Why Do We Get In Our Own Way?
Author: Aidan Odinson
Some years ago when I was heavily involved in motorcycling, a certain motorcycle dealer made a remark to me about his competitor in a neighboring city. “I really like them,” he said. “They couldn’t do more for me if they were on my payroll!” The principle can certainly apply to Witches and Pagans. Do we help anyone besides our enemies by bickering among ourselves? Do we accomplish anything in so-called “Witch Wars” other than standing in the way of what we really need and want?
I am addressing the fact that we, as Witches and Pagans, have not yet figured out how to put aside our differences in order to accomplish something. At any rate, that appears to be the case too often. Please bear in mind that I am definitely not suggesting that we should even consider merging together into something as meaninglessly homogenized as some Christian denominations that I could mention. I am also not talking about giving up our differences. I am talking about keeping our differences in their proper perspective so that we can accomplish more, on a broader scope, than we have been able to achieve so far.
One of the most nagging problems we have is that too many of us let differences get in the way of accomplishing anything beyond the level of the very local group. Any number of Internet mailing lists and other efforts prove that some people cannot seem to rise above such disputes as “my tradition is better than yours,” or “your definition of that word is wrong, mine is the only right one,” or “your initiation isn’t as valid as mine.” My first reaction is to wonder why anyone would insist upon making an issue of something that is actually none of their business.
At this point, there is an opportunity for three reality checks. The first is that unless laws are being blatantly broken or basic tenets that we all agree upon are being violated, what a solitary does or what happens within a coven or similar group is their own business and nobody else’s. The second is that if people in any kind of position in Wicca or Paganism expect any degree of respect beyond their own little group, it will only happen as a result of their offering the same respect to others in similar positions in other groups. The third is that any religious group that has gained any degree of acceptance has done so by learning how and when to work together as a whole.
We have grown and are growing. Almost any town large enough to have scheduled airline service is also able to have at least one Pagan/Wiccan shop that does enough business to remain in business over a reasonably long term. I’ve seen one professor’s claim that we are the seventh largest religious group in the US, and the fastest growing. Someone else has made the claim that by 2010 we will be number three. If the latter is true, then that will mean that we will be ahead of at least one group which is already well-accepted by most of the religious mainstream in the United States and elsewhere.
So, why do we sometimes have difficulties in claiming the rights that other faiths seem to enjoy as a matter of course? Why do we have to raise issues in court that other faiths do not have to take to court? Why do we see ourselves portrayed so inaccurately in the popular media when a similar error concerning another faith would end someone’s career? Part of the problem might well be the fact that we are growing, and some other faiths do not appreciate the fact that many of our people used to be their people. But the bigger problem is that we have not yet learned to come together and work together when the need arises. There are times when we need to present a united front.
A quick look at a newspaper or a television news program reveals what happens when someone slanders or harms some other religious group. A top official (President, governor, mayor – and not a substitute assistant flunkey) meets with a group of their senior clergy, and things happen to correct the problem. A perfect example is the situation with Muslims since 9/11, insuring that those who follow Islam did not receive the same fate as Americans of Japanese ancestry in the US suffered in the wake of Pearl Harbor.
Whom would we send to such a meeting? I don’t know, and I am not sure that we would be able to agree on who would be in such a delegation. To begin with, there is no coalition, association, or even an informal network to form a delegation and request a meeting.
There have been times when such a meeting should have happened. Several of us remember the time when Governor Dubya of Texas claimed that he did not consider “Witchcraft” a legitimate religion. There were recent remarks about Pagans that were made by a certain White House official managing the “Faith-Based Initiatives.” Between those incidents, there was a young girl driven to suicide by her classmates in the same school district that had to be taken to federal court on another issue of religious discrimination against Witches. Anyone reading this is probably in a position to name a long list of such incidents. I promise you that if the victims had been Jews, Muslims, Hindus or Buddhists, there would have been such a meeting, and it would have happened quickly. Why did we have no such meetings? Because we have nobody, or even a selection of somebodies, who could be seen as being in a position to represent us as a whole!
Of course, part of the problem is that we are not yet an “organized religion” in the manner that most people think of religions. If we were to get organized based on the organizational models currently in use, we would be in danger of having our descendants criticize what we built. Worse yet, they would use the same criticism that we currently aim at some of larger present-day churches.
As a general rule, we comfortably do without the person some folks describe as “the fat bald guy behind the pulpit, telling us what to think.” Continuing that image, we also don’t have a hierarchy of people above that “fat bald guy” whose appointed duty is to insure that our own local “fat bald guy” follows the same party line as all of the other “fat bald guys.” Our covens and groves are as sovereign as our solitaries, and they need to remain so. It’s a major part of that which makes us what we are. But we must learn to work together, and come together when necessary. Witches are known for imagination and creativity, and so designing a structure that would meet the necessary goals while avoiding the known dangers should be within our grasp. That is not to say that it will be an easy task, but it can be done.
Learning to come together and work together is the first step.