8 (Better) Warning Signs to Look for in Pagan Groups

Yesterday, I noticed a link on my Facebook newsfeed to this article, 8 Warning Signs in a Pagan Group. As I was reading, my mind kept screaming ” Well, duh! These are things you should watch out for in any group, secular or religious. Common sense, people!” And it left me wondering, why do we think it’s ok to keep talking to Pagan adults like they can’t make rational choices (I mean, I’m pretty sure I make rational choices most of the time…).

So here’s my 8 (Better) Warning Signs to Look for in Pagan Groups (for those already possessing some basic common sense):

1. Members that seem consistently disengaged from the subject at hand. Yes, it is really helpful to have members that get along and who aren’t trying to stab others in the back, but there disengagement seems to be one I’ve noticed a lot in the few Pagan groups I’ve been around. Obviously, we don’t want to be with a group who spend the majority of their time trying to tear each other down, but we also don’t necessarily want to waste our time in a group that gets along fabulously but spends the entire meet-up discussing Dr. Who when the subject of the event was a discussion of Indo-European cultures. While it’s great that everyone loves the Doctor, but like any other group, it’s important to stay on the agenda for any progress to be made (whether that be organizational development, spiritual development, liturgical writing, whatever). This lack of focus and discipline can easily contribute to the stagnagation an disbandment of any sort of group.

2. Groups with beliefs that you don’t share. This one may fall a bit into the common sense category, but it’s important, especially for those who don’t have a firm belief system at the time. It isn’t always as obvious as the worship of the sparkly rainbow unicorn, but sometimes a group has beliefs and practices that are in contradiction to our own morals and ethics. Let’s say you’re a vegan, but a key element to every major ritual your group hosts is animal sacrifice (in the form of the Holy Hog Roast or the Blessed Chicken BBQ). Not that either you or the group are wrong or out of line in your beliefs, but you may want to step back a bit and find a more vegan-friendly group. You shouldn’t have to sacrifice your morals or beliefs to a group, but they in turn shouldn’t have to drastically change theirs to accommodate you.

3. Inept leadership. For any group beyond the scope of occasional meetup or study group, those in leadership roles need to possess a diverse skill set. Along with having a solid spiritual foundation from which they can facilitate spiritual growth in others, leaders should also have a sense of business building, public speaking, and organizational skills. And if they lack any of these skills, they should at least delegate to other members in the group who do.

4. Predatory groups. I really disagree with the original article on dissuading people from looking into teen groups. I think there is more paranoia regarding the inclusion of teen members than needs to be; indeed, most Christian churches run youth ministry programs. I think the real issue is when a group targets an easily victimized demographic for nefarious purposes. Luring teens and children into groups that are not structured to be family-friendly, targeting abused women for groups that practice ritual sex, scamming low-income families with promises of money and luck charms, these are the groups we need to be on the look-out for.

5. Cults. Every religion and belief system has its share of cults, whether they want to admit it or not. Quite simply, a cult is an exclusionary group that controls its members through restrictive methods. Like an abusive partner, cults exert their control through means such as brain-washing, sexual abuse, financial abuse, isolation, guilt, blame, and a host of other controlling behaviors. If you are worried that group you want to join is a potential cult, please check out the Advanced Bonewits Cult Danger Evaluation Frame. It’s a pretty handy resource. But do keep in mind that not all private or exclusionary groups are necessarily cults.

6. Groups that promote or engage in illegal activities. Here’s one the original article and I agree upon. Even if the groups’ stance on an issue is that it should be legal, such as marijuana use, there are channels in place to effect change that are perfectly legal. While we may or may not agree with laws, encouragement by a spiritual group to disregard said laws demonstrates a lack of regard for boundaries, and that should be a huge red flag.

7. Groups that pass the buck. I’ve heard countless times “Wouldn’t it be nice if we had a (insert Pagan event or building) in our area,” often times followed by “Yeah, that would be great, but (insert excuse).” Obviously, there are times when certain ideas or plans are outrageous or unfeasible in a certain area, but if your group spends a good amount of time identifying gaps and areas for improvement in your local Pagan community, but seems to only come up with excuses as to why those issues can’t be addressed, it may be time to find a group to better serve you and your Pagan community. 

8. Improper use of terminology. For many of us, Pagan was not a term we heard growing up, or if we did, it was in a derogatory or negative context. So when we look to join a Pagan group, we are also encountering different terms and words that we may have never used before, and it’s important that we use such words in the proper context. Not every Pagan group calls quarters or has High Priests or athames, and if the leadership and members of these groups use the improper words when referring to themselves or other groups, either out of ignorance or disregard, then we create more divisions and misrepresentation for those who consider themselves a part of the greater Pagan community.

I hope this list helps to spark some questions in your mind the next time you contact a Pagan group. There are many wonderful groups and wonderful people out there, and nothing contributes more to growing our community than when we connect with other people that help us to better ourselves.

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