The last time I practiced my faith in the company of like-minded people was in 2003, when Sean and I were attending and occasionally leading an open circle of diverse Pagans in Bangor, Maine. Since then, I've been largely solitary, except for my correspondence with OBOD tutors in the Ovate and Druid grades. Part of the reason for this was Sean's education, our subsequent moves to Michigan and Nova Scotia and my immersion in both my writing career and the Gàidhlig community. I'm just busy. However, my primary reasons for solitary practice have had to do with the community itself; the lack of welcome I received when reaching out to local Pagans, the pervasive negative behavior I found on message boards, the open groups and rituals riddled with co-dependency and problematic practices. Because I'm so busy, and because I've been Pagan for so long, I just don't have the time or the energy for anything that doesn't meet my spiritual needs in a healthful way. Unfortunately, that meant giving up on the Pagan community altogether for awhile, because I didn't care to keep banging on doors, wading through snark and participating in rituals that left me needing a saltwater bath afterward.
But of late, I find myself opening to community again, and I'm reaching out more than I have in years. I'm centered fairly firmly in OBOD, and I'm taking the time this Fall to pursue Shambhala training locally, but I've also found blogs like Teo Bishop's Bishop in the Grove and publishing companies like Moon Books, which have planted fertile seeds in my over-long absence. And in finding these resources and others, I've had something of an epiphany.
I can choose where to place my support and thereby choose my Pagan community.
Now to some, that might seem like a no-brainer. But I came to Paganism in the 80's, and the community was a lot smaller then. We didn't have the Internet; we had the local Pagan shop, or campus group, or CUUPS. And in those places, we often took what we could get when it came to companionship. In many respects, I think there was great good in that. I met so many wonderful people in the early days, and we learned how to get along with one another, how not to get along with one another and how to have great, big fights. But we were flesh-and-bone people who shared rituals and meals even when we didn't know one another terribly well, and I think there's less of that now than there used to be. On the other hand, the community is larger now and more diverse, and the technology of the Internet brings people together who might not otherwise meet, permits conversations we might not otherwise have. The trade-off, however, is the depersonalization that precedes so much of that
snark toxicity I wrote about above. And that behavior is toxic, for the person who undertakes it, the subjects of it and the Pagan community at large1.
So while there is still the occasional lack of welcome, and while there are Pagans online who don't understand that the environments they're creating for themselves and others are toxic, and while drama, styrofoam cups and plastic-wrapped cookies still abound in some circles, I'm not stuck with them the way I was with my local community back in the day. I can choose to practice OBOD Druidry with or without companions. I can find new friends in Buddhism. I can reach out to the people who have reached out to me locally and deepen those relationships. I can read and associate selectively online. I can build the kinds of sacred environments I'd like to participate in. I can spend my spiritual resources wisely, and maybe that's not such a no-brainer after all.
- 1. For more information about the psychology of cyberspace and the effect it has on interpersonal relationships, I recommend this very fine resource: http://www-usr.rider.edu/~suler/psycyber/psycyber.html