I’ve been pondering the nature of the alleged “Pagan Community”
There is a lot of talk about the Pagan Community, but not to much discussion about what exactly it consists of. We know that it is there, that we should support it, and that it can support us if we are a part of it. But just what is it? How does it function, and how do we function within it?
What is “Community”?
<Trigger Warning: Wikipedia References>
The term community has two distinct commutative meanings: 1) Community can refer to a usually small, social unit of any size that shares common values. The term can also refer to the national community or international community, and 2) in biology, a community is a group of interacting living organisms sharing a populated environment.
In human communities, intent, belief, resources, preferences, needs, risks, and a number of other conditions may be present and common, affecting the identity of the participants and their degree of cohesiveness.
Since the advent of the Internet, the concept of community has less geographical limitation, as people can now gather virtually in an online community and share common interests regardless of physical location
So as a community, do Pagans share common values?
Excuse me as I stop laughing.
The ongoing debate over how to define Paganism in itself is adequate to demonstrate that we don’t necessarily share common values. The fact that this debate becomes more potentially divisive and viscous when we include what political positions pagans are “supposed” to adhere to, and establishing common values is very problematic.
But we all agree that there are multiple gods, right? No.
But we all practice magic, right? No.
But we’re all environmentalists, right? Still no.
But none of us would vote for a Republican, right? Ah, no,
But at least we all agree that Christianity is bad? *sigh*
The most you can really say is that we all call ourselves Pagan, and are somehow bound by that.
A community of interest is a community of people who share a common interest or passion. These people exchange ideas and thoughts about the given passion, but may know (or care) little about each other outside of this area. Participation in a community of interest can be compelling, entertaining and create a ‘sticky’ community where people return frequently and remain for extended periods. Frequently, they cannot be easily defined by a particular geographical area.
Yeah, that sounds a bit better. So we’re a community, but a community based upon our common interest in Paganism, which is complicated because we all view it as something different.
And the problem is that most of us don’t quite see that distinction. And we miss the part of that above definition that says “may know (or care) little about each other outside of this area.” And this is why we hear calls to “support” the local Pagan community: because for most people, community has a connotation of close friends and family that support each other socially and emotional. But the “Pagan Community” at large isn’t that kind of community. It may be that small local groups act this way, but in the community at large that isn’t always the case.
The Pagan Community is largely a community of interest, and this can be seen by identifying where the “centers” of the Pagan Community are. Where does the Pagan Community tend to manifest and organize itself? Around sources of information about Paganism.
So you’ve got your covens, magical circles, and other worship groups. They tend to be what most of us consider “community” – people who live near each other whose lives are entwined and who support each other personally. But they often don’t tend to affiliate or asociate with each other. Where do those points of contact happen?
Shops. Magic, metaphysical, and newage shops. The places where people buy their books and supplies, and where they can ask people questions to clarify points of confusion.
Psychic fairs. Places where people gather to buy books and supplies, and can ask people questions to clarify points of confusion.
Classes and workshops, Places where people can ask questions and learn things.
Meetups and discussion groups. Places where people can ask questions and learn things.
Online forums, blogs, and other websites. Places where people can look up information, ask questions, discuss concerns or problems, and potentially purchase books and supplies.
Advice and emotional support from these places may happen, but probably not nearly as often as people want. And requests for that kind of support can be taxing on the proprietors: a friend of mine who runs a witch store nearby not only operates the store and teaches classes, but still has to deal with random people asking her personal advice to situations she doesn’t want to be involved in. It can be draining to have her roles conflates in that way.
Priesthood versus Ministry
I recently blogged about the difference between priestcraft and ministry. There are two differences implied in that distinction. The one I was focusing on was the difference between serving the gods versus serving the community. But there is another distinction there: being a technician versus being a counselor. The skill set involved in being a priest (or even a magician) is totally different than that of being a counselor.
The same goes for being a shop owner. Most people who run shops or even facilitate meet-ups are not looking to be your spiritual and emotional mentor. And that’s kind of a problem, because we’re borrowing so much from Christianity conceptually, that a lot of us still conflate those roles and expect technical experts to be counselors as well. And if they’re aren’t, some people can get upset.
We need to be very aware of the nature of our community, especially if we want it to become something more immanent and concrete. I love the idea of a close knit community that leans on each other in times of hardship. Covens can work that way, if you are willing to adapt to their practices and traditions, Unfortunately, I’m not.
But until we foster more of those social and emotional connections (dare I say … institutions?), we are doomed to a fragmented and largely impartial community that functions perfectly well for what it is, but does not offer what many seem to want from it.