Monday, May 16, 2011

Pagans Aren't Organized

Dude, Pagans don’t have an agenda. They’re Pagans. Organizational skills, eh, not their strong suit.
– Jon Stewart responding humorously to a comment by Bob Jones in 2004

As dismissive as that comment is, it's right on the money. Pagans don't have a national agenda, and organizational skills? We are certainly lacking in that department. Now don't get me wrong, there are plenty of organized Pagans, and there are even some Pagans with strong organizational skills. But as a National Group of individuals, we are unorganized, and we don't really have an agenda.

I was reading a blog entry about this that I stumbled across on facebook. Most of the post was about getting Jason Pitzl-Waters of The Wild Hunt Blog on to the Daily Show**. Fair cause, there are probably two million of us, more Pagans than Jews,* and I'm sure there's been a rabbi on there a time or two. Jon Stewart is generally an "equally opportunity host," meaning he'll have people on his show he and his audience will vehemently disagree with. I love that about The Daily Show, but he's still never had a Pagan on there.

The Jon Stewart quote that started this piece off is being used a rallying point to prove Stewart wrong (you can read the blog piece that started me off on my merry meandering way here:, but I can't find any evidence that he is wrong. The Pitzl-Waters petition is fizzling out, and the largest amount of likes on facebook by what we'd assume is the Pagan community is only 58,000 and that is for the publisher Llewellyn. (Quick note about Llewellyn, they sell a lot of books about general "New Age" topics, and tons of astrology stuff, Llewellyn and Pagan are not synonymous). Witchvox has 27,000 fans, and we can be reasonably sure they are all Pagans, not very good really. Witchschool has 9,000 fans which is 8,992 more fans then they should have.

So yeah, we aren't very organized, we can't even agree on things to like on facebook. Shit, while reading facebook I'm always surprised at how many conservative Pagans there are out there. It's hard to argue that Pagans are fighting for "religious freedom and equality" when I see that someone is a fan of Sarah Palin or is voting with the GOP in a state election. Of course there's nothing wrong with being conservative, or disliking government, but there is something wrong with voting for a political party that refuses to allow gays to marry or to protect the rights of minority religions, like ours. (If you have to vote right, vote Libertarian or something.)

At the local level there's so much infighting and snipping that nothing gets done. A few years ago, back in Michigan, I contacted the organizers of my local "Pagan Pride Day," which was a tiny little event. I didn't want to take over the event or anything, I just wanted to show some support, maybe do a few workshops or something. I didn't hear anything back. I tried again a year later and I heard through the grapevine that the organizers didn't want to have me help out, even though I could have offered financial, logistical, and promotional support. Heaven forbid someone else reflect the limited glory of a Pagan Pride Event. You can't be organized when your ego won't allow you to accept any help.

Anyone who puts on a Pagan Festival is a braver person than I. I can't imagine the amount of work and headaches it would entail, but I can bet that those headaches would be a lot less if the organizers would just ask for help once in awhile. I can't tell you how many times I've gone to a festival that's a total cluster-fuck. What's most annoying is that I know if someone had just said "We need some help" that there would be 100 folks ready to give their time and talents away, for free. Pagans can't organize a festival for 1000 people half the time, no wonder we can't get 100,000 people to sign a petition.

(There are some organized festivals out there, and the ones that are, generally have dozens and dozen of volunteers making sure everything is running smoothly. Not surprising huh?)

How long does the average eclectic Pagan circle last? Two years on average or something like that? It's pitifully short. There are some organized covens and groups that have lasted a few decades, but what's the turnover like? I bet it's high, especially in leadership positions. Pagans just aren't like other groups, there aren't enough Pagan sheep to ever be like other groups.

Most religious groups are full of sheep, followers. Those individuals have no desire to lead a congregation or a synagogue, or to ever be in a position of power. Pagans are the exact opposite, there are very few sheep. I think that a lot of that has to do with the type of personality necessary to become a Pagan in the first place-someone who refuses to accept the status quo, with the inner-strength to choose an unconventional path. This high percentage of "Type A" personalities is both a blessing and a curse.

It's a blessing because it enriches our Pagan landscape. I like going to as many different kinds of rituals as possible, and experiencing lots of different stuff. If people didn't branch out and do their own thing that wouldn't happen. So the fact that we aren't all sitting together in a pew reading out of the same hymnal is a strength, we get this much broader worldview if we want it.

Of course it's also a curse. There's more pettiness because everyone wants to be in charge. I'm sure there are people not signing the Pitzl-Waters blog because they feel as if they should be the one going on The Daily Show. It's hard to ever get super-organized because that would mean acknowledging someone might be in a higher position in the community than we are. Due to our general unorganizedness I contribute to the Red Cross instead of a Pagan charity, I just don't know where that money is going, making us look more unorganized of course.

So Pagans are unorganized, and I doubt it's going to change anytime soon. In the years to come I think we will have a tremendous influence on pop culture, and in some places, will turn into an organized force in our communities, but I don't see us organizing enough to have a national presence. We might hop on the backs of some nature groups or whatever, but they won't become "Pagan," just "Pagan influenced."

That brings up one final question, do I want us to be organized? I don't know. I'd like to see more Pagans make wise decisions about who we elect and what we do in our communities, but I'm not sure that's organization. I have mixed feelings about it. I like the fluidity of Paganism, and I wouldn't want someone defining the absolute rights and wrongs of it, organization could lead to that. ("We'd have loved to have Mr. Mankey involved, but he does worship Jim Morrison as Dionysus and we just can't be having that associated with our group," or what if someone decided the poly-people couldn't participate?) So it's a slippery slope, though getting enough of us in agreement that the government didn't mock our faith would be a positive, I just don't know how to go about it.

That's all I've got today, thanks for reading!

*I love knowing that, and it's something I will probably come back to over and over for the next couple of years.

**Some of the reasoning to have Pitzl-Waters on the show was as a rebuttal to right wing nut-job David Barton, but it's not like Jon Stewart doesn't call those guys out.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Osama, The Summerlands, and Hell

I was euphoric last night. The United States had finally captured Osama Bin Laden. I'm not generally in favor of the death penalty, but I was glad he was killed. This world is a better place without Bin Laden.

Right after news outlets began reporting his death, I wrote something on my facebook account about "Obama burning in hell." It didn't really occur to me until this morning that I don't believe in hell, at least most of the time. Modern Pagan attitudes about the afterlife vary greatly, and are sometimes even non-existant.

One of the drawbacks (and a strength) to being a people "without a book" is that Pagans have very "lacking" views on the afterlife. This isn't a new thing either. The paganisms of antiquity were equally quiet. The Greek afterlife was a place of no joy or suffering (usually, there were some exceptions), it was just a place. Many of the Greek Mystery Traditions seemed to believe in reincarnation on this world, and a more joyous afterlife-you got to hang with Dionysus for instance. The Norse had different levels of expectation and the Celts seemed to believe in reincarnations, but they were also buried with their stuff suggesting "you can take it with you" and a life in another world.

As a Pagan I'm expected to believe in reincarnation, and I do for the most part. I'm not exactly sure how it works, but I believe in the immortality of the soul and I think it's likely that our souls return to this world over and over again. The waiting room between trips in Modern Paganism is generally referred to as "The Summerlands," and I'm hopeful that it's as pleasant as it sounds. Paganism has always been more concerned with this life, and not the next one. If reincarnation is real, it helps to explain a lot of weird thing that have happened in my life.

Every once in awhile I run into someone that I swear I've known forever, without that being possible. Usually it's a very intense experience with a lover or girlfriend. The attraction is instantaneous, and there's just this weird feeling of "knowing" that we both share. Usually those relationships burn out in a matter of weeks, but they have to have a root cause somewhere, and reincarnation has always made sense.

When I explain the idea of reincarnation at a Pagan 101 class I tend to talk about the world as a learning experience, an experience that takes a few trips to get the hang off. I assume that eventually you figure out the point of existence and merge with a higher consciousness, or find yourself at some sort of peace surrounded by loved ones. Part of me also thinks lives are a constant stream of whacky adventures, perhaps on different levels of existence. Maybe we get to be dragons at some point, or demons, or aliens, I don't know.

I'm guessing we come back as people most incarnations, but who's to say? Maybe someone likes to dress up like a pony and have sex because they were a horse in a past life? Perhaps my ex-girlfriend purred because she was a cat last time. I don't really know. Nobody does.

A part of me also believes that the afterlife is what you want it to be. I have trouble imagining my grandparents reincarnating and being apart. In my mind I don't really picture them in heaven, I just picture them holding each other staring into an eternal sunset arms wrapped around one another. That's probably what they would have wanted, so in my mind they got it. They weren't asking for 70 virgins or anything absurd, they only wanted to be together. I believe the gods are good, and that for really great people (and yeah I'm a homer here, but my grandparents really were) there are some rewards and exemptions.

Speaking of exemptions, Osama Bin Laden deserves a special place in the hell I don't believe in. Yeah, I don't believe in hell. The idea that a God up there is playing "cosmic score card" is rather ridiculous. So a four year old kid dies in a tragic accident and goes to hell because he stole some chapstick and didn't go to church? Yeah, no. That doesn't jive with me.

Of course there are people who truly deserve something like hell. Perhaps Bin Laden will be reincarnated as a bird and get swallowed by the Sarlac Pit (yeah, "Jedi" reference there, I'm a dork, what are you going to do?). I've read enough myth, the gods can be rather vengeful, and sometimes people deserve punishment. Maybe "hell" is the realization that you've absolutely disappointed your god or prophet. Maybe right now Bin Laden is having a conversation with Allah and Muhammed.
Bin Laden: I have served you O Allah, now I await my reward in paradise.
Allah: Reward? You've ruined my name. You've made billions of people hate me, how have you done my will?
Bin Laden: But I have just done what the Prophet instructed (looks imploring at Muhammed).
Muhammed: Where did you get the idea that I wanted you to kill thousands of innocent people? You disgust me.
Allah: Let's feed him bacon.
Bin Laden begins crying and continues crying through eternity.

One of the craziest things about death and the afterlife is that no one knows. People think they do, but there's no proof of anything. I have to believe in the soul, the world is too magickal for there to be nothing at the heart of it all, but what happens to it is anyone's guess. If the afterlife is what you make it, there are several thousand people poking Bin Laden right now with sticks.