Institutions in Paganism: the Coin is for All

Counter culture, or up and coming? Are we a religion of individuals or do we have collective will? For thousands of years now humans have collaborated and accomplished great things across the generations by building institutions. Will the Pagan community build institutions to project our Way though time, or are we just the florescence of our time, to be superseded as the individuals coalesce into a new and different form? Efforts are being made.

Joining in a timely topic suggested by our editor, especially since, as you know from my last post, I am building a Pagan institution, called the Pantheon Foundation, with the help of some very excellent and skilled friends. You can read the more formal materials about what we are doing so I will leave that to you. Come by and say hello, perhaps join our low traffic announce list.

Here I will discuss the spiritual essence of the project as I see it, and some of the functional model on which it is based. These are sort of the highest and the lowest levels of the organizational design. First we start with this poem:

Essence

Our way to the realization of a Pagan future
will not be through the Sword
we will foment no fruitless armed insurrection
Nor will it be through the Cup
no Dionysian revolution will overthrow our sick society
Nor even through the Wand
for the laws of this land are used against us
and we have little access to the halls of justice
But the Coin is for All
with it we can slowly build, collect real power,
train leaders, and enact good stewardship
and build a Pagan future

Societal change has been a preoccupation of mine since youth. Much of my study has been in how such change occurs when it is done willingly. This is mostly the study of history which I now think of as the “List of all the things we’ve tried, most of which didn’t work.” So, I have hope for a Pagan future, or at least a Pagan-friendly one, but I’ve realized there are approaches that won’t work for us. In thinking about it I realized that the Four Tools gave a way of talking about it. Perhaps that is all that needs to be said, but I will explain:

Sword: Armed insurrection rarely works, just look at Syria, but neither Egypt and Libya provide good examples. Gene Sharp’s From Dictatorship to Democracy (download) is one of the best realpolitik summaries as to why this is the case. We won’t be overthrowing the government to enable us to exist. Besides, who want the job of running a country? We just want to have our religion.

Cup: “Tune in, turn on, and drop out” was a rallying cry from Timothy Leary’s day, but while it fostered some change, it did not lead to the massive cultural transformation its proponents helped for. Too bad, because the sickness of our culture is acute. There is food and people are hungry. There is medicine and there are people who can’t get it. Wealth is being concentrated in so few hands that the economic system is in jeopardy. We need to change our values, including things like legalizing marihuana, but getting everyone high, while fun, will not fix our problems.

Wand: The laws of our land are stacked against us, although we are slowly pushing them in the right direction. Every battle brings us closer, like the Lady Liberty Headstone Project which lobbied the Veterans Administration so that Pagan Military Dead could be buried with headstones marked with Pagan religious symbols. Or the tax relief sought by the the Maetreum of Cybele, a monastic Pagan community in Catskill, New York, which wanted the same religious property tax exemptions as any other monastic house and faced discrimination. But the effort required is huge and expensive. It is not, like some religions, that we have a huge lobbying arm to enact or resist legislation. We may or may not want such a tool, but there are times when we need to wield one.

But the Coin is different. While not a sufficient condition for success, money is a necessary one. What makes each project successful is that it is sufficiently funded. What makes each organization stable and effective is its ability to handle money well. What makes organizations and other religions powerful is that they have the money to exert that power. And what gets those institutions the money to do their work, whether it is lobbying, or providing services, or education, or if religious, places and times for worship, and the ability develop, preserve, and expand the religious culture, is their ability to handle that money credibly.

The Coin is also a way to crystalize power and energy in a very material way. The Coin can be used move that energy through time (it can be saved and used later) and through space (it can be sent and spent elsewhere). It can aggregate the power of many into a single focus. Also, the laws around this are very well developed and we can use them for our benefit. In creating things like corporate governance (internal structure) and contracts (external relationships), we get to form and formalize the rules we wish to operate by within very capacious structures provided by the law. The courts uphold these agreements with vigor.

Talking is not enough for me. I have to build. The spirit of the ideas above have gone into the formation of the Pantheon Foundation, the California religious non-profit corporation the team and I have built and are building.

The structure we are building has two main dimensions, fiscal sponsorship and crowd sourcing. Ours is a religion of small groups, many of which could use the benefits of being a non-profit org, but find it hard to achieve and maintain. Since the work of establishing a 501c3 is so daunting and expensive, and the bookkeeping and institutional operations so demanding, we at the Pantheon Foundation want to solve the problem once and for all. Or at least for all those who want to work with us. We seek to become for our fiscally sponsored organizations, their ‘back-office’, handling the the money in and the bills out, all of the accounting, while providing the associated tax benefits of being a non-profit. Our model for this is the Tides Center, one of the largest fiscal sponsorship organizations in the country. We can also use our organizational status to provide insurance, the ability to sign leases, legal support, and other services. Our goal is to free you up to do your mission, while aggregating our collective power to accomplish what we can’t in our small groups. This model also lets us interfere with the sponsored groups as little as possible. Our focus is on handling the money correctly, and we’ll be a bit rigid about that. How your run your group is up to you, within very broad non-profit limitations.

The crowd sourcing dimension is how we will, at least in part, fund some of our initiatives like scholarships and hospice or care of the ill. We will run campaigns where folks can contribute and aggregate your Coin-power to help those who will be serving the community or are members of the community in need. Other projects can be read about on our website.

Institutions, like much of life, are what we make of them. We can design and build institutions that embody our values and that preserve our values across the generations. The Pantheon Foundation is one effort. There are many others which we at the Foundation hope to collaborate with to bring into being a Pagan future.

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