Go Tend Your Own Altar

I don’t spend as much time on social media as maybe I should. But by the time I make the beds, empty the litterboxes, write postcards for candidates, take a long walk, and cook some veg, well, there’s not as much time left as I’d like. But apparently Pagan social media is full of people lecturing each other about “closed practices,” and when it’s OK to say “spirit animal,” and who is and who is not appropriately discussing gender.

So at the risk of making everyone angry, I’l say this. Humans share practices — and those that they don’t share get stolen. Painting animals and outlining hands in ocher on cave walls. Melting bronze and casting it into shapes. Agriculture. Keeping bees. Cooking food in fat. Weaving. Making baskets. Raising pigs. Cracking shells and pulling out the soft animals inside. Making a tea of willow bark to ease pain. Using an arch to make an entrance. Writing. Using plant substances to induce ecstasy.

More than almost anything else, humans are the kind of animal that copies. That shares. That mimics. That borrows and adapts. And, so, in cultures from Japan, to Egypt, to Greece, we have a myth about an old woman who pulls up her skirts and does a dance to make people laugh. We have some version of a pancake, or tortilla, or pita, or crepe in every culture — a good way to eat yummy food folded inside a piece of carbohydrate. We sing songs at religious rituals, we burn incense and candles, we perform ritual dances.

But lately social media is full of Pagans lecturing other Pagans on what they MUST NOT do. So we have children who never met a Romany lecturing everyone else about how reading tarot is a “closed practice” that no one but native 100 % Romany may ever practice. A lovely young woman I know recently took to social media to lecture people about the use of the term “spirit animal.” People who misuse the term must, she said, “go sit under a tree until you get your shit under control.” Apparently someone misunderstood the difference between a spirit animal and a familiar. There are a whole lot of other ” closed practices,” too. Everything from making herb tea from local plants, to yoga, to various forms of meditation are open to have any random person on social media declaring them to be “closed,” and then, even if you’ve practiced them successfully for decades, well, tough.

Byron Ballard has shared two bits of wisdom that I think may be relevant. The first is the concept of “social strip mining.” Corporations came into Appalachia and strip mined the resources out of this area and left the residents poorer than they were before. That’s bad. That’s not the same as learning how to smelt bronze and going back to your continent and making bronze instruments. That’s not the same as being in Georgia, learning how to grow and ferment grapes, and going home to Rome and making wine. ‘That’s ripping off the local people and leaving them worse off then before. So, don’t do that. Don’t strip mine other cultures of their resources and leave them worse off. But that’s different from learning from and adapting various practices.

Byron’s other bit of wisdom is what I call the Ballard Query. Byron asks: “[A]in’t you people got no gods to worship? No holy days to celebrate? No Ancestors to deal with, er I mean venerate? In short — don’t you people have some sacred work to do? Justice work? Environmental work? Community weaving?” Honest to Goddess, if you have enough time to lecture people you don’t know on social media about the difference (I think there is one) between spirit animals and familiars, maybe you have time to go bless the boundaries of your local elementary school, to cook food for your local soup kitchen, to call your Senators about voting rights.

Baby, ain’t nobody made you the grand arbitrator of Pagan practices. Go tend your own altar.

Picture found here.

6 responses to “Go Tend Your Own Altar

  1. That reminds me of what we tell people who have so much and who complain about their lot in life. Go help at a soup kitchen, go volunteer at a care home, help your elderly neighbour, go read to kids at the library.

    It sounds like the 90’s on Undernet when solitaries discovered others like them and where promptly told that they were doing it wrong. Pagan curious kids being told that they had to do it this way or they were doing it wrong. Just a new medium, I guess.

  2. Abso-bloody-lutely! 🙂

  3. The way it was put to me was “the only inventory you need to take is your own.”

  4. Jessica Radcliffe


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