In my religion, Hellenismos, my ancient coreligionists used to practice expiation by scapegoating. Expiation is the act of atoning for wrongdoing so you are back in kharis (grace) with a divine being. Think of it as a special type of purification. How it combined with scapegoating is best seen at the Deipnon, Hekate’s Supper. Once a lunar month, along with all the other observances, the household is purified with incense. Sometimes, because of the immoral actions a family member committed, this isn’t enough. In those cases the family would buy a dog. The entire family would pet the dog which transferred their guilt onto the animal. The dog was then killed and burned in sacrifice to Hekate. Expiation. Scapegoat (or scapedog)
Christianity has this concept central to their religion, but they most certainly didn’t come up with it. Jesus was their scapegoat and method of expiation. I’m sure many Pagans, Heathens, and polytheists reading this are as horrified about what the Greek polytheists did all those hundreds of years ago as they are repelled by Christians bathing in Jesus’ blood today. Yet we Pagans do it all the time in our communities.
We get our tail caught in the wringer and instead of focusing on making the situation better, we place all our embarrassment and anger on the person who pointed it out. “They’re trying to destroy us,” or my personal favorite, “They’re making us look bad.” We, none too gently, pet them over and over hoping we can rub our mistakes off onto them. We encourage others to do the same. And then we try to kill them in some way. Make them go away, get them out of our site. We want them to sink under the burden of our misdirected shame and disappear.
We do it. You’ve all seen it and can point to examples large and small, public and private.
The roommate who is treated poorly and later kicked out because he won’t overlook the growing chemical addiction and mental health issues of one of his fellow roomies. They know there’s a problem and they feel guilty and scared and ashamed for not facing it. So they turn all that into anger and they heap it onto the one willing to speak up. They pet the dog and then kill it.
The community member who notices a problem with an organization or a group. Suddenly she is the bad person trying to tear down community. Why can’t she just shut up? It must be because she has evil motivations. We have to isolate her, trash her and try to ruin her reputation. She is bad and if she would just go away, everything would be fine again. The problem wasn’t anything to do with us, it was her. Pet the dog and kill it.
We do this instead of having a difficult conversation with our roommate about getting help and staying on prescribed medication. We do this instead of making uncomfortable changes within our groups to make them better and stronger. We would rather harm someone else than acknowledge our own failures. This hurts us. When we do this, we are the ones destroying our community. We are the ones with bad and self motivations. We are the problem, not the person we wounded and drove away.
We need to stop petting, and then killing, the dog.
Editor’s note: We have not published several comments from people across the country assuming this editorial was written about a specific person or situation in their community. This shows the universal and pervasive nature of scapegoating with expiation in Pagan, Heathen, and polytheistic communities across the country.