Rotten Apples: A Sad Rant on the State of Pagan Community

I decided to defrost a chest freezer by myself, which resulted in a pulled back muscle, which resulted in the inflammation from the injured muscle aggravating my sciatica. All of which means I am cussing like a sailor and mostly stuck in bed until the inflammation goes down. But even without this injury I think I’d still be irritated as hell today.

I want to know when Paganism is going to grow up. Because it’s really tempting to check out for a few years and come back when it’s reached maturity. There are days, and not just today, when it feels like Paganism is plagued by waves of stupidity and high school politics.

I’m not going to comment on the current wave of people acting stupid in public. Literata Hurley is doing a fine job on that and I encourage everyone to read her blog to get up to speed. Start with the post I just linked and work backwards. I’m not going to comment on it here because it’s just the current wave. There have been waves of pure stupidity in the past, and there will be waves in the future. It’s not really worth it to get too worked up over the current self-inflicted crisis.

What I want to know is why this happens? Why are we plagued with rampant immaturity and stupidity? All religions have immaturity and stupidity, but why do we seem to have such a bumper crop? I think a big part of it is we keep refusing to admit we actually are religions. That what we are doing is religion.

We’ve been saying that religion isn’t what we do for decades. To the point that it’s subconcious. Spirituality, magic, light-working and all the other terms we prefer to religion sound so much less formal and relaxed. So we treat everything as informal and relaxed. And then community centers go bankrupt or major organizations succumb to high school politics or nothing ever gets done, ever, because we don’t want the hassle of authority figures.

We don’t even take our own values seriously. I used to say that a Bill Clinton or Eddie Long type sex scandal couldn’t happen in Paganism, because we recognize that someone’s sexual life is separate from their service, and as long as they aren’t committing nonconsensual sexual harm, we generally don’t give a damn about what happens in their bedroom. But that’s not really true is it? I’ve heard Pagans use VA’s criminalization of adultery to make their case recently, without even stopping to say “Why the hell is VA regulating it’s citizens sex lives?” I would have said that most Pagans would have found this law abhorrent, not because they want to cheat on their partners, but because the government has no business in our bedrooms!

Not only are we overly concerned with who is sleeping with who, we are also overly concerned with defending monotheism. I stood up and in no uncertain terms stated that I was not a Christian in any sense, and that we should remember that being as disorganized and passive as we are we are in danger from the majority. I didn’t get a single Christian response. Instead Pagans tried to get me to see the light and accept Jesus. I felt as if I’d walked into Bizarro world.

We are a messed up group of people. We think it’s more important for clergy to know elemental correspondences than pastoral counseling or conflict resolution, and then marvel at how local groups rarely seem to last. We open businesses and community centers thinking that good intention will see us through rather than sound fiscal practice. We harp on how belief isn’t as important as practice, without noting the connection between the two, only to try to beat the “truth” into those who believe differently.

We have no accountability to each other, to our values, or to our gods. We are more devoted to chaos, discord, shallow faith, personal whims and childish drama than to building communities that can support each other and share our better natures with future generations.

If you judge a tree by its fruit, then Paganism is a pretty damn disappointing tree sporting a lot of rotten apples. I don’t know why that is. I don’t think the tree is bad, but maybe it needs pruning. Maybe we need better boundaries. More maturity. A sense that what we’re doing is religion, therefore we need to be prepared to properly handle the issues inherent with religion: volunteer time, money, counseling, interpersonal conflict, permits and taxes, property, multi-generational services, etc…

Maybe my view is simply sour today, but it seems that we have all the problems of mainstream religious communities with none of the benefits. Over and over again I hear people express that Pagan religions aren’t their problem, but Pagan communities. The solitary movement began out of necessity, but has thrived out of choice. It seems at some point we have to admit we have a problem and set to fixing it, or simply dissolve as nothing more than an interesting blip in religious history.

Maybe my view is simply dim today and will be brighter tomorrow, and my back has certainly made me more irritable. But I do think we have some significant problems that we have to address or we perish. And part of the problem is that for many Pagans having their faith perish with them on their death bed is a good thing. We are busy railing against the wrongs of the past and providing no solutions for the future.

About Star Foster

Polytheistic Wiccan initiated into the Ravenwood tradition, she has many opinions. Some of them are actually useful.

  • Guest

    I’ve supported the OHF multiple times in the past, but I’m not a member. I do know if someone tries to it’s critics (some of whom did much of OHF’s preparation – many, many hours work) as “rotten apples” if zie have their disagreement with how things are currently being managed, they’d be very wrong. I hope that’s not the intention.

    • Star Foster

       I have no clue what you are saying, so I can’t answer your question.

  • pagandad

    Well said! I have struggled with building local community, people say they want it, complain that they don’t have it. But don’t want to make any effort. Thanks for this!

    • Amber Moon

       I totally agree with you… I see a lot of  “We want” and not a lot of effort to make it happen. People who  step forward to “do” for the community either get burned out or get fed up with being a target of complaints.

    • Indywiz

      Everyone wants all the toys but they don’t want to do the work or make the needed commitment of time and money. They also don’t want to  use the magic that they have for the manifistation of what they want.
         After 60 years or wo where are our commuity centers? our schools? our homeless shelters? our retirement homes?


  • Bree

    I think this was a very good post and something that I have been thinking about lately. I feel- and I could be wrong- that the Pagan community needs to understand ourselves and what it means to be Pagan. I love the individuality and diversity that is in our community but sometimes I feel we are too scared to connect as a bigger group. I don’t know why that is. I really do not believe we will ever be taken seriously until we take ourselves seriously.

    Too much infighting and bickering about our differences. Too much bigotry. Too much fear and hate. It scares me to think we will never get any good done in this world because we are too busy hatin’ on one another.

    • Vivianna

       Bree your points are something I can relate to as well!  I remember saying to someone that Pagans need to stop taking themselves so seriously.  In that context that comment made sense but in a larger vain, it does not.  I think Pagans, especially those in leadership positions, need to stop taking the wrong things so seriously.  The bully pulpit, personal affronts- that’s the kinda stuff I hope we are able to rise above. 

      This is the sort of thing that keeps us separated and easier to defeat.  I am not saying we have to coalesce into one giant Pagan religion (that would be disastrous!), but it would be nice to come together at festivals with much less drama and suspicion.  I have hope that we will ultimately evolve but  it sure it takin’ a while!  :)

  • Frank Brent

    I keep seeing this in the Native Community even in My Tribe:(

  • Fae EdwardsMiller

    First – healing to your back and blessings for a speedy recovery.  I feel your pain and know how it can make the entire world seem like a bleaker place.  I hope it will abate shortly.

    I also share your frustration at the immaturity of some of our communities.  I’ll do the ‘glass half full’ thing for a moment and point out that there are other Pagan communities which are holding it together, but they generally do so more quietly, so it’s harder to notice that success.  But, that being said, you’re right, I think we do have a problem.I think you’ve really hit the nail on the head when you said “we don’t want the hassle of authority figures.”  It seems like that the first thing that happens when someone becomes a leader in any sense is that someone else starts to complain about them.  I’ve often heard the ‘herding cats’ metaphor used for Pagans – but I think there’s actually a bit of truth to that.  Pagans are not herd animals.  I think most of us came to this branch of religion because we didn’t ‘fit’ in religions that told us ‘do this, think that and you’ll be fine.’  So we have this knee-jerk negative reaction to authority of any sort.It’s really hard to build successful institutions when you’ve got a constituency who is inherently skeptical of the idea of institutions at all.  I hope we get over it soon, or at least get a critical mass of more mature people so that the lunatic fringe can be just that – a fringe.

    • Jennifer Ramon

      “It’s really hard to build successful institutions when you’ve got a constituency who is inherently skeptical of the idea of institutions at all.”

      That.  *That right there.*  Almost every Pagan community group I’ve been in that failed or stumbled did so over that issue, or (less often) over the standard problems small groups have with handling money.

  • Mermaidmorrigan

    THANK YOU!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • RevBrown

    I think you said everything that needs to be said right there in your first sentence.  Paganism DOES need to grow up.

    • Crystal Hope Kendrick

       We need to get over the rebelling adolescent stage as a group and realize that eventually we are a conglomerate of real religions that need to move out of the parent’s basement and start supporting ourselves as adults (metaphorically speaking).

  • Dscarron

    Accountability generally does wonders for maturity.  

  • Ashtoreth Eldritch

    Well said. This essay addresses the reasons I dropped out of my local pagan community fifteen years ago. 

    I hope that your back heals up quickly for you.

  • Sephira Allen

    I think that part of the problem is the misconception that Paganism is a “no rules, anything goes” kind of thing. The whole purpose that many seem to have in coming over to Paganism, is that they are sick of being told what to do, so they buy into this misconception, and think that it’s ok to do whatever they want to do.

    It’s a rude awakening to them, to find out that many Pagan religions do have strict rules or requirements, and instead of putting forth the effort to learn more about those rules, they rebel  and scream persecution, and still expect others to take them seriously.  

    So many want everything handed to them on a silver platter as well, and yet even when you do find those rare souls who are willing to put forth effort to make the Community a better place, they tend to quickly burn out just because it’s so hard to find others who are willing to pitch in. Or worse you get the in-fighting that so often occurs. 

    Not entirely sure what the solution is though. Like you mentioned, it seems that if we refuse to categorize ourselves as religion, or at least refuse to set some sort of standards we will always remain on the fringes. However it’s hard too, because trying to get a group of people together who has the authority to speak for ALL paths/traditions, etc… is nearly impossible. Not to mention getting a majority consensus on any particular guidelines. 

    I have a hard enough time getting people to participate in online Pagan Community activities, which when you translate that to in-person Pagan Communities – it’s easy to see that there is definitely room for improvement. 

  • Lori Newlove

    I would like to share that my coven, Shining Wheel, has been working together for 17 successful years and we have done a lot of stuff for out community but we did take a few years of a time-out and only worked with each other while witch wars erupted around us. we have incredible feasts, a rotating High Priest/ess so we spread the responsibility around so no one gets burned out and we add a member or 2 every couple of years.  We have had members leave due to moving or the desire to hive off and while that sometimes have taken the form of delicate negotiations, we are all still friends and would all help each other out.  We have helped each other put up fences, saw down trees, make brooms and other group crafts, cooked for each other during illness or family death, sat bedside as our members lost family to diseases and watched each other’s children and we hold each other accountable.  I think we genuinely behave in a way that is tribal and community oriented.  We know that we are the exception here but I wanted you to see that it IS possible. Blessings,

  • Vivianna

    Guurrrrrrrrrrrrl- had I known this was percolating in your brain, you and I could have had a conversation about this as we scarfed down that ham, the last time I saw you!

    Ugh- I don’t even know where to start!!  So I will say less than I am inclined to.  I was in tears, wondering about this very same subject less than one month ago.  WTF are we doing if we’re not willing to make hard choices, be uncomfortable in the short term in order to build something bigger (or simply better) in the long term, or simply PLAN for the future? 

    My answer to my rhetorical question is that when you refuse to do what I described above, or put structures in place to be held accountable by others (b/c sometimes in organizations, these structures are not JUST about you but about protecting those who will come after you), or simply refuse to move or be supportive of anything different/new- you are simply playing make believe!   This is not the Sim’s- it’s REAL LIFE!  There are no cheat codes or short cuts through difficult times- just putting on your big girl and big boy panties and doing what needs to be done!  You have to be aware of factors in the real and physical world that can impact your spiritual work- or things simply die or dissolve into nothing.  Without being pragmatic and daring, coven structure, titles, etc. it’s all a game and it really does not have the spiritual significance that we say it does.

    I wholeheartedly agree with this article and the opinions you express.  And I’d like to thank the Pagans behaving badly for their shining examples of how NOT to do things.  There is knowledge that can be mined from people starting off with the best of intentions and a load of naivety, or being unwilling to do difficult things, or admit difficult truths. 

    I also cannot help but think that this increased level of ‘crazy’ is creating a sea change that will ultimately lead to some good things- a thinning of the herd so to speak.  But maybe that’s just the eternal optimist in me!  Thanks Star!  :)

    • Star Foster

       You need to come over and hang out. It’s getting cool enough in the evening to have a beer around a fire!

    • Indywiz

      Well said.

  • Alan J Sheridan

    Short answer – I think the
    huge overblown egos that run rampant in the pagan “community” rip things
    to pieces. We are not a healthy group of folks. We have old baggage we
    don’t deal with, we have people insecure in themselves who make things
    up about themselves to feel important/powerful, we have people so
    confused they look for others to lead them, and a lot of folks who spend
    more time focused on fantasy novels and “worlds” that aren’t real than
    they do on the practical matters of daily living.

    People with a
    stable job and home life who take care of the practical aspects of
    living are the ones we need to hear from the most, not the newest
    incarnation of Merlin or Cleopatra.

    There are pagans like Selena Fox who have worked diligently for decades to get more rights for pagans established, and she keeps winning.  Did she poll every pagan out there to get consensus?  Nope, she identified targets (like getting pentagrams allowed on grave markers in national cemeteries) and went after them and made them happen.  People like her have done a lot for us and need to be acknowledged, praised, and their methods clearly recorded so the rest of us know what to do to effect change.  Learn from the winners, right?

    Any pagan who starts screaming about how they “refuse to bow down to anyone”, including refusing to conform to rules that they themselves agreed upon, is an immature nut who needs to grow up.  There are a lot of grown-ups in the community, but frankly we spend so much time trying to be nice, politically correct with each other, and accommodating of every single special snowflake that we can’t get anything done.  We’re so nice we can’t move for fear of offending *someone*.

  • John Beckett

    These problems will end when we, as a religious movement, find something we value more than personal validation and affirmation.  They will end when we, collectively, learn that there really are some things more important than ourselves. 

    Until we learn that the Tribe is more important than the Individual, these problems will continue.

  • Cora Post

    YES! YES! YES!

    I’ve disassociated myself from the larger Pagan Community several times over the years and am ready to do it again because of this very issue.   Often you hear the quote that roughly says “it’s not Christianity that I have a problem with, but with the Christians”. The same can be said for me regarding the majority of Pagans.

  • Brian Rush

    As others have pointed out, there are a number of successful groups that do have internal discipline and are not full of bad apples. I would also point out that there are long-running pan-Pagan organizations capable of putting on festivals and gatherings repeatedly that have been going on for years. Granted there are plenty of nincompoops out there who call themselves Pagan, but that’s inevitable. There are plenty of nincompoops out there who call themselves anything.

    What we don’t have is any central authority capable of laying down the law and defining who’s in and who’s out for all Pagans. On a smaller scale, yes; for all of us, no. Anyone who doesn’t like the rules in any one group can leave it and still call himself or herself Pagan (just not that particular flavor of Pagan). Frankly, I see nothing wrong with that. When I look at the attempts some people have made to define the religion for everyone, I see definitions too narrow and too limiting for me. That includes traditional Gardnerian Wicca of course, and in perfect honesty, Star, it also includes your own attempts at doing so. I’m not prepared to define Paganism as excluding the idea of a unity underlying the diversity of the Gods (the term for that, by the way, is “henotheism,” not “monotheism”), because I find that a useful philosophical realization and saying that no Pagan can believe that way is in effect insisting that Pagans have to be ignorant yahoos. I have a similar reaction to the idea of rejecting ANY valid conception of divinity, including Jesus, except in the sense that he (or any other deity) may not be on your personal path, or on a strictly temporary basis as a form of psychotherapy to free oneself from childhood indoctrination, serving the same purpose as a primal scream.

    As these examples illustrate, if we attempted to impose any kind of strict definition based on ritual, doctrine, or structure at this time, we would make a serious mistake: we would bind ourselves into a form that is not mature in understanding. I would add that if we attempt to do so at some time in the future, we will still make the same mistake, because there is no doctrine that can be put into words which will convey the truth, except as metaphor. Moreover, if we fail to give this structure and definition any teeth it will not succeed, and if we do give it teeth we will create our own nemesis, as the Christians did in 325 at Nicaea.

    If you perceive something missing in Paganism today, you’re not alone and I agree, but I would also say that we have the ability to find like-minded individuals and organize whatever needs doing, and the fact that not everyone will be interested in joining in isn’t really a problem.

    And finally, I hope your back feels better soon.

  • MortalCrow

    I love how forthright you are in all of your topics. I totally agree that this immaturity might seem rampant but from my perspective, the issue is mostly on the public side of things. What I means is that I am part of a public CUUPS group and a private, invite-only group. The issues you mention, I typically only see on the public side. I think this is due to private groups doing a better job of weeding out undesirables. That said, the public side is also important for our communities and they need to find a way to manage the problems, legitimate ones and those brought about by people who have nothing better to do than cause problems. I think we solve the legitimate problems well but when it comes to the serial problem-causers, it seems we do not want to be unwelcoming and so end up having to constantly deal with these same people over and over. It’s a tough line to walk. In the 10 years I have been with CUUPS, they have only actually asked 1 person to please find the door and not come back. With my private group, we also have a rotating ‘high priestess’ but we also have a higher coucil of  ‘elders’ who make broader decisions for the entire group. So far so good, any drama is dealt with quickly and with kindness. Perhaps the major difference is having stated rules. This is of course difficult with so many different religions under the pagan umbrella, all with different definitions of morality. I am sure with some effort we can come up with basic rules of behavior. That at least would be a start anyway.

  • Shadow

    Well said. I often wonder if part of the problem is that paganism is, relatively speaking, still young and so it really is a case that it needs to grow up.

    It also seems that many pagans are so busy pointing out our differences that they are failing to see our similarities and building on them. Personally, even though my path is a solitary one, I would like to be part of a strong and supportive community but politics and personal issues always seem to get in the way!

  • Mark Horr

    I was solitary for nearly 15 years before I joined any Pagan groups. The one I eventually joined is one that allows you to chose how much, or how little, contact you have. It’s not that I don’t want to help the larger pagan community. It’s that I don’t know how. I’ve spent half my life at my hearth, with my traditions, and it’s a difficult transition to public ritual at first.

    If there’s anything I would suggest it’s making new-comers feel welcome. I would have joined or helped out Pagan organizations years ago if it wasn’t for the “oh, another solitary” mentality. Why should I help, or even feel concerned, if the community makes me feel as though I have no value?

    We may not be Christian, but at times I’ve felt like I was thrown into the hierarchy again without my consent.  Until we’re less concerned with who people have studied under and how long they’ve practiced, and more concerned with what each individual can do for the greater whole, I don’t think we’re going to see a break through. 

    It makes me want to weep, because at times Paganism reminds me more of high school cliques than any “mature” religion. That was why I left Christianity in the first place. I don’t want to live in an us-versus-them mentality anymore.

  • Eric Devries

    Solitary for life, the rest of you can sort this crap out.

    • Fae EdwardsMiller

      Not to pick on you, hon, but that is *exactly* the sort of attitude that makes this situation worse.  Please, get involved.  Volunteer.  Be part of the solution.

      • Marc

        I think the rampant egoism and constant high-school drama is what makes the situation worse, not people who are willingly taking themselves out of requiring any form of community. 

  • kenneth

    What keeps me sane in all this is that I simply don’t place any investment or expectation in the drama queen wing of the movement who are, by and large, self-appointed “leaders” who have no mandate or mission from anyone beyond perhaps their own circle of self-styled leader figures. Someone is forever being elevated to, or making up, the position of “grand high priestess of the local tri-county chapter of the mega pan-pagan national alliance of such and such. I don’t know who most of these people are. I had no voice in choosing them, and getting into the club that chooses them is usually nothing more than an unpaid reality show of junior high school personality politics.

     These people are not and never were my “local community.” My local community is my coven and the somewhat scattered network of good solid people I have slowly cultivated over the years. We create good things together magickally and otherwise, and we do so with next to nothing in the way of titles or organizational charts. We look after each other and we develop richer and more dedicated relationships with our deities than I think would be the case as pure solitaries. I can’t say that’s the best model for all or for future needs, but it works damn well for me now. The rest is extraneous. 

    A case can be made, as it has by Star and others, that we are failing as a movement. But in doing so, we are using a Christian yardstick to measure ourselves.  We make the assumption that by now we should have freestanding churches and permanent clergy and Sunday school programs and a seat at the big folks table at the National Prayer Breakfast. We fail because no one steps up to do what’s needed for these things, or when they do, no one backs them. 

    That’s because we haven’t convinced ourselves that we want these things or why we would want them. Yes, one can make practical arguments about why such infrastructure is good, but there has to be more than that. We have to figure out what our pagan religions – yes they are religions, tell us about the very nature of worship and relationships. Is it an intensely personal relationship with one’s gods or a communal one? Should we have clergy and what roles should they play that are distinctly different than lay followers? This question must go much deeper than pragmatic considerations of “gee it would be handy for prison and hospital access if we had ordained clergy.” 

     We will not have what Christians have, nor should we, unless we can discern and articulate why our gods and goddesses CALL us to such things. We need to do the deep work of theology, in short. It needs to build up and outward from our relationship with our gods and our discernment of what virtue means in individuals and community. We need to learn to make bricks before we build temples.

     Maybe we’re failing because we’re not trying or because we suck. Maybe, however, we’re failing because we’re striving and learning and failure is part and parcel of that. Maybe this is the fate of ours and several early generations of neo-paganism, to re-discover who we are and to prove ourselves.  The Jews spent 40 years in the desert and a couple thousand more in diaspora, and our own history and myths are full to the brim of ordeals and unpleasant quests. Maybe we’re meant to one day reclaim the institutional glory of the ancient pagan world, or the suburban respectability of mainstream Protestant/Catholic trads. 

    Maybe we’re being groomed and tested for something much more glorious or maybe we’re supposed to develop a tradition which selects for tough, ornery and self-sufficient solitaries and small cells and networks because that’s all that will work in the next phase of our world. I don’t know the answer, but as long as my deities continue to come to our circles and accept our offerings, I’ll keep searching. 

  • Chris Algoo

    I think the Geek Social Fallacies are very relevant here. When someone’s been hurt by power and power structures, they can be very reluctant to take part in one. Healing is probably necessary.

  • Beth Ann Mastromarino

    I think the community is growing up, we’re just in Jr. High right now, with occasional the foray into Lord of the Flies territory.

    There are too many people who need to be “right” and don’t listen to each other. There are too many people who act as if a disagreement is a personal affront( but that seems rampant in our country at the moment and not exclusive to Pagans). There are too many who don’t understand that a rising tide lifts ALL boats. They also don’t understand that to purposefully sink one ship hurts the entire fleet.

    Why does no one seems to care that the Maetreum of Cybele in NY is about to be foreclosed on because a Judge decided that they were “valid,” but not valid enough? Is there not enough sex and scandal involved there to pay attention?

    Star, I appreciate your positions whether or not I happen to agree with them. Please keep on being outspoken for those of us who can’t always find the words. 

  • Áine

    There are a number of very good “apples” out there.  But, being good apples, they’re not what people focus on.  It’s not “news” when an organisation lasts four, fourteen, or forty years without drama, without schism, without school-yard politics… it’s a blip on the radar for a moment, and then it passes — if it is noticed and remarked upon at all — whereas the bones we worry at, debate, argue over, or even just actively spectate are the ones that involve suffering and drama.

    There are people out here, quietly building community, not being in the limelight.  Being in the limelight is part of what draws the drama, in my experience.  There’s a notion of power that comes with perceived popularity, and it seems to make people forget _Truth or Dare_ (if they ever read it in the first place).
    What we give energy to is what thrives.  We all need to *be* the grown-up, contributing, volunteering, charitable, community-building Pagan we want to see in the world.

  • Va.Carper

    I have been reading a lot about different Pagan groups and their battles.  What I keep coming back to is how Christian overtones keep washing over everyone no matter what flavor of Pagan they are.  Sort of the world as one vast battlefield, and we need to be on the side of right.

    Also, there is the level of working with groups.  Many people have little or no skills to work with or in groups.  I learn many of my skills at my local Toastmaster Club, which focuses on people learning and implementing Robert’s Rules of Order.

    In fact if folks understood parlimentary procedures at the group level, they will see that the rights of majority are upheld while the rights of the minority is garuanteed. (Sorry for the spelling problems.)

    It could be maturity.  I have seen a lot of mature Pagans though and have met them.  I think that when emotions are flying about, it is hard to keep a perspective on what the issue actually is.  Also, living off of the emotions is easier than calming down.  It is addictive and puts us back to our primal natures.

    The situation that Literata refers to is awash with heavy emotion and hot button issues.  After reading various blogs and comments raging against one of the parties, I was struck by how much they sounded like the Religious Right in their causes.  Perhaps we are not that much different in our basic emotions, though what sets us off may differ.

    How do you “calm the waters” and “appeal to the better angels of our character”?

  • Lēoht Sceadusawol

    Try this little experiment.

    Go ask a bunch of random people the following:
    “What is Paganism?”

    Collect your answers and then go ask a bunch of self-declared Pagans the following:
    “What is Paganism?”

    I’ll lay odds that the first group have more consensus than the second (even if that consensus is “I don’t know.”)

    If something so basic, so fundamental cannot even be defined, how can anything of substance be achieved?

  • NiereG

    I am a solitary, so I have little experience in the “Pagan Community” as an entity so I cannot really address some of the issues you raised, but I can say that any time you have humans some will try to lead, some will follow without question and others will do their own thing regardless of pressure. Many Pagans have escaped from being persecuted (literally or figuratively) so they are wary of being led, or they have a strong desire to be the one leading. Others want so much to be a part of a greater whole that they will follow no matter what. This makes for conflict. Despite our perception that Christians don’t have this problem, they do. There are lots of different Christian Sects but no real “Christian Community” that shares all beliefs. Ask a Catholic and a Southern Baptist, or a Presbyterian and an Anglican or a Mormon and a member of an Evangelical Church and every one will tell you that the others are wrong and that they are not part of the same community of faith. What they have that we don’t is a willingness to work together despite the conflict. The different sects in Islam are the same way – they have a greater goal in mind than their internecine conflicts that transcends their arguments and gives them something to work toward.

    • Lēoht Sceadusawol

      “Despite our perception that Christians don’t have this problem, they do.
      There are lots of different Christian Sects but no real “Christian
      Community” that shares all beliefs.”

      Like Christianity, Paganism is not a monolithic entity, but the term still needs to have a basic, cohesive definition. My preference is more inclusive, thus more controversial, than most.

      A Christian is an adherent of the teachings of ‘Jesus, the Christ’, son of the ‘One True God’. (Or, Yeshua Ben Yusuf, spiritual son of YHWH.)

      A Pagan is is an adherent of a (nature-based) indigenous religion. This will
      include the European systems that include Druidism, Wicca, Ásatrú and
      others, and also American Native Spirituality, African Shamanism and

      Like I said, some people may baulk at such an inclusive descriptor but it makes for an easy reference term for those not of one of the constituent denominations. It also makes the term less significant for those classified as Pagan, who will more likely choose a more specific denominational term (much like other religious people do – Sufi Muslim, or Catholic Christian, for example.)

      Perhaps when people become more comfortable in accepting a label that does validly apply to them, these people will be more able to come together and start talking about the theology, rather than the terminology?

  • Makarios

    Not intended to derail the thread, but submitted merely as a point of correction:

    You wrote: “I stood up and in no uncertain terms stated that I was not a Christian in any sense, and that we should remember that being as disorganized and passive as we are we are in danger from the majority. I didn’t get a single Christian response.”

    I have reviewed that thread, and, to my knowledge, you did get at least one. It’s even garnered a couple of “Likes.”

  • P. Sufenas Virius Lupus

    I agree with a huge amount of what you’ve said here, Star…

    I always refer to my spiritual practice as existing within a religion.  (And get ignored for doing so much of the time.)

    I’m still trying to sort these questions out right now, and it would be nice if more than a small handful of the people in my “community” (i.e. the Ekklesía Antínoou) would do things like, for example, vote on policy issues in the group.  I introduced a major one several months back, and said that the issue would not be closed until at least 15% of the total group membership voted on it, which is something like 18 people.  I’m still waiting for three more votes, about four months on…

    I do think the collective Pagan deficiency is the lack of responsibility that many people have to it–accountability to community members, friends, elders, students, colleagues, groups, and (some would argue even more importantly) gods–who don’t tend to take it lightly when people blow off their commitments to them, and way too many Pagans either don’t care about that or don’t think the gods are like that.  And, guess who’s got the last laugh on that?

    As someone already said in the comments, people want all the toys but don’t want to pay for them (because they should just get them for FREE!) or take care of them after they own them, as it were.  And, honestly, that’s not even junior high level issues, that’s grade school.  It wasn’t until late in grade school that I really tried to take care of my toys and make sure all the guns to my latest Transformer or what-have-you didn’t fall on the floor and get lost the next time the vacuum cleaner came through.  If that’s the level that a great deal of modern Paganism is at, then we’ve still got a few years before people figure out that it’s not as fun to play with these toys if they keep losing all the bits of them, and that no one will give them more if they keep treating them like this…

  • elffkat

    If you expect to see bad around you and look for it you will find it but the opposite holds true too. I’ve been in our local pagan community for almost 30 years and it more diverse and better behaving than it was in the 80′s & 90′s.

    You want to have a better community? Expect better. And be better yourself.

    • Áine

      This.  Very, very this.

      And to reiterate: seriously?  We’re *way*, *WAY* better than we were in the 80s and 90s.  Holy cats!  ~shudder~

  • Ckane01

    One point that may be helpful- It’s possible for a group to have one or more leaders without them being authority figures.

  • Sobriquet

    I think every Pagan has experienced this issue, at least on a small scale. Since a goodly number of us “convert” from more mainstream religions, we tend to shun anything that even remotely smells like organized religion. Another problem, of course, is that we are not all connected by a central dogma. It’s hard to agree on standards of acceptable behavior when the only thing we seem to agree on is that we aren’t monotheists.

    • Lēoht Sceadusawol

       “Since a goodly number of us “convert” from more mainstream religions, we
      tend to shun anything that even remotely smells like organized religion.”

      I really do not understand this. My problem with Christianity was never the organisation (that is a good thing, they get stuff done). It was the god (I am a geographical hard polytheist.)

  • Peg Aloi

    Good questions and always a timely subject, Star. I am thinking on this hard myself and appreciate the many cogent comments it has inspired so far. Hope your back pain lessens soon!

  • Me

    I prefer small autonomous groups with a healthy dose of hard work. It seems that there is a much better focus. I believe that the lack of dogma within many Pagan groups can only be preserved this way and that is why for example the idea of a coven having no more than 13 people before hiving off was and still is a good one. Also, while I encourage people to be engaged in things which mean a lot to them, I reject the idea that Paganism needs to be political or involved with community in any way beyond those small autonomous groups. If however, a person feels the Goddesses calling to be involved in community, I believe that there are other outlets for that which don’t necessarily need to be attatched to your brand of faith. I am talking about flesh and blood communities here too, not online communities. Online communities just dont effect me on a personal level really, so I have no opinion about their size.

  • Kilmrnock

    I think part of our problem is fear of becoming like the organised religions many of us came from or were hurt by . Many in our ranks like the fact we’re so loosly organised , that there  is no central ruling body in most of our belief systems . But Star you are right we as a group need to get organised and deal with all that entails .The ADF organisational model works fairly well , may be worth looking into ……….or one like it . We have a Mother Grove and a rough ritual organsation we’re all members of ADF , some are Solitaries , altho most of us belong to local groves , which for all intensive porpuses are autonomous .Altho we all have an ADF way of doing things  the local groves donot answer directly to ADF in our daily operations . More in the Wiccan model ASW[Assembly of the Sacred Wheel] operates in the same manner . They have a mother coven then many hived off covens , that altho sharing the same structure operate independantly from each other . Once the other pagan faiths can adopt a rough inner structure , than a rough confederation of pagan faiths can work to represent pagan interests as a whole . If we can’t work out some sort of organised leadership or atleast a loose confederation we may well be doomed as an unorganised rabble . i am also part of a CR based tribal faith that is just getting organised , recon faiths could also be part of this confederation of pagans , the Asatru, Theodish, Celtic , Romano-greek , Egypitian,pagan  faiths . Many of the Wiccan groups Coven of the Godess and such can also be included . From my point of view the seperate groups , Wiccans ,recon groups etc are faiths , Paganism is the religion , just as Catholics and Babtists are Christians.      Kilm

  • Puck

    As someone involved in Feri, all I can say is “I know right? Sucks doesn’t it?”. I pretty much stay away from “community” these days, just focus on my own work and the work of close friends. That is where my community is, not with people who share the same label.

  • Lamyka L.

    Ok so I see a lot of “oh yea, you’re so right!” or “I’ve seen ____ problem, too! And _____ problem as well, and…”. What are some constructive things we can all add her as comments for those reading? And no I don’t mean hypothetical. If people are willing I’d like to see *past tense* sentences that are concise (or at least to the purpose). If enough of us who feel this way share what we’ve DONE to help the community maybe people will read it hear and also start doing that, or add to the list.

    Don’t need a whole bunch, but maybe 1 or 2. Don’t need any grandiose examples, the everyday consistency is also very important.I’ll lead by example:I just received (free) small ad-space with a Pagan publisher, I thanked her and also asked if I could purchase a second larger space.I wanted Prayers beads so I went direct to a recommended Pagan artist and commissioned 2 reasonably priced small charm bracelets while she works on my prayer beads, not just because her work is lovely but also as a sign of good faith.What have you DONE for our Pagan community?

  • Deirdre Hebert

    I don’t think that the OHF situation is any more an indication of the state of Paganism than is any other controversy. We’ll always have things like that going on – just like any other human endeavor. We can’t rid our selves of personalities.
    It would be nice to see us as grown-ups at some point, but the truth is that we’ll always be a mix of young people going trough growing pains – like Firefly and OHF, and actual grown-ups. Some of us will always be a nice mix of young and old.
    But because there is no hierarchy – no magisterium, we can’t impose a sort of order on each other. Rather, we can choose to associate our selves with groups that exhibit the qualities we admire  and let natural selection cultivate those qualities in other places.
    We need to remember that Paganism as an actual recognized religious group is still in its relative infancy. These growing pains aren’t unexpected.

  • Marrey Jack

    I have found being a former Christian, the best way to not have to deal with the drama and childishness, pettiness, personalities, etc etc(I was also a Soka Gakkai member but created my own mantra which works-wanted to be rid of the religious drama that they ALL suffer from), having no religion frees a person from having to be concerned with ANY drama from ANYONE within the confines of a religion.  I’m not saying don’t have your beliefs, but organized religion is nothing but asking for drama.  I came to the conclusion that no matter the belief system(whether theistic or atheistic), it is ALL a waste of time.  I am so much happier without it, being the hard nosed cynical optimist that I am.  There will always be some asshole that gets up in your face and runs their mouth because they are in a leadership position, they are a pastor, they are a high priest or high priestess, they will tell people what to do and who to do.  Flushing it all down the toilet is the solution to dealing with religious drama.  I actually find me chanting(which I think spell casting that Wiccans do is similar to mantra chanting and works on similar principles from what I have read), it seems that doing it without all that drama and bullshit works SO much better.  I tolerate drama for about 30 seconds at this point in my life, I used to tolerate it for years.  Life is GOOD:)

  • thalassa

    This isn’t Pagan, its just people.  I hear about the same drama in my co-workers churches and see the same drama played out in a myriad of places that go beyond religion.  Its called human nature.

    • T Thorn Coyle

      Agreed, Thalassa. Humans are all figuring this out everywhere. Some folks feed drama and some try not to. The best we can do is try to do our own best work and support those around us who we see are trying to do the same. We can disagree, grow confused, argue, and still know that at the end of the day, we are trying, in good faith.

      As I wrote in a post on risking criticism: when I am offering criticism of someone else’s project…what is more deeply important is that I have to realize the risk and effort required for them to have put the project together at all.

  • Anne Newkirk Niven

    All true. Schisms, parties, feuds, hurt feelings, people leaving groups in huffs and founding their own and all the rest. Think I’m talking about Paganism? Natch. Try every new religious movement in history, from Buddhism ( to Islam (they are still battling that one out today), to Peter vs. Paul in 1st century Christianity.

    The way to “grow up” Paganism (besides being a good apple oneself, which of course, you are, Star) is to realize that, in the words of the divine Jim Henson (who wrote the script of Muppets Takes Manhattan) “peoples is peoples.” We Pagans are just going through an incredibly awkward stage of development. Which means hard work, yes, but no need for despair.

    • Lēoht Sceadusawol

       Yet some are refusing to move past the awkward stage. Waiting for them to die just takes more patience than many have.

      • Anne Newkirk Niven

         “Waiting for them to die.” Really? You’re going to go *there* about the elders who started the Pagan Renaissance, just because they won’t get “out of the way” for the next revolution? I really hope I’m misreading that statement and you aren’t suggesting metaphorical patri/matricide.

        Besides which, the *next* stage — namely consolidating traditions, creating orthopraxy/orthodoxy and ejecting heretics  — is gonna make this awkward stage look like a picnic. I wouldn’t try to rush into it; that’s exactly how tender, awkward heterodox, organic movements go horribly wrong and self-destruct — or worse, turn themselves into rigid fundamentalisms in search of premature orderliness.


        • Lēoht Sceadusawol

           I meant that literally. I wasn’t on about the elders, but about anyone who sticks to the ‘Paganisms is about having no rules’ line.

          Which, to get past this form of fundamentalism, requires that those who desire change literally have to wait until old age to take them.

          The next stage does not need to have a consolidation of traditions. It merely requires the current traditions to actually solidify their stance. That is not to say that those that reject the tradition’s dogma and doctrine are heretics, in the same way that Christians are not Pagan heretics. They are simply on a different path.

          • Anne Newkirk Niven

            I hope you are correct, but candidly, I can’t think (feel free to enlighten me) of another group that didn’t choose either to fade into nothingness or the consolidation/ejection of heretics route, in the history of world religions. “Grow up” usually pretty much equals “develop institutions.”

  • Anne Welch

    I think more than maturity, we need to open all the closed minds that close DUE to that immaturity. I think as most Pagans are converts it’s a hold-up they probably don’t realize they’re doing. I’m a solitary out in the middle of nowhere, and I love it. I did try to connect to Pagans in the City (made the 75 minute drive there for their gathering) but was insulted, hit with bigotry, and snobbery. I was amazed at the politics there, and out here I’ve grown to really enjoy my solitude.

    Sometimes it sucks as I don’t have Pagans nearby to talk to – but it’s either their immaturity and closed minds (I count forums here too), or being left the fuck alone. I chose the latter. It’s really gotten to the point where I can only handle most Pagans and Wiccans on a limited level – maybe I’m to cynical… That could be too.

    It truly makes me sad. I am all for smaller groups, in a sort of federation of small groups – autonomous. But in a larger setting… there’s too many dogfights. But even small groups take effort, time, dedication.. Something most modern PEOPLE, regardless of religion – aren’t willing to do. True living faith isn’t instant, you can’t just add water and *POOF* it appears.

  • Joanne McPortland

    ” . . . all the problems of mainstream religious communities with none of the benefits.” I was working in a coffee shop one Sunday afternoon when the board of the local Pagan Alliance had its monthly meeting at the next table. I was surprised to note that, with some substitution of vocabulary, it could have been any Catholic parish council meeting or Episcopal vestry meeting I ever attended—complete with endless wrangling over logistics like setting up a membership database, filing for a permit from the local parks administration to get dibs on using the sacred grove “before the Druids beat us to it” (“I’m not getting into this with the Druids again; you can’t TALK to those people”), trying to boost attendance for Pagan Bingo, etc., plus the usual power struggles over which board member was in charge of what. The most surprising thing was that two of the members were late for the meeting because they had been at (Christian) church (“I couldn’t miss, I’m a pillar of that congregation”). I don’t know how typical this is of groups around the country, but it was exactly like “all the drawbacks of mainstream religious communities.”

    Prayers for your healing.

  • Themon the Bard

    Star, I sympathize, but I think you’re missing the point that ALL communities in the United States are disintegrating. The really big ones are just doing it more slowly.

    Communities aren’t formed of people who like each other. They are formed of people who need each other.

    The reality is, I don’t need you, and you don’t need me. I don’t need any of my neighbors. What I need is the complex web of impersonal services that make my life not only livable, but pretty cushy. Electricity, so I can work from home on my computer, which is built somewhere in China (with all that implies). Gasoline, so I can jaunt to the supermarket, where food from all over the world appears magically at a price I can afford on the job I work from home. Police services, who keep the riff-raff out of town and (by extension) out of my home, paid out of taxes exacted for that purpose. Entertainment piped into my computer and my television set, that makes me able to pretend I’m knowledgeable, and wise, and virile, and in the majority opinion.

    Yes, I need people LIKE you who do the kinds of things you do to keep the machinery running. And you need people LIKE me to keep your machinery running. But you don’t need me. We’re all replaceable, usually on two-weeks’ notice.

    I make friends, and I spend time with them, and in some senses I need them to avoid loneliness. But friends can be replaced: anyone who has ever moved (who has not?) knows this. And if one of my friends pisses me off — I mean, really pisses me off — it costs me very little to flick them away. It certainly does not affect my livelihood.

    So with this big, complex, highly-efficient, completely impersonal system full of replaceable people-part keeping my belly fed and my toes warm at night, why the hell would I want to put up with “community?”

    The old village model of living was a self-sufficient community that could get by from year to year on its own, where outside trade was a benefit and not a necessity. Villages were small, and provided essential local services — most people raised food. You preserved the community because you had to, to survive. You kept the peace for survival. Because you needed each other. Not because you liked each other. And sometimes, even that need wasn’t enough to keep feuds from erupting and tearing the community apart.

    So I’m not sure what you’re expecting from the “pagan community.” There is no mutual dependence holding us together. It’s a voluntary association, like a book club. 

    The same is true on the Christian side of the fence, except they all believe — explicitly, or implicitly — in Hellfire. And the social Hell of standing up in public and saying, “What, me a Christian? Ha-ha-ha!” So even when they get pissed off with the Methodists, they’ll go looking into the Lutherans or the Presbyterians. Or just stay put, for the sake of familial peace.

    Most Pagans gave up on familial peace a long time ago.