I came across this link on Liz Williams’s Diary of a Witchcraft Shop in Avalon (i.e. Glastonbury): “Dysfunctional Behaviour and the Pagan Scene”. I’d like to be able to quote from it here, in a number of places, but the owner specifically asks that people ask permission before quoting and hasn’t replied to my request. So I’ll just have to recommend you look at it, and make the following points. The author says (my interpretation):
- People too often join a pagan circle hoping to find it full of superior types rather than normal, doing-their-best types just like them. Depending on the level of dysfunctionality of the circle and/or the newcomers, at best this can lead to disillusion, at worst to active abuse.
- By a strange paradox, dysfunctional groups don’t have to try as hard as functional ones to succeed and therefore last longer. By being permanently in crisis and not having to work hard to ride out storms, deal with conflict etc. they survive where much better groups fail.
- Newcomers are drawn in by a misunderstanding of what is on offer. They want a love spell but don’t want to be more loveable. They want a spell to make them rich without having to work harder or be better at their work.
- The right (or rather, wrong) mentality can quite easily take a good, healthy proposition like “Love your neighbour” and corrupt it – vide the Inquisition. Thus even the positive, life affirming ideals of a good pagan circle can be twisted to justify obnoxious, anti-social behaviour.
… and it strikes me that all of these can apply just as much to churches. Just do a find-and-replace on the terminology and it matches. In fact it quite possibly fits even more belief systems than just our two but these are the two I’ll concentrate on at the moment. Unrealistic expectations on both sides, unwillingness to take the rough with the smooth …
Let’s just say they’re problems to look out for.
One area where we see completely eye to eye is the notion that to do it properly it must have meaning. It must be relevant to your life. That also means you must be free to ask questions and you must accept that just because person X does thing Y in way Z, that doesn’t mean everyone does, or should. You can be trapped in the form and the ritual.
There are several testimonies on this site from young pagans who were raised as Christians, or at least contemplated it, but found what they were getting in church couldn’t hold a candle to what they got from a simple walk in the woods. In many cases that could be because the church was in fact doing it properly, and good for it: they wanted power and all the church could offer was humility, so they went somewhere with comforting rituals that at least give the impression of being in charge. See point 3 above. But I’ve also been in some churches which have as much to offer the modern world as King Herod had to offer the youth ministry, when they should be able to offer so much more. Could it be, I dare ask myself, that they’re trapped in their own rituals and therefore don’t have anything to offer a genuine seeker? It’s not just the pagans who have rituals, y’know. A ritual may be jumping naked backwards over a bonfire while the moon shines above the Eye Stone or it may be singing a chorus in a key that makes dogs in nearby villages bark, and then shifts after the bridge to a key that actively knocks bats out of the sky, and that’s before you even reach the fifth repetition.
Nor does it help if the automatic response of the church in question is to threaten such notions with eternal punishment in Hell …