As some of you may or may not be aware, June has now been tagged the International Pagan Values Blogging Month. Several friends of mine are participating in this endeavor and making some interesting posts on what their various traditions value and why.
The question is, should I participate in this? I know one friend says yes, but I myself an mostly undecided for a number of reasons.
For one thing, my values are not specifically Pagan values in that they do not come from any specific religious tradition. I was agnostic for twenty years of my life before finding Hermes, and in those twenty years I had to figure out a way to get along in the world, and those twenty years and the things I learned therein do not vanish merely because I have come into religion now. I’ve never been of the opinion that the gods truly want us all to just dump everything we were and adopt someone else’s idea of who we should be wholesale, without even stopping to think about it.
My childhood was not one of milling around with the rest of the sheep, being spoonfed ideas about what I need to believe and what I need to do and swallowing them unthinkingly. Most of my childhood consisted of people telling me that there was something wrong with me, something that needed to be fixed so that I could be brought more into alignment with everyone else; that forced me to really think long and hard if that was actually true, if there really was something wrong with me. And the answer I walked away with was no; there is nothing wrong with being weird and thinking and acting differently than most other people, nothing wrong with flouting gender norms and no reason why I need to be a certain way just because I was born with female parts especially if its not in my nature to do so, nothing wrong with having “eccentric” aesthetic tastes, being a little on the aggressive side, being blunt and unemotional, being morbid and liking violence as entertainment, or any of the other large number of things people didn’t like about me. Nothing inherently wrong with any of it, just within the view of the culture itself.
So you won’t see me quoting from the Delphic Maxims, or any other ethics list from ancient times. Not that there isn’t some wisdom and good advice to be found there (though I quibble over some things there), codified lists of ethics have simply never been my cup of tea. For one thing, some ethical systems (such as the one from Christianity, though it isn’t the only one) set the bar so high as to make it impossible for anyone to follow it absolutely, and the only purpose of such a system is to send people into a perpetual guilt cycle over things they can not help but do. Ethical systems should not be easy for sure, but they do need to be possible or there is no point to them. Also when ethical lists start to get too long and complicated, you see people cherry picking the three or four they want to focus on and ignoring all the rest. And of course anything can be warped to justify whatever you want it to provided you are creative enough; I once witnessed some amazing logical acrobatics where a person used Delphic Maxims such as “Control anger” and “Speak well of everyone” to include allowing him to go on a war campaign against everyone who disagreed with him. That was amazing, and its also not uncommon.
Keeping it short and sweet seems the best approach to me. Decide what is most important to you, how you want to fit into the world (and it won’t be the same for everyone), and stick with that. My behavioral codes are just a few, but they do encompass quite a lot.
My values are not community builders, you won’t make tons of friends or sustain tribes with my values. My values are designed to allow me to co exist peacefully among groups of people that I otherwise have nothing to do with. They are the values of the stranger, the outsider that doesn’t want to be an insider, the liminal hermit that occasionally has to wander out of the wildwood and interact with the community for mutual survival.
Not all of us want to be pillars of the community, not all of us want to be everyone’s friend, not all of us are naturally cut out for that. And that does not make us immoral people either. I grant you that most people are community oriented, whether than means a larger community or a smaller more intimate tribe; not all of us are though, our contingent is a small one but some of us find our interactions with community are disastrous and we thrive better on our own. Most codified ethics are set up to reflect community life, and much of that will have little to no relevance to those outside.
I grew up without community, without support from others, and my loner nature makes me immune to things like peer pressure; the person I am now reflects my lack of influence from the broader culture. I am very much an individualist, and one can not be an individualist in a broader community. Which isn’t to say that every community demands you assimilate into a Borg like mass of unquestioning conformity (although some do), but all groups have their norms and their expectations and they will make certain demands on you. For most people it won’t be too much to ask, but for me it usually is. We all have things that are important to us and we all have limits about how much independence we are willing to give up; I tend to find that most communities’ inroads violate my limits. And since I am used to being, and thrive better alone, the situation is not much of a big deal to me.
I can attach myself to a group on occasion, and become their trickster of sorts. I am often able to act in ways that would normally violate their codes of conduct, but somehow its okay with everyone because its me. Don’t ask me to explain that exception to you, I’ve never quite understood it myself however often it has happened. Groups can do well by inviting such people in, their presence can bring about needed change and without change things stagnate and die. But there are always limits to the usefulness of such people. I never forget that I am not truly of the group and never act as though I am, and I mind the signs that my welcome has worn thin and leave when appropriate.
So, what are the values of an outsider? My conduct mostly involves being respectful (when appropriate, and it isn’t always) of other people’s ways while at the same time being certain that my own ways are afforded equal respect from the other side; finding that liminal moment where two sides can come together and negotiate business, each giving just enough and being willing to let a whole lot more slide by. I protect my own interests since, as a loner, I have no one else doing it for me. I’m not big into a lot of conventional values like turning the other cheek, not big into forgiveness or giving people a million second chances. Respect is a loaded term, but I do believe in common courtesy, unless of course you insisted you’d rather be treated differently. I could go on.
On the surface I can look like a hardass, but I must be doing something right; though I don’t go out of my way to be well thought of, I’m finding that often enough I actually am. Not by all people, but there is a distinct pattern to what sort of people don’t think well of me that leaves me not very worried about that.
Ancient values or not, I’ve always gotten the sense myself that Hermes in general approves of my course of action, not a hundred percent of course and we’re still working to curb my explosive temper for one example. Hermes is a god of strangers, of the outsider and the traveler, and this is the spiritual position I find myself operating from. Its not difficult for me to imagine such things would be of importance to him as well, not belonging to a community doesn’t equal freedom to act like a complete ass whatever some others may think.
I also must admit that most of my behavioral codes strike me as being so basic I don’t even think to talk to about them. Of course anybody walking around in public nowadays knows that common courtesy is far from common any longer; I suppose most can no longer be called basic if it doesn’t occur to most people, whether or not it should. Which could also make talking about some things a little more difficult if I don’t even think to put some things into words.
And that’s why, though this is an interesting idea and a good thing to show that no one religion has the corner market on values, I remain uncertain about participating anymore than this.
But hey, I have a month to change my mind, don’t I?