Editorial: Stop petting the dog

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. 

7 thoughts on “Editorial: Stop petting the dog

  1. Diana Rajchel says:

    So horrifying, and yet so true. I’ve been the goat more than once in my life. Also, related, though I haven’t read it yet – there’s a book about scapegoating practices: Scapegoat: a History of Blaming Other People. It’s on my too-read list.

  2. Devin Hunter says:

    Holy mother of F! You have a wonderful way of putting things. Thanks for this new analogy and even more for putting your finger right on this tiny little button. 😀

  3. Crystal Blanton (@BlantonHPs) says:

    Fabulous reminder of how complex community is. I feel this is a human issue that is magnified in Pagandom. It is good to remember that we can exist with one another without scapgoating or without agreeing. We can also do so with grace, support and love. The real test is whether or not a community wants to…… that varies with situations and people. We need a better way.

  4. T. Thorn Coyle says:

    Yes. These sorts of social contracts we have with one another are detrimental to our personal health and the health of our communities. This is part of what the dictum “neither coddle nor punish weakness” serves to head off at the pass. We all stumble. Blaming and shaming all the time only gives away our power. Petting the dog gives away our power.

    Tied to this is my recent comment to you Cara, about seeing people assuming bad faith instead of assuming good faith with those in our communities. I would rather assume the latter and if I have questions, ask for clarification.

  5. Nightcloud says:

    I’ve always detested the idea of the scapegoat, in fact I have modified some Hellenic rituals to remove the scapegoat concept. Perhaps it stems from being a person of color. It is a sad fact but a true one that social issues in the US are often blamed on people of color and have been all my life, (now GLBT and women share that same destinction, isn’t that wonderful?) Because of this I was raised to acknowledge any personal failures as my own, any failures of any groups I belonged to also were at least in part my fault as well. The flip side of this is acknowledging any help I had to achieve something.

    This of course leads sometimes to a perfectionistic attitude and a little bit of taking on more than one should actually be responsible for. But on the other hand I think if the Pagan comuninity as a whole could stop placing blame and start really wanting live by the tenants of community and working together then pagans could actually do some real good in our society.

    For some reason the two groups/communities I belong to and work with the most, Paganism and Fandom both have many people who actually care about society. They unfornuately also have the lowest selfesteem and the high IQs, which I think makes them very vulnerable to feeling in attiquite and therefore wanting to place blame, (find a scapegoat) because they can’t realistically take on any more responsiblity themselves. It’s a nasty catch 22, that I wish I knew how to address better.

  6. Christa Landon says:

    The way we treat leaders in our community — anyone who tries to address a need — is a major factor in burnout, and a major reason why so many of our folks are solitaries these days.

  7. Chris Moore says:

    I also acknowledge that I have witnessed and experienced scapegoating in pagan communities. I respectfully caution our community, however, against assuming that the person(s) raising the issue is always and necessarily correct. We should and must examine the issues raised by those brave enough to speak them, but judiciously, no?

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