Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Dysfunctional Pagans

Dj wrote a letter to a young man in San Diego in response to his article in this week's Witches' Voice. She cc'd me and the other writers noted in her letter.

Like me, Dj tends to take exception when people write grand theories without offering any practical, real-world advice to back it up.

The gentleman in question has his heart in the right place. He is only working with a group of five, after all. Over time, he'll learn what it means to do real conflict resolution and healing within Pagan groups. As it stands, the article was pretty well written; just centered in the realm of Air instead of Earth.


P.S. In this article, he cites recent articles and postings on Pagan/Christian relations. If he read my latest article at TWV ( The Christians and the Pagans) he's completely mis-read it.

He seems to think I'm arguing that we need need approval from Christians and/or for our good acts in the community. Others may be saying this on-line ... who knows? but nowhere in my article does it say that. Nor do I (or DragonLady) ever argue that we need to do good acts "to look good". But I'm going to let it go. No sense in hitting him from all sides when the bulk of his ideas are good. It's his first public essay, after all. He gets points for putting his ideas out there.

Dj's points here are well made.


Hi Johah, this is Dj in Northern California.

I am writing to say that I enjoyed reading an article where the focus was on changing ourselves.

I've worked with people in recovery for over 25 years now. Those of us who do this work know that a healthy system doesn't magically make an unhealthy person whole, unless they are willing to do the work themselves. However, a dysfunctional person can easily make a healthy system go nuts. We see this in Pagan Circles all the time and Anodea Judith addresses this in her article: Out of the Frying Pan, Into the Fire: Dysfunctional Families and Group Energy

To that end, we have created Spiral Steps four years ago. This is a support group for people in Earthwise Traditions.

I read your article carefully and I found this paragraph to be of particular interest:

"The resolution to this is to connect with and live in harmony with your gods. The gods are powerful because They know exactly who They are, and if there is one thing They are good at teaching us, it's who we are. Once you have aligned your heart with your gods, you can't help but act with their love and be open to their wisdom."

That's the ideal, of course, but you haven't addressed what "aligning your heart" means. It means a lot of bloody, hard work, for one thing, and it doesn't just happen because we wish it to. If we teach that growth and empowerment are simple, we risk adding more shame and guilt on to a People already riddled with same.

I'm glad that you addressed the issue of conflicts:

"If you are open to Divine love and wisdom, you will begin to resolve the conflicts that cause you anger, frustration, and fear. And if we all were to do that, we would realize that we don't need to fight over formalities and semantics. We would realize that we come together not to argue, but to celebrate our common spirituality."

I agree. But it isn't enough to say we need to do that. It is essential that Pagan teachers and groups show people how it can be done.

Here at Spiral Steps, we've found that a person's spiritual practice deepens and strengthens when they "clean up their act". But they must do the work from the inside out. We don't expect it to be done for them from the outside in.

Most people will avoid doing this work because it's too hard. They would rather have a love ritual or a money spell, as you've noted. Like I said, all the Circles, Gods, Pagan teaching and Rituals in the world won't make us any better, if we aren't willing to do the hard work of changing our Selves.

Robin Skynner and others in the mental health field have pointed out that people raised in unhealthy, dysfunctional systems (and that's most Pagans) can take the lessons from an healthy, empowering system (like Paganism) and read into it whatever messages they want. This can include unhealthy directions as well as justification for dysfunctional behavior. If the mind/spirit hearing the message is dysfunctional or immature, it can garble anything to it's perceived advantage. We've all seen Pagans who can and will distort any message; however noble or strong. Even direct messages from the God/ess get confused, thus the frequent justification in the Pagan community that "My Gods wanted me to do this", when it comes to justifying selfish and unhealthy behavior.

Talk to any experienced Pagan Organizer or Teacher about this, and then stand back, because they are going to have an awful lot of stories to tell you about Problem Pagans.

Most of us are working to bring healthy role models to the forefront of Pagan consciousness. You might enjoy two essays on training and responsibility - These both appeared at the Witches' Voice: The Shadow Knows and The Bard & The Poser.

So, while I encourage a deep commitment to any Path, I don't believe that just relying on Pagan teachings or ritual alone will be enough. While the Path may be strong, the people who follow it can all use a bit of support. Personal growth is essential for any effective Priest or Priestess. I think that Wren said this best in her essay on Pagans and Self Actualization.

Again, thank you for writing such a thoughtful essay. I enjoyed reading it.

Blessed Be,

Founder, Spiral Steps

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