"And this is one of the major questions of our lives: how we keep boundaries, what permission we have to cross boundaries, and how we do so."
Boundaries are the demarcation line of where you as an individual end and the next person begins. It's the limitation you set in regard to your own personal tolerance, comfort and safety. Boundaries are dividing lines, borders and length you find the behavior of others acceptable.
A very important hallmark of being Pagan is personal freedom, one which I thoroughly support- especially if you are coming from a faith tradition where everything has been limited by religious dogma. However, I also advocate exploring your new found freedom with the same caveat found at the Temple of Delphi : All things in moderation. Just because you have slipped the figurative chains of religious oppression, don't go running off to your new-found happy place without a few well thought out safeguards in place. Everyone needs to set boundaries for themselves.
"Stand for something or you will fall for anything" is a tired old saying that still has relevant meaning. I will unconditionally respect you even if I fundamentally disagree with you.Everyone deserves to have their dignity. But I expect-and demand- the same from others, because I didn't leave my right to respect with my shoes at the door to Paganism. (See, I just drew a line and set a boundary. It didn't take a lot of effort to set the tone, and I am clear about my expectations.)
While I am not trying to force others into my concept of what is right, at the same time, I don't wish to be forced into someone else's idea of what is right, either. I believe that's where we have a tendency to fall down in our thinking when it comes to discussing our Paths with one another. We all want to believe we're on the truest course. And we are-but only for ourselves. My definition of a Spiritual Path is "A personal journey of devotion and exploration which is developed through the experience of what works and what doesn't rather than what is 'right' or 'wrong'." I cling tenaciously to this definition not only for my self, but for how I perceive it for others. You may wish to expand on that definition, or rephrase it. Your input is certainly welcome, You don't have to agree with me, because I'm basing my opinion on my own personal experience. In this way, personal experience is yet another boundary for each of us.
I began my spiritual journey when I was a teenager, totally unaware that what I was doing was a form of folk magick. All I knew then was that my little forays into the woods and the things I did there linking me to the natural and spirit world felt more right and correct than anything I did within the confines of the Roman Catholic Church. I didn't think the Church was bad or wrong because it did seem to work for a lot of other people: It just didn't work for me. God was with me in those places I went to be alone, and more to the point, it was a form of the Divine which I could understand. The supreme being I encountered there had a more comforting and motherly feeling than the fatherly one I feared in the pew. I had no concept of the Goddess at that time because I had never known any form of Deity other than the God I had been raised with within the confines of Christianity. I was totally benign religiously at that point, because I felt that the Divine came from wherever you could get it. God was God was God, and I had no other feeling because I was still pretty much a child and had not yet formed a mature sense of discernment. It was wonderful for the time and the place of spiritual formation I was living, and there were no boundaries, no rules for me.
Except that my newly discovered relationship with spirituality felt a bit...naughty. I had a gnawing feeling that I was doing was taboo, but I also had a sense that the priests and the Church were keeping a huge secret from me...and I was determined to find out what that was. Rebellion was in my blood: I fancied myself a type Joan of Arc sans the voices in my head. Looking back at that time in my life, and I can credit some of that feeling to the normal synergy of becoming an adult. At the tender age of seventeen, I bought a copy of Scott Cunningham's Earth Power, and it was life changing if only because it gave me encouragement that at least one other person understood what I was feeling and doing...and he'd written a book about it. I was about to cross a spiritual boundary into uncharted spiritual territory.
College opened up my world. Not only was I away from home, I was in Manhattan! There were a million trillion billion exciting things to do besides going to school. I was overwhelmed by it all. People were doing things I'd never though occurred in the real world...magickal things! There was an underground occult community- some good and some not so good. I shied away at first, but finally I connected with a group that practiced British Traditional Witchcraft through a friend and was accepted as a novice. I was as diligent in my Gardnerian studies as those for my Bachelor's degree and by the time I graduated from college I had been elevated to Third Degree in a very strict form of the Craft.
Gardnerian Tradition. There were too many rules for me: stand here, say this exactly this way every time...it felt like Roman Catholic dogma in a way...and although I had lost the feeling of taboo connected to the Craft and had the utmost respect for my teachers, being within the confines of that structure didn't feel quite right to me. Here was another boundary to cross.
One of the things that bothered me the most was that my concept of spirituality didn't strictly jibe with BTW: I wanted to study and learn from other religions and not be limited by the belief that you had to definitively wear the label of a particular tradition.Besides, I had still not broken off from Christianity totally, because I was emotionally and financially dependent on my family, which meant I could not be out of the broom closet. It was bad enough that I had become an Episcopalian; imagine if they had known that I was a practicing witch. My very Catholic family was devastated when I was presented with the opportunity to further my religious education in seminary- and accepted-because there was a catch. I had to seek ordination, which I did in 1985. For over fifteen years I worked for a diocese under three bishops as a chaplain, while I quietly practiced my version of the Craft in private. Yes, there was a great deal of conflict, but it was more a more ethical dilemma than a spiritual one for me. Spiritually everything aligned in my mind because by then I had evolved into what is now recognized as being an eclectic hedge witch. It was then that I unequivocally made the decision not to limit myself to the 'should' of either faith tradition. Not only did I cross the boundaries, I tore them down.
As a solitary, I use the knowledge I'd learned while in the coven, but I blend practices from other faith traditions because, frankly, it's what works for me. I follow my conscience and personal moral compass. I find I can be respectful of the rites of other religions and learn from them. It challenges and fires my imagination when developing rituals and the bonus is that it has given me a well rounded understanding of the belief systems of others. While that in itself has given me more understanding, it has also made me less tolerant, particular of the bigotry of some groups of individuals. Through this I have keenly honed my ability to discern my own beliefs and stand up for myself in the arena of religion...particularly with other Pagans. I have a new appreciation for setting boundaries.
For a community that professes a 'live and let live' mentality, we certainly do rag on one another about everything. We don't simply engage one another in polite debate- we flat out attack one another. For all the battle cry of "harm none!", there are more than just a few who are all but too happy to call someone else " Fluffy Bunny" ( the Neo-pagan version of the popular Christian insult "Nominal Christian") point out the flaws in their theology, then proceed to pontificate all the perceived points of why you and I are doing it all wrong and they are righteous and correct. (From the Goddesses' mouth to your ear, you say.) Usually this is by someone who goes by a pretentious title and wields a hair-trigger curriculum vitae. More to the point, it is not even about how wrong they think you are, but how justified they are in pointing out your lack of obvious knowledge. Well, after all, someone has to do it, and it might as well be someone as qualified as they, since the ceiling to their library is propped up with volumes of arcane minutia.
I recall reading an essay by Pagan author and psychologist Anodea Judith, who made the point that many Pagans come from dysfunctional families and that those with unhealthy social standards tend to use Paganism as a way to rebel, seek attention and feel powerful. (http://www.witchvox.com/va/dt_va.html?a=&c=words&id=11421) . Others may sincerely believe they are 'defending the faith'
( A common misconception of those new to Paganism, and to Wicca in particular, who have not yet come to the realization in all their bright-eyed enthusiasm and desire to fit in that we all don't fit into a neat little category). While I recognize this behavior for what it is and can empathize with them on some level, I refuse to allow the self-appointed Potentates of the Elect to run rough-shod over my carefully developed spiritual peace of mind...This is number one on my list of personal boundaries with other Pagans. It is non-negotiable. My Path, my way, because it's right for me. What is right for me may not be right for you, it may, in fact, make absolutely no sense what so ever to you. But it is right and correct for me, and I am not obligated to please anyone else other than myself and the gods I worship.
I believe boundaries are necessarily healthy. If you are uncomfortable with public nudity, then acknowledge that and don't join the group that worships skyclad. Do you have issues with authority? Perhaps you would be better off in a group with flexible organization or as a solitary. Knowing and recognizing our limitations and setting boundaries is not a negative thing. Boundaries are not necessarily inflexible- but some should be- like how you allow yourself to be treated by others. In the application of common sense, no one will find this being judgmental. If someone treats you in a way that feels demeaning or you believe diminishes your self esteem, then you most certainly have the right of not allowing yourself to be treated that way.
I maintain that carefully applied boundaries do more to bring us together than to drive us apart. Being tolerant and understanding of someone else's belief system does not mean that you have to put up with things like unwanted sexual attention or contact, temper tantrums,threats, mental or physical abuse, prejudice, selfishness, rudeness, self righteousness, addictive and/or destructive or otherwise bad behavior. There is a limit to what is socially and personally unacceptable, and the first step to asserting your conscience is setting a boundary, then sticking with it. As Pagans we know that to change our world outside, we must first start within.
(Another excellent resource can be found at: