Outside Looking In (or Is Anybody Really Listening?)

I strangely find myself on the outside looking in when it comes to aspects of the Modern Pagan Community. It’s a very odd feeling to have as I blog/write for a pretty high-profile website, and some of my stuff has been linked to hundreds (if not thousands of times) on social media. I also go to a lot of Pagan Festivals, and I’m active in my local community. I feel like I’m super-involved in Modern Paganism, but at the same time there’s all kinds of stuff that gets past me, and sometimes I just can’t keep up with the current conversation.

You might remember the fallout from Z. Budapest’s “genetic women only” ritual at this year’s (February 2012) PantheaCon in San Jose California. I have friends and acquaintances who are very close to that situation, but to be completely honest, I heard more about it once I got home than I ever did at PantheaCon. I knew that there were issues at the event (and that I had very definite feelings on those issues) but I didn’t witness the candle-light vigil or feel any of the fall out. Literally a few hundred yards from my hotel room there’s history being made and I’m completely oblivious to it. It’s now nine months later and I’m still trying to catch up to everything that arose out of those few hours.

In the wake of February’s events there’s been new language added to the Pagan lexicon and I don’t know what any of it means. I’m not trying to offend anyone but I’m still not sure what “cisgendered” means or if it’s a word that I’m suppossed to use in everyday conversation when describing someone. I am happy to call someone whatever they want to be called, but I usually stick to first names. Living in the Bay Area I’m probably closer to many of these things than the average Pagan (or maybe not, the world is rapidly shrinking), but that doesn’t mean I’m any closer to figuring them all out. When talking about my sexual identity do I have to use the term “cis man” in certain circles? Do these issues loom large in greater Pagandom or are they only talking points in the Pagan Blogosphere and in a few Pagan traditions?

I’ll admit to not being a big reader of Pagan Blogs, and at this point there are literally hundreds (if not thousands) of them. I just can’t keep up with everything. Periodically an idea will catch fire in the blogosphere and will get blogged about probably dozens of times. It’s easy to read someone’s opinion on something and then get inspired, but I’m not sure if anyone outside of the blog community (and its readers, many folks leave comments that are superior to the initial writings) is actively paying attention to these things. Teo Bishop’s I Felt Ashamed at Pagan Pride sparked a great deal of thought and debate, but I found all of that debate impossible to keep up with. I shared some links to parts of it last week, but the conversation seemed to exist only in the blogosphere.

I talk to at least a few dozen Pagans a week and interact with hundreds more on-line daily, and yet there was hardly a peep on the subject from any of them. I have friends who literally eat, sleep, and breathe Paganism in a way that I’ll never be able to, and they were completely unaware of the tens of thousands of words being spent on this subject. There’s often a complete disconnect from what’s happening on-line and what’s going on closer to home. I find this comforting in a lot of ways (community begins in your backyard, not so much on Facebook) but also bewildering. Are these impassioned voices simply having an intelligent conversation among themselves or are these conversations being shared with all of us?

When it comes to discussion of February’s events in San Jose or the levels of embarrassment people sometimes feel towards our Community, I know that the conversations are going on but I don’t know how to participate in them. There’s nothing I can say that T. Thorn Coyle can’t and she’ll say it with far more eloquence*. I like writing about history, cider, and Led Zeppelin; I’m very much on the outside looking in when it comes to wrestling with some of these bigger issues. I don’t know how to participate in some of these dialogues, and as I’ve mentioned earlier I’m not sure that I want to. I know how long it takes to write 1200 words on any given topic, I can’t imagine doing that on the various topics du jour that pop up from week to week, and then keeping up with the various replies. If something tickles my fancy I will write about it, but I’m usually stumbling into the conversation by chance rather than actually being aware of it.

All of this leads me to the question “is anyone really listening?” Are the “controversies” that engulf “Pagandom” and inspire the Pagan Blogosphere actually the issues that we as a community are wrestling with on a day to day basis? Or is there just a small group of Pagans shouting at each other in some small corner of the internet while everyone else is at circle singing whatever chant we are all still allowed to sing together? Perhaps I’m not as disconnected as I think, and social media just makes me feel that way because I’m checking ProFootballTalk more often than Pagan sites? Maybe I’m pain-stakingly average, and the flood of information out there has made everyone feel like I do from time to time? Instead of feeling like I’m missing out on the conversation, maybe I should just start my own?

*For the record, I feel very strongly that if someone identifies as a woman they are a woman and shouldn’t be excluded from a woman’s only circle at a public event, but I also take a long-view of such issues. I’m not going to change the situation over night with an impassioned blog post, all I can do is register my opinion with whoever is in charge, and then live my life in accordance with my beliefs on the subject. But despite being asked about the subject once on a Wigglian Way Podcast the issue has never really come up in casual conversation outside of evenings with friends in the Reclaiming Tradition.

About Jason Mankey

Jason Mankey has been involved with Paganism for the last twenty years, and has spent the last ten of those years as a speaker, writer, and High Priest. Jason can often be found lecturing on the Pagan Festival circuit, so you might just bump into him. When not reading and researching Pagan history he likes to crank up the Led Zeppelin, do rituals in honor of Jim Morrison (of The Doors), and sing numerous praises to Pan, Dionysus, and Aphrodite. He lives in Sunnyvale CA with his wife Ari and two hyper-kinetic cats.

  • Lēoht Sceadusawol

    I know what you mean.

    I follow a couple Pagan blogs, as I have an interest in ‘Paganism’ (in the broadest possible sense), but I must confess that, a lot of the time, I see more politics being discussed than theology.

    I couldn’t give a rap about most of the political bullshit going on with ‘Pagans’. I am just interested in the theological meat and the resulting forms of practice.

    I follow the blogs because I know very few people IRL and the online world makes Pagan discourse accessible to me.

  • KarenD

    Wikipedia has pretty good explanations of the terms cis and trans. Cis is a scientific term–it’s either from chemistry or physics–that just means “on the same side”. For the purpose of gender identity discussions, we’re talking about identifying as the same gender you were born into. For example, I was born female. I identify as female and present myself that way, which makes me cisgender. It’s part of *who* I identify as. That’s different from my sexual orientation, which is about who I’m attracted to. Does that help?

    Re: keeping up with different conversations, either in person or on line, no one can keep up with every conversation everywhere. You were immersed in other things at Panthecon. I’ve gone to SF conventions where incidents of harassment have happened that I knew nothing about until I got home & started reading about them on line. That happens. I’m not generally an active participant in these conversations, but that doesn’t mean I can’t increase my awareness of them by reading on line first hand reports, blogs, forums etc. ( I use Google Blog Search a lot to for this, along with Live Journal for in depth discussions.)

    As for ” Instead of feeling like I’m missing out on the conversation, maybe I should just start my own?” I thought that’s what you were doing with this column.

    • C. M. Barons

      One aspect of modern paganism that strikes me as being often overlooked, many of us who describe ourselves in the context of paganism have consciously chosen so as an alternative to something else. That choice should remain free from criticism, and it is merely a point of disembarkation toward my point. With exception of those second or third generation pagans, most who choose paganism bring with them some grain of grievance, residual to the impetus necessitating an alternative. The degree to which this grievance shapes us as pagans or shapes our paganism is specific to the individual, however reactive when articulated. Paganism is likely unique in its number of solitary practitioners, and that statistic speaks volumes about who we are and why we came to be pagans. It should also relieve the conscience of anyone who feels they are negligent- not having kept up with some of the more, um, arcane discussions.

  • Mark S

    “Perhaps I’m not as disconnected as I think, and social media just makes me feel that way because I’m checking ProFootballTalk more often than Pagan sites?”

    Maybe ProFootballTalk is more interesting by far than most Pagan blogs.

    I think – and this is NOT going to be a popular opinion – that a lot of drama in the so-called “Pagan Community” is generated by a few people making outrageous statements to draw attention to themselves, and by people who are just in love with creating drama for drama’s sake.

    I also think there are a lot of Pagans who are trying to live up to impossible standards of imaginary correctness, and then trying to impose those impossible, imaginary standards on everyone around them. This is the origin of silliness like the online-only arguments over terms like “cisgendered.”

    I think “cisgendered” (and its variants) will never catch on. Using “cis-” in this way is a misuse of a scientific term, and it’s made meaningless by misapplying it.

    Furthermore, trying to enforce the use of non-words like “cisgender” is an attempt to apply a type of political definition to the discussion of sexuality and spirituality, rather than to truly strive for any sort of equality. And it has nothing to do with spirituality. This is why most pagans, in real life, don’t even bother with this “discussion,” which exists only on the Internet and only among a few people.

    I also think that the kind of thinking that attempts to offend no one and include everyone is dangerous. “Cisgendered” does not originate in any real desire for inclusiveness; it springs out of fear and guilt. It’s an extension of “white guilt,” and as such it is not truly inclusive; it serves only as a palliative for people who feel guilt over their own privilege. It does not solve the problem of privilege; it only covers it up with nice talk. The problem remains.

    I believe that this emphasis on correctness and inoffensiveness is a symptom of a kind of castrated, eunuchoidal “paganism,” that has no spiritual basis. The great magicians and thinkers were offensive to people. Jesus was crucified for blasphemy, Crowley was called the wickedest man on earth (while Hitler and Stalin somehow got a pass), and Socrates was forced to drink hemlock because he was accused of subversion of the state. They said things people did not like, and they did not “fit in,” or try to make everyone happy.

    Attempting to become all things to all people means that you become nothing to anyone. I think the Pagans who are not on the Internet, and not paying attention to drama, people who are actually Doing The Work and not playing at it, are the ones to look to. People who are trying to resolve their own guilt and shame issues by imposing their imaginary and very personal standards on everyone else? They’re not doing the Work. All they’re doing is creating distraction from the Work.

  • http://www.facebook.com/cat.treadwell Cat Treadwell

    Is it perhaps because it’s easier to b*tch about politics than discuss the spiritual ‘meat’…? A lot of people are still nervous (or find it hard) discussing faith issues, especially at a deep level, let alone what they’re actually DOING (or not). Those who truly live their path find things to say that are worth saying, and hearing.

    Yes, I’m a Pagan blogger, and I write what’s on my mind as it relates to my practice. Love this post for its honesty – please don’t ever feel the need to apologise for questioning and challenging! Original blogs shine out amid the generic, and yours truly does. Thankyou.

    - Druidcat.wordpress.com

  • invidosa

    I have the same feelings! Personally, I think its more about the debate then actual honest outrage. We read things that strike a spark, and get us thinking so we jump into the conversation, but in reality its more of an academic exercise then it s a practical discourse (for the most part). I’ve often been heard to say tat “getting a group of pagans to agree on something is akin to wrestling wet cats in a sack” and my interpretation is that this sort of thing is more of the same. And while I personally deplore the rancor and drama that can get dredged up in such debates, at the end of the day I’m really glad that the culture allows the disagreement.

  • invidosa

    I have the same feelings! Personally, I think its more about the debate then actual honest outrage. We read things that strike a spark, and get us thinking so we jump into the conversation, but in reality its more of an academic exercise then it s a practical discourse (for the most part). I’ve often been heard to say tat “getting a group of pagans to agree on something is akin to wrestling wet cats in a sack” and my interpretation is that this sort of thing is more of the same. And while I personally deplore the rancor and drama that can get dredged up in such debates, at the end of the day I’m really glad that the culture allows the disagreement.

  • http://dashifen.com/ dashifen

    You ask if anyone is listening and the answer is yes. It’s all community, after all, and it can’t exist if there aren’t participants in it. That said, we don’t all participate in the same community. Sally in Fargo, ND doesn’t participate in the community of Jim who lives in Miami, FL. Neither could be reasonably expected to know the differences in those communities or who the loudest voices or the most wise are. But, to each of them, their community is important.

    I’m a professional web developer. I’ve had access to the Internet — or at least to networked computers at American universities — since May of 1990. The first Pagan I met was online in a MUD; he lived in Louisiana while I was in Pennsylvania. I’ve made lasting friendships in MUDs and MMOs. I cemented friendships made in the real world with time spent communicating online. I’ve made efforts to meet people face-to-face simply because of our online interaction.

    Perhaps because of all this, I’m too biased in favor of virtual communities to fully separate myself from this topic, but the online Pagan community IS my community and I embrace it, foibles and all, as an intricate and important part of my life and I suspect there are others out there who feel the same.

    • JasonMankey

      I don’t disagree that there are online Pagan Communities, and that they have validity, the big question is how much that bleeds down into the flesh and blood Pagan Community. I know people are listening, but is it a large cross-section of Pagandom as a whole, or just a small slice of it? My wife doesn’t read any blog but mine (and even then, that’s rare), but she goes to lots of festivals and is involved in a large number of groups. Are the discussions we have on-line trickling down to her and those like her who don’t participate in the blogosphere?

      • http://dashifen.com/ dashifen

        I guess my contention is that I don’t think it really matters if it trickles down or not. If someone prefers to remain apart from the online Pagan community, then our discussions may not be important to them (similar to Sally and Joe from my original post).

        In other words, the thoughts and ideas of the online community are most pertinent to that community. What’s amazing (to me) is that the online community, unlike real-world ones, is such that anyone anywhere can become involved for as short or as long as they want to based on their interest in what we’re wrangling with at any given moment.

        Joe and Sally are unlikely to ever be involved in each others real-world communities, but either or both of them could become involved in ours. That is the amazing part about what we do online.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jay.cassels.5 Jay Cassels

    Greetings :)

    To answer your question yes – I am listening and while I live in the UK and really only understand a small portion of the this new and modern pagan way, I do think that the more technology and terminology take over the less people actually know about what it means to be pagan. How many realise that Pagan beliefs are from a pre-Christian era and that really this form of Paganism has only come into being since around 1960 – well in the UK anyway. It’s the same as pointing out the Wicca is a man made religion that is in essence an Organic Religion because it is always growing, changing and adapting.

    Like you I do not follow the myriad of blogs, columns, websites and individual posters on the subject as; each has their own understanding of Paganism; at least two or three at any one time will be in direct contradiction with each other and consequently having some kind of internet flame war over a simple sentence or worse a misplaced word or grammatical error.

    Faceboook, Twitter, Blogger and all the others that are out there service a purpose, they are certainly not something that I would live my life by. If anything Social media has been good for my business life, and has had a minimal impact on my personal life, but that is only because I actually these days understand the nature of the beast so to speak, but its quite nice to find a respected author that has the same outlook, makes me glad to not be alone in this thought.

    To be honest I don’t think you are painstakingly average, I think if anything your honest and realise that there is far more to life than the internet. You know how to walk down the street without having to use a phone, twitter account or facebook page as a crutch to help you decide whether its trendy to breath deeply or take shallow breaths, or if its not cool to drink out of starbucks but so hip and mega awesome to grab a costa instead.

    Absolutely start your own conversation that is what you started this for originally right? So who cares what the rest of the pagan pantheon is panicking over this month, or if someone has insulted this one because of some throw away comment made at a convention three years ago in July, I’m far more interested in what you have to say otherwise I wouldn’t have actually started following your writings.

  • MortalCrow

    I’m listening! I also ask myself the same question all the time when I read about something important online and wonder if real life is seeing this as well. In regards to the Z. Budapest fiasco, I did not hear anything about it in my public group nor my private group until I brought it up. I asked how ‘we’ felt about it. My private group is all women so it was especially relevant. I think when a topic is relevant, it’s up to us to bring it up and ask how other feel about it and facilitate conversation.
    (For the record, I feel that any PUBLIC ritual cannot and must not push anyone out for being transgender/gay/etc etc… I do however feel it is appropriate for private groups to come together as similar units who understand each other because they come from a similar place- whether this be an all men group, all women, all transgender, all Wiccan, all Asatru, all Elders etc.)

  • http://twitter.com/patchouliautumn Patchouli Autumn

    I’ve commented on this topic before. I find that these controversies are largely created and perpetuated by a small group of Pagans. It’s kind of like all the Christian craziness. The average Christian isn’t hardline, most I know are moderate, and really don’t shout about their faith from their rooftops.

    I do think that most Pagans are social liberals, and they/I tend to be more empathetic toward those in society that are shunned or condemned by others. I think that is why these issues surface relatively often.