Saturday, March 01, 2008

Witch Kind

Show up. Pay attention. Tell the truth

1995 - A Saturday, somewhere in Northern, CA

I'm a rehab volunteer at a local wildlife rescue center. This is service I've done for many years. Early one day, a woman brings in a young squirrel with a broken leg. She's had it for over a month. She has fed it (not too badly, but not well either, because she did not know what growing squirrels this age need to eat and she has not bothered to find out) and she has not set the leg. The bone is not healing correctly, and I suspect there is now infection, as well. While the Vet Tech takes the little squirrel into the back room, I give the woman some paperwork to fill out. I ask "Why did you keep it for so long?" and this lady says "I wanted to wait. I've been using crystals, herbs and prayer to heal it before I brought it to you". I take a deep breath. On days like these I have to step carefully past my first instinctive reactions (which begin at homicide) and work my way back to center. So I say, "There is nothing wrong with using prayer and crystals, of course, but you can pray for an injured animal while we're helping them here." I then explain that it will take several hundred dollars worth of our resources to care for this little guy, and ask if she would like to help out with a donation to our non-profit center. The lady has many rings on her fingers and is dripping in expensive beads and semi-precious stones. I'm a bit of a bead collector and I deal in jewelry at my store, and I can tell that she is wearing about $300 worth of jewelry. She frowns, and says "Well, I can't afford much" and I smile at her. It's my coyote Trickster smile. I can keep this up for a very long time. She finally reaches into her purse and gives us $10.00. I thank her kindly, and show her the door. I go into the back room where our Vet Tech is examining our little patient. The squirrel is scared and it will take two people to help him, one to hold him gently but firmly, and the other to check his leg. As put on some medical gloves the tech says to me "Can you believe these New Agers? If it was her leg, the lady would be screaming for an ambulance and demanding pain killers the minute she got hurt." We smile at one another - it's not the first time that we've seen clueless good intentions cause more harm then good - and then we get down to the work at hand. There are times when work is prayer. This is one of those.

We can't fully treat the squirrel at the shelter. I make a little nest for him in a shoe box, and take him out to my car. Our local Vet will see to him. She does not charge us for her time, Gods bless her, just for pain medications, antibiotics and medical supplies, and this little guy is going to need all of those. She is waiting for us at her office four blocks away. I head out to the shelter's parking lot and I see the woman who brought him to us. She is in her car, talking on a cell phone. Her car has a bumper sticker on the back that says Pagan and Proud.

Lord of the forest and field, Lady of the starlit night,
May compassion fulfill and transform me
May I give as You give, may I love as You love
And may my choices bring grace to my life
As You bring grace to the world.

I've been wondering of late, if there is such a thing as a Pagan work ethic and what that might look like in action. I would think that a core component of this would be personal responsibility. I'm sorry folks, but "An harm none" just doesn't cut it. It's a good place to start, but it's a passive form of good, and it cannot stand alone as an ethical way of living. Let's look for an active component, as well. First point: Do No Harm. Second Point: Do Some Good.

How do we do good? First we learn what's needed, then we choose where and how to give service, and then we show up and get to work.

I see wonderful examples of this in many Pagan individuals, but I don't see it addressed much in Pagan writings or teaching. In a culture beset with so much learned helplessness, codependency, narcissism and bullying, it might be time to start.

Do we need community to do good? In some cases, yes. As my mother likes to say, "Many hands make light work". For years now, I've been listening to Pagans tell other Pagans that they should support community, and I don't see it doing much good. Nagging never does.

Since I'm not in charge of the Pagan Community (which is just as well for some people) I choose to focus on myself and what I can do. I know what my own work ethic looks like, but I've never addressed how that informs and infuses my practice. So, I'm going to take my own advice. In the next few days I'm going to think about the Pagan work ethic and what I think that means. I can say that it involves doing. This brings us back to personal responsibility. I wrote this in 2001:

Some people come to us and want to give us their power. To this we say "Thanks, but no thanks". None of us want to be Gurus. We believe that being Pagan means accepting responsibility for yourself, your actions and for the quality of your life. We believe that it means claiming your own power and not giving it over to someone else. Ideally, it also means that you use your power to better the world you live in. That's what Pagan Doers do.

Pagan Doers

I would love to see a website that simply lists what Pagans are already doing. You can see my own small attempt at that in the links section of this blog and I recently posted a list of Pagan & Earthwise groups doing charity work which engendered a lot of interest. These people are what I call Pagan Doers. To paraphrase something I wrote years ago:

Doers make things happen and their actions light the way for those that wish to follow their example. Those who want to join them show up and get to work.

When Pagan Doers work with volunteers, you will see certain values in action. They

* Praise people very publicly and correct mistakes privately
* Don't spread gossip
* Listen more then they talk
* Place principals before personalities
* Fight fair when they disagree and treat each other with respect
* Put the work first, and their ego last.

Hidden in Plain Sight:

Most Pagan Doers work at a grass roots level. We know you're out there and we want to help. Would some networking Witch please create a website that specifically lists the Pagan charity efforts? Such a list should that show what groups are doing now, how they are managed (board of Directors, et al), if they have 501c status and how we can best support them. (2)

If you know of a group that does such work, write to me and I'll add them to my own little list.

I'm not talking about that sites that list:

* ritual or teaching groups (as good as many of these are) or
* groups that protest this or that (as vital as such social action is) or
* groups that organize mostly social meets.

I want to see a web list of groups that actively do good in their community: I want to know those who do charity work, grass roots organizing, voter drives, food drives, support for women's shelters, and other, local volunteering efforts, like beach and river clean ups, companion animal rescue, wildlife rehab, etc. Pagan Parents (who tend to be very busy people) are often involved with efforts that benefit their family and other families, as well, and we see them active at their local schools, libraries, and parks or with Spiral Scouts. Let's help those parents find one another.

I want to know about those individual Pagans who do good in the wider world: Speaking personally, I want to know the Pagans who put their backs into such work. I'm sick to death of the ones who pose and prance and flaunt their shiny beads. And yes, you can have fun and do good at the same time. Say what you like about West Coast Pagans, we are very good at that.

Pagans Are Givers:

I believe that many of our people want to support good causes, and most do, but most of these causes are not specifically Pagan in nature. Pagans give a great deal of their money and time to animal welfare groups, groups that protect the earth, groups that protect civil rights, and shelters or organizations that protect women and children. It's not that we don't give, it's that we don't give very effectively to Us.

Why is that? Well, it may be, in part, because there are not enough Pagan groups out there that are
a) effectively organized,
b) transparent in their handling of both finances and power
c) have enough new responsible new volunteers coming in to keep the senior ones from burning out and
d) have shown they are are worthy of respect and trust

How do you find such groups? Well, it can take time.

* Find the responsible Pagans in your community and see what they are up to, or
* Get involved in any local community effort and you will probably find people who support Earthwise practice. Even if they don't call themselves Pagan, you still will have found true tribe. Observe their friends and colleagues and get to know these people, as well - birds of a feather don't ja know. (3)

I support a local nature education center where I live. The Volunteer Coordinator there is what I would call a Progressive Christian, and we have become good friends. Do we talk about spiritual things? Sure we do. We have a lot in common, including our commitment to this work and our passion for restoring native habitat and protecting wild lands from developers. (There is nothing like a common enemy to bring people together). In fact, I have far more in common with this active, caring woman than I do with 9 out of every 10 people I meet at a certain Pagan convention. Why wouldn't I choose to work with her when she is doing work I value in a way I can respect?

What Are We Good For?

I would also like to see more teachers provide their students with a sense of ethics that moves them to contribute to their local community. Plenty of Pagans want to show up at events that others organize and produce, but far fewer are willing to put in the time or effort to help make such things happen.

With so many people taking classes or teaching we have to ask ourselves:

* What are we Pagans teaching that does some actual good?
* Where and how are we taught to give service?

Which brings me back to my list of Doers. I don't have the desire or the time to nag the community about what they should do. I'm more interested in doing what I can and then working with others of like mind. At this point in Pagan history, there are two kinds of people: Those who contribute to the greater good, and those who do not.

Witch kind are you?

Wishing you strength, laughter and good company.


(1) We splinted the leg and the squirrel lived, but he never regained the proper use of that leg, nor did he achieve his full growth and strength. One of our volunteers - a licensed rehab specialist who could effectively and legally care for him - took him home to live with her. He cannot climb trees like other squirrels, and he could not be used as an education animal because he did not like people (small wonder) but he did have have a safe little life and plenty of food in her back garden.

(2) The wonderful folks at Witches Voice take a stab at this, but the site is so vast and complex that people can get lost in there for days. I would prefer to see a section at Vox that focuses on charity and community work, or a entirely new site that does what I'm asking).

(3) In some cases, I choose to work with Pagan groups, and in others, I choose to work with mainstream groups as a Pagan, which is a radical (and I hope, educational) act in itself. In other cases, I keep my head down, do the work, and look for True Tribe within the larger group.

Related Articles:

Pagan & Earthwise Groups Doing Charity Work

Pagan Doers

It's a Mystery: Dysfunctional Behavior and the Pagan Scene

The Bard and the Poser

Excerpt from A Vegan's Prayer by Dianne Sylvan


Ambermoggie, a fragrant soul said...

well thought out posting Sia, my thanks to you
I do what I can in my life to help others. Not for gain but because I feel the need to give something back.
I'm currently in the middle of a lunar year of socks for our local hospice. It was going to be 1 pair per lunar month but thanks to generous online donations it would appear to be at least 2 pair a month now:) I'm also doing some socks/mitts for the cancer centre where my husband is having radiotherapy. As a thank you for the help they are giving him. I've always felt the need to volunteer and "do" but have to say that I've never liked committees. In my experience here in England they weren't for me, lots of reasons not needed to be gone into as a comment but suffice it to say I've always been an individualist in my voluntary work
Amber in England

Dj Connell said...

Hi Amber,

Greetings to you in England. It's always so nice to hear from you.

I appreciate the fact that you have creatively found ways to give back that work for you.

My mother (who has always been community minded) now volunteers at her local hospital three days a week. She is 82 and she likes to "help out the older folks". After my sister died of breast cancer, she added the cancer ward to her list of volunteer sites. She feels that she gets back as much as she gives through this service, especially there.

All good things,