We are all flawed and human. Of course, the ideal, full on and full time Pagan is a veritable saint of mindful, compassionate, responsible living. It doesn’t hurt to air that ideal once in a while and see what we might do to live up to it. Every choice consciously made to minimise harm. Everything organic, locally sourced, made by craftspeople, fairly paid for. No work we undertake exploits anyone, we live zero carbon lives, and harm none. Well, I’ll put my hand up and say I’m not even close. I’m a part time Pagan. I’ve yet to meet anyone who, by such standards, counts as ‘full time’.
One of the big issues is education. To make the most ethical choice, you have to know everything. That’s not easy, not always possible, and not instant. If you wake up today and dedicate yourself to trying to live in perfectly ethical ways, you will be months studying the issues before you really know where to start. Then the tricky questions start. Which is the bigger issue, food miles, or animal products? Is a piece of local organic lamp wrapped in recyclable materials better than nuts from distant lands sent on a plane in a plastic packet? There are no absolute right answers, only choices, preferences and beliefs.
As you dig into this work, it can be frustrating seeing people who aren’t mindful of CO2 and animal welfare, and aren’t working in every way to minimise their impact. For a family that has always eaten meat, the shift to meat free Monday is a level of effort and dedication that the established vegan can easily fail to spot. For the person cultured to throwing everything away, even thinking about recycling is a very big deal. It’s better to support, encourage and inspire, because people are limited by their lack of information and shaped by their backgrounds and it is so easy to convince others that they will never be good enough. Do that, and you convince them there’s no point even trying.
Cycling everywhere on a bike (made of organic muesli?) is fine if you are fit. It is all too easy as a fully healthy and able bodied person to forget that not everyone is innately mobile. Not all disability is obvious, either. I’m quick to say ‘ditch the car’ but if you can’t, you can’t and that needs respecting. Some of the solutions will have to come from elsewhere – less centralised services and proper public transport are required, and we can’t make that as individuals.
That organic muesli, the fair traded organic cotton skirt, the hand crafted mugs… these things take money. If you are an affluent Pagan, it’s easy enough to pay for the very best. Try feeding a family of three for a week on £30 and you soon realise that you don’t have many choices. Organic is not an option. “Ah,” I hear you say, “cut back on a few luxuries and you can afford it.” Thus speaks privilege, assuming there are luxuries to cut back on. For many people, there aren’t, and we should not berate anyone for being too poor to meet our ethical expectations.
Pressures of family, of low paid or high stress work, health issues, limits in local resources, not having a garden to grow food in… there are many reasons why we don’t manage to be perfect Pagans. Exhausted, soul sick, struggling, not able to pull together the concentration to make every choice mindfully, only able to get out from family commitments for the eight festivals, and struggling to get that time… I’ve been there, and I’ve seen others go through it. Mothers of small children, carers for the sick. Teachers who just get no time to themselves during the term… and no doubt there are many others who would love the luxury of time and money to lavish on being the best Pagan imaginable, but just don’t have the room to make those choices right now.
We can blame, denigrate and ridicule ‘them’ for not being good enough. To do that, I would have to play up the bits I do well (low energy use) and downplay my shortcomings (shopping choices). Or we can reach out hands to each other, share what inspiration and encouragement we have. Recognise when people are trying, and doing what they can with what they’ve got. Share the easier ways of doing more with less. We can be a competition about who is the most Pagan, or we can recognise that none of us are perfect, and try and be a community that aspires to do better.