Private Practice?

What do we want?

It’s a question that I’ve been asking for a long time, though not quite so directly.

Usually, I prefer a more oblique approach, poking around the edges of things, looking for those forgotten connections that so often lead us to the unspoken questions we should be asking ourselves…,

Who am I?

Who are we?

What do we want?

Yet, however much I may enjoy the scenic route, sometimes it’s liberating to just come right out and ask the damned questions and see where the answers take us.

“We are a religious movement that embraces plurality, and most often, polytheism, so we tend to reject easy binary dualisms, but there does seem to be an often unasked question hanging over many of our debates lately: what do we collectively want? Do we want to be part of the West’s religious institutional structure with churches, libraries, and schools, or do we want to be unpredictable, wild, and outside of traditional society’s norms?”

—Jason Pitzl-Waters • The Wild Hunt • January 11, 2014

In his piece, (which I highly recommend reading), Jason frames the question as a distinction between western culture and counter-culture.  On one side we are shown the trappings of acceptance within the modern religious community (churches, schools, legal protection) and on the other side is set the free-spirited, build-it-yourself nature that embodies much of the modern Pagan spiritual movement.

It is an interesting, if not entirely fair, way to present the argument.

Expressed within this framework, it presupposes that the Pagan movement is a counter-culture phenomena, and not, as I have always seen it, a means of self-correction within a society gone wrong.  When we refer to ourselves in this context, as “outside the acceptable norms”, do we not lend support to those who wish nothing more than to cast us in the roll of misfits and troublemakers.

And frankly, I don’t understand how Paganism can be a “counter-culture movement” when the whole laundry list of ‘establishment’ credentials (schools, libraries, legal protections) that we are presented with, were invented by polytheists, within pagan societies.

Big Scary Institution

It would do us well to remember that, just a couple thousand years ago, it was the Christians who were the “hairy hippies”, hanging on at the fringes of society.

I don’t believe we become “sell-outs” by wanting the things that are ours by right.

But do ‘we’ want them?

And who is ‘we’?

While reading through the reader comments at the end of Jason’s post, I counted a number of different perspectives.

There were, happily, those who, like myself, seem to hunger for the far-off days to come, when the polytheistic traditions rise out of the shadows to find equal standing with the monotheistic faiths.  We’d like to see temples and clergy and schools dedicated to the gods, and we don’t fear that having these things will rob us of the freedom to worship as individuals in whatever manner we are called to do so.

Others were fixated on the all too practical questions of how to institutionalize without losing the spontaneity of the local group-dynamic or the dreams of the mad-mystics.

Some rankled, as I do, at the application of the “counter-cultural” label.  While others seem unsure if the term has any real meaning in this day and age.

It was an interesting discussion, to be sure, and I wished I had found it earlier, while it was still ongoing.

There was one perspective however that was mostly absent.

It’s all too easy to overlook the (I fear) silent majority who just want to be left alone.

I’ve met so many people over the years for whom Paganism (in whatever form) is a refuge from a hurtful and unsympathetic religious orthodoxy.  These folks want nothing to do with temples or clergy, which, in their experience come hand-in-hand with dogma, and orthodoxy and painful memories.

I have deep sympathy for these folks.  Really I do.

I count a number of them among my friends.

And yet…,

I want more.

I want more for my gods.  I wan’t more for us.

I want to see a culture where we can celebrate our religious diversity openly, without fear or condemnation.

As important as I think it is to provide a healing space for the spiritually abused, I firmly believe that if we were more visible, more open, more ‘institutional’, the people who need us could find us sooner, perhaps even before the damage was done.

I imagine what would happen if all the energy we devote to hiding from the dominant culture (and I think it takes far more energy than most would realize) was directed instead toward mending our society and renewing the ecological balance before our hopes for survival are taken completely out of our hands.

Jason was not wrong when he said that we need to decide “collectively” what it is we want.  If the Pagan community can set aside its differences and work toward real growth, we can accomplish great things together.

Or, we can just keep doing what we’ve been doing: our own thing.  We can keep our private practice, eschewing organization, and institution, and the compromise that must always occur when people start to work together.  We live and we die and we pass nothing on to those who come after  – except of course the same broken culture we were so determined to hide ourselves away from.

I don’t know about you, but I think I’m done with the “solitary” thing.

Private practice may provide a false sense of security, but it gives nothing back.

It is time to start building things.


Filed under Culture, Interfaith, Modern Life, Philosophy, Religion, Spiritual Journey

10 responses to “Private Practice?

  1. The ancient Celtic people have been portrayed as a society focused on personal integrity and courage; individualism. While they were quite capable of joining together to fight a common foe, they did not adapt well to the “hive mind” that the Romans excelled at militarily. Once the Roman hive-mindedness began to decay, the Celts were able to overrun Rome. I believe the same principles apply to your post.

    What do “we” want? Do we wish to carve out a spiritual haven in this world for ourselves and others like us? While a “haven” might be nice, I fear it will eventually end up being no different than the current monotheistic religions because of human nature. While we may hold different religious beliefs, we are still of the same nature as the monotheists.

    It is important to recognize that a spiritual path is a personal experience. In comparison, religion is simply a social club. Even the concept of creating a haven where we can openly worship together is the seed of a social club. What will motivate people to grow spiritually if we coddle them in “safe havens” like the monotheists do?

    Of course, like the ancient Celts, now might be the time to make a move as monotheism in this country is in a state of decay; many Christian Americans have absolutely no idea what their Lord actually taught. Build another great religion and see if it will be any different. I am not saying it should not be done, but instead ask; how it will be made any different than what history has already shown us?

    • The difference, Steve is at the very core of the beliefs: Plurality vs. One-Right-Way. The infrastructure that was built by the various ancient polytheisms were corrupted it two ways state control (particularly true in the case of Rome) and assimilation by The Church (one could argue these were largely the same thing). The engine does not become a bad thing because it was hijacked by bad people, and I don’t buy the premise that “human nature” will always bring corruption (might as well buy into ‘original sin’ if we’re going down that route).

      I firmly believe that we can come together to do more than form “social clubs”. While I do not for a moment discount the importance of the personal spiritual experience, I know that we are far more powerful when we come together in common cause. It seems to me that the choice is one between hiding in our caves and moaning about how misunderstood we are, or stepping out of our comfort zones, taking the reins, and driving this cart somewhere other that over the cliff (where it is presently headed).

      • I do not buy the premise that human nature will always bring corruption, or that it correlates with original sin. When observing the diversity in this divine creation, the diversity (or individuality) of humankind seems quite natural and appropriate. This diversity makes Plurality appear quite natural, also. However, this is also what makes it quite difficult to reach a consensus; the greater the population, the greater the diversity, and the greater the difficulty in reaching a consensus.

        We are more powerful when we come together in common cause, but this starts sounding more political than religious or spiritual. Let’s not forget the political history of Christianity for instance, but other religions as well. History reveals the rise and fall many governments and religions. The question I asked was what is different about what you are proposing? The difference between Plurality v. One-Right-Way sounds like the start of a religious war or (at least) a legal battle. Again I ask, what is different?

        Once upon a time, the Pagans persecuted the Christians. Eventually, the Christians rose in power and became the persecutors. However, time erodes the memory of humankind, they lose purpose, and diminish. As Christians have forgotten their fundamental principles and fade into history, there is a revival of many religions the Christians worked to destroy. Are you proposing that these diverse Pagan religions band together to take a stand against the Children of Abraham? If you become like them, what is different? If Pagans rise from being persecuted to being the persecutors, what ends this senseless cycle?

        As I said originally, I am not saying this shouldn’t be done, I am asking what is different?

      • I don’t see where I am suggesting that anyone lose their individuality. Embracing some greater measure of institutionalization (temples, clergy, etc…,) within our varied traditions does not lead us down the road of absolute religious conformity. Granted, this sort of movement is easier for those following reconstructionist or traditionalist paths. The average Eclectic Pseudo-Wiccan solitary is probably not going to be all that interested in greater organization (which is a shame because those folks are the most likely to struggle without adequate guidance and are the most vulnerable to abuse from the shady “I read a book and now I’m a High Priestess). Or maybe I’m wrong. There does seem to be a goodly amount of organization going on in those circles (see what I did there) as well, these days.

        Does Plurality v. One-Right-Way sound like a war?

        Sure it does! – a philosophical one at least. And I firmly believe it’s one that needs fighting. Believe me, I don’t want to see anyone hurt, but nothing worth having was ever gained without a little sacrifice. The civil rights movement had it’s share of ugliness. So did the suffrage movement. Equity is seldom given (even in these enlightened times) but may be taken, if we are willing. And in the end, that’s is what I think we really want – to be treated just the same as everyone else.

        Once upon a time the ROMAN GOVERNMENT persecuted Christians. In the U.S. at least we have a non-establishment clause that prevents this sort of thing (or is supposed to, we’re still not very good at it, but we’re doing better than the Romans did anyway). The Romans didn’t just persecute then for kicks either. Read the letters of the time. Christianity was seen as a danger to the state and to the social order. Given what happened, they were dead right on that score. What history does not tell us is if anything would have different if the lions had gone hungry.

        What I do know is that the fear of “becoming like them” is not, in my mind, a valid excuse for sitting on our hands and letting them continue to have their way. From the opinions you have expressed in the past Steve, you do not strike me as someone who likes things the way they currently are. If that is so, what then do you propose we do about it? I’m open to suggestions. 🙂

  2. locksley2010

    And yet, S.C. Tanner, the American Indian tribes combined individual development with religion of the community. It was European diseases and technology that became their downfall. I don’t think Stone of Destiny is talking about making a ‘one true pagan religion’, why can’t it be a religion that works to actively help the community (I do find it laughable that many Pagans, especially online, relish the idea of the ‘wise one on the fringe of society’ and yet shy away from the society they are supposed to be wise to, I know there is a difference between those who are on the fringe and those who have been shunned…) and yet revel in its individuality in people and types of Pagan religion? To become a united movement that honours individual growth and work with the community is indeed the way forward.

    • “I don’t think Stone of Destiny is talking about making a ‘one true pagan religion’…,”

      Quite right! My hope would be that the various branches of the community would all do their own thing (although some general-use shrines in areas where the population of any one group is too small to maintain a dedicated temple space would be a fine addition). Frankly, I think the ball is already rolling, as Jason noted in the Wild Hunt article I linked to. I only suggest that a general resistance (apathy?) within the community at large is a significant drag on what limited forward momentum we have. I’d like to see people either officially opt-out or find a way to jump on board (even in a small way).

      Thank you for your comments!

      • I did not think that you were talking about making a “one true pagan religion” per se. I asked what is different about what you are talking about compared to what humankind has historically done?

        Locksley2010 actually offers a model with the Native Americans, and I have a great deal of respect for their methods and resilience. I also believe their resilience is due to their spirituality. However, that spirituality does not align well with what is commonly considered religion with temples, churches, synagogues, clerics, popes, and/or pyramids. How is this model to be adapted for your proposal?

        Some of the data being collected through censuses indicates that the forward momentum of “nones” is not as limited. Perhaps this is the official “opting-out?” If you want people to jump on board (even in a small way) you could respond to their questions, instead of assuming a defensive posture.

        What I want is to not get caught up in a hive-minded and/or cultish movement. For this reason, I ask questions. Is that a problem?

        P.S. I don’t really identify with the “hiding in the cave” or “fringe of society” mentality. If I did, I would not have tried to engage in a discussion or ask a question.

      • It’s not a problem at all Steve, I actually expect a lot of push-back on this issue. Comes with the territory.

        I simply do not agree with some of the underlying assumptions in your questions.

        For example, reject the term “hive-minded” as a description of either the Christian/monotheist movement or of ancient Rome. I feel it denigrates a large block of thinking people who for various reasons disagree with us. I may disagree with a persons logic/opinions/beliefs but I will not dismiss them with a wave of my hand as being a mindless drone within a collective. That is not how we win arguments.

        Back on point though, the difference between what has gone before and what I think is beginning now, is the presence of a secular government which has, within it’s founding documents, a specific prohibition against taking sides in the spiritual arena. We’ve never had that before. It’s new, and if we can push our leadership into following through on that promise, I believe we can win back what we lost so long ago, without the attendant abuses exemplified in the history books.

        Also, I’m not counting out the “nones” just yet. Most of them are fairly new in that category. Disillusioned by the establishment faiths, they have moved into the “Spiritual but not Religious” camp. Some people stay there forever, but many, I have noticed, eventually gravitate back to some variation of what they knew. Why? Probably because they were not really aware that there were other choices out there. The “nones”, I think, could really influence the growth of ancestral religions – but only if that know that those options exist, and not as some “fly-by-night” “do it yourself” B.S. We’re gonna have to look credible – and right now we really don’t.

        Does that sound opportunistic? Perhaps it is, a little. It’s an opportunity for these folks to rediscover the spirits they would have known, except for an unfortunate turn of history and fate. Everyone should have that chance.

      • I did not see myself as “pushing-back.” I had a question about what you wrote, so I asked it. It seems like assumptions were being made about what I wrote, particularly that of correlating human nature with original sin. I see human nature as something natural and organic, and not as something inherently bad. I got a very strong impression that my question resulted in me receiving “push-back.”

        I used a historical perspective as a platform to ask a simple question: What is different? I certainly was not endeavoring to delve into a detailed analysis of history in order to ask this question, either. To say that “the ROMAN GOVERNMENT persecuted Christians” really seems like splitting hairs. The ROMAN GOVERNMENT was pagan, employed pagan temples and oracles, declared dictators and their horses gods, and influenced the people.

        We saw House Republicans with undenied ties to the the Christian majority sabotage House rules so they could hold this nation hostage in 2013. While this move failed, it is still very troubling. In conjunction with “intelligent design” and other ploys used by the religious majority, it is clear that we need to take a solid stand to protect everyone’s rights under the Constitution. However, this is still a social matter that everyone (including Christians) should be concerned about.

        I wish I knew about the multitude of spiritual options available to me at a younger age. However, a single book eventually crossed my path when the Internet was available for further research. The borderless and boundless Internet makes it almost impossible for anyone to censor information completely, and the opponents or antagonists of Paganism draw attention to paganism when they rail against it. There is a natural movement taking place and there are groups facilitating this movement, but it is not progressing fast enough for some people. However, a movement to make sure people know they have religious options is either a social movement or proselytizing.

        You do seem to be starting to answer my question, though, so let me answer yours: “…what then do you propose we do about it?” I propose that while we do the mundane (social) things to defend ourselves, we should demonstrate that we are different; that there is a real spirituality that nurtures and defines our [diverse] character. Actions speak louder than words, so we should measure our words carefully. Otherwise, we sound no different than the clanging cymbals behind the monolithic and monotheist pulpits.

        No I do not like things as they are, but I also do not want to be like that which I despise. Although I walked away from monolithic Christianity three decades ago, I only recently discovered what really bothered me about that religion: If the Word of God (Christ) is so powerful, why can’t He awaken and transform the spirits of the Christian Congregation? The answer I got was phrased as a question: Why did Christ speak in parables? A search at quickly revealed that the disciples asked this same question in Luke 8, and Jesus gave them an answer. If you read Luke 8, you should quickly get the impression that the monolithic religion of Christianity is not a spiritual construct. As a child of both God and Goddess, it seems essential to honor Them rather than disgrace them. If we are not different than them, then we cast an illusion like they do. Do you believe in magic?

      • Steve, I try really hard to not make assumptions about what people are saying but instead to respond to the actual words they leave here. In your case those words were these…,

        “I fear it will eventually end up being no different than the current monotheistic religions because of human nature. While we may hold different religious beliefs, we are still of the same nature as the monotheists.”

        An obvious indictment of “human nature” if I’ve ever seen one. Which you later turn around and deny…,

        “I do not buy the premise that human nature will always bring corruption…,”

        And you keep banging on it with every reply. Let it go, already.

        I’m happy to have a reasoned debate, but both parties need to be up front about what they say and consistent with the positions they take.

        Now then, to the meat of your last reply…,

        It is not splitting hairs for me to point out that it was a corrupt and over-reaching Roman government which persecuted the Christians when the crux of my argument is that we have separation of Church and State while they had an imperial government that had taken over the management of the state religions for themselves. It is not splitting hairs to note that our situation in the 21st-Century is very different than that of Rome in the 3rd.

        Further, I would point out that while you seem to want to split Religion and Spirituality and the Social constructs of daily life into separate components, this is a totally modern way of looking at things that has very little to do with how any of our ancestors experienced the world. Simple equations like (Religion = Bad) and (Spirituality = Good) find no footing in the historical record. This is not to say that you are claiming otherwise, but if one were to infer from your statements that you were making such a claim, I would like to see the evidence.

        Now as to your answer to the question: “What we should do?”

        The first part of your answer suggests that we continue to fight for our rights in the social arena.

        “I propose that while we do the mundane (social) things to defend ourselves…,”

        Okay, but you appear to be disinclined toward organization (which was the whole point of my original post) so what I’d like to know is: which groups have ever won their rights without organizing themselves, educating the masses about who they were, and then demanding those rights from a position of strength?

        The second part of your answer seems to consist of ‘leading by example’.

        “…we should demonstrate that we are different; that there is a real spirituality that nurtures and defines our [diverse] character.”

        Okay, I’m fine with that. My only question is: How do we lead from the back of the bus?

        If we want to change the world, we need to be willing to change the world. No one is going to do it for us and no one is even going to notice us unless we make them do so.

        All of this is ignoring the point that if we believe in the gods as more than our little invisible friends that live in our heads, we should want to honor them in the full light of day, outside of the metaphorical closet, in the company of family and friends and strangers who share the same need and impulse. We should want that for our children and the many generations to come.

        Lastly, I’m not interested in fixing Christianity or figuring out what Jesus really meant (I’m pretty sure he meant “everyone just calm down about the Romans and concentrate on being a good Jew.”). I’ve read the Bible and found it seriously wanting. I find no inspiration there nor any special wisdom that is not readily available in the mythologies of our ancestors. I do not believe that just because the Christians messed up when they took over an already corrupt Rome, that we are, by either necessity or nature, locked into the same fate.

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