Many of you probably already hate this idea, just from the title. Let me save you some time: I know that you hate it and I know why you hate it. I already know that most Pagans do not share the views I’m expressing here, and I don’t care. Now that that is out of the way…
I’ve been thinking a lot about the concept of family and continuity in Pagan communities and culture. We tend to base our communities on people who are religiously similar to us, but who rarely have a deeper connection. It is one reason why our communities are so easily fractured. We don’t have to rely on each other for basic services (in fact we tend to not patronize each others businesses), we don’t have to rely on each for basic social needs, we aren’t equally invested in communal religious/cultural property, and we aren’t bound to each other by family ties. The individual is paramount, and other people are expendable.
To say that family was important to the ancients is practically an understatement. Family was everything, both the family you were born into, and the family you adopted. The fact that it was fluid didn’t demean its importance. Divorce happened. Adoption happened, including the adoption of adults. Same-sex relationships weren’t exempt from this concept of family, as most strikingly exemplified by Hadrian and Antinous. Family was about many kinds of temporal support, and about continuity. Whether you are heterosexual, homosexual, polyamorous, monogamous, have 9 children or choose to remain childless, etc.., temporal support and continuity are still vital to your well-being.
Maybe one of the best examples of this is the drag community. Older drag queens adopt younger drag queens and teach them the craft, and they form drag families. If you follow RuPaul’s Drag Race you may remember Willam feeling that she was missing out because she was solitary, and didn’t have a drag family. There were things about drag culture and etiquette she was unaware of, but also she was missing out on the love and support from her fellow queens.
I’m 30. I ain’t old and I ain’t young. I’m firmly in that stage of adulthood known as “old enough to know better and too young to act better.” I don’t hang out in bars anymore. In fact, I spent yesterday talking to two old friends who don’t hang out in bars anymore either. None of us stay up late like we used to. None of us drink like we used to. A lot of my friends have settled down, some even have committed relationships and children. We used to hang out all the time, because bar culture was what we had. Without that, we didn’t have a good frame of reference for hanging out. We don’t attend church, we work hard, pay our bills, and try to build a comfortable life. Now we drink coffee and stay at home watching Netflix. We lack culture, and we lack a sense of family.
One of my friends is a really awesome lesbian woman who has trouble meeting people. She doesn’t want to hang out in bars anymore, she doesn’t want to drink, and she doesn’t want the crazy bar scene drama. But around here, most lesbians her age hang out in bars, drink, and are suffused with drama. She’s looking for something real that lasts, and not just something for tonight. She’s a bit frustrated because she doesn’t have a culture that supports finding what she needs when it comes to relationships and family.
I feel for her dilemma. Pagan communities are barely supportive of existing families, much less able to encourage and support the creation of new families. There is an idea that wanting to be with someone who shares your core religious/ethical values is somehow wrong, and that you should be happy to love anyone who comes down the pike for however long it suits them to be loved. An idea that continuity is bad when it involves children, and somewhat suspicious when it comes to adults. This is partly because the majority of our communities are made up of solitary eclectics with beliefs so personal and individualized that they couldn’t pass them on if they tried.
When you look at other religious cultures who have survived over the millennia, including polytheistic cultures, you find that the process of creating, expanding and strengthening family was extremely important. Like anything else, these traditional processes could be, and sometimes still are, used to abuse and harm. Just as with a knife that can both slice bread and cut flesh, we don’t simply abandon traditional things because they have the potential to be used to harm. We already work positively with elements that could be used to harm in the wrong hands: divination, initiation, magic, etc…
Matchmaking, arranged marriages and dating within your community are not bad things in and of themselves. They are cultural tools that can be used to create healthier families and communities. Being ill I’ve recently rewatched some of my favorite “chick flicks,” and among them were Bride and Prejudice, Arranged, and First Wives Club. The first two films tackle the concept of arranged marriages in very different ways, but both emphasize the benefits of having your family and friends participate in the process of finding a partner. The last film has nothing to do with arranged marriage or matchmaking, but has a really significant plot point in which Stockard Channing’s character expresses regret that she lost the presence and support of her friends as much as she regrets the dissolution of her marriage. There is a sense that their respective marriages dissolved the women’s sense of community and worth, and that rather building marriages on the foundation of their community and support system, they instead found themselves isolated.
Marriages tend to dissolve because people want different things. One person wants children, and the other doesn’t. One person is religiously active, and the other person isn’t. One person wants monogamy, and the other person doesn’t. One person wants to put down roots, the other wants to move. One person wants to work things out, the other is eager to move on.
Modern dating methods tries to resolve these conflicts in strange ways. One is finding someone with common interests, as if both people being a fan of Family Guy is a good predictor of success. You have the bar scene, where you can find someone who likes beer and trivia. You have sites like OkCupid which tend to focus on sexual preferences and more casual relationships. You have sites like eHarmony which lumps all religious people together regardless of profile settings, as if an Orthodox Jewish person and an Episcopalian are somehow interchangeable. Most of these methods shy away from the concept of marriage, long-term commitment, family, and children.
So, how could this work for Pagan communities? Let’s looks at some hypothetical examples.
Crow is a gay male Wiccan. He wants a monogamous marriage and children, and to create a stable household environment where family and friends can gather to celebrate the Wheel of the Year. Sure, he wants a nice guy who likes the things he likes and is sexually compatible, but he’s not interested in getting involved with a nice guy who doesn’t want the same things he wants. Services like Grindr and ManHunt aren’t going to help him find someone. But Crow is lucky enough to have Wiccan friends who know him well and are like family. They know what he’s looking for and put out some feelers. When they meet guys who seem to have some potential they make a point to find out if they are interested in marriage and kids. It takes a little while, and Crow goes through some bad dates, but eventually he finds a husband who wants what he wants and who is loved and accepted by Crow’s current support family of friends. They become a stable hub for religious celebrations and are instrumental in bringing children’s activities into Sabbat celebrations.
Mary can’t have children of her own for medical reasons. She’s unable to bear children and unable to adopt because of her medical issues. She’s also a bit of an introvert, and needs her space. Despite this, she does want family, and she wants children in her life. Mary is a Heathen, and she’s a bit at a loss as to how to have the family she longs for. She lets some close friends from her kindred know of her quandry, and they discretely look for options and opportunities for Mary. One of her friend’s happens to have a sister who is also Heathen, and a couple in her kindred are interested in bringing another wife into their marriage, but they already have three children, and don’t really want more. Introductions are arranged. Visits are made each way. Everything clicks. He’s attracted to her, she’s attracted to him, the wife likes her and so do the kids. Mary still has a supportive kindred, the husband she wants without having him 24/7, children in her life, and the joy of a sister-wife.
Bill is a heterosexual Roman polytheist. He’s a little embarrassed, because he really wants a wife who is interested in being a homemaker and raising children in religio Romana with him. He’s liberal in outlook and politics, so he feels it is somehow anti-feminist to want a wife and kids, and he feels weird about bringing up marriage and family with women he dates. He’s not a “barefoot and pregnant” misogynist, and he doesn’t want to come off as a creeper who stalks Vesta devotees. So he talks to an elder in his community about how to go about dating. She happens to know women who have confided the same desires to her, and who feel it is also un-feminist to state those desires. So she quietly sets up some dates where both parties are completely aware of the other person’s goals for family and marriage before they even meet. Some go really badly. One is ok. Not great, not bad, just ok. They have different interests when it comes to entertainment and cuisine. He likes horror films and Mexican food, she prefers Italian dishes and comedies. They decide to keep dating even though there isn’t much spark just to see if something develops. Despite their differences they come to admire each others core values. They get excited about building a life together and begin to fall in love. They marry, she works freelance from home, and they raise kids with the virtues they hold dear.
Raven is a lesbian woman that doesn’t want kids. She is heavily involved in teaching Goddess spirituality. She needs a life partner who is supportive of her spiritual and community work. Not being very good at dating, she asks her sister, her brother, her mother and close friends for help. They hold a series of dinners with Raven to discuss what she wants and needs in a life partner. Then they consult among themselves, and they can think of three women in Raven’s religious community who might be a good match. They talk to each of the women informally to get an idea of what they want and what they think of Raven. They find that one of these women not only wants the same things as Raven, but has a bit of a crush on her. They arrange a few dinners where she and Raven are sat next to each other, and gentle nudges are given in both directions. It’s a good match. Raven would have considered this woman out of her league and unapproachable, and is thrilled when they find themselves falling in love. They marry, have a gazillion cats, and become a cornerstone of their spiritual community for decades.
You could probably think up other examples: a bisexual male couple who are looking for a woman to raise children with in the Reclaiming tradition. The important thing is that in each of these instances the person’s friends, family and community were supportive and active in the process of creating family and forming stable marriages. These people find that they can rely on their community to help them. Similar processes happen in other religious communities all the time.
There are some very good reasons that matchmaking, arranged marriage and traditional dating methods would work well for Pagan communities:
- Pagan dating sites tend to be geared towards kink, BDSM, sex magick, casual dating/sex, and goth communities rather than marriage/commitment oriented.
- Saying you’ve been claimed by Odin tends to not make for successful speed dating.
- That moment when you have explain that you won’t convert to Judaism for your potential inlaws.
- There aren’t many of us, so finding someone who share our religious values (if not our beliefs precisely) through modern methods is difficult if not impossible.
- We love having a role in our community. Matchmaker is role some of us would revel in, and it’s a role many elders would love because it would keep them active in the lives of younger Pagans.
- It creates a culture that respects and embraces multi-generational religious community.
- It provides a safe, value-based way to meet people (I’d imagine date-rape is less likely to happen if your whole coven is involved with your dating life).
- It helps us find partners who are actually interested in creating the same kind of life we are, rather than us dating someone cute only to find they think marriage is archaic and pointless.
- It shifts our community focus away from individual growth to building relationships.
- Marriage, children, adopting people as family, and encouraging the creation of family, nuclear and extended, reinforces the continuity of our religions and culture as something relevant and needful in the future.
Those are my thoughts on the matter. What are yours?