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Author Topic: Subjectivism, religion, and the religious shopping center  (Read 2274 times)
Setnakht
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« Topic Start: June 16, 2011, 12:20:17 am »

Over the years I have met any number of people interested in joining our Kemetic Reconstructionist temple. What I have noticed is that a significant percentage of those
seekers wanted to witness our rituals just as if they were shopping for a church or
synagogue and were looking to see if they felt comfortable, liked the choir, enjoyed
the sermon--in other words for them it was rather like a shopping expedition, one sided. They weren't interested in putting forth any more effort than to attend a ritual. Maybe they liked one or another god or goddess, or they were vaguely attracted to all things Egyptian. As far as I am
concerned, that is an okay place from which to start. The problem, though, was that their interest or attraction was one sided. There was no wilingness to put forth effort and read even a few books and attend some instructional meetings and do some homework. Our temple requires this in order to see if the person is ready for a participatory membership in our temple as well as so they really understand the ancient rituals and not see them as just "ancient and colorful rites." I believe that Gardnerians and some Wiccan covens also expect prospective members to study for a period of time before admittance into the group.
 
We also have noticed that some folks, when asked what of their talents were they prepared to bring to our temple, they were at a loss to say. Delving deeper, it really seemed to amount to
a one-way transaction. The temple--and the gods--give to them, but they don't give anything in return except their presence at ritual. We also found that those same folks expected to get--for lack of a better term-a spiritual thrill from their participation. They wanted to feel "religious",
gratified, maybe even exhilerated from ritual or interaction with the gods. When it was explained that they might very well not always or not often get such a spiritual high, they were rather troubled. They expected it. Perhaps it came from their previous experiences in churches
where the preacher whips up people into an emotional state and that passes for a "spiritual experience." Some even came right out and said that this was their expectation.

Have others noticed anything like this with their contacts among pagans? How have you handled it? Have you been successful in speaking with folks about this?
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Darkhawk
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« Reply #1: June 16, 2011, 12:37:43 am »


Like it or not, most people growing up in a Christian-influenced culture are familiar with congregational models of religion and not with other models.  They expect to show up, maybe have minor participation in rituals led by other people, and have that be the thing that they need to do to check off their 'did religion' tickybox on the to-do list for the week.

(More thoughts maybe later when it's not stupidly past bedtime.)
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RandallS
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« Reply #2: June 16, 2011, 08:06:15 am »

Have others noticed anything like this with their contacts among pagans? How have you handled it? Have you been successful in speaking with folks about this?

It's the model of religion they are used to from society. Even Christian churches that expect more than accept Jesus, show up for services, and donate money can have problems getting new people. And people are used to "shopping for a church": Christians moving to a new area often attend services at a number of churches (even across denominational lines) before deciding which to join.
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Jenett
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« Reply #3: June 16, 2011, 08:57:34 am »

Have others noticed anything like this with their contacts among pagans? How have you handled it? Have you been successful in speaking with folks about this?

What Darkhawk said - it often really is how people are used to interacting with religion.

More than that, I think learning how to learn about religion is a skill. We're not naturally born with it: we have to learn it. Some people get exposed to it before looking at a Pagan path (they, or someone they're close to, looks at other religions, or they're interested in comparative religion), but many people don't.

That's why a lot of places *do* those intro classes (and things like a Dedicant year): it's a structured time to teach some of the skills of considering a new religious path, and in particular, how a particular religion works. The idea that the entire community is expected to participate in the major work of the ritual, for example, is quite new to many people exploring Wiccan-based group work, and it takes time to learn how to do that.

I think "What do I bring to this group" is also a skill we have to learn - our society does not always encourage us to verbalise this, except in things like cover letters for job applications. I wrote a post a couple of years ago about this on my blog: http://gleewood.org/threshold/2008/09/10/what-do-you-bring/

In general, what I've found successful is a combination of being very clear about the expectations, but also giving people space to explore those expectations before diving in all the way. In the group I trained with, that was a couple of introductory Seeker classes before people were invited to ritual (which, among other things, covered what happened at ritual, and how participation happened) before they got invited to one. In my current practice, my preference is to do the same basic thing in one-on-one conversation, before inviting someone.
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Setnakht
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« Reply #4: June 16, 2011, 12:26:41 pm »

In general, what I've found successful is a combination of being very clear about the expectations, but also giving people space to explore those expectations before diving in all the way.
Thank you very much, Jenett. I also appreciate the following statement from your blog:
 Past experiences have taught me not to overwhelm people (and mostly, how to avoid people feeling bad they donít know the same things: I certainly donít expect them to, I just think knowledge is nifty.) Iíll feel my way cautiously along until I get a sense of how much sharing of tangents and other unrelated information makes sense.
Our temple here in Northern Calif. has been around over a dozen years and the way we try to work with interested candidates is to mentor each person at their own speed and we definitely try to avoid overwhelming them. No one wants to feel like they're dumb or inadequate. Many candidates have taken only 4 or 5 months of regular meetings and several others have taken 8 or 9 months. At some point we ask the candidate if they feel ready to join our group.
But in each instance those folks who persevered and really liked the Kemetic vision are still
active in the temple unless they've moved away. Very, very few ended up leaving once they
passed through that introductory period. Several decided to start their own temple in  their new location, and we always try to help them with the tasks of starting up a local temple. I think our approach has worked for us. In the very first years we were a bit too eager to accept people without adequate preparation. They would end up either leaving suddenly or they just were not a good fit for a variety of reasons. In one instance years ago I recall one person, after attending her first ritual with almost no preparation, she said "I just don't get that zing that I want." As far as our temple is concerned, it's really not about getting a zing out of every ritual. But people keep coming back, so we must be doing something right--hopefully! Her comment helped us awake to the fact that it's important to help prepare people sufficiently so they understand the nature of temple rituals, the symbology, etc. Otherwise as an observer of a Kemetic rite they coud end up feeling like they witnessed a rather colorful but ultimately incomprehensible event.
    I think one of the challenges for temples and covens is to strike a balance between having pretty much no real requirements for admission or having too many and thus creating a real roadblock for people. We're still a work in progress!
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Darkhawk
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« Reply #5: June 16, 2011, 12:36:35 pm »


Okay.  Let's take this apart systematically.

Every mainstream religious gathering I have been to in my life has functioned like this:  there is a set time and place for it to start.  A selection of people are responsible for conducting all ceremonies; some of them are professionally trained, some are volunteers from the congregation who have rehearsed.  The majority of people present gather in the open seating (sometimes standing), and their participation is limited to simple, largely untrained actions: listening to readings or sermons and sometimes responding ritually; singing; standing, sitting, or kneeling at appropriate times; occasionally more involved things like queueing up, going to the front, and returning to place.

Every public pagan gathering with a ritual has been similarly structured.  A selection of people are responsible for conducting the ceremonies and/or guiding people through them; some of them are trained.  They perform the significant ritual actions of defining and holding the space, lead the group in chants or songs, do spoken work for any meditation or prayer, and serve as examples for all ritual actions.  There is often but not always more participation from the "congregation", but not on a large scale: "we all dance in this circle" is not significantly more participatory than "we all sing this hymn".

If you want people to use a different model, you are going to have to actively teach it to them in some fashion.  It will not happen by magic because you expect a different sort of participation or involvement with the group.  If you present something as something like an open worship service, 99% of all walk-in types will be operating in this model, and you will have to accomodate this or come up with some way of discouraging these people.

And that's without getting into the reconstructionist problem.

If you are operating as a reconstructionist temple, there is no place for these people.  They are the people who would have been forbidden to enter the inner portions of the temple grounds and witnessing the rituals.  You may be performing the rites for their benefit, as ancient temples performed the rites for the benefit of the larger community, but that neither makes them participants nor welcome.

Obviously, you don't want to just tell them to go away, which means that this problem is not fixable with reconstructionist methodology and mindset.  You have to figure out how much of more modern religious models you wish to adopt, and then figure out how to integrate that with traditional forms.  You could take the outer court/inner court model from modern religious witchcraft, and use the open portions to satisfy those who want congregational work and to do basic training for potential future wabu; you could shift to a largely congregational model and accept that many people will not want more than congregational participation; you could adopt a separate instructional line to guide people in building home and domestic practice such as non-priests might have had in ancient days, and discourage people who aren't interested in more extensive participation from attending your rituals.  You can do many things.

What you can't do is assume that people will immediately know how to adopt something they have never seen before without help.
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