In Part One of this series, I talked about the difficulties and dilemmas in being asked to talk about a tradition or faith that is not your own. This week in Part Two, I’d like to offer some suggestions to those who find themselves in this situation.
I must imagine that the monists or soft polytheists who attend interfaith events and work with those of other faiths want to accurately convey the great diversity within Paganism. I don’t believe that anyone is out there honestly trying to misrepresent Heathenry, or devotional polytheism. I think perhaps the first step to a solution is education – when working in an interfaith context, it’s probably prudent to read up on some other traditions within Paganism in their own words. Don’t take the latest author’s word that all Hellenists do this or that; jump on a forum or find a book written by someone prominent in the community and just spend a few hours familiarizing yourself with the basic theology.
Of course, it’s not possible to know everything about everyone; especially in an umbrella group as diverse as Paganism. Similarly, it’s unfair to demand that those who are already volunteering their time spend more of it in order to become “good enough” volunteers, when raising the entry bar is likely to discourage new members of a group that’s in need of growth. When you’re the only Pagan for miles and miles, people are going to ask you what the connection is between Heathenry and Nazis, even if you’re a Wiccan that’s never hailed Thor. I am often questioned about Stonehenge, ley lines, and astral projection; even though my own Paganism has zero to do with any of those things.
I think what it comes down to is a little bit of give on both sides. It would be greatly appreciated if those who are representing Paganism in an interfaith setting took some time to learn about the actual views of the lesser-known traditions under the umbrella. It would also be great if those lesser-known traditions focused on educating, rather than scolding, those who are representing Paganism to the outside world. As Yvonne Aburrow recently wrote on the blog Sermons from the Mound: “One very popular metaphor for explaining religious diversity is the idea that we are all walking different paths up the same mountain. However, many people are coming to believe (myself included) that we are in fact all walking up different mountains.” Perhaps we could start drawing each other maps of our mountains – and we’d all have a few less blank spaces saying “here be dragons”.