Posts Tagged abuse

The Dark Side

Years ago, I was quietly told that it was a tricky thing to be a ‘public’ Pagan. You raise your head above the parapet, you’re liable to get it shot at.

This is entirely true (and not just of Pagans, of course!). When you publicly identify as anything, there are those who will take umbrage at this, whether for your perceived audacity at doing so, or just that they think you’re wrong because they don’t like what you do.

In Paganism, there’s a practice that’s come to be known as ‘Bitchcraft’. This kind be genial – gossiping around campfire, for example, tipsy joking with no real malice – or nastier, more insidious talk. Words, as we know, are powerful things.

As I’ve said before, I’ve been on the receiving end of ‘How dare you’ diatribes before, generally for the reasons above. I try to be open to discussion and comment, and so must expect the negative with the positive. The difficulty comes when the muck-thrower is more interested in the throwing of muck than discussing something with a view to resolving the issue.

Together with other public Pagans, I’ve been accused of some ridiculous things, with arguments which go around for as long as they’re sustained, because the basic premise is incorrect and the person with a chip on their shoulder doesn’t actually want to discuss matters – they want to have an argument. Because they’re right, automatically, and anyone who disagrees is wrong. There’s no debate with such an approach. This is the time to ‘not feed the trolls’ (in internet terms) and just walk away; this fire will not burn without fuel.

However, situations can become even nastier. I’ve heard of people actively persecuted by Pagan-identified groups, with physical assault and damage being caused because the recipient does not practice in a way that the attackers consider ‘right’ or ‘proper’. I recently received a letter from someone who doesn’t want to identify publicly as Pagan – she’s still finding her way – and yet her local group are sending her threats, curses, physically damaging her property and generally assaulting her… because she won’t ‘come out’ as Pagan. This is, to my mind, wholly unacceptable on many levels.

A few months ago, I was asked at a Moot about the ‘Pagan Police’, and what to do if there was information about assaults occurring within a group or coven. I’d never come across such a thing myself, but presumed that the Pagan Police were actually the same as the real Police – if someone is acting illegally, that’s true no matter what their faith. There is the Pagan Police Association in the UK, who act for Pagan Police Officers, so it’s safe to presume that you won’t get mocked if the issue is a faith-based one (but you may need to push to find a representative in your area). Groups such as the Pagan Federation also have legal representation for Pagans as needed.

But it was then suggested that a ‘Pagan Police’ is somehow formed. A group which moderates behaviour within our ‘community’. I thought about this… would such a thing not be impossible at base, and vigilanteeism at worst?

Think about it. The Pagan Community is a very amorphous thing, made up of multitudes of different views. Those in authority are often regarded with suspicion, even when they are trying to help (see the point of this post); many groups who work hard to represent Pagans tirelessly and often thanklessly (the PF, TDN, OBOD, etc) can be on the receiving end of perceived ‘power-seeking’ or accused of taking ‘authority’ positions. This can be a real no-win situation. How can we have authority if we won’t accept authority, railing against it with suspicion – even though it’s made up of folk like ourselves?

So it’s up to us, in our individual communities, to moderate behaviour. Sometimes that does mean walking away. At other times, it may mean bravely taking a stand – retorting to the gossip or slanderer. A simple ‘That’s extremely rude’ perhaps, or ‘Actually, I don’t agree.’ ‘Why do you think that?’ is a great precursor to discussion. Sometimes the person is only whinging to make noise, and quiet down once challenged – or even be inspired to think about why they’re saying what they are.

Each situation is unique, I think, because each person is. Sometimes the nay-sayer is crying out because they’re been abused themselves, and need help or support. It can be a matter of ego too, the desire to be heard. We can listen to these people, then, and respond appropriately. The challenge here is not to becomes uncaring bullies in return.

However, greater difficulty comes when boundaries need to be set and proper behaviour has to be moderated. This isn’t ‘power-gaming’ – this is polite society, with respect for others. If you speak up, you will be heard, so expect to receive a response. You might not like that, but then it’s up to you to respond in turn. This is intelligent adult discussion. Sometimes it’s not as simple as ‘I’m right/you’re wrong’ – Paganism accepts shades of grey (doesn’t it)?

Issues such as those I’ve mentioned cannot always be solved with ‘love and light’. The peaceful nature of many Pagans makes conflict hard to deal with. But sometimes we need that maturity and strength, taking a stand to remind others that they cannot always get away with acting like children – or those whom they rail against.

And taking responsibility does not mean you’re seeking power; sometimes it’s just standing up for yourself and/or others. This is needed. We walk between worlds: our own perceived ‘Pagan’ society and the ‘Muggle’ world. We’re not playing, as we see that our words and actions have consequences.

I stand up and represent my Paganism, in my Druidry. I get challenged, and I’m glad of that – often the questions inspire me to think more deeply about a matter! But my way may not be yours, and occasionally you may need to be challenged as well. Great care must be taken that passion does not turn into denigration or abuse.

What are we doing… how are we listening and responding?

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The Dark Paths

Quite a few readers have asked me when I’ll finally write a blog post that’s basically a rant. Because apparently that’s what you do on a blog.  😉

That’s not the purpose of what I’m doing here, and I wouldn’t really be interested myself to read such a thing. But while this may seem to be rant-y, I’m aiming for it to be (ultimately) constructive. Your patience is appreciated.

I’ve perceived in the past that folk appear to have an ideal image of a priest (of any denomination) or general faith-leader. They’re supposed to be endlessly forgiving, generous and loving, a virtual embodiment of God/dess on Earth, having attained Enlightenment and taken their vows to spread that joy. Or something.

I’ve also said that I don’t actually believe that ‘Enlightenment’ is either possible or something to realistically aspire to, not as it’s generally understood. My spiritual life is part of my everyday life. I really can’t see the point in removing yourself so completely from that in order to ‘ascend’ or somehow step outside the mundane, and yet expect to understand or influence it, even by example. To me, the Dalai Lama does the most good because he is human, and clearly fallible – and has a fantastic sense of humour.

Understanding is achieved by observing, listening, approaching life in a certain way, allowing your spiritual philosophy, ethics and so forth to affect your actions and thoughts. Through this, we learn. But by no means does this result in some sort of ‘perfect’ being. Rather better adjusted, perhaps, but life will, I firmly believe, always be a challenge (and otherwise, how dull would it be?).

Unfortunately, that’s quite a leap for some to make. I’ve said before that I’m privileged to have generally encountered only interested, curious and polite folk in the course of my work as Druid and Priest – I am aware that this is a blessing! I try to reflect my spirituality in myself as I live it, including skills and faults alike. I can’t really do otherwise without turning into some sort of walking caricature (which is both dishonourable, false and ludicrous).

This last month, however, has been a true time of challenge like no other. From basic rude actions, disrespect and outright threats, I’ve been faced with a wide spectrum of negative. I’m not sure what’s in the water to be causing it, but it has made me stop and pause.

When people don’t understand, they can kick out. My favourite analogy is taken from the (transvestite) comedian Eddie Izzard – as he walked down the street, when people shout “Man in a dress!” he replies “Yes?” Which results in complete confusion. The person shouting mockery or abuse has no frame of reference for the situation they’re in, and simply doesn’t know how to continue.

I’ve seen this often. It actually helps more than hinders – people see the woman in a robe and cloak, often with staff or drum, and stop dead. Thoughts visibly cross their mind: ‘No frame of reference! What do I say?!’ Which is when the daftest comments come out. That’s ok – I just smile and joke back, and we can resume normal conversation as they discover I’m actually a Real Human Being too…

Recently, however, I was actually flummoxed. It had to happen, sooner or later. Standing in circle, watching attendees gather, a small girl of around 12 walks up, looks at me, and simply says “What are you supposed to be, then?”

This in itself wouldn’t be so bad, if it weren’t for the look on her face and her tone – both those of a disgusted, disapproving old lady. The sense that she was being forced to undergo something so deeply stupid and beneath her was staggering (especially as other young folk were clearly interested and excited).

I saw her make similar statements throughout the day, and rather than being confused as to how to respond myself, began to see the sadness underneath. This girl, for some reason, was entirely closed off. Her reality was set, anything outside it wasn’t worth her time, and while the others were playing, dancing or laughing, she was sitting alone. Apparently entirely of her own volition, as she seemed to drive everyone else away.

My own confusion was due more to the fact that I would never have even thought to say such things to others, much less adults when I was a child. But some sort of cosmic floodgate was perhaps opened, as since then, there’s been a fair few comments that have actually made me stop with no frame of reference – because I can’t imagine making those statements, I cannot comprehend how best to reply.

Yes, I am standing up publicly as a Druid, and so will inevitably open myself up to slings and arrows. I’ve said this before, I’ve just been waiting. But lately I’ve been seeing the fear, sadness, anger and confusion boiling over, and it’s hard not to be affected. I’m not on some cosmic cloud, immune to pain. I don’t have infinite patience, and am certainly not made of stone.

Some days, part of me wonders whether to continue at all. This is a no-brainer – I get far more good responses than bad in my work, so it would make no sense to quit purely because of a couple of rotten apples.  But it’s difficult. I can’t even try to respond and help, because usually those doing the throwing aren’t interested in even starting a discussion. I’m wrong, or weird, or nuts, so that’s all there is to it. Their world is set.

Others use their negativity to fuel power games. I’ve seen this often in many communities, including the Pagan – no social group is exempt, it seems, even if they start out with best intentions. Uninformed gossip, ignorant opinion, Daily Mail-style rabble-rousing, all help to fuel a particular agenda, sucking others along with them. I’ve seen the pain and hurt that results, and choose to step out of such situations. I’d rather work quietly, letting others come to me. It’s never been about my ego, I’m not interested in ‘power over’. I will stand up for my friends and loved ones, absolutely, but that’s natural defence – the trick is not to get drawn in further.

But then this week, to be directly insulted and threatened as a result of my life choices… I’ve drawn back through necessity. Regrouping is needed, new plans are forming – I’m aiming to bring something good from the bad.

This is the time when my Druidry is called upon to sustain me. I’ve made my choices – and I stick by them. When questioned or challenged, I must respond appropriately, retaining my integrity and honour while trying to honestly convey my point of view. I do try to understand where the negative is coming from, but often in the moment that’s almost impossible. That’s the point where many kick back, seeing red or running away. Those responses I can understand, but neither is helpful.

We cannot make the nay-sayers go away through feeding them. We cannot lessen their power by giving them more. Laughter can puncture the pompous; a simple ‘No’ can bring abusive action to a screeching halt. Then comes the time to reflect – on what you are doing. Did the person’s words or actions have a basis in reality, or were they based on their own fears or issues? Do your own actions have to be moderated or changed? Or is it simply time to move away, defuse with quietness?

Those who go through life spoiling for a fight usually find one, after all. If nothing measures up to our standards, we miss so much of the joy around, but that’s our choice. If our walls are so high that yes, we’re protected, but we’re also blind and deaf, then what sort of life do we have? If we live as a caricature, as ‘expected’, do our ‘friends’ really know us, or are they just helping to sustain the illusion?

We have to look deeper, both at ourselves and others. We can’t fix the world, but we can explore our relationship with it, in the knowledge that we are held, supported. Our choices must be as true as we can make them, as we have to live with the consequences.

As I travel deeper into the darkest parts of the woods, I hold fast to what sustains me: loved ones, friends, ancestors, deities – and my own creativity. These things keep me going. If they don’t, they will fall by the wayside (and I’ve been noticing a fair bit of that happening lately as well).

So here I am. I’m not sure what’s ahead, but I will continue to walk forward. If (when) there’s monsters, I will face them. Darkness holds the most valuable lessons, after all – it’s just up to us to see them.

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