It’s been pretty quite. At least it feels that way. Hasn’t been much in the way of stupidity to laugh at or authoritarians to go after (yeah, okay, I just did another three posts on a Halstead article, but that wasn’t so much work and I have to admit I wasn’t as invested in it. It’s about Mormons, I ranted a bit of my thoughts and there we go).
I can’t say I’m the fastest writer in the world, but I can knock out three or so posts in at worst a couple hours. Then it goes back to finding something to entertain myself with. Well, this time I branched out a bit and found Wyrd Words: We Are Our Deeds.
Now I can already hear people gearing up for me to tear into him…and I’m not. Nothing really wrong with it. I have to admit, I agree with a fair amount here.
Recently the Pagan blogosphere has erupted into yet another massive debate, this time over the proper course of action when community ‘Elders’ say or do something that is harmful to the community. As Jason Mankey once pointed out, there’s this unfortunate tendency in Pagan circles for those holding the title of ‘Elder’ to be held as somehow above reproach. As if questioning these people at all is somehow showing a lack of proper respect and deference for an empty title. It’s Paganism’s own personal brand of ad verecundiam, and it REALLY needs to stop.
I swear, is there ever a time when we’re not fighting each other. I spent six years with orthodox Jews and they never fought this much. And believe me, those guys debate. “It’s the sabbath and I can’t work for the next 24 hours, watch tv, etc, well I’m off to the synagogue to debate the Torah for the next 23 hours.”
Now, there are a few things (since I’ve missed much of this apparent debate) that I am curious about. Are we talking the proper course of actions for the entire community towards all elders, as if all elders are over the entire community, or are we talking about a specific set/sect dealing with their personal elders when it is “harmful” to their community or another community or what?
Also, just how “empty” are these titles? I mean, if we’re talking about a 3rd level high priestess in charge of a state wide coven…is that title really so empty? I know, I’m probably being a bit pedantic here, but I’m coming into this partially blind (I didn’t see any other articles about this on patheos and none of the blogs I follow have even mentioned this.
I ask this also because of past experiences with “elders saying harmful things to the community.” But we’ll get back to that.
Any small child can tell you that ‘Respect your elders’ is a B.S. line made to shut down an argument. When my 7th grade science teacher taught the class biblical creationism during the chapter on evolution, I complained both to my mother and to the Principal. I was told by both to stay quiet and respect my elders. It didn’t matter that this elder was doing something illegal and blatantly lying to the entire class, he was not to be questioned. That is not only ridiculous, it sets a dangerous precedent of blind acceptance.
I’m not sure this argument is B.S. since, when you think about it, Elders used to be the fonts of knowledge for all humanity. I mean, when you go to learn blacksmithing, the reasonable thing is to “respect your elder” because failure to heed said elder’s wisdom could very well end in hot metal and fire. Sure, maybe it shuts down an argument, and really who wants that, but then again who want’s 3rd degree burns either. This is the case for most professional skills out there. The oldest guy in the room is still there, he or she probably knows a thing or two and depending on the profession, deserves some respect for still being around.
Now this is not to say that any authority should be listened to unquestioningly. The teacher in this example certainly deserves to be questioned (though I was not aware that speaking of creationism in school was a crime). Frankly I’m all for teaching everything and letting the student’s question, and all sides present their evidence. But I’m an odd egg.
But does respecting one’s elders really equate to blind obedience? I don’t think so, but it probably is different from person to person.
There’s a common phrase among Heathens which I feel applies here; “We are our deeds”. Respect is earned through action, not station. Deference is given to those who have proven they are worthy of trust by acting in the best interest of the group, not by standing up on a soap box and proclaiming one’s self Supreme Mugwump. Even the most sacred things in Heathenry are not above questioning or reproach; that’s one of the many things I love about this community. We’ll question ourselves, our sacred Lore, and even our gods. Why in all the worlds wouldn’t we hold our leaders accountable?
I love the phrase “we are our deeds.” Never have truer words been spoken. Except maybe that two girls one cup is a perfect example of why the internet is dangerous.
Still, and this could just be me…but most Elders are elders because of their deeds. Now, this doesn’t always mean we get great elders. There’s one lady whose a 3rd level priestess of something or other in my area and and she’s a community elder of some note (or at least she used to be) and she got there because of her deeds. She did a lot of shit for the community and her coven. She also talked a lot of shit sometimes, started and crushed a pagan mens’ group three separate times (complicated story there), and so forth, but her deeds got her recognition as an Elder…even if not everyone agreed with her or that she really was that great an Elder.
It’s the same for every elder out there that I’ve encountered. Steven McNallen is an Elder in heathenism and the AFA because of his many decades of hard work and successful deeds. Sure, not everyone likes him, not everyone agrees with him, and a lot of people hate him inside and outside heathenism, but if you look at his bio he has put in the legwork to be where he is and a lot of people respect and follow him as an elder.
Now, does this mean Elders should be beyond question, because they got there by deeds or just proclaimed themselves supreme mugwump. Of course not, but it is a bit odd to insist a person is their deeds, then look at most elders who got their because of their deeds, and insist that they should be questioned simply because they’re declared “elders.”
Maybe I’m missing something here though. Still, I am all for questioning people, for learning and fun.
In fact, our own traditions regularly encourage us to hold that which we hold dear to an even higher standard. When a member of our family or community does something harmful we are encouraged to stand against them, both for the sake of the victim as well as the community which they are dishonoring with their actions. When supposed ‘Elders’ attack andostracize vulnerable members of our own community, or promote bigotry in the guise of faith, it is our personal duty to call them out. The tacit approval of silence is not a luxury we can afford, if we don’t want the actions of others to become a stain on our own honor.
The first part of this is correct. If you’re an elder, you are held to a higher standard. It’s like politicians should be. You have the power, you have the voice, you represent the people, you teach the people. You should do a good job doing that. I completely agree.
But here’s what drew me to comment on this, the examples given.
The first one is about an Elder by the name of M.Macha Nightmare, who sighed a change.org petition about removing the T from GLBT, and then retracted that position. I can already hear the screams of outrage and the angry mobs, but meh (I’ll drop an article about this issue tomorrow). I’ve read a number of articles lately about many members of the GLB community wanting to remove the T for a number of reasons that fit very well into that community. But, Nightmare is entitled to the right to have such an opinion and to change it. But has Nightmare truly harmed the community with such actions/retractions? I cannot say without more information.
The second one is, believe it or not, about the Dianics vs Transsexuals fiasco of so many years ago. Now I have written a lot about that (you can search the tag Dianic) so I won’t really get into it here, again. But this is why earlier in the post I asked about if it was certain sects and their elders, or all paths as a whole with all elders. Z Budapest was (and I think is) the leader of the Dianics, she pretty much built it, I think. And nearly the entire pagan community went after a single sect and its elder as “harmful to all paganism” simply because of a tenant of Dianic faith. Now, whatever your view of things is…the Dianics are their own path, their own religion, who chose their elder Z because she represented what they believed in and taught it well. She didn’t speak for say the Cultus or the Asatruar or the Druids. So is it really the place of other religions to say what is acceptable in a religion not theirs?
This is where I run into questions, if not problems.
The third example, is of course, Steven McNallen. Because for some reason some Heathens love to prove they’re not racists by attacking him. Now I get it, some of his theories are a bit odd and he is not by any means a “racially sensitive” person…but I’ve read his stuff and seen other stuff and he’s hardly a white hooded monster bombing black churches.
Heck, I recently had a conversation with someone about his thing of Norse Gods vs Aztec Gods that he wrote a few years ago. Someone was saying it was bat shit racist or something, and well…I don’t see where he’s theoretically wrong. People struggle against other people, and sometimes this happens along ethnic lines. Gods tend to support their people, so why wouldn’t in an instance of say one group of people wanting to off another group of people, the gods of each side join in to help their respective groups triumph/survive? Hel, the Iliad is all about the Gods picking sides in mortal fights and helping out.
But again, McNallen is the Elder of the AFA. He’s not my elder. He’s not Folmer’s elder, clearly. He’s not an elder of the Cultus, the Druids, the Diancis, the Wiccans, etc. So really, if what McNallen believes is something you don’t believe in..you don’t have to follow him. There are a dozen different sects of Heathenism and they all believe different things. That’s why we call it an “umbrella.” Same with Paganism. The values of the Cultus are different from the values of the Druids, but if one believes something the other finds offensive and “harmful” does that mean they can go and just remove a chosen elder from a path not their own?
That way lies chaos, spiritual pollution, and retribution. Imagine if southern baptists could just go and get rid of the catholic pope because he did/said something that offended him. How would the Catholics feel? Grateful that a “problematic and offensive” person was removed for believing and acting upon what the Catholic community judge was right and should be represented by that Elder?
By all means, we should question our elders, even if only to learn from them. But they should be our Elders that we question, not the elders of other paths to which we do not belong.
I mean, let’s look at our three examples here. All three violated some “politically correct” belief held by people other than themselves. One thought for a time that Transpeople don’t fit so well with Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual people. One believed that transwomen didn’t belong in a specific ritual for cis-women. And one…well, he’s got some theories about race and ethnicities that people don’t like and don’t always understand, so that’s bad.
But none of these views affect any path outside their own. A Dianic’s view of transwomen does not inform, influence, or inhibit a Druid’s view of transwomen. That some person somewhere thinks that T shouldn’t be lumped in with GLB…in no way at all affect the position of the Cultus or individual Cultii on such matters (not that there really is one beyond live and let live from what I’ve found). And even with McNallen…his views do not do anything for or against any other heathen path outside the AFA.
Now of course, there will be such voices that say “well, one bad apple reflects badly on all of us! We have to stop them and teach them the right way of thinking!”
Says who? People might get the wrong impression about Paganism? Explain it. “Those are Dianics, they believe X. I am a Druid, I believe Y.” You’re two separate religions. And if the only way your Pagan religion can exist is by insisting that all other Pagans religions exist the way yours does, thinks in the “politically correct” definitions of your religion, and that you have the right to dictate another person’s faith because it differs from your own…
The Hel are you a Pagan for? Paganism started out because we all wanted to believe something different, something that didn’t insist everything had to be exactly the way that particular religion said and damn the rest of them. Maybe, if that is what your Pagan Religion has become, if that’s what your Elders are telling you is the right thing to do…you should question them, and your religion. Dogmatically insisting that everyone have the same views on gender, sexuality, race, ethnicity, morality, and so for that you do with no room for differing beliefs or even opinions based upon historical facts, ancient traditions, or divine statements could very well mean that you, your elders, and your religion has lost what it originally meant to be “pagan.”
It is always our place to question our personal elders who represent us. We chose them to lead us and represent us. To our highest standards must our elders be held to.
But it is not our place to question the validity or beliefs of the elders of other paths. We did not choose them, those of the other path did. They do not represent us, their standards are not our own, their beliefs are different from ours, though we might all be of pagan religions. Let those elders be held only to account by their own people, no matter how much they may offend us or transgress against the beliefs of our religion. So long as they do not attack our elders and our paths, we have no right nor need to attack them and theirs.