Friday, April 7, 2017

The Problem of Accountability


We have a problem in the Contemporary Pagan community. It’s a structural problem and not one easily overcome. You see, we have an issue with ethics. Bear with me, I’ll explain as we go. First to set the primer a bit, we are not alone in this issue. As a New Religious Movement (NRM), it is a trait we have in common with other NRMs, and like them the issue is engrained in our structure and is both crowned in stars and simultaneously soiled in mud. Finding the balance of how to correct things, the chewing up the meat and spitting out the bones part, is and will remain a challenge.


Our collective issue is not that we don’t have ethics or teachings within our various practices. Nay, not at all. In fact, Contemporary Paganism is saturated with numerous principals, tenets, and virtues. The personal delving of our own inner morality tends to be something that we are good at teaching. This is part of our practice’s appeal, the individualistic and personal nature of the movement. In contrast, as a collective we suck at Professional Ethical Accountability and Standardization. As an aside note and for full disclosure of this discourse, there are some organizations within the scope of Contemporary Paganism that have bodies of governance and enforcement of standardized ethics for both their leaders and priest/esses. However, their influence does not extend beyond their own borders. As such, whether we like it or not, the whole of our movement must contend with the good and the ugly that results from the nature of the beast.


To really dig into the root of the issue, it is prudent to know more about NRMs and the traits that Contemporary Pagandom have as a result. Just as there is no strict definition of religion academically speaking, there is no strict definition of what exactly is a New Religious Movement. It is an oversimplification of the nuances thereof to simply state that NRMs are nothing more than a religious group whose beliefs and/or practices are deemed deviant within the larger culture. Though not all NRMs follow the same pattern of organization, there are some mutual family resemblances that take the understanding of the base definition and narrow it enough for a common framework.


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(1) A district alternative in belief and/or practice:


Cultural deviance is nothing more than behavior that differs from the established norm of the overarching society to which the individual or sub-group are counted amongst. Deviance is relative then to the culture, society, and group based upon the shared mores thereof— it’s all about group context. There is, however, no objective context by which deviance is defined.


In regards to Western society, Christianity and the Abrahamic Faiths have dominated religious culture for thousands of years and so many of the particulars therein have become synonymous with Western culture, for example, the assumed religious paradigm is that of orthodoxy vice orthopraxy. In the Western context or religious beliefs and practices, NRMs are considered deviant. Considering this, Contemporary Paganism differs distinctly from our own overarching society in both practice and assumed beliefs. In short, we have this family resemblance.


(2) Relatively small:


Google just how many of us there are and you will quickly get mixed results. The truth is, when we compare our numbers, regardless of the numbers, against the scale of the world’s largest religions we don’t even make the top ten list. Take a look at just the West or the U. S. and you’ll find us still far down the list.


(3) A Charismatic and/or authoritative leader:


Just like my earlier caveat, there are some organizations within our greater movement that have structures setup to prevent this. They have bylaws, elections, etc. Also it is not true of all decentralized groups or individuals but for the majority of Contemporary Paganism people tend to follow the latest personality, big name teacher, authors, and shop owners. Whether any of these people like it or not, some do and some don’t, they are the individuals that stand out and attract groups about themselves.


(4) Emphasize subjective experience and personal subjectivity:


Almost the entirety of our community, though we are beginning to grow beyond this phase of movement development, are comprised of converts. Remember that religions grow in two ways, conversion and birth-rate. Want to appeal to those seeking religious truth? Make it about the individual and their specific journey. It does not take an academic to see that we do this.


(5) Boundary demarcation that stress conformity:


The concept of self, or self-concept, from a psychiatric perspective is defined as “the totality of the individual’s thoughts and feelings with reference to themselves and can be characterized in terms of diverse dimensions, different regions, different planes, etc”. Not to be confused with the ego. In short, it is how an individual sees themselves in a multitude of various ways. It is the total sum of the individual’s internalized dialogue within the self-defined frames of the experience of the external world. For example, an individual can include both the identity of being a mother and a sister in their concept of self but their own order of importance placed upon each of these roles refines the whole of their self-concept.


Just as the mores is the cultural expression of the group, the concept of self is the individual expression. Likewise, religion is a core factor both in the overarching cultural identity and the individual’s subjective identity. It has been suggested then that the alluring force of New Religious Movements drives from the concept of self when the desire for a spiritual life exists but the larger cultural interpretation does not concur with their internal dialogue of self. The complexity of the concept of self found amongst some NRMs members is entangled in interpersonal relationships that are other-dependent or of strict independence. This desire fit in while being separate has been found to exist amongst the majority of New Religious Movement members here in the West.


As a NRM comprised largely of converts, it is our business to teach, with classes even, exactly who we are, what we do, what we believe, and how to be one of us. It is about identity and we draw the line in the sand that says this is us.


(6) Self-viewed as authentic by long tradition:


Holy crap. Anyone that has been around our community for ten minutes has run into this. Our early history is chopped full of nothing but stories of being direct descendants of the ancient past. I am happy to say though, that most of the Contemporary Pagans I know today, and the movement as a whole, have left any such fantasies long behind. We do, however, allow scholarship of the past to inform our practice today.


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These resemblances are not all-encompassing though, for it is the over-arching culture that provides the context. For example, in Japan Zen Buddhism would not be considered a New Religious Movement but in the survey book Religious and Spiritual Groups in Modern America it is listed as a NRM within the context of 1980s America.


Our own manifestation of the NRM phenomenon is one with a decentralized structure and organization. There is no overarching organization or hierarchy, though we do have organizations that have hierarchies. There is no board of leaders or head of the religion institution. There is no institution.


On one hand this is a glorious thing of pure beauty. The sheer nature of being decentralized allows for maximum personalization and a plethora of religious expression without the confines of strict orthodoxy. I love this aspect. LOVE IT. The array of religious expressions that exist within the confines of our community are a thing to behold in wonder and glory. It is crowned in the stars.


Likewise, there are trappings that come with decentralization. As a whole, though not always within individual organizations: No one vets our leadership. There is no body of standardized training. No certification of quality. No institutionalized accountability. In many ways, this is not a problem. In regards to ethics, it is. In this regards, our feet are soiled in the mud.


Let us take the case of Kenny Klein. He was a leader in the greater Contemporary Pagan community beyond the boundaries of his Blue Star Coven*. After his 2014 arrest many came forward with stories of his past behavior that were clear red flags.  Go read more about it here. Would a board of professional oversight and ethics have prevented victims and his continued leadership? I dunno. But there isn’t one and so we will never know. Nor can I say that the creation of such an institution is recommended.


The bottom line here is that we must recognize and contend with the fact that there is no person other than ourselves to hold one another accountable. I don’t have an answer to correcting the issue either. All I can offer is the advice to speak out, vote with your feet, and be the first line of accountability for in our decentralized movement there aren't any others.






Boidh Se!


-SM


“Lost in a thicket, bare-foot upon a thorn path.”



*There are many great Blue Star folks out there and he should not be the litmus test for their character.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

You are the SUM in the Flesh!


Although I have done some work on the Temple lately, unpacking boxes and moving things around, I have not established any altars as of yet. Today, I will set up the Ancestors first. No my Gods and Goddesses, not my various patrons, or a work space, or even a dedicated space for the Family Altar and Deities. The Ancestors are first.

The Ancestors are first because they are the root from which the whole tree of my life has grown, without them I would not be. You don’t have to have liked your departed kin in life, or even have gotten along, for them to always, and I mean ALWAYS, be there for you spiritually and magickally. They have passed unto the last great initiation and no longer hold judgment or the bias of life. They have your back—always. For you see, you are the SUM of their incarnation in the flesh.

Your Ancestors have an invested interest in your well-being and success. This is why they will come and give their best advice (which you may not always like), work on your behalf, stand as front-line guardians against anything that opposes your prosperity, and much more. By dedicating space for them, you give them a physical space to “sit” and be involved in the affairs of your life.

You don’t even have to know who your Ancestors were to tap into a relationship with them. If there is blood in your veins then you can reach them. Additionally, not all Ancestors are “of the blood” and may be tied to the particular land upon which you live or link through your lineage and or membership with an established group. All of these are important to have some basic relationship with. It doesn’t need to be complicated. Simply by giving them offerings of dark bread or red wine will do wonders. As you lift them up, so too will they lift you.

I’m not going to dig too deeply into the intricacies of working with one’s Ancestors, but if you don’t already work with them, it may be time. Start with just one, and have a bit of tea.

Boidh Se!

-SM

“Lost in a thicket, bare-foot upon a thorn path.”

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Gateway of Eternity



Listen to the rhythm of the beat. Whether it comes by drum or rattle doesn’t matter. Or if it is in the resonance of a chant or the stomping of feet doesn’t matter. Listen to the beat and let the time between echo into the background. The rhythm does not have to come by instrument but can be the swish of the broom when cleaning, the pounding of one’s feet when running, or even the breathe as it pauses on the in and out. It doesn’t matter; just find the rhythm and focus.

Focus upon just the moment of the stroke. Grasp for it just as is slips between the proverbial fingers of the mind—ever changing. Each zenith passes into the past to be refocused upon the next. Hold space for the beat and nothing else, focus there. Allow the beats to become one, to become a gateway through which your awareness steps across the abyss of the personal into that of the eternal.

Boidh Se!

-SM

“Lost in a thicket, bare-foot upon a thorn path.”

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Bring on the Basics




One of my Craft teachers-past once told me that one of the first things to get thrown out in magickal/spiritual practice was meditation. Although I advocate heavily in favor of a strong mediation practice, that’s not what I am on about in this blog though I will mention mediation in regards to my experience. When life gets hectic, busy, chaotic, or simply out of the norm, it is the basics of our routine practice that get neglected first.

Think about your own practice. Honestly, when was the last time you did a relaxation exercise or basic grounding exercise merely for the practice of that specific technique? Maybe my stone cast doesn’t hit you, which is great. But if you are like me, “when the going gets tough…” you put them off. You let that part of yourself that likes the comfortable and routine and easy talk you out of it. This is part of being human; overcoming it is also part of developing discipline in one’s practice.

I’ve spent the better part of the last month in some stage of moving roughly 1,800 miles (about 2,896 km) across the map. My altars are all in boxes, all my tools, and other than BoS*, which I don’t trust the movers with, so is my library. This is the time when the basics are the most beneficial, not when set in a routine of normalcy or within the general range of comfort, but when life steps out of the norm.

Yet, the basics went right out the window, most of them anyway. There are a small handful of daily practices that I’ve kept up but most of them flew the coup fairly quickly. Now that I’ve arrived and things are beginning to come out of boxes it is time to reestablish a whole host of practices. However, just as they were the first to go, the basics need to be the first to return. Not all at once either. Every few days to a week, after getting the previously added set back into routine, I’ll add another in until the whole corpus of my Craft is up and running in this new place.

This morning I sat** for the first time since before the move began and I plan to sit again later tonight. I have nothing else on my practice schedule at the moment other than sit twice a day until the habit has returned and then I’ll pick up something else. This doesn’t mean I won’t do things like set up my Temple space or go meet the local spiritual landscape, just that my focus on getting the basics back on track is first.

So if you have fallen off the proverbial basics horse, add them back in—gradually. Or if you’ve never really had a regular practice that includes the basics, it might be time to pick them up. There is a reason they are the foundational basics.

Boidh Se!

-SM

“Lost in a thicket, bare-foot upon a thorn path.”



*Book of Shadows

**It’s kinda code around my house for what in mediation circles is known as cushion time. If I say I’m gonna go “sit” in the Temple for a few, everyone knows I’m going to go meditate.

Monday, March 20, 2017

The Nomad's Life



My life just transformed itself. It was not unexpected but it is major. As I have mentioned on occasion in this blog, I move every three years or so. Well, my time in New Orleans came to an end at the beginning of the month. I learned a lot while there, made many great friends, and my Craft grew by leaps. I am glad for the transfer though as the long hours that my previous position at work required was full of stress—tons.

As I type this, I am sitting on my air mattress awaiting the delivery of my household via the moving company in two days’ time. For the first time in my life, I am on the West Coast of the U.S. and have found myself in a place I don’t know. It can be quite transgressive learning about new areas and
temporarily putting down roots. I’m a nomad by occupation and though I am sure I will love my time here, I know that there will be an end.

There is much to do in the coming weeks. There is a new Temple Room to establish, consecrate, and bless. There are altars to unpack, spirit allies to welcome into their new homes, and a landscape to learn. The land here is not the South Eastern forest I have known my entire life. The flora and fauna are alien.

I went running yesterday and didn’t know the names of almost all of the plants, no birds, and even saw a lizard that I can’t identify. As a Witch, I have my work cut out for me. Also I need to meet the genii loci of the area, ancestors, patrons, and much more. I need to learn of the local indigenous peoples. I need to stir the landscape and fold it into the vocabulary of my Arte. Finally, but hopefully not last, I need to find Her Hidden Children. I know they are here and have already made electronic acquaintances, but that isn’t the same as standing in the circle with them.

It is a whole lot to consider. I’ve decided to take a middle road approach. I’ll make a list of what needs to be done but approach it with whims and let spirit lead when to mark off an item. Mostly though, I sit and once again have the blank potential of a new place before with which to create my life for the next few years.

I can't forget, and hopefully this post reminds you, that the potential for transformation lay in each moment and that one does not need to move across the country to make change.


Boidh Se!

-SM

“Lost in a thicket, bare-foot upon a thorn path.”

Friday, January 27, 2017

The "M" Word


The “M” Word

 



Did you know that something as trivial as the name for a Sabbat quickly divides Traditionalists into corners? If not, I’m gonna tell you enough about it that you can scoff (maybe), form an opinion, and engage in any such nonsense as you determine merited. Cause Witches are all about having opinions!

 

The thing to remember here isn’t that it causes tons of drama, since most Traditionalists are ready to just let it be whatever it is, but that some initiates find it rant inducing for some reason. Okay, so it does spark enough drama in the back and dark corners of Yahoo and Facebook groups to warrant mentioning.

 

If you are one of those people, no hate from me if you are, that likes to celebrate Mabon then you might be causing some eyes to twitch. Here is the thing, that isn’t the name traditionally used in any of the Books of Shadows or by any of the early initiates. The use of Mabon came into popular use by ways of bad research and association of the Autumn Equinox with Mabon from Welsh mythology. AND it is bad research. Horribly bad.



Here is the short list on what exactly peeves some:
  1. It is not the given name.
  2. It is based on bad research.
  3. The source of said bad research.

Although you didn’t ask, here is my opinion. Like all Witches I have more than one.
 
I don’t really care. I learned the name and used the name long before I learned any of the above. I don’t associate the name with the Mabon of Welsh Mythology. Being from the Southern U.S., I don’t even pronounce them the same. To me they are different. On the other hand, I get it. Bad research is bad research and equating the two even incidentally only continues to perpetuate such.
 
Opinions aside, the more important issue is about actions, what do I do? Even more importantly, what do you do? Me, I mostly metaphorically slam through popcorn every time the subject comes up and sides are taken. Beyond that, I don’t say Mabon amongst Traditionalists as the specific mysteries of the rites around that time of The Wheel are best correlated with the given name. In generalized Contemporary Pagan company, I just roll with whatever.
 
I can’t tell you what to do, if anything (but non-action totally counts as an action). You decide. Also feel free to have multiple opinions on the matter, or not, and/or do lots of research about why it is or isn’t bad research (It is!).
 
If you didn’t know any of that before, consider yourself enlightened, or hopefully mildly amused at the least. I can’t say that you or the world are a better place as a result of this blog. BUT I can say: Today’s blog was brought to you today by boredom, amusement, and a bit of sleep deprivation from life commitments. Many blessings!
 
Boidh Se!
 
-SM
 
“Lost in a thicket, bare-foot upon a thorn path.”