Thursday, 11 June 2009

My Pagan Values, My Quaker Values

Pax over at Chrysalis blog had the idea for Pagan bloggers world-wide to take some time in June to blog about Pagan values. He points out, rightly, that folks in particular other traditions, especially here in the US, dominate the public discourse about values.

I found this immediately appealing. Both because it irritates me a great deal when the Christian religious right pretends it has "values" all sewn up, and because I'm curious about what other Pagans I haven't already read have to say.

I know, in general, what values my spiritual communities and the people in them hold, as well as the values the traditions that have influenced me hold. But modern Paganism, or modern neo-Paganism, is an umbrella term for a very broad, very diverse range of experiences, expressions, traditions, and beliefs. And I'm curious about what values other Pagans hold, and I'm curious about how that's developed over the 18 years that I've been "out" as a Witch.

But first off, what do I mean by Pagan?

I like to borrow the Pagan Pride Project's definition -- or set of definitions -- of "What Is a Pagan?" It's not perfect, but it is definitely a good "functional definition."


A Pagan or NeoPagan is someone who self-identifies as a Pagan, and whose spiritual or religious practice or belief fits into one or more of the following categories:
  • Honoring, revering, or worshipping a Deity or Deities found in pre-Christian, classical, aboriginal, or tribal mythology; and/or
  • Practicing religion or spirituality based upon shamanism, shamanic, or magickal practices; and/or
  • Creating new religion based on past Pagan religions and/or futuristic views of society, community, and/or ecology;
  • Focusing religious or spiritual attention primarily on the Divine Feminine; and/or
  • Practicing religion that focuses on earth based spirituality.

As you can see, it's a pretty broad definition/set of definitions.

And it can include folks who are part of relatively mainstream congregations, folks who have created or are part of exclusively Pagan congregations, folks who aren't part of any religious or spiritual groups, folks who are Non-Theists or Atheists... And more.

A lot of people describe discovering that they're Pagan very similarly to how they describe what it was like to discover that they're lesbian, bi, gay, queer, or transgender. It's incredibly powerful to realize:
  • There are words for who I am/ what I believe/ what I experience!
  • There are words for my inward truth!
  • There are other people like me in the world!
Many Pagans do, in fact, describe it as "coming out" -- as an outward expression of inward truth.

So now that we've looked at "Pagan," let's look at "values."

Considering the Merriam-Webster definition of values, what are the things that are important to me as a Quaker Witch?

One place to start is with the list of core values we developed in my former Coven in the mid-90s:

Roses, Too! is a Coven of eclectic, feminist Witches. We hold Sabbat potlucks and semi-open ritual, usually on the Saturday (or Sunday) closest to the holiday. Our spiritual backgrounds are diverse: Quaker, Pagan, Jewish, Episcopalian, Congregationalist, Catholic, Atheist, and more.

As Witches, some of the values we share are:
  • Respect and love for the Earth, for all living things, as the embodiment of That-Which-Is-Sacred -- as the Goddess.
  • The courage and honesty to do hard spiritual and emotional work.
  • The compassion to support and bear witness to each other's work.
  • A commitment to justice and to non-violent political activism.
  • An understanding of magic as a way to create personal, political, and cultural change.
  • The recognition of the importance of fun, silliness, and play in what we do.
These are still true for me today.

Part of what had led us to form our own Coven is that while it wasn't hard, in our large East Coast city, to find other people who shared our labels as Pagans and Witches, or people who shared some of our values, it was hard to find people who shared our particular combination of values. There were interesting places to visit, but none that felt like home. (I'm sure my founding co-Priestess will make additions and corrections as needed.)

Some folks saw the Goddess, That-Which-Is-Sacred, only outside the world, not inherent in everything that lives. A number of folks we met were into the supernatural in ways we weren't. Some groups were strongly hierarchical; we were egalitarian. Most weren't able to offer support for the kinds of intensive work we both knew we needed to do in our lives. Some were too "high-churchy" for our needs; we needed something more simple. Some were more dogmatic than we were comfortable with. Not many saw the same kinds of connections we did between our spiritual lives, social justice, and work in the world. Not all Pagans or Pagan groups are committed to non-violence, although many are; not all Pagans or Pagan groups are feminist, although many are. Some groups were much too serious for either of us. Some were actually too light-hearted for us. We needed a balance between seriousness and fun.

So we formed our own Coven. Over time, both the core group and the extended Roses, Too! community grew into just that -- a wonderful, imperfect, organic community. Not all of whom identified as Pagan, or even as spiritual at all, but to whom coming together regularly on the spokes of the Wheel of the Year became important.

My values as a feminist Witch -- the ones that led me to co-found a Coven, and led me to live my life as a Witch -- are the values that led me to Quakerism.

First, on a Coven "field trip" to a Quaker-sponsored training in non-violent intervention. Folks came to this training from faith communities all over the City. We really enjoyed meeting, hanging out with, and working with other religious and spiritual people whose labels were different from ours, but who shared many of our values. (And Rob C. and I still reminisce about how we first became friends by screaming at each other in a role play more than twelve years ago.)

Second, to Meeting for Worship. Many of the people we met at the training -- including quite a few we already knew -- invited us to come to worship. For me, it started out some as intervisitation, and mostly as an experiment in a particular spiritual discipline. Almost right away, however, Meeting for Worship became a regular and deeply important part of my spiritual life.

Third, to Quaker process and testimonies, as I became more involved with the life of my Meeting and other Quaker organizations.

And then, before long, to a commitment to Quakerism as a way of life, because it's an outward expression of inward truth, because it's where the Goddess calls me to be.

The two of us who founded Roses, Too! had both gone to a small Quaker liberal arts college. (I had also gone to a mid-sized state university, another enlightening experience.) Because our alma mater doesn't exhibit much outward, obvious Quakerism, it took me a good five years after I'd graduated to realize how much Quaker enculturation I'd experienced there. One of the things I'm grateful for to this day is how Bryn Mawr provided me with an outward structure for many of the things I believed in and values I'd held before arriving there. The Academic and Social Honor Codes, along with other forms of Quaker enculturation, were things I embraced with a whole heart -- they were outward expressions of my inward truth.

So when Quakerism became my home, years later, it was because of values I'd held ever since I was old enough to articulate what was important to me -- including the values of feminist Witchcraft.

What are Quaker values? To me, they are encompassed by, and exhibited in, Quaker worship, practices, and testimonies. But I think it's fair to say that Friends' worship and Friends' practices, particularly in how we attend to our business together, are rooted in our testimonies:
  • Simplicity
  • Peace
  • Integrity
  • Community
  • Equality
  • Earthcare
  • Stewardship
(For more about the Testimonies, click here, and then click on section 5.)

I have a connection with each of the testimonies on a gut level. Some of them are easier to explain than others; some are more accessible than others; some of them are more of a daily presence in my life than others.

In my Faith and Practice study group in my Meeting, I recently had some breakthroughs in my understanding of both Simplicity and Stewardship. (I love North Pacific Yearly Meeting's Faith and Practice; it's a gem.) Peace and Equality resonated with me from the beginning. Community and Earthcare are vital expressions of and experiences of the Goddess for me. Integrity has a near-daily presence in my life, if for no other reason than I am living my life as an out lesbian and Witch.

Each of the testimonies has something to say to me, and says something about me, as a Quaker Witch.

So, if you ask me about my Pagan values, you're going to hear about my Quaker ones, too.

And if you ask me about my Quaker values, you're going to hear about my experience of the Goddess and my values as a feminist Witch, too.

My Pagan values and my Quaker values can't be separated. My Quaker values and my Pagan values are the same.

Quakerism is how the Goddess calls me to walk through my life as a Witch.

2 comments:

B said...

This post really spoke to me. I think we may have a fair amount in common, for I, too, am a Bryn Mawr alumna who was affected spiritually by that place and loved Bread and Roses, and am also a feminist pagan, and the Quaker testimonies you describe are many of values I have come to call the most important to me in my life at this time.

So, thank you. I needed that just now.

staśa said...

Hi, B!

Thanks so much.

When I took Cherry Hill Seminary's Boundaries & Ethics course last fall, we were asked early in the semester about any training or reading we'd done in the past on the topic. One of the things I talked about was BMC's Honor Code. There was another Mawrter alum in the class, and she echoed what I said about the HC as formative in terms of ethics - and boundaries, too, now that I think of it. Because you have to pay attention to your boundaries to know if what someone's doing is making you uncomfortable.

Thanks for posting, and I hope we have the chance to get to know one another a little better. I also suspect we have some mutual friends in your neck of the woods. :)

Blessings,
Stasa