Once upon a time I was more involved in the online Pagan community, not too much so but enough that some people knew who I was; I then left altogether, partially burned out on the never ending drama (among other things) and I needed to take a very long break where I could go a couple days without being pissed off and outraged about something, when I could get on the internet without being worried about what sort of stupid shit I’m going to have to wade through today. Here on this blog, doing this project, is my quiet attempt to inch back into the scene in some capacity, albeit with a different crowd than before. When it comes to the broader internet Pagan community, I see-saw back and forth between being really glad to be out of it, and kind of missing the discussion (when the discussions weren’t crazy, when it wasn’t two bloated egos battling against each other over who’s crowned King of the Assholes; I think some times that it wasn’t always like that but I’m not completely sure anymore). Knowing distantly as I do that there is some huge drama going on out there does color where my opinion on the matter of community currently rests, making me more glad to be gone than missing it, an opinion that could and will change again when I stop hearing about this. Just so as you know.
My relationship with the community has always been a little odd. As a general rule, being a very introverted, anti social, misanthropic loner, I don’t really need community the way most other people do; obviously I do need something (otherwise I would not be here) but to a much lesser degree. Beyond a limited tolerance for socializing and a personality that doesn’t always mesh well with others, I seem to have this knack for always winding up on the periphery of any group I try to be involved with; some additional part or a lack of a vital component preventing me from being fully accepted with and blending in, I’m always a marginal figure. And one can not hang out on the edge of a group indefinitely, the time frame differs depending on who it is and how inclusive they are, but sooner or later something’s going to happen, you’ll wear out your welcome and its time to move on.
Also my religious life, as it developed organically over the years, is a very personal thing that doesn’t translate into group activity. I was scooped up instantly by a single god, who rarely likes me playing with other gods (which has much to do with me and how my brain works, my energy levels and the limited ability I have to focus intensely on more than one thing) and everything revolves around the relationship I have with Him, and like most intense relationships, its largely a private thing between the two of us. Other people can’t come into that; you might be able to relate, distantly, but not directly be a part of it. And while I do sometimes enjoy things like holiday celebrations and whatnot, I’ve never been a big holiday focused, high church sort of person; I can take it or leave it but its not the center, its not the whole point.
My adventures in bigger group involvement have been very much a mixed bag. Every group (formal or otherwise) I was once in I have since left, sometimes peacefully sometimes with very hard feelings; I can’t honestly say that any of them were entirely bad, but nor were any of them entirely good and I’m not sure if the good really outweighs the bad. Keeping things in very broad terms, the three different groups were a). a more general, cross cultural, inclusive Pagan group; b). a more culturally specific group; and c). one centered more around shared and similar experiences with gods and spirits.
First for the good parts. I learned a lot about other cultures, beliefs and ways of doing things; I learned how to be a little more open minded and get along and work with different people, even if our ways of thinking and doing things were not perfectly the same. I learned a lot more about the original culture my god came from, their customs and ways of doing things, so I can adopt some things into my own practice and, even where I may not, I am at the least making the choice from a place of knowledge and not ignorance. When the experiences I was having, the way my god was interacting with me, started to veer off from what is considered normal and common, I had other people there to tell me it does happen, it has a name, you’re not alone, and who knows I might have had a much harder time with it all otherwise.
What went wrong is, in every case, a little more complicated than I could properly get into here; at the heart of every situation was group dynamics and identity, the attitude of one true wayism that every group comes equipped with somewhere even if its not immediately obvious. As such, the generic Pagan group is probably the one I found the easiest to walk away from and hold the least amount of hard feelings for; I had less a sense of connection there, many of us were doing such wildly different things that it was much easier to draw that mental line between me and them, so when they finally started trying to encroach on my thought process too far it wasn’t much to break off and go.
For the other two groups there was more a sense of commonality between us all, never completely so but enough that the mental barrier was thinner. In a few cases where I didn’t share the common ground I wondered to myself if maybe I should, if maybe I wasn’t doing it wrong and that was the one true way. I tried, and there’s nothing wrong with that in and of itself, nothing wrong with giving some practice a shot or trying a world view on for size; the problem was because of group dynamics I tried a lot harder than I otherwise would have or even should have. I wasted a lot of time trying to force things to work that were never going to (and didn’t have to); in other cases I wasted a lot of time feeling very guilty thinking I was doing something wrong, when in fact I wasn’t. And I was surrounded with people that, deliberately or not, encouraged that thought process, deeply invested in group thought and wanting me follow suit, they truly did believe it was right, the only right way, I should be able to do it, I need to be able to do it and if I can’t there’s something wrong with me. At times I felt immense pressure to conform, was usually not allowed to consider other options, and while gaining the approval of the people around me was the very least of my concerns I did worry about doing wrong by my god, causing some offense or letting Him down – even if He had never asked any such thing of me.
I am as a general rule not susceptible to group mind and peer pressure, but I do have certain areas of psychological damage that, when triggered, can turn ugly for me fast (but I think I’ll talk more about that in a future post). Those situations were harder to walk away from, in some cases requiring outside interference to get me out of there and it was only later that I fully saw and understood just how bad it got.
While there has been enough distance to be able to recognize what was good and be grateful for that, I do believe I have gotten all I need from large community involvement. Things worked best when it was just me and Him, and as my spiritual focus has risen no higher than what we have between us, it makes more sense to just stay in my cave.
It doesn’t stop me from wanting people to talk to, to relate to on some level; there is a difference between a community (formal or informal) and a collection of individuals you have some connection with but you still operate on your own. I still have some of those people, surviving every change I made. The one thing I can usually say we all have in common is a similar approach to larger community involvement, in that we’re iconoclasts and/or loners and we don’t need it. Beyond that, there can be very little that is obviously similar. Most of us don’t worship the same gods in common, come from wildly different cultural frameworks even assuming we pay attention to cultural framework at all; they’re intensely devoted to a few gods, worship them all more or less equally, or don’t deal with deities at all and instead focus their devotion on various spirits, animal totems, the dead or something else altogether; they can be completely headblind, deeper in woo than I will ever be (or would want to be) or more interested in ritual and practice than mysticism. I’ve known Pagans, Wiccans, Reconstructionists of pick a culture, druids, shamans, ceremonial magicians, the list could go on. I counted a Christian among that number once, which I unfortunately know would come as a huge shock to many, but yes that’s right; like me, she had converted in her twenties and she had a similar love and devotion to her deity, and we found it very easy to talk to each other about it (I’d still count her among my support system except that I kind of lost touch with her when I moved out of the area; I’m trying to rectify that best I can). The outer trappings may look very different, its hardly the usual lines we divide ourselves by, but there is some deeper view, some underlying mindset we all share that allow us to get more from our interactions with each other than with people we have more obvious things in common with. And if I can find such a person that is also doing something a lot more similar to me, all the better.
Community like that can be hard to find, there is no obvious place to go find people like you can if you want to find other Wiccans or druids or whatever else. A lot of us, or the people I know at any rate, are more reserved and not as involved in every social scene as many others are. Years of larger community involvement and it boils down to a handful of people. I wouldn’t trade them for anything.