Pagans as a group are social separatists. Like lots of counter culture and subculture people they like to have their own shops, wear a specific style of clothing and a lot only socialize with each other.
Some of this is a tough call: it is far easier to talk about Pagan spirituality and the consequent lifestyle with other Pagans. “Give me a minute, I have to check on some candles burning I’ve left in the tub,” or “Can’t go out tonight– it’s Ostara,” are things you can really only say to other Pagans without a long explanation having to follow.
Yet there’s a price to too much engagement with the Pagan community: the inability to communicate outside of it. Really it’s not a unique problem – too long with any in-group of any variety and you reduce your ability to connect to anyone outside of it.
My wake-up call happened about 10 years ago. At the time the whole of my social life consisted of Pagans and people I knew from work. I had a very hard time talking to the people from work.
After attending 2-3 parties in a year with heavy non-Pagan presences I found myself unable to talk about things besides witchcraft and RPGs. This embarrassed me. It also made me think – really think – about the role and purpose of my own practices. I had excluded myself from real friendships. Sure, I could have copped the attitude that they were a bunch of squares, stiff necked about the spirituality of others. But to do so is sheer narcissism. These people were plenty interested in me and really, I them. They just weren’t interested in the Pagan part of me.
It is possible to accept a person’s spiritual life without wanting to know more about it. It’s actually rather important to do so. It’s the best way to avoid sinking into the mentality that the only true way a person can understand a religion is by converting to it. I’ve seen it said by certain rather controlling religious groups, Pagans among them. It’s a crock. It is possible to genuinely understand a religion and not convert to it. That is not, alas, what most people do – thus the weird religious bigotry issues we have that end in Highlander “there can be only one” spiritual warfare.
As it was, I realized I had to cultivate some interests outside of magic and Paganism. I was already running into the situation that very few of my Pagan peers had any interest in magic in the same way that I am interested in it. So I spent a few years frustrated by that, and then I moved to San Francisco where actual magical practice is common.
I also started cultivating friends outside of Paganism. Those not as close to me have no idea I’m a witch. It’s not something we really need to talk about – because it’s not the only thing I am. Others that might know I’m witchy may not know I am a Doctor Who fan, or that I write poetry or that I have an interest in vegetarian cooking even though I am not vegetarian. I’m a bit useless on politics – even the much celebrated DOMA strikedown looks like a manipulation and distraction to me (although it backfired in a most gratifying way.) Mostly I sidestep it – far too many people keep presenting their opinions to me as facts and it’s the political version of the religious situation I referred to above.
I have done so much to cultivate my outer resources that I have very few people left in the Pagan pocket of my life. Of those close to me, none are Wiccan. This is in part because the way Wicca was practiced in the Twin Cities felt itchy and wrong to me- and I am not in any position to lead a coven and do it my way. I have gone to the Coffee Cauldrons and meetups, to the public festivals and rituals – and left dissatisfied. It isn’t that those rituals are bad or wrong. They are just wrong for me. I’ve been told by others many times that they have no interest in what I wish to pursue. I am fine with that. But then I get pressured to pursue spirituality in a way that others want me to – and that’s seriously not OK.
I would rather just have my Pagan pocket be empty of spiritual brethren than feel like I have to conform my spiritual practice to what makes someone else comfortable. I’ll be thrilled if I do meet someone on the same page with me.