Future of Paganism
Niche Religions: Your Own Personal Paganism?
Just as in biological and ecological niches, it is possible to have comparable religious practices outside of these individualized and localized niches. Any species may have other species that are connected to it by common evolutionary ancestors across a wide geographic area, and yet the characteristics of the local species will fit its local ecological niche much more "naturally" than dropping in a related species from elsewhere. Where such activities do occur in the ecological sphere, the resulting effect often favors that new species, which can lead to an imbalance in the overall ecology of a bioregion, and that new invasive species can decimate the indigenous species in often catastrophic ways. While this may seem to be a "success" from the viewpoint of the invasive species, what about the indigenous species that have been damaged or often utterly destroyed as a result?
By introducing some of these biological terms, I am not seeking to enter into the debate in terms of Paganism being, or being connected to, various indigenous religions. That is a debate (though around for a long time, but particularly noteworthy in the aftermath of the 2009 World Parliament of Religions in Australia) which is fraught and problematic on many levels, and deserves a treatment (preferably a large community conversation!) of its own. However, the model might still be useful in terms of looking at how future forms of Paganism and its practice might best exist in their individual communities.
Many modern Pagans, following Heinlein, often think that "specialization is for insects." Another way to put this is what Sannion said in an essay in From the Satyr's Mouth, which is that the only "specialists" in the ancient world were slaves, whereas people of higher classes might be more wide-ranging in their interests and abilities. Instead, humans in these views should be as adaptable and generalist in their skills and outlooks as possible. While I think this is a generally good model for a variety of endeavors, having this model as a template for one's religious community and context is not quite as useful, in my opinion. If we think of our religious communities -- the groups with which we share common (though not always universal) practices and theological approaches -- as environments rather than as some sort of corporate entity comparable to a human (whether we take that in the legal "corporate personhood" or in the magical egregore sense!), we will come even closer to understanding what the implications of this "niche religions" model happen to be.
Just as a New England-style house will not be very practical in the desert southwest of the U.S., so too will some religious models not be suitable for the spiritual wellbeing of particular groups of people. Likewise, while some portable, generalizable, and somewhat universal mobile home might be a place to live no matter where one is, nonetheless it might not be the best (or most appealing) place to live, particularly if someone has an option for living elsewhere. In terms of the spiritual niche in which one finds oneself and in whose environment one attempts to thrive spiritually, a balance should be struck between the "invasiveness" of a new species (and where, in the modern U.S., is any form of Paganism not viewed as "invasive" by some other religion?), and the local and organic, evolutionarily adapted "indigenous" species.