Future of Paganism
Niche Religions: Your Own Personal Paganism?
Another thing to consider is that certain essentializing tendencies in spiritual discourse might not allow these niche religions to thrive as easily. There is a great deal of assumption in what, for example, Pagans in general might think about gender roles, and what models of gender are acceptable and can be sanctioned or encouraged within ritual and ceremonial life. But, do these models exclude some people who may be more interested in being comfortable within another niche? These universalizing and essentializing tendencies are often right under the surface of any given situation. Is a non-specific "men's ritual" or "women's ritual," for example, something that will really serve people and given them a greater understanding of themselves and present an opportunity to spiritually flourish, or do these things unwittingly bind and restrict people's individual and future communal actions? To what extent do these "Anywhere" tendencies get in the way of respecting and operating out of our own "Here" existences? Religious rituals, and particularly the great "mysteries" of life, will be better served by being defined and engaged with in contextual, limited, niche religious environments, rather than in some overarching theological framework that is often more imposed than assented to.
And this, perhaps, is one of the lessons that future forms of Paganism might benefit from giving much more attention to. The plurality, as well as the success, of many ancient religions was in their particularity, not in their universality. Cultic action was directed toward specific divinities, not "the divine" in general. Moving from a discourse that speaks in terms of "the divine" instead of in specific, personal, and individual terms about specific, personal and individual deities, will make these niche religious situations far more effective and relevant to individual communities. There are doctors and other medical professionals who can be reached in most communities at any time, and this is important to know; but it's also important to have a relationship with an individual doctor who knows your health history and your own specific needs in order to get those needs met more fully. Calling "Doctor!" might get you some assistance in certain situations, but knowing the name and the number of a specific doctor will be more likely to turn up results. The same is true of the divine world. There has been too much emphasis on the unity of divinity, when there needs to be more emphasis on the plurality of divinities for future effective Pagan theologies to take root in niche religious contexts.
Paganism, as it generally does now and as it has most often done in the past, must remain open to people having ties to a variety of spiritual communities, disciplines, and practices. There is no necessity for any one niche to meet all the needs of all of its participants. This is not only unlikely as a possibility, but also most perilous in terms of its implications for abuse and coercion, and is a great recipe for creating petty dictatorships, cults of personality, and forced situations in which toeing a party line of belief becomes a requirement rather than an option.
These more specialized, localized, niche religious groups will ideally serve their constituent populations well, and have a deeply rooted and rooting effect in the spiritual lives of their members. They will be small, and with any luck will become known for doing their particular brand of religious practice quite well and distinctively, in ways that can be appreciated by the wider regional, national, and worldwide Pagan communities with which they may be in contact. Exemplary practice, both in ritual procedure as well as in ethical conduct amongst its members in daily life, will always be the most important criteria by which to evaluate the effectiveness of these groups.