A few days ago, I finished listening to Episode 70 – “Asfidity and Mad-Stones with Byron Ballard” from the podcast Down at the Crossroads. Its a delightfully charming episode with discussion covering a wide and varied range of topics. At one point in the episode, the discussion turns towards aspects of the Pagan community, and Byron Ballard commented that things seemed to be much more accepting of differences back in the 1980s (I’m paraphrasing heavily here). She offered an example of two people approaching the same God or Goddess in different ways and achieving different results.
All of this, of course, set my mind into overdrive, remembering what Paganism was like when I first started on my Path back in late 1986 / early 1987. And I do recall that there was a lot more patience for an over-questioning newbie, such as myself. I would go down to a local (well, it was over 50 miles from the Air Force base I was stationed at, but it was as local as things can get in the sprawling DFW MetroMess) Pagan bookstore called “Flight of the Phoenix” in Grand Prairie. Here, the Grandmother Priestess to the coven I was in ran the shop and was always available for conversations. Pattalee Glass-Koentop was extremely patient with my twice monthly visits. I would show up around 9am, and stay until somewhere near 2pm. We would talk about dreams that I had, or questions that I encountered in reading various books or she would recommend another book to read when I had finished one. All the while, she knew I would be back in another two weeks to talk more. There were a few times she referred to me as a “silly boy” when I tried to relate how a particular passage in a book was conveyed to me as a reader, but never once did she shove me aside and treat me any differently from any other Pagan because I was a newbie.
I left the DFW area in late 1990, and eventually found myself in the Kaiserslautern area in Germany. It was there that I saw some of what newbies can experience. The disdain for those who “don’t know enough” or have experiences with Gods or Goddesses that someone holds dear to their own personal practice. I wrote a lot of that off to the fact that nearly every single one of us had to be slightly underground with our practices. The US military has been, and continues to be, dominated by Southern Baptist members. I experienced a lot of issues when I decided to be public about what I was, and helped spearhead an effort to eventually gain Chapel rights for Pagans throughout the US military. When I returned to the DFW area, as a I left the US military and transitioned back to civilian life, I found a very different Pagan community landscape.
Newbies were held at arm’s’ length and not generally welcomed. Members of other Pagan groups were treated with suspicion. The “White-Light-and-Love” group of folks were treated as pariahs, and openly ridiculed by some. This was a time frame where I decided to withdraw from the Pagan community and ply my Spiritual Path alone.
Much of what I saw then, continues to play out into today’s Pagan community. Byron is correct in her statement – the Pagan community was a bit more accepting than it is today. There is a lot of what Tara related in the episode as “The One True Way” ™. For me, there’s a lot more need to be empirical in what we state, and less accepting of the idea that each individual will forge their own unique relationship with each of the Gods.
For example, John Beckett – someone that I consider to be a friend – has a strong relationship with Cernunnos and with Morrigan, a God and Goddess that I have absolutely zero connection with. But if I did, my relationship with either or both would be different than his. Just as the relationship that John and I have is different than the relationships we have with our mutual friends. We are all unique individuals. The Gods are unique and distinct Beings. How we interact, approach, and even worship Them will be unique to who we are combined with who They are. Would it not stand to reason that each relationship would be unique as well? I would posit that it does. And since those relationships are unique, who am I to be a sentry watching for the slightest bit of wrong in those unique relationships when compared to my own??
I know that there is no going backwards. What’s happened has happened. What’s changed is changed. No one will ever be able to change the shape of the community back to what it was. The community is always changing, always morphing into something new. With each passing day, new people come to Paganism and Polytheism on their own individual Paths. Many come through the same, worn steps of before. Some come from completely different directions. But they all continue to come. And others also leave Paganism as well. Just as your body regenerates new cells, it also sheds old ones too. Our Pagan community is no different. We cannot go backwards, but perhaps, we can infuse a little more acceptance of the newer folks coming on to their Pagan and Polytheistic Paths. For they will be the future. They are the new cells regenerating and growing our Community. And if we teach them acceptance by being accepting of them and their experiences – then perhaps, just perhaps…we can realize a true dream. Where Paganism and Polytheism are accepted “normal” Paths of Spirituality within our worldwide community. Where the Gods and Goddesses can be worshipped openly and without fear. And what an awesome dream that can be…