A book about snake-handling Christians is the impetus for today's post.
See, this journalist goes off to cover a possible murder amongst snake-handlers in Salvation At Sand Mountain, and winds up handling snakes with them. He says, at one point, that he doesn't like, as a journalist, to put too much of himself in a story. And yet a lot of the book seems to be about his longing to discover his roots, his ambivalence about the snake-handlers, and general spiritual navel-gazing. I liked it, but I kept thinking, this would have been so much better if Wade Davis had written it.
That would be Wade Davis of The Serpent and the Rainbow, which is about Mr. Davis going to Haiti to find out what chemicals make zombies in the hope of discovering a safer form of anesthesia and winding up an initiate.
Why would this make a difference? Well, Mr. Davis seems to simply accept Voudoun. There's none of the pesky oh look at the silly uneducated people who don't know about science tone of previous anthropological works. He wasn't trying to resolve any personal spiritual conflicts. He went, he saw, he accepted. Mr. Covington, of Sand Mountain, on the other hand, seems to make the snake-handling about his own conflicts. There is, as they say, a certain amount of drama about the whole thing.
This led me to think about the quality of calm that so many pagans seem to lack.
Priestess, priest, what-have-you - if you're in this position, if you carry this title, shouldn't your life resemble something other than a DMZ? We all have our problems, but shouldn't you have your shit together a bit before you represent yourself as being some sort of spiritual leader? Shouldn't a spiritual leader lack the kind of unresolved issues that are visible from space? Shouldn't your circle/coven/etc be free from people with, say, severe legal issues?
Let me give you an example. One that may land my ass in some sort of shitstorm. One that's been weighing on my mind for a few months.
A certain pagan group I know has a member who was forbidden to be near children after accusations of child molestation. A person in this group has told me that he does not think the accused actually molested any children, but may have done something with someone legally underage. Now, one of the other members of this group (not a newbie, but a Priestess) doesn't want to celebrate Fall Solstice because the accused will be there - and so will under-eighteen persons (you know, that he's not supposed to be near).
This group is plagued with conflict. I won't even get into the story about how the group fell apart for a few years. Suffice it to say, the male leadership keeping their penii in their pants seems to be a recurring problem.
Certain people are required by law to report incidences of suspected child abuse. As an ordained minister, am I one of them? Should I be calling this guy's parole officer and telling them that I think this dude is at religious services where children are present, even if I don't think he's molesting anyone? Should I be hexing his winkie right the hell off if he even looks at a seventeen-year-old-girl funny?
Probably. I'm still trying to decide how to go about it, really. I am friends with some people in this dysfunctional little band, and I'd like to do this in a way that lets me stay friends with them, because they are newbies, don't know any better, and there is the chance that this guy was unjustly accused.
The point of all this, however, is that I can't take this group seriously anymore. There's constant drama, conflict between the members, and the lack of a general sense of calm. One member is a submissive who can't find a decent guy, and it's not because she's a submissive; it's because she's so terrified of being alone that she makes bad decisions. Another still hasn't resolved some pretty big Mom Issues. Another decided that she was ready to be a priestess - and wanted to ask me what to do a month later when she was supposedly getting messages from dead people. Two seem to think that not paying rent and getting thrown out by landlords is just the landlords being mean.
There's no sense of cause and effect. There's no sense that they know their issues and are working on them. There's chaos and drama and what looks like a whole lot of running away from anything they don't want to face. These are not qualities we as pagans need in our clergy. Hell, if these people saw Christians on a reality TV show doing exactly the same things, they'd be laughing and crowing over the hypocrisy of it all.
A good pagan/Wiccan/witch knows what's wrong within and tries to fix it before they start looking without. They may be poor financially, but they should be rich in spirit. They try to resolve conflict. They try to be patient - as my ordaining priestess said, "You will get people who are seeking. You have to be nice even if they're stupid". They have more on the ball than not. Their relationships generally tend to be stable and healthy. They work to change unjust laws rather than just breaking them because "they're dumb" (and then wailing about it when they get caught). They are neither takers nor givers, but somewhere in-between. They honor commitments unless they have a damn good reason not to. When you're around them, you should feel tranquil and happy rather than dreading the next storm.
As a certain bunch of other people say, by their works shall ye know them.