One thing I frequently come across when looking through various Pagan, otherkin, occultism, etc resources are some pretty extraordinary claims about what people are, their past, etc. For example:
- The Elenari claim to be elves from distant worlds with an extremely elaborate mythos built up around the nature of those worlds.
- Femmekin believe that they belong to a race that has two female genders, rather than a male and a female gender.
- Numerous people claim to be reincarnations of Jeanne d’Arc, Cleopatra, Atlantean Priestesses, or Elven Princesses.
- A great many people claim titles and honors such as
- Plenty of therians and otherkin claim to be dragons, gryphons, and other mythological beings.
- Others make claims about being capable of causing massive social change or upheaval.
While different beliefs around this can be functional or dysfunctional for an individual, the key question to me is not
what have you been? but
what are you doing? I don’t, fundamentally, care whether the claim is true: I care about who you are now and what you are doing now, not what you claim to be capable of doing or have done in the past.
Are you, as Jack Kornfield challenges us,
living a path with heart? Are you practicing occultism, or just talking about it?
If you are a 16 year old
initiated high priestess, great, good for you, now what? Whether you received that title from a longstanding tradition, from the spirits, from your friends, or from the voices in your head doesn’t matter. Are you mature and composed? Are you unattached (in the Buddhist sense)? Can you provide effective spiritual guidance and counseling to those in need? Do you have a firm grasp of boundaries? Do you have a reasonable grasp of occult principles, and are you applying them in your life? Are you using your title of
high priestess to effect positive change, or are you using it as an excuse to complain about how your mother treats you?
This goes for all aspects of identity. Something can have meaning to you and be valuable to you, but it doesn’t mean that it should have meaning to me or be valuable to me. The reverse is also true: I do not expect you to accept and believe the various things that I believe.
These questions to me are much more important than any way that you choose to identify yourself. I can accept that someone else believes something and that it has meaning to them without believing it to be factually true.
There are three important consequences from this.
First, your beliefs are yours, mine are mine. I will do some things out of courtesy, but if my beliefs differ from yours I should only be expected to accommodate them to a certain point. If I believe the gods only bless consenting unions between people (as way of example, this is not necessarily an expression of my actual beliefs) or make it a point that I for whatever reason will only bless such unions, you should not expect me–in my professional capacity–to bless your union with Jack Sparrow simply because you believe in the validity of your marriage. Similarly, I will not ask you to set aside your relationship simply because it does not fit within my belief structure and will try to work within your belief structure to the extent feasible. If this is something you cannot live with, I am not the shamanic practitioner for you, and that’s okay.
Second, no one is immune to criticism. If your beliefs aren’t internally consistent, if your beliefs start to sound like a role-playing game or a mechanism for escapist behaviors, then expect criticism to fall exactly on those lines. You may still derive meaning from it still and you do not need to listen to me–if you are inclined toward Chaos Magick you may even agree with the criticism and use it anyways since it is a useful model–but your response should not be to stomp your foot and say
but it is my opinion! or–worse–to threaten me with cosmic consequences merely because I have dared to levy criticism.
On the flipside, it isn’t my responsibility to bring up my objections every time we are together or even to bring them up unsolicited necessarily. If I believe something is escapism and I am your friend or we are in a place that is open for such discussion I might mention it, but no matter what I say it is up to you how you deal with it.
Finally, it is ultimately up to you to accept responsibility for your own spiritual development. The phrasing on this is deliberate. It is not the responsibility of your teacher, your friends, the random people on the internet. They can make things easier or harder, they can help illuminate or obscure, but the first and most important place to look is within yourself. It is easy to blame your job, you parents, or your life for your lack of practice, but ultimately up to you to make or find time as appropriate. It is easy to say that
if only people accepted X about me…, but what is core is your own work and your own practice.
As with many things, this ultimately comes down to a matter of boundaries: understanding where you end and where other people begin. Do not expect others to automatically accept whatever you say about yourself and your experiences, and do not automatically accept anything they say about themselves and their experiences. That they have meaning to you, that you derive meaning from them and that they improve your own health and functioning are sufficient. Beyond that, what you are doing–with each moment, in that moment–is far more important than who you claim to be or have been.