Like a great volcano erupting suddenly and without warning, conflict in the Pagan community is a very real force with equally damaging effects.
Over the next few articles, I’d like to talk about the pros and cons of being a Pagan in the modern world. I think it needs to be outlined for folks realistically so people have a clear understanding of what it means to interact with others in the community. I’m going to start with one of the most painful topics in our midst – conflict. The following words may be some hard pills for us to swallow, yet I think it needs to be spelled out so folks have a place to start and add their own ideas. If Paganism is going to move forward, we must consider that working together is a far greater service we perform ourselves as well as complete strangers.
Before we move forward, let’s take a look back at the prismatic mural of human culture that has been the foundation of modern Paganism. While not all of these Paths are considered “Pagan” they certainly have roots in a Pagan beginning that helped pave the way for personal enlightenment and spiritual advancement. Modern Paganism does not solely borrow from only a select group of traditions from Europe. A few of us embrace practices borrowed from Buddhism, Hinduism, and the indigenous Native Americans such as singing bowls, sage, and altars depicting such deities as Ganesha and Kali.
While these quotes aren’t from anything even remotely resembling Paganism or any spiritual Path, they do have valid wisdom that echoes throughout the course of our American culture. No matter where you stand politically(and I genuinely respect that), these quotes are from leaders that had a vision of something greater than their current state of being.
As we can see from these words, history has afforded us a valuable snapshot of conflict on both a grand and personal scale. The effects have been equally detrimental to our society and environment. If Paganism is to be the force that reunites people with the land in America and the world beyond, then we need to begin by taking a long, hard look at ourselves. All of us come from different walks of life and we are bound to lock our ram’s horns because of our different life experiences. Our victories, failures, challenges, and personal honesty are all rated on different scales, so how can we retain our individuality and also find common ground in the process so we can move forward and actually build a community that will still be around in a thousand years? Here are some solutions that are already in practice that should be meditated upon and discussed.
Rituals – The Norse have a tradition of performing what is called a Blót which means “sacrifice.” These trust-building rituals are an offering not only to the Gods, the land wights, and ancestors – they were exercises in building Tribe. By sharing the experience of the ritual, folks got a chance to take off the mask that kept them separated from everyone else in daily life and make a true bond. Ritual is not gone from our society, yet it is isolated. We’re stuck behind computer screens and put in cubicles and expected to function without the most basic of human necessities – communication. We can establish this bond by performing more rituals in the spirit of connection and understanding. Conflicts within our community can be viewed from a spiritual standpoint and warring parties can be brought together to make new oaths and bonds towards resolution. Nothing changes overnight, yet ritual helps our mind accept many difficult concepts in an abstract way that reaches our subconscious and opens the road to healing.
Grounding – This can be a group or individual effort. The ability to ground heated emotions is a key tool in conflict resolution. Not allowing individual comments and actions to further enrage an already heated inferno and being able to look at the situation realistically is critical. Walking out into the woods barefoot and screaming at a few trees in frustration, feeling the flowers outside of a library, or taking a moment to practice some breathing techniques can center an individual and allow them to make decisions that work towards peace and understanding. It’s also a great stress reliever for any situation when the craziness begins to overwhelm us.
Shielding – While this article has been about promoting a peaceful culture in Pagan society, not everyone at every moment has our best interests at heart. There are lots of examples of toxic individuals who try to further damage all that we have worked so hard to achieve. Some times, you can not make peace with these individuals no matter how much effort you put into the situation. It’s best to set up shields, spiritually, mentally, and physically to protect yourself. This means envisioning a shield around yourself. It could be made of Rose quartz, maybe it’s made of volcanic rock, or maybe you see a protective dragon around you. Then, the next step is get some physical distance from this individual. Maybe they need time, maybe they are unreachable. Nothing will change if we over-exert ourselves to the point of insanity. Give the situation some space and come back to it after you practice some self-care.
Safe Environments of Open Communication – Our communities, covens, kindreds and other social groups MUST be a safe environment for open communication. There has to be sacred space for individuals to feel comfortable enough to talk about their problems. Even if the leader of said communities does not initially agree with what is happening, they must provide a place for individuals to let out their frustrations. This is not done at the expense of the entire group. Venting sessions, rituals, and other social practices can be instituted so that everyone is emotionally and mentally prepared for what is about to be said. Positive and negative viewpoints are both valid and must be considered to have a truly balanced community. We must be willing to put aside our egos and genuinely listen to each other to get through hardship. Functional leaders and communities can’t ignore problems to prevent a seething hotbed of rivalry and discord.
Everyone is Clergy – That’s right! Whether you are ordained or not, as a Pagan – YOU ARE THE CONDUIT TO YOUR OWN SPIRITUALITY! Unlike monotheistic traditions, we do not need someone to speak on our behalf to a divine force. Clergy is a very real and necessary part of the Pagan experience, and all of us have the ability to put out fires when we see them. If you see folks gossiping, stand and listen. Do not add to the gossip and address it in a way that is understanding of all parties involved. Don’t be afraid to reach out to someone who is struggling in a corner during an event. Stand up and speak up during meetings if you think there’s a conflict brewing behind the scenes. Be respectful, honest, and state your case based on evidence. Let everyone have a chance to relay what they see, think, and hear. Remember to respect confidentiality and only share what needs to be shared in the spirit of resolution. If you can not do it alone, reach out to supportive friends who want what’s best for the community and all involved. You’ll know who they are because they will be the ones who are always reaching out to see how everyone is doing and sacrificing their own fun for service to the group.
And there you have it folks. I think we need to discuss this much further and I encourage you to write me on the website in the comments below. Let’s talk about how we can build a strong community of individuals who support each other and discover new things about ourselves in the process of revealing our differences. The responsiblility falls in each of our hands to not let the volcanic eruption of personal conflict consume us and seperate us from the real fight! Let’s fight for our Mother the Earth! As always, thank you for taking the time to read and please share this article if you agree. – Shining Quill the Unicorn