A couple weeks ago I blogged about the need for Pagans to work in groups. While it generated minimal comments here, there were many more on Facebook, Google+, and in private communication. A few were positive, but most were skeptical if not outright negative. The complaints generally fell into five categories and I’d like to address them.
There’s nothing near me. I live in the Dallas – Fort Worth region, which is the fourth largest metro area in the United States with a population of around 7 million. It’s easy for me to forget that there are small and medium sized cities (much less rural areas) where there are few or no Pagan and/or magical groups. And even if there are groups, getting to them requires access to transportation, which in most areas means a car and enough money for gas. Some people simply aren’t going to be able to find a local coven, grove, or other group.
But there are communities available to solitaries. There are on-line and correspondence courses, such as the Druid course run by OBOD. There are virtual communities on social networking sites. There are local Pagan Pride Days, regional festivals and national conventions. None of these will appeal to everyone (I’m not overly fond of festivals) and none will duplicate the experience of a local face-to-face group. But there are many different opportunities to meet, interact with, and learn from other like-minded Pagans.
I wasn’t welcome. I hear this too often. I’ve experienced it myself. It goes far beyond the scope of group-vs-solitary and it’s inexcusable in a religion where hospitality and reciprocity are key virtues. Those of us who are in groups have a sacred obligation to greet our guests, to talk to them and to make them comfortable. Talking to a friend you haven’t seen in a couple weeks is no excuse.
If you’re seriously seeking a group, it may be necessary to compensate for clueless Pagans and inject yourself into the conversation, to ask questions instead of waiting to be asked. But if what you experience is rudeness or offensiveness and not garden variety social ineptitude, don’t waste your time. Keep looking.
So don’t. Good groups know that if you don’t feed drama queens they usually go away. Very good groups take action to stop drama before it gets out of hand. I have no guidelines for finding drama-free groups, but when you do find one, you’ll know it. Just understand that drama is not inevitable – you don’t have to put up with it to get the benefits of a group.
Being solitary allows for greater focus. This is true – the narrower your focus, the fewer people who are going to want to work with you. Finding a group to celebrate the seasons is easy. Finding a group to re-create ancient Celtic worship is harder. Finding a group dedicated to Morrigan is harder still. If your interest or your calling is extremely focused you may have no choice but to work alone.
But there is still value in participating in an occasional group ritual or in having someone to discuss your work even if they don’t want to collaborate on it. There is value in supporting the wider Pagan community, so it will be there for the next generation that comes along. And who knows, you just might find a study partner when you’re not expecting one.
I’m really an introvert. Now the truth comes out. I have no data to draw on, but my best guess is that this is the biggest reason more Pagans don’t look for a group. I wish I had an easy answer here, but I’m an introvert too. I’ve been leading public rituals for ten years, speaking at UU Sunday services for nine and maintaining a public presence on the internet for five, and I still get anxious when I have to talk to someone I don’t know.
I’ll simply say that for me, the benefits of being part of a group (several groups, actually) have far exceeded the anxiety I felt in joining those groups and that I still feel in doing the kinds of things I have to do to be a good host.
Finding, joining and participating with a Pagan group is not always simple, and it’s more difficult for some than for others. I understand the uneasiness some Pagans have around groups. As with everything else on your spiritual journey, you have to decide what tradeoffs you’re willing to make and what is ultimately best for you. Make your decisions mindfully, after careful review and consideration.
But I would not be where I am on my spiritual journey if I had insisted on working only on my own.