Because I have always been outspoken about my religion, I have lost the company of a good few I would have loved to call friends. Because of this, I tend to come out as a lesbian and a Pagan in the first five meetings with a person. That way, we both know the score and it saves me a lot of heartache. So far, people have been incredibly understanding about both. Highschool was a bit of a mess but mostly about the gay thing. The Pagan thing, they didn't understand, didn't know how to tease me with and thus ignored. When I got older, 99 percent of the reactions ranged from excited to intrigued. That one percent of negative feedback is completely neglectable to me.
I am incredibly sad to say that most flack I have ever gotten about my religious believes has come from the Pagan community itself. When I was Neo-Wiccan, I was 'fluffy', when I was a Technopagan, I was 'disrespecting nature' and 'angering the Goddess' for accepting technology in ritual. When I was a Hedge Witch, I 'didn't know enough about herbs' to be one. When I was an Eclectic Religious Witch, I was 'lazy' and 'a pick-and-choosing thief'. Now I'm Hellenic, I'm 'elitist' and 'in disrespect of nature' again. Honestly, I can't win. Whatever I do, for the majority of Pagans, I will never be 'Pagan enough'.
For those wondering, I have been a practicing Pagan for twelve years, thirteen if you count my 'year and a day'. I started at thirteen. I was young but not stupid and what I was looking for was religion, not spirituality. From there on, I progressed a lot in the search for something to bring me closer to my faith, to a point where I honored the Gods I knew to be there in a way that worked for me. I was always aware that the way I believed was my way, and there was no one who was obligated to believe the way I did. As such, I have bit my tongue on more occasions than I can count. But I believe in temperance. I believe that everyone has his or her opinion and is entitled to it. It's our divine right; not even the Gods can make us do something we don't want to do. Then why is the Pagan community trying to make me?
The Pagan community at large preaches tolerance a lot but because it's a religion of individuals, tolerance is a hard thing to practice. There is a deep seeded hatred against Christianity in our collective hearts. It's clearer within some than in others but it's there. I guess it's because some came from a Christian background, because some blame Christianity for the oppression of Paganism, because Christians killed nine million Witches or because Christians are preventing us from practicing our faith. Of course, all of that is a matter of perspective, some based on falsehoods.
The early Christians were persecuted. They were hunted and sometimes killed for their faith in a 'false God'. The odds of any of the millions killed in the Burning Times being Witches, as we understand the term, is incredibly small and the only ones preventing us from practicing our religion are we. Of course, no one's experiences are invalid. I am simply saying that there is another side to every single coin.
Within Hellenismos, there is a raging hatred against Christianity, and a disdain and anger towards Neo-Paganism, that keeps me from seeking out others of my faith. I understand where it comes from; in Greece, probably 98 percent of believers are Orthodox Christians. Being a minority of, maybe, a couple of thousand against a religious majority like that is a frightening thing. Losing your job, your friends, your family over your religious choices... I think it would harden me too. As for Neo-Paganism; there are times when I, too, want to bang my head into the wall a couple of times when I hang around message boards or Pagan festivals too long. Yet, there is beauty in these paths as well. And even if I thought that someone's path would lead to their doom or the doom of the world; who am I to interfere in their rightful pursuit of truth?
The thing is, I don't see how replacing 'One True God(s)' with another 'One True God(s)' is going to change anything. The persecution might switch for a couple of thousand years but after that, it's the same thing all over again. I wish we could all let go of 'One True'. Then there would just be God and Gods and we could finally stop trying to carve out a place for our religion from someone else's hands and focus on creating a space for ourselves separate from the religion of others. There really is no going forward if we do it by making everyone else look bad. It keeps our eyes on the past and stands in the way of moving forward, of coming into our own.
Tolerance is, and should be, a verb, a noun and an adjective. It's something active, not passive. It's a continual work in progress within ourselves. It cancels out our hate, our fear, our judgement and our ego. It's a worthy struggle and can be a glue, a bridge, between Pagans, as well as between Pagans and non-Pagans. If we let it.