I’ve mentioned here, and else where, that Neopaganism’s greatest strength and weakness is it’s acceptance of differences. By both a strength and weakness I mean that, as a spiritual path, it is theoretically true that anyone will be accepted. That is great. You do not expect to get proselytized at, victimized, or see bigotry. Of course that is just the theory. That is another post for another day. As a weakness, more often than not the community will be afraid to deal with antisocial behavior.
This is where it gets murky. I mean by antisocial behavior, such things as use of elicit substances, allowing minors to partake in activity that is not appropriate to their development, allowing someone to be just a plain old jerk, because it’s not Kosher to tell them not to be like that etc. The acceptance also causes a lethargy in community when it realizes that they have to do something. Most Pagan groups are either lead by consensus OR by (sorry for this) dictatorship.
It is not however healthy for the community, and most non functioning communities, groups, Covens/Groves etc are bogged down from this antisocial behavior.
Now to be fair, many groups that I have seen have a way of dealing with this, that is both fair and equitable. Sadly some don’t. They either do not have a process for dealing with it, or the process is rather biased.
I will give an example:
One of the worst places to get an introduction to Neopaganism is an online group or forum. Yahoo, Usenet, and various Fora, come in two general varieties. Moderated, and Unmoderated. The worst by far are those with no moderation policy, these are the land of flame war, witch war, and abusive behavior. Some of us tend to reside there to provide some stability, but it’s like sticking your finger in a dyke to stop a leak, it never works for long. Moderated groups come in two general forms. Those with a well balanced team of moderators, and rules to try and prevent abuse, and those which have a clique in charge. If you get on the wrong side of that clique, you best be up to the abuse.
That is online interactions, and to be blunt (and this is funny from a blogger), online is not really real life.
In real life there are several ways you will interact with fellow Pagans.
Festivals. Here you will be able to shop, attend workshops, and do ritual. These are supposed to be “neutral ground” and any antagonism kept away. Usually this works. But it will depend on how good the event security is. By good I mean, impartial, effective, and sane.
Meetups, Pub Moots, lectures. Again these are in theory “neutral ground”. Any problem should be dealt too, after the event. Pub moots in particular are renowned for places to hear people speak ill of others. Alcohol is a great remover of social niceties. I say this after having worked Bar Security for many years as an undergraduate and early post graduate student.
Covens, Groves meetings, rituals etc. One would hope that any Coven or Grove (insert other name here for your faith) would have vetted their members early on. But the older and larger the group. The more likely there will be long standing issues. Here it is the job of the leader to retain control, unless it is a consensus driven group. I would note, that consensus driven groups have less issues, but also achieve less.
So lets get to the meat/tofu (for the Vegans who read) of the post.
The Weeds in the Garden.
Any group of more than 2 people (and then perhaps even 2) will have the potential for personality clashes. Add spirituality, and a power structure to this, and you shall see a much better chance of problems.
These problems are usually things that if every one asked “what do you mean by ….?”, “Hey did you really say…?” or “Could you clarify this?” then nothing would happen. But every now and again you get someone show up (or change into) a social nightmare.
In the case of public events, this nightmare could be as simple as someone smoking an illicit substance, or drinking (when it’s illegal) and getting militant that they don’t follow that law. It is why I specify in any Public event I’ve run, or helped run “No Alcohol or Drugs”. Weapons are a similar issue. In any of those cases, it would be a legal and PR nightmare if the Police showed up, and found something like this. It would be a disaster for that area’s Pagans, and father afield if the Media took hold of the story. The correct way to deal with this is to ask the peson to stop, if they will not, then they must go.
Another issue that may occur is socially unacceptable behavior will occur. One of the most common in Pagan circles is sadly older men and women, getting into relationships with younger persons. I personally have no tolerance for anyone “dating” anyone who is not the age of consent. Sadly Pagans tend to “turn a blind eye” and gossip about it. My local pagan scene has several people who have done this, and not a single reprimand, attempted intervention, or consequence has occurred. It is one of the reasons I am reluctant to interact with the community.
Sadly as Neopaganism (and heathenism) become more prevalent, we also attract people at the extreme fringes of society. Gangmembers, racists, convicts, etc. These are people who if they cause a problem, I call the weeds (hence the title of this blog entry). I’ve seen perfectly functional groups implode when you get any of these people.
Lets take the most destructive in my opinion. The racists and bigots. I’ve sadly encountered several of these creatures over the years.
My first introduction was back in 2002. I was helping run a Student Pagan Network. The Law Speaker (president) was a very liberal Asatruar. We had a woman show up claiming to be an Asatruar, and all seemed ok. Then one day we got on to the topic of politics. The new “Asatruar” when it came to her turn proudly proclaimed “I am a Third positionist” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Third_Position) this is sadly a nice way saying they are right wing bigots. It is what many Neo-Nazi, racist, and bigoted groups hide themselves under. In the end we had to politely tell her we were not comfortable with her presence. We could not ban her (it was against the groups student charter), but she left. I later found out she was in fact a “Satanist” (unspecified allegiance to any group) who was looking for recruits.
In 2007 I helped run an alternative to Pagan Pride Day (which had been canceled, and has yet to happen again). We called it the “Gathering”. I will not go into the organizational issues, as they are not really relevant here. We did however get one person who ruined the whole event. He claimed again to be an Asatruar (I am not picking on this group for the record). He was dressed in a paramilitary manner (camouflage Jacket, black cargo pants, army boots, etc). Over the course of the day he proceeded to alienate every one. He began by trying to assert his superiority to all. He stalked a woman, to the point she asked several of us to be “escorts” when she had to do something. He encouraged some children to play dangerously with fire, and he began to preach sedition, uprising and a number of questionable ideas towards the government. I also caught glimpse of him having several non legal knives, and what appeared to be a hand gun under his jacket. I note this as Wisconsin does NOT allow concealed carry or open carry of hand guns. Later checking would show that this person had a non molestation order from a young woman he had stalked. He was also a school teacher.
What I found so disturbing about this gentleman was not so much he existed, or found us. No. Rather the response of the community leaders. The leader of a Pagan group for the area, was adamant that he could not be “banned” from attending. Despite all the evidence (stalking of a Pagan community member, anti social behavior, and apparent armed nature). The woman at the even he had stalked had been previously harassed/stalked by her ex husband. The community leader who was refusing to act, herself had had some very bad experiences. The gentleman showed up several more times at other events and businesses, yet still the community leadership would do nothing. Other than gossip, kibitz, and bemoan he was there.
The Gentleman was a weed.
He is not the sort of person a community wants. He was unstable, but not in the “if they stay on meds they are fine” type or the “they have good and bad times” type. He was the dangerously unstable type.
Another example, which made the media. Was of a woman in an area near where I live (Milwaukee) being arrested by police for several things. The story boils down to, she illegally burned various items including tires, and plastic, while listening to her iPod. The police arrested her, and her defense was it was a “Wiccan ritual” (burning plastic and tires? Really? Wow Wicca must have dropped the “respect mother earth” aspect since I last investigated the faith). She claimed it was religious persecution and her rights of religious freedom were violated.
I was at a Pub moot the day after his happened. A leader at the moot stood on the table, and proclaimed a number of things, all without the whole story. I remember putting a hand to my head and muttering how stupid this all was. Why defend a person obviously trying to play the bigotry card? My view probably would not have been to popular to be honest.
Ok what if YOU are the weed?
Well I say this as it is very likely you will find a group that does not fit your needs, views, or whatever. Or you will become embroiled in an argument that can not be solved. I personally became a weed to one small community of late. My stance on lawfulness, responsibility along with many poor decisions of my own, made my presence disruptive. I made the choice to walk away. To “weed” myself out. I do not regret this. I unsubscribed from all the lists, I stopped attending events held in that area of town. I cut all contacts. I found I am much happier. I also hear that my absence has not changed the group what so ever. Thus I realize I made the right decision. I am no longer the agitator (by my presence) or the convenient scapegoat for them.
So what does this have to do with being a warrior?
Well firstly it emphasizes responsibility, duty, and honor. But secondly, you may find yourself in a place where you have to do the weeding!
Here is what I recommend.
(a) Be polite but forceful
(b) Don’t ever (EVER) antagonize them.
(c) Make sure you are acting in accordance to the wishes of others (if you are in a consensus based group) OR you have the authority to make this decision.
My last example I will use, is one I will be understandably vague about. In a group I belong too, it became known to us, a member was planning on coming to events and ritual illegally armed. This was against the laws of the group, and many states (where this person could appear) laws. Further this person had previously been an agitator in discussions, and had a terrible attitude to most others. The decision was taken to send the groups standard way of dealing with this a letter that is euphemistically called “Dear weed” and the use of the letter as "Weeding the Garden".