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Article ID: 13519

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Section: words

Age Group: Adult

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Organized Pagan Community: Good Idea Or Hopeless Cause?

Author: Bronwen Forbes [a WitchVox Sponsor]
Posted: September 13th. 2009
Times Viewed: 4,321

There’s a term among Pagans for the process of trying to get three or more of us to do something in concert: herding cats. If you’ve ever had a cat or been around cats, you know it’s basically impossible to get these independent-minded creatures to work with their fellows. So it is with Pagans.

Which brings up the question of whether or not locally focused “umbrella” Pagan organizations are a good idea or an exercise in futility comparable to teaching your cat to sit on command.

I’ve been part of several local Pagan umbrella organizations over the years. With a few caveats, which I will cover below, I am in favor of them. When they work, these organizations provide newcomers to the path with their first taste of the Pagan culture by making sure there are local, regular open rituals, weekly or monthly public discussions groups and other activities that newcomers (and some old-timers) crave. The newcomers use these safe, public venues to get to know people and covens in the area and the chances to enhance their Pagan education and practice through these contacts are quite valuable. Group leaders, likewise, can use these same get-togethers to meet potential new members in a neutral setting.

Solitaries and group practitioners – usually from several different traditions – work together to make sure the rituals are planned, the space is rented, and someone is leading the next discussion on such-and-such a topic (hence, the umbrella-like analogy for the organization) . Some communities may also publish a quarterly newsletter or run a tiny (or huge) Pagan festival, but at its core, the community serves as a beacon for fellow travelers who are looking for a Pagan spiritual home.

Like I said, when they work, they work well.

But when they don’t work, things can get pretty ugly pretty fast. How many of you have been a part of (or watched safely from the sidelines) as the umbrella organization in your area either quietly crumbled in the dust or went down in a blazing scream of rancor and hard feelings never to rise again? I’ve seen both; neither is pretty. It gets to the point where an old-timer like me blanches at the mere mention of a “community business meeting” and wonders if I could conveniently manage to schedule unnecessary root canal that same day – just to have an excuse not to attend. “I’m sorry, I can’t attend your monthly three-hour business meeting because I have to wash my hair” gets old after a while, if you can imagine such a thing!

What is the one thing that breaks most of these umbrella organizations into tiny singed pieces? Differences in practice and personal beliefs among the members. You may snort and think I’m joking, because we’re all supposed to be so tolerant of each other’s beliefs and practices but I’m not. I saw one community chug along in peace and harmony for nearly a decade until one active committee member brought a book to a meeting that another equally active member took offense to because OMG! If he has the book it must mean he read it, and if he read it that must mean he did all the horrible things in it!

Another community I know of lasted nearly fifteen years until some of the members took offense at some of the other members’ friends outside the community and demanded that all the community assets (money, mostly) be divided and two communities be created of the one. Everyone (and I do mean everyone) had to take sides; no one could be a member of both organizations.

Other communities try to take on too much (large public rituals for each of the eight holidays and a quarterly newsletter and weekly open discussion sessions and Wicca 101 classes and house concerts...all run by the same seven or eight people) and quickly experience burnout because, darn it, those cats just will not herd themselves! And some just never got much going in the first place and quietly died because no one ever showed up to the events that never happened.

Here then, are my thoughts about organized Pagan community:

The organization needs to exist for a reason. “Being there for the newbies” is, frankly, not a good enough reason. Unless the organization has a definite project or goal – publishing a Pagan newsletter or other periodical, planning and running one (or more) Pagan festival – or unless there is a definite need for focused, effective anti-defamation work to be done in that particular part of the country, there doesn’t need to be an organization.

All the other things that can be done by the umbrella organization can be done by one or two people. It takes one dedicated person to organize and start a weekly or monthly discussion group (See my piece here on Witchvox about starting your own PNO) . It takes one or two people to start a Pagan book group, where members read the same book and then discuss it at the next get-together. It takes one brave person to start a potluck in their home or a regular get-together at a local restaurant for meeting and greeting the newcomers.

One former English or journalism major with a halfway decent computer could start his or her own local newsletter without the help of a committee. If there are events or covens in the area, the self-appointed newsletter editor could compile a list of those events and coven functions that are open to the public and publish them either online or on paper.

Bottom line: it’s people that make up the organizations and do the work; we don’t need to count on organizations – or lack thereof – to meet and know and learn from each other. All we have to do is reach out a hand to our nearest Pagan neighbor and then the next nearest Pagan neighbor…We don’t need the community bank account, deathly dreary business meetings, or the inevitable clash of ideas and ideals to do what we need to do most, which is to look out for each other.


Bronwen Forbes

Location: Bloomington, Indiana


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