Now, I should say: that’s a freighted word for many people, but not so much for me. I was never a Christian, nor a Jew nor Muslim. So I don’t feel the oppressive weight of the concept of sin that those religions transmit. Please bear this in mind as you read the following.
I’ve been involved with the Northern California Pagan community for a long time–30 years next year. And in that time, I have seen a deep imbalance between the community’s orientation to pleasure-seeking and its orientation to accountability. In many instances I have seen over the years, community “leaders” have flatly refused to be accountable for their hurtful actions, and little or nothing in the way of rebalancing or rectifying these actions has been the result.
I see this as the lingering hangover of the Neopagan revival having happened in the era of “do your own thing”. In my experience, the Sixties generation, particularly, seems reflexively averse to the idea of being accountable to others, to community, or to society.
Things are changing, I grant. They are better than they were, and we have begun sincere conversations about challenging issues within our community which are intended to clean up inappropriate behavior and add transparency and accountability to the roles of those in positions of power.
Still, “accountability” is not a word that leaps to mind in describing the Pagan community. We have such a deeply ingrained value of letting others “follow their paths” that when they do something lousy, while we might erupt into yet another “witch war” over it, in my experience there is little history of confrontation over an injury leading to sober reflection, apology and—if possible—forgiveness and/or atonement, which is action to make things feel right again.
In the big monotheisms, the ideas of sin and guilt are so deeply ingrained that if they did not have mechanisms for lifting some of that guilt, their members would be completely paralyzed, unable to act lest they transgress. Ours is not a path so burdened, but the fact remains that in every human life, there are regrets. There are ways we have not lived up to the person we wish to be. There are ways we have hurt others, whether intentionally or not so.
Though there are some who argue that Paganism does not require forgiveness as a part of its practice, in my opinion there is a place in a life for the ceremonial implementation of apology, atonement, and forgiveness. It cannot help but to lighten the heart, for all of us have things we carry which we would prefer to put down.
Now, Christians do this in a way that I find frankly awful. Though communion (and confession, for Catholics), they go to their Authority Figures—their priests and their god—for that forgiveness. This leaves the injured party entirely out of the process.
Jews, on the other hand, have Yom Kippur: the Day of Atonement. It is a day for the expression of apologies and the making right of grievances. It is a human-scale mechanism for making things right, and it happens every year, typically 2 or 3 weeks before Hallows/Samhain.
Where, on our Wheel of the Year, is the time for apology and forgiveness? We might say that Hallows is a time for laying down of that which is “no longer needed”, but that’s a personal process, not an interpersonal one. What about making it right with the injured party?
Hallows is also a time of grief and solemnity, and not so much anger. I wouldn’t want my Hallows observance overshadowed by having to process a conflict.
As I celebrate the Wheel, Riverain, the Festival of Water is at the beginning of February. Perhaps that is the time to “wash away” grievances, just as spring is beginning?
I will think more about this, and I’m open to suggestions. But I feel that incorporation of the principle of accountability to not just ourselves, but to those with whom we interact and to our society at large, is a Pagan missing piece.
Having an annual day in which we exercise accountability with one another would be a good thing.