Part 1: Where is there a place for service work and activism in paganism?
It’s no secret that I am a huge advocate for interfaith work. It has really worked to define my life as an undergrad. Service work and activism play essential roles in interfaith for me. When I first started doing interfaith work, my own religious foundation was shaky at best. I was the most general type of pagan out there, not following any gods or claiming to be a part of any specific group and not having a “real” practice of my own yet. So my own motivation towards service work and activism was honestly only based in following the herd. My group was planning an event and I was going to participate. There wasn’t anything religious motivating me. It has been a few years since then and I am a much more established person in a lot of areas, including my faith.
What got me thinking about paganism’s relationship to service work and activism was a combination of a few things. The first was, again, a more solid foundation in my own practice and better knowledge of other practices. The second was being aware of what was going on in the world. I lived in a bubble in high school and college made sure to pop it. The past few years, and certainly this past summer have forced me to look at issues that are normally not in my social spheres or things I concern myself with. The last thing, and what really put all of the pieces together was reading Eboo Patel’s Acts of Faith. It was on my reading list for the summer and really served to inspire me to look into my own faith and find faith based reasons for service work and activism.
Now we come to the heart of the matter. Where is there a place for service work and activism in paganism? The answer is actually….a lot of places. Paganism does not have as direct a call to service work that other faiths have, at least to my admittedly imperfect knowledge. However, looking through our myths provides plenty stories that push us in that direction. The most prominent call to service work that I’ve found in paganism, broadly speaking, is hospitality.
Hospitality is a pretty common theme in mythology. Many people are familiar with stories of gods disguising themselves as beggars or travelers and going door to door to test their worshipers’ hospitality. The people that do accept the disguised gods are considered to be incredibly devout and in many stories are rewarded for giving the gods room and board. Conversely, those that refuse the gods are in many instances punished severely. Translating hospitality into a modern context is well…service work, at least in my mind. Modern hospitality to me goes beyond opening a single home, but rather opening the community. Food justice and housing (to name a few causes out of many) are the modern equivalent of giving a beggar some supper and a roof over there head. Hospitality, as I see it, should not be given because we fear that the person in need is one of our gods in disguise, who will punish us if we ignore them. Rather, we should understand that hospitality is something that the gods want us to give by default. However, it is something so often forgotten that they are forced to ingrain the lesson into us.
Offerings and sacrifice are also widely accepted practices in modern paganism. Service work can be a staple offering for people. You can be specific to your deity’s sphere of influence, such as working with veterans as an offering to deity’s associated with war. Again, however, community is such a core value in paganism that I have yet to meet a god that will not accept service work as an offering.
I have brought up community many times. I believe that a community should be welcoming to all people. That includes my local community, my state’s community, and my nation’s community. However, I know very well that my communities are not a welcoming place for everyone. Activism, for me, has been my way of trying to change that. Raising awareness and causing people to look at inequalities is how I, at this stage of my life, can do something. I draw upon the stories of deities and outcasts as well as the many people under sphere’s of influence that are not being treated equally in my community.
Philosophical concepts in paganism also lead towards service work and activism. Ma’at comes to mind. (Something I hope to eventually write an entire post on). Service work and activism seek to balance the world and keep Ma’at. The Wiccan Rule of Three, reads to me like a ripple effect. Service projects and activism can be a place that serves to inspire others. Or that what a person has, should in some way be given back to the community. Those are only two examples and I am sure there are more that could easily be applied to these topics.
This is getting long and preachy but here’s what I am saying. Service work and activism do have places in paganism. Faith can be a motivation for helping the community and does have textual support for it in mythology. I have only scratched the surface of this issue from my own theistic pagan background. I hope to delve further into my own motivations for service work and activism in later posts.