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Responsibility and the Pagan Path
by Boudica
© 2008

I wrote this article back a number of years ago for Witches Companion, and I feel it is still a question that we need to ask in our communities.  It is an article to be read and then open the floor for discussion. It is not a suggestion, rather it is a presentation of concepts, needs and identities that we should be looking at as we grow our local communities, or not. ----Boudica

Paganism is unique as a spiritual path in that it does not tell us what to do.  Rather, we decide for ourselves our own personal ethical standards and set our own values of morality.   While there is a Rede from the Wiccan Traditions, it is not a law; rather it is an advice, a council.  And whether you adapt that Rede as Wiccan or as pagan, it is a choice that is totally up to you.   We have embraced the pagan culture because we believe in the concept of free will.  This also carries over into our pagan spirituality where we feel we are intelligent enough to make decisions for ourselves when it comes to spirituality and the associated philosophies.   We choose the paths we walk, be they sexual, environmental, social, magical or spiritual.  It is our choice and no one else makes it for us.  We are not dictated to, we are not told what to believe, we are not forced into a social structure we have to adhere to, nor are we told what magical practice we need to follow.  No one speaks for us other than the individual.  There are no set leaders representing the whole of the pagan community. 

With the ability to make these choices comes a very unique situation.  Because we make these choices for ourselves, we are responsible for the actions we take.  We live by these choices, acknowledge the choice that we made and that no one else made it for us.  We take the responsibility of making sure our actions are courteous of others and within the confines of social laws.  If we make a poor choice, we admit that it was our own action.  We can do nothing else as we have acknowledged freedom of choice, free will and we exercised those rights.  We then acknowledge the error, make restitution if necessary, learn from the lesson and move on.  With these freedoms come responsibilities. 

We also choose to be independent of the rules of organizations when it comes to spirituality.  We usually do not belong to a large organization or denomination, though we may congregate from time to time with larger groups. There are exceptions, but realize that these so called “larger organizations” are by no means rivals for the size of well established religious congregations.  For the most part, there are groups that are independent of each other, forming their own social structures.  These social structures may interact with other social structures from time to time, but will remain independent.  Even smaller than this are the groups of solitary practitioners, and then the individual practitioners themselves.   The choice to be independent thinkers sometimes can lead us to believe that we can be independent of each other. 

The individuals who run these organizations do not represent the pagan community at large, they speak mostly for themselves and the organization they represent and the membership chooses to follow that organization as long as it continues to represent the individuals’ needs.  This is the nature of the beast and is why many organizations within the pagan community fail.   If the basic focus changes just a little, it may not mesh with the general memberships original thoughts on the organization and the membership moves on to find other organizations, or not, that will meet their needs. 

When we take steps to be independent and self governing, we must also realize that we are taking on the responsibility to work within the accepted social structures without compromising our independence.  This is a very difficult situation to balance and we do encounter conflict.  Laws may not permit our freedom to, say, dress or undress as we would like in areas that may be deemed public.  Our responsibility is to know this, and to be aware of where we can exercise our right.  Or if we feel that this law is bias in some manner, it is our responsibility to pursue legal action to have it examined for purpose and have it removed if it is indeed not for the better of the whole but addresses the interests of a small bias group.  If we choose to ignore the law, and we are arrested or fined, it is our responsibility to acknowledge we broke a law, and pay the restitution, and then further the action by seeking to prove the law has no practical value to the community and that it is the product of an outdated law or bias reasoning.   If we fail to show cause, we must accept the public stance and adhere to the rules that society feels it needs to establish an atmosphere proper for its membership.  We have no recourse at that point, other than to know we did our best.  We don’t always win. 

When we encounter conflict, we need to understand that ignorance is not an excuse.  While we have been taught for a couple of thousand years that we are not “ultimately responsible” for our actions because of a “spiritual force” or that of “environmental” issues.  As pagans we accept the notion of independence of ideas and freedom of thought.  We accept the ability to do away with the spiritual force that supposedly “made us do it” or the restraints of being labeled a “product of our environment”.  We deny the concept of enforced restriction as much as we accept the concept of free will.  These restrictions are challenges that we need to see past, to overcome, in order to be the free thinkers, the independent spirits that we choose to be, or we remain captives of a system to control and manipulate our lives.  We need to deny the conventional concepts of restriction in order to achieve the standards we set for ourselves.  As you can see, what we perceive as freeing us can be just as restricting as that which we perceive as cause for why we are not free. 

We have tools at our disposal to deny the conventional concepts.  We have laws to assure our freedoms, and we can enforce those laws by exercising our rights to challenge any decisions that restrict our rights.  That is how we have attained the position of recognition we have today; not by protesting, but by challenging.  Pagan Headstones, recognition of our status as not for profit and charitable organizations existing without the usual defined concepts of organization are examples of what we can do when we challenge.  Being able to perform legal marriages in some states without the process of ordination or the association with an “officially recognized” religious group are direct results of challenging the system.  We have gotten really good at challenging. 

But in our quest to challenge, we find that we are being challenged and have not taken the time to recognize these challenges and acknowledge our responsibility in these instances.  We are running out of the gate and into the world, but we are also leaving behind some of the reasons we decided to take these paths.  We need to stop and consider who we are and what we represent and accept the responsibility of continuing to be what we claim to be not just for the sake of consistency but also to protect our identity and the freedoms we have come to cherish. 

One of the most common associations in the pagan community is the reference to “earth based spirituality”.  We pride ourselves on our environmental concerns.  We constantly quote “we are responsible for Mother Earth” and yet how many of us really are fully involved in these concerns? 

What do we mean when we say earth based?  What is the full range of this concept?  Are we referencing only the part that makes us comfortable or are easy to incorporate into our daily lives or are we looking at the full balance of nature and focusing on maintaining that balance across the board? 

Being earth based is not a matter of counting the trees, feeding the animals, conserving water and protecting the environment.  A much bigger segment of being earth based are the people who populate the planet.  We make more of an impact on the earth in our everyday living than we can fix in decades worth of weekend seminars or pagan events.  And most of it involves the human condition, which in turn affects water conservation and land management and animal protection.  I have seen people get more excited over animal abuse and take more action to prevent soil erosion than they do to prevent a child from going hungry. 

One of the drawbacks to pagan community is its gross lack of genuine community.  We acknowledge our groups and we work together when our egos do not get in the way, when it is convenient for us to do it or when it costs us little or nothing to participate.  I have found at times that pagans are more willing to spend a dollar than put in time for a cause.  We find excuses for not being part of a group, or we give convoluted reasons for why we feel that this does not apply to “me”.  This is not, by any means indicative of all pagans, but if there are 5 million pagans in the US and growing annually, why do we not see these numbers represented in our communities? 

We are just as responsible for lack of action as we are for our action.  For all that we feel we do, if we ignore what needs to be done, leaving it up to someone else to take care of, are we not trying to limit our responsibility, and in doing so, limiting our personal freedoms? 

When it comes to “me”, what affects “me” should also affect the entire pagan community.  We scream about it when it happens to “me” and we get indignant when it affects “us”, but otherwise, it is someone’s responsibility,  but not necessarily mine.  How does this fit into the concept of being responsible?  I would like to point out that the whole earth exists not only to be our responsibility but also our home, where we learn to live together, to work together and to enable each other just as we enable ourselves. 

I’ve worked with many communities in the Northeast U.S., and it is amazing to see the pockets of advancement that have been made in the past years regarding growing real pagan communities. Independence of thought has lead to responsible community growth with real environmental advances as well as real community growth and improvement to the quality of life of the pagans involved in these projects.  One of the first issues they tackle is diversity and the concept of the Solitary. 

The word solitary has come to mean a lot of different things within the pagan community.  Many times, sadly, it is taken as meaning “alone”.   Some people use it as an excuse to separate themselves from any community.  One of the most basic needs of humans is a social environment.   Studies found on the web show that a lack of a social environment is a breeding ground for many social dis-eases.  Lack of a social environment has been labeled a breeding ground for depression and associated with mental health issues.  A quick “Google” of “social environment and health” will uncover discussions on how a lack of social environment can lead to inequities in service, such as not knowing about and therefore not being able to access better health care choices and that is just one issue out of many. 

We see some of this in our own communities.  People will come into a pagan community because they are in need, and will be looking for someone to help them find the proper assistance.  We see many pagans only when they are in need.  It leads us sometimes to think we are a very needy group.  But the truth is, we need no more, and no less than anyone else.  And in our mode of independence we come to realize that we may be independent, but we also cannot exist alone. 

So how is it that we, as pagans, can fit into a social structure while maintaining our independence?  How can we establish communities where we can work together as a group without compromising our individuality and diversity? 

We don’t have any real working models that we can point to as successful.  We have some experimental communities, where pagans have banded together to form not just spiritual communities, but also cultural communities in common areas.   I remember a discussion about a community looking at a condominium where they were going to purchase controlling shares and open it to their own community, but also plan for assisted living facilities for their elder membership.   This is not a “free” project but a project of hard working pagans sharing and celebrating their diversity as well as looking at their responsibility towards their membership.  There was some discussion of converting it to a “green” property in time as well. 

We have pagans living in smaller communities, either renting in the same facilities, or purchasing property and housing as it becomes available on the market in certain areas.  We have communal farms and “green earth” communal projects. 

The problem is that most of these projects are experimental, or the communities have not taken to publishing their results.  They are sometimes not in a situation where they are in constant communication with other communities, and some of the more extreme environmental communities are without power for tools like the Internet.  It is only when you meet a member at an event and the discussion comes up that we find these experiments are happening. 

In the mean time, the smaller grass roots groups are working with the occasional visitor to community, keeping a record of services available and resources for the needs of these community members.  You know these groups – they have names like “The “Pagans of (blank) County” or the “Witches of (insert name of city.)  There are working community groups that have been around for a while that hold occasional events, or Pagan Nights Out, and there will be membership that have information to share with the community.  You find their names in the occult book stores or esoteric shops and on line at the bigger and better known Pagan web sites that list local groups. 

Those groups will have regular membership, and the “floating members”.  Those floating members will be the occasional visitors, or the pagans who have discovered they have a need and now are looking for someone to point them in the right direction.  But how can we take care of these people, how can we give them the information they need without dragging them out into the community they seem reluctant to join?  Many of them have had good cause over the years to be cautious. 

Trust seems to be a factor.  Building trust by always being available, being discrete and being responsible is probably the best way.  Having information for reference is also a good way to build trust.  I remember seeing one member of a local community group having a binder with him at all times, and having brochures, leaflets and lists with names, addresses and phone numbers to hand out to anyone who was interested in the local resources. 

Trust has become a hard barrier to overcome within the pagan community.  While we all speak of being responsible, we have seen more who are not.  We have all heard the stories, we have all seen the newspaper articles.  But this is not just restricted to the pagan community, rather it is a reflection of the times.  We see issues in all communities, and this is probably why so many pagans seem to shy away from community. 

How can we be more responsible for our own membership, be they part of our community or those standing on the fringe of the circle looking in?  How can we open our doors and our hearts to all the pagans that are out there who feel that they don’t have to be part of anything and then realizing that in times of need they really could use the support, the friendship and the love of fellow pagans who share common values and cherish the same freedoms they do? 

There is lot’s to consider here in regards to how we want to progress as a cultural community, as a spiritual experience and how we can improve the quality of life and human condition for those within our community.  And in addressing this, we also realize that the need for resolution of these issues is not confined to the pagan community, but the human community as a whole. 

I would like to suggest discussion.  Discussion should be within your groups, your covens, your organizations and your family.  How can we be more responsible for the human condition in general?  It starts within each of us first.   It radiates out from our homes and moves out into greater and greater circles, spiraling out from us like our magic, touching each person along the way.  I present here an essay of consideration, to be rolled around on your tongue and experienced.  I judge no one, as we all have our own concepts and values.  But I suggest that we look at how we each see our choices, our values, our independence and our free will.  Are we being responsible individuals and how much more can we extend those responsibilities to include the most important and cherished element Mother Earth has produced – we, her children.