community, elders, faith, Heathen, leadership, Pagan, pagan community, Religion
Posted originally on Jan 25, 2011. Times have changed, but some things stay the same. Thoughts are welcome.
Alright, so here is part three of my ongoing series about creating pagan communities.
I’ve had a couple of people respond on my blog to my previous posts, and I thank them for their input. It’s helping to build this series better by pointing out areas that we all need to work on.
First off, I wish to retouch on something I put in my Part 1 post, about Community, and that is acceptance. Part of building a larger community is accepting that the others in the community can be different from us, but that they are still members of the Pagan/Heathen community. This includes those Pagans that some out there feel are not “real” pagans. From the Vampires to the hard core Recons, we need to set aside our insistence about being “real pagans” and accept one another. We left organized religions because they didn’t accept those that weren’t “real” and if we are to build actual communities, then we Must learn to accept our members, left or right, hard or soft polytheists, whatever. We have to accept and respect each other.
The next step in building communities, is Leadership. This is a tricky one, as many pagans and heathens are rather anti-authoritarian. I myself am highly anti-authoritarian. One problem I’ve heard many groups run into is that one person will rise to prominence and become almost a cult leader at times, often attacking those that disagree with them and driving them off. This is indeed a grave problem, and one that has sunk many groups and proto-communities. Another is that those groups that do actually end up having good leaders run into the anti-authoritarian nature of most pagans, and the group falls apart because people are unwilling to work with that leader. Then there are those who believe that because they own the location they should be given the power in the group.
I will attempt to give some solutions to this problem, starting with the last one I mentioned first. Those who feel that because they own the location they should have the power.
Now by all rights, they own the property (be it the home people meet in or actual property people rent) and this does entitle them to certain rights and power. However, many chafe at this “unelected” nature of power being lorded over them. That is why in my first post, I said that each individual or family should own their property themselves. In creating a larger physical community, this would prevent people from having “Lordship” based on owning the home of another. The last thing we need to do creating communities is start working with Feudalism. That’s not to say we can’t have Pagans renting from Pagans later on, but in the initial stage, the more equality we have the better. If each person owns their own property, then they are equals, even if the value and quantity of property isn’t. They would all be “Freemen.”
Now, as for the other two kinds of leaders, the “cultish” who insist that all bow to their ways or go, and the “Honorable” leaders that often get cast aside, and then any other types of leader out there, I have a solution that I’ve drawn from my own path of Asatru that splits the difference between the need for leadership and anti-authoritarian nature that makes us so uniquely pagan/heathen.
My people, the Norse (along with pretty much all Germanic and Celtic tribes) where very, very anti-authoritarian. We didn’t even have a king until the Christians came, and most of the population didn’t even have “lords.” But they new that there was a need for all the people to come together to discuss matters of law, relations with other peoples, and to settle disputes. This was called the Thing, or Althing.
I recommend we do something like this. Once a month we come together for a few days as a community and we elect official leaders or “Keepers of Law” for the few days that the Althing happens. There should be an odd number of leaders, and each person gets one vote. The top three “winners” of the election are the Keepers. No keeper can be elected more than twice in a row. This would give a wider range of people both access to power, and limit the amount of power any one person could gain. During the time of the Althing everyone would accept the leadership of those elected, and any choices made by the leaders and the people would be recorded and acted upon until the next Althing, at which time changes could be made or kept as the people felt was needed. Once the Althing was concluded, the leaders would resign and the people would be free to lead themselves as they saw fit.
The Althing would also provide a place for grievances to be aired amongst the people. Perhaps a modified “Holmgang” or “Duel” could be developed for those people that needed it, in order to guide the violence of humans into something safer, more honorable, and productive, as well as easing tensions. I have no illusions that there will be peace and no fights in these communities, and we can look to our ancestors for ways to deal with this.
Still, I am hopeful that by accepting each others different paths we can release most of the tensions. For when that is not the case, we can take it to the Althing and hash it out there. Members of the community should be trained in mediation so that we can work things out, and if that fails, we work up some way for the individuals to fight it out amongst themselves so it doesn’t tear the community apart. Lastly, we limit the amount of power of our leaders by making everyone as equal as we can, while still accepting the power we place in them and letting them help guide us.
My only comment – a verbose one… Leadership – yes – that is a tricky subject. At certain schools, somewhere in the World, they teach you year-long classes on the subject. I’m reminded by Rudyard Kiplings old quotation (if he indeed wrote it) that goes something like “There are four and twenty ways of writing tribal laws, and every single one of them is right!” when it comes to the subject of law-making, and Things.
I for one would much sooner remember that the role of the Lögsögumadr (in the Icelandic free state) or Lagsagoman or even Lagman (in Sweden, Norway etc) was not so much a law giver or law maker, but a law speaker. His role was to say or state the laws, reciting them from his own memory, before the Thing or even Allthing could start. Now, what does this signify ?
Well, firstly there is a society around us, with secular laws, common law, as it were, or the constitution, the legal system and all, and notions of honor, be they old or new, or ideas about Holmgang, might perhaps not be well liked, should we say. More importantly, I think all leaders should conform by certain legal standards, or perhaps the laws of common sense.
Common sense, as it were, dictates that a pagan or Asatru leader can’t be a practising Minister or a Priest in a Christian church one day, and then pretending to be or posing as a Godhi or Gydja the next. Strictly speaking, many a Christian church or congregation wouldn’t like this either, eventhough there might be many an individual member of an Asatru communtiy, whether “world wide” or in a local kindred, that might be of a mixed faith. Common sense, perhaps (I’m perhaps a little stupid in pointing this out to you, but I think I’ve seen a couple of notable trends, on my side of the Atlantic or my side of the ball park) also dictates that leaders, if any, shouldn’t be inside prison, let us say, sleeping with more than one member of their local kindred on a regular basis, or not in the habit of smoking or ingesting anything else than regular foods, a little mead (on occation) and perhaps plain old tobacco.
Over here, I’ve seen all sorts of kindreds that kindasorta employ other rules, concerning whoever or whatever goes for a Gode or Gydja. “Forn Sidr” in Denmark, though, or Bifrost in Norway are an exeption from this more sordid picture of “things Asatru” – they have rules forbidding “double” church membership, at least for “officials” within their respective organisations, that is to say, you can’t really be a gode or gydja by being Christian on one day, claiming asatru the other, and you do not perform “mixed” rituals, out of respect for both religions and traditions, if nothing else..
Politically speaking, both the Asatruar in Denmark or Norway have been adhering to their own rules, so to speak, or the charters that they themselves have constructed for themselves. “Forn Sidr” has elected to stay out of party politics, at least, but in Sweden, certain organisations refuse to accept the latest Riksdag or Parliamentary elections as legal, thus “dissing” any prospect member of parliamentary party A or B (no, sorry, I will not explain what this means in plain writing) and using the “no extremists or nazis” clause (nearly obligatory over here) at anyone or everything, when given the slightest pretext.
Another problem, I should like to think – is the problem of “slurs”. To some “forn sed” (but not Asatruar) in Sweden, everyone stateside or in the US practising Asatru is either a white suprematist, in leauge with Stephen McNallen (or supposedly the Devil, which for these people amount to very nearly the same thing) a racist, a monstrous bigot, the Grand Klaxon of the State of Georgia etc. Having observed the “westward side of the pool” for quite a while now, and having had some contact with the Ring of Throth and others in the past, as well as the AFA, I for one would tend to think that’s all a bit overstated, or just simply not true. To be sure, there might be occational right-wing groups mis-using Asatru (or adopting it as a convenient cover-up) about, but in reality, I tend to think that I have seen very little of them of lately. All in all, the “so-and-so, in the corner over there, is in reality a so-and-so” or accusations of racism are rife, over here (my side of the pool) but organisation-wise, I see very little substance in all those loose accusations or rumors flying about. More likely, it’s all due to the problem of who knows who, or who relates to what law and what knowledge at what level…
And here we have the elephant in the room, or at least one of them. Someone has to lead. Sooner or later someone will take that position of greatest influence. I think this is something inherent to social animals and we are without a doubt a social animal. In all sincerity I offer the Constitution of the US as an example of a good government system. It offers a tremendous amount of leeway and freedom to individuals, less to small or lower levels of government and still less to larger or higher levels of government. I could advocate more precise wording, but the sentiment stands. There should be a Law which is inviolate even by the leadership. This Law must be clear in its prohibitions and possess the mechanism for alteration if sufficient of the population deem alteration necessary. I offer that the US Constitution is not failing. The people attempting to manipulate it are. I think it would provide a good starting point at the very least.