Tag Archives: community

Pagan Community – matters of access

To be a proper community, we need plenty of spaces people can access without having to pay. Many other religions have advantages over us in this regard – having physical spaces people can turn up to with a paid clergy on hand. Many other religions set the bar far lower than we do – a person need only show up to a church to be included in a service. Modern Paganism doesn’t recruit and fundraise in the way some religions do, which is also why we don’t have the infrastructure. I like us better for that, but it does mean we need to be careful about access.

I’ve been in and out of an assortment of big Pagan groups over the years. I have paid my way over the threshold, and, once in have usually felt some degree of belonging and involvement. Every time I’ve left somewhere, I’ve noticed how easy it is. How ‘community’ evaporates when I can’t, or won’t pay to carry on there.

In more local contexts, participation has often meant being able to afford to access the venue. Can I afford to go out for an evening? Do I have the clothes, the money for the door or a half of something? How am I going to get there, and back and who will take care of my child? For most of those questions, physical energy can be as much an issue for me as the financial cost.

The internet has given us a lot of space where people can meet. Many Pagans are still geographically isolated from other Pagans, and it is only via membership of the big groups or participation online that they can connect with other Pagans. However, the quality of online spaces isn’t what it could be. It’s very hard for a new seeker to tell what’s reliable and what’s wishful thinking, what’s trustworthy and what’s a bid to get into their wallet or pants. There are far more people who want to learn than there are teachers – that’s been an issue for decades. Much as I love the internet (here we all are, after all) there are things that can’t adequately be taught long distance and that need the energy and magic of being in the same place.

There are lots of reasons to set the bar high with access to our working groups. If you want to do serious Pagan stuff, then constantly having to educate newbies can be a real distraction from that. Not everyone wants to teach. Too much fluidity in a group makes it unstable and stops it feeling like the safe and intimate space many of us prefer for ritual. There isn’t really a space in a Pagan ritual for lay Pagans, you can’t be stood in a circle and not be an active participant, it just doesn’t work. So we can’t have the same casual attitude to people rocking up that a Christian church might have. What works for them doesn’t work for us.

I don’t think there are many widely applicable answers to the question of making the Pagan community accessible, and not dependant on jumping through hoops. It does however help to have slightly permeable edges to groups and to do the occasional public facing thing that allows the curious to make contact and have a look. The more groups are able to be a little bit available sometimes, the easier it is to answer this need without creating too much work for anyone.

I can’t help but feel that learning your Paganism from Facebook groups and chat rooms, and the odd blog, or even books, is probably about as good as learning all your sex style by watching pornography. There’s a lot of technical stuff that you will certainly pick up. But, odd things may happen to your expectations, and you may get some unhelpful ideas about how the relationships work. There is more we can do to make internet and book experiences more real and grounded, and less like magic-porn.

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Dependent human

We evolved to be communal creatures living in extended families. And yet, I see so much contemporary advice on the importance, and healthiness of being independent. Need someone too much and you’ll get labelled as co-dependent.

We start early with this process. It is normal to hand over your baby to someone else when that baby is only a few months old, and go back to work. No doubt human history is full of things you didn’t do while holding a baby, but in a hunter-gatherer arrangement it is fair to assume the gatherer has the baby tied to them. Generally, mammals keep their offspring close beside them until the offspring is ready to fend for itself. Parents take it in turns to hunt, and to watch the little ones, or they hunt and come back and the little ones are not left for long. We don’t do that.

Family life is ever more fragmented, with few households sitting down regularly to eat together, or just spend time together. We are to sit alone in our own rooms, staring at our own screens and eating our own ready meal… what a miserable way to exist.

I’ve seen estimates that the modern human sees more people in a year than a mediaeval person would have done in their whole life. We can have a lot of human activity going on, but no intimacy, no depth of relationship, no reliance or trust. If you are surrounded by a vast sea of people who mean very little to you, perhaps independence makes sense as an idea.

I am a social creature. I need to know where I belong and who my people are. If I don’t have a tribe, I feel ungrounded, and a bit lost. For preference I want a tribe that knows it is a tribe, where conscious involvement in each other’s lives, care and mutual support is a given. I function best in groups of less than a dozen and I can comfortably belong to more than one such group, although I find I have one group where that feeling of connection is most profound and important to me.

Unashamed of being a social creature I can admit that I need the people around me. Most of the time I don’t need them to do anything specific, just be themselves and be part of my life. Their stories and adventures, their cares and ambitions become part of my story too. We make a life, and a future out of that.

There are people who recoil in horror when anyone says ‘need’. People who have learned to fear the idea of being thought co-dependent. People who fear being diminished if they hand over anything of their precious independence. But, there’s something very beautiful indeed about being in the company of people who are not afraid to need each other.


Celebrating the Equinox

I’ve always found equinoxes tricky, not least because I’ve never found much in the way of folk tradition to draw on. There is a lovely modern tradition that makes the 21st of September International Peace Day, and that’s something worth tapping into, certainly.

This equinox might, therefore be a good time to think about who we include in our ritual circles, and who we don’t. Superficial peace is easily achieved – distance, absence, ignoring, denying, silencing, disappearing, disempowering – all of this can make for a peaceful scenario for those who come out on top. However, for those who are silenced and vanished, the problems and the effect of being denied is the exact opposite of peace.

In the long term, the superficial peace that silences the unpeaceful will beget future conflicts. Real peace means dealing with the problems. It means looking at our conflicts and trying to work out what to do with them. It means asking what we do about people who mistreat others within our communities, and it means recognising that to do nothing is always to support the aggressor and to deny the victim.

It is ok for people to fall out, disagree, find they can’t work together and move on. Great things can come from people realising they don’t like a thing and striking out to make the thing they want on their own terms. This kind of division does not have to be ultimately unpeaceful. The separation may be messy, but if we can respect our differences, we can all move on in good ways.

Sometimes the actions, words or behaviour of one person will put another person in a situation they can’t deal with. We tend to treat this as an individual problem rather than a community one. We let the person go who feels least able to stay. Power and popularity may prove more important than justice and fairness. If there’s nothing more to it than a personality clash, then perhaps the only thing to do is weather the short term grief and start over. Some things cannot easily be fixed.

Groups in the habit of pushing people out are not good groups to be in. Groups that tacitly support bullying, because there’s someone powerful in the centre of the group, are not good spaces. So much of this echoes the playground, where there are always kids who will gravitate towards the deliberately nasty one in the hopes that by supporting them, they will never be the victim themselves.

So at this time of balance, I invite you to think about how we hold our edges. How we let people go when they need to, and how we work together when there’s conflict that needs collective solutions. What we do with people when they are out of order, what we do with people when they are hurt? If you are standing in circle today, or at the weekend, think about the peace of your circle and what maintains it, think about your community as a whole. Ask whether you have true peace, or the calm that comes from ignoring the issues, or making the problems go away.


Casting a circle around things

For Pagans, casting a circle is a term to evoke a feeling of ritual. We cast circles to delineate between sacred time and regular time, and hold a space that is a temporary temple. We may do it for magical protection, and to raise power. There is a definite difference between what is inside the circle and what is outside. Depending on the intent behind the ritual, the circle will be closed and impermeable, or not so much.

I notice that humans draw circles around things all the time. We create edges so that some things and people are inside, and outside of our circles. We draw lines round things to declare what’s allowed in, what isn’t, what is important, and what isn’t. These circles have power, and in holding them we can feel incredibly powerful. They are the lines of saying no, of turning away at the border.

Of course there are many times and places where such boundaries are good and appropriate. We put edges on things to contain them and give them coherence. Without this, our definitions become meaningless. What is a Druid? What is Paganism? Although somewhere, someone is arguing about where exactly the edges should be for those, no one argues that we should not have edges. On the whole, I think drawing circles round ideas is a good idea.

However, we also draw circles around people, and that’s a lot more sinister. There’s a world of difference between drawing a circle around your concept of Druidry and drawing a circle that says ‘black people can’t be Druids’ or ‘what we do is only suitable for able bodied people’. I also question the way in which Paganism so often deliberately excludes children, and by extension the mothers (sometimes fathers) of children.

There’s nothing like a clique for drawing circles around the special people and excluding the rest. And no doubt it feels fabulous to be publicly identified as one of ‘team druid’ but it also means the rest of the people on the field at your Druid camp aren’t that. The more we give a minority special important status, the more we can end up devaluing everyone else. It’s something to be alert to.

For me, casting a circle outside of ritual is about defining concepts. When it comes to people, I like permeable edges, so that if someone turns up and is doing all the things, they are inside. Whether that’s about running rituals, being at a Druid event, or being part of a social group, a permeable edge lets people through when they identify with what’s going on. An edge held only so that people can see their own involvement.


Druid Community

Is there such a thing as Druid community? It’s a question I’ve revisited repeatedly. I’ve been a member of The Druid Network and Henge of Keltria – my inclusion or exclusion dependant largely on whether I am willing to pay for membership. Technically I will always be a member of OBOD, but unless I pay for the magazine, I don’t have much direct contact. I believe there are boards I could use, but I spend too much time online as it is. Experience of physically meeting up in groves and groups has also demonstrated to me how easy it is to come in, and to leave.

Communities have to have permeable edges. If people can’t come in, or move on, then you have something stagnant and unhealthy. But at the same time I think that it’s too easy to solve things by leaving, by letting people leave, and thus by not really sorting things out at all.

For me, community means working together to maintain relationships. It’s not simply paying to access the same space, or temporary allegiances. Community means dealing in some way with our conflicts, differing needs, issues and so forth, rather than rejecting anyone who isn’t a neat fit outright. How far we are willing to go to include and to look after each other is a question I think we need to be asking.

Thanks to the internet, and to modern transport most of us aren’t obliged to deal with the Druids around us. There are no real pressures on us to work together. And if the ‘problem’ just leaves, problem solved! I think in this way, Druids are simply reflecting the rest of how things work generally. We move on, we leave jobs, we move away from difficult neighbours, we cut off friends we’ve fallen out with… These are all things that individuals in conflict have little scope of handling well.

Peace is something we talk about a lot around Druidry, but it’s not something we all practice. We don’t all seek peaceful resolutions for each other. We don’t all tend to intervene to resolve things, we often just let the problem move on, or encourage it to. Let the awkward person go somewhere else. Let the person who lost the argument quit.

Mediation is hard work. It can call for challenging people, and for investing time, care and effort in trying to resolve things. To do it, we’d have to really care about each other… like we were some kind of community or something.

(I expect there are Druid communities out there that do this for each other, but mostly my experience has been of the other sort of thing.)


Community and Creativity

Every now and then I get to write the acknowledgement section for a book, and I usually start it by saying that no book is written in isolation. You’ll find a number of books that specifically mention how important this blog is in my writing process. These are workouts, tests, development sessions, they help me build towards those bigger projects. The feedback I get here enlarges my knowledge, broadens my perspective.

Of course it’s not just books. We are all doing whatever we do in a wider context. Most of us are supported or encouraged, or inspired by some else. Most of us are interacting with others, in whatever way makes sense. We’re engaging with other people who do the things we do so that our work is rooted, and relevant. We don’t have to slavishly copy what everyone else is doing but at the same time… books by authors who have read nothing in their field are easy to spot, and seldom good to read.

In any project, we stand, if not on the shoulders of giants, then on the shoulders of our many ancestors of tradition. It’s interesting to think about who they are and what they have given us.

I’m very, very lucky in that I belong to a number of creative communities that support me and give me places to put down roots. Moon Books, my Pagan publisher, is very much a community of writers and fellow travellers. I feel connected to the wider Pagan community, too. I feel a strong sense of connection with the Steampunk community, it inspires me, and means there’s a group of people I feel I’m creating things for. There’s comics community, and folk community and local community and these are all part of my mix as well.

What’s proved even more powerful for me is to be a part of a creative community that shares – be that in gathering together to air poems, stories and music, or co-creating art, or passing written texts back and forth. People who are willing to make larger and deeper connections around creative process. You can read Kevan Manwaring’s It Takes a Village to Raise a Story – about a project I’ve been involved in recently.  It’s an excellent reflection on collective creativity.

I’m also in the process of building a collective creative space, as hopelessmaine.com slowly draws people in to its dark and crazy world. People are coming to it from all the places I call home, and that’s heart warming. It’s important that there be safe spaces for people to stretch and develop, and this is one such.

The image of the lone genius, set apart from the world, making their thing in isolation, is not a healthy image. It’s not a sane image, or an image that offers the creator much joy or comfort. Some of us do need to retreat to the high tower now and then, but if there’s no one waiting for you to come out bearing the fruits of your labours, it is a sad and lonely sort of business. It’s a lot easier to keep creating when someone else believes in what you’re doing, and when what you are doing is part of some greater whole.


The community cost of injustice

There’s an obvious upfront cost to injustice that relates very immediately to whatever has gone wrong. What seems like a small unfairness to someone not immediately affected by it can seem like a small problem, not worth the hassle of sorting out. To the person on the receiving end, that small wrong can be life destroying. However, there is a larger and more subtle cost, one that we keep overlooking. Injustice breaks relationships and undermines communities. All the injustice that stems from prejudice. All the injustice that is intrinsic to rape and abuse. Social and financial injustice. All of it.

So, you’re affected by something, and it hurts you, and damages your life, your wellbeing. I’ll leave it to you to decide what sort of injustice to imagine or remember at this point. Nothing is done. The system refuses to change, the perpetrator is not tackled, no one says ‘hey that’s not ok and shouldn’t be happening.’ You are left with the immediate damage, and the knowledge that no one cares enough to do anything about it. A second level of hurt comes from this, and that hurt can go deeper than even the initial damage.

If your wounding is trivialised and/or ignored, then your relationship with the people who don’t care, changes. It may be that you have to see the injustice inherent in the system, and you can’t ever unsee it and feel easy about things again. It may be that you start seeing all people from the group that harmed you as a potential threat. You will likely feel cut off, and alienated, and angry, and there’s nowhere to take that because the people who most need to know about it have already made it pretty clear that they don’t care.

We’re doing this all the time. We do it at the state level. We collectively turn away from victims. We close our ears to them, we don’t listen to their stories. If we don’t think something would bother us, we decline to see why it would be a problem for anyone else. Injustice severs the natural bonds between people. It dehumanises all of us. When we look away. When we don’t worry because it’s not happening to us. When we say ‘oh, it’s not that big a deal really, stop making a fuss,’  we contribute. And so there is fear, and mistrust, resentment, bitterness, anger all bubbling away in so many places for so many reasons. It’s been there a long time and it won’t change easily, but change it must.


Community solutions

For some time now, I’ve been exploring the idea that many of the problems our societies construct as individual issues, aren’t. I’ve mostly been looking at this in terms of mental health, but suspect it applies more widely. The emphasis on the problem as being the individual’s problem, and the solution being individual too, seems highly suspect to me. Depression, anxiety and other stress-induced problems happen in a context, and if we don’t change the context how can there be a real solution?

Up until this week, I’d thought of my problems with inspiration as being a personal problem, necessitating personal solutions, or otherwise unfixable. Opening up about the problem has brought me a lot of conversations – here, on facebook and by email. Thank you everyone who did that. Apparently it’s not just me. Rather than seeing a personal problem, I’m now seeing a much bigger problem(s) impacting on creative people. The answer, then, is to find solutions that aren’t just for me. Maybe what we have here is the sort of thing that can only be dealt with collectively.

My plan at the moment is to spend time over the next few days really facing up to this, to my own feelings of guilt, shame, grief and loss, and to look at what paralyses me. I’ve not done this before, because these are painful things to look in the face, but, I think it’s necessary to walk into it.

So, this is an open invitation to contribute. If you have experiences either of being able to maintain your creativity, or of struggling with it, and you’re willing to share what’s happening, then please do. If you don’t want to do that in public, just comment that you’d like an email and I’ll get in touch – wordpress helpfully shows me your email address when you comment. Anything shared privately I won’t put out in public except in a generic ‘some people are finding’ kind of way.


Needing People

Some people like to feel needed, but there are plenty of folk for whom saying ‘I need you’ is likely to induce some kind of panic. What they hear (I suspect) is more like ‘I need you to commit to doing certain things for me.’ I need you to bolster me up in certain ways. I need you to look after me, take responsibility for me, I will make work for you and suck up your time and energy.

We all need people. At a practical level, most of us need people to do the many things we cannot do for ourselves. We may never meet the people who grow and prepare our food, make our clothes, provide our electricity and maintain our roads but we need them nonetheless.

Humans are social creatures. We’ve evolved to work co-operatively and to live in groups. Many of us, if left alone, become lonely and miserable. Here’s an article about how loneliness kills. Meaningful human interactions are part of what keeps us sane and coping.

We all need people.

What if that needing isn’t about specific actions? What if it’s not about asking people to take roles and responsibilities within our lives? What if I can say ‘I need you’ and you will hear that as my need to have you, as you are, in my life. Not doing anything extra, just doing what you do and being who you are.

What if being who you are and doing what you do is wholly sufficient already? What if you didn’t have to go some difficult extra mile to be the sort of person who is needed? Then being needed wouldn’t be a matter of utility, just a recognition of who we are.


Lessons from 2016

I’m a big fan of pausing now and then to review my experiences so that I can see what there is to be learned. The end of a calendar year is a very obvious point at which to do this. Normally I review things on a day to day basis, but some patterns and lessons only really emerge when a bigger time frame is considered.

2016 delivered a run of intensive lessons about how I value myself, and how I act based on that value. For too long, I’ve been over-grateful for any kind of place to be involved, any sense of being wanted, or useful, or tolerated. In practice this has made me vulnerable to people who want to use me, and has put me in places that don’t give me what I need. At a less unpleasant level, it has also put me in places of half-heartedness and lack of commitment, and those don’t suit me either.

What I need, above and beyond all else in terms of work and community is the emphatic ‘Yes’. I need the people who are wholehearted about wanting me in the mix and who will accept my wholehearted and serious commitment. Situations that want me half-hearted, not too intense, and so on, crush me over time. I have realised that if I assume nothing better is available, then I won’t be looking for anything better. This year I started looking for the social spaces that give me an emphatic yes. I’d come to think of my marriage as a little bubble of difference, a unique space that I couldn’t hope to replicate in terms of the feeling of being valued, accepted and inspired. It’s not just us, I just needed to learn how to look, and to believe it was worth looking.

For a couple of years now, working at Moon Books part time has been an absolute joy, because that’s a space where my energy, ideas, innovation and efforts are valued and trusted. I love that work, and it has become the measure for other things I take on with other people (measuring everyone against Tom would seem unfair). If it’s not as good as Moon Books, if I’m not as excited about it, if I’m not working with people who are that fired up… why would I bother?

What I’ve found is that spaces, and people are becoming more available to me. I want to do the work that only I can do. I want to do work that is needed and valued. I want to spend my spare time with people who are delighted to do that, not with people who grudgingly accommodate and find me difficult. 2016 has taught me that I can have those things, and I don’t need to waste any more of my time on half-hearted nonsense.