Right and Wrong in the Pagan Community

My partner just wrote a blog for Pagan Square (which you can find here) about the history of the phrase “in perfect love and perfect trust”.

On Facebook, when Witches and Pagans posted the article, someone commented:

I found this comment to be more than a little ridiculous because the whole article is explaining the context of  how the phrase “in perfect love and perfect trust” was originally used and why it might be inappropriate when taken out of its original context. There was no militant Wiccan laws or judgements…just a “hey, this phrase isn’t talking about what you think its talking about, you might want to think about what you’re really asking about when you use it”, especially when you are interacting with people of many different Pagan backgrounds who will take it in many different ways.

But it also brought up a few things that I’ve been thinking about lately.

In the Pagan community, there is a blanket understanding that no one’s particular beliefs are “wrong”. And this in and of itself is great.

But this idea of no belief is wrong tends to lead to the idea that you can’t be wrong about anything. That if you tell someone that they are “wrong”, you become a negative and hateful person. People ask you why can’t you just live and let live? When you tell someone they’re wrong you become a rigid fundamentalist who is trying to force your way on everyone around you. I’ve seen this thrown at a great many respected priests and priestesses over the last few weeks.

I am baffled by this idea. Would you stand up in your college physics class and tell your professor that he knows nothing and how dare he try to tell you that for every action, there is not an equal and opposite reaction? Or argue with a math teacher that 2 + 2 does not = 4? Or would you go out, get your degree, go and find some practical experience and then come up with valid and logical theory that you then continue to experiment with for why these things are not actually the case?

I know, I know…religion is not science or math. Religious practice does not usually have the same straightforward sort of answers.

Or does it...?

Or does it…?

But sometimes there are some pretty straightforward answers. Not everything in the Craft is a great mystery of the Goddess or God that everyone needs to find a different path to. The example of what a Pentacle is from my last blog is a good example of this.

There are a great many people in the Pagan community who are trained and experienced priests and priestesses in all the many and varied traditions and groups that make up the Pagan umbrella. There are basic ideas and practices that have a “right” and “wrong” way of being done that these people usually spend countless amounts of time learning and then perfecting. It might vary by group or tradition, but you can actually be a Pagan and do something the wrong way!

I know, take a minute, sit down, deep breath…process that idea. I know, I know…it’s upsetting.

While you’re “refusing to be restricted by some rigid doctrine”, you’re also refusing to take the time to sit down and learn the history and background of what you’re doing. In my tradition, while you’re being taught and guided through the various initiatory levels, we talk a lot about how certain things are done within the tradition. When you get your initiation and hive off (3rd degree for hiving in my tradition), you then have the choice to change things, because it’s understood that in gaining that degree you have the proper background, instruction and understanding of how things have been done, to change them if you choose. Essentially, your learning is recognized as being enough to help these practices evolve into something new and possibly better. You’ve been given a diploma and told to go do your own experiments.

Just because your beliefs are personal, does not mean that everything else gets to be a free for all.

I’ve seen this a lot lately in comments on my own blog…the “Oh, don’t judge, live and let live, we’re all different and special“. Ummmm….actually, sometimes you are wrong. And it’s one thing to just be wrong about one thing or idea, but it becomes a whole ‘nother ball of wax when your lack of background, history and experience shoves you over into being unethical with overall ideas. In my last blog I wrote about a group who is claiming to teach Wicca and who are charging for their teaching. This is a pretty standard taboo across the board. I know of a few Wiccan groups who charge, but they will sit you down and explain to you why. While I don’t agree with them, they are upfront about what they are doing. This is the sort of area where “live and let live” gets people into trouble and sets up the possibility of abuse. I see charging students over a thousand dollars for initiation as a scam. These people are not learning Wicca, they are being fleeced.

I also think this gets to the heart of the current polytheist and humanist Pagan debate that has been raging through the Pagan blogosphere lately. As soon as someone with initiations and real training starts talking about why things have been done a certain way, people have started throwing around the term “fundamentalist”. When you start calling a group “rigid” and start throwing around the word “fundamentalist” at people who have gone through many long hours, days, and years of study on mythology, ritual, practice and interacting with a gods because they tell you that you’re doing something incorrectly, there’s a much larger issue going on. It’s one thing to say, “hey, I disagree with you, here’s why” and to start a discussion, it’s something completely different to instead say “you’re a fundamentalist and everything that is wrong with the world today” instead. This is not constructive debate.

For those who are all about the Paganism that is learned from a book…think of it like this. When you read a book and the author makes a claim, you check that the author has cited a source for why this claim is valid. These sources are the previous arguments that the current argument is built around. When you’re writing a book or paper, you, as the author, have the responsibility to prove that your ideas have a basis in other, proven, ideas. (And trust me, as someone who is currently publishing a book, editors are sticklers for these sorts of details even if you forget them!) Our trained priests and priestesses are our sources. Think about it, when you come across someone who is claiming they are a priest and priestess, but can’t give you any reasons why they are a priest and priestess other than that they decided to claim that title, do you respect their “wisdom” in teaching you what they don’t know?

Just because Paganism becomes an umbrella term and you may say, “well…I’m not Wiccan” or “I’m not a polytheist”, it doesn’t negate Craft teaching by people who are and have a great deal more training and experience in all areas of the Craft. Paganism does not mean whatever we want it to mean; there are actually some definitions out there that are relevant and important to anyone who is using them. If you want to go out and find real training and then debate the merit of these terms and ideas, have at, but quit reverting to name calling when someone points out the fact that you’re incorrect. While you may not like it, name calling only proves that you’ve already lost the argument.

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One thought on “Right and Wrong in the Pagan Community

  1. nanlt says:

    A few things spring to mind as I read here. And I agree with you completely. People get so caught up in the knee-jerk reactions they forget to sit back and actually think before opening their mouth (or applying fingers to keyboard).

    There are a lot of “known truths” in the history of Paganism and Wicca especially which just don’t hold up to close scrutiny. I’ve been reading Prof Ronald Hutton’s book “Triumph of the Moon.” and it certainly has been an eye-opener to discover that so many of the Sacred Cows I ‘knew’ weren’t actually true. Doesn’t make my religious practice any less valid.

    And it is possible to have an indepth and meaningful dialogue about differing experiences and methods of practice. There is a big difference in a conversation between saying ‘You’re a big doodyhead for saying that’ and saying ‘My experiences here have been different and this is what I think.’ or ‘People have studied this area extensively through x,y, and z methods and this is what they discovered.’

    This is what I tell people and potential students: Before you can break the rules, you have to know what they are.

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