(This was first posted on Blogger 6/2/2009)
A few weeks ago I got together with a few other Kitchen Witches to do what we do. Cook and eat and gossip. The gossip eventually rolled around to the unfolding festival season and we each expressed our own feelings of hesitation about it. One of my friends was in the middle of a sexual harassment issue that had her completely strung out. "I have to babysit this guy" She said exasperated. "He can't keep his hands to himself." My other friend and I shook our heads, "You shouldn't have to worry about that sort of thing at a clothing optional event." And it's true. "The worst thing" Said my girlfriend, "Is that this was one of the poor girl's first events. She's just a young thing."
As the conversation progressed we touched on dozens of other reasons why the festival season has come to be a thing of dread for we matronly folks. "I'm tired of watching people throw a year's worth of wood onto a bonfire in one night." Said I. "I'm tired of mead tastings that turn into drunken debauchery" Said my friend. "I hate mead" I confessed sheepishly.
And then our shame was complete when we all expressed the wish that we could be like the Christians and know what to expect when we go to our "religious" gatherings.
No. We don't want to be Christians. Not really. But wouldn't it be nice if, when considering whether to attend an event, you could predict the sort of values that would be expressed there? Wouldn't it be nice if you could dance skyclad without the worry that some dude would stick his hand in places he has no right to? Wouldn't it be nice if you could take your kids to an event and not worry that some drunken fool was going to push mead (or something) on them. "No it's good. I made it myself, you have to try it. It's sweet. Tastes like honey. It's alright, this is religious gathering. You can have some. You'll like it."
I used to put on an annual camp out. I reserved the space, brought the food and charged people $20 to spend the weekend. Not everyone paid, but I didn't care much about that. The reason I stopped is because so many people disregarded the rules of the venue. I was afraid that something would happen as a result and that I would end up liable for someone else's behavior. People were loud during "quiet hours" (and took their noise well out of our reserved space as well), drove their vehicles "beyond this point" (and got stuck and needed to be pushed out) and brought in the prohibited glass containers (and melted them in the fire pit; which was cool, but still). I posted the rules before the event, reminded people of them during the event, and mostly despaired that the Michigan State Parks and Recreation was going to blacklist me.
I also despaired of the example that was being set for my children. Obeying the rules of the venue aside, public sexuality, offering alcohol, drugs and cigarettes to minors, and showing general disrespect of natural places seem to be the norm at these gatherings, no matter how firmly the rules are stated or how loudly we declare that this event was meant to be family friendly.
The problem is not that we don't have a unified value system. Most Pagans that you talk to will declare that we respect the Earth and everything in it. Many will spout the "harm none" rhetoric. Likewise they'll spout it when you argue against a transgression. "If we aren't hurting anyone else, we can do what we want" some folks will declare. To that I say:
When you embarrass and humiliate others by invading their space and exposing them to unwanted sexual situations, you are harming them.
When you disobey the rules at a venue someone else is paying for, you are harming them.
When you offer drugs, alcohol and cigarettes to minors, you are harming them and their parents.
When you litter, burn unnecessary amounts of wood and other fuel and waste resources, you are harming everyone.
When you drink, smoke and use drugs to excess, you are harming yourself.
The funny thing about all this is that "harm none" has nothing to do with my personal belief system. I am, in fact, overridden with guilt that I have let wrongs go unanswered because of a weakness in my personality that causes me to resist rocking the boat. My Gods and my path demands Hospitality and Reciprocity, and it also demands Justice. I'm afraid I'm not good at that last bit at all. Of course I am at a loss as to what can be done in any of these situations besides punching the transgressor in the nose, and I have no desire to spend the festival week in jail for assault. Some of these things might warrant legal action but I hesitate to bring negative attention upon the Pagan community. But wait… Isn't that how those Catholic priests got away with molesting little boys for so long?
Why did the sky clad groper not go to jail for sexual harassment? Why was he babysat instead? Why do the mead pushers not get prosecuted for providing alcohol to a minor? Why do the rule breakers not just get kicked out? Because we don't want to rock the boat. We don't want to draw attention to ourselves. And most of all, we don't want to face the judgment of our Pagan peers who will certainly look at us with scorn and say "Who knew that a Pagan would be so puritanical and turn on his own like that." And so I am a hypocrite, choosing my comfort level over my values; keeping quiet and just avoiding issues rather than challenging them head on. Even as I say it I know that I'm not likely to change it because I cringe just thinking of it. Is it worth losing friends for the sake of ideals? That's a question many of us have to ponder deeply, I'm afraid.
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