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.