This was written back in 2011, Jan 19, on my first real blog. Thoughts are welcome, excuse any errors.
I have noticed, in my travels around the net, that there is a growing movement to begin building pagan and heathen communities. This is not a completely new movement, truth be told, but I believe it is a movement whose time is finally coming about.
Why has it not really happened yet, at least on a large scale? Because we haven’t had the people to do it. Much of the history of modern pagan/heathenism has been one of solitary practitioners, small covens or groups, the former of which could be anywhere and the latter of which generally could only be found in larger cities until more recent times, where increased numbers and lowered fears.
So what’s changed in the fifty odd years or so since people started reclaiming the paths of the gods and goddesses? What makes now different from then?
Well first of, its a numbers game. Paganism is one of the fastest growing religious affiliations. We’re getting more and more people into this little polytheistic party. Also, it’s the type of people we’re getting in. One of the fastest growing subsections to is “Reconstructinism,” at least to my knowledge. One of the big things most of the reconstructionists have is bringing back the way things were done, which requires a community. It’s all well and good to live like our ancestors, but trying to make your way thought the world with the values of a 7th century Scandinavian in a 21st century post modern society isn’t easy. There’s a lot of cross over, true, but there’s a lot of values dissonance. The other is that such paths put a strong emphasis on kinship, at least the “folkish” ones do. Building a community, building family who live and practice as you do.
And we are getting the numbers for that now.
Another thing that’s changed is that as we’ve stepped out of the shadow, the broom closet, and the history books, we’ve drawn a lot more attention to ourselves. Where once cries of occult ritual murders and such would have meant a lot of hysteria, but now they are real attacks against our ways of life. In California, there is still a battle over freedom of religion, where paganism is not counted in the “Big Five” (three of which are Christianity, Judaism, and Islam) and thus “may not have the same rights and protections” as the “big five.”
People are looking at us now, and not all of it is friendly. Now, instead of protecting us, our solitary natures are acting as a hindrance. Where once we could hide in ones or twos, now we are open and that means that those who disapprove can attack. People hide who they are because they fear losing their jobs, their children, their families, and much more.
But what if we could change all that? What if we could come together? I think that’s what’s pushing people more and more into a desire to build communities. I’ve heard everything from getting run down properties that are going for cheap and making pagan neighborhoods to buying land and making communities from scratch. These are good ideas, they are a start, and its one we need to look at seriously.
So what do we need to do this?
Well, the first thing that we must do to build a community is just that, build community amongst ourselves. Too often I see the pagan and heathen communities online fractured into different factions, while in person, well they’re almost as volatile as the Christians as far as keeping groups together. You end up with a bunch of very small, very ideological groups that can’t stand each other because of drama and such. Maybe we need to wait until these fractured communities grow large enough to sustain themselves. I don’t think we do.
What we have to do is realize that we are pagans/heathens above all else, that for our different patterns of belief, we are that if nothing else. We have to take that and use it to do something that has been bashed, vilified, “discredited,” and all together “mad.”
We have to build a “Nation,” we have to invest ourselves with “Nationalism.” “Right,” “Left,” “Progressive,” “Conservative,” etc, must become as meaningless words to us. Politics has divided us, kept us separated and hindered us from reaching the true potential we could reach. We must reject the dogma of modern political theory and delve deep into our pagan and heathen ways. There are pagans who have inserted their progressive and leftist views into their teachings, seeking to undo the harm Christianity has done without bothering to learn what is actually Christian in origin and what is originally pagan. Too often, heathens have imparted ways of the right, though not as bad as they could have. Still, we have let politics keep us at each others throats, when we should have been reaching for hands in kinship. We have to move past this, to stop calling the other sides ignorant and shallow. It is our diversity which will help us to move forwards and deal with problems, but not unless we can realize we have more in common with each other than against each other.
There are already plenty enough people out there trying to get rid of us. From the rabid Christians who preach no witch shall live to the Muslims who teach that all must worship Allah or die to the Atheist scientists who insist that there are no gods or that the gods were aliens who pulled a con job on our primitive and stupid ancestors. I don’t care if you’re a polytheist who believes all the goddesses are representatives of a single being or a hard polytheist like myself who believes each individual god and goddess was their own person. We need to stop bickering, about are the gods and goddesses few or many, about if straight men are as capable as bi-men and all manner of women, about if the recons are racist bastards or the Wiccans are feminists misandric harpies. We need to stop the infighting and bloody well remember that we chose these paths because they accepted us, and its bloody time we put our money were our mouths are and start accepting our Pagan and Heathen Brothers and Sisters.
We need to build community.
Liked your comment: “Why has it not really happened yet, at least on a large scale? Because we haven’t had the people to do it.” Or rather – in the case of my own native Sweden at the moment : “Because we sometimes have the wrong people who try doing it” – but I’m with you in spirit – we have to stop excluding certain individuals, or using slurs..
One thing I have to comment on: my faith informs my politics in a way that only the word “conservative” can really cover. I know that many “liberal” pagans see things the same way. I’m not talking simple spending cuts vs taxation stuff, either, but deep issues on the fundamentals of human nature, how and what to teach children, use of force, etc. That’s not a divide that can just be bridged for the sake of religion; the way I see it, if you can separate your religion from everything else you’re doing, then I’m not sure you’re doing it right. That’s my biggest critique of forming community; you have to have that basic harmony first, not later.
Lucius Svartwulf said:
I fall more in to the libertarian than the conservative line, but I’m with you on the politics. And I’ve run into problems with more Left minded Pagans who would not put up with a difference of opinion from theirs.
But that’s why I say we need to bridge that divide, especially for the sake of religion. It’s about the balance. We need, if Paganism is to thrive, push past our political differences. Will it be easy? Hel no. But we’ve let politics rip us apart, not just in Paganism, but across this entire nation. We’ve allowed ourselves to be filled with political bullshit to the point where we turn on good people because they believe differently than us about taxes, gun control, or welfare, etc. WE talk about being tolerant of other religions, but why is it that there is not tolerance for political differences, when anyone can see that while neither side is right, both sides have valid points.
And for what sake shall we bridge this gap, if not for our religions?
*I* don’t talk about tolerance. I’m okay dividing down, honestly. This may be my Hellenic bias, but I quite like the city-state model. It’s fine to have a common background or religious culture, but that doesn’t mean we need to be a huge nation. Too much diversity is not good, as shown by the current state of the US and the former Roman Empire. I think it’s fine, almost important even, that we do make the choice to divide. It’s like trying to marry a dedicated vegan and hating veggies; even if you can compromise in the short-term, in the long-term things will turn toxic and fall apart. I think it’s more prudent to never allow it to get to that point.
Lucius Svartwulf said:
Again, I’m not far from you. My ideas for communities are closer to the city state model than anything. I’m a heathen, we’re about tribes and clans, not vast empires. But the fact is that while a community of like minded individuals is more stable, that stability also can lead to stagnation. And that can lead to downfall as much as too much diversity. Plus there’s the numbers problem. As it stands, in most major cities, we probably have enough Pagans and Heathens to make communities that might reach a sense of self sufficiency. But we do not have them in enough numbers to break it down into self sufficient communities of only similar minded people. Not yet. Now, if we can get the communities going now, we might be able to build more specialized communities where there’s only Hellinst/Hellenisimos, Heathens, Wiccans, etc.
But not yet. Not unless we want everyone to uproot everything they have and go to set areas. That’s not feasible right now. Most people can’t even put food on their tables, to ask them to relocate is impossible. But what they might be able to manage is to come together in their own towns enough to help each other survive. At least until enough of us out there can make places where only those like us can come. But the thing is, if we can learn to tolerate those radically different from us, it will help us be more stable when we get to be around/with those like us. Because I don’t know about you, but the Heathen community needs to learn how to get along better before we can really manage to even build communities for ourselves.
Maybe I’m just being a contrarian or overly paranoid/stubborn, but I still feel like I’d be more at-home among folks like the Amish or Mennonites than most modern Pagans. Maybe if it were all recons, or if it were more like a gated community, but I can’t bring myself to contribute to a community if I’m ideologically/ethically opposed to its members. I know I don’t really like my local Pagan scene, so I know doing that here would be rough.
Lucius Svartwulf said:
Well, then you should maybe start on the second stage now. Building a community of your people. Find them, find a place you all can go, build it from the ground up.
Excuse my lateness, I spent the last couple of days butchering steers. I’m not even kidding.
First I think you’ve hit some important points in your earlier arguments. The numbers game is shifting. I think we can finally see the end of a right-wing Christian country and that leaves a large and tempting power vacuum in its wake. Our numbers are greater than they have been. We’re more open and, frankly, blatant in our practice than we have been. With relatively few exceptions, the general trend has been one of acceptance, or at least non-fear.
That said, I don’t think we’re going to be able to pull politics out of it. The pagan population as a whole is rather strongly divided along right/left lines. There are large groups of pagans (large here being a subjective term as none of our groups are really large on a national scale) who believe wholeheartedly that they can’t move far enough left to keep themselves happy. The same applies to the other end of the spectrum. I suspect that we mirror larger America (and here I reveal my own national bias) in that the majority of us inhabit a rather libertarian middle ground. We tend to advocate personal responsibility and choice. I think that if we focused on this middle ground and these mutual values of personal responsibility, educated choices and tolerate within your own city-state (because that’s really a very effective model) then we might have a shot at what you’re suggesting.