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Monday, November 26, 2012

Tolerance & Peace: Modern Ideals or Ancient Teachings?

**This was originally written and published on My One Witch's Wonderland Blog, which has since closed!

    A great many members of the Pagan community have embraced the "Harm None" teaching and included it in their beliefs. While this ideal is in fact a Wiccan Principal it has become one that is projected as being universal among ALL Pagan and even Non-Pagan groups - However, this is simply not the truth of the matter. For those who are just entering the Pagan community their earliest teachings most likely include the idea of peace and love before all else. And I've heard many make the statement that "All religions hold the same basic belief in peace & love over all else." This statement and teaching however are in fact simply not true.

    It is true that Wicca and Christianity are both centered around the ideal of kindness and love. The "Golden Rule" taught by Jesus and the "Harm None" belief associated with Wicca are in fact one and the same. At their core they are both the teaching that all our deeds towards our fellow man should be done in a way which creates peace and does no harm. Yet, this simply isn't the basis for the vast majority of Pre-Christian religious belief systems, or those today which have a direct lineage to them.

    Today there are many religious beliefs which are either a rebirth of or which have direct ties to belief systems of the Ancients. Asatru, Druid, VooDoo and many Native American, Native South American & Native African belief systems continue to exist with strong ties to Ancient teachings and belief systems, all while existing in today's society. And many of them do NOT carry a teaching of Tolerance or Peace or a "Harm None" style principal. Yet, when we pick up a book or search an internet site devoted to Paganism this fact is usually skipped or limited to one minor mention while placing great emphasis on the idea that all Pagans must be peace loving. Which is not only grounds for a great misunderstanding of these religions, but clearly a misrepresentation of all those who follow these paths. There is no way to say what percentage of Pagans belong to these paths, but it's safe to say that there are a great many and growing. So such a misconception is simply not acceptable.

    In order to understand how such a misteaching could come about we must first understand why the Harm None teaching became to be understood as a universal teaching in the first place. Wicca is without a doubt the largest, fastest growing and of course more "popular" of all the Pagan denominations in the US, Europe and Canada today. This is due for the most part to the longing for a religion which embraced both the growing need for earth friendly life as well as women's rights and equality. Wicca got a huge boost through the "Hippy Era" of the 60's and 70's as women fought the notion that God was male, and that only males had the right to run religious systems. It was also the first wave of the "eco-friendly" lifestyle.

    Although both the eco-friendliness and the girl power aspects of the era were done on a generally extreme level, it did serve to give the young Wiccan religion a boost in membership. Through the 80's growth slowed but stayed steady as Big Business and "Big Religion" once again took hold. In the 90's however, with the introduction of the Internet, the Wiccan religion again rocketed to the top of the charts. More and more people were able to access information and teachings which had prior to that simply not been available.

    Today we take for granted the amount of information which is available at the tough of a button. But as those of us old enough to remember the pre-Google era can tell you, exploration of new and different religious beliefs wasn't always so easy. For most who lived in the US, Europe & Canada, the only religions you generally had any access to were Christian denominations, Judaism and occasionally Islam or local Cultural Beliefs - such as Voodoo or Native American Beliefs if you lived in those areas. But the "cultural" religions were seen as just that - cultural - and if you weren't a part of that culture you usually weren't ever introduced to the inner workings or beliefs of that group.

    So, as it went, Wicca grew...  And out of that movement so did the Pagan community as a whole. Now, there have always been those who belonged to more "Culturally motivated" Pagan belief systems such as Druids or Asatrur... These groups were mostly those who belonged to those cultural groups and the beliefs, practices, traditions and/or stories had been passed down through the families. Many times these Ancient beliefs had been mixed with more modern Christian beliefs but they were still ever present. As the Pagan community grew though, more and more Pagans branched out, away from Wicca, looking for more personally paths. While many of them migrated towards an Eclectic path, many others began to want to revive the beliefs of their past and looked to their heritage, the beliefs of their ancestors for answers. And so we stand today, the Pagan community as a whole is made up, not of one or two belief systems, but of many thousands if not more, some as modern and popular as Wicca, others as personal as a Solitary Eclectic path and others still which come out of a need for a connection to ones own cultural past & ancestry, some newly discovered or birthed, others passed down through generations...  All coming together to make up the patchwork which is Paganism.

    BUT, because of this progression of growth, and due to the popularity of Wicca and Eclectic "Wiccan-ish" Pagan beliefs, those belief systems which have direct ties to Ancient belief systems seem to slip through the cracks when it comes to general Pagan education. Many who come to Paganism after a life in the Christian faith embrace the ideas which are familiar to them and aren't interested in Ancient Pre-Christian beliefs which the have heard such horrid stories of their entire lives. So, the aspects of these religions which aren't so "kind and gentle" get pushed aside and they are wrongly clumped in with those who happily preach the "Harm None" type of Paganism.

    As you can see, there is not a single reason for this mis-teaching, but many reasons. However, I for one believe it is time to right this wrong and explore these beliefs and teachings. Unfortunately I am far from an expert on these beliefs. But what I can explore WHY they held the beliefs they did.

    For the most part, these Ancient belief systems they were culturally based. For example every Ancient Greek held what we today consider the "Ancient Greco-Roman" beliefs... They believed in a God of War and many of their Gods were in fact called upon in times of war or injustice. There was no aspect or expectancy of love, kindness or of doing no harm. This is because their religion and their culture were one and the same. Today we think of religion and government as separate entities, but at that time they were not. If your land was captured you were expected to change your religion to match that of your conquerors, and if your king decided to alter the popular religion you were expected to follow suit. So, in order to keep your religious beliefs, alive and your Gods please you were in fact expected not only to defend your country and land in times of war, but to expand them by means of war. This is a custom which unfortunately we are continuing to see even today in the Middle East and some other "under developed" areas.

   In fact to put it in to modern understanding look at how the Taliban took over much of Iran and dictated how people were to dress, what they were to see and read and of course, when and how they were to worship. Prior to Taliban rule Iran was not very different from us, with religious freedoms, modern dress, internet access, education & medical advances and even gender equality in many areas. Once the Taliban came to power however, their radical religious views overthrew the common beliefs, tolerances and culture of the land and forced everyone to follow them. It was like this in most Ancient cultures as well.

    It is because of this reason that the ideal of "Harm None" simply couldn't be a reality in the Ancient religions. Not that the people didn't want love and peace, in fact they had those Gods as well. But people want their "freedom" and will defend themselves at all cost - again, this hasn't changed.

    The question I have now is, is this still a relevant need in today's religious society? The easy answer is, No. Today, in the US, Europe & Canada, we don't have this need to war in order to defend and grow our beliefs. BUT, does that mean these beliefs aren't valid? No. If we were to ignore these beliefs in favor of the "Harm None" idea we would in fact be loosing the core of many Cultural belief systems. For example if we look at the Nine Noble Virtues found in Norse belief systems, we find Honor, Fidelity, and Discipline to be among the core principals of the faith. To allow ones Honor to fall prey to a belief that we should "Harm None" would in fact go against one of these core teachings... And the same goes for Discipline & Fidelity... If one were to allow themselves to become compromised by the actions of another simply because they chose kindness and love over justice the very core of the belief system would become flawed.

    For myself, I believe there is in fact much which can be learned from the idea that Peace and Love do not in fact conqueror all.  If justice can be done without resorting to harm, so be it. But there are going to be those times when the idea of "turning the other cheek" or "harming none" is simply going to lead to more injury on your part. It is because of this I have started to lean away from the ideal of causing NO harm and leaning towards the ideal of a greater good in my life. What action will in fact lead me to the greatest good for me and those involved? By stopping myself from causing all harm to others am I in fact harming myself or allowing someone to harm me? Is my strength, integrity or honor in danger because of my choice not to cause harm? And at what point is harm to another worth it?

   As always I can't tell you what you should or shouldn't believe. What is right for you is always going to be what is best for you. But if you take nothing else away from this entire midnight rambling take these key points with you: 1. Not all Pagan belief systems hold the post-Christian ideal of Peace & Love. 2. The Ancient peoples were not flawed for their belief of war and justice over peace and love. It was a necessity for daily life and in some cases remains such.  3. Pagan religions today need not be defined by Wiccan beliefs alone, for they are far from limited by such teachings!  4. Even while holding tight to the IDEALS of love, peace & tolerance for all, we need be wary of allowing ourselves to be hurt in the process.

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