Until twenty or so years ago, I had no problem announcing to the world that I was a Witch, that I was a solitary witch at that, and expecting people to look at me sideways and mind their own business. If I came across someone who actually knew what I was talking about – genuinely knew – they tended to be respectful. I'd have the occasional enthusiastic outburst from someone who thought they were the only one on the path and had never had a good reception, but generally people just smiled and nodded and not much else.
Then things changed in what should probably have been a good way. We 'caught on' and lots of people suddenly seemed to want to put me straight on how I 'should' be doing this or that, or worse, how I 'should' be thinking and exactly what I 'should' believe. All this on the strength of a book or two, and then the Internet. So I took muttering under my breath that I was Pagan and leaving it at that. I started to dress more conservatively and tried to learn to love consumerism and eat food full of nasty chemicals and weird ingredients. (Personal rule – if you wouldn't eat it with a spoon and it's got too many syllables to pronounce without practice, why would I want to eat it at all?)
Now don't get me wrong, when it comes to the Net, I'm the biggest geek I know, but it amazes me how many people still believe that Wikipedia holds some inviolable, arcane set of truths and are horrified when I point out that it holds a thoroughly violable (if that's not a word it should be) set of opinions. Some of them are fabulous, thoughtful, well researched opinions, but you tell most people that 'wiki' stands for 'what I know is' when they've just 'set you straight' on something that you really do know, then they tend not to like it so much!
I try not to be snotty but that doesn't seem to occur to everyone! One of the biggest strengths I think we as Pagans have is our eclectic-ness. I don't want to belong to a religion that tells me I'm scum if I don't want to do something or toe some particular party line, but I worry that we're in danger of being sucked too far into the mainstream and ending up as a book religion as a consequence. The very thought makes me shudder. OK, we wouldn't have a book, we'd have a reading list, but I don't want to be part of something that is rigid and dead, and I don't want to be part of something that revolves around a power structure – that's not a spiritual path, that's politics. When I was first on my path, we were hidden, we learned what we learned from people who genuinely, deeply, really knew what they knew and if we read, we read critically and with an appreciation that meanings were layered and coded and, well, hidden. The word 'occult' itself means hidden not, it's on the telly tonight but if you miss it you can see it on the internet for a week or two.
On the other hand, it's nice to know that social workers won't appear at dawn if our kids announce that they've been to a gathering and left offerings to the Goddess tied to a tree. Not that we'd just leave them, anyway.
I was in Wales last week and feeling disconnected. I was raised by a possibly English mother (long story) and a Welsh father, in Kent. When I was in England I was foreign, when I was in Wales, I had an English accent and my pronunciation of Welsh and my inability to count past ten was hilarious to my cousins, so I was foreign there as well. Everywhere I went, I didn't belong. It occurred to me though, that my disconnectedness is my strength. There is nothing in my ethnicity that I can take for granted, everything has to be considered, thought through, personally decided as a matter for my own conscience. Over the last twenty years, the world has changed so much, that surely our strength as Pagans rest in that same personal conscience-driven decision making. May the gods save us from finding our 'book'.