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.
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.
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.