Over the past several years I got increasingly tired of participating in the Pagan/Witchcraft community as a whole. Especially after going to college and hyper focusing on a more academic critical thinking view of witchcraft. The greatest down fall of our community is we have a dogma we don’t like to admit we have. We are each very set on a particular belief system that reinforces our perception that what we do is legitimate. In our attempt to break away from a monotheistic-dogma dominate society…we internalize the need for dogma to feel legitimate in other ways. For example trying to claim that what we do is more ancient and rooted in old ancestry, that goes back thousands of years, more so then others. Yet from an academic critical-historical perspective next to no evidence exists that the majority of what we do, how we conceptualize it, and how we practice it looks anything like said ancestors might of perceived their connection to nature, spirits, and old Gods and Goddesses. Essentially everything we do and think is informed by people using imaginative reinterpretations of what they thought and felt it “might of” been like…but there is little to no evidence anything we do was actually done that way in time immemorial. If anything there is evidence to show dramatic inconsistencies in the things we do to what little things we know about ancient societies when you really put it under a critical microscope. Yet so many Pagans and Witches are convinced their version of witchcraft or Pagan Mysticism is more legitimate then others around them, and the more dogmatic they are about it…the more I question “who are you trying to convince…me? Or YOU?”
I have come to accept my personal path of witchcraft is not about ancient legitimacy, its about both personal and modern applicability. I do not seek my perception of the Gods and Goddesses I worship to match perfectly the ancient world they came from. If they do indeed exist, I feel it reasonable they would change with the time to continue to be applicable to the modern world and those that wish to build a relationship with them (who live modern lives). Or if (as many more psychological modeled witch theorists suggest) they are simply archetypal symbols conceptualized in our mind, then they are more applicable to us being adjusted to our modern perception of the world. I also do not feel my relationship with Gods and spirits has to be the same to other practitioners to be legitimate. The God Lugh comes to me as an youthful very homoerotic image…to you he may appear gruff, aged, and full of old wisdom and completely heterosexual. To me his personality could be very nurturing, gentle, and sensual, where to you he is destructive, powerful, and forceful. Or he could be something grey in between. Does a deity have to appear the same to everyone? Would a deity be effective in connecting to mortals if it could not change its personality and appearance to be effective in connecting to different people that seek it out? Or is the sum total of Lugh only to be rigidly interpreted by what can be found in texts like the Book of Invasions, the and his phonetic counterpart in welsh: “Llew” in the Mabinogion? If there is one thing I learned as a Religious Studies B.A. in college…spirituality and religion is in NO WAY objective like science. Even when spiritual people attempt to borrow concepts from science to legitimate themselves…its still ultimately a subjective and creative, and entirely NOT objective, reinterpretation of the scientific information full of gap assumptions to reinforce a per-existing bias. Is it fair to say no one has a monopoly on what is the most correct perception of deity and spirits? That the spirit realm, rather nothing but symbols interpreted by our minds or conscious beings that operate independently from us (or some grey obscurity inbetween), is not something we can measurement like gravity or chemical compounds. It’s something that will never fallow a 100% objective consistency. Nor will it be consistent with one person’s perception of it versus another person’s perception entirely.
Lets also consider less theological aspects of our tradition and other supernatural aspects. Such as psychic/intuitive skills. I can tell you now, even the most skilled and respected psychic-mediums are only going to be accurate about 80% of the time. And that’s just talking about people that teach and do said practice as a professional living. Growing up in a community that valued intuitive skills, I can say now watching how intuitives can get dogmatic or locked in a self-referential universe can be rather exhausting. No doubt, in a good group people are going to pick up similar perceptions of things without using words to communicate. It’ll seem and feel miraculous and compelling to assign them an almost blind faith “legitimacy” to lift them above other perceived “fakes.” But I guarantee you that does not make them right about everything all the time, nor does it make people who might perceive things differently or that use different methods less legitimate. Ever gone to ritual where you felt a strong supernatural experience, then to another where your perception of the supernatural mechanics doesn’t feel as strong or even non-existent? Often when people go through this experience what is the first typical thoughts they seem to have? That the less powerful experience is less legitimate? Yet not everyone there is perceiving the experience the same was. Some people there may very well find something “powerful” or something otherwise meaningful which makes them find a sense of legitimacy in that experience. Who are you grand pumba Pagan self-defined High Priest(ess) to tell them they are wrong in that feeling and you are right? OR that you are somehow are more spiritually evolved or more “powerful” because of it. It’s one thing to feel you are simply not compatible with a group, another to try and establish yourself as more legitimate then they are.
Here in lies the problem, our need to feel like the uncertainty of something supernatural is “real” and legitimate for us…turns into a competition of who’s arbitrary and self-referential dogma is more correct. This kind of mentality destroys good Pagan communities…and frankly makes having a quality community based on mutual love and respect almost impossible. We draw many to our religion because we wish to be a safe house free of the dogma found in our society’s main stream monotheistic religions. However, we recreate the problem of dogma in our own way. Yes you have STRONG SPIRITUAL feelings about something, but so do others and sometimes they are going to not be consistent with each other or they may even conflict. Does it have to be a clash of ego where you have to decide who’s personal experiences are more valid? Or is there a way to realize personal experiences are not the monopoly on Truth? They are not meant to be universal to all. You can co-exist with one who doesn’t share the same perceptions of the supernatural…without being an asshole about it.
The Pagan communities over the years I have come to respect the most and enjoy the most are the ones that do the best at not getting destroyed by competition to prove who’s personal belief system is more legitimate. They have a good understanding of what the difference is between a scientific fact and personal perception of an experience. They don’t confuse the two as the same. My deity’s are highly queer and homoerotic. They defy traditional heteronormative and gender binary definitions of what occult systems typically define. My Sun male Deity is receptive. Poetically the Sun is the center of the solar system. The planets revolve around it. He explains this as from his brilliance and beauty he draws those in other Gods and people who seek to merge with him and adore him. He’s seductive attraction makes him a Gay bottom God. Totally defying the common idea that the Sun is projective and hetero-masculine. Indeed my Sun God is male and has masculine homoerotic features but he is by no means primarily projective. Does that mean than, that I do not have a legitimate relationship with a Sun God? Pagans who are relying on a more heteronormative model and do not experience his mysteries in the same way. Does that mean those who do not experience the Sun God as homoerotically “receptive” and not “projective” do not have a Truthful connection to him? No, I do not feel this way. I feel its important that if I participate in a larger Pagan community for me to be around those I can express and share my experiences. But also respect and share the experiences of others that do not perceive it the same way.
Just as my undergrad research on a psycho-social theory application of the study of Paganism found. We are all draw to this counter cultural religion…because the majority of us are marginalized or disenfranchised with society in some way. We have an unhealthy relationship with power in our daily lives, and we need a space to feel “empowered.” But that often becomes an imperfect process of healing for many of us. I know it continues to be with me. Having to challenge myself to constantly ask “am I reacting instead of responding right now?…how can I be more conscious about my emotional reactions to things?” It’s an imperfect process of healing that takes a lot of time and a loving and understanding community of people conscious about the same work. That’s what for me has determined, over the years what a “quality Pagan” community is. These are people who are aware we are a counter-culture of outcasts and have difficult wounds with abusive power in our lives because of the society we live in. Lets create a community where we can heal, and disarm each other with love when we go on unhealthy power trip and compete for legitimacy with each other.