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I belong to a local, Pan-Pagan group. I was a member of it about seven or eight years ago, but it was a bit too chaotic and "fluffy" for my tastes. I didn't end up sticking around for long as a result, but it did good work in the community and meant well, so it's existence didn't really bother me either. It just wasn't for me, but it served it's purpose. Recently, the organization went under a fair amount of upheaval and was in danger of breaking apart due to infighting and disagreements.
It had managed to achieve non-profit status about three or four years ago, so people came forward to try and help repair the damage and keep it alive. While not the most conservative state in the union, Pennsylvania is hardly what I'd call progressive either. As such, having a Pagan organization with non-profit status is something worthy of celebrating and definitely provokes some consideration. Some of the local Heathens were part of the initial efforts to rebuild the organization from the ground up, and informed me of the issues at hand. I decided I wanted to help as well, which brings us to the moment where I found myself in a county owned recreational center, sitting in on one of the meetings.
At one point, the conversation turned to the subject of how to make events and rituals mutually inclusive and respectful to all people who might be in attendance. Towards the end of the discussion, an elderly woman of an amicable nature said "We should all stop arguing, and just worship the Earth." She said this while wearing an expression that suggested she felt that this was so universal of a truth there could be no way that anyone who called themselves Witch, Pagan, or Polytheist could possibly disagree. It wasn't an opinion, to her; it was fact.
Most of the people in attendance were Wiccans and/or Monists of various philosophies, so she didn't seem to actually offend anyone. Even my fellow Heathens and I were sort of used to these statement from her, so we didn't really see the point in working ourselves up over the issue. Getting angry at this sort of person is like yelling at a cloud; it does nothing, and they didn't come from someone who was particularly polarizing. She's just the typical representation of someone who thinks they're so inclusive that couldn't possibly make an excluding statement.
The thing is, however, that I've seen so many theological arguments come from this exact scenario; someone makes some sort of presumption for all of Paganism, and than they come across someone who believes the exact opposite. The next step is that the disagreeing Pagan will point out, often times with great offense, that the person is very wrong. Typically, the person who made the faux-inclusive statement gets defensive, because they aren't bigoted and/or privileged so of COURSE the other person is just being too sensitive, and than an argument breaks out.
We've all seen his exact scenario play out a lot, especially over the last year or two. I stay out of these fights because, to be quite simple about it, I don't recognize the authority of some fool sitting off on the sideline making proclamations that are less authoritative on a given religion than the content of a Wikipedia article. Some people, however, don't go by that standard and I can't blame them; when you practice a minority religion, you find yourself bombarded with a rather alarming amount of social faux pas.
That's putting it very diplomatically to be sure, but it cuts to the core nicely. Being the target of so many social and diplomatic mistakes, you expect people who also practices minority religions to be more mindful and considerate. After all, regardless of whether you are a Hindu, a Buddhist, a Gardenerian Wiccan, a solitary practitioner, or what have you...in many circles within North America and (I suspect) Europe, you are going to be the targets of some similar acts of ignorance, privilege*, and stupidity. You expect that anyone who is in a similar situation would take equal effort in being mindful of the theology and philosophy of others.
So when that expectation is let down, it's easy to get extremely angry about it.
I am Heathen. I do respect the Earth, no doubt; there are spirits both animist and ancestral that reside on it and within it, and I do my best to show them the respect and thankfulness my tradition says that they are due. I do not, however, worship the Earth; that's a word that I direct towards divine figures almost exclusively. Even with ancestors, the term "worship" is used differently than I use it when I talk about Gods. That is my path, and no one gets to tell me what it's about or what I should or should not be worshiping.**
You are...well, whatever you are. Whatever your tradition, path, or philosophy, it is up to you to define your worldview as best as you are able. In the meantime, for the sake of the Ancestors, Gods, the Earth,or even the Flying Spaghetti Monster, don't act like your path is mine. At least, not before we've talked and discovered that together. Not until you truly know, rather than feel you can reasonably presume. Your path does not represent the whole spectrum of non-Abrhamic and/or non-Islamic belief,*** so don't pretend that it does.
You have the right to your beliefs, but that right ends at the beginning of every other person's belief. No matter then intention, someone trying to unify all faiths across the world into a single thread is going to end up insulting someone. Probably a lot of someones. No matter the intentions, it becomes exactly like being told that you are a Satanist because you're not Christian. Improperly worded or poorly thought out statements about religious unity contain a very similar message; they involve telling someone what their faith is, without their consent or consideration of their person. Should we be surprised that such statements end poorly when the presume so many things that, in many case, trip over many of our own psychological wounds?
No matter what you wish to say when it comes to religion, you'll find someone who disagrees. That is wonderful! After decades and centuries of religious thought having been homogenized, by legal mandate in some cases, we have the opportunity to form our religious standards, philosophies, and concepts. In many places in the world, such processes even have legal protection. We get to disagree on religion, and have that not be a big deal. We can identify, build, and form spiritual relationships in ways that were unthinkable a few generations ago. Savor that!
This statement even applies to my Monist friends; even if you feel all paths are one, the wondrous permutations of that one idea are split into thousands of ideas like the light of one sun traveling through a prism. This isn't a cause for contention. It is a cause to rejoice!
Even this statement that I am making now will find some who disagree with it, and I'm okay with that. The person who disagrees with probably will be as well, because I'm about to say one thing; this is how I see things. I speak for no one else but myself, because I'm the only person I have the authority to speak for. Everyone else needs to speak for themselves.
And I wouldn't have it any other way.
One of the things that I find particularly enchanting about this city is the music. It's everywhere, from jug bands playing on the sidewalk, to raucous zydeco coming from the bars on Bourbon street, to the lone musician or singer busking on the corner. From the moment we leave the hotel, there's music. It counterpoints the natural rhythms of the city itself, and all the spirits that dance and wander here. It connects me to the city, to all its many layers like nothing else.
As much as New Orleans may be the city of Bacchus, first and foremost it belongs to the Ghede, the family of lwa that govern the powers of death and the dead. Their presence, their energy is everywhere. It surrounds, seeping out from every crack, bristling and snaking up from every paving stone. The houses are awash in it, and it lurks in the twilight air along every street. I knew this coming down to visit, but once here, i was swept away by the siren song of the city itself. I allowed myself to become distracted.
So my partner and I are currently vacationing in New Orleans. Neither one of us had been to this city before but oh I am glad that we came. This is a city belonging to Bacchus if ever there was one! We've been here only about twenty four hours, and most of that time has been spent meandering through the French Quarter with no destination in mind. We have plenty of time to do cultural things and to shop. For now, we've been trying to get a sense of the city spirit, and a taste of the energy of the city itself....