It can certainly contribute. But until I can unjam my garbage disposal, change the oil on my neighbors’ car, and get that noisy couple in the next hotel room to shut UP with a single post to my blog (and never have to in any way have a direct conversation or contact with any of these things/people) the blog is really something that will only have power if you have the right people reading it. Note: you need the right people reading it. Not everybody. The right people. There’s a difference.
Heresies, I suppose, to follow. This blog is arguably the voice of a Pagan moderate, especially since most of the time I would rather just toss it all and work some magic.
Since I am a moderate, usually people with more extreme views only receive the parts of the messages I send where I am not on their side. I am absolutely no absolutist – so I guess that makes me a fogey now. Even worse, I care more about solving and resolving than I do about winning. I consider this “only noticing the part that stimulates an emotional trigger” a failure of a maturity and of reflective reading/listening skills, rather than a failure of my own to communicate properly. There have been plenty people every time this has happened that disagreed with me 100% and understood me 100%.
While the Internet has made Paganism more visible, if not more accepted in all geographical areas, it has also seemed to induce a sort of amnesia: people have completely forgotten that talking about what bothers them is necessary – absolutely necessary – but doesn’t actually effect any desired changes, and only in specific forums where someone running it knows how to get people to go _afk for a specific purpose does anything progress. So slapping names onto one branch of a religious movement, or declaring people who practice your religion a way you don’t like not really your religion … just makes you sound like a blowhard or a troll. And in most cases, if you’re doing that, you are.
However, that also means that with all that blowing hard, when you’ve got a legitimate beef you’re going to invest a whole lot of mental energy insisting you’re right as though all the Internet is some sort of competitive game…and only reinforcing your own belief you’re right, and the other person’s belief that you’re wrong. Seriously – there’s scientific research about how pointless carrying on actually is. It actually prevents the people involved from making the changes necessary to resolve the problems they’re living with.
“Wegner and Ward tested this and found that access to the Internet increases cognitive self-esteem. Essentially, using the Internet to find answers made people feel smarter, even when they were answering incorrectly. According to Wegner and Ward, this is not an unusual experience, “the Internet is taking the place not just of other people as external sources of memory but also of our own cognitive faculties…The advent of the ‘information age’ seems to have created a generation of people who feel they know more than ever before—when their reliance on the Internet means that they may know ever less about the world around them.”
Thanks to the Internet’s neurological impact, no one can see when they’re wrong anymore. If they get it wrong, going online will just reinforce their belief in their correctness even when not factually supported. Worse, no one understands the purpose of middle ground because no one has been on its metaphorical surface for decades.
There’s just so much forgotten – it’s painful to watch, and occasionally rather insulting to listen to, worse since the people talking about it expect me to passively accept that when they paint a multi-faith group of which I am a member with the same brush, they are directly telling me that I am also that insulting thing with no regard to my behavior and no awareness that not one Pagan alive today has interacted with the majority of Pagans – and that’s especially true of those involved in online communities, where roughly two thirds of modern Pagans refuse to engage, usually after competitive, argumentative, rude treatment that ultimately runs counter to a lot of neopagan spiritual values.
Here’s the thing… there are solutions to this. Some of them you won’t even have to go _afk, though most will be more effective if you actually do.
I am going to highlight a few activities/approaches that can help some of the inner Pagan/polytheist struggles, since most are actually resolvable with fundamental education. Awareness online is certainly step one, but it can never be the only step for sincere change or inclusion seekers.
Here’s a few methods I know of and have used that do help. These are not the only methods, by any means – I’m sure someone out there will have other, better ideas – or they may even have brand new ones that aren’t anywhere in my wheelhouse:
Problem: Too many people are assuming your faith, or rituals of your faith, or your values, are aligned with eclectic/populist Wicca.
(I find populist Wicca more accurate than Neo-Wicca, without the implied condescension. Populist Paganism, or Wiccan-centric Paganism conveys an accurate chiding of our collective bad behavior without resorting to aggressive insult. Well, I suppose no thinking Wiccan would like the association with Andrew Jackson but it still kinda works better than what’s used now.)
- Issue an updated FAQ
the good old days of USENET were a gods-send for those of us first starting on the Pagan path. They were also usually open source, or had their authors names and copyright at the bottom. If you are a small enough group you can get a single person or committee to write one, highlighting the main points of your faith. Too big a project for one person? Assign a group of volunteers one question at a time, with a deadline. Recommendation: agree on a documentation method before you start, and be sure to archive any online reference materials that you link to.
Here’s an example of the old-school Pagan FAQ. It looks like there’s no polytheist FAQ, nor is there one about indigenous religions. We need those.
Of course, the meta question is: great, how do we get people to read them?
Two ways: first, ask high profile Pagan bloggers to read and/or post.
Second, put it up on a page with low-quality, shady html and mark it “Free downloads!” There’s nothing that triggers a click happy person like the words “free” and “download” together.
- Do a Google Hangout Panel and/or Podcast
Many are already doing this, but only broadcasting to people that are already in the know. In this case, I’m suggesting a technique that borrows from the convention model: get one person who is a trustworthy moderator. Deliberately get people of different faiths. Give each person a few minutes to talk about their faith practice tradition. Save it to Youtube and allow public embedding, so that lazy bloggers may repost at will. I did panels before the advent of Youtube – it’s pretty easy to do one online, though I doubt I’ll be on one with a Mennonite ever again.
- Propose an alternate approach or etiquette when you write posts with your complaints about issues at public fests, etc.
If you’re on a Pagan forum or in a Pagan festival, people are going to assume you’re a populist Pagan of some sort until you speak up. Let’s just operate on the assumption of not-psychic until otherwise embarrassed with non-issued knowledge. Don’t assume they know. Don’t assume that if other person that practices what you do has met them that they will assume it’s the same for you. If that person is trying to guilt trip you into attending a ritual after you have politely declined, no need to be polite. Free will – and coming freely to ritual – is supposed to be one of those core populist Pagan shared values and the recent violation of it borders on evangelism, another explicitly banned practice. Practice a little empathy for those of us stumbling with cross-cultural rules of hospitality need a little give sometimes: I often invite not as an order but because it’s polite, and so I can let the person know that I support their right to decline. This isn’t eastern culture: invitations are not subvert orders.
- Again, do a panel, or teach a short intro class.
Pagan Pride events are great for this. You will get more crossover audience – the outsiders you need to reach – are best gained when you do a multi-faith panel. Always ask for a good moderator, even if you have to host a moderator training yourself to make sure you get one.
- If you go to festivals, be up front about what you will and won’t do
If you decide to go to a Pagan festival even though you are not interested in the rituals (hanging out is usually legitimate) be polite and assertive. You may need to write something on the form. Unless you are in some way disruptive to the festival there is no reason to bounce anyone out over that. There are some other issues that the festival circuit is working out thanks to the exponential growth of many of the most popular Pagan festivals. A lot of the populist Pagans see festival time as a weird escapist paradise. The presence of a non-populist Pagan or a non-Pagan polytheist messes with that vibe. That’s cool. That vibe needs to be killed because withdrawing into a fantasy world is just bad for everybody.
- If you’re in a tradition that allows it, and it’s compatible with festival or convention policy, offer to host a ritual of your tradition
Tip: only allow people to attend the ritual if they go through a ritual etiquette course first. You will have a lot less problems if you walk people through it step by step before you do it. I would suggest merely doing an etiquette workshop or a comparison/contrast event focusing solely on ritual practices if you are, on the other hand, consciously exclusive.
- If you need to take your toys and go home, do it unemotionally unless you are in actual danger.
Want to know why 2/3 of the Pagan community is offline and about half doesn’t go in for festival culture? Because we don’t fit with it, even if our spirituality might. The appeal of Paganism to some is the coming home, but for many of us it was finally finding somewhere that at least at one time took “no” for an answer. In my experience, festival culture people suck at hearing that “no.” I’m not asking festival culture to change – it obviously works for a lot of people. But I would like it if festival culture quit asking me, someone who is a populist Wiccan, to change, and would strongly advocate that festival enthusiasts start realizing that non-populist Pagans and polytheists that have drifted outside the tent should have their boundaries respected when they visit these fests.
I also want to add this: as in favor of free love as I am, when it comes to group identification or non-identification, there’s a point with non-populist polytheists where you do need to shit or get off the pot. If you want to be part of the overarching Pagan community, that’s OK – just understand that the Pagan community has always been a cultural one, not a religious one, and when discussing the problematic ways you’ve been treated, you need to talk about the specific behaviors, not construct overarching terms that willfully ignore entire diverse religious groupings. If you’re tired of all of it, just tap out all the way – you won’t lose real friends over this, even among Pagans, and if you are a real friend, you shouldn’t need to dump anyone over this, either.
Problem: Your personal sexual values conflict with the sexual values of others in your shared Pagan community.
This one is arguably resolvable wholly online:
- State your boundaries. Keep stating them. If you need to, state them and reinforce with a water gun.
I refer back to my “ask before you touch” policy. It may even be wise to ask if someone is OK with polyamory or prefers monogamy before asking for a date. True Platonic friendship is pretty cool – I recommend it.
Problem: Your organization or group has again tried to build a New Alexandria Library and had it fail or it is still struggling to get off the ground.
1) Stop naming these places New Alexandria library. I’ve seen at least four come and go in the past twenty years and I swear they’re all destined to go down in metaphorical flames the way the original library at Alexandria did in physical ones.
2) Get some advice from Library of Congress and the Rosicrucian Museum about building such a center and making it sustainable. Maintaining buildings and group continuity are the real mysteries of ceremonial orders we all want to attain.
3)Make sure you have one visionary, one task master, and one person who understands the necessity of reward – and make sure each one tutors at least three to five people in their skills along the way.
To speak to the things you might have to deal with along the way:
Manage Your Expectations
- Don’t expect everyone to participate, ever
One of the most ludicrous moments I’ve had in recent years was when I mentioned I’d like to start a multi-faith Pagan fundraising foundation and I was greeted with, “Well, everybody won’t do that!”
…when did I say “everybody?”
Anyone who has done large or small group organizing already knows that there is a core group that participates and then there’s the majority, which will have people that drop in once in awhile. You don’t need everybody to get something done – you just need to work with the people that want to show up.
I had already discovered that the more shocked or outraged someone looks at a change I propose, the more likely I am right, especially among Pagans. I was also vastly amused – I know from years of organizing that there is no cause, ever, that gets “everybody’s” participation and endorsement. That this woman assumed I would expect that was so hilarious to me that I had to go off the camera hangout to laugh.
Again, since I am actually in the majority of Pagans that stay offline except for basic relationship maintenance and employment, I had no idea that there was real context to her statement. There have been over the years a lot of projects that have sought funds solely because they are Pagan. Most did not have a clear mission statement, plan of execution, or serve a purpose that provided needed infrastructure based services to Pagans such as psychiatric counseling, emergency care, or elder care. Instead there are fundraiser to “help a Pagan family” (that often fail to explain why standard emergency services are not applied to) or to “help this Pagan center get built!” that does not have a plan and often turns into a glorified hangout for massage therapists and Reiki healers. You see, that’s a problem – what she didn’t understand because most Pagans don’t think like this, is that my idea of starting a foundation would solve exactly this problem. Organizations apply for grants from charitable foundations – grant requests are essays that include solid business plans, vision, purpose, etc. Anyone running a foundation would know that to give a grant, you would have to do one hell of a lot more than just be vaguely Pagan.
- Be up front on whether you are an inclusive or exclusive group
Paganism is coming to a schism that I can’t really think of a way to avoid. Some religions within it wish to be inclusive and others exclusive. I subscribe to the belief that our complex neurology influences our religious tendencies or lack thereof, and so I am for the time being assuming that this is not a situation that needs to be helped. There are some traditions that will exclude – and some that will include. Now, with that exclusion can, will, and has come injustice. You can’t – and absolutely do not have the right to – control what someone else believes, how they practice that, or whether someone else consents to practicing spirituality in that form. You can, however, ostracize any group that upholds unjust/hate based practices.
Meta: In one case I experienced myself and in another a woman related to me, she was interested in learning about Wicca and the group immediately wanted a dedicant commitment from her, including coven participation. She wasn’t looking for that level of engagement – she wanted something with less exclusivity. Be up front if you’re looking for dedicants and make it very clear what you’re expecting. This woman had answered an ad for a Pagan seekers group. Coven admission is not the same thing as a seekers group.
- Don’t speak authoritatively about a group of religions you have had no contact with and/or have no interest in
In the world of mature people, it’s OK not to be an expert on everything – and saying so earns you respect. Until you have interacted closely with a group or made a strong study of it, you can’t assume it’s the same as any other group. Stereotyping isn’t quite the right word for this behavior, but it’s very close.
- Always thank people for doing their jobs
It matters. So do you, so do they.