When I was growing up in a Southern Baptist church, we called it “holier than thou.” These were the people who were quick to let others know that they had a better, closer relationship to Jesus than the other church members. Sorta like Christian name-droppers: “I was just talking to Jesus, and He told me I was was praying better than anyone else in my Sunday School class.”
When my path changed to Wicca, I noted quite a few of my Christian friends were “tolerant” of my beliefs–tolerant not being the same thing as supportive–but they also let me know that my beliefs were second class to theirs. These were all variations on a theme: my religion is better than your religion.
Unfortunately, it’s no different among my fellow pagans. There still seems to be a need to compete.
I’m not talking about who has the prettiest ritual robe or the biggest group, though there is some that as well. It’s more about who’s doing what the “right” way. Example: the way I was brought up my path, we used cords to signify the different degrees. A few months ago at a public ceremony, a group I didn’t know criticized my cords as well as those of others attending. This group has some very lovely traditions of their own, which I don’t do but I do think they’re pretty cool. They signify their degrees by necklaces about 18 inches long with the pendant varying. I’ve seen other traditions do something similiar and I really like the idea, but I’d never tell someone that’s the only way as one of their young priestesses told me. One of my own students was in attendance and began to question whether this was correct. Well, yes, it’s correct for the members of that group. But not for me. And I told my student that he is welcome to adopt that tradition if it appeals to him, as well as wearing his cords. I see no conflict.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve used my cords for perfect circles or for concentric circles–including a ritual wedding I performed in 2006 where each perfect circle was outlined in particular stones and crystals to amplify particular energies. My cords have multiple functions, and I like that. And while I loved the ritual jewelry this dissenting priestess had to show me, I giggled at the idea of using it in the same way I use my cords. My, but that would be a teensy circle!
My point is, we do things differently. And that’s okay (in my opinion, anyway). I happen to like diversity in almost everything. As the interns who work for me will tell you quickly, I don’t believe there’s any one right way to do something, just different ways. So I don’t understand the need for others to put their noses in the air and insist that their particular path is the only correct one or even the best one. I’m on the path that’s right for ME.
That extends to fellow pagans who follow different trads or none at all as well as to those who follow completely different religions. I see the beauty in all of it and enjoy watching the rituals and ceremonies of differnt belief systems. Sometimes, I will adopt something I see that really calls to me. That suits me because I’m not a very structured person, I like to blaze my own trails, and I’m very, very heavy on experimenting with different techniques to feel the different effects.
So don’t find fault with me if I choose to begin my circle in the North if you start in the East. My students know that I repeatedly challenge them to try it starting in the South or the West just to see how it feels and how that one little change affects their results.
One more thing about this need to feel competitive in your spirituality: I make mistakes. Hmmm, no, I think I’ll explain that as I have different experiences. Sometimes they don’t work as I planned or as I thought, but they are experiences that I build my future self upon. They are part of my continuing education. I don’t find any shame in that. If something doesn’t work for me or if I struggle with something, don’t pat me on the head and call me an amateur.
I am not.
But I am aggressive with experimenting and sharing what I learn. That is the extent of my need to “compete” with you spiritually–to challenge you to take your personal spiritual practice to a higher level. Or…to a deeper level. There’s really no difference in getting to more than you are now, except in what you call it.
I really like how you handled this topic. Spiritual self-righteousness can be uncomfortable to be faced with… and I really like your philosophy that what works for one does not necessarily need to work for others. I read a post this morning about a woman in a meditation class who experienced a similar feeling from the opposite side – she was the one feeling superior. She talked about how if we can just get ourselves into a space of being open to listen, and how everyone has great ideas worth sharing – not necessarily that they will work for us individually – that we would be so much calmer and supportive of one another. I think you did a great job of fielding this, it’s a tough and often emotional issue. Thanks for the post!
This is such a great post! I’ve noticed it especially with the name-dropping and such. Or they’re an extra special chosen something, which I’ve been hearing a lot, lately. But I wholly agree that experimentation is really important! What works for one person won’t jive with another. We all walk different paths and that’s okay.
Yes, this is something not talked about often enough. I often find this frustrating too, and I’m glad I’m not the only one. It seems too, that people feel the need to justify their practices and lack of confidence in their practices by criticizing one-upping another person. “But I am aggressive with experimenting and sharing what I learn” <—that is the best way to be. Awesome post!
Thank you, Patrician and FaeNathara.
L, btw, I tried to comment on your cross-dressing in ritual post and Blogger wouldn’t let me, but I wanted to tell you that I’ve never tried that and think it would be interesting to incorporate. Thanks!