I’ve been pondering how to write about this topic for quite sometime. Actually ever since Shauna first suggested I write for PaganActivist.com. It is a broad topic, but that’s not what makes it so difficult to write about. I keep thinking about my own experiences and how they are possibly outside of the norm – that is, they are relatively good experiences. Not to assume that every other person’s experience with working within a diverse community winds up in the realm of negative.
My first real attempt at working with multiple traditions and paths was back in 1997. My friend Sarah and I had this wonderful idea of trying to get the local Pagan community to work together on a single project, something like adopting a park or a stretch of high way. I really don’t remember. What I do remember is the overwhelming number of local community leaders who showed up at the table. We put the call out over a local radio show – Murphy’s Magic Mess – on the local community radio station. We decided to meet at a local restaurant and see what we could accomplish. Unfortunately, even with over 20 local leaders at the table we couldn’t even agree on the term “Pagan” let alone what project to do together as a community. (Note: I am purposefully leaving their names out of this.)
In 2009, I sat down to coffee with one of those same leaders. We discussed what had happened over the years to change how our two groups had changed. Both groups have grown, matured, and branched out into new and better projects. We’ve still not reached the point of adopting a park or stretch of high way, but in some regards both groups have gone much further than that. What was the result of that conversation? We planned and executed a large group ritual for Beltaine that Spring.
I did learn a few things from that original meeting back in 1997. Namely, when you get that many community leaders together for a “round table” discussion you are bound to run into egos and power struggles. It is part of human nature. As I often say (and I know someone famous said this), “wherever two or more people are gathered there will be politics.”
- Sarah and I were 19
- The average age of the other participants was 38
- Sarah and I were “new” to the scene
- Everyone else at the table was a known element
Those are just a few examples of why we didn’t feel like we had been taken seriously.
There were a few surprises along the way, as well. More than half of the people sitting at that table had never even met before. Here we had over 20 leaders of the local Pagan community and most of them had never even met! Can you believe that?! They all knew of each other, some had even stood circle together, but they had not spent any real time together. The biggest surprise was that everyone else at the table knew that one of the people at that table was a registered sex offender and a pedophile. Yes, a matter of public record – but not something that two 19 year olds were thinking about. (And yes, I did just admit that at 19 I didn’t know everything.) Some time after the round table we were finally informed of his crimes.
Fast forward to the present. Sarah and I are still friends, we still work together on community projects and try our best to work within the Pagan community. One of those projects is our podcast (shameless plug!). We’ve had a variety of guests on our show over the nearly five years of our series. Well known Pagan names like Oberon and Morning Glory, Wendy Rule and others. New comers to the scene like Faith Hamilton and Crystal Blanton (when she was very new on the scene). Musicians, authors, visual artists, etc. Why do I even mention this? It is safe to say that the majority of our guests are from different traditions and paths than we.
We open ourselves to new experiences. And that is one of the reasons why inter-traditional cooperation is important. Opening yourself to new experiences is not just broadening your horizons. It is allowing yourself to experience something that may be out of your comfort zone.
Last December at your Yule time, I participated in a blot hosted by Nebraska Heathens United, a new group in my area. This wasn’t the first time I had attended a blot. I’d attended one 20 some years ago and again a few years back when visiting my mother coven in Colorado. I don’t remember much from that first blot. The one in Colorado was definitely interesting – meeting Hel at Samhain is a very interesting experience. The blot at Yule was a lot different from Hel. Somewhere around 50 people were gathered in the common room at the local Unitarian Church, passing the horn and toasting the Gods. Only about ten of them were Heathen, the rest were some flavor or another of Wiccan. We were all having a good time and I do think that some in the room truly had a spiritual experience.
Flashback time. My mother coven is a construct of many different paths. Twenty-three years ago we started out as an off-shoot of the Georgian Tradition. That said, we were not your typical Wiccan coven. Faerie and Native American influences abounded – and still do. Our trad’s founding HPS was influenced by the Eastern Star and her life partner is Druid. Our trad’s founding HP is where the Faerie and NA influences came in. We also had a heavy dose of activism at the beginning – still do. At our founding, we could count the number of straight members on just a few fingers. As Lady Rhiannon quips, she walked into a group of Dianic gay men waiting for a high priestess. Here we are today, a progressive and (we like to think) unique group of individuals with a vastly differing collection of back grounds. Everything from Native American to Ceremonialist, Wiccan to Druid, Egyptian to Celtic and just about anything else you can imagine.
But if you think about, the modern Pagan movement started out as a construct of many different paths. I know there are those who will argue that Gardner received his lessons from a long line of witches, some will argue that today’s Druids come from an unbroken line. To be honest with ourselves, the only “unbroken” traditions are those that have been passed down through the native peoples of certain lands (the Aborigines of Australia, the surviving traditions of Native Americans and First Nations Peoples, small pocket communities in the Middle East and the Basque region of Spain, just name a few). To hear Janet Farrar tell it, as she did at a workshop at Heartland 2013, Gerald Gardner basically made it up from bits and pieces of folklore and teachings of the Masons and other “secret societies.” That doesn’t make it any less valid.
That said, sometime after the advent of Alexandrians there began to be decent within in the Wiccan world. The Gardnarians claimed their way was the only way, the Alexandrians that theirs was the only way. Other traditions began cropping up, each claiming they were the true recipients of Gardner’s Book of Shadows. In recent years, though, there has been a bridging of the gap between the many of the various Wiccan traditions. a sense of cooperation is developing.
And that sense of cooperation is not limited to just the Wiccans. As I said above, in my area I have seen Wiccans work with Heathens, I have seen groups formerly at odds with each other reaching out to work together. I’m hearing about that elsewhere in the United States (and I can only speak for what I see here, not being familiar enough with Pagans elsewhere around the globe). I’ve seen it first hand in Denver, I’ve heard of it in Seattle and Chicago. It is happening.
The importance of cooperation. We are approaching a point in the history of the modern Pagan movement where it is important that we present a unified front to the rest of the world. Not something where we are all the same, one leader, that sort of thing. No. We need to show the public that we have the ability to police our own, handle issues within our communities, grow and share with others who do not follow Pagan paths.
In late March we saw the arrest of a prominent Pagan elder. In April we saw a man claiming to be Heathen attack another religion’s practitioners with gun fire and violence. Within a few weeks certain segments of the community reached out to each other and formed the Council of the Phoenix to address issues of abuse (all forms) within the Pagan community. Other areas of the Pagan world saw the banding together of diverse traditions and paths to form an Elders’ Council to address other issues within the community – particularly in the Denver area with the idea to grow and expand the concept. These are but to example of how inter-traditional cooperation can happen.
It is unfortunate that it took such drastic events to begin to unify the Pagan world. The outreach and cooperation have been needed for quite sometime. The internet is a key player in how this cooperation is beginning to take place. Through social media networks, through the blogosphere, and through the shrinking perceived distances between individuals and groups across the United States and around the globe.
Now it is your turn. It is your turn to talk about inter-traditional cooperation. What have you seen, heard of, that demonstrate such work? What are you doing to make it happen?