Sorry I am SO SO SO late on this one, it took me a while to write and I just sent portfolios off for my art school reviews AND put up my art website! EEEsh. Anyway.
Sorry for the rambling/unedited nature of this post; my writing state reflects my mental one.
This week's topic comes from a few conversations I've had over the past couple days, when I was participating in my guilty hated pleasure that I like to call Fighting With People On The Internet. Yes I know it's a really bad habit so I try to actively avoid it, but my fucking Aquarius nature makes me see misinformation on the internet and makes my hands literally itch to correct it. Obviously people don't generally enjoy have flaws in their arguements picked apart into little shreds, and it's not even like I particularly enjoy the practice. I usually end up just as annoyed at the end as I was at the beginning. But I have such an addictive need to do such things.
What this relates to is me glancing upon the Facebook at a really great cover of a magazine detailing women's rights to their own bodies. I casually glanced through the comments as I am wont to do, and saw several people claiming points against the ad, and their backup was "My church is against this."
Now this got me thinking about other times in my life when people use a group as an excuse. When people claim their group and or church is against something, I generally picture this monolothic church-creature mutation with scary stained glass windows for eyes and church doors for a mouth, stomping on things and proclaiming how very much it is against such and such a thing.
I wondered: What do we REALLY mean when we say "My church is against this"? Do you mean the people in power at said church are against something? Or every member of the church? Or the very bylaws and principles of the church? So by so saying, you are claiming you are a single Brain linked to the All-Brain that holds all your principles, know as The Church (or mothership) which you agree with? The idea honestly throws me a little. By so saying, it seems as though the individual has given up their innate critical thinking skills to adopt a place as part of a small spider web network in which they can be handed ideals. If not, why not say "I am against this"? Why "My group"? Are those people looking for validation for a cause, by claiming allegiance with others? Perhaps. But what a strange idea.
I realize not everyone as part of a group thinks this way. I myself was part of a very diverse think-tank of people on various Pagan paths who disagreed on almost everything all the time, and that was a good experience at the time. But I would never profess to speak for my group on anything because we were all so vastly different as people and in what we studied.
I don't propose to say groups are a bad thing, especially in the pagan community where it's often very hard to find groups to support your practices. But groups can become harmful to those involved once they pass a certain threshold.
Example. Remember the group I reffed above? That group fell apart because it passed a threshold. I reveled in the group we all had together precisely because nobody was above anyone else in rank or power, and it was therefore an open space where growth was occurring. The problem happened when one of the members had a problem with 'where I was leading the group', which left me, as you can guess, extremely confused. Our group in my ( and everyone else's) mind was a leaderless think tank, and therein lied the value. How he came to regard me as 'leader' is beyond me, and I have no idea where I was apparently leading a group with no leader. He then resigned, and the rest of the group eventually dissolved. I must account this to either a failing on his part in being in an unstructured group or a failing on mine as acting encyclopedia of random magical thought that apparently came across as a political agenda.
This brings me to my other professed problem with the Group system: 'Rankings'. This has always bothered me, not as an idea unto itself, per say, but as an idea to judge people upon. When I was being raised catholic when I was very small, I couldn't make sense of the idea of a priest. Why would you need someone to be a liason between you and deity, I asked, when you could go and do it yourself? I couldn't see the need for some dedicated person, elected by other people, to be a liason for everyone else. I guess you could claim laziness, but then why participate at all? The idea threw me. Why respect another human as the potential word of deity incarnate when anyone in the room could go talk to said deity themselves?
You must understand I was a very strange child. When I was 8 or 9 I asked my parents why I should be expected to love people in a family I was born into, despite whether or not I found them worthy as human beings. I found blood to be nothing but a circumstance I couldn't change, and I am very loyal once I decide you loyal of the status of 'love', so I was very picky (by nature, not by any sort of choice on my part) with who was worthy. So you might understand why I can't take any accepted thing in the world as a given if the principles neglect to work for me.
So, rankings always struck me as a weird thing. Sure, in society there has always been ranks for those interacting with Deity, but I think it was more due to human lust for power (or a way to dispose of people who weren't fit to be in society, as in the case of several societies) and status than with Deity themselves.
I think a peasant in Egypt who earnestly addressed Bast probably had more success than an appointed Priestess who just wasn't jiving with her energies or was after status. Therefore, I don't necessarily respect a piece of paper or certificate that says this person is a 5th-degree-eagle-eye-ambassador priest to such and such a deity, because I will judge that person's worth and ability for myself upon meeting them and speaking with them regardless of certifications. I have no greater respect for someone holding a rank than someone who does not, mostly because ranks are, again, human-gifted and fallible. I think ranks when used in the context of someone who has necessary knowledge for a skill and has studied longer than someone else are in some ways sensible. But at the same time the only think that rank guarantees is book knowledge and certain sets of practices, and what if someone else practicing as a solitary pagan, for instance, has more knowledge than that? And furthermore, why does it matter?
Why are people in religious organizations drawn to dividing people by rank, at all? If a solitary is gifted the mysteries a rank might afford them by Deity directly, (or a novice in the coven, for instance) what do you do with them? I'm a firm believer in direct initiation by Deity, regardless of where you are. A lot of times you're nowhere near ready when deity decides to approach you.
My feelings on rank based covens in general are at best torn. On the one hand I understand the need for there to be a student teacher relationship, for obvious reasons. But my issue occurs when outsiders in the world regard the words of a priestess of such and such a coven over the words of a solitary as if rank is indicated by knowledge and respect is given accordingly. Look for two moments at the us government and you may observe the falsity of that ideal.
It has happened to me personally that my words were deemed insignificant because of my lack of rank or credentials, and I am attempting to spare other solitaries and coven members that headache by critiquing that idea.
Again, I don't take issue with pleasant respectful people to happen to be apart of a group. I am critiquing the idea specifically of rank, human given, indicating skill, closeness with deity, or or ability. Judge people by action and never by rank. That's all I ask.