I care not much for a man's religion
whose dog and cat are not the better for it
- Abe Lincoln
I cherish the Pagan Doers I've met and worked with over the years. I define these as people who walk their talk every day and who strive for an active, meaningful, useful practice while working on their own "stuff". That last part is crucial. My practice doesn't allow much room for denial or self delusion (try as I might). This is a rough but beautiful hike we're on and I can only carry the things I need. I can't carry your baggage, as well as my own, so I'm going to ask you to decide what's important and useful to you and I will do the same. In my early years among Pagans I was surprised how many people found that shocking. The Pagans I value most use their sense of humor as a walking stick and just keep going.
I spent more than a decade working in the trenches of the Pagan community out on the Left Coast. Back then I lived in a tolerant, prosperous, multicultural, well educated area near one of the greatest cities of the world. It was a landscape ripe with Pagans of all ages and every kind of Pagan practice. Some sort of modern, feminist, Pagan presence had been in that place since the 50's (at least) and our community should have grown and thrived in such fertile, supportive conditions. Instead the various groups and their leaders seemed only to devolve as they focused more and more on arguments and imagined hurts. Jealously, disdain for organization, and immature thinking meant that most groups never worked well together. Few groups were very effective on their own and many well meaning organizers were overwhelmed by feckless, irresponsible and often abusive behavior among their members, including, I might add, some Big Name Pagans. This behavior was the subject for constant, ill-natured gossip but was rarely addressed in any useful way.
Any student of history will tell us that this is par for the course among abused peoples and dysfunctional families but that same student will point out that every oppressed group has had to work to raise themselves up from learned helplessness and "victim think". So why not us? I believe it is because we do not insist on high standards, good manners and clearly stated ethics in our groups. By our actions - or lack of same - we show that we do not value healthy adult behavior and emotional growth, let alone teach an awareness of dysfunctional behavior or model healthy ways on how to deal with it. My friends and I have done what we can and I do see that changing. It is a slow process.
So, yes, the Pagan Doers in my Rolodex were very hard to find but what lovely, hard working, gifted, compassionate, joyful and giving people they are. They light my way every single day and I cherish each one.
Recently a very good woman posted on her Facebook page that she was tired and saddened by the childish behavior she saw in the Pagan community. Her friends (people who know her well as I do not) gathered together at her page as if around a campfire, sharing stories, hope, encouragement and warmth. It was humbling to read so much honesty and hard-won wisdom in one place and I thought, "She knows people like this because like attracts like."
I value this woman. Her writing is gut centered and honest. Her pragmatism is based in rock solid ethics and an evergreen compassion. It makes me a better person and a better Pagan to read her work and share her journey, even in this small way. I added my two cents to their discussion, some of which you're reading now. She will take what she needs and leave the rest.
I know what it is to be tired and sad and discouraged by arguments that hold us back. While being a Pagan alone or in a small group is both rewarding and worthwhile it doesn't prepare one for what they will encounter when they leave a small, safe haven and try to get more than three Pagans to work together on a project, no matter how worthy that project might be. I've always believed in leading by example and if I wanted something done in the Pagan community, I organized a few good people and we got it done. The key to our success was that we had fun and did good at the same time. We had real world skills, which we put to good use on behalf of our brothers and sisters and (this is important) causes greater than ourselves. That happens among us all the time, we just don't hear about it very much because the yelling and the whining drowns out the shared stories from the group who are gathered around that small campfire up on the hill. If you want to find these folks you'll have to hike a long way. Anyone too attached to their baggage will find it easier to stay near well traveled roads in the flat lands and complain about the journey.
I loved the work I did back then. I wouldn't change very much about those years but doing community work is wearing in a way that only someone who has done it knows. To be honest, I have no patience with people who only write books or blog theories telling me what Pagan communities "should" be like but who have never helped anyone cross a deep river or built a shelter, themselves. If they want the reality they've envisioned let them get out there and make it so.
As I said before, I got tired and downhearted and burnt out after so many years of pushing that Pagan Community rock uphill, and when I lost some loved ones to illness in those years, I discovered I just didn't have the energy to do as much as I had done before. I didn't loose hope, I just needed to grieve and take some rest. I also needed to give deep thought to where my energy was going.
My motto has always been to ask "What Matters? What Works? What's Next?" When I moved to a new state I stopped working with Pagans, as Pagans but I never stopped doing work I cared about. I simply stopped trying, as this woman put it (and as I have often said here) "to get other Pagans to care about more than themselves". Happily, my Pagan Rolodex is full of people who do just that.
There is profound truth to be found in paradox and here is one of my favorites: These days I find it easier to find Earthwise colleagues if I don't look for them. Rather than search for "doers" among those who identify as Pagans, I've chosen to do work that matters to me and then do the Happy Dance when I find Pagan Doers among the committed, like-minded, hard working, damned funny, trust worthy souls I find out walking in the wider world. Some of these folks are stealthy, some are out as Pagans in a quiet sort of way and some would be well known to you. What a great feeling it is to find them, alive and thriving out in the wild when we thought they were extinct. Here is my favorite part of that paradox: As much as these people love ritual and deep play in their practice, I doubt I would have met them at a Pagan festival, group or meet. So it goes. (1)
Here is another odd but obvious-when-you-think-about-it fact: If you are pretentious or silly or ill behaved, Pagan Doers won't play with you. I've seen very "out" Pagans arrive in high style, claiming they want to help a good cause but acting very entitled and grand. Seeing this attitude, the other Pagans keep to themselves, not waiting to be lumped in with such people, knowing that the Show Offs won't last very long doing work that requires commitment, sacrifice and putting one's ego on the shelf. A wise woman once said, "If I can't dance, it's not my revolution." So dance away, my friends, but please bring a bit of food to share, and help clean up after. (And don't expect the rest of us to pay the fiddler for your entertainment). If you contribute in some way, no matter how small, you'll be most welcome.
These days, I work with those who put the work, first, and we learn a great deal from each other. Each one of these people is a blessing and a teaching for me, as many of you reading this have been.
Go well, stay well,
(1) I will make one, notable exception when it comes this: You will find some excellent Pagan Doers at Pantheacon.
You'll know them when you meet them. Please give them my best.