About ten days back, I wrote a blog post, I Prefer Individualism Over Gate Keeping, within which I worked through some of the issues I have with the concept of Gate Keeping and why it clashes with my personal default setting of Individualism. Statistically, its the most popular blog post I’ve written this year. However, in discussing this with a few people, I have come to realize that part of it seems to be misunderstood. So I thought it might be a good point to come back and clarify a few points and be a little more clear about what I was intending.
If you are learning from someone else or from some tradition, the lessons that you are taught or typically is what is considered to the basics. You do the best to walk in the manner that they wish to – until you finish the way they want to you or you just can’t finish.
Seemingly, this has been taken to mean that you only learn what you want from some Order or Group or Individual and then you move on when you feel like you’re fulfilled enough to travel in your own direction. Sure, if you want to do things in that manner, that really becomes your business. However, as I have said previously elsewhere, I take my oaths seriously. When I started down my Path within OBOD (Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids), my initiatory perspective was to finish what I was starting. I was, and still am determined to work my way through the three grades. I finished my Bardic grade and am currently working in my Ovate grade. I am determined (and hopefully) that when I finish my Ovate grade, I will be accepted into the Druid grade for the lessons contained therein. Am I after some title? Hardly, my desire is to learn whatever is being offered to me and add all of that to what I do now and into the future. However, there is a moment of Gate Keeping here.
See, there was always the chance that I could have been stopped from going forward from the Bardic to the Ovate grade. There is an aspect of Gate Keeping here. Its not my opinion that matters at this point, its the perspective of others. In fact, if we look at other aspects of Pagan belief systems, we can find all kinds of issues of Gate Keeping that takes place. And like it or not, in those instances, its a necessary thing.
Let’s work from a very specific example – initiatory rites. According to various locations on the internet (various Dictionaries and Wikipedia), an initiation is the action of admitting someone into a secret organization or group, sometimes through the act of a ritual. Most all of us have gone through a form of initiatory rites to be a part of an organization or group that we desired to be a part of. In those initiatory rites, we all faced challenges of some kind. Those challenges were a part of Gate Keeping. You either answered the right way or the wrong way. The right way led you in to become a member of the group or organization. The wrong way led you back to the outside where you were before.
Let’s face some facts here, shall we? Paganism in whatever flavor you can dream up is just not for everyone. And it shouldn’t be. Just as Christianity is not for everyone, as it wasn’t for me. Some aspects of Gate Keeping are necessary to help put some folks on their proper Paths. Or, if you prefer, to help them off the Paths that are not really conducive to their learning. This type of Gate Keeping develops boundaries that are necessary. This is not meant to be the creation of an “exclusive” group of people that are “better” than others. These boundaries are helpful in defining what path individuals are on. For example, the concept of Priesthood. Becoming a Priest is not something everyone will need. Truthfully, Pagans can be defined as their own “Priests” and “Priestesses” as the charge of handling your Spirituality is in your hands. However, Priests, Priestesses and many other roles are also people with specific duties and that is where the boundaries are helpful. Knowing who is who.
To bring another example into all of this, me. I do feel the pull for a formalized role of Priest. However, knowing the roles of a Priest….and being aware of my own limitations at this time…its not something I can fulfill at this time. I have a lot more to learn. I also have a lot of things to “unlearn” as well. In a manner of speaking, I am Gate Keeping myself, if you will allow. I know where my boundaries lay and how these boundaries do not intersect with a defined role as a Priest. I am a Priest unto myself. However, I currently do not intersect with the boundaries laid out for being a formal Priest. One day, I might be ready for that role. In the meantime, I accept where I am and continue to move through Life.
Now, I am referring to some extremely precise points, in terms of Gate Keeping. You just can’t walk up into a group, organization or a tradition and just proclaim you’re part of them. You have to be accepted in, learn their ways and knowledge, and work your way through the organization to become a trusted and respected member. All of that takes time, effort, patience and humility, all preceded by acceptance.
Being a Pagan is a little different. You decide that you are a Pagan, as far as I am concerned – you are just that. Its your self-identity. You want to be a Polytheist, you believe in multiple Gods or in many faces of an Archetypal God and Goddess figure. You are a Polytheist. Your views on Polytheism might be different than my own, but I am hardly the person to tell you that you are or are not one. Your heart is yours. You know it better than I do. I can only go by your words and actions.
I will admit, I detest Gate Keeping, particularly when someone tells me that I am not something that I believe that I am. Just like anyone else, I don’t take too kindly to rudely being told I am wrong. I am; however, open-minded enough to listen. I think that some of the knee jerk reactions to Gate Keeping are likely from the manner in which it is brought up to someone else. However, I am not a Gate Keeper of anything other than what is in my heart and part of my personal existence. And thus, the reason that I prefer Individualism over Gate Keeping. I enjoy getting to know people and placing barriers between us is not likely to allow that to happen. In the end, we will likely discover that we are both different Pagans with opinions that might be in diametrical opposition to one another. However, in my mind, you’re still a Pagan. You’re still a Polytheist (or not if you said you weren’t). Most importantly to me, you’re still you. And Gate Keeping is still a necessary function to help place some defining boundaries in the world around us. But I am still not going to tell you how to walk your own individual Path or how you should approach the Gods (or if you even should). Gate Keeping or not, we all have to walk our Paths individually. “That Path is for your steps alone…”
Hopefully, all of that helps clear up some of the misty version I seemed to have written earlier.