Last month, I wrote about hiraeth, the cultures of the imagination we create as a Pagan community and the empowerment that occurs when we cultivate sacred spaces together. This month, I'll be expanding upon that theme with a discussion of the psychological dynamics behind this process and some suggestions about what we might do with the power inherent in it.
"I think the search for community, be it within the traditional cultures in Alba Nuadh1 or the various pagan cultural communities, is the proof of how crazy global consumerist culture has made us and, indeed, how wrong it is for us. We are instinctively looking for what felt right. I don't think that a homeland of the imagination is better than an actual community of people who see and speak to each other, but perhaps it can form a useful bridge to sustain isolated cultural thoughtful pagans during this period of global cultural and environmental decline." - Sylvain Grandcerf
Grandcerf is a member of my local Pagan community, and I've posted this excerpt from an online discussion with his permission because he's right. We understand on an intuitive level that global, consumerist culture is wrong for us, and we're looking for something better. Beyond the natural, human inclination to create internal landscapes, I believe this is a core reason why we seek the Avalons of our hearts in the outer world. We want to externalize a reality we already know is healthful and meaningful. And when all of those internal landscapes commingle in our communities, the natural result is a pool of power and a cooperative effort to create a better world. Of course, this means that Pagan groups and gatherings are not an end unto themselves but rather a means to create something positive and enduring.
One way we already do that is by investigating the pre-Christian elements of our favored cultural histories and re-sacralizing them. Some of those efforts are less respectful than others, but I think there is an overall movement in Paganism away from cultural appropriation, and that's good. At the same time, the recovery of ancient spiritways is not the only or even the most important function of our collectively-imagined communities. Think about it. We're showing the world that animism is a viable spiritual philosophy at a time when our modern way of life is destroying the living Earth. In truth, I think this is our most sacred task and perhaps part of the reason modern Paganism exists to begin with, but that's food for another blog entry.
There are other, more immediate ways to wield the power of community. One of my favorites is the global Transition Network, which seeks to foster community resilience in a post-peak oil environment. There isn't any reason why regional Pagan communities couldn't become a part of the Transition Network and every reason why they should. And there are other, more immediate problems that ought to receive the benefit of our collective power. For instance, many Pagans are estranged from their families as a result of their faith, and I am among them. My husband is also estranged from his family, and so we are both concerned about finding an appropriate executor for our estate in the event that we die together. It's an unhappy task, to be sure, but a local, stable Pagan community could act in this capacity on behalf of people like us. Speaking of elder care, many of our fellow Pagans are ageing. A local, stable community might keep them company, mow their lawns, shovel their snow and help them transition into retirement homes. On the other side of life, there is surely a need for Pagan child care, community resources for young Pagan families and the like. Frankly, I think we're still outsourcing far too much of our community care to institutions who know very little about us, and that makes us vulnerable. We ought to be using the power we generate together to lift one another up locally, which will strengthen the Pagan community globally.
It isn't Avalon...yet. But a collective culture of the imagination, born from our individual homelands of the heart, has the power to do great good; for us, for one another and for everything we hold precious. My hope is that we never forget this essential truth, even when we're confronted with community challenges, which is what I'll be writing about next month.
1. 'Alba Nuadh' is Scottish Gaelic for 'Nova Scotia'.