Monthly Archives: April 2010

Toward a New Pagan Ethics

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I’ve got to hand it to Jason over at the Wild Hunt Blog, he does not shy away from the tough issues. In response to this horrific story, Jason raises a concern many of us share about the decentralized nature of nature-based spirituality:

A vast percentage of modern Pagans aren’t part of any established group, or are members of groups and traditions so small they hardly count as “established” on any national or even regional scale. This creates a culture where we tend to ascribe a certain amount of legitimacy to any individual practitioner as a common courtesy, which creates fertile grounds for those who want to abuse that trust. I’m not saying we should stop trusting, or that everyone should join a national organization if they want to be taken seriously, only that our decentralized nature makes us uniquely vulnerable to con-men and monsters.

It also makes our organizations susceptible to undue influence by the attention-seekers, power-mongers and loosely-tethered personalities among us. This has been an issue in Reclaiming for decades, and also to some degree in organizations such as COG and Cherry Hill Seminary. If you are a small group trying to do a big thing, you need all the helpers and volunteers you can find. The common courtesy that Jason describes goes a long way toward explaining why we give difficult people the benefit of the doubt, instead of questioning their motives and making sure they don’t wield undue influence in the group.

I have seen many a well-intentioned group grind to an absolute halt by the dissention and ill-will caused by a single individual. In response to the current case, Jason is putting out the call:

What can we do about it? Along with a culture of love and trust, we also need to create a culture of responsibility and frankness about what will and will not be tolerated within our communities, and make in known to the wider world.

Having been through this in recent years, trying through our local teacher’s guild to establish standards for ethics and transparency in the international Reclaiming camp network, I wish him well. One thing that process taught me is that no matter how long the process takes, it is a very good thing to have ethics and standards on the front burner in our various subcultures. The longer it is up for debate, the more reasonable people will come to realize that holding ourselves accountable to an ethical code is not a loss of freedom, it is a gain of maturity, and insurance that our group’s vision and goals may actually come to pass.

Avalon, the Mirror Isle

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Long, long ago, before the legends were made, before the stories of heroes and magic were passed like flagons around a peat fire, Avalon was a green jewel of an island floating in an inland sea. The way to this island was always by boat, each vessel woven by hand, and guided skillfully through thickets of willow and sedge, following the winding, ever-changing paths formed by water and land.

The people of this land learned to find the high spots in the water to build their villages, and stayed away for all but the summer months, when the flood waters receded. This land was called Somerset, “land of the summer people.” It is among these first people that all our stories of the Sacred Isle begin. Avalon was sacred first simply because she was there: a refuge from the rising tides, a source of food, of fiber, an anchor and place of safety in a land ruled by the fickle gods of the waters and the weather.

Avalon is an island of mirrors, then as well as now. In the beginning, it was surrounded by mirrors: the smooth surface of the lake reflecting the deep blue sky above, or cloaked in mist so thick that it veiled the land and obscured all beyond range of our fingertips. And today, our Avalon, the Avalon of our myriad stories, is a mirror for all our longings, our yearnings for the past and our deepest dreams for the future.

For the stories that have been handed down to us have taken twists and turns of their own on their way through the marshes of time and memory. They sometimes reveal vistas, reward us with nourishment for the soul, only to vanish again or be lost as a new story appears to take another’s place. There is no true path anymore among these stories; no way to follow the sure path through the wetlands and step foot finally onto dry land. The levels have long been drained, and people dwell today where none were in the time of legends.

All we have now are our mirrors, and some beautiful ones there are. We dream of a lineage of priestesses, a place of wisdom, a school of mysteries, all the things our hearts yearn for. We can see it, feel it, enter there and journey in, around, and through that landscape clear as day. And then our mirror fogs with mist, and we see instead a steep, sheep-grazed hill crowned with the ruins of an ancient church.

Where do we go when we visit Avalon? Why do we seek it? What do we hope to find? When we come together to invoke Avalon, we create a brilliant mosaic of mirrors, our stories of what might have been. Together we rebuild the waters, re-grow the willow and sedge, weave our own boats and journey to the beat of our own drums, through the mists of time and down the winding path formed by water and land.

We seek the Shining Isle; how could we not? And yet, that is not where this journey leads. In the center of the mirrors is always our own heart, our own Story. And who but ourselves will tell us when we have found dry ground at last?