After I had been writing about my Pagan practice for a short while I came across a phrase which really rather set me on edge. Big Name Pagans, or BNPs for short.
I suspect it was initially used to describe those Pagans who were seen as being overly filled with ego. The self-proclaimed Kings and Queens who seemed to get trotted out for every tabloid telly program or broadsheet article. Who wants to hear someone providing a voice of reason when you can get shock and drama and flowing robes with loads of bling anyway?
Over time though, I am seeing Big Name Pagan used to describe any Pagan who had authored a book, made a media appearance, or who happened to spend time around the festival circuit. Anyone who dares put his head above the proverbial parapet can become a target.
More worryingly, it has started being applied to the Elders of our Pagan community. Those who have been practicing their Pagan beliefs since the 1960s or ’70s, or earlier.
As a mother of teenagers, I can’t help but see comparisons between the rebellion of adolescence as they begin to assert their authority and independence and the teenagers of the Pagan community, (we are only in the 3rd or 4th generation of modern neo-Paganism remember) rebelling against the elders for the same reason.
I am reminded also of something which I saw happen within the Coven group I was once part of, that is being repeated on a larger scale within the Pagan community. I’m speaking of the tendency we have of putting Pagan leaders on a pedestal.
And knocking them off again.
Time and again I have seen it happen. We hold someone up to higher standards for behaviour than we expect for ourselves, and when they show themselves to be human, we turn and attack. “Oh, I always knew it about that person.”
As a group, we need our Elders. We need the teachers, those who can guide us with their wisdom that has come from experience. We also need to remember that they are still only human. They will have off days, they will make mistakes, they will get angry, they will make decisions that we can’t comprehend. They won’t always be right.
Those Big Name Pagans that some are so fond of knocking off their pedestals for the most part didn’t ask to be put up on one in the first place. (Yes, I know there are exceptions.) However, they saw a need, a place where they could share their wisdom and experience, where they could teach.
They are leaders in the sense that they have come before those of us in subsequent generations. For the most part, they are also humble, caring individuals who still have to deal with all the hassles of modern life. Bills still need payed, dishes still need washed. They still get ill and worry about the state of the economy.
Do I agree with every Pagan elder I have met, whether in person or via this miracle of modern communication called the internet? No.There have been plenty of times where my own experiences are not the same as the experiences of someone who has been doing this longer than I have – it doesn’t mean either of us is wrong, it just means that our experiences were different.
Do I expect them to have all the answers or to tell me what I should do or how I should think? Again, no. We are each expected to grow, learn, and develop as Priests/Priestesses of our own personal belief. A Pagan Elder can only share with me her experiences and wisdom, it is up to me if I incorporate that knowledge into my own practice, or not.
Do I treat them differently than I do my friends and aquaintances who have been Pagan for a shorter length of time? No. Each has their own wisdom and experience they can bring to the table. I have yet to meet someone who did not have anything to teach me. (Though the lessons aren’t always as I expect them to be.) Since I don’t find it useful to continually reinvent the proverbial wheel, I tend to pay attention when someone shares her experiences and wisdom.
I don’t want to be a Pagan on a Pedestal, and I try to remember not to put anyone else up there either. I’d much rather be a Pagan sitting in circle with friends.
What are your thoughts?