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Author Topic: Coven experience?  (Read 18197 times)
joshuatenpenny
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Religion: Asphodel, recon-derived eclectic paganism
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« Reply #29: October 03, 2007, 08:55:39 pm »

I want to be clear that it is only the labels I take issue with -- not the rituals, not the experience, not even the structure. It is the labels that are the problem. I agree that labels may have benefits. But they also have drawbacks, no matter how well-intentioned; and I think the latter outweigh the former.

I love clear labels. I also love hierarchy. I think things go much more smoothly when everyone knows where they stand, but perhaps that is because the subtleties of interpersonal interaction were never my strong suit.

Having a clear program of study with well-defined consistent benchmarks helps prevent people from believing they have so much innate wisdom and natural talent that their lack of training and experience is irrelevant. It keeps people who have made no commitment to a group from thinking they have just as much right to tell everyone what to do as someone who has been putting time and energy into the group for twenty years. It forces newbies to admit, "I'm a beginner at this. I'm here to learn. I acknowledge that these people have a greater understanding of these topics than I do." It forces people with more experience and training to say, "I've received this training and developed these skills, so I'm expected to perform up to a certain standard." It forces the people running the group to give a "public" assessment of each member's progress, with the implication that they vouch for the training of each person who they've given a degree to. It also makes it clear when a given person is not making progress, so everyone involved can look at why progress isn't being made and what can be done about it. It gives recognition to the skills and experience of people whose work is less public or who are less charismatic than others in the group.

Sure you can do these things in other ways, but a clearly defined rank is one useful way to do them. The benefit, as far as I am concerned, is accountability. To me, a flat hierarchy and vague distinctions between roles mean that if things don't get done correctly, everyone can point fingers at everyone else. It means a few loud people can call the shots and not take responsibility for the outcome. It means what skills a person claims can vary wildly based on who they are trying to impress and what actually work they are being asked to do.

With well-known trads, a degree system gives credentials that are potentially meaningful in interactions between groups. If someone is speaking about Gardnerian Wicca, or Blue Star Wicca, or whatever degreed trad, you can get a clear idea of their level of training and experience by knowing what degree they are. If I'm thinking about doing ritual work with someone and they say they are second degree in the Such-and-Such Gardnerian coven, that tells me a lot. If they tell me they've been "Wiccan" for three years, that tells me almost nothing. Maybe they've spent those three years reading a few substandard 101 books, wearing a pentacle, and thinking how cool it is to be Wiccan. Maybe they spent it in intensive devotional work and magical practice. Who knows? We had someone come to our group, asking for our assistance in a ritual. She claimed to have received extensive training in X, Y, and Z from Trad X. We inquire a little further and she admits she's a "seeker" in Trad X. If she'd been a third degree, that would have really caused our opinion of Trad X to plummet once we'd seen her lack of skills, but we wouldn't hold Trad X accountable for the bad behavior of someone they never even initiated. Degree systems allow you to calibrate expectations based on skills and reputation.


Frankly, the biggest objections I've seen to assessing rank in my own community come from folks who want to be powerful or respected based on nothing but their charm and a line of BS. The folks in my community who actually have the skills and experience aren't generally threatened by ranks, even if they find them irrelevant to their own practice.

-- Joshua
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