Kenny Klein: Tales Of The Rambling Wren.
Follow Kenny from the levees of New Orleans to the whirling chaos that is the Pagan festival circuit and beyond. Musings, rants, and just plain Pagan talk.
Perfect Love And Perfect Trust... Or Is It?
I sat in a tent, carrying on a conversation at a small Pagan event. In the distance women were gathering for a women's ritual. At one point I heard a woman challenging the attendees as they entered the circle.
"Do you enter the circle in perfect love and perfect trust?" The challenging woman had a soft voice, and sounded very unconvinced as she asked this over and over.
Um, sure," one attendee answered.
"Yes," one attendee affirmed, giggling as she said it. "Why not?"
About three or four women down the line, one actually said "no. I don't know everyone here."
I secretly smiled.
In my last entry, I spoke about words and phrases that have become cliches in the Pagan community. Lines we say again and again that, in the telling, loose any real meaning, or become open to vast levels of interpretation. Perfect Love And Perfect Trust (PLPT) is one of these phrases.
I heard this phrase a good deal when I first entered the Craft thirty years ago. It was one of those things people said in Circle and in discussing Craft ethics. At one point, Andras Corbin Arthen, talking about leaving a video camera out in public at a large Pagan event, turned to me and said "Perfect love and perfect trust has a fifty dollar cash limit." Smart Andras... So, what does the phrase mean, and what are its limitations? Where does the phrase come from, and how is it actually used in Paganism?
Good questions. I'm glad you asked.
The first written mention of the term is in Gerald Gardner's Book Of Shadows, and is used in reference to an initiate entering a magical Circle. It is not used to signify that the initiate has perfect love or trust for any individual, but that they are entering the rite, and therefore the presence of their Gods, in PLPT. (This becomes an important distinction as this discussion continues).
Next in the chronology we have Gwen Thompson's Wiccan Rede, as old as the 1960s or earlier, but published in The Green Egg in 1975 (the linked copy is the exact document published by Thompson, not one of the many fakes, embellishments or weird offshoots that came flooding in later. This link is the same Rede, as it appears in the Blue Star Book of Shadows). In that document we find "Bide ye Wiccan laws ye must, in Perfect Love and Perfect Trust." Once again, nothing is said about loving or trusting people: the line asks that Wiccans love and trust the Laws Of The Wicca, as set down by Gerald Gardner and his Priestesses (including Doreen Valiente), and which they have pledged themselves to upholding at their Wiccan initiation.
In the late 70s, when I came into Wicca---and I make the distinction between Wicca and Paganism, as there was very little eclectic Paganism at the time--- I found that among established Wiccan traditions (Gardnerian, Alexandrian, American Welsh and Minoan) and Dianic groups, PLPT was often used as an inner court password. Like the example of Gardner's BoS, one was being asked to enter the Circle in PLPT. The person being asked had taken vows to observe and uphold the laws, the Gods and the honor of this particular coven: they were not being asked to pledge anything they had not already vowed before their Gods.
In the 1980s, the Craft grew and spread. Two publishers saw a niche market, and filled it with books. Many of these books were aimed at readers who could not find, or were not interested in, a traditional coven. Many readers were looking for a way to practice Paganism without a teacher, and absent from a full-time, close knit community. A new ideology emerged: solitary Eclectic Paganism. But the writers of these books drew on ideas, conventions, words and phrases found in the blueprint they knew: traditional Wicca, based on the model of the Gardnerian initiates' coven. One of these phrases was our old buddy, Perfect Love and Perfect Trust.
Yup, this is what happened to a once honorable phrase. I totally stole this image off the internet, cause isn't that where you find Perfect Love and Perfect Trust?
Another phenom of the 80s was the Pagan festival. Beginning in 1976 with PanPagan Festival, and coming into its own in 80 and 81 with PSG, Rites of Spring, and Starwood, the Pagan Festival was a place where as many as a thousand Pagans could meet and form a temporary community. One feature of Pagan Fests was public ritual.
But here a problem was presented: many of the great ritual leaders of the Pagan community were initiates of oath-bound traditions. They could not present a ritual exactly as their coven or grove performed it, because you had to be an oath-bound initiate to be present at these rituals. There were two ways around this: present a watered down version of your ritual, omitting oath bound elements; or, if you were a festival organizer, get someone who had no ties to an oath bound tradition (and therefore, no formal training). Festivals presented both. And in the public rituals that followed, certain elements and phrases stuck: one of them was our old, dear friend, Perfect Love and Perfect Trust.
The context of this phrase changed entirely when it was taken out of Gerald Gardner's coven model, and introduced into the Pagan community at large (most of which was not now following the initiatory coven model set by Gardner and his ilk). Gardner meant the phrase to indicate that initiates, who had gone through a prolonged training (three minimum time periods of the famous year-and-a-day, which will certainly be the topic of an upcoming blog post: so a minimum of three years) with the same priestess, priest and coven members, loved and trusted the Craft, the laws that governed the coven, and perhaps the guidance of the priest and priestess (though that last is never expressly mentioned in any of the liturgies). These were times when a Pagan might know no other pagans than her own coven, or her own small community. To ask an initiate "do you enter the circle in Perfect Love and Perfect Trust" was to ask "do you love and trust the spiritual path, the Gods, and the teachers you have chosen to dedicate a huge chunk of your life to?"
But the model has changed. If I enter a public ritual at a Pagan event, I may not even know the Priestess and Priest. In my paradigm, that of a Wiccan elder, they may not even be a priestess and priest (at least as far as the criteria that make one a priestess or priest in the traditions I follow---and yes, I understand that they may be held as a Priestess or Priest by others, and that's a topic for a whole different discussion, so I'm just going to ignore your comments on that since I've already given you context for that remark). I certainly do not know everyone in the circle. I do not know what ethics these people follow, what traditions (if any) they draw from, or what their qualifications are. Is it fair, in any way, to ask me if I can enter this circle in Perfect Love and Perfect Trust? I feel it is not. In fact, the same Wiccan Rede that gave us this phrase states "With a fool no season spend, nor be counted as his friend." If I were to find that anyone in this circle is, in my opinion, a "fool," the Rede tells me to withdraw from them. So do I enter the circle? Do I abstain from attending? If I take PLPT to heart, and honestly live by the ethics it entails, rather than seeing it as five oft repeated words, do I even have enough information to answer the question?
Gosh, this new model of the phrase PLPT makes life complicated!
The simple and obvious answer is, no. I cannot enter this circle in Perfect Love and Perfect Trust, because there are just too many variables for me to know whether or not I can. I am being faced with a phrase that has become so cliche in the Pagan community that the person asking me probably has never stopped to consider what is being asked. The question was coined to be asked of bonded initiates, not of strangers or acquaintances. In the old days of the coven system (or the new days---some of us still observe those ways), the question is often asked at knife point: under threat of bodily harm. Today, in open circles, that is simply not done. So simply put, there is no consequence for lying. If I say "sure, I enter the circle in PLPT," but I have either never considered what that means, or I am simply ignoring a consideration of it, there is no true challenge. If I lie, does anyone know? Of course not. Do the Gods know? Maybe, but how can I know if the officiants are calling upon the same Gods I answer to (as they would have been in the Gardnerian coven model)? I can't.
What is the answer? I don't know. Cliches spread like wildfire, and like wildfire, are very hard to control. I can suggest that if you work outside of the initiatory coven system, and if you do not use Gardner's material as a model for your work, that you carefully consider what you are asking when you challenge someone to enter your ceremony in PLPT. Do you have the right to ask it? What is the person pledging to love and trust? The Gods you call (who might be perfect strangers to them)? The laws you follow (if these can be presented as a codified body)? The people in the ceremony (who the hell are they)? Or are these simply words you have heard and are now repeating, because "Pagans are supposed to say that?" Only you can answer these questions for yourself, your circle and your guests. I cannot. But I can ask that you consider it.
And while I have your attention, I'll hit you with a little shameless commercial plug: as I write this, the Kickstarter for my Pagan band to tour and record will close in 15 days, so please, if you would, visit our Kickstarter, pledge if you can, and if not, spread the word to others by tweeting, posting or blogging. Pagan music thanks you!! And I thank you. Hear my band here and here. We're good, I promise.
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