The first time I ever had someone call me a gatekeeper was when I confronted an individual online who was trying to take undeserved credit within a national conference in order to falsely validate themselves to people who didn’t know any better. It happened about 4 years ago. That same person has recently been publicly named in decades of abuse, has lost their position as a Chaplin in a scholastic institution and has claimed that they’re retiring from public life.
I knew this person had a reputation for abuse and I also had my own personal experiences with them that gave me an opportunity to recognize for myself, that this person was dangerous to the community and to the Craft. Alas, the greater Pagan community has little in the way of protocol or any sense of cohesion when it comes to keeping these kinds of individuals out of the public Pagan sphere. Outside of quiet conversations, with gentle urgings to be careful, there isn’t much individuals can do. Hell, I was smeared for years as being disrespectful to an “elder” because I refused to allow this person any stake in the organization I was chairing.
At the time, gatekeeping was fairly new to me as an aspersion. Frankly, I took it as a badge of honour and as proof of my commitment to the Craft. You see, I took oaths during my first initiation that included, maintaining the integrity of the Craft. I am oath-bound to be a gatekeeper.
Fast forward to the present and “gatekeeper” is commonly bandied about in online conversations and blog posts as an affront to all that is good and right. Often wielded by entitled newbies who appear to lack discipline or any sort of training and American “Big Name Pagans”. We saw this most recently during the “witch kit” debacle when the company, yielding to pressure, pulled it from production. It was then that we witnessed BNPs coming forward in droves with pithy jabs like, “this is why we can’t have nice things”, and “witches ruin everything”. It was then when I was reminded of the division between American Paganism and everyone else.
As an initiate in a lineage and a tradition, it’s not my job as an initiator/teacher to make the Craft easy for people. I’ve had many conversations with a close Craft sister and we both come from a place where we were taught that the Craft is not meant for everyone and it’s not supposed to be. Everyone has an opportunity to reach for the Craft but it doesn’t mean they’re guaranteed to achieve it. Here lies the gorge in where American Paganism and Canadian/European Paganism deviate.
A couple of years ago I was attending a Pagan conference in the United States and there was a hospitality suite conversation about a panel discussion that I was not able to attend. This panel was discussing what our responsibilities are as Pagan leaders to welcome in and minister to dangerous convicted felons. The premise was, that without active engagement in the Pagan community, these felons have a higher rate of recidivism. When I was asked during this informal conversation, “What is or responsibly to these felons?”, my answer was, none. Needless to say, I was met with some shock. I went on to say that our Craft is that of personal responsibility and these individuals made choices to hurt people that put them jail and if they were really adhering to the principals of the Craft they should understand that even though they were no longer incarcerated that it was their personal responsibility to maintain their freedom and it was no ones job to direct them through doing that.
The conversation continued and it seemed many were frustrated with me and I had a sinking suspicion that I was missing a key understanding because I was utterly confused why it would be the job of all community leaders to take on convicted felons when we can’t even keep the community that we have, safe for people who were already in it. We after all, are not a proselytizing, conversion religion that’s open to everyone no matter who they are.
“Yes we are.”
Wait, what? The response ringed in my ears and suddenly realizing that I was alone in a room full of people is when when I learned about Pagan churches and Pagan Ministers.
“Let me get this straight. In the United States you have Pagan churches that meet every Sunday and there is someone who stands at a pulpit and gives a sermon to anyone who shows up and sits in a pew?”
“This is common?”
I was dumbfounded. I must have looked a terrible fright because I remember holding my head with my mouth agape at what I had just heard. It echos through me still because it goes against everything I have been taught and experienced in the Craft and the only thing I could say was, “I need to remove myself from this conversation because this is simply not what exists where I come from.” It was then that I was told that I myself am a minister, I balked.
“I’m a minister?”
Horror. All I could feel was horror. I remained quiet as my Pagan worldview came crashing about me. None of it made sense but then I understood finally why American and Canadian Paganism were so different. It was the moment where all of my confusing conversations suddenly had perspective. Concepts that were commonplace in my community were unheard of to our neighbours in the south. Oh my Gods.
I relay this experience so that you dear reader, understand why the vilification of gatekeepers is not universal. I giggle every time my Craft sister proclaims proudly and with volume that we would be called gatekeepers if the American Pagans heard some of our conversations, “GOOD! I have no problem with that and neither should you.” And so, I don’t.
Gatekeeping isn’t the act of a grumpy troll under a bridge pooh-poohing the younglings and their new fangled thinking. Gatekeepers are the ones who keep the community safe from predators of any inclination. Gatekeepers are those who have witnessed and experienced enough in the Craft to see a problem sneaking up from a mile away. Gatekeepers know what works, what doesn’t and how to fix or negate an obstacle. Gatekeepers are in service to the community and understand the need to leave behind something of value to those who come after them. Gatekeepers used to be called elders.
Now please don’t misunderstand, in no way am I identifying as an elder, I never will and frankly I would love to do away with the outdated term (but that’s another article) but I do believe we have become communities that lack healthy eldership which is why we don’t recognize it when it happens or why people who try to fill the need in leu of proper representation are denigrated.
The revilement that we see in American Paganism with regards to gatekeepers I believe is very much tied to what appears to be a kind of evangelical Paganism that doesn’t seem to appear anywhere else. Again, we’ll delve into this more in another post but for now I leave you with this ponderance…
What is it about someone stepping forward, from a place of concern and saying, “Hey, that’s not okay and I have a problem with that.”, is so offensive?