It used to be that the Big Assumption I got from Friends about Paganism was animal sacrifice.
When I was first doing intervisitation as a Priestess & Witch among Friends, people would sometimes ask me about animal sacrifice. I was a little surprised, somehow -- I think I expected Quakers, as a minority religion subject to stereotypes, to be a little more clueful about other minority religions subject to stereotypes -- but I was a bit naive. So, since I was used to answering questions about Paganism in other contexts as part of my work in education and outreach, and since I got that question all the time back then, I answered questions from Friends about animal sacrifice.
Later, when I came to identify as and came to be identified as a Friend, other Friends would sometimes ask me, "How do you reconcile being a Pagan with being a Quaker? I mean, isn't animal sacrifice incompatible with the Peace Testimony?"
I'm sure you can imagine how that question, how that assumption, made me feel. It was infuriating and painful. Why on earth would Friends assume that a Friend, someone intimately involved with Quakerism, living her life as a Friend, would somehow be involved with a spiritual practice that involved such an apparently obvious contradiction to, oh, living one's life as a Friend?
Well, that hasn't stopped.
I think most Friends I meet these days know now that Pagans and Witches generally do not sacrifice animals (although in some traditions, under certain circumstances, sacrificing certain animals is a legitimate practice). Pagans overall, and Witches especially, have put a lot of time and energy over the last 40 years into countering that stereotype, and into helping convince people that pets and assorted wildlife are safe from us.
(I am leaving out an entire other rant about the fact that animal sacrifice is widespread in the US today, and that all of us participate in it pretty much every time we eat meat. Only it's called agribusiness. And yes, I do eat meat.)
We still joke about it in my family, though, especially when I'm prepping Quaker workshops, but with much less of an edge than ten years ago. "Is that the part where you teach them about sacrificing squirrels?," Beloved Wife asks, pointing to my outline. "Nah, I thought I'd start them off easy. So this is the part where we'll just make stew from a squirrel I sacrificed earlier. They sacrifice their own squirrels later in the week/year/etc."
In my interactions with Friends, the concern about those poor squirrels has faded, but it has been replaced by other Big Assumptions about Paganism.
The main one I'm dealing with these days (and have been for the last few years!) is this automatic, knee-jerk pairing of Paganism with ritual. As you can guess, I find this extremely frustrating. It drives me nuts that people automatically assume that if somebody is Pagan, they must do ritual.
And you know how unprogrammed Quakers feel about ritual. Ritual is fine for other people, but it's bad if you're a Quaker. (Defining words like of "rite" and "ritual" and other related words, and looking at our strong feelings about them, is another post.)
No one has been able to show me any definitive source that demonstrates the 100% correlation between being Pagan and using ritual as a spiritual practice. No one has been able to show me any definitive source that demonstrates the 100% correlation between being Christian and using wine as a spiritual practice, either.
(Or the 100% correlation between being Quaker and driving a Prius. Or the 100% correlation between being a Witch and wearing a black, pointy hat. I'm kind of bummed about those last two, because I think I'd look really cool driving a Prius while wearing a black, pointy hat, don't you?)
Why does this bother me so much?
Well, why does it bother me so much when people assume that Pagans, by definition, practice animal sacrifice? Sure, part of it is that in general, most of us find animal sacrifice repulsive, and why would I like it if people automatically assumed I do something most people find repulsive?
But that's not the only reason I get so frustrated: it's that I hate it when people make these kinds of absolute assumptions about me and "people like me," whether those assumptions are apparently harmless or not. And I find it thoroughly frustrating when people have an absolute conviction that what they think is true, regardless of actual facts that contradict what they think -- or the real, lived experience of the people involved that contradict what they think.
I've experienced this in particular as a woman, as a feminist, as a lesbian, as someone with a working-class background, and as a Witch: in ways I am a minority. It's a way of claiming the power of defining reality, and it's a privilege that folks who are part of the dominant culture have over folks who are minorities. It's a tool of oppression.
And one of the most important reasons it bothers me so much when Quakers make that assumption -- that being Pagan means, by definition, using ritual as a spiritual practice -- is because what usually comes next goes like this: since ritual, like animal sacrifice, is incompatible with Quakerism, then Paganism must be incompatible with Quakerism; and therefore, Pagans cannot be Quakers. (Ta-da!)
All those Quakers whose theaology or experience of the Divine is Pagan, who are going along living their lives and going to Meeting for Worship and clerking committee Meetings and setting up for coffee hour, whom you can't tell are Pagan -- poof! Not real Quakers. Sorry, see ya. Oh, I guess you'll have to find someone else to clerk that Meeting for Worship with Attention to Business...
In our religious society, we are fond of quoting our main founder as having said, "Let your lives speak." It's very disappointing to me to be faced, over and over, with Friends who refuse to listen to others' lives, but prefer instead the convictions in their own heads.
From my experience and training in mental health and as clergy, I know that when dealing with what seems to be the issue doesn't resolve something, it's time to look deeper, for something else that's going on that's the real issue. And there are a handful issues tangled up this knot, in addition to dominant/minority culture issues. Some of them I've already mentioned in this post:
- the question of what we all mean when we use the word "ritual"(a question for another post)
- believing what you think rather than what others' lived experience demonstrates as true
- justifying discrimination
- the difference between a set of spiritual or religious beliefs, and a set of spiritual or religious practices
- fear of the rich diversity that exists in the Religious Society of Friends
- the fallacy that naming our differences is what actually creates them -- that the differences which minorities in particular experience don't actually exist until named (usually by minorities). (Again, this is a dominant culturally privileged point of view.)
But in the meantime, I am thoroughly tired of knee-jerk assumptions, and would really appreciate it if non-Pagan Friends actually listened to Pagan Friends, used logic, and educated themselves.
End of rant.