Teo Bishop yesterday published a blog post about his discomfort at a recent Pagan Pride. It raises for public discussion something that I have only managed private, slightly dissatisfying (or wholly awkward) conversations about until now. Pagans, since 2001, have started to ghettoize. As a group, Pagans – especially the occultists like myself – have liked the secrecy. Blame secret societies and Andy Warhol rebranding exclusivity as aspirational instead of nakedlyracist for sexist for that. There were also good reasons for the secrecy, many of which haven’t changed because we haven’t done what’s necessary to make society change/recognize the legitimate ways in which Pagans contribute to society and make where we live stronger, better, safer, healthier localities. This is in part because as Pagans, we stay secret – and now, thanks to the ghettoizing, we’ve stopped contributing to anything but the Pagan causes.
When we kept our practices/deep seated cultural identifications secret, many Pagans felt compelled to take part in outer society at least as part of our cover. In the UK, it’s still semi-common for Pagans to maintain church memberships. This wasn’t just because there’s a lot of handy magical tools you can obtain when you visit a church often enough. It was also done for fellowship, as means of connecting to a greater community. The people in our lives are not just Pagan, and the best way to stay connected to that is to share experiences – even the experience of falling asleep in a pew. But the extreme polarization that happened thanks to the propaganda of the last war (or three, or four) has meant that Pagans have, like many other communities, started to keep to their own.
While I’ve heard the reasons for this – from alienation at the hands of one particular branch of the Christian church to a certain enjoyment of counter-culture status – the reasons all ignore the necessity of change and the need for long-term survival. The choices seem to be “integrate, or isolate.” It seems like no movement, not even Pagan Pride, seems geared towards “co-habitate.”
Yes, I would like this to change. It begins by deliberately finding or developing social groups that are not expressly religious. No one needs to join a church, but a volunteer league is a good idea. It continues by knowing your neighbors, and perhaps even asking them about their own traditions around holidays. It finishes when Pagan has moved from cultural punch line on ABC Family shows simply, “Oh yeah, they’re X kind of Pagan,” and moving on. In my mind, being Pagan should no longer be a Big Deal. Identity should never be a Big Deal, and yet there it is, defining, destroying, reframing relationships that aren’t about identity (no one knows you but you, really) when it’s really about how we interact with the world. Sure, I can have my neighbor know I Am Pagan, but I don’t control my neighbor’s perceptions about what Pagan is. Besides, how I act with said neighbor should matter a lot more than how I identify myself to myself. There needs to be something different than the all or nothing dedication to faith model Pagans struggle with. We just aren’t all meant to be priests, but we are all meant for some sort of connection to life.
It’s not about being a good Pagan to me – “good” is the active word, and is much more important than “Pagan.” It’s about being a good neighbor, a good person, a good contributor to my whole community, not just the Pagans. We are part of the whole world – and we are not just here for those just like us.