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 backwards...er...I 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.