Paper and Practice

This post isn’t going to be about what you think it is. Don’t worry, we’ve all heard those cautions about letting yourself become an armchair Pagan, never doing any ‘practice’. Lots of interesting stuff to be had in that discussion, but that’s not the one I’m interested in right now.

I want to discuss how it doesn’t matter what your bylaws say, it doesn’t matter what’s written on your fancy paper, it doesn’t matter if your policies are open to ‘anyone that identifies as a Pagan’ – if in practice this is not so you are either misrepresenting yourself or falling short of your goals. I know, this seems random, but my thoughts got stewing after hearing someone say: “Well, yes, when we practice it’s in a Wiccish form, but our bylaws say…”

Wait, stop.

This is actually a pretty common phenomenon, especially in networking groups. This tendency (on paper we’re open to everyone, but in practice/person there is hostility and erasure of anything not of the majority or preferred path) goes more into a lack of willingness to own up to what you are and an inability to see problems outsiders can identify immediately. And I think a lot of it is good intentions that never go past being an intention. We want to be open, but we just keep…falling…short.

Behind the fence by CAStock

This causes groups to hiss at ‘non-believers’ or mock people who have different practices than them. Groups claim to be open to ‘anyone’, but every group has its limits. Some don’t really want hard polytheists, some don’t really want atheists, some don’t really want Wiccans, some don’t really want Lokeans, some don’t really want youth. It’s not wrong to have boundaries or borders. All groups do. That’s how they survive without bleeding out. With groups that are just forming, there’s a lot of jostling and figuring out who is ‘in’ and who is ‘out’. Even the most open group has a line.

This isn’t bad. What is bad is when you continue to claim to be open to [x] after you’ve shown you aren’t. What’s worse is when someone points this out and your reaction is, “Well, I know, but on paper we’re open to [x].”

Since when does what’s on the paper matter more than what you are actually doing?

When you become aware of a problem, I think it’s better to address and try to fix the problem. Or accept that it isn’t problematic to you, but make sure that other people know about the issue. (Something like, “We prefer to only have [x]” or “We’re not open to [y]” works.) Unless you enjoy hurting your group and newcomers, it’s better to be upfront about what your group is and how it works and what is expected. But when you’re aware of a problem, admit it’s a problem, and then do nothing – I can’t help but gape because I cease to understand what is going on.

The larger groups and organizations in Pagandom seem to have this issue the most. Polytheists on paper, but the practice is…not so much. We’re committed to excellent clergy, but our clergy is…not so excellent. We’re open to all witches, but…we really just mean Wiccans. And we know this and have been told this but we are going to do nothing about it.

All I can do is ask why not? Why not change what the paper says? If you don’t want to change the paper, why not change the practice? Something has got to give.

Usually, it seems, it’s the group that ends up giving.

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About Aine

Aine Llewellyn is a 20 year old girl creature currently mucking about in southern Arizona. She enjoys the winters and rain but can’t stand the heat. She is a difficult polytheist that natters on and on about her faith.

  • Helmsman Of-Inepu

    I suspect that part of the problem is that when people write the paper, they don’t have any idea at all what’s out there. They assume that everyone else is just like them, but perhaps their favorite color is blueish-green instead of greenish-blue. Then real people see their “everyone is welcome” sign and begin to show up. And… holy smokes… they are just so different!
    Fix the paper, or fix the behavior- either will work.

  • Aine

    Yep. And I think it’s sort of expected that when you first write the paper, it’s not going to actually reflect what you imagine or plan. That’s normal. We’re all in processes of learning, after all.

    But once you do become aware, you have to fix something. (Though with how the community is, I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised that it gets snotty when problems it knows it has are pointed out.)

  • Christopher Scott Thompson

    Agree 100%. I’ve done so many google searches for interfaith pagan organizations only to see a huge pentacle on each webpage…

  • Aine

    Exactly! Interfaith often looks a lot like monofaith for a lot of pagan orgs >:

  • Michael York

    Bravo for an important article. Rewriting the paper is certainly one solution. Allowing paganism not to be the kind of perpetually schismatic faith we can see with Christianity and Islam is another. Grasping what unites us and what we share behind our differences would be more commensurate to our ‘ideals’ and stated profession. Perhaps we must simply dance between those times we are inclusive and welcoming of difference and variety and those times when we wish to do our own thing. Especially with this last, we are required to be open and honest. Thanks.

  • Aine

    Especially of inclusiveness we are required to be honest. And that honesty is often lacking in Pagan orgs, especially the larger they get.

    There isn’t, actually, a whole lot that I feel unites me with most of Pagandom. That doesn’t mean I don’t want to dialog and discuss and find similarities, but my default is ‘we are completely different and I will assume we will use definitions and words differently’. That way we can slide into better understanding of our commonalities while still being aware that, yes, we are different. The ‘schisms’ have been happening for years, and the people leaving have been saying the same thing over and over again with most Pagans just plugging their ears and making up excuses that we didn’t actually use. We’re leaving because we’re not being heard. We’re being erased. The ‘commonalities’ are used as excuses to erase us, our practices, and what we do that doesn’t fall in line with more popular modern Paganisms.

    Not to mention, what are these ‘ideals’ that we share? What is this ‘stated profession’? I’m sure I have values and goals in common with Pagans and other polytheists, but I’m not going to go in assuming that’s the case. That hasn’t worked for me too well so far, and until the face of modern Pagandom shifts on a fundamental level, that’s not going to change.

    Recognizing our differences is better that shushing them and trying to make everyone comfortable with our ‘similarities’.