For the last few days (since Wednesday), I have been trying to come up with something to write about – and just have not found anything rattling around in the empty can of my brain. I’ve also been watching the televised aspects of the funeral of Representative Elijah Cummings. Both celebrations have been wonderful to witness, and have also shown the depth of this man’s passion for not only his constituents, but also for human beings the world over. There was a quote of his that kept being bandied about over and over, which got me into a thought process which I am about to detail here.
Our children are the living messengers we send to a future we will never see… –Rep. Elijah Cummings
This particular quote was backed up by a lot of things that Rep. Cummings did for the youth of his Congressional district, as well as people all over the country and the world. His actions backed his words to the nth degree. He provided opportunities for younger children that might never have been afforded to them, allowing for experiences that will surely change their lives. His goal was to provide the chance for our divided society to find common ground, heal from that point, and grow from that healing. That was his vision, and its a beautiful one to behold. I do await the fruits that his efforts will create through others that will carry on that legacy. And this brought a thought to my mind…
What are we doing to grow as a wider Pagan community? Now, you have heard me talk about how the children are important to whatever future we grow as Pagans, but as Pagans, we also tend to allow our children to explore and find their own way through their Spiritual needs. And for the most part, I’d wager that most of those children will wind up picking a Spiritual path with a touch more structure, most likely a Christian one. No slight to a non-Christian faith, but it makes sense for children to lean towards something a bit more organized…a faith where the large majority of their friends are. And to be completely honest, this is not a bad thing. Most of those children raised in Pagan families will likely carry the moral values that they were taught by their parents and other Pagan adults into their new faith. We can only hope that they remain strong in those aspects when encounter the less Christian aspects within the Christian faith in their later lives. But its not the young children that I am leaning towards in my question. What are we doing for the younger Pagans in our community?
Growing Up and the Seeds of Leadership
Everyone can remember their painful, awkward first steps into Paganism – whatever that may be. I remember mine. It was the beginning of Fall in 1986. I was stationed at Carswell Air Force Base. I had been calling various Bulletin Boards in the local area, and participating in the discussions. Eventually, I came across one called “The Church Mouse”. I talked with several of the folks there, including a pair of Pagans. One was a Witch, the other a Ceremonial Magician. We eventually agreed to meetup at a bar called “The Pig and Whistle Pub” in west Fort Worth, not far from the base. We drank a few pints, through some darts and did a lot of talking. I explained my concept of believing that all things had souls, and were part of energy that moved at a slower speed than we could comprehend. I was told that this was Animism, a term I had never heard before. I also explained that I believed that the Roman and Greek Gods were real, and were distinct Beings that we could experience with some thought and patience. It was then that I encountered the concept of Polytheism. And through those two conversations, I had the concept of Paganism explained to me…and I started to realize that what I believed had names, and definitions. I began to realize I was a Pagan.
Now, in 1988, I became part of a group of Wiccans. I was the one that lived the furthest away (they were in North Dallas), and my weekend shift work at the Data Processing Center did not allow me to always join in with the group. I did run into issues with my base Chaplaincy, particularly when my shift (all Charismatic preachers in their off time) found out what I believed. I was warned that my behavior was considered to be “insubordinate” and told to give up my beliefs. I stood my ground, but I did not have anywhere that I could turn to for help. My group were folks who lived fairly closeted lives, so I could not seek assistance without exposing them. So with nowhere else to go, on a day off, I went to a Pagan shop (the only one I knew at the time) in Grand Prairie called “Flight of the Phoenix”. This was where my coven’s Grandmother Priestess was.
She was openly Pagan, and an author – Pattalee Glass-Koentop. I thought she might be able to point me in the right direction. She went into the back of the store and returned with a military manual I had never seen before, something called “Religious Requirements and Practices of Certain Selected Groups: A Handbook for Chaplains“. She explained it was a US Army manual that was used to help Chaplains understand the beliefs of military members that they encountered. Furthermore, military chaplains had to respect the rights and religious practices of everyone, along with insuring command did not trample those rights. Armed with this material, I went back to the Chaplaincy office that afternoon, and explained to our unit-assigned Chaplain how my rights were being trampled over the previous exchange.
In fact, still armed with this material, I joined in two motions to the Department of Defense to change certain aspects of military practice towards minority beliefs. I helped with the argument to change the religious affiliation line on military dog tags for minority beliefs from “Other” to whatever the military member preferred. This allowed for better identification of individuals that were killed on the battlefield to have their respective rites administered correctly. The second initiative was to be accommodated with space by the Chaplaincy for minority groups with assigned lay-leaders. This would keep military personnel from breaking military housing rules by holding religious ceremonies in their apartment housing.
Of course, in both of those matters, I was only one individual of many – along with the folks from Circle Sanctuary and the Aquarian Tabernacle Church of Wicca, who did much of the advocacy state-side. In fact, at my very last Pantheacon attendance, I came across Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary and was able to offer my thanks for all of her and Circle Sanctuary’s assistance. That was quite a moment for me.
Nice story, huh? But there’s a point to all of this. See, thanks to Pattalee’s assistance, I found my ability to stand up to being treated in a bad way. I grew as a Pagan in that moment. I found my ability to stand up and protest were inequality was being done to military members in other issues. I learned to fight back, but to be respectful when doing so. It was Pattalee’s advice that helped me to see where I could do my best to make a difference. Yeah, I continually refuse the aspect of being a leader, but I have done some things that do place that squarely on my shoulders as well.
Remember the quote from Rep. Cummings? Our younger Pagans are those messengers to the future. And it is a future that I will likely never see. I’m fifty-four now (October 1st). I’m in failing health. I have diabetes. I am approaching (as slowly as I can) kidney failure. Let’s face the facts…I always twist away from the idea of being an Elder…but I am. This year starts my thirty-fourth as a Pagan, a label I have never shied away from. I am not going to live forever (though I would love to – I always wanted to go through life with a sword). The future of Paganism is not with me, it is with the younger generation of Pagans. Not only do we need to help them grow beyond the basic concepts that white-lighters tend to espouse, we also need to help grow them for the concepts of leadership. Sure, I have heard many Pagans moan and groan about a coming war with monotheism…I don’t grok that. As I have said before, I do not go looking for a fight. But I will defend my right to live in peace and exist with my own connection/understanding of the world. Not only my right, but the right of EVERYONE. Oh, and mess with those that I love…I will end you.
As our younger Pagans grow, we need to help teach them for those roles of leaders that will seek to defend our rights to live and exist, but also to respect the rights of others to live and exist – and to borrow from the Wiccans – so long as no one is harmed. These younger Pagans will be the Elders of the future. They will be the ones that pass on what we know. They are the ones that will tell our tales, our stories, the stories of our Gods, and mentor their future generations to pass that knowledge, those legends, our stories, and theirs to newer generations.
In a manner of speaking, it is odd for me to be writing something like thus. My own Paganism is one of daily existence and experience – not trying to manipulate the coming experiences of days that have not yet arrived. I strive to live in the now, and yet here I am writing about the future. This is because I have realized two things. First, this knowledge and experiences I have acquired, I am sure that someone in a future generation will find some of this useful in working through their own Spirituality. Gods only know how long my blog will ever exist into the future, but maybe it exists long enough to help someone else. Second, I don’t want to see these traditions die out. I want a Paganism that goes into the future, flourishes and becomes something bigger than any of us imagined. I believe in this experiential approach to our lives. Enough that I hope it is built upon, and exposed to wider group of people. But for that to happen, while we live our existence in day-to-day segments, we also need to build up our knowledge in the younger Pagans, and allow them to expand and grow that knowledge into the future. Sending the messengers with rigid dogma won’t allow things to grow…it will stunt the growth of what we have. We build our future in the knowledge of these younger Pagans, but they will nurture it and explore to make it into something of their own making as well.