Sunday, October 24, 2010

What You Need

After having an interesting discussion with the former head of Pagan Veterans of the United States, I realized a few things.  I am not the only one to feel the great sense of loss and disappointment over the way our community is taking shape.  The poor fellow I was talking to actually went a step further -- he is jaded and ready to give up.  That, I feel, should never happen.  Surely he has seen more things than myself (as I am in a rural part of Pennsylvania and am not terribly well-traveled) which would give him this impression, but to give up is to declare that one has nothing left to give of value, nothing which would be recognized for its value.  Maybe even that there simply isn't any value left in our community. 

What a moment of sorrow.  I feel it too and I think that anyone who has worked to create something better for Pagans in general know what I'm talking about.  This weight which drops so hard in my stomach, and in my conversant too, is the bitter realization that nothing one person does matters and nothing a group of people dreams ever gets done.  It's like watching Rome burning.  But this time, there are Pagans lounging around in it oblivious to what is being lost, even themselves.

In this realization I saw one horrible truth.  More than the lack of commitment and respect in the community which causes this despair, it was the despair itself which became the problem.  Born of sadness, it quickly becomes anger, then disgust and superiority.  Then nothing can get done at all, even when the opportunity arises.  We have to stop the chain before our up-and-coming leaders throw the game before they've had the chance to play for the big leagues.  Once our current set of nationally known leaders is gone from the scene, who will take over? 

The answer is that it could be you.  We can't often see what we'll become in just a few years but we should be striving for the very heights of our happiness and productivity.  I'm not going to use this time with you to rally against laziness and selfishness (as many discussions --even mine-- on the topic of "where the community is going wrong" begin).  As we learn as parents, dwelling on what one does wrong is not going to inspire better from them next time.  It will only breed self-interest as the person tries to protect themselves from criticism.

Instead I'm going to tell you something important:  Everyone wants to be a part of something.

Even if you're a loner who shuns social events, you want to be heard and understood.  Even if you feel that being solitary is the superior route, you want to share ideas and connect with others.  Humans are builders by nature.  We love to take nothing and make something great with it:  houses, cities, businesses, organizations.  But the one that means the most, the one that can withstand the destruction of everything else, is Community.  The community supports those who need help, upholds the standards which excel individuals to great heights, and provides structure for personal and group expression.  It can be our greatest ally but first we need to admit that we need it.  More than just the community needing us, we need the community.  Go ahead and say it out loud:  "I need the community."

An organized Pagan community could help people get bank loans for new Pagan businesses and help them get past red tape with city councils.  An organized Pagan community could help individuals find counseling, mentoring, legal help and clergy in their area and in their price range.  An organized Pagan community could have its own charities, for other Pagans or from Pagans to anyone in need.  An organized Pagan community could have permanent temples, groves and public performances of rituals, plays and others art forms.  Can you imagine such a thing?  Where would you be in this amazing future? 

If you said, "in the audience", then you missed the point.  Paganism is not a spectator sport.  When Wiccans say "everyone is a preist/ess" they are expressing this thought exactly.  We are each in charge and each qualified.  You do something that no one else can do and you should (and certainly can) be in the spotlight, doing it for everyone.  This is part of your True Will.  You can achieve it but you need the community.

It's true that this will require commitment and, yes, work.  But you surely didn't come to this path because it was the easiest or because it allowed you to sit on the sidelines of your own faith.  The commitment necessary is a commitment to yourself and your vision of the future.  The work is only the steps you take to become your best self.  We are all in this process.  No one need create pretense that they know more than they do, for there are many others lower than them as well as many higher.  In order to grow and to become what others pretend, you need the infulence of those above and the buttress of those below: you need the community.

To commit yourself to bettering the self and others, first there is the understanding that while you have something to offer, you also have something to learn.  Listen and assist.  A little humility will gain you a lot from other people.  Teachers won't take on students who are cocky and won't listen.  Elders won't let you in on the tidbits of valuable information they've gathered over the years if they think you won't care one way or the other.  Show people that you care, you are listening, and yes -- that you need the community. 

I, and many others like me, am growing tired of seeing organizations fall through, covens and learning circles disband, newly sanctified outdoor spaces go untended, individual studies abandoned.  We are recreating the death of our ancestors' religions all over again, but we are doing it to ourselves.  Everyone is wanting, seeking, yearning, begging.  There is angst at every corner.  It's being covered up with a thin veneer of mystical jargon which states that freedom only comes when each person only does as much or as little as they choose.  What a costly lie!  Our connections with others have paid dearly for this.  The freedom of the modern Pagan movement is not in our ability to think and act only for the self, but for our ability to offer an alternative to the attitudes of mainstream society.  This requires that we build and sustain a community which reinforces our freedom.  We are not separate from one another.  We are a community.  And no matter what it looks like right now, it can become greater than any one dream of it.  But we all need help.  We all need you.

And you need the community.


Thursday, October 14, 2010

Pagan Questions for a Jehovah's Witness

This was something I ran on our previous blog and I think it really merits a second coming, if you will. 

Proselytizing is something which many Pagans feel very strongly about.  Due to our lack of interest in forcing our opinions upon other people, we seem most intent upon speaking like superior asses to those who do, thereby spreading the word that Pagans are an annoying, self-satisfied bunch who won't even stop to listen.

This, I'm afraid, is coming from someone who has seen it in action many, many times.  The delight resonates in every word when Pagans gather to discuss the latest Saturday morning JoHo bashing.  It's as though the best kind of fun is the kind poked at mainstream religion.

Now, I've had my laughs -- same as anyone -- when Christians lay down their rules on me and I shrug them off.  But to say that what a religious sect does out of eagerness to please their God should be naught but fodder in our attempts to please ourselves, is plain-out rude.  And for all of you who wear the badge of "religious rebel" -- you are not knocking a mainstream religion. 

Yes, they follow Jesus and yes, they have a Bible.  But they are just as tossed about as any other spiritual side-line group, including Paganism.  We are outcasts in similar ways: the brunt of jokes, the focus of strange and dangerous rumors, the subject of many obtuse statements by people who have never known our ways.  But still they go on.  Still they come and speak kindly and even take your outbursts and door-slamming kindly.  In short, they may look bad to you by peddling faith, but how do you look to them?  ...To everyone who sees your tantrums or hears you retell them with pride? 

Speaking for myself, I didn't come to Paganism by the familiar channel, "finding my way home" nor did I "always practice it but never had a name for it".  No.  I, like many others, sought Paganism as one of the many spiritual "hats" I tried on over a matter of years.  I began with a quest to understand what religion was for me, where was my place, at 12 and didn't find it until 16.  This was no idle decision.  It was a search of the soul, for the soul, and it took place in libraries and houses of worship.  It was in my prayers and meditations, my world view and my view of myself. 

And because of this (or possibly in conjunction with this) I learned to really love religion.  Yes, it can make people do bad things or dumb things but it can also bring out something wonderful.  And each religion, and all its offspring, shows a bit about the time in which it was born and the culture in which it was reared.  So from this, I may despise what extremes people rush to out of faith, but I don't despise the faith itself.  At one point, it was considered the height of Man's connection with eternity.  It was the enlightened glimpse at the secret book of the universe, a flurry of wild scribbling on paper or impassioned dictation.  It was, at that moment, greater than anything which had come before it anywhere in the world.  And I just can't hate that. 

To that end, I have always loved to discuss religion.  Now, tread carefully here, because "discuss" is not the same thing as "debate".  I don't like to argue over something as personal and insoluble as religion.  But I do like to ask questions.  Questions give your conversant a chance not only to feel intelligent and important, but also to really analyze their own beliefs.  It was not until my beliefs were challenged that I was able to put into words what I felt about life and divinity.  To open a dialog with someone of another faith is not a weakness!  You are not making yourself susceptible to conversion (unless of course, you are so weak-willed as to be tossed back and forth by a little conversation).  It actually strengthens your faith.  And it may also do the same for the one with whom you discuss this topic.

Case in point, my many visits from Jehovah's Witnesses.  I welcome them in graciously and invite them to sit at my table.  I offer them coffee and treats, as I would any guest.  Then I sit with them and listen.  That's the key here -- listen.  Give them a chance to explain their feelings.  When it comes your turn, tell the truth: you are not Christian and are not interested in changing religion but you are more than happy to talk with them.  See this as though they were salesmen offering some gadget you know very little about.  You're not interested in buying (and you make that clear right away) but you are curious about it enough to hear the sales pitch, ask questions and read the catalog.  There's no harm in that and the salesmen are willing since you might refer them to someone who would like to buy.  It's win-win.

In my first experience with Jehovah's Witnesses, I wrote the following list of questions that I wanted answers to.  I have since passed it on to other Pagans as well as gotten several sheets of answers from various followers themselves.  I have not once "sent them running from the house" nor have I "made them terrified to even walk on my side of the street".  It is shameful that any Pagan or magical practitioner should be so willing to get a bad reputation for rudeness!  If anything, get a bad reputation as a spellcaster, a fearless Heathen, and a proud hedonist reveler!  But rudeness -- never!

So I give you my list.  Print it out, pass it around, discuss and change it as you will.  But use it.  Talk to people.  Open up and tell them what you believe.  They are not ashamed or afraid, they are not defensive or offensive.  Share what you feel, allow them to ask questions.  Do all in the name of knowledge.  With an air of innocence and curiosity, you will strengthen your resolve, deepen your faith and learn about the wide world around you.  And all without sacrificing your dignity.

Pagan Questions for a Jehovah's Witness

1.  You are quite happy in your beliefs?  Have you come up against those who were happy in their‘s, though they were different?  Do you persist in talking to them about your‘s?

2.  What would you say if spokesmen from other religions knocked on your door and told you that you were mistaken for all these years?

3.  How long have you been a Jehovah’s Witness?  I’ve been a witch and Pagan for 13 years.  Would you not say that I know who I am by now and who my Gods are?

4.  What is your rule for converting others?  Why do you do it?

5.  How does your God differ from the mainstream belief in the Xian God?

6.  What do you do in church?  How are you different from Xian church?

7.  Are there things you’re not allowed to do?  How about clothes, words or foods?

8.  Do you ask people about their beliefs first or start with talking about yours?

9.  Do you see it as actually *trying* to convert?  What terminology do you use?

10. Do you have friends that are of different faiths?  Do they talk to you about their beliefs?

11. Do you know much about Paganism?  Would you like to *take some literature*?

12. What faith were you before you became a Jehovah’s Witness?  How has your life improved since you switched?

13. Have you known anyone who’s left the Jehovah’s Witness faith?  Why did they do it?  What did they go to?  What are they doing now?  Are there rites performed for leaving?  Is the person shunned?

14. What *exactly* did you Witness?

15. What is the Jehovah’s Witness stance on magic?  What’s your personal belief?

16.  Do you know what Paganism says about your faith?  (Answer: Nothing)  Would you say that’s a good policy?

17.  What’s your ultimate goal as a Jehovah’s Witness?  What’s the ultimate goal of the whole faith?  Is there a hope that someday the world will be full of Jehovah’s Witnesses?

18.  How far back does your faith system go?

19. Are there rites for children (birth, coming-of-age)?  Why or why not?

20. Does your faith believe that at one time we all were Jehovah’s Witnesses, as Xians believe that we all began under their doctrine?

21. What does your belief say  happens to those who don’t follow your path?  What about those who leave it?

22. What do you think about other paths that convert?  What is the official stance?

23. Do you think this is more about what’s right for the individual or what is universally right?

24. How long does it usually take to talk to someone in their home?  How long does it take to change someone’s mind (if they are moderately willing)?

25. Have you personally brought an outsider into your religion?  How many?  Are they still with you?

26. What do you think about people switching religion for the *wrong* reasons?  Would you accept a newcomer if it seemed they were doing it for the wrong reasons (to gain popularity, to rebel, to take advantage of what you can offer them, as a power trip)?

27.What about if someone wants to join but is insincere, like that you know they don’t really believe or that they’re still of the other faith in their heart?

28. What’s the rite for joining?

29. Do you get perks for conversions?  How does it affect your stance with your God?  Or the afterlife?

30. What’s your faith’s version of the afterlife?

31. I’ve heard that your belief is very much against pain.  Why is that?  Don’t you feel like there’s such thing as helpful pain?  (ex: the pain of touching a hot stove vs. laying your hand there and rendering it useless by extensive nerve and tissue damage)

32. What’s your view on the pain of childbirth?  I’ve heard Xians say that it’s a curse God gave to Eve for her disobedience.  Is that true of Jehovah’s Witnesses?

33. What does your path say about women?  What’s woman’s role?  How are men and women told to relate to each other?

34. What’s a JW wedding like?

35. What are your rules about kids?  Are they JW from birth, is there a separate rite for bringing them in, and what if they choose to leave when they get older?

36. Are JW funerals different from the norm?  Can you only use certain ministers or can anyone legally officiate?

37. How are people ordained through your faith?  Do you have your own system or is it through a seminary college, person to person or online/mail order?

38. What are the most common questions people ask you?

39. Do you like talking to people about their beliefs?  Do you get uncomfortable talking about yours?

40. Do you believe that there will ever come a time when mankind knows who’s really right?  What will happen then?  What if you’re not of the “right belief”?   

Sunday, October 10, 2010

A New Blog, a New Beginning

So this, my dear readers (if any), is yet another blog for our coven, Orbis Prosapia.  A few short quips about how horrid it is when blogs crash and the assumption that because I can stumble my way to starting a blog, I must be a computer programmer would be well placed here.  However, I simply don't care enough to go backward in time to recount the many snafus which have led this to be our third blog. 

Yes, third.

I do not know if it is even possible to retrieve most of what was left behind, but in due time, I will attempt it.  But for now, we have something more at hand.  I want to give you a little history about this group and give you an idea of what, and who, we are.

Orbis Prosapia is a family-oriented coven located in Lycoming county of Pennsylvania, this area's longest running coven as far as I am aware.  Now, what does "family-oriented" mean?  It doesn't mean that we only accept families or that the focus is on parenting.  It means that our goal is to be a group, a community, in which members can be of any age, with any kind of relationship/partnership they wish, have whatever variety of family/living arrangement they wish, and still be welcomed.  We aim to be the support for our members but also the catalyst which helps them towards their goals.  We are working towards a more active Pagan community in this area, including Pagan teens and kids, and our goals as a coven are only the beginning of that.

My name is Quill and I, along with my husband, Artayous, head this coven.  I'm a wife and mother practicing witchcraft for 13 years now and I teach a series of classes on successful spell-casting.  I'm also working on the completion of two books in the non-fiction occult genre.  Artayous is a wonderful husband and father, a hard worker, the all-purpose Idea Man, as well as an inventor in his spare time.  We are raising our two children Pagan and are teaching them magic, within the coven and without. 

Orbis Prosapia focuses on the cycles of nature and our rituals reflect that.  We are very much a nature-based group but enjoy retelling myths and other lore about Gods and Goddesses.  We each have our own deity relationships, which are valued, but are not the basis for our ritual worship.  It's been difficult explaining to people that we are not a Wiccan group (though we do occasionally have Wiccan members) so we don't do things quite the same as other groups in this area.  Our rituals are a series of original works we perform each year (unlike many Wiccan groups in this area which use new rituals every year) which include music, poetry, chanting and movement.  Afterward we always host a feast and often the celebration runs into the night with drinks, karaoke and conversation.  We have meetings once a month to discuss upcoming events and come up with new ideas or share news.  Our small dues requirements help pay for special events and items bought for group use.  Every month we host a workshop for learning, and trying, new things in the Pagan/magic arena such as poppet-making, homemade ink and conjure bags.  As you can see, we've put a lot of thought into what makes a group great.  I am proud to say that we have accomplished quite a bit since we began and we have a lot more in store.

To be quite honest, though, it has been a long road over a short period of time: we began the group under different leadership some 4 years ago and have gone through several members during that time.  I normally don't mention these facts because it seems, well, probably just as unflattering as you're thinking about it right now.  But the simple facts are there:  every member who has been removed from the group was removed because they refused to do their share.  We did what we could to hold it together but that has to mean everyone.  I say this now not to chastise those former members but to instill upon the reader the idea that there is a commitment made when entering a group.  If you can't be true to that commitment, then you are not welcome.

When I first began practicing magic 13 years ago, I dreamed of being in a coven.  I dreamed of having a teacher and a group of people -- a group of friends -- with whom to share ideas, go places, and celebrate the holidays.  It made me extremely humbled when I was offered admission to this coven.  But after seeing how lightly others take this amazing opportunity, I start to dread that the kind of honor and respect I felt as a newcomer (and the kind I still feel and exhibit upon meeting others, especially elders) was just a quirk of my personality, one others do not have.

Very recently I entertained thoughts of giving it all up.  It is a very tiring job to lead a coven since it seems that there is always something that needs planned, prepared, made, stitched or me.  And if anything goes wrong, the blame is squarely on me whether it is placed there by others or comes naturally by right as the leader.  Meetings fall behind, things go wrong, parts are not perfectly memorized and (quite often) important items weren't packed and need to be fetched from home.  That's just life.  Even in the best covens, mistakes are made.  But to be able to look at the best of it, the example the group is for others, the accomplishments and the years -- that has helped me hang in there. 

We have a website and a blog (again).  Neither sees much readership so I have to decide what I'm doing it all for.  In the end, I do it because it's what I've always dreamed.  Just like teaching, if I can't find one like I envision -- I'll just become one.  And that I have done.  Our coven has a long ways to go before we have the kind of membership and involvement I dream, but we are on our way. 

If you would like to follow our progress, stay tuned for more of our Scenes from the Circle.