Recently Teo Bishop wrote an excellent letter (http://wildhunt.org/2013/11/a-disruptive-and-inconvenient-realization.html) to announce his decision to return to a Christian practice. I've seen a lot of people discuss the choice to be Christian vs Pagan. Unfortunately, I haven't seen was anybody discuss what I consider to be the most important part of his announcement:
I’ve been able to see the ways in which the Church is broken, but also the ways in which the Pagan communities’ resistance to institutions is also broken. It’s hard to build community no matter who you are.
I think the polytheists who are seeking to build complete, clearly defined religious practices will see their religious traditions outliving those of the more free-for-all types of Pagans. But I also think that the polytheists could become so niche that they are seen as irrelevant.
In moments I have been unclear about how Paganism is relevant, and asking the question “How is Paganism relevant” can raise hackles. But I think it’s a question that needs to be asked again and again and again.
Paganism excels in providing for a journey of self-discovery. People are capable of doing ANYTHING and having it celebrated in the name of "finding your path." However, Pagan practice tends to attract the misfits and there is a skill set in being part of community that most pagans do not have. Jokes about coven misbehavior, dorky interpersonal interactions and/or outright insanity make light of what we won't admit is a weakness. Most Pagan's wouldn't be involved in healthy community if their lives depended on it.
Many of us were raised in co-dependent community where members enabled the bad behavior of each other. We have chosen to leave this and found comfort in the individuation of a lack of community. Unfortunately, humans don't simply desire companionship, we need it. We need people we can rely on to help us through our difficult life experiences. We need help raising children and caring for our elders. We need a decent pool of mates and friends.
It's time we overcome the fear of abuse and move forward. It is time we become confident in our individual power enough to form the interpersonal agreements that lay the foundation for healthy community.
The first step toward healthy community is to be a healthy individual. Find yourself, know yourself and know your lines. Figure out who you are, what you care about and who you want to be. Then it's time for the crucible.
Healthy interdependence is different from codependence. Let me explain:
Unhealthy community (Co-Dependence): Hides members from each other. Conceals or Supports bad behaviors. Members give their power to the group.
Independence: Nobody to hold you down... you can be who you are in full. Unfortunately nobody has permission to lift you up either. When you fall that's where you are, pick yourself up. When you lie to yourself... not my problem.
Healthy Community (Interdependence): Members are mirrors for each other. Group agrees that power may NOT be used to conceal or support bad behavior. When unhealthy behavior is identified the person is challenged to recognize the issue and either fix it or remove themselves from any position where it can harm the integrity of the group. Member's power is their own and can be used for the group (or not) at their discretion.
Do you see the challenge here? 80% of pagans choose to avoid intense community. We claim this is because we don't want to be abused, but many of us are willing to come into a healthy community until something terrifying happens... we are faced with our bad behaviors. After a lifetime of having our community or anonymity conceal our fetishes, dark past, addictions, ambitions, -pathys, or whatever destructive behavior we have (and we all do), a healthy community brings the issues up into the light.
One by one we are challenged to face our fears. It's easy dealing with other people's darkness, but our own terrifies us... and in healthy community we can't use our power to hide. The leaders and active members have MORE opportunity and obligation to face our issues!
If that weren't bad enough, Healthy Community requires a whole additional skill set comprised of communication, manners, social moors, hygiene, negotiation and agreements. Large community requires charity and outreach as well. It almost seems easier to go without community.
I have a secret though. Modern American Culture IS a giant co-dependent group. Individualism is a giant myth. Think about it. Any problem we have can be concealed with a proper application of money or through "faking it until we make it." We can have all the shallow relationships we want and the lack of intimacy is a great way to hide from admitting we have problems that we need to face.
By choosing NOT to find a healthy group and face our crap, we are choosing to be a member of one of the most effective co-dependent cults in human history. Western Culture.
The issue at hand isn't whether or not one God or spiritual path is better than another. If we're comfortable with Norsemen and Wiccans both, we aren't hung up on faith. The issue here is that, by choosing to return to his old COMMUNITY, Teo brought up the fact that our COMMUNITY sucks... and that as a culture, pagans have very little of value to offer members.
Our COMMUNITY failed to support the life and development of one of our members and he chose to join a community that he felt could do a better job for himself, his mate and his kin. When we face THAT fact, we are ready to proceed as a culture.
It seems almost hopeless, but I have one disagreement with Teo's letter. He expressed a belief that viable long term community required forming around a specific path's dogma.
I tried that a few years ago and my first teacher saw the problem. He criticized that we didn't support members finding shelter, food, water and security. In my arrogance, I told him that if someone had survival issues they needed a different group. Our group only grew past 15 members, when we learned that we were wrong...
A community exists only in words until it honors and supports members basic human needs. The moment it supports member's basic needs, the foundation is built for all of the dreams and goals of the members within.
There is a huge argument about what Paganism is. The umbrella term Pagan doesn't really express the specific practices of any Pagans. This may just end up being a massive boon. While generic is not good for personal spiritual practices, a long term community can develop and exist with pagan friendly mission statements like: "This community supports the healthy physical, financial, emotional, spiritual and social development of members in love without dogma or corruption. We don't have to share a faith in God(dess) or Spiritual Practice. We simply have to support the humanity of all members and let the Gods support each member as they need."
The power of Paganism is that it is NOT a dogma. When we are ready to build community based on our shared eithics of community, humanity and freedom of spiritual practice, the generic term "pagan" will be one we can wield with pride and courage.