Tuesday, June 05, 2007

21st Century Pagans

Honor the Past, Celebrate the Present, Create the Future
(Full Circle Motto)

To hear some people tell it, Pagans are all a bunch of purple clad, self indulgent, sexually irresponsible loonies blindly pledging our loyalty to a bunch of gas bag gurus in exchange for a spell kit and a pentacle. It makes me mad, I tells ya, to see our splendid people portrayed as animal abusers, eco-Nazi's, man haters, wimps, racists or Native American Wanna Be’s. Some days, there is nothing for it but to sing the angry song.

Another cliche claims that we’re Luddites and techno-phobes. Now folks, I lived and worked in Silicon Valley for many years, and I know this for certain: If all the Pagan Web Builders, System Administrators, Programmers, Engineers, Tech Writers, and Tech Support Specialists suddenly disappeared off the face of the earth, then all the Pagan Entertainers, Scientists, Librarians, Nurses, Business Owners, Attorneys, Secretaries, Teachers, Administrators, and Cops are going to have a real hard time of it at work the next day.

Some of the more harmless clichés are funny. If you want a good laugh, I’d recommend the Field Guide to the Modern Pagan, which is a classic.

Yes, these clichés are funny, at least to those of us with a sense of humor, but how true are they, overall? I spend a lot of my time working in and with the Pagan community. In the course of meeting other Pagans, reading their emails and talking to them at events and conventions, I’ve gotten a pretty good picture of these folks. In the last 13 years, I’ve seen an interesting group of people emerge from the broom closet. I like to call these people 21st Century Pagans. Take a look at this profile and tell me if this new model fits some of the Pagans you know.

Pagans with Lives

When I look at the people on our Member List (1) I notice that the majority work in the dominant culture, even if they have ties to various, alternative cultures. A good of these folks have day jobs, mortgages and children. They are called by turns, Ordinary Pagans, Stealth Pagans and/or Undercover Pagans because they walk easily between the mundane and magical worlds. As you can tell from these terms, unless you meet them at a gathering you probably would not know they are Pagan.

We need a secret handshake. I'm working on that.

Cat Slaves & Gaia's Guardians

Many Pagans have pets (all kinds and often more then one) or wish they could have one where they live now. Many Pagans are involved in animal rescue of some kind or we support groups that do this work.

Due to superstition and fear mongering in this country, there are people out there who will wonder why we're adopting that black kitten or puppy from our local shelter. (2) As a result, most of those people we refer to as Gaia's Guardians are careful to share their Paganism only with people they really trust.

Life Long Learners

The last time we took a poll, we discovered that roughly three fourths of our members have college degrees (or they are working on one). The rest of us tend to be self-educated on a wide variety of subjects.

As a group, these Modern Pagans love to read and we are passionate about music and the arts. While their reading subjects vary greatly, many can rival the experts when it comes to knowledge about their subject(s) of choice.

Subcultures Galore

I personally get a kick out of the fact that so many Pagans love Science Fiction and Fantasy. In fact, Pagans make up a significant part of the audience for the books, movies and TV programs in these genres. I go Science Fiction Conventions, Fantasy Conventions and Renaissance Faires whenever I can and I can't take ten steps at one of those things without running into another Pagan. Is this a coincidence? I don’t think so. I think that Pagans value the vivid blend of imagination, science and history found in this genre. And we like to dress up and party. Nothing wrong with that.

Crafty Pagans

21st Century Pagans, like their ancestors, love to create and do so within a wide variety of art forms, such as writing, music, crafts, teaching, gardening, sewing, cooking, ritual design, mask making, gardening, and dance, just to name a few. Many of us also work in the newer mediums of software design, web graphics, web weaving and video.

Most of these folks use their skills to make the world a better, more interesting place. The only difference is that some of them create in more traditional ways, others use ones and zeros.

Pagan Grown Ups

A while back, Snakemoon coined the phrase Ordinary Pagans to describe those of us who have a healthy and useful set of life skills. Contrary to the AlwaysPoor Pagan cliche, most Pagans pay their bills and handle our money responsibly, thank you very much. The Flaky Pagan cliche is also getting old. Those of us who are OP's find the phrase “Pagan Time” (and all that it implies) to be insulting. We are, as a rule, very busy people. We know how to meet a deadline, pace a project or arrive on time for an event. We like things to start when the organizers say they are going to start. Don’t waste our time, don’t come unprepared, don’t make excuses and don’t try and pass the blame if something goes wrong. We don't pull that kind of lazy, ill prepared crap where we live, and we have little patience for it in Circle. On the other hand, we also know that stuff happens. Let us know what you need and we’ll be the first ones there to lend a hand.

Actions Count

Most of us have been around for a while. We know that difference between a Doer and a Talker, and a Bard and a Poser. We respect Doers and Bards, and we don’t like to waste our time on Talkers and Posers.

Got Books?

As the name implies, 21st Century Pagans are very comfortable living in the new century, even while they engage in age-old rituals, learn archaic skills, listen to early music or practice ancient crafts. As I said, a lot of them work in the field of technology or use computers on a daily basis. Like many other intelligent people, they are fascinated by science, biology, anthropology, history and ecology. Many of them follow the adventures of the Space Program and they send their kids to learning centers such as NASA’s Space Camp. We’ll have a Pagan astronaut one of these days. I’m looking forward to that.

Family First

Many of our people are homemakers, parents, or caregivers to children and/or elderly relatives. They find the respect and support they deserve in the Pagan community, where family and tribe are honored.

There was a time there when most Pagan events looked like a Single’s Bar With Trees. That is changing. These days, we see gatherings that more closely resemble a true Pagan Village.

It’s important to note that when these people talk about "family", they don’t limit their definition a cultural phenomena known as the “nuclear family”. Their definition of clan and family is both broader and deeper then that and includes any group of people who provide nurture, support and care for one another.

Speaking of Pagan families, I think it’s important to note that, for the most part, our Pagan Dads and Mom’s do a great job raising kids with values in a culture obsessed with money, work and possessions. What they tell us they need now is a way to meet other Pagan parents so that they can arrange for things like childcare, play days, family-friendly Circles or home schooling. Many of them are interested in forming Spiral Scout troops. Websites like the Witches Voice and groups like Full Circle are helping these folks find one another and our Pagan village continues to grow. Take another look at their kids when they reach adulthood. I think you’ll like what you see.

Who Do You Think Invented the Golden Rule?

The Pagans I know believe that manners, courtesy and civility are important. They do what they can to make their corner of the world a cleaner, better and fairer place to be. They also know how to share. The majority of our attendees bring food to a gathering and they help clean up afterwards. Those with a bit more are happy to share with those who have a bit less, as long as we know that no one is trying to take advantage of our good will.

There Is Beauty In Diversity...and the Sex Is Better, Too

The Pagan community that currently exists is a fascinating mix of the single and the legally married as well as folks who are bonded to each other in other (and equally legitimate) ways. I work with Pagans who are gay, straight, and bi-sexual as well as Pagans from all walks of life and in every age category. Pagans as a group come in all sizes and shapes and they are not about to let the dominant culture tell them how to look, what it means to be “male” or “female”, how to feel about themselves or what’s important in their lives. Maybe that’s one reason the media doesn’t really like us. As Pagans, we’re hard to pin down, we don’t fit into the categories the advertisers can relate to and we’re a difficult market for outsiders to understand.

A "Show Me" State of Being

As citizens, we’re equally complex. Some of the Pagans I work with are politically active and some of them are not. As a group, though, they do one thing in common … they’re ornery. Pagan folk tend to ask the difficult questions and they expect to get some intelligent answers. They have a passionate interest in issues that involve education, the environment, freedom of religion, privacy, self-expression, censorship issues, civil rights and truth-in-history. They tend to have opinions on these issues and they express those opinions in the way they vote, shop and live. A great many of them voted in the last Presidential election. I predict that a great many more will vote in the next one.

Mythstakes Were Made

21st Century Pagans do quite a lot of interfaith work. They are respectful towards and can work well with any other religious faith that isn’t trying to burn either books or them. We are aware of our history and we know that 9 million women were not, in fact, burned as witches. We also know that more then one sect did the burning and that men were persecuted, as well. We prefer real history to propaganda and we expect Pagan historians and writers to follow the same high standards for scholarship that apply to non-Pagans working in the same fields.

Hi-diddly-ho, neighbor-ino!

To hear the media tell it, you’d think we’re all huddled together for safety in a gothic ruin just outside of town. (Mind you, that could be fun, but good gothic ruins are in short supply these days.) It is important to note many of us live in standard housing, and many are in relationships with people who are not Pagan themselves. We also have non-Pagan friends. To the media members who like to paint that cult-like picture, I say that this is a belief system and an ethical practice, not the Adams Family. (And, again, could be fun...but I digress) In truth, Pagans, like the Old Gods, exist anywhere you’d care to look.

Both the Problem and the Solution

21st Century Pagans are, by and large, very comfortable living in a multi-cultural milieu. While it is true that most of us are Caucasian that fact is slowly changing over time. Look to see for more Pagan people of color and more professional Pagans coming out of the closet in the next two decades.

What problems there are in the Pagan community, and there are quite a few, are the same sorts of problems you'll find in any community. It's a people thing, not a Pagan-only thing. We're working on it, mostly by enforcing fair boundaries and standards.

We Were Green Before It Was Trendy

Many of our friends and members are involved in various green movements. They also work to preserve open space and volunteer with local wildlife rescue groups. (You'll find more of those Gaia's Guardians, popping up again and again in groups like this).

As a group, Pagans are becoming more and more concerned about issues like over population, global warming, and economic fairness. That concern translates into action in a number of creative, progressive and grass roots efforts.

Earthwise Ethics

21st Century Pagans tell us that their lives are a juggling act as they try to balance their public and private concerns. Pagan ethics are being debated as never before, as are issues of money and power. Pagans tell us that they see no shame in having money because money allows them to have both freedom and security. At the same time, they won’t compromise their values to get it. Some of them choose to work in lower paying or part- time jobs in order to fulfill certain needs, attend classes or to spend more time with their family. Some others choose to focus on their careers.

Moonstone, Cackle & Hawk, Attorneys at Law

Kidding aside, Professional Pagans are every bit as successful as their non-Pagan colleagues. There are more of these people in the Broom Closet because they have more to loose. But you can expect to see more of them coming out of that closet over time.

Whatever our folks do for a living, they work hard for their money and they would like some respect for that fact. Anyone who calls them a ‘sell out” for merely having money is missing the point. Having money isn’t the problem. The trick is to use it wisely, humanely and responsibly. The same, they say, goes for power. Look for this debate to continue as more Pagans from the middle and upper classes step forward and announce their presence.

Blessed Be....and thanks!

21st Century Pagans are constantly faced with a choice between freedom and responsibility, between using power and following an ethical path and between choosing what’s right for themselves and at the same time caring for others and the planet as a whole. A lot of these people could use some more sleep and a few more hours in the day but other than that, they are doing just fine. Most of them tell us that, all things considered, they have a lot to be grateful for.

With A Little Help From Our Friends

That doesn’t mean, however, that everything is perfect. A great many of us have survived dysfunctional families, dysfunctional relationships and/or dysfunctional religions. We’ve all grown up in this crazy, dysfunctional culture and that alone has had its effect. As a result, some of our people are in recovery from alcohol, drug or process addictions. Some of them are grappling with issues of codependency and intimacy. Many of our people have been hurt by sexism, homophobia or some other form of prejudice at some point in their lives. Some suffer from depression or are grieving a loss while others cope with a physical disability or deal with the illness of a loved one. As a result, many Pagans have chosen to use psychotherapy and other forms of emotional healing in concert with their ritual work. As a group they tell me that their spiritual practice compliments and supports their personal growth in ways they never imagined possible. We are just now beginning to see what a powerful, healing combination this can be for us as a people and as a culture. I predict that we’ll see more Pagan therapists, and Pagan-friendly Support Groups as time goes on.

Thou Shalt Not Appear on Reality TV

The reasons people become Pagan differ widely, but as far we can tell, very few adults are Pagan because they thought it was a trendy thing to do. Many of us see our practice as a private matter.

It used to be that people never talked about politics, religion or sex. Then it seemed that these three things were all that some people could talk about. 21st Century Pagans tend to prefer balance in most things, including how “out” we are and why. Unless we are “Dressed to Express” for a Pagan ritual or holiday, as I said, you often can’t tell by just looking at us that we are Pagan.

It's Not About Command & Control. It's About Connection & Communion

The longer I do this work, the more I see an emphasis on connection. This makes sense in a century where more and more people are drawn to Paganism because of its positive and healing aspects. Most of us are moving towards a deeper, more meaningful spiritual practice and we will be the judge of what speaks to us and what does not. We’d like teachers to guide us in some cases, but we don’t need gurus.

Over two thirds of our members define themselves as Solitaries and rarely work in Circles or attend group events. Some of this is simply personal preference. Some of it is do to the fact that some Pagans have not liked the “feel” of some of the groups they’ve come into contact with. They don’t need or expect perfection in their Circle members but they do want to see healthy and honest interaction within the group. If they don’t get that from a Circle, they leave.

As many of us have seen, groups that engage in dysfunctional behavior tend to break apart over time. We also see that the groups who maintain a positive focus and avoid the so called “Witch Wars” do well. As Anne Hill notes, it's time for us to take our skills and ethics into the wider world. Those Pagans who know how to handle and resolve internal conflict, share power and responsibility amongst their members and give back to the larger community and who cooperate with Pagan and other groups will grow and prosper over time.

Al Gore likes to quote this African proverb:

If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.

It's worth remembering. (3)

You Are Not Alone

You may have thought you were alone out there as you walked between worlds. Not so. You’re on the leading edge, I’ll grant you that, but you are what Paganism looks like as we begin the 21st Century. You created this community. You did it by recreating yourselves as the kind of person you always wanted to be. While most of us feel that we’re still a work in progress please take some time this month all the work you’ve done and to acknowledge all the progress that you’ve made.

Go well, stay well,


Off the Shelf:

Pagans and the Law by Diana Elders

Law Enforcement Guide to Wicca by Kerr Cuhulain

Paganism: An Introduction to Earth Centered Religions by Joyce Higginbotham


(1) The member list currently stands at 2,132 and counting. Membership is free. To be included in our list of friends and supporters, go here. Please note: Full Circle does not share, give away or sell our mailing list. You can read more about Full Circle at our webpage.

(2) It's because we know that black cats and dogs are hardest to adopt out, and they are often euthanized first whenever a shelter becomes crowded.

(3) My thanks to Rowan Fairgrove, Librarian Bard, for the quote.

Art: Brown Eyed Girl by Rolf Armstrong. What goes around, comes around. This painting dates from 1913, but I could swear that I saw this 20 something girl at Powells Books browsing the Women's Spirituality section, just the other day.

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