Saturday, February 6, 2010

In which I contemplate dropping my Quaker and Pagan spiritual labels

Note: This blog entry is written by an arrogant, judgmental, unpleasant woman who very likely has hormonal problems. It is full of stereotypes, off-color language and offensive characterizations. If you are very precious, highly evolved, or in a foul mood, you might not want to read this.

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I am a Quaker Pagan. Some people might call me a "Quagan." But not me. I wouldn't because though "Quagan" is a fun word to say and oh-so-cute, as a general rule, only other "Quagans" know what the hell I'm talking about. "Quagan" is a fun label but not very useful when one is trying to establish one's spiritual character among those who are neither familiar with Quakers nor Pagans. It was ever so much easier when I was a Methodist back in the days before my father threw a enormous clergical hissy fit and became a Congregationalist (a few years before he decided to chuck it all and become an atheist. Who knew Congregationalism was the gateway denomination to unbelief?) Back when we were Methodists, I never had to explain anything (except maybe why it was that we, the minister's family, never prayed in our house. That always confused people.) Labels are so much easier to carry when they are well and adequately defined. Has anyone ever in the history of the world had an adequate definition for the beliefs and character of Quakers or Pagans? No. I thought not. Major pain in the ass. Maybe I'll drop them both. I'm so sick of explaining myself.

Or maybe not. Why would I want to drop my Quaker label? Why would I want to keep it? Very selfishly, being a Quaker makes me safer than being a Pagan makes me. In a room full of religious hostiles, being a Quaker provides me cover. No one ever threatens to take your kids away because you're a Quaker. I've seen that happen to Pagans. Also, people are more likely to assume that you are Christian or at least in community with and friendly to Christians (which in my case is quite true). This makes it easier to communicate with them since they are not already pissed off with you before you get started.

Being a Friend means that I can rear my children within the recognized context of pacifist community. That means a great deal to me. In fact, it has been critical. Being a Friend places me within a context of lengthy, respectable radicals. (They were outrageous in the 17th century, irritating in the 18th, pompous in the 19th, and endearing in the 20th ("So quaint, so peacable, those Quakers and their dear, funny hats!") When I say that I'm a Quaker people don't think kinky sex and funny velvet robes. Quakers don't wear funky, off-putting jewelry of naked women (which actually I see as a point against them. I loves me some funky Goddess jewelry.) When I say that I'm a Quaker, no one wonders if I'm going to perform blood rituals or sacrifice a goat. I find it relaxes me to be able to identify my spiritual orientation without having to disavow the worship of the devil. (Important note: Pagans don't worship the devil.)

I also like being able to describe my spirituality without having to talk about "the Goddess" or faeries or spirits or any of that jazz. You can be doing so well with a new acquaintance but just watch how tense the conversation becomes when you mention your devotion to a Goddess. Whoo, boy! Let me tell you, I've been there! But who gets weirded out when someone proclaims their profound respect for integrity, equality, and peace? Note the difference.

"I value integrity." (No smirks. A few enthusiastic nods of approval.)

Contrast that with:

"I honor the Germanic Goddess of Death." (Major smirks and a few uncomfortable coughs.)

See the difference?

Friends' testimonies and their emphasis on the Inner Light resonate profoundly with me. Friends' conversations, intellectual challenges, and spiritual insights animate me. And I like Friends. I just do. I like them a lot and I want to be associated with them. I like their intellectualism and their liberalism. I like that they seem dominated by aging, idealist baby boomers, who are, let us be honest, among my most favorite human beings in the world. I love to be around people who speak of vegetarianism, liberalism, feminism, and pacifism without apology and without stinking of patchouli. It makes me happy down to my toes when they want to be around me.

So why would I ever drop the label? Well, I guess it could be boiled down to this one thing: I've never been good at group work. It is usually so much easier for me to do my work, including spiritual work, on my own. There are times when the exquisitely slow and deliberate pace undertaken by Friends makes me want to bounce their sagely, pacifist heads together. Oh, yeah, I guess I should add that I'm a little angry and so I'm always having to watch myself around Friends. I like to cuss and use colorful language and posture and bitch and Friends look askance at such behaviors which only makes me want to shout "F--- You!" even louder. Kind of reminds me of my sister when she was a teenager when our Grandma said, "You're hair is always getting into your eyes. Doesn't that bother you?" to which my sister replied cool and calm as can be, "No, but it bothers you and that's why I do it." Sometimes, Friends make me want to be an asshole.

But these reasons for choosing to drop the Quaker label are pretty weak and pretty juvenile. The funny thing about juvenile desires is that they tend to fade as one matures. I don't stomp around in combat boots anymore. I'm not the same girl who stood up abruptly and threw her chair against the table when the president of our college came to sit with us. I'm not the same girl who skipped graduation so I could march up to the second story of an academic hall in an old circuit rider's clergy robe, combat boots, and a World War I army helmet just so I could lean out the window and flip off all my graduating classmates, the faculty, and the administration beneath.

I've mellowed. It has been several years since any nurse has had to threaten me with security and I haven't yelled at a salesperson, made a scene in a doctor's office, shouted at hunters from my car, or sassed a judge in years. Now, that's not saying I won't go berserk ever again. I just might. I have these itty bitty seizures that make me lots of fun if you push the wrong buttons but as I age, I am less and less likely to tweak and more and more likely to respond appropriately to stress. (Note, no nurses, doctors, salespeople, hunters, or judges were ever hurt in the making of my temper tantrums ... and I feel much better now.)

I might think that my tendency to fly off the handle at people makes me a bad Friend. Except that's ass mean to say, that's misguided. The Light shines whether we want it to or not. It shines when you swear and it shines when you fight. It shines when you tell the whole world that you do not believe in Light and that shining is for sh!theads. The Light can survive temper tantrums and dark moods. It is unaffected by cynicism and acid wit, and unmoved by drama. It shines and shines and shines on you, and in you, and through you, and in spite of you and even if you kick and scream, when you hold yourself in the Light long enough, you'll start to grow. You will lean toward your Source. Friends are good at holding people in the Light. Sure, they overuse the expression but that doesn't negate the fact that they do, in fact, hold people in the Light. They have discipline. They have method. That's a cool thing and I want it. I'll put up with an awful lot of smugness, arrogance, and middle-class judgment from Friends if they'll just keep holding me in that Light.

But what about my Pagan label? See, that's a whole 'nother story. To be a Quaker, I need to be a part of group. I need to learn to love within the context of corporate worship and growth. As a Pagan, I'm allowed to make sh!t up as a I go along. Very appealing. Also, I'm good at it. I also get a great deal out of being a Pagan that I'm not likely to give up. If I dropped the Quaker label, I wouldn't stop believing in equality, simplicity, peace, or integrity. I believed like a Friend long before I ever heard of them. By dropping the Quaker label, I would be making the statement that I no longer care to worship with these people. I do not choose to accept the discipline of this community but I would not give up the beliefs. But if I drop the Pagan label, it wouldn't have anything to do with community. I don't have a Pagan community and I never have. I'm a solitary practitioner. I became a Pagan on my own, did the research on my own, and worship on my own. Not surprisingly, I find that I have very little in common with most other Pagans, particularly Wiccans. I respect them fine but we just don't have that much in common. They assume things I do not. They believe things I do not. They do things I do not.

So maybe I'm not a Pagan? Hell, yeah, I'm a Pagan. I'll be just a little arrogant and say that maybe my graduate degrees in heterodox spiritual studies qualifies me to make that call. I'm just not an orthodox Pagan. (Note: there really aren't any orthodox Pagans-- just annoying people who think they know more about truly subjective experience than others.) I often call myself a Protestant Pagan in that I pretty much set aside all the superfluous (they used to call it "popish" in the bad old days) qualities of most popular forms of Paganism and bring it down to a direct and simplified awareness of the connection between Spirit and Nature. O.K. So that's really not that uncommon among Neo-Pagans but the stereotypes of Pagans as theologically sloppy, New Age goofs wearing unnecessarily silly costumes and playing with unnecessarily silly pseudo-medieval toys is so strong that I continue to feel the need to distance myself from it.

When I want to ditch the Pagan label (but not my Pagan awareness and practice) is when I've been to a Renaissance Festival and seen just one pair of heaving, velvet-clad boobs too many or hung out in some shop that sells magickal paraphernalia (made in China) or I've read some blog or heard some person tell me something about what the faeries like and don't like and that we're still in the "Burning Times". These are times when I want to walk around with a big old sign that indicates that I am NOT remotely as silly and undisciplined as these people.

All right, calm down. I can hear the cotton-crunching sound of a hundred panties in a twist. I'm not saying that you other Pagans who read this blog are silly and undisciplined. I'm saying that lots of Pagans are and that it gets really, really old to a liberal Pagan in much the same way that liberal Christians get really tired of listening to fundamentalists. I also get pretty sick of undisciplined Christians as well (although that's another post). I know and you know that there are a good number of us who do good research and approach our spiritual paths with discretion, honesty, intellectual integrity, and compassion. But there are so many fruitcakes tripping merrily around frickin' maypoles and believing (uncritically) in angels and totems and ghosts and the power of positive thinking and moonbeams and buttercups that it is hard for anyone to buy that Pagans actually have discipline and method. Bottom line: It makes it hard for me to get a decent job in academia and I sure do love food and housing and other perks of employment.

It is all so unfair. As it turns out, Neo-Pagans, like Friends, tend to be an exceptionally well-educated crowd. Pagan scholarship, though overlooked and undervalued, is cutting edge. Our spiritual and ethical relationship with the Earth is a model of justice the world desperately needs. Even so, I continue to hear Pagans contrasted negatively with Christians. Pagans, according to these critics, lack the well-developed ethics of the Christian community. And whenever I hear this, I launch into my speech about process thealogy, standpoint theory, environmental justice and...that's when another Pagan comes running into the room using words like "widdershins" and "sky clad" and I throw my proverbial arms in the air (my real ones are probably engaged in obscene gestures) and I tell myself that I should swear off Paganism. But I never do.

Here's why. *sigh* Because I still believe that the Paganism I practice counts for something and because as a Friend, I believe in integrity. Paganism is a critical part of who I am. The Light that shines on me dances as it passes through a Pagan prism. The Voices that call me and the Images that beckon me are Pagan Voices and Pagan Images. I could try to stop that from happening but I'm kind of thinking I'm not the one calling those shots.

So perhaps this is just a cross to bear. Quakers don't get me. Pagans don't either. I don't fit in anywhere and I'm uncomfortable with the labels. I'm a little sick of explaining myself and I'd like just to slink away. But what kind of minstry would that be? If there is a foundation to the ministry I've been called to do it is in these two things: Know yourself and tell the truth.

So the Quakers are smug and the Pagans are silly. Oh, well, sh!t. So am I. These are my people like it or not. Grimace, scowl, roll my eyes and keep on loving them. Labels stick for a reason.


kevin roberts said...

Well, if it's any consolation, Hystery, I occasionally get accused of belonging to a cult and rhetorically of secreting Kool Aid around my person for serving to strangers.

I'm also accused of being a dangerously deluded fool who can't be trusted to distinguish between fantasy and reality, and at other times have simply been called a liar.

I've been called unpatriotic, a menace to my country, and a parasite on the political and social system that I choose not to participate in.

And I've been told that the world would be better off without my kind, and the quicker that policy takes the form of law the better.

All this because I'm a Quaker.

Hystery said...

Kevin, that is no consolation at all! I'm sure I've been accused of similar deviance from the "American" patriotic norm, but never directly or to my face. I think that I've always had the protection of profession, first my parents' and then my own. Everyone expects me to be an eccentric socialist malcontent so when I am, they just shake their heads fondly and leave me alone. But that does not mean that there have not been attacks. When they come, they are often cloaked in the language of tolerance or they are sniper attacks undertaken at a distance. By the way, I think you are very weird which is a huge compliment. Weird people inspire me.

Lone Star Ma said...

People also shake their heads fondly about me. I sometimes encourage this attitude in them so they will be nice to me but such moments show a lack of integrity on my part so I work on it.

Faeries really do love that kool-aid.

But seriously - know yourself and tell the truth. Just that.

kevin roberts said...

Weird? My kids call me weird, but I expect that of them. I'll have my revenge when their own children come along.

Pacifism is looked upon as a near-criminal act among many dedicated non-pacifists, like ex-jarheads and such. Often someone who says that he wouldn't defend himself or someone else with violence is considered selfishly arrogant, with an inhuman disregard for the facts of life and the rights of others.

I run in blue collar circles and talk about this stuff with people I meet in sawmills or truckstops or cattle operations. Most of them have never heard of Quakers anyway, or confuse me with Mormons, or Amish, or Shakers.

Very different from the academic communities I lived in for a long time.

Thurman said...

Amen and Hell Yeah!

Wow. Now I remember why I stay at home every Sunday, and every other day too.

Thanks, I needed this.

Morgaine said...

I must say I'm impressed. As a non-Quaker, solitary practitioner (Druidry), I find many of your descriptive terms for pagans absolutely and hilariously on-point.

For me, the label of pagan usually means (to non pagans) I am going to hell, don't believe in God, and possibly risky to have their impressionable youngsters around (most especially if I mention caring for the Earth as though it were a sacred rite rather than a choice made in irreverent afterthought). Silly? Perhaps. But natural to me, nevertheless. (I find I must be a terrible pagan, since I have no idea what the faeries eat!)

In the grand scheme of things, since I am not on the path to "hell" (and most folks who believe such things about me from the label, I find, are often sizzling in their own self-imposed, Luciferian flambe) and since I have no desire to deny the existence of deities (for reasons that would have to be explained in a different rant with a lot more room to expound) I find their critique to be valuable in that it inspires me to question my actions and reevalute how I present in the world as a pagan and what I do that would give me away or hide my Light under a bushel.

(I readily admit that though my breasts beg to be allowed to burst from my bodice at times in the heathenistic melee, I disallow them for the most part when I am strolling sublimely through a Renaissance festival. LOL! In the woods under a waterfall is another story entirely.)

The critique from others is a wonderful self-learning tool. Thanks for the post. I'm now thinking . . .

Daniel Wilcox said...

Hi Hystery,

First, a word from a lady you know:-)

Let women then go on -- not asking favors, but claiming as a right the removal of all hindrances to her elevation in the scale of being -- let her receive encouragement...

I wish I knew how I could help and encourage you through your current trials. But I can't solve my own problems and also know that advice is cheap, so

Am holding you in the Light,


Hystery said...

There has been something amiss with my computers. One does not allow me acc3ss to the internet and the other only allows me to comment in comment boxes that are so tiny that I cannot see my own words. God only knows what I may be typing here. If I make an error, Icannot see it so I can't comment much until I get this fixed. I will take the time to say that I find all spiritual and religious things both important and ridiculous . I do not exclude my own behaviors and beliefs from these categories. That which is most sacred to me is also the funniest. If I have a God/dess, S?He has a superb sense of humor. IPerhaps the Universe is really a cosmic joke. It does sometimes see that way to me. It is the best joke and like all gmany good jokes, there is something just a little cruel about it. The a ggain, I should recall Jung's analysis of just this kind of thing in his Answer to NJob. Or perhaps, and in fact I believe this whether or not I'm having a spiritual day, we make our own meaning in the universe. No, that is too simple. We write the meaning of our lives together. I have been thankful for those who comment here. The story I write about reality has been better with your words than anything I could write on my own.

Alice said...

The narrative of heaven helps me with the feeling of not belonging anywhere, I don't know if you like it.

We, who live and attend to the Living Real, therefore do not belong to the present reality with its fincial markets, advertising, domination, and violence. Instead we are temporally displaced citizens of God's world of peace and justice which is always trying to break through amongst us. We are going to feel homeless in this world, as we confront the suffering.

The tastes we get of God's commonwealth breaking through amongst us, the kindness we can show each other - those can make it more tolerable. The pain we feel may yet be that of the birth of God's world, in us and amongst us.

Bright Crow (Mike Shell) said...


You are making Walhydra feel like she is all sweetness in light.


But you also express well why I used to say I was a Christian-Pagan-Buddhist-Quaker-[your-religion-here]-Faggot Witch.

As you know so well, labels are fingers pointing at the moon, when what we are in awe of is the Moon.

A Quaker friend of mine, when asked whether or not she is a Christian, refuses to answer, except to ask, "What do YOU think?"

Blessed Be,

Heather said...

Thank you so much for this post. I am not a Quaker, but I am a pagan - usually, that is. I was raised in an entirely non-religious household and grew up believing that all religious people were rather suspect characters. Yet I was drawn towards paganism and for the last few years this is how I have identified myself. But I work entirely alone and I don't even personally know any other pagans. I am very much turned off at times by the silly element within paganism, but like you, I cannot simply ignore this part of myself. I am a pagan, whether I like it or not. There are probably many people within paganism who feel in similar ways. Labels can be both a help and a hindrance, and I think that perhaps it may be better not to worry so much about what to call ourselves. (Which can be difficult to do, since humans seems to be so fond of naming and classifying things.)

Mary Ellen said...

Hystery, this was lots of fun to read. I used to think of myself as a Feminist-Taoist-Jungian-Quaker, and in spirit I am Pagan too, but haven't done much ritual work (a couple of day-long Starhawk workshops, some vision work with feminine Diety, etc.). I sure do read a lot of Buddhist stuff too. Being Quaker doesn't make me feel constrained in any way personally - but I certainly appreciate places like your blog (along with Quaker Pagan Reflections and Musings of a Quaker Witch) to read about ideas and experiences that connect to more parts of my own experience than just the Quaker tradition. Identify yourself as whatever fits at the moment, because the truth is larger and more complex than any label.

Tracie the Red said...


I LOVE you and I just discovered you!

When you write about swearing and yelling "f you" and all that - I have moments exactly like that too.

wv: crest

Toothpaste that I don't use (I prefer Colgate).

Hystery said...

Thanks, Tracie. :-) I love cyber-hugs.

Tracie the Red said...

"widdershins" and "skyclad"...

omg too damn funny!

Shawna said...

OK, I just read this... been offline for awhile... you are veryvery funny! A fellow Quaker-with-a-temper... Yep. I totally understand. I used to be self-conscious about being the loudest person in my meeting... but I'm ok with it now. I think they like me anyway... and they do, they work on you, without even looking like they are, those dang smug kind s-l-o-w Friends. I've never run screaming from a business meeting, but I did once have to bail in a fit of hysterical laughter.

I hope your computer problems have been resolved.

The more folks tell me that there are no fairies, the more inclined I am to suspect they exist. And I know the trees are gracious.

Hystery said...


I doubt anyone in my meeting knows about my temper...yet. I have a very controlled public persona. In fact, many times I've been called "reserved" and "aloof". My problem is I'm cool, I'm cool, I'm cool...BAM! I'm a lunatic.

Trees are gracious and wise. That I believe. Their spirit is palpable.

Shawna said...

Well, see, there's your problem...

I'm a lunatic, I'm a lunatic, I'm a lunatic... then bam! I surprise everyone and manage to act like an adult. For a brief, shining moment. Life's a lot easier if they Expect you to be a lunatic!

Go on, do something stupid at meeting this First Day! Laugh too loud, say something fierce, hug someone else's kid, talk about the graciousness of trees.... It'll be fun.

jerry said...

This is a great post. I just had one of the ‘Doh!’ moments and ran back to correct my own site before publishing my comment. You see my own comment form did not match what I’m about to advice. I get less comment than you, so never noticed any problem. I’ve changed it now anyway so here goes.

study abroad

Æthelbera said...

This is why Im Heathen and not "Pagan". Cause you cant just "make shit up as you go along" or use other labels as a cover and besides that, as a Heathen I have never run across any hard cases giving me a rough time about doing my research, having a set of indigenous morals and being a decent human being.