Paper and Practice

Paper and Practice February 19, 2013

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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