In response to Paganism on Wikipedia

... too much paprika!

I posted a response to Pantheon that either didn’t get posted or hasn’t been seen yet, and I do feel like I have something to say about the matter. I’ve identified as Pagan – Wiccan, specifically – since 1996. In that time I’ve seen a lot of changes within the Pagan community, but one thing that remains consistent is a one step forward/one step back mentality when it comes to adapting to the changes in mainstream culture. I think this mentality – and trying to break through it – is what’s really biting us on the ass when it comes to achieving actual documentation on Wikipedia. It’s a good thing that we’re starting to share our history with a wider audience, but I think we need to make it mean more to that wider, non-Pagan audience. In the long run, the question of Wikipedia is the question of outer Western culture, and one that marketers exploit like mad: “What have you done for me lately?”

First, my experiences/examples of the Pagan resistance to change:

While neopagans are, ultimately, the very opposite of the Amish, there’s been more than one occasion where I suggested a simple change in a public setting and received a response that suggested I proposed heresy, or casually setting passerby on fire. Among these changes that I’ve dared suggest were: using new social media platforms  to better communicate with one another; planning an event far in advance and breaking down tasks to improve organization rather than having everyone show up at the last minute for a chaotic and rather shabby “pitch-in,” and most recently, proposing using a different community calendar tool that allows people to add their own events, so it was not dependent on ONE GUY to manage the whole thing – leaving that guy free to go eat and use the bathroom. Apparently to some people in the Pagan community, I’m a damn German. My Polish – notably NOT CELTIC –  ancestors are chuckling at that. I don’t think I’m prone to particularly original ideas: I suspect someone has wanted to attempt legitimate Wikipedia documentation for years, but only now have conditions made it possible to gain Pagan community support.

Notably, Paganistan (not a term I like myself because I find it not community-building but separatist) started using social media in the past two years. ((While the weekly emails aren’t always welcome – I know a few non-Pagans that friended, not knowing what they were getting into, who aren’t sure how to make the inbox messages stop and they don’t like them.)) Around the time Starhawk mentioned that we need to reach younger people where they are, some of the communicators in Paganistan made the change, and it’s a good change. It’s improved communication a great deal as people move away from using mailing lists and looking for flyers in bookstores and occult shops. I’ve also noticed a trend toward genuine organization. When I worked with Twin Cities Pagan Pride as a volunteer coordinator, I tapped on some tricks I learned working at the International Student Office in Mankato, at a battered women’s shelter and as an overburdened admin assistant at the Volunteer Resource Center when it was still called that. The combination of skills worked well: I had a reasonably high turnout rate, and a reasonably low burnout rate. I got to see firsthand that the whole “herding Pagans is like herding cats” is a self-perpetuating myth, and that applying organization skills can work even with a group so diverse. ((Except for the day before a Pride where I had to get a steroid/anti-anxiety shot because my tongue started hiving, I did pretty well.)) I see this movement toward recording the community as an attempt to break through more of the illusions that the Pagan community has created for itself, but to do that, we have to give up more illusions than we really want.

Pagans are adapting – but we’re behind. We are willfully behind. This insistence on lag is one of the things that’s causing us trouble with Wikipedia: five years ago, they weren’t so strict, and if someone had started seeding then we’d be on stronger ground. The point of what I’m saying, however isn’t a woulda-shoulda-coulda: the point is that yes, the attitude of Wikipedia’s editors are a problem – and our own collective attitudes are also a big part of the problem. We’ve got some serious tunnel vision here, in that we see what we want and we know our side of the Wikipedia issue, but we aren’t taking into total account what Wikipedia is really asking/requiring for a quality entry.

To phrase it differently, or more bluntly, you can’t have it both ways.

What are Pagans trying to have both ways?

Cultural legitimacy.

While I know for certain that the author of the Tilting at Wikimills is most certainly on the cultural legitimacy and journalism standards track, there are a few others in the Pagan set who have tried to get a listing on Wikipedia and can’t that do fall in the “I want to be fringe culture but I want recognition!!!” camp.

Wikipedia, for all its inaccuracies and vandalisms (especially in the religion and politics section) is a form of cultural legitimacy. Hell, the porn star I went to high school with has her own entry there. She’s contributed to America’s fapping, and probably worldwide, enough so that she has multiple appearances in mainstream news.

Why do those who get the listings they do show up there? Because they participate and contribute to mainstream culture.

To give perhaps a stronger example, a protesting commenter I think on the Wild Hunt, but possibly on Pantheon, cited the Christian Science Monitor as an example that Wikipedia has a religious double standard. Except that the Christian Science Monitor to my mind is an example of a model that Pagans should seriously consider pursuing not just for the fact that it merits inclusion in Wikipedia, but in terms of how it handles its news service. The CSM is in fact one of the best, most reliable and objective news sources in the world. Its quality is such that the public radio station I worked for in college played it as a regular newscast until BBC World News became the more affordable option. Christian Science Monitor, in fact, upholds objective journalism standards, cites its sources and does not push a Christian Science agenda – all news gets covered, and covered according to a specific standard.

There have been attempts at Pagan Press corps over the years, and the PNC is the most professional to date. It deserves entry in Wikipedia, but there are some steps to be made as of yet, such as establishing a center of information distribution where reporters can file stories for other publications to pick up. Or, to phrase it in a Wikipedia friendly concept: we need to give the mainstream papers a reason to refer to the PNC (and the PNC is just an example) and a reason to rely on the PNC. Ergo, PNC and associated Paganism then makes a contribution to mainstream culture.

In a similar manner, Paganistan – the term used for the Twin Cities Pagan community – must find a way to make similar contributions. Part of this is a long-running problem with outer culture: there are places that have refused to recognize donations from Pagan Pride, for instance, or that don’t recognize the annual Minnehaha Park cleanup that really does contribute to EVERYONE and not just the Pagan community. Reporters do ignore this stuff, because the story is too small, because of personal bugaboos about covering witches when it’s not  Halloween and no one with a few occult books has died under mysterious circumstances, and often enough because Pagans haven’t learned how to pitch the story so that a reporter wants it.

There’s also a good chance we’re taking it to the wrong outlets, or to the right outlets at the wrong time, which is definitely what’s happening with Wikipedia.

So What on Gaea’s Earth do we do, then?

Do what professional writers do: take notes on the reasons for rejection, and try again, again, and again. While the fifth of Jack I keep in my desk is strictly metaphorical, the fortification exists for a reason: whenever you’re trying to build recognition, you’re going to face setbacks. Think of this as a digital Hero’s Journey. Wikipedia has rejected the first round of documentation. That means that at this point, we need to get more 3rd party documentation. First, we need to take stock of famous Pagans and associated Pagans. Look first to those who have uncontested Wikipedia entries; it might even be worth asking for advice.  Margot Adler, author of Drawing Down the Moon, has an entry – and a  recognized contribution to mainstream culture. Starhawk has her own section. The Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans has an entry stub – so developing that can also help as a foundation work. The central article on neopaganism is rated as B class but is uncontested, so perhaps even exploring that section may help.

First, we must understand the system – then we can change it. We also know that we need to find more ways to interact and contribute to the mainstream culture. If we want that recognition, we must be part of it, and it can be done without giving up our personal values. After all, the occult is hidden, yes, but if you want recognition, you don’t get to hide, and you don’t get to name the terms by which you are recognized most of the time.