Future of Paganism
Niche Religions: Your Own Personal Paganism?
It has often been said that Pagan religions are religions of practice and religions of experience, and not creedal religions -- in other words, what one does is more important than what one believes. In such cases, orthopraxy is preferred to orthodoxy. And yet, the reality in most modern Paganism -- and a great deal of ancient Paganism! -- is that polypraxy (in the terminology of Erynn Rowan Laurie) is more the norm than orthopraxy. It is still more about what one does, and that one does do something, than it is about everyone doing the same thing, or even vaguely similar things.
It is far more important to have someone doing a practice that works for them and that they find effective and meaningful -- whether created from whole cloth or cobbled together and/or modified from existing practices by other people or groups -- than it is to have everyone marching in the same lock-step pattern. This is, most certainly, a good thing overall in terms of having a religion that is useful and workable for a wide variety of people, and the wider demographics of modern Pagans are most certainly diverse and individual.
This flowering of variation and manifold numbers of approaches, however, does have its drawbacks. Any centralizing attempts in practice, theology, nomenclature and definitions, or political stances by various groups are going to be less likely to be embraced or to be effective and thoroughgoing among any group of people that becomes larger than about a few dozen individuals. This isn't always a problem, and doesn't have to be; but it can be in certain circumstances, including the recent example of Wiccan chaplain Patrick McCollum's legal battles with the California Corrections administration in terms of allowing Wiccan (and presumably other Pagan) chaplains to work in and get compensated for their services to Pagan prisoners in the prison system.
There are certainly many causes -- legal, social, and political -- that modern Pagans can and should band together over, since they are truly "common causes." But what about everything else? Perhaps a new model of what is useful should be promulgated, because not only would such a model be more likely to be sustainable for the future in the modern Pagan movement, but it is far closer to the reality, and a much more desirable one for most participants. That model would be the model of "niche religions," as mentioned in the title of this piece.
Too often, models from the dominant world religions have infiltrated our understandings of what religion is and what religion does or should be -- the idea, for example, that "belief" is in any way important to questions of religion at all, which comes from the fact that the two largest religions in the world at present (Christianity and Islam) are creedal monotheisms that require orthodoxy among their practitioners. Likewise, we've too often thought that a religion must be all-encompassing and self-contained (i.e., that one need not look outside it to have other spiritual needs met), and to have a widespread and even global reach in order to be useful or significant. This simply isn't the reality, nor is it necessarily viable and desirable.
Localization, small-scale community work (whether in-person or online), shared individual traditions meeting the needs of self-selected groups of people, seems to be a possibility in which the fragmentation of modern Paganism can be both confronted and taken as a valid reality in itself, rather than attempting to squeeze it onto the Procrustean bed of what is "proper" or "appropriate" or "normative" in terms of larger religious movements outside of Paganism. Filling individual local niches in religious sensibility, rather than attempting to have an overarching and often not locally relevant practice or theology, is something that can be done now -- and is being done now in many places -- rather than any attempt to unite or create uniformity in practices.