Once upon a time, in the not so distant past, “you are not the boss of me” was muttered any time two or more of us were gathered together. Wicca had erupted into a new tradition every few days, Druids were behind every oak tree and the rise of the Recons made everyone proud and bristly with new knowledge of old matters. We ate the prolific casseroles of endless potluck feasts and we went to each other’s rituals when that was allowed.  Afterwards we’d gather with folks of our own trads and we’d compare circle castings and elemental pairings, and gossip about the size of the high priestess’s crown.

The same thing goes on still, of course. We each choose the path that is laid for us and we seek out a tradition—old or new—that seems to fit what we believe, really believe, down deep inside. We go through the Seeker stage to the Neophyte stage. We read all those simple 101 books and go to workshops and public rituals. We buy or make flowing gowns and tunics and sport a big pentacle from Spencer’s gifts. We learn to pronounce “Samhain” correctly and at some point we choose a tradition that really fits or we proudly declare ourselves Solitaries. If we are very lucky, we have a succession of good teachers. There may be a circle or coven or grove in which we learn the arts of leadership and we begin to teach the next generation of Earth-loving, opinionated folk who are not going to be bossed around.

Lately though I’ve noticed a change in our crabby and electronic world. Instead of quibbling about whether it’s proper to work within a circle or if one can stand in a lineaged Wiccan tradition while also being a Sumerian Recon, we’ve gotten awfully pissy about right and wrong and…correct.  No longer content to go our separate ways and merely gossip about those goofy (fill in the blank), we seem to expend rather a lot of electronic air in actually trying to convert each other.

Gad zooks.

One of the few things we’ve had going for us as a family of spiritual movements is freedom of choice. I may not like what you practice but you have the freedom to make that choice. I obviously think that my spiritual trad is the best one ever. You do, too. I may not honor the Divines that you honor but we both have the religious freedom to answer the Ones that call us into service.

I wrote last time of those “Papua New Guinea moments” when colleagues realize I’m a hard polytheist, that I am someone who believes the Divines are really really real. You will be unsurprised to learn how often my colleagues try to persuade me over to their archetypal way of thinking, to somehow—through their erudite arguments and superior scholarship or intellect—convince me that I am wrong and they are right.

You are not the boss of me.

Far too many times have I been confronted by someone who is filled with righteous indignation because I experience the Divines as exclusively female.  But, but, they sputter, what about nature?  What about the “balance of male and female energy”? Pish tosh. I did not study all the world’s religions and then pick the one that was most logical. I didn’t choose my spirituality based on politics.  I see the spiritual world as I see it. I experience the Divines as I experience them. That is my right, as it is yours.

We do not need to collectively decide if we’re going to use “gods” or “deity” or “spirit” as the official collective noun of the Divines.  We each can decide for ourselves or it has already been decided within our tradition (if we have one).  As a family of spiritualities, we don’t have to come to consensus on things like that. Does it feel right to cover your head?  Then do so.  Does it feel creepy and disempowering?  Then don’t do it. You can only worship skyclad?  Fine. Your choice. You always start the circle cast in the East? Fine. I always start in the North. We do it differently.

We have the freedom to know what we know—that old unverifiable personal gnosis—and to build our practice accordingly. If we are part of a tradition, we can follow what the folks before us decided was the juice of the tradition. Or not.  Because when we break from the tradition of our training, we often go into the woods and start a trad of our own, much as independent Baptist churches hive away from a little mother church. The same, but different.

There is no Pope of Paganism.  There is no central authority for this wildy opinionated group of religions.

You are not the boss of me. And the obverse is also true—I am not the boss of you.

And that’s how it should be.