Interviewee: Betti Fortier, Head of Facebook group POCA (Pagans of Central Alabama)
Interviewer: Katherine O’Boyle-Sheffield, PBN News Network
Please spell your full name.
“Betti J. Fortier”
State your title within POCA.
“Founder of POCA”
Why did you start the Facebook group Pagans of Central Alabama also known as POCA?
“I was a member of a group called Pagans of Alabama, and the issue that I found with that group was that most of the members were very widely scattered throughout the state. I wanted to see if there were like-minded people within my area, closer than Birmingham, which is an hour drive, or Mobile which is two and a half to three hours. I wanted to provide a place for like-minded folks that are in the central area to be able to come and learn, meet and talk, to people who are of the same belief systems.”
“I just wanted to provide a place where we could get together and gather, and not have to drive hours and hours.”
How do you define “pagan”?
“Pagan is defined in the dictionary as a person who has a spiritual belief system other than a mainstream religion, say Christianity or Muslim or Jewish or Mormon.”
“To me, a Pagan is someone who has found their own path to spirituality. Most pagans, and pagan is a very broad term, find their own path. The term Pagan, well, it covers Wiccans, the Asatruar, Heathens, Nordic People, Celtic Wicca, Witchcraft, Vampirism, Satanism, which is not what most people think it is, and eclectic people that pick and choose from different ones, what fits their belief system and their path. It also includes agnostics – people that believe in a higher power, but they are not sure what is going on there. A Pagan is someone who defines their own spirituality. To me, that is what defines pagan.”
“We are not bound by any specific, strict dogma, or like the Catholics that have all the rules, catechism and that strict binding. It’s really kind of a more personal belief system, if you will.”
What area does “central Alabama” encompass?
“To me, central Alabama encompasses anything from the Montgomery area, the cities of Montgomery, Prattville, Millbrook, Elmore, and Clanton is about thirty minutes away so that to me would be part of it. We do have a lot of members from Birmingham, which is about an hours drive. I try to stick with places that are within an hour drive as far as members go just so that we are not inconveniencing people a lot when we do gatherings and that kind of thing. Group members that are further, more than an hour away, are still welcome if they want to make the trip. But, if you cannot attend a gathering, not a big deal. We do have things online.”
“There are tons of files on the group that are available and there is an actual hard copy library that people can borrow from. That’s another reason I’d like to keep it within a certain distance; because I have spent a lot of money on these books and I don’t want them to get too far away.”
What are the benefits of joining POCA?
“It was founded to provide the benefits of inclusion and acceptance. We have members from lots of different places in the central Alabama area, people that will post very thought-provoking questions. There is, as I mentioned before, a huge library of eBooks and pdf files and that kind of thing of a lot of older, sacred texts that you can’t find in a lot of different places. You just need to go to the file section and explore because there is a lot of stuff there. I think there is…about a thousand eBooks that I want to put in there, which is a ton of information. I don’t have them all uploaded but it is a work in progress. Again, if you join, you have access to the POCA library, which I have at my home. I am working on updating the library list to show what books that I have. I started the physical library because not everybody can afford the books, to go and buy them. They are welcome to be loaned out. I will ship them to you, just ship them back. That is all I ask.”
“Mostly acceptance and [to] be able to talk to people who are like minded is the big thing.”
How does someone join POCA? Are there any restrictions on membership?
“One of the big restrictions is that we do ask that you are at least from Alabama, preferably from the central area. To join, just send a join request on Facebook. We are searchable. You can find us. It is a closed group so only members can see the posts. The only other restrictions [are] that we ask you read and agree to the [group] guidelines which are in the pinned post at the top of group.”
“There are really simple rules. Basically, just be kind to people and don’t be a jerk, for lack of a better term. We have had to ban people or put people out because they have been abusive and just argumentative; I do not tolerate bullying or anything like that in the group.”
How is conflict handled within POCA?
“It is usually not handled directly in the group. I have one other administrator that helps me out and, either she or I, will approach the person through direct message and try and resolve that conflict, or try and get them to stop whatever is in they are doing. If it cannot be resolved that way or if they refuse to respond to messages, as one person did, then we handle it on the posts. We can turn off commenting on certain posts. If they refuse to conform to the guidelines, then they are booted, kicked from the group.”
“The group is meant to be a place of peace and harmony and acceptance, you know, positivity. I am very adamant, I will allow no negativity. We are open to people of all spiritual paths, all genders, all sexualities. Heck, we even have some open-minded Christian members.”
How many members does POCA currently have?
“386 members, close to 400”
Is anonymity allowed in POCA? If so, how is one’s privacy protected?
“Typically, to join, as far as I know, you can only join with your Facebook account, so whatever name you have on your Facebook account is what’s going to show up on any posts that you make. Anonymity is protected in the guidelines. It is, basically, like “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas”, what happens in POCA, stays in POCA.”
“I have seen groups where people have taken screenshots and have taken things to the “real world, real life”, so to speak and people have lost jobs. I will absolutely not tolerate that. There’s no reason for that. It’s juvenile and just no call for it.”
May members of POCA also be members of other social media Pagan groups?
“If they want. I look at it this way, the more the merrier. I have pagan friends from Montana and I have pagan friends from California. I am in the West Alabama Pagans group. I am in the Tuscaloosa Area Pagans group. I’m in other pagan groups: Hecate, The Goddess Planners…The Witches Cauldron… So, there’s plenty of pagan groups that are out there that if you want to join them. I have no problem with that whatsoever.”
hat is POCA’s policy regarding offline relationships?
“What they do offline is their business. As long as they don’t bring drama and negativity into my group. I cannot control another person. I don’t choose to and I don’t want to control another person. I control me. I don’t want anyone to control me, so I treat people the way that I prefer to be treated. If I want to go offline and have a relationship with someone then they deserve that freedom as well.”
What is in the future for POCA?
“I hope we continue to grow. My library is continuing to grow. Books are constantly being published. I would love one day to be able to actually hold classes for people, that they could come to and meet in real life. I know the first gathering that I did in my home for POCA was several years ago. I had handouts and gave a little talk about symbols and what symbols mean. I hope to be able to do more of that in the future. That is what I want to do with this. I want to take it more mainstream. A lot of people are not out of the broom closet, so to speak. They are not out and proud like I am. I don’t have anything to worry about as far as employment. Although I have been released from jobs because of my spiritual beliefs which I think is wrong. People know I’m pagan and I’m okay with that. I think that Paganism needs to be more mainstream. It needs to be.”
“Everybody accepts a Christian or a Catholic or a Muslim or a Jew or anything like that. Those are all labels, however. Paganism is not well understood. We do not worship Satan, we do not believe in Satan, for the most part. There is Satanism but the Satan that they believe in is not the Satan of the Bible. It is entirely different.”
“I would like to see the day where I can wear my pentacle proudly, which I do anyway, but I don’t want to worry about getting dirty looks or being verbally accosted or shunned. I would like to see the day where we could hold ritual in a public place, and not worry about someone calling the police on us; someone accusing us of doing blood sacrifices and that kind of thing. That does happen in Hoodoo and Voodoo, Santeria maybe, but not Wicca. I am not as well versed on some of the other Traditions or paths so I can’t speak for them. I would like to see the day that we are accepted, like a Christian is accepted or like a Catholic, or someone who is Jewish. That is my goal. Whether I can accomplish that through my itty-bitty Facebook group, I don’t know, but I am going to try.”
Pagan Facebook Groups:
Pagans of Central Alabama, Founder Betti Fortier
Betti Fortier, email: Bettifortier@gmail.com
Pagans of Alabama
West Alabama Pagans
Tuscaloosa Area Pagans
The Witch’s Cauldron
The Goddess Planners