20 June 2017

Changing Values

While there’s always some in-fighting in any community, it seems like the last few years have been particularly rough on the greater Pagan, Polytheist, and magickal communities.  It feels like our past conflicts have been more about how and what to practice - the whole “my tradition is better/more authentic/more powerful/etc. than yours.”  These days our conflicts seem to run quite a bit deeper, to our core values - issues of right conduct, inclusion, personal sovereignty, and leadership. How do we, as a community, move forward when our core is fracturing?

Over the last few years I have seen a palpable shift from an embrace of larger communities to smaller, more insular units.  I believe this is due in large part to a shifts and schisms in core values.  At age 35 I am firmly in the middle of a generational shift in thought and values.  I can see and appreciate the values of our community founders, many of which are now aging into eldership or retirement.  They tend to value connection to the earth, freedom of expression (within a certain definition), and community togetherness.  I can also see the values of up and coming practitioners whose values tend towards individual expression, acceptance, and transparency.  While on their face these values don’t seem to conflict, but in practice they tend to express themselves with radical differences.   Whereas coming together in homogeneous celebration or join purposes has been standard for large scale ritual for years, these days a lot of practitioners are looking more to have an individual experience while in community rather than having the same experience as the person next to them.  Similarly, students these days are often looking for guidance on making a practice their own rather than simply wanting to be told the “correct” way of doing something.  While alternative communities are always more individualistic than the mainstream, we’ve taken things to a whole new level of late.

Another way this value shift has expressed itself is in the denouncement of poor conduct by community members, especially leadership.  Certain behaviors that were once quietly ignored or accepted are no longer tolerated.  Things like sexual misconduct, casual racism, misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, and various microaggressions are far more likely to be called out by the larger community than they have been in the past (we’ve still got a loooooooong way to go, but we are slowly improving).  Get any group of folks who have been in the community for more than five years (and a goodly number of newer folks) and they will be able to tell stories of “that once leader who creeps on all the girls” or “that one person who’s super nice as long as you’re straight” or, my personal favorite, “that one leader who loves everyone unless they disagree even slightly.”  In this era of ever present information it’s a lot harder to hide questionable behavior and people are getting better at calling it out.

While this is an absolutely necessary part of healthy growth, it does create friction and some people are pretty unreasonable about it.  It should be a no-brainer to kick out community members that prey on the community and yet, for some unfathomable reason, it isn’t.  Some communities have spent so long teaching tolerance and “positive thinking” that they become immobilized in the face of conflict, no wanting “confrontation” to “lower their vibrations.”  A little harsh?  Maybe, but people like that drive me up the wall - honestly what good is a community that refuses to protect its most vulnerable members?  It gets trickier when it’s a leader that’s made positive contributions to the community, while simultaneously preying on it or undermining the values they preached.  There have been far too many people in positions of power that have overtly made positive contributions while at the same time covertly engaging in sexual misconduct, abusive behaviors, racism, etc.  Does this mean they should be removed from those positions of power - of course it does!  Does this mean we should throw out all the structures they created and teachings they gave?  That’s much more difficult to say.  Chances are good that any power structure created by someone who abused their power will have some fundamental problems that will need correcting, and that their teachings will likely need close examination and amendment, but it doesn’t mean that they are without value.  Of course, determining how much should be kept and what should be tossed is likely to cause as much of an uproar as the initial exposure of wrongdoing.  There will always be those who value familiar structures over change, even when it’s necessary.  There will also be those so outraged by misconduct that they’ll want to throw the baby out with the bathwater.  Finding a balance between the two may be difficult unto impossible.

Change is good; growth is good.  However, people grow and change at different rates and in different ways and sometimes that means they can’t work with one another any more.  We are living in an uncomfortable time in which so many things are changing at once that it can be hard to keep up, let alone adapt and thrive.  As the values of the Pagan, Polytheist, and magickal communities evolve our existing community structures will also need to evolve.  We are incredibly diverse communities that are growing more so by the minute and our needs are changing.  I don’t have any answers for what we need to evolve into, but we’d better start figuring it out.  


  1. Heya Emily! I've only just found your blog but I wish I found it long ago! I was hoping I could use some of your blogs in my journal's? Your work is amazing!

  2. Nice talk about values, and how they manifest

  3. Hello,

    I have been watching this unfold mainly though observing the "Pagan and Witchcraft Blogosphere" (Patheos predominantly). I agree with your observation.

    As a side note: it's nice to see someone else interested in the same "line of work".