In my 20+ years of being a Pagan, I have met the most wonderful, inspiring people. I have also come across my fair share of people who seem to revel in trying to take other people down. A lot of this, I’ve found, stems from the thinking that “you’re doing it wrong”.
For me, in anyone’s religion or spirituality, there is no right and wrong way of doing whatever inspires them, whatever heals their soul and whatever helps them to establish that connection with the songs of life. I liken it to creating art, for it is an expression of one’s soul, one’s inspiration. Would Da Vinci tell Jackson Pollack that he’s doing it wrong? Maybe, but both are equally an expression of the artist, both are equally art. I must confess, I have in the past walked around art museums, seen a painting, and thought “I can do that – that’s not art”. I’ve since seen the error of that thinking, and the divide that it creates. Is a six-year old’s expression of a drawing of their mother any less worthy than a piece by Donatello? However, I digress.
Believing that there is only one way of doing things leads to all sorts of problems within the human psyche. Out of that stems arrogance, division, and narrow-mindedness, just to name a few. We would not have the wonders that we know today had everyone thought there was only one way of doing things. We would not have a wealth of theologies from which to delve in and expand our human awareness, and awareness of the planet. We would not have the wonders of the modern technological age. We would not have impressionists, or the romantics. We would not have haiku and sonnets.
The people that have inspired me have been those who have had the courage to follow their own path. Figures in Druidry such as Emma Restall Orr (http://emmarestallorr.org) come to mind, people who couldn’t find what they needed to nourish their souls in what they found already existed, and so blended what mattered most to them with existing ideas, creating new ways of doing things. Twenty years ago, Emma’s mud and blood approach to Druidry was unique, and she had her fair share of people telling her that she was “doing it wrong”, I’m sure. Now, she is one of the most prolific writers and public figures in Druidry, inspiring millions with her approach, and making them find their own way through the forest. It’s bloody marvellous.
I have seen some pagan groups or individuals put another group or individual down, because They Are Doing It Wrong. Oftentimes as well, some pagans will use the term “fluffy bunny” to denigrate someone else’s path when it differs from theirs. The fluffy bunny syndrome I find fascinating – not in the bunnies themselves, but in the way that people use this approach to make their path seem more valid. Why on earth would anyone want to do such a thing?
A lot of this stems from the fact that assumptions are made about people. This is especially rife on the internet, where one can judge another without ever even meeting them in the flesh. These assumptions become rapid fire judgements, in which their path is better, their way of doing things holding a greater validity. This is expounded by the fact that they feel they are free assume and judge others in front of the watchful gaze of thousands.
Simply because one does not share the same opinion as you, doesn’t mean that theirs lacks validity.
I could equally assume that the people making such comments have deep-seated fears about their own path, or have had troubling experiences in the past that makes them lash out, that they lack self-esteem and this makes them feel better about themselves – but again, these are all assumptions. We have no idea why people do the things they do. We cannot get inside people’s heads. What we can do, however, is realise that everyone is on their own journey.
Each spiritual path, each way of doing things, is as unique as the person who is travelling along in this journey of life. Instead of denigrating people who choose a different path, another way of doing things, differing from the norm or not following the traditional way of doing things, how about celebrating this as wonderful expressions of the soul? We celebrate art in museums in the same way, why can we not do so with spirituality? Both are expressions of the soul.
If someone wants to wear black from head to toe, cover themselves in tattoos and piercings and do ritual with the Sisters of Mercy playing in the background, then that’s brilliant – if it opens their soul to the experience and gives them what they need, the connection that is at the heart of all religions and spirituality, then let them do so without criticism and judgement. Equally, if someone wants to cover themselves in glitter and wear fairy wings, channelling white light energy into their hamster, Brutus, to clear his conjunctivitis alongside with the prescription drugs from the vet, then that is equally fabulous. To each their own. Remember The Rede – An it harm none, do what ye will.
In Paganism, there is no one right way of casting a circle. There is no one right way of meditation. There is no one right way of soul retrieval. There is no one right way of invoking the gods and goddesses. There is no one right way of making an offering, of praying, or dancing. This also applies to all religions, not just Paganism.
I have recently been tagged into the “category” of “New Agers” looking for the next new and best spiritual thing. It can be frustrating at first, being looked down the nose at by some people. It is also completely bemusing. Comments such as these are always made by people who don’t know me personally. Assumptions and judgements abound. I have seen and experienced things that would make some people wet their pants. I also *heart* faeries and unicorns. Does that make what I do any less valid than anyone else? Does it make my way better? I don’t think so.
My Way Of Doing Things Is Better Than Yours has led to all sorts of horrific things; war and strife, racism and sexism, just to name a few. Condemning other paths because they do not adhere to what you think is the right way of doing things is, quite frankly, a waste of time.
And so I salute all those who sing their soulsongs freely, and let their true selves shine through, whatever their path, inspiring others. And I would also say, do not let others tell you what is the “correct” way of doing things. Do not let others denigrate your path – let them say what they will, then smile, shrug, and keep going. We all must walk our own paths, and no one else can do that for us. Sure, there are plenty of people who can guide us along, and become great teachers – but be wary of those who tell you that you should trudge silently along the path when you feel you should dance, skip, or cartwheel.
I look forward to seeing you along the journey!
Beautifully said, Joanna. Thank you.
You’re welcome! x
I think if you encounter someone who is doing things that only harm them, then there’s much to be said for at least alerting them to other takes and ways of being. The New Age idea that we draw to us that which is like us can be incredibly damaging, as an example. Telling people what to do, or not do, is rude and disrespectful but there are ways of flagging up options. But absolutly, if it does no harm, it’s no one else’s business.
Indeed – but I would pose that even what you say is the “New Age idea that we draw to us that which is like us” may indeed be true for some people – that may indeed happen to and for them. Who are we to say otherwise? Everyone’s experience is different – what is harmful to one may not be to another. If someone needs help, then we must help them with all due compassion and respect. If their path is simply different, then I agree – it’s no one’s business. x
Beautiful piece. It seems we as humans have an innate fear of other people having a different experience than our own. I see it in myself and I confront it whenever I recognize it. Certainly the hubris of thinking ours is the “right” way is detrimental to our society and to the ecosystems we live in. Indeed, it has been use justify the worst expressions of our humanity.
People fear freedom, well at least the freedom of everyone else :>) It is important that we as pagan find acceptance for and embrace diversity and freedom. Paganism is an experiential path. Everyone is unique and will experience life in their own way. We must accept this. Sure we can confront harmful behavior (especially when it is harmful to the community and the land), but we must focus on our own relationships to Nature. Live and let live.
Isn’t it funny when a person says they believe in fairies and people think, “what a nut”. But if one says, “I believe in angels”, people think, “oh they are a good person”. Perfect example of arrogance and self-righteousness based on nothing that holds any weight at all. Instead of judgment, perhaps crafting a better relationship and reaching for common ground would be the better approach. Perhaps we need to learn to listen first and gather understanding. Maybe ask a question such as, “why do you have belief”? And then listen without need of winning. Life is too short to maintain a dynamic of trying to win all the time. The biggest addiction on the planet is that of “being right”, of trying to “win”. I am sick of “winning”.
Oh, well said Snowhawke! Indeed – life is not a game to be won – or even played. Life is to be experienced, immersed, wholly and utterly absorbed in the moment, without thoughts of winning or losing but simply seeing the beauty all around for what it is – the true soul song of expression…