Pax declared June to be “Pagan Values Blogging Month,” as I’m sure anyone who actually reads this blog has noticed by now. The end of June draws near and I still haven’t said anything about it, so I suppose it’s time. I’ll get back to the tattoo next time.
I’ve read all sorts of posts on the topic of varying levels of quality. Some simply engage cheerfully and eagerly with some particular aspect of a values system without reflecting much on how or why such a value is “pagan.” Some of these are quite good for what they are, but I feel like there’s a big glaring hole in such an approach. Others address the thornier problem of defining what makes a value “pagan” or not, and have come up with various answers. I was ready to just steer clear of the whole thing because I’m not sure what a “pagan value” is either and I’m not sure I’m up to wrestling with it. But “it’s hard!” is not a good enough reason to not do something (there’s one of my values, I guess) so I have to give it a shot.
I think Kullervo hit the nail on the head in his post when he talks about the common human practice of taking what we are doing anyway and applying a values system to it in a retroactive way. We do what we do, and then we come up with a system to call the things we do “moral.” Or we take a system that already exists and bend it around ourselves so that we don’t have to change much and or be challenged – we avoid any friction between “the stuff that we want to do” and “the stuff that we should do.” That’s true of everyone; it’s not just a Pagan failing.
You have to be something of a rebel to come to this path. No matter how accepting your family, friends and neighbors might be, the fact is that you have to be willing to be an oddball to do this. It’s a little bit dangerous (or a lot, depending on where you live) and it takes courage and self-determination to follow this path. One thing almost all of us share is a strong feeling that this path is the correct one, and we all have to deal with institutional voices that tell us that our path is wrong. We have to be willing and determined to listen to that inner voice and follow our heart to what’s right. The darker side of that, of course, is self-indulgence, and self-determination/self-indulgence is the greatest strength and the greatest weakness of our community.
It’s no wonder, then, that we have a hard time coming to a common understanding of “pagan values.” If self-determination is a defining characteristic, then no outwardly-imposed system of values will stick if the inner leading disagrees with it; if self-indulgence is as well, then nothing that is inconvenient or difficult will stand a chance.
Aleister Crowley said “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law,” and I think he was really onto something there. It got watered down a bit in the Rede with the “an it harm none” bit – I think they should have stuck with “the whole of the Law” because everyone gets bogged down on that part and the significance of “do as you will” gets skimmed over or lost, and “an it harm none” takes away the real force of “do as you will”. Do what thou wilt – now there’s a challenging value, if you’re willing to actually engage with it. As far as I can tell, Crowley’s dictum is the basic Pagan value that we all follow. It has to be, because we can only get here by following that will – there’s no one else to tell us to do this. There’s nothing else to compel us, ultimately, but our own will to do so.