Most of my early youth was spent living in (what was then) West Germany during the 1970s. I saw large portions of the German countryside, thanks to my parents’ desire for the family to participate in what was termed as a “non-competitive fitness walking” – otherwise known as “Volksmarching.” Loosely translated, the word means “People’s walk” and were 5km, 10km and 20km walks throughout a local area. The trails were pre-determined by the local Volksmarch Association that put on the event. For me, as a child, the incentive was the “medal” that was given at the end of the walk. I have around eighty of these medals….somewhere. I cannot recall what each medal was for or what the walk for it looked like, but I do have some strong memories of a few walks through the Black Forest area of Germany.
The dark canopies were sometimes a bit frightening, particularly at times near dusk. I knew about the typical forest denizens to watch for – the hardly ever seen wolves and the more formidable (and far more territorial) wild Boar. However, I also looked into the tightly packed forest and wondered what might be deeper off the well-marked and well-worn Path that we were on. Perhaps, there was an evil Witch living just beyond the sight of normal humans, waiting for the wayward child to wander from the Path? Or maybe a wild pack of Goblins. A wild pack of “das Wichtelmännchen” (literally “Goblins”) making their way through the woods in parallel to those of us on the trail. Just waiting for the group to split into smaller numbers so as to make their attack all the more easy. Ah the wonders of a child’s over-active imagination. And yet….
The reality of living in 1970s Germany was a bit more frightening than some may have thought. My parents rarely spoke of the terrorists there, but there were active anti-American terrorist cells operating in Germany. The operations of the Red Army Faction, also known as the Baader-Meinhof Gang took place during the time I lived in Germany. I do not recall any of this and was only made aware of this type of danger upon my arrival in Germany in the 1990s for my own active-duty military tour.
There is danger everywhere. Even danger that you are not fully aware of, if ever. I lived in a country during a time where service members and their families were considered “legitimate” targets by those opposed to the American forces on stationed on German soil (a conversation for another time). I can recall the numerous times that my friends and I would wander into the fields directly across the street from base housing and wander throughout the wooded area. In one area, there was a cave that had been constructed into the rock of a hill side, where all the dependent children would go to smoke and do things that kids do as a form of rebellion from their parents. We were off of base housing, off of military housing and there were certainly a lot of “shady” Germans that wandered through the area as well. There were no guard shacks barring entry to the base housing area. Certainly, military police patrolled the area frequently, but safeguards here were not the same as those on the actual military installations. Civilian traffic frequently utilized part of base housing as a “shortcut” from one area to another. Thinking it through my head today, we were such easy, exploitable targets for an organization with no ethical core, such as the Baader-Meinhof Gang.
Thinking back, I always wondered at my complete innocence over something so real, while I had that great chill down my spine over the potential existence of das Wichtelmännchen. The real difference was in how I assimilated information and formulated the concept of danger. I am quite sure I saw news stories about the Baader-Meinhof Gang’s exploits on Armed Forces Network (AFN) television. But that was television. At age eight, it was difficult to understand and formulate the concept of danger.
I wonder if, in some ways, much of this type of adjustment to danger can be applied to Pagans that are new on their Path? They meet all these new Pagan folks that are nice to them, welcoming and so loving and helpful. They open their arms in trust and walk right into the arms of the Predators that are prevalent in the community. Yes, there are predators within the Pagan community. Individuals seeking sex, power and even wealth from unsuspecting newbies. We have all heard about these situations before. Either directly from such victims (typically after the fact) or third-hand from others. They step on the Path and come to the large public gatherings. They meet so many other people, including those that promise to divulge the deep, dark secrets of Great, the Amazing Witch of the South. All you need to do is become my students and follow the instructions that I provide to you. Yeah. Thirty-plus years as a Pagan, I’m highly unlike to fall for crap like that. Someone that is thirty-plus days on their own Path, likely sees that Path to get-Witch-quick, a chance to be as powerful, knowledge and wise as those that are thirty years on their Pagan Paths and those newbies leap for it. Right into the jaws of their predators.
Honestly, they didn’t know any better. They are moving along their path and they see Power for what it is – Power. And they think they don’t have it. And they need it. They want it. They want the short-cut, so they don’t have to do the work. Because they still feel the pull of the overly commercialized and power-driven world we live in. They hear the call of the pack of das Wichtelmännchen just beyond the trees. Instead of being frightened by it, instead of being on guard because of it…they are curious and drawn towards it. What they will need is someone that is on the Path that can intervene and tell them that it is best to stay on the well-worn Path for the time being. To learn from others that teach them not for a sexual favor, but for a love of the knowledge and a desire to pass it on to others. Those who teach have an obligation to do so ethically, but to also nurture their students into a love of the knowledge as well. Those that do not teach, should have a desire to protect wherever possible. Between these two points is where I find myself.
What do you think? Not just as an individual to whatever Path, tradition or organization that you find yourself, do you find yourself in a position to teach these new Pagans on how to find and walk their own path? Do you find a desire to help them avoid some of the pitfalls that others can find themselves on? I’m a Druid. I’ll help any individual that needs to find an ethical group or individual to learn from, regardless if its my Path as a Druid or not. I owe it to them to be the helping hand that I needed so badly back on the beginnings of my Path. I owe it to that new Pagan that had such difficult understanding where his own footing was, right in the middle of the Witch Wars of Dallas and then at the initial footsteps of the Satanic Panic of the 1980s. I know we all laugh about the newbies and the Rainbow Pagans and the White-Lighters that we all encounter. But those fluffy bunnies are typically new to their respective Paths and in some cases are not sure of where to step without creating offense to others. I’m not really feeling a need to let them run into das Wichtelmännchen on chance…..