Saturday, February 20, 2016

Which What Where? Pulling at Threads...

Even though I have been easing myself back into the realm of the Pagan community for a couple of years now, I still have a bit of Rip Van Winkle particles clinging to me.  Several long road trips and extended time in the studio have allowed for dedicated listening to a variety of podcasts, varying from specific practices to general commentary on the community.

And I must say, I find it rather fascinating to see what's being argued about these days.

Twenty years ago, one of the biggest pressing issues was interfaith working and religious rights - getting the variety of paths under the Pagan umbrella recognized for being valid, fighting discrimination, and working to educate others.  This was the time of the founding/organization of Pagan Pride (in a more formalized way, or attempt at), the Pagan Leaders Summit, working to get Pagan recognition within the armed services, schools, press, prisons, etc.  I was in the thick of it, hosting the first Rhode Island PPD, being an associate editor of Crescent Magazine, founding a college Pagan Society (that grew beyond that quickly), creating public events, lecturing at colleges about Paganism, among other things (makes me tired just thinking about it!). For the most part, looking back, there has been much success in accomplishing many of these goals thanks to many minds, hearts, and hands. That's rather amazing!

Within the community, the arguing (ahem, issues) back then seemed fairly split between tradition authenticity/validity and Wicca vs. Witchcraft/witchcraft.  I have to say, in my 20's, I got rather tired of explaining that no, I wasn't Wiccan, though we had plenty of folks in the open path group that were.

I'm glad to see that for the most part, nowadays there's recognition and respect in the validity of one's path, regardless of its supposed age. The discontent seems to have shifted more to "are you doing it right?" - and "it" being akin to describing an invisible elephant floating in the middle of a black hole.

Stepping back, it looks to be largely all about semantics: What and how are you labeling yourself? What does that label mean to you, me - in Indiana or in Italy or in India? Are there gods? What are they? Are you worshiping them correctly per your method of understanding them? Is it spirituality, religion, or practice? Is it a vocation or state of being? What is your purpose? What is your responsibility? What do these words mean and who used them first, last, or is there something better?

I think it speaks highly of the efforts of twenty years ago, that instead of our primary worry being about our rights to practice whatever we do - without immediate danger of losing jobs, homes, family, lives (though not true for everywhere, even in parts of the US), we're neck-deep in exploring the academic and esoteric - examining the threads that make up the tapestry versus worrying if there's a place we can safely hang the tapestry in the first place.  That's also pretty amazing.

The tricky thing is to be able to not get bogged down in creating more marginal within the marginal.  Whether you see your path as a religion, a spirituality, a vocation, or some other sort of practice - it's precisely and primarily YOUR path.  Your relationship to the world - be it the plants, trees, animals, gods, electrons, or donuts - is specific and unique to you. There are surely similarly among paths and even within traditions, but your connection to it all is still unique and different on the level of the thread in the larger tapestry.  Regardless of what you call it.

Labels help us identify and describe - and words have meaning and power  - but that meaning can change - from place to place, person to person, time to time.  So we need to reach beyond the words and find the similarities and seek to understand differences.  We can talk about what we do (if we choose to do that at all), without degrading or dismissing other paths.  We can compare and contrast without condemning. We can share our beliefs and describe our journeys while simultaneously not invalidating the experiences of others.  We can listen to why others choose the words they do, and learn more about ourselves in the process.  If we wish to talk about why something is wrong, we need to be willing to talk about how to do it right.

Walking your own path doesn't mean trampling over others.  Sometimes we overlap, sometimes we run parallel, and sometimes we meet at the crossroads.

Above and below all things, be armed with respect as you encounter others - and we'll be amazed when we look back in another 20 years.

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