Pagan Solidarity

The Wild Hunt has been featuring a series on Pagan Solidarity. So far this series is up to three parts. Part One, by Heather Greene, looks at solidarity among solitary pagans. Part Two, also by Greene, looks at solidarity among pagan organizations and institutions. And the follow-up installment by Teo Bishop looks at how pagans can approach solidarity. The first two parts feature responses by pagan authors and scholars (because that’s really who we worship, I suppose) talking about how solidarity can work among solitary practitioners and how it can work among pagan groups. And with one exception that I will touch on shortly, no one bothers to discuss what pagan solidarity means or implies, but just that it is a goal we should all work toward. The third piece discusses ways that solidarity can be made part of the pagan experience, both locally and generally.

What Do You Mean, “Solidarity”?

Greene starts out by discussing ways of building solidarity among pagans, and then opens up the floor to pagan scholars. She mentions briefly a complex discussion on “the nature and meaning of Pagan solidarity” without going into any details on this discussion, and we never quite learn what “solidarity” is.

Merriam-Webster defines “solidarity” thusly: “unity (as of a group or class) that produces or is based on community of interests, objectives, and standards.” Sounds good, I suppose. As pagans, what interests, goals, and standards do we share that bring us together as a community? What can we do to expand that commonality?

Wikipedia gives us a bit more to work with:

Solidarity is the integration, and degree and type of integration, shown by a society or group with people and their neighbors.[1] It refers to the ties in a society that bind people to one another. The term is generally employed in sociology and the other social sciences.

What forms the basis of solidarity varies between societies. In simple societies it may be mainly based around kinship and shared values. In more complex societies there are various theories as to what contributes to a sense of social solidarity

So what we’re talking about here is how connected people or groups are with each other in a community. So increasing solidarity means increasing our interconnectedness. If only someone more erudite than myself could explain it further! Wikipedia, give me words of wisdom from the father of sociology!

According to Émile Durkheim, the types of social solidarity correlate with types of society. Durkheim introduced the terms “mechanical” and “organic solidarity” as part of his theory of the development of societies in The Division of Labour in Society (1893). In a society exhibiting mechanical solidarity, its cohesion and integration comes from the homogeneity of individuals—people feel connected through similar work, educational and religious training, and lifestyle. Mechanical solidarity normally operates in “traditional” and small scale societies.[2] In simpler societies (e.g., tribal), solidarity is usually based on kinship ties of familial networks. Organic solidarity comes from the interdependence that arises from specialization of work and the complementarities between people—a development which occurs in “modern” and “industrial” societies.[2] Definition: it is social cohesion based upon the dependence individuals have on each other in more advanced societies. Although individuals perform different tasks and often have different values and interest, the order and very solidarity of society depends on their reliance on each other to perform their specified tasks. Organic here is referring to the interdependence of the component parts. Thus social solidarity is maintained in more complex societies through the interdependence of its component parts (e.g., farmers produce the food to feed the factory workers who produce the tractors that allow the farmer to produce the food).

So let’s see here. Similar work? No quite so much among pagans. Similar education? Most pagans are college educated, so maybe. Religious training! Sure, uh, maybe. There’s some pretty diverse training there, and it may not be very similar. We’ll get back to that. Lifestyle? Diversity bites us in the ass again. Interdependence of component parts? Well, many pagans support the notion that all things are interconnected. But when referring to a community like ours, what does that mean? How do pagans depend upon one another in our lives?

The best argument I can think of is that we all show some level of support, either explicitly or implicitly, in each others’ decision to embrace a non-mainstream religious practice. Everything else seems to build upon that.

But there are more ideas of what solidarity is. Or rather, Solidarity.

Solidarity is an independent socialist organization dedicated to forming a broad regrouping of the U.S. left.  We include activists from many long-standing socialist traditions, as well as younger members from newer movements.  We do not attempt to put forward a monolithic platform which we all have adapted to; rather, we rely on the richness of our traditions and the creativity and newer experiences of our younger members to foster and develop a forward-looking socialist thought.

Solidarity was founded in 1986 by revolutionary socialists who stand for “socialism from below,” the self-organization of the working class and oppressed peoples.  We are feminist, anti-racist, and democratic.  Within our group, we are trying to foster cultural diversity, flexible practice, and straight-forward socialist politics.

And this is what I think of when I hear “solidarity.” Unity in Socialism. And for many pagans, (left of center) politics are an integral part of their religion. And while the movement talks a nice talk about standing up for the working class, ending oppression, diversity, yadda yadda, on my experience such groups are more about enforcing their vision of utopia on others and reeducating dissenters.

So talks of “pagan solidarity” made me a little nervous. We are one, and all that, but we are also many, and I’m very defensive about keeping my brand of paganism distinct from others. Because what works for me works well, and what works for others doesn’t always work for me.

Of course, this is my own hang up, and I recognize that this probably isn’t what Greene means by solidarity (although I don’t know for sure, since she never said what she means by it). And I recognize that most pagans are overly paranoid about some monolithic INSTITUTION taking over paganism, so that’s probably not where we’re heading. But I also recognize that it’s very easy for people to assume that their interests are everyone elses’ interests, and that what is best for them is best for everyone else, too. And to spell those interests out for everyone else and shame them into going along, or criticize them for not knowing what’s in their own best interests. (Don’t think pagans do this? Tell a group of pagans you don’t believe in karma.)

So while solidarity implies interconnectivity and networking, it also implies speaking with a unified voice. And pagans don’t have a unified voice. Which worries me that the loudest voices will overshadow the others.

Chas Clifton (the scholar I mentioned above) brought up this very point in his response.




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