Practicing What We Preach
Many pagans have been ridiculing each other’s paths. Though they claim to be open and accepting of other views, they are human, and therefore opinionated. When hearing of a path that disagrees almost entirely with their own, many pagans will feel a need to explain how the other person is wrong. It is seen every day within the community in the ridicule of the openly intolerant practices of certain branches of Christianity. Although the majority of the pagan community has a higher average of open-mindedness than the rest of the world, many individuals see only their own way as the right way.
What these people lack is simply the desire to understand. No longer are they the questioning student, brimming with curiosity for the mysteries of the universe; they feel that they have advanced enough to preach these mysteries to others. Like John Travolta admits to Uma Thurman in Pulp Fiction, these pagans and people in general talk more than they listen, and they should be trying to listen a little more often.
Recently, I had an encounter in a bookstore that caught my attention more than usual. I was in the New Age aisle, looking for a specific book about Norse Magic. There was a man on my right who made me slightly uncomfortable. He felt wrong. I tried not to show my discomfort, because I prefer to not draw strong conclusions about people I do not know.
Soon enough, he began talking to me. He seemed polite enough; he was not trying to get my number or ask me out — which is a major step up from many other guys who try to start a conversation in a store — but he was more interested in the types of magick that I do not particularly like to engage in. I was not going to persecute him for being interested in Aleister Crowley’s books or for having an interest in the more macabre aspects of witchcraft. I knew that he would just be another person who was trying to teach me. It was entirely up to me if I wanted to practice in the same way that he did.
Our brief conversation consisted of he asking me what type of magick I practice and then he seemed to assume that because I focus on natural magick and working with herbs, I am naturally just beginning my path into the more metaphysical side of life… and so I would be easily drawn in by the more “adventurous and powerful” magick that he practiced.
I found the situation to be amusing. He could not have known that I have been practicing for four years now and was practicing without knowing what exactly I was doing for three years before that. I felt that I could watch and listen to him without feeling threatened. I already know what I feel comfortable with.
Unfortunately for the man, the lady who entered the aisle during our conversation also did not know that I have a good sense of self and that I am not going to suddenly go to the “dark side” just because a man says it is more “powerful.”
When the man left to find me a book on Voodoo magick, the woman began telling me what kind of trouble his type of magick would bring. She began recommending many books that were for beginners. I attempted to communicate that I already had or have read the books, but my efforts were lost on her.
When the man returned without the book, he recommended a few other books that did not fit how I practice magick. I did not tell him that I had no intention of reading them. He was not my problem, nor my master, not even my friend or acquaintance since I did not know his name.
The woman on my left began speaking to him the moment he finished talking to me. She apparently deals with spirits and has performed an exorcism or two in her life. At first she asked him if he ever saw results from the magick that he practiced. He answered that he did, and that began a recitation of The Rule of Three, which he said he already knew.
She then began railing to him about how he is opening doors that he will not be able to close. Oddly enough she then told him that for every door that he closed two more would open. Out of these doors that he could not close but every time he closed them two more would open, would come demons and evil spirits. According to the woman he was going to become possessed if he did not stop practicing the type of magick that he did and his life would be affected negatively for every time he sought power instead of balance and peace.
I would be lying if I claimed I felt that the man had a moral compass that pointed north or that his path to Spirit was going to be without its own repercussions, but even so, I felt an urge to defend him from the barrage of righteousness. The woman talked him out of the store; she followed him, preaching her beliefs the entire way to the door and then he left and she stayed to collect her children.
This incident reminded me of how even people who believe themselves to be accepting and of an open mind often disregard what is being told to them. Many of the people I meet in stores prefer to lecture rather than communicate, especially when they are speaking to someone who is younger than they are.
I know many people who have been frightened away from socializing with other pagans or joining covens because they were never allowed to talk to other pagans. They were talked to.
Most of the pagans that I know like to believe that they are more open to other people and other practices than the members of the more mainstream religions, especially Christianity. They also seem to believe that they allow people to find their own way to Spirit, no matter that person’s age. The woman and the man both proved to me that, as pagans, we are no better than any other human. We often hold strong beliefs, see the wrong in others before attempting to identify the wrongs in us, we can ignore other’s opinions, and we too can judge people based solely off appearances.
The man saw my herbs as a child’s magick, while I see them as an intimate connection to my world. The woman saw the man as a danger to himself, and thus a danger to her, but she forgot that the man has a right to choose his own path in life… just like she does. They both saw my youth as a sign of a still weak character and a paucity of my own knowledge that I could share, but neither bothered to ask me how long I had been practicing or show any interest in me of any kind other than to place their opinions on me.
Most disputes are results of a lack of understanding for the other party and a lack of personal grounding. Usually asking the simple question “Why?” will not only prevent a heated debate without any true evidence against the other side, but it may also spark an interesting conversation that will widen the horizons of both parties. From my experience, it will also give each person a sense that they are worth something and they may pass the courtesy on to the other people they meet in their lives. If people truly wish to be as nonpolluting as possible, energetically as well as physically, they should be more attentive to the light of other people, even if that means dimming their own ego for a few moments.
Not all pagans are like these two people from the store, but as a group, I have witnessed a general feeling of aloofness. Being a pagan does not elevate one above the regular human, instead it should ground us to the world that we live in. The general pagan seems to have lost the idea of practicing what they preach; in our public practices, we are saying the words without the intention, and it is about as effective as it would be in our personal practices. In order for the community as a whole to develop a positive reputation throughout the world, we must learn to be positive within the world.