On Paganism and Amorphous Blobs

I wouldn’t exactly be the first person to wonder what defines “the Pagan community”. Or the hundredth. Or even the hundred thousandth. It seems to be the nature of our community that we each come up with our own ways of doing things, including defining our terms. But then, as often happens, arguments arise that have more to do with our terminology that with the things that really matter. Are Native Americans or Hindus “Pagan”? They wouldn’t say so. How about Satanists? Some of them would say so, but a lot of other folks would disagree. Do all pagans incorporate some form of nature worship into their beliefs? I would say no, and that polytheism is the more important factor in defining Paganism – and then lots of people would disagree with me there. And on it goes.

So if we can’t agree on a definition, is it possible to serve “the Pagan community” in any real sense? I would argue that it is, at least to some extent. ConVocation took place last weekend, a four day event bringing hundreds of people from many different traditions together. I managed to miss it once again, but folks at our Coffee Hour told me that they enjoyed it. Of course, their Web pages says that the convention is for “the many mystical spiritual paths and faiths who desire to teach each other and promote fellowship among all esoteric traditions”, so whether this is a “Pagan” event or not is still up for discussion! But this seems to me the best way to do a general “Pagan” event: have a singe group (the Magical Education Council) responsible for running it, and leave it open to whichever people and groups choose to be involved. The attempt that I’ve seen at getting multiple groups together to work on an event have been, um, well not as successful as ConVocation has been. Yes, I’m sure someone out there will have a response about how different groups in their own local community did something together and it was great. Please do post it, this blog needs more responses! I can only go with my own experiences, though, and every attempt I’ve seen at having multiple groups meet together turned into a “let’s all talk about what we’re each doing and try to convince everyone else to come help us out with that.” Except that we’re all working on our own stuff and generally don’t have that much time and energy to spend on other people’s projects, and even if we do, did we really have to spend two or more hours of our day driving to a central location for this? We couldn’t send out some flipping e-mail that would have accomplished the same thing, and maybe saved us enough time that we actually could have worked together on one of those projects?

Yes, I know the tone of the text makes it sound like I’m ranting. And I don’t know, maybe I am. My personal view is that “the Pagan community” is at best an amorphous blob of ill-defined blobbiness, and at worst an all-consuming hydra that will always take more from those who hope to serve it than it could ever give back. I’ve gotten so much more reward, both spiritual and physical, from pretty much any single SLG High Day ritual than I have from every “general Pagan” event I’ve been to in the last nineteen years combined. Working with actual people is always more satisfying than working with an abstract ideal, and as a computer programmer, it feels weird to say that, but it’s true. I won’t tell the people who want to serve “Paganism” that they’re doing the wrong thing, especially not if they’ve received a calling from their gods to do so. But I do think that the real work of our movement is best done locally, and within the context of a defined group or tradition, be it an ADF Grove or a Heathen group or even a generic Pagan/Wiccan group. And I’d also ask that folks have some idea of what they want to accomplish within the context of that group/trad, and to keep it realistic, and not to overcommit themselves. Yes, I know there are plenty of folks in ADF who take on more than they can handle, and I hope they read this and take it to heart. I think we’ll all get more accomplished that way.

I actually find myself wondering if my interest in working with specific groups and specific traditions instead of generic Paganism is a reflection of my own spiritual beliefs. As a confirmed and rather strict polytheist, I believe that the Gods are many and individual, not all parts of a greater whole deity thingy. I’ve never found satisfaction in worshiping amorphous blobs of energy. Maybe the people who do also get satisfaction out of devoting themselves to an amorphous blob of beliefs? Something to think about.

Anyway, whether you do it alone, with a group of friends, or a bunch of complete strangers, keep the faith!

Rev. Rob Henderson
Senior Druid, Shining Lakes Grove, ADF

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