Crossing Lines

Pagans and Group Dynamics, Interfaith Relations and Private Life

Quill Mastercraft

One of my Cocker Spaniels likes to sleep in my closet, but she's kind of screwy on the best of days. Fact is: no human being goes "into the closet" of their own free will. That secrets must be kept is done of necessity, because external forces pose a threat to the truth. No wonder there are so many Pagans practicing as solitaries. Over the years, it has proven far safer.

Little by little, however, Pagan groups are stepping forward to declare themselves, and the validity of the Pagan lifestyle and practices. Courageous Pagans seek acknowledgement, from the media, from mainstream churches, from society. The lines crossed by these people are making it possible for all of us to be more open about our beliefs.

Still, this openness is new, and a challenge. Some Pagans may have a difficult time adjusting to the dynamics of a group setting. If the majority of members of a fledgling group lean toward a certain tradition, it may be difficult for individuals of differing traditions to "fit it". Many groups are being organized to specifically cross the lines of tradition, though, welcoming Pagans of all beliefs. Such groups do not focus on ritual, as would a coven, but on planning public events, making important public contacts and promoting understanding.

Holding public events, contacting the media or other groups to advance the truth about Paganism is, itself, a challenge. As outlined in many books which chronicle the history of Paganism, stereotypes have come down through the centuries, and are difficult to get past. Caution must be used in taking even small steps, since the opposition is unknown. How will be group be received? Will there be acceptance, respect, or rejection? In many cases, people are willing to listen and encourage the group's efforts. In other situations, the reception is cool, though not blatantly hostile. All factors assessed before going in, armed with tact, facts and genuine smiles, the challenge can be well met.

Especially when it comes to interfaith relations. As with other minority religions, Pagans simply wish to be allowed to freely practice their faith, without being harassed or attempts being made to evangelize or convert them. The best presentation to cross these lines is simply to demonstrate that Paganism is not "immoral", as has been assumed by some mainstream denominations, and that practitioners are ordinary men and women, concerned about the community, the environment, and their families. By getting involved with non-sectarian charities, sponsoring projects like adopting a highway, or even a softball team, it is possible to get the Pagan word out that we care. Once Pagans are working side by side with Christians, Jews and Muslims for the good of all, the lines will truly be crossed.

And, this way, it won't come down to a bickering match about individual theologies, which isn't the point at all.

Yet another challenge is balancing the "public face of Paganism" with private life. Pagans may join efforts with people from all churches and walks of life for a laudable project, but at the end of the day, they go home to their own space. They may have had to smile all day, or allow casual but rather offensive remarks slide off their backs like a duck in the rain. There may be personality conflicts which are overlooked for the good of the cause which, in private, cause sadness or anger.

Key in this situation is being true to the self. Not all people one encounters will become good friends. That a common goal is shared will cross many lines, but in other settings, two people simply might not be compatible. Personal interests and lifestyles may differ vastly and make conversation or interaction away from the group setting irksome.

There is nothing wrong with this. Just as no one can be friends with every one of their co-workers, so it is that no Pagan can honestly be good friends with every other Pagan with whom he or she deals. To be able to handle oneself within a group, working together, and beyond the group, being comfortable with one's own circle of friends, is of the utmost importance. Respecting others' opinions, even though they may conflict or be different from one's own, is vital. That way, at the end of a busy day holding a Pagan picnic or other event, everyone goes home with a sense of accomplishment. No one will harbor resentments about little slights, or desire undue recognition, because all efforts will be equally valued. Mutual respect will also eliminate much of the "infighting" which occurs in some groups, or the gossip, with all individuals comfortable with their own place in the greater scheme of things.

A tall order? Yes. But crossing the lines to understanding on all levels of existence is worth it.

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