe that most Christians, just as most Pagans, have good hearts, and seek to do right by their fellow people.
My experience as a Pagan clergyman, however, has made me aware of a difference between the cultures of Christians and Pagans, and it is one that I feel is something they (for the most part) have, that we (for the most part) lack, to our collective detriment.
The key to the difference can be seen in the basic fact that most Christians have a more institutional approach to their faith than most Pagans do to ours: most Christians have a denomination that they claim to be, and most of them have a church they attend, even if it’s only for Christmas and Easter. The Pagan community, to a great extent, is far less cohesive. Even the largest of Covens, Groves, Circles, or other Pagan groups is generally smaller than even the smallest Christian church. (Hereafter I’ll use the term ‘Circle’ to refer to any and all Pagan groups – I imply no favoritism; please replace the term with whichever one you prefer). Even if the Circle is part of a well-defined tradition (such as Gardnerian Wicca), the groups themselves are small and, to an extent greater than Christian denominations, unique in philosophy and practice.
These Circles often have no fixed meeting place or, if they do, it is not a dedicated location. They meet in the house of the Priestess or Priest, or of one of the members, or in a public park, or in any number of other places, but most do not have a single, dedicated spiritual “home”. That comes from the fact that most Pagans would prefer an outdoor setting for their practice, but such places (especially ones that are sufficiently private) are rare and growing rarer for those who live in and among the urban sprawl and strip-mall hives of suburbia.
Beyond this, there is the matter of Solitary Practitioners and Pairs, who have no Circle but themselves and (possibly) their partner. This is not a bad thing, in any sense, because one chooses one’s own path, and it’s not for me or anyone to say whether that’s the ‘correct’ path.
But because of the prevalence of small Circles and Pairs and Solos in the Pagan community, and because, by our nature, we tend to be more independent of thought and less willing to submit to external authority than the majority of Christians, many of us lack something that the Christians have: a central figure in our spiritual life who is not only a religious leader, but also a philosophical leader and counselor as well.
This is particularly apparent when it comes to couples. Whether they be legally Married, or Handfasted in a way we recognize but the law does not, or otherwise Joined, all couples have occasional problems. That is a fact. When couples have difficulty communicating or are facing a problem, it helps to have someone outside the pair to talk to; a person with no agenda who can look at the situation dispassionately and offer advice, point out misunderstandings, or even simply listen. Couples who have no faith or spiritual path at all will often seek out a marriage counselor in such a situation (and often spend quite a lot of money paying someone to point out common-sense things to them that they didn’t see simply because they’re too close to the situation). But Christian couples, because of the institutional nature of their faith, have another option available to them: the pastor, minister, reverend, or priest of their particular church.
Because those couples, when they decide to marry, generally choose the minister of the church they attend to preside at the wedding, they have someone who knows at least one (and possibly both) of them, and who therefore will have the insight into one or both of their personalities in order to help them deal with any problems that may arise over the course of their married life.
Many Pagan Circles, by contrast, are led by people who, though they may be wise in the ways of their path, are not necessarily skilled in the art (and it is an art, as well as a science) of counseling. Christian clergy generally must go through some amount of official schooling, which includes at least rudimentary training as a counselor. Pagan Circles, on the other hand, tend to coalesce of their own accord around one or two chosen leaders. Their leadership of the Circle may be exemplary, while conferring no particular ability at counseling. Additionally, Pairs and Solos do not even have the services of a Circle’s leader; they have no one readily available to turn to for spiritual, marital, or life-path counseling.
This issue became evident to me as TruthSong and I began talking to couples (who found us through this web site) about performing their wedding ceremonies. It occurred to us that these couples had no clergy they knew well enough to want that person to perform as intimate and important a function as the joining of two souls.
Often a Christian couple will seek out the pastor at the church they’ve been attending for years, someone who may have known one or both of them since they were children or even infants. The selection of someone who is, in essence, a family member by extension, lends the strength of years to the new bond and carries with it the implication and assurance that, should the bond need reinforcing, the pastor will be there for the couple in their time of need.
Many Pagan couples, on the other hand, must find an officiant through the web or through some other form of referral. It’s possible that they’ll find the ideal person (or people) to perform their ceremony, but even if they connect well with their officiant(s), they’re still inviting a person they’ve only just met, and who has no history with them and no intrinsic interest in their future, to be the person who oversees the (potentially) most intimate sharing of souls they ever participate in. Then, when the wedding or handfasting is done, they part ways with the officiant and might never see him or her again.
TruthSong and I make it a point to try to get to know the couples who approach us to officiate at their ceremonies, and we’ve been very lucky to have met some wonderful people who have been exceptionally open and sharing with us. And we’ve made it clear to them that, to us, a marriage or a handfasting is not a one-day event, any more than it is for them; it’s a commitment between them to share their lives, and it’s a commitment from us to be there when they feel the strain that all couples do and need someone to talk to about the problems.
The Pagan community has a great many things that it could teach much of the Christian community (in the areas of tolerance and peaceful coexistence, for example). But I believe that we, as a culture and community, have something to learn from the Christians as well: we need to learn that, while each of us walks an individual path, none of us should have to walk it alone, and that we should seek out and form a relationship with a wise person of similar philosophy who can be a mentor and counselor, even if we are a Solitary or one of a Pair. Such a relationship does not imply weakness or submission; rather, it shows strength of character to be willing to have one’s ideas challenged by another perspective, and also the wisdom to realize that no one person can possibly have all of the answers.
Location: Manassas, Virginia
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