The Question of Community – Again

Before I start this post, I will say this: It’s going to piss some people off, but I hope it gets people thinking and talking about an issue that needs to be discussed.

The question of community in the Pagan Scene seems to come up every few years; the last notable time in my locale was when Brendan Myers and Juniper Cox, hosts of the Standing Stone and Garden Gate podcast, stopped in my old hometown while on a cross-Canada trek in November of 2009. This question gets raised in almost every city and every Pagan community at one point or another and I’ve sat around for years, nearly bursting with things I wanted to say but have now finally felt the need to speak up publicly about it. The few times, I did speak up, I was accused of being negative.

I’ll use my own locale as an example since I am most familiar with it. Take a look at this, though, and see if any of this is happening in your community.

The particular incident that is fueling current discussion about the state of the greater Pagan community in my locale was Pagan Pride Day, which did not happen this year. This has resulted in people questioning what has happened to the Pagan Community and lamenting its loss. One prominent member of the community even mused on a blog that perhaps the closing down of a well-known Pagan store was part of the reason the community is so fractured. There was even some musing about how Gaia Gathering has not been hosted in my hometown, despite being a large city. In response to that, all I can say is that it is not going to happen until changes are made and important issues are addressed.

Looking at what happened to this year’s PPD, it could be chalked up to just “one of those flukey things that can happen in life”: one person seemed to be running it who got injured and could not do it anymore. Looking at the Facebook group for the event, there was quite a bit of public flaming going on during discussions and it was just not a healthy place to be. No one found out about the organizer’s bailing on the event until PPD didn’t happen on the date that it was scheduled for. Whoops! Fortunately, some community minded people took up the slack and are now beginning preparations for PPD to happen in 2013. Great discussions are happening on the Facebook group and a new website is up. A meeting of the organizers is happening in a few weeks and things seem to be well underway!

All has not been lost, but those discussions on the Facebook group are a reflection of what has been happening in the local community for almost 20 years and why things like successfully hosting Gaia Gathering is not within our reach right now. The community has not become fractured or disappeared because a Pagan shop closed. Quite a number of Pagan shops have opened and closed here over the past 20 years, and still the community remained.

In my opinion, the reason is the abuse that has run rampant in the community from all sides in that time.

There, I said it.

The history of the larger community in my locale is not a pretty one and has experienced almost 20 years of what the nursing community now calls “Horizontal Violence”. In my opinion, “Horizontal Violence” is just another euphemism for “Bullying” which is the common euphemism for “Abuse”, which is what I believe needs to be addressed before any healthy community can develop, Pagan or otherwise. This is as true of my locale as it is for many others, I am certain.

Definition:

Horizontal Violence is harmful behavior, via attitudes, actions, words, and other behaviors that is directed towards us by another colleague. Horizontal violence controls, humiliates, denigrates or injures the dignity of another. Horizontal violence indicates a lack of mutual respect and value for the worth of the individual and denies another’s fundamental human rights.

~ From “Horizontal Violence Position Statement” found on the Proactive Nurse website: http://proactivenurse.com/index.php?option=com_content&Itemid=22&id=83

The Proactive Nursing site provides some examples of Horizontal Violence:
•    Name-calling, threatening , intimidating, belittling
•    Gossiping, talking behind the back
•    Sarcastic remarks
•    Ignoring or minimizing another’s concerns
•    Slurs based on race, ethnicity, religion, gender, or sexual-orientation
•    Pushing, shoving, throwing objects
•    Physical threats or intimidation
•    Inappropriate or unwelcome physical contact
•    Sexual harassment
•    Limiting the right to free speech and to have and state an opinion
•    Behaviors which seek to control or dominate another
•    Elitist attitudes based on education, specialization, or clinical area of practice

Replace “clinical area of practice” with “Tradition” and this might make a bit more sense in the Pagan context. Does any of this sound familiar? I experienced many examples of this and heard many more examples from others. I’ve read countless other examples of this on mailing lists, websites, and personal blogs. (Google “Pagan Bullying”, “fractured Pagan community” or even just “Pagan Community” to see what I am talking about.)

On one hand, I am relieved that I am not alone in seeing this. On the other, I am very concerned. This is a widespread problem!

Brendan and Juniper’s visit in 2009 raised questions in our locale about where the larger community went and why leaders are not having beers with each other. Juniper Cox wrote a brilliant blog post which challenges the thought that things are well here.

In one of the places we visited, we were told by a few different people (all independently) that there was a division and some strain in their community. We mentioned this to a couple of the leaders in that community. At first they seemed quite happy to use the Solitaries, Newbies, Teen Pagans and Ecletics as scapegoats (like many Pagan Leaders I have met, GRRR!)

Anyways….

They then kept insisting there was NO split because they feel the Leaders do get along very well.

(huh no spilt but you are happy to sacrifice the Solitaries and Newbies eh? hmmmmm I smell a rat)

So I asked them this:

If you say that the Leaders and Elders in your community all get along just fine, but your community says otherwise … are you leading by example? Do the members of your community SEE their Leaders & Elders getting along? Do they see you talk, do you organize events together? Do they see you going out for a beer together?

The answer I recieved from said Leaders was:

“Um … well, NO”

If I recall correctly, this was the first time Juniper had been to this city and met with many of those people. (I was not in attendance at the event) Juniper noticed there was a problem right away after only a few hours of talking with people in our locale. If someone from outside of our locale noticed it so quickly, how many people in our locale were noticing it too?

Intrigued, I brought this up with members of my Grove at our Samhain gathering. One member asked:  “Why does there only need to be one Community, particularly one that is so unhealthy? Why can there not be several smaller, thriving communities?” Why indeed? Our Grove had pulled away from the general community in 2005 and from that time found a connection with each other, did our best to stay out of the politics and just be a little community of our own. It worked out well.

I’m sure that quite a few people have asked those very same questions and, as a result, smaller and private communities are thriving. I’ve been fortunate to meet and celebrate with some of them. They are quietly going about their business and are happy to do so without involving themselves with the greater community. People are becoming more involved with more established global communities or starting projects of their own, away from our locale. It seems to be healthier that way. I found it to be so.

Getting back to Pagan Pride Day for a moment, our locale’s Pagan Pride Day started in the year 2000 by a group of teenagers. I joined the the original planning committee during that year. While not new to Druidry, I was very new to the Pagan community in my locale after over about 10 years of solitary practice due to the lack of Druids in the area. I remained with the committee for 3 years and then left when I changed careers and began running my own Grove.

Life moved on for me and I got busy with a score of other things including getting married,  buying a house/moving out of town, changing careers, volunteering on four boards of directors (national and local) and with the police, starting university, being ordained as a Third Order Druid with RDNA, serving as Regional Druid for ADF, Regional Coordinator for TDN,  and co-organizing The Spirit of the West Druid Gathering with some very awesome people.  There’s no denying that I’ve been quite involved with my community in many respects, both mundane and spiritual. Even my job as a manager of volunteers keeps me involved with over 300 people who choose to serve their community.  All of these things have been healthy, rewarding, enlightening and quite simply amazing!

It all boils down to this: Nobody wants to live in a spiritual cesspool, which is what the larger community in my locale had became over almost two decades. Eventually, people see the writing on the wall, vote with their feet and leave. One definition of insanity is doing the same thing over again and expecting different results. It’s not happening just here, but in many locales. What do do about it? Who will stand up? Is it even worth it?

When there is no trust, something as big as the Gaia Gathering won’t happen in our locale anytime soon. It took over 20 years for that trust to be destroyed time and time again. That kind of damage might take twice as long to heal, but it needs to be done if people want it to grow once more.

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