Being suddenly back to reading Pagan media after several years of being less involved means finding all kinds of interesting blogs and websites all at once. I will add links to my favourites at some point, but here’s an online project I stumbled across just in time: The Pagan Values Event 2013. This is the 5th annual blog event collecting posts, podcasts, etc., about Pagan values, and it runs for the month of June. I’ve arranged to follow the daily summary posts and I look forward to seeing what such a diverse community has to say.
It got me thinking about my own values. My first instinct was to just list all the good things I could think of, in no particular order, but that’s ducking the question. I want to identify some of my central values as a Pagan. If being lied to pisses you off the most, you value honesty. If your pet peeve is line jumpers, you probably value fairness. If you invest a lot of time and energy into thinking about your word choices as it related to marginalized people, your highest value might be social justice. So I asked myself what gets me riled up, what concerns me, and what do I put my time and energy towards…
As with so many things, it all comes down to food.
It is one of those incidents that still kind of bugs me to this day. Many years ago, I was going to a potluck with a group of about a dozen Pagan women. I knew one of the woman was gluten-free, which was a new concept to me, but I made my favourite rice dish and happily brought it along. The woman who could not have any wheat brought… donuts. She brought a dozen donuts, which she couldn’t eat, and then complained when she couldn’t eat anyone else’s food either because it all clearly contained gluten or, like mine, contained ingredients that may contain gluten. See, I didn’t know to check my soy sauce for gluten, so she couldn’t eat my lovely rice dish. It annoyed me that I failed her, but it annoyed me even more that she didn’t even bring something she could eat.
It bugs me because I value self-reliance.
When my spiritual family gathers to share a meal, it is never a simple matter. Our small group’s issues include: one vegetarian, one vegan, two people who can’t have cow dairy, one person who can’t have beans, someone who is hypoglycemic (high protein needs), someone who has blood-sugar issues, and multiple allergies, some potentially fatal, including nuts, peanuts, strawberries, dijon, eggplant, and tumeric. We’ve also had members with temporary issues with gluten and garlic. We have individual food preferences as well. Planning a meal that everyone can eat and enjoy is complicated. However, we do it on a regular basis, sometimes by semi-organized potluck and sometimes by all pitching in to cook a meal together. We do it because working together and eating together is important to us. We do it because feeding each other is a part of taking care of each other.
We do it because we value community.
As a faith, we value spiritual self-reliance and encourage people to find their own paths, define their own beliefs, and to be their own priests and priestesses. In Joyce and River Higginbotham’s Paganism: An Introduction to Earth-Centered Religions, they identify “Seven Principles of Paganism” among American Pagans, which include three statements of personal responsibility: for the beliefs we choose, for our actions and spiritual development, and for forming our own relationship with divinity.
As a faith, we also value community. We invest a lot of time, energy, and sometimes money in everything from FaceBook pages to covens and groves to organizations that create one-day local events like Pagan Pride Day and big conventions like PantheaCon. We can also spend a considerable amount of our time and energy on the politics of our communities – on the in-fighting and personality conflicts and gossip – which we wouldn’t bother with if we didn’t get enough out of our communities to be worth the costs.
In some ways, self-reliance and community seem to be opposing values, but I think that in Paganism, we want to create communities that aren’t based on need, but on sharing. Instead of coming to a group in order to passively receive religious teachings, we come to a group so we can all learn and we can all teach. We are self-reliant, so we can take care of our own spiritual needs, but we can enrich our practices and deepen our understandings when we come together with other people. Like with a good potluck, we all bring something valuable to the table and we all share in the bounty together.