Monday, February 15, 2010

Odd Man Out – Conservatives in Paganism

It’s a real pet peeve of mine – that all pagans are stereotypically uber-liberal, Birkenstock-wearing, coop-shopping, commune-living eccentrics whose every idea flies in the face of the mainstream. Certainly there is nothing wrong with any of the aforementioned activities, but they are not criteria for inclusion into Pagandom. And they’re certainly not to be associated with Paganism. Paganism is a belief system, something you live, an intangible abstract which isn’t necessarily obvious to others.

One of the most beautiful things about the pagan community is its diversity. We see the eyes of the God and Goddess in everyone – regardless of gender, orientation, preferences, ideologies or anything else. That’s why I become dismayed when I see my erstwhile tolerant pagan brethren look askance when other pagans don’t share their points of view.

Paganism is not a contest to see who can be “freakier than thou”. The fallacy is believing that you can judge a good pagan by how left-of-center they are; or conversely, can become a good pagan by espousing behaviors which may not be considered commonplace in our society. The pagan community is one of the most tolerant faith-based groups on this planet. You will find people of every color, sexual persuasion and type welcomed. Because of this, sometimes we may forget the silent minority in pagandom – the conservative. Conservative is a relative term, too…because it doesn’t necessarily mean conservative on a political level, but people who are less likely to choose behaviors which might be new and avant garde.

While it is perfectly ok to embrace a plethora of lifestyles, it’s also ok to NOT partake of them. Let me give you an example which I have experienced. Those who know me know that I am unabashedly straight and monogamous, though that often makes me a minority in many pagan circles. I cannot count the number of times I’ve been accused of being a prude, or elitist, or even a “bad” pagan because I choose not to be polyamorous or partake of a plural relationship, or embark on a relationship with another woman.  It’s simply not my thing. I like being straight and I like being with one man.Apparently, being “vanilla” to some equals being closed minded. Let me assure you, nothing is further from the truth.

And there are many pagans who feel they must – or are sometimes pressured into – partaking in plural relationships (also known as polyamory), or BDSM, or other non-mainstream behaviors, in order to be a good pagan. If they’re not a part of something “freaky”, then they’re not really pagan because they’ve sold out. We as pagans need to make sure to change this misconception within our own community.

In my travels, I have met pagans of all types: straight, gay, transgendered, polyamorous, republican, democrat, monogamous, bisexual, omnisexual, and more. Imagine me trying to tell one of my lesbian friends that they’re being closed minded because they choose not to be intimate with men? Crazy thought, huh? Yet people seem to think it’s ok to do the same to a pagan who chooses to be a little more circumspect, a little less “out there” than some. Personal preference is personal preference. No matter how convincing you think you are, it’s not your job to “turn me” into something I’m not.

I will admit that I am a little more conservative than most of my pagan friends. I don’t have tattoos, no multiple piercings, and really the only thing that separates me from my neighbors is that I have a few more Deities than they do. Like many, maybe most pagans, I think that as long as you don’t intentionally hurt others, what you do in the privacy of your own home is your own beeswax. I don’t need to know about it, nor do I need to feel guilty because I don’t partake in it. In spite of my boringness, I am a good pagan. I write, I teach, I learn, I share what I know with others, I participate in my local pagan community. I don’t need to prove my “pagan-ness”. I’ve seen new pagans feel that they need to take part in activities they wouldn’t normally indulge in, only to prove that they’re not “closed minded” or too square to be a pagan.

There are people in the community who sometimes feel that their activities outside paganism are what paganism is. Paganism is not being a vegetarian, it’s not BDSM, it’s not your sexual practices, it’s not your gender preferences, it’s not the clothes you wear or the political causes you take up. They are not part of your pagan practice – they are part of your personal practice, which is different for everyone. What makes one a pagan is actually very simple: do you connect with Deity? Do you recognize the cycles of the earth as sacred? Do you honor every person you meet as an aspect of the God and Goddess? The Gods don’t care what you do when you close your bedroom door. Nor do they care what style of clothes you wear, or what political candidate you are backing this year. They care about your integrity, your spiritual evolution and whether or not you are true to yourself (and others).

Over a decade ago, I met a woman who was beaten severely at the hands of her “high priest” (non-caps intentional). He was into bondage/discipline/sado-masochism and incorporated it into his practice. It made me a little sick to my stomach to think that there are people out there who define paganism by the use of these behaviors. What consenting adults do is not my concern…but it isn’t my faith either, and I resent people trying to tell me that it is.

Yep, this is my pet peeve and though most pagans are not guilty of it, the ones who are guilty of this have affected my interactions with pagans to a great extent. As a rule, there’s a “live and let live” mentality in pagandom. But there are a handful of folks out there who continue to view more conservative folks – or perceived conservatism (as I’m pretty liberal when compared to mainstream folks) – as an attack or judgment against them. They look at people like me with derision, as if we are elitist or have some sort of superiority complex. When more conservative pagans say “It’s not my thing”, they sometimes hear “I don’t do it because it’s a bad thing and you’re bad for doing it.” That is not the case at all.

Being a pagan is about honoring our spiritual Selves and connecting with our own Divine nature; it’s about recognizing and respecting our unique differences and needs. It’s not about who is a “better” pagan or making an assumption about someone’s spiritual evolution based upon the person they choose as a partner, what they choose to wear or what causes they wish to champion. The way to be a better pagan is to transcend these petty fallacies and to be the best person you can.