PantheaCon, like neo-paganism in general, is a boiling soup of ideas, spiritual paths, ritual structures, and interests. It is filled with independently-minded people who have chosen spiritual paths that differ from mainstream society, fearless people who have chosen to follow the gods that call to them rather than what they may have grown up with. Everyone there has thought about the privileged monotheistic religions that pervade modern culture and intentionally chosen a different course.
With all those independent thinkers and innovators in one place, conflict is inevitable.
One of the conflicts that seems to have bubbled up in the lead up to PantheaCon is the concept of “Wiccanate privilege,” named as such by Ruádhan McElroy. Since Wicca and pagan practices that spring from it are the most common forms of spiritual expression within the community, large, public gatherings tend to default to “Wiccnate” practices: things like casting circles, calling quarters, evoking the Goddess and God, etc. This alienates non-Wiccan practitioners such as the Heathen community and other “hard” and devotional polytheists.
The discussion began to boil when Don Frew posted an article claiming to give an overview of neo-pagan spiritual practice. The piece was linked to at The Wild Hunt, and non-Wiccanate pagans such as Patheos blogger P. Sufenas Virius Lupus, feeling marginalized, reacted strongly.
Before I go on, I would like to acknowledge my privilege: I am a white, heterosexual, cis-gendered, Wiccanate (though not technically Wiccan) male.
The two sides met at PantheaCon last weekend and discussed the issue. Patheos blogger John Halstead and Lupus both discussed it in his/eir own articles, which you can read to get an idea of what actually happened. I wasn’t there, so I can’t comment on the discussion, but I believe I can say this:
I am thrilled and proud of our community that this discussion is happening. It would have been so easy for Frew or Lupus to entrench themselves on one or the other side of the issue, preaching only to his/eir own choir. In other religions, these kinds of disagreements have caused schisms that took centuries and way too much bloodshed to resolve, if they ever did get resolved. Instead, two pagans from two different points of view met together and talked.
It may be Wiccanate to say this, but part of the modern neo-pagan movement is to break out of the old behavior patterns which often seem to be forced upon us by society. One expression of this the transition from the “Age of Pisces” to the “Age of Aquarius.” Where the Age of Pisces is seen as supporting hierarchical structure and enforced rules, the Age of Aquarius is seen as a time of breaking out of those structures to a more even one marked by respect and equality rather than privilege and power.
These discussions could not have been had 100 years ago, but now they can. That didn’t come overnight. It took challengers and innovators from all over the world and around the spiritual spectrum to challenge the status quo and offer alternatives to what had become standard monotheistic dogma. The neo-pagan movement, the feminist movement, the civil rights movement, and the marriage equality movement, among others, all had a hand in it. Even some devout Christians such as Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mother Theresa, I believe, were part of breaking down the old norms.
These kind of radical changes take time. I think this one began with the Enlightenment, and continues to this day, just as the change from classical pagan polytheism to a world marked by monotheism took hundreds, even thousands, of years.
We still have vestiges of the dying age within us. Society is still very hierarchical in nature, and it is almost in our very DNA to want to be “right.” We have a long way to go, but we are coming to the table, confronting the problem, and that’s what matters.
We often talk of the different types of religions that fall under the Pagan Umbrella. Sometimes I think that even that model is too hierarchical. An umbrella is, after all, vertical. Perhaps the table metaphor is better: we all discuss our issues at the Pagan Table. I realize that this metaphor is problematic: rectangular tables still have heads, which tend to symbolize power, and referring to it as a “round table” would bring up unwanted cultural associations. Still, I’m proud of Lupus, Frew, and all who showed up, sat at the metaphorical non-round-table-with-no-head, and discussed these issues honestly.
Discussion involves both speaking and listening. For it to be productive, we all must participate in both sides of that equation, whether we find ourselves in a privileged position or not. Only then can we move toward greater inclusion.