by Christopher Penczak
Though we might draw upon ancient traditions and think of ourselves as heirs to the mystery schools, in reality, modern Paganism, Wicca and Witchcraft are relatively new in terms of our collective values, resources and support structures. We’re at a fundamental point as individuals and a community to determine exactly what we value and why. Some of us have learned things in previous traditions and why to cast off those teachings. Other teachings and values we might want to keep, but struggle to see how they fit in with our current practices. So we should explore all of these things, and understand the ‘why’ behind not only our magick, but our community structures.
One of the most interesting and fluctuating topics in our communities is Pagan Charity. Are we a charitable people? Should we be? Why?
One would argue that our desire to be charitable comes from previous Christian conditioning. The idea is deeply tied with the Christian notions of Faith, Hope and Charity. It is also one of the seven heavenly virtues. Christian charity, theologically, is about a lot more than benevolent giving, and relates to deep concepts of love and divine friendship. Compassionate giving, such as alms, is also found in Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism. While two sources not traditionally Pagan, many Pagans are more comfortable borrowing from Hinduism and Buddhism than Christianity or Islam.
Less recognized by many modern Pagans, we also see it in ancient Paganism, in the form of giving hospitality to beggars and strangers, for the gods can be disguised as the poor strangers on your door. While not codified in the Pagan four Cardinal Virtues, which include Prudence, Justice, Temperance, and Fortitude, hospitality is found in the myths. We see humans expressing hospitality in tales of Athena, Zeus, Hermes, and Demeter, not knowing at the times their guests were gods. Norse and Celtic culture express not only the teachings of hospitality, but also in being a gracious guests when receiving hospitality and support. So despite our ideas to distance ourself from “Christian” charity, there are roots of it in all forms of Paganism and mystical traditions.
Socially, many would critique such charity as re-distribution of wealth, and a form of socialism, though voluntary giving is quite different from any form of socialism. Pagans of this view will look at the “kill or be killed” harshness of nature, and use that at a motto. Everyone must be strong and survive. Nature is not charitable. But when we look at a wide variety of animals, we see supportive structures humans would find familiar and comforting. There is even new research to show how plants within a forest support each other. On one hand, nature is harsh and cruel. On the other, very loving and support. Perhaps as Pagans, we need to be both, and know when each is appropriate.
As a modern Witch, theologically and magickaly, I see at least two main principles motivating charity and support for others beyond ourselves and our immediate kin. Drawing from the ideas of how the gods can be beggars and strangers, not only could they be, but they are. A huge portion of our spirituality recognizes the inherent divinity in all things. We are looking to more consciously realize and invoke our own divinity, and life more fully from that place, so recognizing the inherent divinity, conscious or not, of others, is important. Sometimes the most unusual people are our true teachers, and learning to selflessly serve and offer to others in an appropriate way that is not harming either party, is an excellent lesson in recognizing spirit in all forms.
The second idea, less metaphysical and more philosophical for those more grounded, down to Earth Pagans, goes back to the oft-quoted Gaia Theory, and the general thought of many Pagans, myself included, that we are like cells within a larger organization, and all species and systems upon and in the Earth relate to each other like a whole organism. For the well being of the entire organism, the seemingly separate systems should be doing what they can to support and bolster each other. A healthy liver doesn’t mean a whole lot if the heart is not working, and the various parts of our body work together to bring greater well being, ideally. Even the various sections within a given organ or system seek wholeness whenever possible. So in supporting others, starting with fellow humans and expanding beyond to the many other realms and races, physical and non-physical, we can bring about a greater benefit for all.
These two ideas inform our work in the Temple of Witchcraft community. We believe our greater community has reached the point to develop greater infrastructure and support for our growing population, but to do so with Pagan theological values, and without losing the mystery and magick of our training. Service and charity is a way to understand and put those principles into action. And each of the major sabbats, we take donations for various charities. While it changes year to year, this was our initial model:
- Yule: Toys
- Imbolc: Blankets and Coats
- Ostara: Tree Planting
- Beltane: Pet Donations
- Litha: Blood Drive
- Lammas: Food Drive
- Mabon: Disaster Relief Supplies for TOWER
- Samhain: Winter Coats and Clothing
We’ve not yet gotten a blood drive off the ground and pet donations also happen on the Feast of Hecate on August 13. We collected relief supplies for TOWER at Templefest this year, so our 2015 Mabon collection will be a food drive instead.
At the moment, we have been working cooperatively with other local services, including many Christian services. I would hope one day that we’d have the infrastructure to serve a larger community, and to be able to reach out to the non-Christian identifying aspects of the greater community. But the work also brings greater interfaith understanding. (Plus, I get a kick out of getting very kind thank you letters from Christian organizations, who are writing to thank the Temple of Witchcraft directly!) I hope it changes some minds about who and what Witches really are. We’ve actually found a lot of support among various Christian branches here locally in New Hampshire, and our charity work is a way we can reach across religious lines and focus on helping anyone who needs it. If other religions have the mechanisms in place to reach those in need, then until Paganism grows such structures, let’s work with them. Ideally, even when we do have such structures, let’s find other opportunities to partner together.
At our Templefest Lammas celebration, collected nonperishable food items were donated to local food bank. We often work with the Emmaus House (http://emmausinc.org/) homeless shelter in Haverhill, MA.
For the Feast of Hecate, we collected donation for the MSPCA in Methuen, MA. In the coming months, be on the look out for future blog posts by our beloved Cancer Ministry volunteer Dragon, highlighting different ministries in the Temple, and their charitable work. Hopefully it will inspire those local to us, and inspire those distantly to start their own donation drives and find other ways to help.
Look at all forms of charitable work and giving as ways of enacting our spiritual values and creating the time of community that is built upon mutual support. That way we all go a step further in establishing the harmony of the time before time, and re-establishing the Garden of the Gods upon the Earth once more.