Yesterday I visited the park and grounds around the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum. It’s been a very long time, and I had not remembered just how many little esoterically-saturated spaces they had designed there, which are open to the public every day until sunset, including a wheelchair-accessible labyrinth, and free parking! I must remember and return again, and bring friends.
Getting there from my house meant passing by my alma mater, Santa Clara University, and once again being reminded of the grounds of the historical Mission Chapel there. The chapel and labyrinth reminded me of my earlier visit to the labyrinth on the grounds of St. Jude the Apostle Episcopal church, where I was an acolyte as a child. In my recent visit, I was pleased to see that the congregation and associated community are thriving, and very welcoming, including a clearly labelled gender-neutral bathroom.
The three landmarks and their spiritual footprints got me to thinking… why is it that the Pagan community around me is so incredibly messy? I know so few Pagan individuals, much less Pagan groups, that have their shit together the way orders like the Jesuits and Rosicrucians and congregations like St. Jude’s and Santa Clara seem to.
I was internally lamenting this on the way home, when Freyja spoke up.
“It took the Christians about 300 years to get anything like that organized. You may communicate faster across longer distances now, but that doesn’t make you any faster at growing up as a community. You’re, what, three generations in at most? Just wrapping up the first century in many cases? If that?”
I had to acknowledge Her point, of course. Beyond that, I had to acknowledge that part of why it takes so long is that the initial start of any such thing is intense inspiration combined with rebellion against the status quo, which is naturally quite resistant to establishing any kind of new status quo on a large scale, since the people who are drawn to it will be the variety of those whose needs aren’t being met by the current systems. Having to negotiate on a regular basis just to have a community at all tends to interfere with the higher functions of a cohesive community, such as setting up the Casserole Patrol when someone gets sick.
Furthermore, setting up that kind of structure usually requires adopting some degree of orthopraxy, orthodoxy, and/or canon, which in turn requires quelling the more intense mysticism, and marginalizing mysticism which fails to confirm the new mainstream. These things are already being seen in established traditions much to everyone’s chagrin. There is nothing new in the world, it seems.
But Freyja had more to point out to me, that I hadn’t specifically noticed before. Let me see if I can unpack it again after the fact:
“Having your shit together” is another way of describing a person who is organized and well-contained. Being organized is a function of having places where everything you are dealing with fits well and belongs. Being contained requires fitting inside the box.
Of course people who left the mainstream because they didn’t fit into those boxes are, by definition, people who will not appear to “have their shit together”. The boxes that define containment were designed for other people entirely.
It is a privilege to be one of the people who happen to fit comfortably inside the boxes society already supplies. You know this, but you don’t think about it this way.
It is a privilege to appear to have your shit together, because the exact same amount of disorder, when viewed against a different set of boxes, would make you look completely disheveled. The system that defines those boxes is the same system that defines other privileges. There’s reasons those systems need dismantling, but keep in mind that the process of redesign takes resources away from the benefits the systems themselves provide – like the aforementioned Casserole Patrol.
This doesn’t mean organization is a bad thing – many privileges are not in themselves bad things for people to have. What is bad in this context is to attribute virtue to having a thing which you can not choose whether or not to have. Some degree of having your shit together is indeed within your control, but much of the appearance of having your shit together is entirely outside your control, and no particular virtue to obtain.
Furthermore, the process of disrupting existing boxes if they’re dysfunctional, and especially the process of unpacking, re-organizing, and creating new boxes that suit the needs of those involved, requires making a mess.
Nobody appears to have their house in order while they’re in the process of moving from one house to another. It’s even messier when you have to build the new houses upon arrival!
People who manage to appear as though they have their shit together in this context either have their shit WAY more together than people who seem equivalent in more mainstream contexts, or are appealing to mainstream ideas of what constitutes having one’s shit together – often both.
Now, don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater, here. A lot of the ideas around what having one’s shit together looks like are quite reasonable. But some of them are unnecessarily specific to contexts not everyone shares, and others are actively counterproductive for even the established society, much less the ones you’re trying to build. You know very well not to assume that because something is normalized, it’s therefore a good thing. Don’t assume that because something is accepted in the mainstream, it’s necessarily a bad thing, either. That’s just silly.
But recognise that how much a person appears to have it together is often more a factor of how well they fit an arbitrary standard, or hide the parts of themselves that don’t, rather than how well they are actually doing underneath it all.