Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Tis a Mystery

I spent about two hours talking to Wren on the phone the other day. I wanted to know if she was seeing the same sea change in the Pagan community that I was seeing. We had a very interesting talk.

I then had this same talk with other Pagan organizers from around the country via emails and by phone. Had it again with a great many others at PantheaConn. Everyone agreed.

It seems that a great many Pagans (at least the healthy ones) who were active in the community have gone back underground. In effect, we are once again a Mystery Religion. By this I mean that you know have to really look or know someone in order to find good teachers. As for Circles, well, nowadays most of us make our own Circles out of people we've known for years. Many open Circles have now closed or are closing.

Fritz, Wren's wonderful partner, wrote this just recently on their website:

"Over the past few years, some of the most giving and honorable Pagans we know have bowed out gracefully from our community. To say this is a tragedy would be an understatement. It's never a 'dramatic departure' with this type... They simply stopped helping out. Many speak of 'burn out' and we sure hear that... Personally, we no longer give any energy to those looking to pick fights or with a bitch/zero solution agenda. Rude, demanding or baiting email is deleted on sight."

There's been a sea change of late. Most of the functional Pagans I know are going back to being Solitary. They tell me the loonies and flakes have spoiled the Community for them. As a result, many healthy folks are backing away from public Pagan events.

In this area of California we've found that those who supported Pagan events in past years have moved out of state in order to find jobs, so an solid, responsible employed Pagan base has been lost to us, as well.

It's the end of an era, really, a 13 year period when the energy called on us to get out there and be proud Pagans in public - to support one another and to build something meaningful. In some cases we Pagans succeeded and in others we have failed.

Many organizers are finding new, creative ways of working in community. It's exciting to see what's out there. I heard a number of plans at the Con which I will watch with interest. One group bought land recently and another rented a Victorian house in the area. Both will open their doors to Pagan groups, teachers and events and the Pagan community can come IF they pay a subscription as members. These particular Pagan organizers are saying "We put our money, our talent and our time into this, now you support or not. But if you want to come, you need to support it, as well." It's a brave move. The rent for that Victorian house is $5,000 a month, and the subscription membership they set per person is only $10.00/month. That's really not a lot to ask.

In this way, they hope to build the Pagan Community Centers and Pagan Owned Land sanctuaries; things that others have talked about for over 20 years. I wonder if it will work? They are putting a lot of their money where their mouths are. Will the community support it?

In the meantime, others who have worked in community for many years are pulling back, regrouping and seeing what's next. I recently told a friend that, "Yes, we are indeed a Mystery Religion. The mystery is how we ever find any other healthy, functional Pagans to hang out with." She laughed. She knows how it is.

Overall, I find that Pagans are leaving many of the established Pagan groups entirely because they are tired of the drama and trauma they find there.

The irony is that dysfunctional groups go on and on and on - they just find new victims. As my friend, Magpyre says: There's a natural law at work here: "Entropy requires no maintenance".

Those who got burned in dysfunctional Pagan groups now choose to do their volunteer work with mundane groups, like the Humane Society. Most now keep their Pagan identify under wraps, so their skills are lost to us for now. At least they continue to do good somewhere.

Ironically, we have an entirely different issue here at Full Circle. This has always been a Cauldron of Changes for everyone involved. After working with over 30 different core staff and hundreds of volunteers, I can say that FCE truly empowers people. In fact, we do this so well, that the core staff work with us for a year or two, learn what they needed to learn, gain new powers, confidence and experience and friends, and then go on to fulfill their dreams. This leaves me with a immense sense of satisfaction, fulfillment, and pride....and the problem of replacing really good, hard working people.

I now find that it is now much harder than ever before to find responsible Pagans to work with. More and more Pagans are laying low, or focusing on their work and family. Many of our old friends and allies have left the state to find work elsewhere. Others, just don't have what it takes.

At PantheaCon I heard that even FireDance was canceled. This shocked me, since it seemed like that they had no problem with either funds or support. But after 5 years of offering a festival that packed in 500 people each time, they say they are closing down because of a) costs and b) the lack of responsible, senior staff to keep their event going. It's sad. A lot of people I know really loved and supported that festival.

Meanwhile, the dysfunctional Pagans, those who don't want to heal or be empowered, but just want to act out and show off' don't seem to volunteer for much or feel a need to give back to the community. Those "problem children" that do volunteer make a royal hash out of anything they touch. That was always the case, but it seems to be worse now.

Too many people think that this Path is about getting something for nothing and showing off. "Give me a love spell, but don't ask me to be kinder or more lovable." or "Give me a money spell, but don't ask me to work hard or update that resume." . They see Paganism as a selfish way to get what they want, without working too hard. The idea of empowering themselves so that they can then become a force for good in the world doesn't even seem to occur to them. Few teachers teach that, either - you'll make more money telling people what they want to hear.

They never seem to ask themselves, "What are Witches' for?".

Meanwhile, good people have been sacred off by the flakes and loonies they've met in other groups. "If this is Paganism" they say, "we want no part of it". But it isn't Paganism, damn it. Paganism is a place where you find your Best Self. That's hard work. Then you go on to use that power for the betterment of all. That's even harder. It's also joyful, and empowering and creative and deeply fullfilling...and it takes courage and a willingness to change in order to get there.

Organizers tell me that too many of the people who come forward either don't have healthy ways of relating to others, or lack the skill sets and the commitment to do this work. We all want to hang signs that say "Enthusiasm is no substitute for Competence."

So it goes.

The time for being "out there" in the world as a Pagan seems to peaked in the mid to late 90's. It seems to some that our chance to build community has come and gone, lasting only a brief time. As one Witch said, "It's as if the Goddess tried an experiment, and then decided it was over". So my earlier statement stands: Paganism in this century has gone back to being a mystery religion in the old sense of that word.

But good people are out there, now, and they know one another. I wonder what they'll make in the coming years, and how they'll do that. Like I said, I've heard rumors and I've seen some new things being tried that might just work. I've got a few ideas of my own. So I listen and I plan and I wonder.

To each Organizer, I've given three questions:

What matters?
What works?
What's next?

and I am asking these same questions of our own group.


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