June is Pagan Values month, and unlike previous years, I’ve actually been given a topic I can write about. (I’m not great with overly broad topics, it doesn’t usually stir my creative juices.) Today’s writing is “others and othering. What are your philosophies of conduct when around those very different from yourself?”
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the large vast scene we call ‘paganism’ is also immensely diverse. There’s an old line you may have heard that sums it up beautifully: ask 10 pagans what paganism means and you’ll get 13 answers.
My personality is far more conservative than many of the people I encounter in the pagan places, and I frequently find myself in serious conversations or encounters with people who have a world view very unlike my own. People who won’t make a decision without consulting Tarot cards, or who have close encounters with Deities all of the time. Maybe they have multiple, multi sexual, relationships or are complete aesthetics, eschewing all relationships. They may worship Deities I perceive as ‘dark’, or from a culture radically unlike their own.
Now before I say anything further, let me be clear: ALL OF THESE THINGS ARE FINE. I am making no judgments or stating anything other than they are not my worldview.
So these people are, by the most classic of definitions, other.
Others are fascinating and mystifying and enticing, and sometimes scary. I deal with them by taking them very much at their word. I don’t question any part of the validity of their perspective, nor do I judge its veracity. I accept them in their totality. In the best of encounters, I learn something. It may only be a concept to consider at a more leisurely time, although at times they have been the harbingers of a true shockabuku moment. It may also be a time for me to practice acceptance and tolerance. Those are very useful skills for a priestess to have and I welcome opportunities to practice.
During the encounter I do my best to ask polite questions, and not be challenging. It’s a conversation, not an inquisition, they don’t need to prove anything to me and I am very alert for signs of discomfort on their part. If I sense that I’m being rude, or might about to be rude, I back off and redirect. Similarly, if they have questions for me, I do my best to be completely in the moment and present for them.
After the fact is when I spend time examining the encounter and then take on what is valuable and leave the rest behind. Because not everything is useful to everyone, and I am under no obligation to do anything after I have accepted them, just as they are not required to do anything other than accept me and my place within the world.
And, just to chase down that thought for a moment . . . the reason I can be so accepting of sometimes radically different worldviews is that I don’t take it personally, or feel threatened. Their reality does not change my reality (and I’m not self-centered enough to think that mine should change theirs in turn). Learning new things is great, and being exposed to radically different concepts is wonderful . . . but it doesn’t actually mean that I have to do anything about it, or in response to it.