For anyone not familiar with my local geography, the Gaea Retreat Center is a pagan-run campsite that provides a space for pagan folks and groups a place to meet, relax, and hold various festivals and get-togethers. If you’re in the Greater Kansas City Area, don’t own a secluded piece of land, and want to have an outdoor pagan event — especially one lasting more than one day — you’re probably going to end up at Gaea.
Gaea is run by a non-profit corporation called Earth Rising, Inc., which states the following mission:
The Mission of Earth Rising is to provide a recreational retreat center in a natural setting for the purpose of cultural and spiritual education.
Goals: This Mission will be met through the achievement of certain goals. These goals are:
- To encourage the free exchange of ideas, views and experiences.
- To promote greater understanding and respect between groups and individuals.
- To support ecologically sound practices and land and wildlife conservation in the belief that the Earth and all life are interrelated and interdependent, and that respect for all life is a Universal Mandate.
- To provide sanctuary to people who have experienced oppression or discrimination due to their cultural or spiritual practices.
If you work against this mission, you can be banned from enjoying the camp.
As you can probably guess by the ominous title and the background, such a violation has occurred. And it may have elements of religious discrimination to it, although it seems to be mostly a case of douche-baggery.
See, Gaea is a clothing-optional campsite in a rural area of Kansas near a major city. The people there are open and generally non-judgmental, and like to party. So people of all kinds come there to kick back. And this is fine. Unless you get a few people with a lot of drinks on them that adopt the annoying attitude of “I can do what I want and you can’t tell me otherwise, even if I’m so obnoxious I ruin everything for you.” An attitude which is very evident among a strain of pagans that seem to think paganism is simply a license to do whatever they want and not worry about the consequences, because judging people is what teh ebil xtians do. (A friend of mind refers to these people as “playgans.”)
The story, in short, involves a Heathen gathering at Gaea – a major high holiday, a large gathering of Heathens from across the world. And it involves a bunch of drunk asshats who disrupted this event by taunting the Heathens from their campsite, during said ritual, threatened violence, and then accused the Heathens of instigating the situation.
The Heathens and other witnesses provided a full affidavit including eyewitness testimony: http://www.heathengods.com/harassment.pdf. The pagan campers changed their stories numerous times and resorted to rumor-mongering on Facebook.
At least one member of ESI has publicly discussed the matter on Facebook, including why judgement was found in favor of the Heathens. The comments are especially interesting.
But the point of this is not to drum up more drama. Two issues arise from this: 1) Is there a large enough gap between Paganism and Heathenism that a culture of intolerance and discrimination is developing? This has more questions that must arise from it, the most obvious of which are what constitutes Paganism, whether some sects of paganism are more likely to be averse to Heathenism, and whether this is even religious at all or is more political/cultural. Given that the incident apparently involved complaints by the pagans that Heathens don’t approve of public nudity and accusations of racism were thrown at the Heathens, I think that second issue very much needs to be addressed.
2) How big of a problem is the “playgan” phenomenon? Wannabes and pretenders have always been a part of the scene. And paganism has always had that counter-cultural attraction to people who want to cut loose and eschew traditional mores. And that image of freedom has always made paganism seem appealing to people who want to abandon responsibility for their actions. How can such a problem be addressed in such a diverse community?
And, because I was going to mention this article anyway, and because it fits perfectly with this topic:
Our religion may be in its early stages, but it’s time for each one of us to grow up and think about our actions. My religion is not a game, not a circus, and I do not want to be seen like a clown. I worry about grouping myself with the same label with people who, because they are more colorful and flamboyant, are more seen by the media and the greater society. Those same people wind up being spokespeople for the whole community. The result is that society doesn’t take us seriously or outright disrespects us because they wind up with no common ground for understanding.
Is there a solution to this labeling issue? I don’t know. It makes it harder and harder as this movement grows for serious seekers to find the heart of the real stuff past the layers and layers of sugarcoated fluff. I fear a dilution of the availability of magickal training opportunities as time progresses. I am led back to a qabalistic image of the shining spark concealed within and hidden. This means several things, foremost that the eternal spark of spirit within every person’s mortal, physical body. In this instance though, I think it could shed some light that the spark of truth and real magick is buried beneath the extraneous layers of fluff and distraction. Even the meaning of esoteric is hidden.