Lasting Pagan Communities

January 27th, 2008

three_circles.gifIan, from Dreaming the Future Closer, wrote a thought-provoking article on different types of religious engagement. He proposed that there are three kinds of approaches to religion that people can have, the “Problem Solver” (whom for now I prefer to call the “Occultist”), the “Traditionalist” (whom I prefer to call “Communitarian”) and the “Grappler with the God(s)” (whom I prefer to call “Mystic”). He mentions that these terms are not intended to be permanent labels, but a way of describing someone’s approach to their religion at a particular point in time.I agree with his categorizing of motives and see them as very useful in helping us to create vibrant and lasting Pagan/Wiccan communities. We all need to recognize that there are different kind of people who are attracted to our Gods and religion. We also all need to recognize that none of these are inherently “better” or “higher” approaches than the others.

Everyone goes through each of these categories at different times and in a different order. For a community to grow and be vibrant, people from all walks need to have a place.

There are many groups that work exclusively with one type of person and look down upon the others. The Mystic circles tend to look down upon the Communitarians as “Fluffy Bunnies.” The Communitarians accuse the Mystics as being “Holier Than Thou.” The Occultists look down on both the Mystics and the Communitarians.

These views of each group on the others led to a steady denigration of the larger community and even to “Witch Wars.” It has made it easy for enemy forces (such as Fundamentalist Christians) to reduce our influence and it makes many Pagans reluctant to join the community. They think it’s better to remain solitary and alone, rather than join in the constant fray of name-calling and accusations.

I have sensed for a few years that great change is coming. Not just the general change of society that John Michael Greer writes about so eloquently in The Archdruid Report, but also dramatic change in the larger Pagan community. Many longstanding circles and covens are crumbling and new ones are rising to take their place.

For the future of the new circles and the larger community, I hope that these define their purpose better and respect other groups more. For example, if a group decides they wish to follow the Mystical path, they need to make that clear (at least to themselves) and understand that they are not going to be a good fit for a Communitarian, without looking down on them. A Communitarian circle can recognize that they are focused more on the social aspects of the group without looking down on the Occultists who might not appear as warm and social.

I also see that there will be a great need for groups that contain a place for all types of people. They have different circles or orders for different people, all contained in the larger group. For example, it may contain a social order that meets for sabbats and at other times primarily for celebration and fellowship, which would be popular with the Communitarians of the group.

It would have another order that meets on full and dark moons for rituals, spells and at other times for theological and ritual classes. This would appeal to the Occultists.

A third order would form the spiritual and magical foundation of the group. This would be the inner order that would be for Mystics and Clergy. This order would meet for theurgic work, inner spiritual enlightenment and intimate contact with the Gods. This order would also serve the rest of the Pagan community and all who need their aid, even if outside that community. Their primary role is to serve the Gods.

All three orders would co-exist and members can choose to be in as many or few orders as they wish. There would be a general respect for all members, as they are all in the same religious family. Members of one order would not look down on members of any other order. In fact, all orders would work to protect and serve each other.

This is the type of community organization that can last not just decades, but centuries and millennia. It would have a foundation supported by the Gods and it would have a place for all who wish to work with Them in any capacity to belong.

The larger Pagan/Wiccan Community is at a critical crossroad. It can rise up to the challenge of meeting the needs of its people (including group-members and solitaries) or it can crumble and fall back into the oblivion it was in since the death of Emperor Julian. If it chooses to continue disrespecting other circles for their “fluffiness” or “rigidity,” then it will die. If it changes to include a place for all who hear the Call (or even those who simply heard the call of “Charmed”), it will become even stronger than it was in the Golden Age.

4 Responses to “Lasting Pagan Communities”

  1. Cosette Says:

    This is very interesting, but I’m not sure these categories work well for a few reasons. I do agree that there are several layers to the Pagan/Wiccan community, but I think many covens have a membership that encompass all of these qualities — occultists and ceremonialists, mystics, and people who actively serve the broader community in some way. And while most covens I know are far too small to develop separate orders, different levels of training often focus on these skills.

  2. Morninghawk Says:

    I agree that many covens contain a component of all three categories (nobody can be exclusively any one thing). I have found it to be rare, though, for covens to have a strong focus on all three without sacrificing depth.

    For example, one circle I was previously in was very strong in the community/socializing aspect, good in thaumaturgic occult practices but weak in the mystical practices.

    I won’t disagree that there are a few covens that are strong in all three, but it is rare. Where I have seen it more is in larger groups that have different circles or orders within them, where each order can focus more (though these are not large in number either).

    Thanks for the comment.

  3. R.E. Says:

    I suspect working towards a cohesive and inclusive Pagan community, whether on the local, national, or global level, will be the work of our lifetimes for sure!

  4. Morninghawk Says:

    Yes, I would agree. It took the Christians 200 years before they consolidated their community, and that was done by force. I expect it to take at least as long for us to become as cohesive without the element of coercion.

    To me, it is as much (if not more) about the journey as it is about the destination. I don’t think we will ever achieve a stable utopia, but I don’t think that is important or beneficial. If we did, it would encourage stagnation. The hardships and adversity we meet along the way are what will make us a functioning and loving community.

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