How to Support Pagan Community (and Infrastructure)

How to Support Pagan Community (and Infrastructure) August 29, 2012

Over at Llewellyn Wordlwide’s official blogElysia Gallo, Senior Acquisitions Editor for Witchcraft, Wicca, Pagan, and magickal books, lists seven ways in which you can support Pagan community. I heartily agree with all her recommendations.

“So now, as we pull into the harvest season, let’s start thinking about ways to give back to our vibrant and wide-reaching community. I have a few brilliant ideas (as usual!), some of which will hit you up for cash, others of which only take some time and mindfulness.”

Among her suggestions, Elysia lists supporting the New Alexandrian Library’s fundraising effort (more on that here), helping to send Patrick McCollum to the Awakened World Conference in Italy, and supporting a brand new Pagan Living TV initiative.


Almost all of her suggestions, including volunteering at Pagan Pride, throwing a party for Cherry Hill Seminary, and shopping at Pagan-owned businesses, are about building Pagan infrastructure. It’s about putting our resources back into that which we say we value. Too often our responses to needs within modern Paganism are ad hoc and reactive. This is not to say there aren’t visionaries among us who envision a different way of doing things, but these efforts aren’t well-funded, and are often overwhelmed by the needs they encounter. We are still at a point where simply having physical locations is somewhat novel.

“A Memphis Wiccan group now has a building for worship, becoming one of the first Wiccan groups in the country to do so. The Temple of the Sacred Gift is a local chapter of the Aquarian Tabernacle Church, based out of the state of Washington. They have official non-profit status with the IRS, making them just like any church in Memphis. […] The temple holds worship every other week and often puts on festivals. About 40 people attend each worship, while hundreds can show up at some of the festivals. Participants include local policemen, lawyers, and business owners.”

Infrastructure, physical spaces, institutions, social services, it’s all about taking care of our own. If we are to be able to cross the threshold into being a movement that can support itself, grow into having the land, temples, libraries, and advocacy organizations many of us dream about, we need to re-think how our interconnected communities work. A problem that the late, great, Isaac Bonewits wrestled with in the years before his death.

“Establishing Pagan charities, or even just creating a culture of generosity inside Pagandom, requires us to face all our individual and group attitudes towards money and fund-raising. Being a Pagan shouldn’t be about just taking the goodies that others have to give, but also about returning our gifts to others, thus passing the good karma along. Among the ancient tribal peoples so many of us seek to emulate, “hosting” and “guesting” involved giving and receiving in complex systems of reciprocal relationships. In fact, those words come from the same Proto-Indo-European root, ghosti, which is also the root of the word “ghost,” referring to a family spirit who must be shown proper respect and be fed with offerings.

Yet the Christian Dualism that saturates our mainstream culture, combined with left-over anti-money ideals of the 1960s counterculture, leads many to assume that money is “profane,” that spiritual people “don’t need” money, and that anyone asking for money in a religious context is “just like” the televangelists (whom we view as dishonest and greedy) or whatever mainstream religion we were brought up in. In an “us vs. them” worldview, remember, anyone who has something about them that resembles anything about someone else we consider evil, is of course, just as evil–or at least comfortably ignorable. These attitudes, of course, justify hanging on to our money rather than sharing it with those in need. Indeed, it usually takes a major disaster to shake us out of our complacency.”

These issues seem more present to me now because I believe we are at the threshold of a great shift. I think we are ready to do things differently, to move in directions we didn’t think were possible. I think we are capable of claiming the very things we say we long for, to shed our sub-cultural cocoon and emerge as a religious movement to be reckoned with. Until then, our activists, clergy, and leaders continue to do the work. For example, while Patrick McCollum is trying to raise money to take part in a global interfaith initiative, he’s also meeting with local politicians to end religious discrimination against minority faiths in the California prison system.

Patrick McCollum with California State Senator Mark DeSaulnier and aide (08/25/12)

“Rev. Patrick McCollum met this week with California State Senator, Mark DeSaulnier to discuss religious discrimination issues and policies directed toward minority faiths within California’s state institutions.  The institutions discussed included the Department of Mental Health, the Department of Developmental Services, the Department of Social Services, the Department of Veterans Affairs, and the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

The meeting went well and Senator DeSaulnier, who is known for government reform, has agreed to investigate further into the policies and issues affecting our community and others.  Reverend McCollum will have follow up meetings with the Senator, and has agreed to provide additional documentation.”

Every day, in ways we don’t see or notice, there are Pagans working to build our future. If we want to see that future become a reality we need to support them in their work, and show that we’re collectively ready to build the movement many of us say we want.  That support doesn’t have to break your bank, but it can mean working to make sure your local community is thriving, to make sure your elders aren’t in danger, to make sure the people who serve you can do so without the wolf at their door. Support is simple, and it allows visionaries the room to help collectively build our Pagan future.

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43 responses to “How to Support Pagan Community (and Infrastructure)”

  1. Awesome. Love the Isaac Bonewits quote as well. Thank you so much, Jason!

    Oh, and I totally forgot about support already existing infrastructure and community centers, like Circle Sanctuary and Solar Cross – all very worthy causes! I wanted to highlight some of the things happening *right now* but there is always so much more to do.

  2. This is a topic that needs to be developed now more than ever has been in the past. We all play a part in making the greater pagan community better for everyone.

  3. I think a lot of Pagans are apprehensive of physically established places of worship because they connect it to collective worship, which implies a level of dogmatism or orthodoxy. Two words that appear to be almost profane to many Pagans.

  4. I admit this is probably true for most pagans. I am a member of the memphis church that has gotten a building to worship in. And i admit, it takes some getting used to. But having an established base has allowed us to do so much we normally would not have been able to do, for ourselves & the community. So dont knock it until you try it, lol!

  5. Thank you so much for this article! You are absolutely positively right! We have to back our Pagan communities with money and put our money where we say our values are! There is a new tide coming in, and you cannot be neutral on a moving train!

  6. I’m not knocking it. I’d like to see more temples. In fact, I’d like to see more Pagan-based communities.

  7. Lēoht: Isn’t it time we stop using that excuse then? It’s been a huge reason for the greater pagan community to not move forward with needed organizations and physical structures. I would replace “dogmatism’ and “orthodoxy” with the phrase, “By the gods, let’s get sh*t done!”.

  8. I agree. Without some level of D&D (Dogma and Doctrine) people are likely to argue about what shit needs to/should get done.

    I think that people need to accept that these things are not inherently negative, but can actually be really useful community building devices.

  9. The message should be “support what you CAN get behind.” I have no interest in congregational worship or in professional clergy, but there are plenty of other cooperative projects I can support, like Circle Sanctuary, LLL, the New Alexandrian Library etc.

  10. I think religion gets to a point where it’s just people arguing to argue, especially when it involves debates between orthodoxy and orthopraxy.

  11. I agree with everything in this article but am not optimistic for Paganism in the UK. We have no infrastructure, a legal system which implicitly favours Christianity and Judaism, no registered Pagan places of worship, one single solitary official Pagan charity, and no way to have a legal handfasting outside of Scotland.

    Pagans to me seem to only take from Paganism, they take interesting spiritual ideas, a pleasant social time, an acceptable fashionable eccentricity to make themselves seem more interesting, but they give nothing back. They refuse to give money, time or energy to positive projects. The same hard working minority of organisers provide events for the mass of Pagans to go to until they burn out under the effort.

  12. For those who complain about not having a Pagan Community. Top 10 things to remember.

    (Please read this with a slightly frustrated but well-meaning tone of voice and try not to take it personally)

    1. Remember. It is not about you, it is about us. It is not about infrastructure, events, shops or services it is about the people that those things support. It isn’t about the credit it is about the work. It is amazing what you can achieve when you don’t care who gets the credit.
    2. Stop being irrationally offended by or suspicious of everything any other Pagan does or says. We are all human. Stop waiting for everyone else to be perfect.
    3. The Pagan community will not come to you. You have to make yourself a part of it. Leave your house and work on getting over your social phobias.
    5. Sorry but you aren’t special. Well you are, but just like everyone else.
    6. The internet is NOT community. It may feel like one but it is only a substitute.
    7. Do not put conditions on your support. Eg. Blah organisation is doing good work and I would join except their magazine is a bit crappy and their logo doesn’t represent MY faith. You are essentially telling overworked volunteers that they aren’t good enough for you and that is a sure fire way to burn them out FAST. If a group is doing good work, support them.
    8. Energy is worth more than money when you are trying to get stuff done. If you don’t have or trust the cash, muck in instead.
    9. Before you start that big new initiative. See if anyone else is already doing it and help them instead. Don’t waste energy reinventing the wheel.
    10. Examine yourself. Stop making excuses for why you can’t do something. If there is a problem, work on it and fix it. If you believe in magic ask why aren’t you using it.


  13. Good points all.

    I have to work on that ‘getting out of the house’ thing, myself.

  14. To all of you would be Temple Builders out there: Please include a sanctuary for meditation. That’s all.

    These people are doing good work. I agree. There is a shift in the air.

  15. I agree with what you wrote, Jason. I am happy to see some parts of the Pagan community coming around to your point of view (unanimity is not needed or expected, since we don’t march in lockstep). I’m also feeling a bit of a prophet.

    Some time in the 1980s, I wrote an opinion piece called A Word From Saturn, which was published in Pentalpha, a zine edited by Isaac Bonewits and Sally Eaton. No one’s violated the copyright and posted it online, so I can’t give a link 🙁 . So I’ll summarize it here.

    The article made two points. The first was that Pagans (many of whom were in their twenties and thirties then) needed to stop living like flower children and start saving or investing for their old age, because our community wasn’t large enough to provide for a lot of indigent elderly Pagans.

    The second point was that many cultures have established mores by which people of all classes are expected to make charitable or philanthropic contributions either on a regular basis or on important occasions. I wrote that the neopagan community could get a lot of stuff done by pooling financial resources, the way Jews and various immigrant communities have done, but it wasn’t going to happen until the community developed some native expectations for charitable giving. I suggested what was holding that up was the many formerly Christian Pagans; a lot of them associate financial appeals with guilt tripping, power plays and corruption rather than mutual defense and community building.

    When the magazine came out, I received several favorable comments on the first point (save for your old age). The second section was ignored–no comments for or against it. I’m glad to see this sign of maturation; it only took two Saturn returns.

  16. I’m apprehensive of physically established places of worship for an entirely different reason. In an urban or suburban area, they cost a lot of money to maintain and keep secure, potentially sucking up funds that would be better used elsewhere. If there is a realistic funding stream that doesn’t depend on someone’s small business or emergency appeals to the community, I have nothing against leasing or owning buildings.

  17. The Washington, DC area Pagan community is unique in that we have the only (as far as we know) operating Pagan Community Center in the US. It was opened and is operated by the Open Hearth Foundation (OHF), and is not affiliated with any particular group, tradition or path. The center has two rooms for meetings, clases, and rituals; a professionally-run lending library of more than 3,000 volumes; and gallery space for art exhibits. This started as a dream of a few in the community more than 10 years ago, and for 10 years the OHF Board and volunteers held events, fundraisers, and town hall meetings to generate the funding and support required to launch and sustain the center. The center relies on donations and rental income, and is run entirely on volunteer labor (there are no paid staff). This level of community service and community building takes vision, mature leadership, time, commitment, and resources, and our community has all of those. If we can do it, you can, too.

  18. We have a local pagan group right here in central IL that started online and is growing into a real world connection. If we’re willing to start small and maintain our commitment to one another, we can do much. Great post about a salient topic. Just want to add that I deeply appreciate the work established groups are doing already and hope to support them in more concrete terms once I’m out of school and making a living again. Special thanks to Lady Liberty League and all others who campaigned so tirelessly to get a pentacle on veterans’ headstones.

  19. I completly agree, i go to pagan shops as often as i can . But in my neck of the woods there is only one pagan store , about an hour away .Was there just last week . We also frequent as many vendors at the festivals and also look for pagan shops at our local ren faire .We, my wife and i, are also fans of pagan music . One item i might suggest is a pagan yellow pages , possibly an online site so we can find each other . Make it more reasonable for pagans to find pagan shops , musicians etc. We support fellow pagans whenever we can . We also attend meet ups etc , both of us are active in our local pagan community. I am also active in the local ADF community. Kilm

  20. I am not sure that we need to do the same things as everyone else.

    We are a diverse community and a lot of that diversity happens because we are not organised, we are not speaking with one voice we are not all going to the same church.

    This smacks of acceptance. We want to feel that we are accepted by society and so some feel the need to build our own structures and stick to just our community. I am not so sure, If i look at religious communities I can see the good in having community, but I also see the bad in the organisation of it.

    We are already part of society, society doesn’t need to accept us, we do not need recognition, we just need to follow our paths and enjoy the gift s we have.

    Having said that it is great that people are doing things and that is fine as part of our diversity, I have been involve in interfaith work for a while, I just hope that we can maintain our independence, not from society as a whole but from each other, that we can follow our own paths..

  21. Who said anything about creating and building structures/community for acceptance by non-pagandom? Also, organization is not automatically a negative, nor a detriment in pagans creating and building.

  22. That’s very optimistic. You might have heard that the Twin Cities (MN) also had a Pagan community center, the Sacred Paths Center, for several years but it recently went under. It is hard to get a professional board, dedicated volunteers who don’t burn out, and constant, constant financial support and fundraising to pay for the space and utilities. So yes… I do encourage others to try… but it requires a lot of skill, expertise, professionalism, and perhaps luck. 😉

    (But congrats to DC! Sounds like the OHF is wonderful, HUGE kudos to you!)

  23. Why would infrastructure suddenly take away our independence from each other? From what I’ve seen, it just strengthens it.

    I don’t want to build a sacred space for ‘acceptance’ – I want to do it because (gasp, this novel idea!) /I want sacred space/. It’s important to my religion.

    Seriously, where did this idea that temples, physical spaces, infrastructure=everybody does the same thing/goes to the same space/has to go to that temple/space come from?

  24. Religions with lasting influence have infrastructure. I’m not sure which way the causality points, but it’s a pretty tight correlation.

  25. My ADF grove in Baltimore MD,Cedarlight Grove , has it’s own biulding and a perminant sacred space . Along with our members we have a good turnout of visitors for our rituals, all ADF seasonal rituals are open to the public and well marked on our website. Altho there is a ritual structure , ADF rituals aren’t dogmatic . We have 2 rental apts on the property that cover the costs plus dues from grove members and donations . Kilm

  26. Try the Witch’s Voice. It’s one of the best resources in networking. It’s how I originally found this blog!

  27. A lot of people live in or near urban areas. Typically you can either spend a lot of money for a spot everyone will love in the city, or less for an area in said that’s less glamourous.
    I’m glad of the folks paying attention to the city. With people losing their jobs, its harder for folks to keep dependably giving what they love support, but a lot of people do, and hooray.

  28. What particular style/look you mean? Most people have an altar in a room, within a sacred space, do you mean something else particularly? That’s a nice suggestion, I’m curious to the details.

  29. I’d like that, and it being “Pagan friendly” rather than it being pushy about individuals having to label themselves. People’s faiths change, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll be less friendly and supportive. Witchvox is looked at mainly for its articles and if they’re trying to find groups searching for new members.

  30. Most people live in urban areas, nowadays. I am unsure if that is a good or a bad thing.

  31. Actually, there is a registered Pagan temple in Glastonbury. Even if it is very hippyish/fluffy/white-lighty.

    There is only one Pagan charity (a Druidic one, led by Emma Restall-Orr, if I recall correctly) currently, but I have heard at least one Heathen group were trying for Charitable status.

    Also, you could argue that the Findhorn Foundation is Pagan. They are certainly new-age. And they are a charitable status.

    We do have the Pagan Federation (which, I must confess, I am not a member of, at the moment) that does a lot.

    The issue in the UK is less about a national organisation and more about local community, I feel.

  32. “The same hard working minority of organisers provide events for the mass of Pagans to go to until they burn out under the effort. ”
    that’s not unique anywhere. sorry you feel that way.

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