Paganism without Winter

It’s impossible not to compare – go from the #2 largest Pagan population in the country to the #1 largest, and you notice a few things. Especially as your context for a place builds, and your understanding deepens.

photo by Diana Rajchel
photo by Diana Rajchel

I think that the mild climate makes Pagans in the Bay area more organizationally permissive than the Pagans in Minnesota. This is a change for Minnesota: we were sort of a colony sent from California; Isaac Bonewits moved out to the Twin Cities with his wives in the 70s, and Llewellyn in the 80s tried to make Minneapolis a mecca for occultists including a convention on par with Pantheacon. I only know this happened because people who were young Pagans during that time told me about it. Once Llewellyn moved out to Woodbury (a far suburb, past Saint Paul) and Utne Reader pulled up stakes, all that really remained of that California-seeded Pagan front were the Pagans with roots to Minnesota, and the people who drifted west in the 90s looking for a place more welcoming to witches than the Bible belt… like me.

The Midwest grows a different breed of Pagans from the Bay Area folks, and from sitting on the sidelines of both communities, I think I see the difference. The magic ingredient is winter. The second magic ingredient is smaller. The third is that Minnesota Pagans are more politically diverse…but far less culturally/racially diverse.

pella in winter

It’s much easier to understand the merits of a more conservative world view when resource abundance expands and contracts from year to year; it’s also easier to understand why liberals act as they do when too much stinginess results in a spate of exposure deaths. Also, because the community is enough smaller enough of us have to see each other face to face that it’s easier to simply focus on the good food and beverage than it is on whether or not your candidate of choice is OK with vibrators. (We all sort of know not a damned one is qualified on the issue.) Harsher winters mean more intense spring and summer festivals, often in harsher circumstances as well. It also means that Midwestern Pagans have a time, assigned by nature itself, to take stock of what worked in years prior and to look to what may be in the year to come. It’s easier to organize tasks when your decision making tree includes a pin for “too cold to do that right now.” Midwesterners know they will get extra breaks, miraculous pockets of time to think more deeply, look more critically, and sometimes even crochet (or something else like it.) They have less resistance to technology – no tech giants are bringing in workers that are prompting landlords to throw their longtime tenants out on their asses – and so sometimes things like vendor forms and credit card readers are a bit better handled.

The west coast – the Bay area – can’t rely on weather disruption to catch a break. If a weather disruption seriously happens, we’re talking best case scenario a six month clusterfuck since earthquakes count as weather. Even though the new moon is ostensibly the time folks here stop to reflect, most of it is still a relentless onward hurtle. In a way that constant sense of forward explains the progressive politics, and the way those politics can consume everything a person is out here. No one here is just a person. If you are a Pagan, it is implied you must be a Tradition. If you are a magician, you must come from a School or Lodge. If you are Pagan, you must have a Political Position. Your Political Position must in all ways filter into your family life, choose your friends for you, and organize your social calendar. This isn’t always bad – I’m perfectly happy to route out the racists and misogynists from my social media streams, echo chambers be damned.

This identity politics in excess is starting to manifest a great deal more among the Midwestern Pagans I know. Except for those of us with one foot in or out of one closet or the other, it’s all out on any side.

The Bay is certainly bringing things out in my partner and I – despite the constant rush here, I am looking for a way to Be, rather than to Do, remembering both wisdom from my partner and from someone I had a great deal of affection for in my mid-20s. It’s hard to just Be in it here the way you can in Minnesota, where you bond by complaining about the bitter cold and also, as you stand still in the ice, turn your attention inward. That inward attention is hell for a lot of people – but it also prompts changes come spring. Here if you want to turn inward you have to just take it.

I will add the caveat that my experience is colored by the drought. There has barely been rainfall for years now. Since there is a turn towards colder temperatures – perhaps not cold as I typically knew it, but cold all the same, there is the hint that slowdowns are possible. They all require precipitation. Rain is the signal to go inside, to go within. That has only fallen about four times since I moved here a year ago.