After having an interesting discussion with the former head of Pagan Veterans of the United States, I realized a few things. I am not the only one to feel the great sense of loss and disappointment over the way our community is taking shape. The poor fellow I was talking to actually went a step further -- he is jaded and ready to give up. That, I feel, should never happen. Surely he has seen more things than myself (as I am in a rural part of Pennsylvania and am not terribly well-traveled) which would give him this impression, but to give up is to declare that one has nothing left to give of value, nothing which would be recognized for its value. Maybe even that there simply isn't any value left in our community.
What a moment of sorrow. I feel it too and I think that anyone who has worked to create something better for Pagans in general know what I'm talking about. This weight which drops so hard in my stomach, and in my conversant too, is the bitter realization that nothing one person does matters and nothing a group of people dreams ever gets done. It's like watching Rome burning. But this time, there are Pagans lounging around in it oblivious to what is being lost, even themselves.
In this realization I saw one horrible truth. More than the lack of commitment and respect in the community which causes this despair, it was the despair itself which became the problem. Born of sadness, it quickly becomes anger, then disgust and superiority. Then nothing can get done at all, even when the opportunity arises. We have to stop the chain before our up-and-coming leaders throw the game before they've had the chance to play for the big leagues. Once our current set of nationally known leaders is gone from the scene, who will take over?
The answer is that it could be you. We can't often see what we'll become in just a few years but we should be striving for the very heights of our happiness and productivity. I'm not going to use this time with you to rally against laziness and selfishness (as many discussions --even mine-- on the topic of "where the community is going wrong" begin). As we learn as parents, dwelling on what one does wrong is not going to inspire better from them next time. It will only breed self-interest as the person tries to protect themselves from criticism.
Instead I'm going to tell you something important: Everyone wants to be a part of something.
Even if you're a loner who shuns social events, you want to be heard and understood. Even if you feel that being solitary is the superior route, you want to share ideas and connect with others. Humans are builders by nature. We love to take nothing and make something great with it: houses, cities, businesses, organizations. But the one that means the most, the one that can withstand the destruction of everything else, is Community. The community supports those who need help, upholds the standards which excel individuals to great heights, and provides structure for personal and group expression. It can be our greatest ally but first we need to admit that we need it. More than just the community needing us, we need the community. Go ahead and say it out loud: "I need the community."
An organized Pagan community could help people get bank loans for new Pagan businesses and help them get past red tape with city councils. An organized Pagan community could help individuals find counseling, mentoring, legal help and clergy in their area and in their price range. An organized Pagan community could have its own charities, for other Pagans or from Pagans to anyone in need. An organized Pagan community could have permanent temples, groves and public performances of rituals, plays and others art forms. Can you imagine such a thing? Where would you be in this amazing future?
If you said, "in the audience", then you missed the point. Paganism is not a spectator sport. When Wiccans say "everyone is a preist/ess" they are expressing this thought exactly. We are each in charge and each qualified. You do something that no one else can do and you should (and certainly can) be in the spotlight, doing it for everyone. This is part of your True Will. You can achieve it but you need the community.
It's true that this will require commitment and, yes, work. But you surely didn't come to this path because it was the easiest or because it allowed you to sit on the sidelines of your own faith. The commitment necessary is a commitment to yourself and your vision of the future. The work is only the steps you take to become your best self. We are all in this process. No one need create pretense that they know more than they do, for there are many others lower than them as well as many higher. In order to grow and to become what others pretend, you need the infulence of those above and the buttress of those below: you need the community.
To commit yourself to bettering the self and others, first there is the understanding that while you have something to offer, you also have something to learn. Listen and assist. A little humility will gain you a lot from other people. Teachers won't take on students who are cocky and won't listen. Elders won't let you in on the tidbits of valuable information they've gathered over the years if they think you won't care one way or the other. Show people that you care, you are listening, and yes -- that you need the community.
I, and many others like me, am growing tired of seeing organizations fall through, covens and learning circles disband, newly sanctified outdoor spaces go untended, individual studies abandoned. We are recreating the death of our ancestors' religions all over again, but we are doing it to ourselves. Everyone is wanting, seeking, yearning, begging. There is angst at every corner. It's being covered up with a thin veneer of mystical jargon which states that freedom only comes when each person only does as much or as little as they choose. What a costly lie! Our connections with others have paid dearly for this. The freedom of the modern Pagan movement is not in our ability to think and act only for the self, but for our ability to offer an alternative to the attitudes of mainstream society. This requires that we build and sustain a community which reinforces our freedom. We are not separate from one another. We are a community. And no matter what it looks like right now, it can become greater than any one dream of it. But we all need help. We all need you.
And you need the community.