Friday, December 31, 2010

The "Other One"

When I was a kid, I lived in the shadow of my older sister.  She was in a bunch of clubs and a big-shot in marching and concert band, going on to regionals and winning badges to pin to her uniform as though she was a decorated officer in some incredibly-lame Army.

Needless to say, my mother thought there was nothing greater than to brag about her award winning daughter.  It was not as though I was without talent (winning my own awards for artwork and poetry) but they just weren't the sort of thing that one can brag about in a crowd and have physical proof right there on stage.  So, while introducing us to new people, she was sure to note all the wondrous exploits of her eldest daughter.  But, when it came to me, she seemed to run out of inspiration...or breath.  Whichever, she would introduce me as "the other one".  So there was Catherine, the all star everything with metals and awards, whitened teeth and perfectly straightened hair.  And then there's...the other one.

Now, let me say, my mother was far from exemplary.  She could probably wrote an entire book on what not to do as a parent.  But she did teach me something from it all. 

I was, indeed, the other one.  I didn't have anything obviously superior about me or my appearance that could take the scepter from my Queen Sister's hand.  My clothes were usually of the 'grunge' variety; my hair was short, shaggy and generally uncombed; I was homeschooling myself so I stayed up late and slept in, giving me the appearance of being lazy.  In short, in all the socially expected ways, I didn't try.

But then I left home.  I got around an entirely new set of people and began to take on an entirely new way of looking at my life:  Yes, I had always been unkempt, but not dirty; I was a late-sleeper but only because I spent my nights painting, writing and reading while the house was quiet; I didn't wear the kind of clothes or look the way my sister did because I was expressing individuality.  Slowly my tastes changed, my clothes changed and I got a snappy new haircut I loved.  And you know what?  My sister copied me.  The same person she mocked, she now tried to emulate.

And then I realized -- I was the Other One, with capitals!  Everyone else was just a face in the crowd but I was my own person.  I didn't do things like everyone else and I didn't want to.  I felt no pressure to conform and no pressure to 'produce' something tangible for others to judge.  I hadn't changed anything about myself to please others, only as a natural progression over time.  The way I had been taught to look at my abilities was based on the shortcomings of the one doing the teaching.  I had always had the will (called 'stubbornness' at home) to keep to my own ways despite what was said about them, or me. 

Others may not have done as I did under similar circumstances.  I am very proud that I had the self-pride to stick with my interests and tastes all those years.  I cultivated talents which I still use today.  But if I'd turned against myself the way I was expected, I would not have those talents. Nor would I have the strength of self to recognize and revolt when I'm being manipulated or pushed into a trend.

I have decided to share this story with you because I have seen something similar to this in the Pagan community.  Because we are a gathering of normal people and are subject to the same problems of any other group, there is bad behavior among us.  The one, however, that I feel most compelled to squash is related to this old memory of mine.  The feeling of being 'the other one.'

How many of us are authors or artists or poets or seamstresses?  How many are leaders or lecturers or millionaires?  How many of us look statuesque in ritual robes and absolutely perfect sky-clad?  How many of us have such perfect lives that we never need from anyone?  How many of us have those shining talents that make all the covens, circles and groves beg for our membership?  Not too damn many.  We can't each excel at everything, and even if we could, we wouldn't be able to do it all at once. 

And here's the problem:  I've known Pagan folks who look down on others for not being gifted.  They sneer when you say you don't see that person's aura or that you've not good at divination.  They may even decide to call you out publicly, yelling, 'What?  You've never heard of that?  I thought every decent Pagan knew that!' while laughing and looking around to be sure they have everyone's attention.   Don't fall for this.  You are no less of a Pagan or a magical practitioner because you don't have a magical resume.  They are not authority figures, leaders or teachers.  True leaders build you up and help you gain knowledge and confidence; they don't try to destroy it.

So don't ever be hard on yourself because you aren't good at everything or because you don't know how to cook or paint or build things or whatever it is that a person or group seems to want to love you best for.  If you join a group based on your personality, and not just what they want you to add to their talent pool, you are more likely to be happy but also to someday bloom into your own talent pool.  You may just bring something perfect to a group without either of you expecting it.  Take your time with yourself, experience and learn everything you can, and in time you will find those things you are best at.  So long as you're doing, you're learning.  Keep working magic, keep reading and trying, keeping searching for the right place you belong, and you will succeed.  You may end up giving up on a particular practice or on a group but never give up on yourself.

Non-conventional ways of helping a group or coven:

  • Having access to resources: friends or family who own businesses, have land you can use, or the ability to carpool.

  • Web-design 

  • Singing or dancing talent or knowing a musical instrument (for rituals and workshops) 
  • Organization (keeping track of group papers and funds, planning and scheduling)

  • Knowledge about local history, plants or animals (workshops, planning trips and events)

  • Previous experience in another coven or with leading other types of groups

  • Aware of local outdoor events, closest or most picturesque campsites, psychic fairs, or meetings by other groups of Pagan interest (such as the Ren Faire, Audubon Society, meditation or herbalism clubs). 

  • "Graphic design"  (making signs, flyers, banners, labels for selling products, etc. Creating decorations for Sabbats, altar space, matching robes, etc.)

  • Good with kids (help design kids' activities, watch group's children while parents are busy)

  • Knowing other interested people (this can be great help when planning open rituals or looking for new members)

  • Outgoing, curious personality (this kind of person is always welcome!)

  • Storytelling

  • Wine-making

  • Access to plants useful in rituals, such as oak, walnut, rowan, apple, and cherry trees.

  •  Having a camcorder and/or movie editing knowledge

  • Knowledge about foods, not necessarily just cooking.  (planning ritual feasts, especially when working around allergies and diet restrictions of the whole group)

  • Photography and scrap-booking (keeping visual record of your works together is a great way to really feel those accomplishments!)

It's okay to be the outsider, because 'outside' is a place to be just as much as 'inside.'  You only need to know who you are to get started.  So many of us came to the magical community because we didn't fit in with mainstream society. We're all outsiders and we're all the 'other one.'  But by staying true to yourself, even while others aren't as supportive, in your own time, you'll find your way of contributing and making your mark -- with capitals!


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