On Pagan Values

As I mentioned at the end of last week’s article, many of my fellow Pagan bloggers have been setting space aside to discuss the topic of “Pagan values”. I didn’t know whether this was something I wanted to address, since I’ve usually viewed this blog as a place to discuss my local congregation and my experiences in running it, and I don’t feel like I have the authority to go around telling the entire pagan population what to do. (Unless it involves something I find intensely stupid and wasteful, like, say, an electronic petition “defending” us from Kathy Lee Gifford.) Hek, I barely have the authority to dictate what my own Grove does. But I do enjoy taking part in big online events, at least once in a while, and since I didn’t have anything more pressing to write about this week, I figgered, what the Hekate!

So then I spent the week thinking about what kind of pagan value I wanted to address. Some ideas flitted through my mind as I drove around town doing my job, but nothing jumped out at me as the “must discuss” topic. Tolerance of others’ beliefs as an expression of our own polytheism? Ah, but not everyone who considers themselves Pagan also considers themselves polytheistic, and besides, I couldn’t find a way to write that without making it sound too self-congratulatory for my tastes. I’ve always felt a little uncomfortable when Ian Corrigan writes articles like that, and Ian’s a way better writer than I am. I also thought about writing something exhorting my Pagan brethren (is there a better not-all-male word for that? “Sororen”? “Sistren”? “Siblen”?) to be a little less self-obsessed, to do more outward-looking in our practices, to do more open ritual and public service work. But as important as I think that is, even I can’t justify it as being an inherently “Pagan” value. Solitary practitioners and mall private groups have a role to play in our religion, even if that’s a part that I have no personal interest in. Maybe write something about ADF’s Nine Virtues? But again, it’s not something that applies to all Pagans, and in any case, it’s already been written about by a better writer than me.

In the end, the one idea I kept coming back to, the one I decided to write about this week, wasn’t about the values that Pagans hold, but what Pagans value. Not just because of my love of puns, but the double meaning of “value” did seem to lead me in that direction. And during the last year, I’ve found myself thinking more and more on that aspect of our religion. How much do we value our path? How much of our time and energy and money do we as individuals choose to put into it? Are we really as dedicated to our path as the folks in other religions are, or is Paganism more of a glorified recreation, a hobby? Actually, that question doesn’t really apply. Most people are quite willing to spend their time and money on their hobbies.

No, I’m not expecting every Pagan out there to be completely selfless, or even mostly selfless. We each come to this path for many different reasons, but usually at least some of our reasons are based on self-interest. It makes us feel good to be with the gods, we like the buzz of energy work, we think that one person who did the Bardic Invocation is cute and want to hang out with them… Even us clergy-types, who have chosen to run ourselves ragged pursuing a vocation that gives us no money and the prospect of an early stress-related death, get some personal benefits from it. (If we don’t, then we’re probably being complete idiots.) Part of reciprocity is expecting to get something for yourself as a result of your practices – ah, but the other part of reciprocity is the giving, isn’t it? And too often in my not quite twenty years as a pagan, I see people buying fancy altar items, and not donating to a Pagan church or charity. (Or even non-Pagan ones.) People ask for counseling or hospital visits from an unpaid volunteer Pagan clergyperson, and never offer any kind of recompense. People who ask for blessings from the gods or other spirits, but never make any kind of offering before or after. There’s got to be a balance here, folks. If studying the ways of the Ancients and their religions has taught me anything, it’s that their practice was about building community through establishing proper hospitality with each other and with their gods. If we don’t at least try to do the same, we’re nothing more than an obnoxious pre-Christian form of a Renaissance Festival. (Actually, I’m being unfair again. The folks at RenFest are far more supportive of each other than that.) Like most clergy types, I want the members of my religion to strive to be better people than they are, and I’m always a little saddened when they can’t seem to manage it, and greatly saddened when they don’t even want to try.

“But wait!”, I hear some of you cry from across the ocean of cyberspace. “What if I don’t have money to give?” I’m with you there, folks. This week I had to once again delay renewing my ADF membership because I couldn’t even manage to get $25 together after covering other bills. Put me in the “sad at myself because I can’t seem to manage it” category on that one. But I have other things to offer, and I’m sure you do as well. Write an article or a poem or a book review for a Web site or a magazine (I hear they still publish a few of those), volunteer time to your local recycling center or other worthy group, or Hek, just do a ritual for your favorite deity, not because you need something from them right this minute, but just because you like them. Keep at least part of your Pagan outlook focused on looking outward, and if we all manage to do that, then we’ll have something resembling a real community.

OK, enough rambling on this. Next week I’ll renew my local writing focus and tie it in to this article by telling y’all exactly what non-cash-related things you can do for Shining Lakes Grove.

Rev. Rob Henderson
Senior Druid, Shining Lakes Grove, ADF

PS – If you just can’t get enough of me talking about pagan stuff, you can read a new interview at: http://www.examiner.com/examiner/x-12870-Southeast-Michigan-Pagan-Examiner~y2009m6d22-Interview-with-a-Druid–Rob-Henderson-of-Shining-Lakes-Grove

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