One of the strengths of Paganism is that the majority of us are open-minded and accepting of others. We feel free to create our own traditions to find out for ourselves what works for us individually and what doesn’t, and to pull from many different beliefs and faiths in the pursuit of forming our own. This allows us to pick and choose, with discretion, and allows for many possibilities.
Where this model presents problems is in being too accepting. I can almost hear some of you say, “How is acceptance bad?” Acceptance isn’t bad, but acceptance without question–blind acceptance–can be detrimental.
I’ve seen this topic discussed elsewhere–I believe by the Wild Hunt–but it doesn’t seem to be popular, most likely because no one wants to say that we shouldn’t be inclusive or accepting of other Pagans. But that is not what is being argued. I’m all for acceptance of others and tolerance. The issue is accepting the claims made by people without questioning their truth, soundness, or sense.
Let me give you an example: I was told a story about a year ago of a Pagan woman who had risen to a position of leadership within her coven and of influence in her community. She had seemed to know what she was doing, until at one point someone realized that all was not well. The woman would at times make claims that didn’t seem legitimate, and while few thought anything amiss, some investigating and open discussion among others unearthed the fact that this woman was in fact in need of medical care for mental issues and had stopped taking her medication. This made her unstable and somewhat volatile, and for a long time no one had questioned her behavior or her claims until it was almost too late. Her claims and her behavior were accepted without too much question or checking up.
This can be harmful and even dangerous. Say a person is claiming to have received information from their spirit guide. But maybe they’re hearing voices and need medical help, but no one knows because no one questions the information or the claims of this person. While it is entirely possible and probable to contact spirit guides and gain information that way, all I am saying is that many of us left the religion we were raised in because of the blind acceptance of the congregations. But if we do not question, if we begin to accept without question, then we do ourselves and our various spiritualities a huge disservice and may even cause harm.
By not questioning, we could be denying those people the help they need, and we could potentially put ourselves or other people into harm’s way by trusting blindly. We should absolutely be tolerant of other peoples’ beliefs and accepting of different traditions within the Pagan community. The diversity of belief within the community is part of what makes it strong and growing. However, perhaps we should be more discerning of what we accept. Challenging someone’s claims doesn’t make you or them wrong. It makes all stronger and wiser in that the claim is either defended and supported, tossed aside, or revised. Challenging claims, questioning others, can make everyone stronger and the environment safer.
That doesn’t mean you should interrogate everyone you meet, or launch into debates at the drop of a hat. But if someone is claiming that they talk to ghosts on a regular basis, I would absolutely question them on the how and why and what happens. I’d want to make sure that person isn’t mentally unstable first before I buy into their claim. That’s just an example, but it’s a fair one. I’ve seen someone talk to spirits before; I’ve seen someone else channel. Those two I believe without question, not because I saw it, but because I felt it in my instincts that what I was seeing was “real.” However, I’ve seen someone who claims to have visions of the future–this I do not believe. Not because I can’t see it–I have seen this person when they’re “having visions”–but because I feel to my very core, in every fiber of my being, that this person is not correct. And I question this person, as I question myself to make sure that what I’m feeling is in fact instinct and not fear or denial or anything else.
Ask questions. Keep a level of skepticism. Use the brain you were given with and the instincts that all of us have.