There are many ways to be a Pagan, Witch, or Druid. All of the larger paths under the modern Pagan umbrella can be practiced in a variety of ways and contain an abundance of more specific traditions. I think Paganism has always been very clear that there’s no specific “one way” to do anything. Wanna be a Witch? Then call yourself a Witch and do Witch-like things. (The latter part of that sentence is what’s most important here.)
But there are times when gate-keeping is absolutely necessary. We don’t have to hold the door open for what we do with everyone, and there are some people who simply shouldn’t be under the Pagan umbrella. “Defending the gates” should be done with thoughtfulness and care, but there are legitimate reasons for doing so. No one has an absolute right to join an organization, coven, or group, and there are also times when people use the words we identify with incorrectly, and we have an obligation to set the record straight.
As a member of an initiatory tradition I believe it’s my duty to help carry that tradition forward into the future. That means making our coven somewhat open to new members and the initiation rituals that accompany them. However, simply saying “I want to be a part of your coven” is not enough to warrant initiation. There are a lot of factors to consider when thinking about initiating someone into a tradition, or even simply a coven.
Compatibility & Traditions Anyone you initiate or choose to let into your coven should be someone who gets along with everyone else in your group. Part of being a Pagan leader involves making decisions about group dynamics. But in addition to being compatible with the people around them, a potential coven (or grove or whatever) member should be compatible with the tradition they are wishing to join.
Is someone an atheo-Pagan? Well maybe a grove full of Devotional Polytheists is the wrong setting for them? Do you prefer the Starhawk Charge of the Goddess to the Doreen Valiente version? Well maybe our rituals are a bit too British Traditional Witchcraft for you.
As someone whose tradition requires an oath of secrecy, evaluating who can maintain that oath is also important. A bad initiate is a reflection on their initiators too. There are also sort of legitimate reasons for closing the door on a potential initiate. And one coven closing a door doesn’t mean entrance into that tradition is completely barred either. There are lots of covens out there, and someone else might see a great initiate in a person I have doubts about.
I also believe that it is important to preserve our traditions in some way. While I would never tell someone how to be a Witch (though if they were a born-again-Evangelical Christian-Witch I’d probably raise both eyebrows) when it comes to Wiccan-Witchcraft things hit a little closer to home. I don’t think that public preaching is a part of Wicca and if someone were sacrificing animals in the name of Wicca I’d be a little incensed. While the doors are open, our traditions should still mean something.
That also includes rebuking those who would falsely claim initiation into a specific tradition. Just because you want to be an Alexandrian doesn’t make you an Alexandrian. If someone sets themselves up as a Gardnerian High Priestess and they aren’t a Gardnerian High Priestess I have a right, a duty, and obligation to say something.Local Public Groups I think local, open, public circles play a vital role in our communities. For many people the first “big ritual” they ever go to is something staged locally by people who take public Pagan service very seriously. Our open circles (and groves and whatever else) are opportunities to show off a greater Pagan world. And while not every public ritual is successful, I think the effort involved in such endeavors should be appreciated.
But it’s important that the doorway into local Paganism remains clear of debris and garbage. If someone shows up at the Beltane ritual spouting racist bullshit it’s completely appropriate to show them door. If an elder is playing “grabby hands” with the young lasses at Midsummer we can use our hands to grab them and toss them out on their ass. One troublesome person is not worth risking the reputation and existence of an entire circle or organization.
Things are a bit more complex when someone is simply “divisive,” but if someone is actively hurting an organization or group I think it’s our right to say something about it. I don’t believe in proselytizing, but I think it’s important that our public groups survive because they provide an opportunity for people to practice the Craft and engage in the deeper mysteries and meanings of our collective Paganisms.
And again, the door is never really shut. An aggrieved person can always start their own group, or move to another one. The Pagan Community has many doors, we all don’t have to use the same ones over and over again.
When What We Do is Perverted This happens today with more frequency than we might like to admit. When someone uses the gods of the Norse Pantheon to endorse racism and hate it’s perfectly acceptable to say “this person is not one of us.” Do you know why? Because that person is mostly certainly not one of us. Hate-filled and bigoted Pagans are no more a part of Paganism than those who identify with the Christian Identity Movement are Progressive Christians.
I would never argue that the Pagan Community is perfect or that we don’t have work to do in order to be better and more tolerant individuals. But folkish beliefs are not acceptable behavior under the umbrella. When someone espouses such bullshit it is perfectly acceptable to remove them from our groups and speak out against them. This does not mean Pagandom is a giant collection of far-left liberals, far from it, there has always been a diversity of religious views in Modern Paganism. But the conservative Pagans I know are no more willing to accept racism and homophobia than those of us on the left*.
I think the doors to Paganism and Witchcraft (and everything else) are generally welcoming and tend to be far more open than closed. But there are some gates that people should not be allowed through, and that’s OK.
*While I believe that Paganism is far ahead of many organizations when it comes to issues of trans-acceptance, I realize we have a very long way to go on that front. In my own personal practice transphobia is not allowed, but it’s something I still see in many parts of the Pagan world. I think strides are being made, but there’s still a very long journey ahead.