Sunday, August 11, 2013

Things I Want Every Pagan To Know

I've been thinking... it's almost unfair to write a list of things I want every Christian in a Christian-supremacist society to know without mentioning there's a lot of things I really want other Pagans to know, too.  This is particularly topical as I am considering pruning several of the nonchalantly-added Pagans from my social networks.

The reality is that there are some really important things Pagans need to know, too.  Such as:

It is not appropriate to give a presentation/write a book/create a website/etc. on "Paganism" and then act as though all Paganism is like Wicca.

As a non-Wiccan Pagan it gets really old to go to yet-another-Pagan-introduction presentation and find that the presenters are focusing exclusively on Wicca or assuming all Pagan faiths have similarities to Wicca.  Wicca is a great religion, and lots of people find inspiration in it, but you are making it seriously frustrating for the rest of us when you do this.

If you want to talk about Wicca, make a presentation about Wicca.  Write a book about Wicca.  If you don't identify as a Wiccan, explain that what you are describing is not representative of all Pagans.  I'd much rather you be a little more exclusive with your labels and get it right than try to speak for all of us when you don't have the ability to do so.

Because seriously, it's a fucking downer when I'm talking about my faith in a Pagan context and every newbie (and often non-newbie) is "authoritatively" telling me I've been "doing it wrong" for over a decade because you decided you didn't need to bother to explain this very basic fact.

It is doubly inappropriate to create a ritual that is "generically Pagan" and then write something that only Wiccans and Wicca-inspired Pagans could possibly identify with.

Public rituals  are tricky when it comes to this stuff because you're pretty much not going to be able to write a ritual that will make every Pagan tradition happy.  People in recon, revival, left-hand-path, or alternative faiths who go to public rituals are more often than not gritting our teeth and bearing it rather than getting anything out of the experience.

I am significantly less likely to mentally roll my eyes (and possibly royally fuck up the energy of your ritual) if you don't call your rituals "all-faiths" or something like that.  If it's Wiccan or Wiccan-inspired, just say so.

Practically everything you seem to believe Pagans "don't do" is practiced successfully by some Pagan somewhere.

There are Pagans who curse, there are Pagans who cast love spells, there are Pagans who worship Satan or identify as Satanists, there are Pagans who practice animal sacrifice, and there are Pagans who identify as Warlocks.  There are even Pagans who do shitty shit like abuse people.

In many of these cases, there really is no reason to malign them.  Curses aren't inherently bad, "Warlock" is a seriously misunderstood term in the Pagan community, it's ridiculously easy to see Satan as kind of a good guy, and animal sacrifice is usually significantly more ethical than supermarket meat.

You have the right, of course, to say that these things are unethical or immoral if you so choose.  But they don't make somebody somehow not-Pagan.  "Pagan" is a bigger category than your personal sensibilities.

Not every non-Abrahamic faith is "Pagan," and Jewish/Christian/Muslim Pagan-identified people also exist.

"Paganism" is in many ways more a community and defiant self-identity than a label to be placed on somebody.  In its current use it originated as a really nasty slur--to be called pagan meant you were ignorant, backward, and hellbound--and many groups still consider it to be a slur.  Native American and Asian native religious beliefs often wind up with the "Pagan" label slapped on them by people who identify with the term to make our numbers look larger and more formidable.  There are also reconstructionists and revivalists who don't identify with the term (a large number of Kemetic Orthodox for instance).

Keep in mind that while as religious minorities we experience the effects of religious hegemony and persecution, most of us are converts or from recently-converted families; we simply don't have the serious depth of understanding of how hurtful this word can be that other groups Christians designated as "pagan" have.

On the flip side, insisting that Christo-Pagans, Jewitches, and Muslim syncretists can't call themselves "Pagan" if they wish (and there are people in all of these groups who do) because of some firm "everything other than Christians Jews and Muslims!" definition of "pagan" is also inaccurate in practice.  Keep in mind that because it does originate as a slur for people who essentially practice religion "wrong," it's been used to refer to other Christians, Jews, and Muslims for a really long time as well.  Catholics in particular get the brunt of this, due to the religion's willingness to absorb regional cultural beliefs and customs rather than outlaw them.  People have converted to Islam because of the perception that Christianity is "becoming too Pagan."  Jews and Muslims have both been called "Pagan" by Christians, too, with people insisting that Allah is a pagan moon God among other ridiculousness.  So really, they have just as much right to reclaim "Pagan" as we do.

Your ethics and politics aren't universal, either among Pagans or elsewhere.

This goes for... well, everyone.  Although I personally believe Paganism goes really well with a radical left worldview, it's not inherently radical left.  Nor is it inherently libertarian.  Nor inherently vegetarian.  Nor inherently pro-choice.  Nor inherently pro-gun.  Nor inherently pro-gay.  I incorporate my politics into religion and vice versa all the time... but if you assume people are automatically going to agree with you because you're all Pagan you're going to have a bad time.

I say this out of personal experience... when I became Pagan I thought hey, this aligns so well with my personal views that clearly everyone else must share those personal views (I was like 12 what can I say).  It didn't take too long to realize that there are Pagans of every political stripe out there, and they all think Paganism goes well with their beliefs.

That's not to say you can't advocate, but don't assume, either.

In addition, your ethics are not universal.  It's really easy to think they are when you've found a faith that really, really matches them... if you're a Wiccan, for instance, the Wiccan Rede seems like a total no-brainer.  Don't harm?  Perfect!

...well, no.  That's not universal.  And neither is the threefold law.  Which reminds me...

Preachy Pagans are just as annoying as preachy Christians if not more.

I'm significantly more annoyed by preachy Pagans than preachy Christians because at least Christians know they're being preachy.   Pagans have it in their heads that we don't preach and then look at what we do.

Just now I actually had a person--somebody who didn't know anything about the story except "I cast a curse and it bounced back on me, but I have no regrets"--tell me that I must have "not thought it through" or "did it wrong."  Didn't have any idea that the curse worked because of the bounce-back, just decided flat out it was "my fault" rather than a responsibility I bore to get the spell to work.

If somebody is asking you advice, it's one thing.  Otherwise, seriously: Nobody wants to hear this shit.

The same goes for people who decide to preach and preach about how we can't cast curses and how nobody should be doing animal sacrifice (see above) and so on and so forth.  these are--again--not universal Pagan values and unless you've been asked there's no reason to say stuff like this.  It grates on me so much every time somebody--usually a Wiccan, usually but not always relatively inexperienced--gets on their soapbox to tell me or somebody else that we're doing it wrong because we don't have Wiccan ethics.

Not all Pagans are touchy-feely-huggy people.

First, it's worth mentioning that a lot of Pagans also identify as empaths, and many of us get way too much spiritual junk from you if you touch us.  I tend to reject a lot of hugs; don't take it personally, it really isn't you (well, most of the time).  I'm selective about who I hug.

I wrote more about this in Extending Consent, though.

Pagan men:  Quit acting like women and Goddesses are your sex objects and that you are immune to accusations of sexism.

When I went to PSG one of the first things I remember seeing was a guy bowing down to every woman he saw topless.  They clearly weren't naked for him, but of course he had to act as though they were statues of a Goddess because he got to see some boobs.  Seriously, that's fucking creepy.

And this is a relatively common thing.  The very first Wiccan I met sixteen odd years ago was pretty much your textbook sexist, creeping on every woman around, making crude comments, and justifying it by proclaiming that he is a Goddess worshiper and therefore loves women.

If this is you, seriously... just stop.  Worshiping a Goddess does not automatically make you less sexist (I've found it can even be a sign that you're more sexist because you're objectifying your deities as well as people).  Look up some feminism 101.  Fucksake.

Cultural stereotypes about witches are not necessarily about you... nor were the Witch Trials.

I don't see the latter that much, it seems there's been a lot more historical advocacy since I started out and people are no longer learning bullshit like "millions of real live Witches just like us were burned alive!"  If you do believe this sort of thing, though, realize that our religion wasn't actually around back then and most of the people killed were Christians.  That doesn't mean you can't use it as a part of our mythological history, but don't confuse this with real history.

One thing I do still see is people making big deals about cinematic portrayals of witches.  There are certainly problematic elements to these--they're often tied to the Salem or European Witch Trials and serve as a bizarre victim-blaming party (Hocus Pocus, Hansel and Gretal Witch Hunters, etc.), but again... these cultural tropes have been around long before we existed.  So just be careful with what you're saying about things like this.