“Community” is a word thrown around the pagan scene a lot these days, often by folks who are bemoaning its breakdown.
“I try to stay out of the pagan ‘community’ these days, if you can call it that anymore (sic),” writes one forum member.
These seem to be the same folk who get all misty-eyed about the “good old days” of paganism – back in the eighties and nineties – and blame today’s deterioration mostly on internet-based gossip, phoney-baloney elders, slander and witch wars.
I have already touched on the positives of the digital age for pagans. I still believe the internet can be a huge help to pagan groups, when it is used constructively. What some nostalgic types seem to be forgetting is that “bitchcraft” has been around for a long time, and pagans have been mud-slinging and name-calling for equally as long. As most Australian pagans who do their homework will know, Alex Sanders used a very different C-word in a letter to Simon Goodman way back in 1983.
As for the folk griping about the recent rise of fraudulent or otherwise dodgy “elders”, well, they are not unique to this religion, either.
But what exactly do people mean when they say “community”, anyway? In a traditional sense, the word refers to people who live in the same place, or have a similar characteristic in common. I do not live particularly close to any pagans, with the exception of one or two. In many cases the only characteristic I share with other pagans is that we are pagans. By feeling closer to the people in my town than I do to strangers sitting at their computers, I do not fit into the pagan community by this definition.
With that vague notion in mind, how would we define who is a part of this community and who isn’t? Should the term be reserved only for regular attendees of Pagans in the Pub? For members of a working circle, coven or kindred? There have even been recent rumblings about forming some sort of governing body, to which all pagans would be accountable. This would not work for a number of reasons, the main one being that it is not a very good idea.
I have been involved in the pagan “scene” here in Victoria for well over a decade, and through a number of different avenues have been exposed to the good, the bad and the ugly in terms of pagan people, places and practice. Below, I have selfishly put together my definition of pagan community, along with some thoughts on what I’m fairly sure it isn’t. Be sure to let me know yours.
Close-knit, not anonymous.
I think perhaps one thing the aforementioned nostalgic folk are missing is the size of the community. We have grown significantly in numbers in the last decade, but does that really mean we should all be holding hands, or stopping by for tea on Sundays? If two people are pagans, it doesn’t necessarily mean they will instantly become best friends.
This rarely happens.
Earlier on, when there were fewer people interested in paganism, it was sometimes quite relieving to bump into someone with similar beliefs, albeit ostensibly. Today, we seem to be drowning in Galadriel Moonkitty Darkravens, and this can be daunting/off-putting.
There also seems to be a networking fetish running rampant through modern pagans. Folks, it’s not about the quantity of people you know, it’s about the quality. What’s so wrong with an intimate gathering of close friends? So what if this pagan “celeb” or that likes your status update?
Free/NFP, not paid.
A lot has already been said about Craft for Sale. Let me reiterate: if someone is making big buckets of cash from the workshop/ritual/whatever you are attending, it is likely said event is bollocks. Paganism is not a commodity. Ritual is not a commodity. Magick is not a commodity. Plenty of organisations will, however, ask for money to cover essentials (in fact, there are very few pagan gatherings left that are totally free, thanks to our old friend Public Liability Insurance), which is fine. Just be discerning. If someone claims to be not for profit or acting for a charity, look into it first.
Helping out, not helping yourself.
One observation I have heard commonly is that the pagan community is quite a selfish one. I disagreed with this until I gave it proper thought.
How many pagans do you see going to tree planting days? To Clean Up Australia Day? You would think that, as nature-worshippers, we would be all over this sort of thing. But sadly, it seems we are all too ready to attend workshops for spiritual self-betterment, but struggle to help out at a grass roots level. To me, a pagan community with any real purpose would be out helping the environment, or their fellow human beings. Lending a hand to others without expectation of reward isn’t just a Christian thing: it’s part of being a decent person.
I had started to write another criterion before this one: “Devoid of Tossers”. But I deleted it. As I mentioned above, there is no way to police the flakes, fruits and nuts in the greater pagan community. What we do have the power to do is to move away from those who “give us the irrits”. Either go solitary for a while or seek out others. There is a running joke between Daracha and I that for every decent, intelligent pagan there are around forty-five nutters. Non-irritating pagans do exist: they are just trickier to find than the dreaded Galadriel Moonkitties.
There are many more pagans in Australia now than there were ten years ago. It is also a lot easier for these pagans to communicate. Rather than lamenting the loss of true community, I think we should turn the lens back in on smaller groups of people. Baby steps. The pagan community is not gone. It is just adrift in a sea of faces…