Pagan Community (or Lack Thereof)

I’m often jealous of people who have found good religious communities to be a part of. Being a solitary can be very lonely.

John Beckett goes to the UU Church in Denton, which apparently has a very active CUUPS group. My husband and I tried going to the UU church here for a while, but they all seem to be either disgruntled Christians who left overly conservative sects but are still Christians at heart, or atheists. When we said we were pagans, they had heard of it, but honestly seemed a bit put off by it. We never really ended up fitting in. My in-laws go to another UU church, and have found a community for themselves there, but my husband and I haven’t really gotten involved with that either.

UU’s are great people, but it seems to be all about social justice and very little spirituality. Don’t get me wrong, social justice is great, but if I start talking about spirituality they look at me like I’m some kind of weirdo. (And I am a weirdo, I just need to find people who appreciate that.)

One of my good friends is active in an ADF druid grove, but it meets about an hour and a half away from where I live now, and I don’t know anyone else there.

I have made an online acquaintance of one of the members of Hrafnar. I once got to meet her in person. I have her friended on Facebook and occasionally get to see her post about cool things Hrafnar does and be jealous. I went to a Heathen event in Texas once, and they weren’t very friendly.

Finally, last year in February, I started a Meetup Group, inviting all pagans and heathens in the area to meet once a week at a coffee shop. It’s been about a year and a half now, and so far it hasn’t really gone anywhere.

I have only one guy who showed up to the first meeting who still sometimes shows up. He says he’s a mixture of Druid and Discordian. Later, a Heathen guy and his wife started driving all the way from San Antonio and became “regulars” as well. He found out about me through the Troth email list. Maybe two or three other people have come to more than one meeting before, but that’s about it. I have 72 members now, but the vast majority has never shown up, and the rest only show up once and then I never see them again.

Meanwhile I’m paying $12 a month to host the Meetup site, and no one else wants to chip in. Other members sometimes suggest ideas for things they want to do besides the monthly coffee socials, but when I tell them to post it, they never do it. I set the site so that any member can post an event, but so far no one has done that.

Nobody but me wants to actually do the work to maintain a group.

I keep thinking, “Why do I even bother?” I’m the only one who cares enough to pay actual money for this and to post events for this, apparently.

I guess it doesn’t help that I’m not completely sure what I want out of this.

Well, no, actually I do know what I want. Basically, I want a pagan church, and I want to be a “regular” there but not on the leadership team. I want to show up for full moons and solstices and equinoxes and maybe sometimes have a bigger role in the occasional ritual, but not have to be completely running the entire thing myself. I’m not a natural leader; I only lead when no one else will step up. I want us to have our own building instead of borrowing one from the UU’s (though UU’s can be great allies to pagans), and I want there to be potlucks and charity drives, and Ostara egg hunts and Samhain pumpkin carving for the kids. (Yeah, I want there to actually be kids too. I want there to be something for everyone, at any stage of life, not just 20 and 30-somethings hanging out at a coffee shop talking about D&D or Lord of the Rings.)

But that doesn’t exist.

I really wish pagans could get their shit together enough to make something like this exist, but they don’t. They can hardly be relied on to show up for a Meetup once a month, and if you ask them to pitch in a few dollars for the Meetup site fees, they won’t even do that.

Forget buying a building to make into a church, or putting in the time and effort to keep a thing like that running.

I know that some pagans don’t want it. Maybe it’s because I was never a Christian to begin with, so I don’t have bad feelings about the whole concept of having some type of organization in my religion. I think it’s possible to do that without being oppressive. I was always jealous of my Christian friends who could find community and support in their churches.

Some pagans hate anything that reminds them of Christianity, so they balk at the idea of a pagan church. Or we can call it a temple if you like, or a community center. But really I’m looking for something that fills the niche that a church would fill in the life of a Christian person, or a synagogue for a Jew, or a mosque for a Muslim. I want a pagan version of that. Even Baha’is and Sikhs and Hindus have temples in some of the bigger cities. But I don’t know of any pagan temples or churches or anything like that. Why  not? I seriously doubt there are more Sikhs than us in the country.

There used to be a Lutheran church near where I live that went up for sale. It got turned into a dog grooming place. Ugh, what a waste. It has a good parking lot, the building itself is pretty, and there’s a yard in the back with a chain-link fence around it. I bet it has a kitchen inside that could have been used for ritual feasts, and we could have put a labyrinth in the yard. We could put up pictures and statues of pagan gods and goddesses inside. The First Pagan Church of Texas! That would have been great.

Then again, the UU church my in-laws go to has been vandalized more than once. Ugh, seriously? A UU church attended mostly by white-haired retirees being vandalized? That’s Texas for you. For similar reasons, my pagan Meetup group has all its info except for a short description hidden from non-members, and I moderate who gets to join. They have to fill out a few questions first so I can be sure they’re a real person. I also don’t have my picture or full name on the site.

That’s why I wish someone else would do it. Someone who isn’t as worried about being outed and losing their job, or worse. Then I can just attend quietly and if someone Googles my name, no pagan stuff will show up.

Which is another reason why I think we need better community, for mutual protection. The irony is that I think if we had a proper temple or something, it would make us seem more like a legitimate religion.

Instead, it seems like all pagans do is fight with each other. That’s certainly what online pagan “community” looks like. First it was Neopagan vs Reconstructionist, then Monist vs. Polytheist, or Devotional Polytheist vs. Immersive Polytheist… I don’t even know what that last one is about. Hair-splitting taken to the extreme, I’m sure.

I mean, I’m probably the only Nature-based Germanic Heathen in my town, which is why I opened my Meetup to all pagans, in the broadest sense.

And yet, I’m still lucky if more than a couple of people show up.

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4 thoughts on “Pagan Community (or Lack Thereof)

  1. Solitary Germanic practitioner with Roman leanings here, I understand where you’re coming from. I’m tempered, however, by being not so good at “playing with others”.

    The so-called Pagan Community is, unfortunately, a fictitious concept in regards to a brick and mortar at the present unless one happens to be in either Paganistan, the Northeast, or the Northwest. And even then it could sometimes feel like one is put out because the majority of those organizations are invariably geared towards Wiccans. Not that it is a bad thing, but for non-Wiccans it could be a little intimidating. I view going to a Wiccan ritual as foreign as going to a Christian service.

    I’m not particularly community oriented in a religious sense. I came up with the idea of “religiously solitary; culturally communal”, in that I want to have the community but don’t necessarily need to have it entirely focused on a spiritual or religious aspect. There’s something to be said for Paganism as a culture, especially when it comes from reconstructionist sides.

    It’s natural to be burnt out. A friend of mine who is known to work with John Beckett’s group is facing similar feelings. I feel a little stretched too, but somehow I’ve got these increasing desires to try to organize something. Even if it is just in name only and almost more geared towards information and brainstorming than actual meetups.

    Unfortunately, we’re still a young movement. Even if you take Contemporary Paganism as being in existence since Gardner’s time, that’s not much time to build a foundational basis for a flourishing community. I said it in a recent blog post, and I’ll say it here: I think we have the hardest time at spreading a faith in our (human) history, given that traditional avenues of religious advance are barred to us. I think that people, generally, jump into the idea of a community at too high a level for the current support, and it is so often why initiatives fail.

    Is there a way to fix it? I’m not sure. I think people (again, general) need to honestly step back and appraise what they want from the community, and whether or not what we have can support their desires.

    It’s easy to get burnt out. Don’t. You have a unique voice, and it would be sad if you went silent because we’re still so young as a religion.

    • Thanks for your comment.

      I’m not so good at playing with others either. I’m a pretty introverted person. That’s why I wish someone else would do the community-building, and I could just show up but not have to be running the whole show myself.

      I know there are other ways to build community that don’t have to be religion-based. Even the UU churches I’ve been to seem to have little to do with spirituality and religion, and are pretty much only about social and environmental justice (though I know that can vary a lot from one UU church to the next). That’s all fine, but I’ve been to a few really good group pagan rituals before, so I know there are some things you can do in a group that you just can’t do solitary (and vice versa). And besides that, I still think it would lend more credibility to our religion to have more organization.

      It could be that my local area just doesn’t have enough pagans to support even a monthly Meetup.com group. I just had my latest one last week, and three people showed up, one of which had been there once before, two new people. Neither of the two “regulars” (who have been there more than a couple of times) were there this time. I’m not sure how much longer I should keep putting money and time into this thing before giving up. I thought about quitting last month, but then I had 12 people show up, my biggest turn out yet. So I didn’t quit then, but maybe that was a fluke.

      So people like me turn online for “community”, but the internet just seems to bring out the worst in people. I think a lot of the fights that happen online would never happen if we were all interacting face-to-face. I know we would still have some drama, since I have seen it happen in face-to-face communities too (not just pagan ones), but I think there would be less.

  2. There used to be a ton of Pagan/Witches/Druid/Heathen meetups here in the Twin Cities (Paganistan). Then the website started charging money & the pagan groups disappeared for the most part. Seriously- the entire time I’ve been a pagan, I’ve either been a student or un(der)employed, and I still chip in a little at every event I go to. As for UU churches- I belong to one that has a pretty good balance of spirituality & social justice stuff- I go to it for a stable community, even if its not a perfect fit, and the professional quality music & clergy is very nice- biggest thing is having a consistently bus-accessible building since I don’t drive. In some areas, the UU church is one of the few safe havens for atheists & liberal activists, so they tend to take it over. I agree with you about the internet- huge blessing & a curse.
    Suggestion about the meetup- ask people why they come, what appeals to them about paganism, is it purely social or is there something bigger that attracts them? Build off that. Find a way to motivate people & what matters to them & harness it. Add an activity- board games, craft night, nature walk. (At least you don’t have the long winters like here!)

    I think what’s nice is because you were not brought up with a religion, you are not reacting against it, a lot of people are. We can also use people with a more rational mindset!

  3. You’re quite right. It’s a common theme everywhere. Small pockets of groups do well. Not many seem interested in a Temple. Here’s my wager. I think the majority would attend if they could have the option. All I can say is keep trying. I do the same here in Illinois. I’ve looked through member listings in both the Troth and ADF. There just isn’t many of us in the state. I started a Facebook group to attract Pagans of all stripes in my area. It’s right around 100 members now. I have yet to get even one to show up to anything. Again, just keep trying. It’s all you can do. Good luck!

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