Sometimes, Pagan religions – and especially religious witchcraft ones – are very confusing to people coming from other religions, especially Christianity. Many of the priorities and assumptions seem very different.
There’s a good reasons for that: often they are! Here are a few things you might want to notice as you start looking at various Pagan paths.
We have few full-time clergy.
Very, very few. The vast majority of people taking on any kind of leadership role in the Pagan community (whether that’s leading a small group, planning an event, being a moderator on an online forum, blogging about various topics, or even being a published author) have jobs doing something else to pay the bills.
This has some benefits. Some traditions and people (including me) think it’s better for people to have a balance between parts of their lives. Living all the time in the land of ritual and magic can lead to ungrounded behavior and unrealistic assumptions. Plus, many people do find jobs where they feel they’re contributing to the world in some meaningful way, beyond just paying their own bills and needs (as reasonable as that is.)
In many groups, members are also considered to be part of making the group work in a much more direct way than a congregational model of worship assumes. If I’m feeling swamped trying to get everything done, chances are other people in the group are too. It’s a good reminder.
This also has some limits. If I have to get up for work in the morning, I’m not going to be as able to stay up until 3am to help someone with a crisis. (Or at least not very often.) I probably can’t just take a break and meet them for coffee because they want to talk. And I’m going to need to balance my own needs at home (laundry, household chores, time for myself and my own interests) against how much time I spend on group work.
And it means that when there is a crisis, while I very much want to help (and will turn my life over to do what I can for people I’m close to), I may not always be able to do everything I’d like to help. I may have to pick and choose. Or I may ask others to help with parts (sitting with someone in the hospital, for example).
If you’re coming from a religious tradition where the clergy are full-time (in other words, you can call, and the chances are good someone will be able to support you, meet with you, come to the hospital, etc.) you may need to adjust a little bit – but honestly, it’s usually not a problem.
We’re not about there being only one answer.
Most Pagans think there’s more than one way to truth, or more than one way to the Gods. We may feel we’ve found a really great one – but many Pagan paths actually discourage proselytisation. That means that we don’t go out of our way to recruit new Pagans, and that in some traditions, it’s even common practice to try and discourage people who seem casually interested at best, or who just want power over others.
This can be really confusing to people more familiar with the evangelism of Christianity and the commitment of many churches to sharing their faith with others.
Thus, while you will find ways for people interested in Paganism to learn more (things like Pagan Pride, 101 classes at local stores, and public rituals), most of them tend to be opportunities you’ll need to take some steps to seek out for yourself.
Our views vary on children fit into our religion.
Some people and paths actively include children in a home-based practice. For people who want this choice, it’s very possible to find and create religious traditions that are suitable for children, but also provide meaning for adults. You do have to do some work: chances are, no ‘out of the box’ solution will precisely suit your family. But there are a growing number of resources for people who choose this option.
Some parents find Pagan-related groups to go to with their children. Sometimes that’s a Pagan kids group, sometimes that’s a Unitarian Universalist congregation, sometimes it’s attending kid-friendly specific rituals.
Some groups, including many of the initiatory traditions, do not generally include children. That’s for a very good reason: entering into initiation is a life-long commitment to the oaths made in that ritual, and many people feel that it’s not fair to ask a child to do that before they’re living independently and able to make that as a fully adult decision. (This is similar to Christian denominations that require adult commitment before baptism.)
Likewise, the way a particular path or group works (for example, lots of long meditations or extended periods of focus) may not be a good fit for children, or the focus of a ritual may not be of interest to a child.
Other parents decide to provide a general religious education for their children, but not talk about or share their own (or their coven/group) practices until and unless a now-adult child is interested.
There’s really no one right answer: every family and situation is different.
There is no single leadership.
In most Pagan paths and traditions, there’s no one single leader who’s responsible for that path. Far more commonly, each individual group is largely or fully autonomous – that means they make their own decisions about how they run.
Each of us has an obligation to decide what we’re willing to be around and participate in, and what we’re not. If you find yourself in a group that isn’t meeting your needs, it’s your responsibility to decide what to do about that. (You might start with talking to the group leadership, but you might also decide to leave a group.)
This can be a particular challenge with predatory behavior, abusive behavior, or other related things. To make things even more complicated, often concerns get presented without a lot of evidence that can be proven. This means that group leaders have to navigate through difficult conversations as individuals (without any special legal powers, training, etc.) for the good of the group. Again, you always have the choice in where and how you participate, bearing any commitments you’ve made in mind.
No standard training:
Related to the part where groups are autonomous, groups set their own training standards. This means that what one group considers mandatory for their leaders (or their members) may not even be on another group’s radar. (Groups within a tradition usually have related standards, but individual groups will still vary some.)
Over time, if you spend time in conversation around the Pagan community, you’ll see that people learn ways to size this up. Sometimes it’s asking a few questions about how a particular person or group approaches a topic. Sometimes it’s asking about training. Sometimes it’s simply hanging around and listening to someone talk for a while: people will show if they have clue or not, knowledge or not, pretty fast.
Again, this is very different from many other religions, where becoming a religious leader has some kind of standard process that you can follow, ask about, or rely on.
[last edited January 14, 2011]