Observations of the light and the dark of what is, was, and might be in the Pagan community's expansion and evolution.
With live in times where there is great division and strong polarization on a wide range of political and cultural issues, and from my perspective I see no time in the foreseeable future when this will change. I have a long history of being involved with a variety of different political and cultural change movements, and for several decades there has been a consistent refrain that we needed to form alliances between different peoples, different communities, and different causes. I was taught, and as a personal choice I reaffirmed, the idea that all struggles mattered, and until all had justice then the work was not done. Even and especially if I did not like the other party.
We also repeated a story to each other, whose historical accuracy is irrelevant to the point I'm about to make, that the Celts lost to the Romans because the tribes failed to find a way to unite and remain united. Another story that we repeated to each other was the tale of the crabs in the pot. Imagine if you will, a large pot filled with crabs atop a stove. As the water slowly heats, and the crabs try to get out, they clamber over each other so vigorously that they pull each other back into the pot. I have heard dozens more of these sorts of stories each trying to teach the same lesson; if we do not find ways to work together, we will neither survive nor thrive.
Most of the Pagan communities that I am familiar with tend to pride themselves upon their uniqueness and their individuality. The number of different opinions on all matters in a room full of Pagans is often the square of their number. This is actually one of our greatest strengths, but it becomes our detriment when we misunderstand the nature of alliances and allies. Somehow over the course of the last several years a strange notion has taken root that your allies have to agree with you on the full range of big issues and minutia that you hold to be true. Actually, if they do have that high a level of overlap with your positions, then they are not your allies, they are your community.
Moreover, as the rhetoric, debate, and hairsplitting on the issues of the day have gotten more heated, we have split into smaller and smaller groupings. At this moment I am not interested in discussing the pros and cons of “Big Tent Paganism”, nor is this post a call for unity at the price of our wildly beautiful diversity. It is a call to recognize that there is work that can be done with allies, or with alliances between individuals, communities or groups, that does not require high levels of agreement. You'll have to decide for yourself how high or how low you set the bar of commonality before you will consider someone an ally. I often tell people that I can work with someone if we agree on the task at hand, and we have a C- level of agreement on other matters. If I committed to only working with people or groups that have an A- or higher rating in my book, then my world would be narrowed to my dearest friends and loved ones, maybe.
I lived in Tallahassee, FL in the late 60s and in the first part of the 70s. Those of you that are in the know, are aware that that part of Florida is not really Florida but belongs to the old deep South. That is where I heard about a force of nature whose name was Shirley Chisholm. She was the first African-American woman to be elected to Congress, and the first black candidate, and woman, to run for the presidency in a major party (Democrat). You may want to look up her autobiography: Unbought and Unbossed. At that time, Alabama's Gov. George Wallace was one of the most strident voices for the segregation of black people. When Chisholm sponsored a bill to extend the Federal minimum wage laws to domestic workers, she approached Wallace for his help. Although they disagreed on many things, they both agreed on poverty, and he not only provided his support but also made numerous phone calls to legislators to lobby for votes. Can you imagine that today? This is a true story that has many more ins, outs, and complexities, and I encourage you to look up the rest of it.
You may ask yourself, what if you're torn about working with an individual or group because of how fiercely you disagree on a handful of points? My suggestion is to use a litmus test. Not the litmus test that political pundits speak of in single issue politics. Nor the litmus test that is a scrap of paper that gives you a binary answer by changing to one color or another. In ancient Rome, an Augur was a priest who read the signs and the will of the God/dess/es, and their spiral topped wand or staff that was their badge of office was called a litmus. What I'm suggesting is that you engage in whatever form of divination you use, and ask about the outcome of this alliance on this task. If you do not use divination, then perhaps you may want to spend time contemplating the potential outcomes of forming or not forming an alliance. I have done this numerous times, and when it looks like the outcome will be good, I grit my teeth and move on to do collective work.
I have a couple of suggestions to bring to mind when you are trying to make an alliance work. Consider applying the rules of hospitality to how you conceptualize allies and alliances. In traditional cultures, the rules of hospitality were more about minimizing conflict, providing for those in need, and creating the opportunity for diplomacy, then they were about gracious living. Become more aware of your terms of art, jargon, shibboleths, and in-group perspectives, and then go to great lengths not to expect them of your allies. By the way not only will some of your best and most productive allies not agree with your ideology, many will have no identifiable ideology, or theology for that matter. The way that individuals groups and people's construct their world-views can vary dramatically, and should not automatically become an obstacle to finding common cause. If you are a part of a group where you know and trust the members, and the group is moving forward with an alliance on a task, and you cannot, please consider stepping aside. I'm not going to champion any particular style of group decision-making, nor for that matter how you should decide when and if you can work with someone. I do ask that you take into consideration the difference between people and groups that are allies, and those that are part of your home community. I think there is value in using different rules and different criteria for each.
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