The Pagan Community is broken, and maybe we ought to work on fixing it.
I have now been a pagan for more than 25 years. I recently took a trip down memory lane, watching videos from about 15 years ago. I was reminded of how ambitious we were. A bit naive, but most of us felt like we could be just like any other religious group out there.
There were groups forming community centers. More than a dozen of them as I recall – and while there are few here now, most of them have shut down over the years due to lack of funding.
There were public rituals, public churches, numerous libraries, food pantries, discussions about hospital chaplains and prison chaplains. We fought for recognition on Military headstones, and everyone cheered when we finally got the first one. SpiralScouts started (one of at least half a dozen alternative scouting programs that I was aware of at the time), Covenant of the Goddess created a religious award for scouts, and Cherry Hill Seminary & Woolston-Steen Seminary were founded. There was an honest-to-gods Pagan parochial school that was 100% online, with certified teachers, that acted as both private school and homeschooling umbrella and curriculum you could purchase. There were directories of mundane businesses that were Pagan owned or Pagan friendly. We were doing all the things that everyone else did.
In 2004 and 2005, I was part of a group that had planned a community center. Our little group, founded by four people, spent two years looking to build membership without much success. But in that time we created a library, food pantry, clergy accreditation program, and helped create a packet to go to local hospitals, which told about various Pagan faiths and the listed local clergy folks who were open to being called if need be.
At the time, I was aware of over a dozen covens who worked at least semi-publicly in our local area. These days I see lots of people asking about covens and not many responses.
I find myself wondering, “what changed?” What made those things suddenly unimportant? Why don’t we have more things for families, more programs for elders, more programs to help take care of our community?
This really stood out in stark relief for me when COVID struck this year. There were no structures in place in our community to make sure that people had their basic needs met. And then came the protests, with no support from our community for people struggling with the emotional challenges that come out of that work, and only limited public acknowledgement of the protests at all. Some of our groups participated in protests but not all of them. Some of them didn’t have any resources for members who wanted to know more.
I got to talking with a friend of mine about this, which is part of what led to this article. She asserts that part of the problem is that we have the mindset that we are all poor. Don’t get me wrong, poverty is real. But there is a belief that all Pagans are poor and we cannot afford to do “the things” that a normal, functioning community would do.
“We” don’t have money to give to causes. “We” can’t pay for big temples, or to support teachers we love. Pillars of our community – clergy and teachers and event organizers – hold regular mundane jobs plus do their work, and brick and mortar Pagan shops come and go like the seasons, because “we” can’t afford to buy our books there or take classes there. Goddess forbid someone in our community start a mainstream business and ask for support – it’s not like we need plumbers or car repair folks, you know.
Furthermore, there’s a long history of pagan organizations having someone embezzle funds from them, and that this, too, is tied to the idea that we are all poor – it is both a reason to take money, and the reason we cannot have money. It is seen as a reason not to have appropriate financial oversight and auditing (because that’s for people who have money). In some groups, even when embezzlement is found, it is not publicized or prosecuted, for fear that the community will stop giving their support.
I’ve long felt that this “poor Pagan” stereotype is a problem – as a vendor, I saw people spend a ton of money, and it’s not that there isn’t money in our community…it’s all about priorities. A self-fulfilling energetic thought form. It tells people who do have disposable income that they (and their money) are not welcome in our communities, and it tells all of us that we are not deserving of these things, because at least in the US, to be poor is to be “less than” everyone else.
So…I asked others what they felt was missing in our community these days. I got a lot of different answers, and I’d love to hear yours, and talk about what it is that’s really important.
One friend talked about access to accessible physical spaces – Pagan temples and community centers are rare, and stores have cut back on classroom space, but even when space exists, if you’re disabled, you might not be able to get to the space.
Another talked about how scattered we are, and how much in-fighting there is, rather than uniting around a common cause. Back in the day it was “make paganism accepted” now that it is…what’s there to unite about?
Someone else mentioned how many group leaders are focused on making themselves look good, rather than working for the benefit of the community…and how often we look away when leaders are problematic or abusive.
One mentioned a lack of general community support – even if someone in your community is doing something interesting, the community is unlikely to support them. If someone in the community needs help, the community is unlikely to support them.
Still another talked about accountability – about how facilities and events worry about filling their class schedules, not who they fill them with. And about how some of those teachers don’t actually teach what they said they would teach, or aren’t actually qualified to teach.
One of my big ones is support for families – most of the good Pagan Parenting books were written 20 years ago, and most groups and events still don’t have a good plan for what to do about children.
None of these problems are new per se…they are all symptoms of the same problem. Maybe we should start looking at how to fix these things to provide for the next generations that come after us.