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Part Two: Waning Moon

Nota bene—I had planned to post this second part earlier in the week but have been drawn—lured!—down the tricky rabbit trails in our community. Some of you will understand this guilty pleasure: following link after link in a circuitous, riotous and ultimately informative research effort.

These are not issues exclusive to the Pagan/Heathen communities but—as with many other sticking points—it is writ large here. Sturm und drang—polished and deliberate language used as both weapon and shield. The bristling armed camps face each other across a wide gulf. After many months of observing, listening and analyzing, I did what any curious person would do. I went to the edge of that deep gap and simply looked in. It seemed the best way to understand the level of disconnect that I was encountering as I pondered the situations and the reactions to them.

Slick, clever, running both hot and cold, the talk (in person and on-line) surrounding some relatively simple questions of protocol belies the complexity of the times, the personalities and the issues involved.

The great scholar Gerda Lerner has often been my guide as I attempt to look through the lens/lenses of that construct we call “history.”  Her work has been instrumental in revealing the hidden roots of ostensibly modern problems.

"We can learn from history how past generations thought and acted, how they responded to the demands of their time and how they solved their problems. We can learn by analogy, not by example, for our circumstances will always be different than theirs were. The main thing history can teach us is that human actions have consequences and that certain choices, once made, cannot be undone. They foreclose the possibility of making other choices and thus they determine future events." Gerda Lerner

I found the chasm to be shallower than I had at first thought. To be sure, the top layer is filled with arm-waving and posturing—lots of people talking and not too many listening.

(One of my colleagues here was certainly triggered by my initial post and exhibited the behaviors that are most unhelpful in our on-going exploration of the larger issues. Invective, personal attack and some of the other “bureaucrats of hierarchy” presented themselves in many bits of writing regarding the first post in this series. Emotion is a trickster to whom we all are held in thrall to some degree of other, for good or ill.)

This came to be a theme as I researched more widely into the many pathways to Women’s Mysteries. Reasonable and well-written opinion presented in any online forum was sure to be met with scorn, derision and personal attacks on the writer. In very many cases, the original note seemed not to have been read in any depth, if at all.  Instead of a thorough (or even thoughtful) study of the post, it was parsed and the spaces between the lines were minutely interpreted, often in ways that were confusing and nonsensical. Sides had been drawn and everyone was expected to move into one camp or the other.

As I moved past this prickly top layer, I found the usual culprits. These same foes show up every time a culture is in transition. They are the bureaucrats of hierarchy and true oppression and are—through eons of experience—adept at dividing human communities. The polarizing effects of status and privilege always break into distinct techniques for moderating or organizing change. They are the tools of control and domination, hoary and vicious.

It began for me with some familiar territory—complaints about so-called Second Wave feminists. Those of us who fit that description have heard it all before—selfish, blinkered, racist, man-hating. Yeah, yeah. That quickly moved into a sly sort of age-ism—and the assumption that these elderly and already flawed feminists simply didn’t understand what was going on and had to be schooled in this mod concept of trans-gendered persons.

Some of those feminists—including Lesbian separatists, to be sure—complained that trans-gendered folks were being obnoxious and insulting. That they were self-centered, ignorant, blind to anything that didn’t touch them personally.  That quickly moved into a sly sort of age-ism—and the assumption that these self-centered and arrogant children lacked maturity and needed to be reminded whose shoulders they were standing upon.

This led to one of the most fascinating aspects of this sort of culture war—the Oppression Olympics.  Who has suffered more?  Who continues to suffer while others rest in their un-earned privilege?  It’s always been worse for us. No, us!  And we continue to suffer, to be angry, to be maligned and abused.

All of that is true, for we live within systems that encourage us to be polarized, to fight each other so that we can never see the true oppression. But I will write more on that in the final post. What it came down to, time after time, was not allowing others to own their experience and to speak from that. As we shake down the complications and implications of cultural change, one useful tool is a view of the past and how it influences who and where we are as a culture. Another useful tool is an ability to work beyond our own assumptions regarding these complex issues. Assumptions based on experience have some validity but assumptions based on projected fears of loss of privilege and status do not.

And that final and deepest layer of this imaginary and all-too-painful chasm? It was filled, perhaps unsurprisingly,  with fear.

I returned again and again to the fragility of our world view and how it is dependent on where we fit within a given culture or set of cultures. The question of safety in ritual space continues to be a focus for my thought and the meditations of my daily practice as I work through other questions.  I am pondering the point in our collective history as religious movements when  we set aside the early notion that our religions are about freedom—freedom regarding who we worship, how we worship and with whom we worship. And I continue to work through notions of respect, policing and the uses of civility.

Ours is a clever, privileged and mostly on-line culture. Many of us don’t have a strong skillset when it comes to face-to-face confrontation. It is so easy to hurl invective and indulge in ad hominen attack and shallow judgments. It is harder to take a long view and develop strategies for negotiation. In Part Three of this posting, we’ll look at the work of face-to-face reconciliation that has already begun (and was so brightly visible at Pagan Spirit Gathering) and glean what we can of the importance of listening and discernment as we adapt and grow as religions, as communities and as human beings.

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