Essays, Opinions, Organizations

The Problem with Pagan Umbrellas

The way I see it, we need more “secular Pagan” organizations.

Let me clarify what I mean by that. We have all these groups that try to be “open to everyone” and yet still religious. And while that’s not a recipe for failure, it is a recipe for exclusion if it’s not handled carefully. I think there should be more Pagan groups that focus less on the next holiday, and more on the community aspects of being Pagan.

Let’s look at a hypothetical group, which We’ll call “All Pagan Paths Circle” (APPC) for some examples. APPC is one of those groups that purports to represent all Pagans in your area, and promotes itself as being open to all Pagans, be they Wiccan, Druid, Asatru, or something else. APPC has been around a few years, and has several dozen members.

APPC has some social outreach programs – they collect coats for a local shelter, they do park cleanups and that sort of thing. They have a monthly chat night. They have a teen group. They have a small library.

APPC runs a monthly full moon ritual (which is organized by a committee) and 8 Sabbat rituals (handled by another committee). At all the full moon rituals, the ritual format is to call quarters, cast the circle, and invoke the chosen God and Goddess for the rite, before moving on to other ritual activities. The 8 Sabbat rituals are much the same, (although they invove a much bigger party afterwards, and are really sort of mini-festivals), except that about once a year, a local ADF grove leads the ritual portion of the event.

For the Pagan whose faith doesn’t celebrate all those rituals, APPC doesn’t look very welcoming – it appears that they promote a specific way of being Pagan, which is not the way all Pagans operate.

Or how about APPC’s bylaws? I know of groups like APPC who have things in their bylaws like “An it harm none, do what you will.” That too speaks to a specific flavor of Pagan, and not all Pagans follow it – so how can someone like me, who is not that flavor of Pagan join a group whose very bylaws specify that members must follow their faith?

So, in most communities, someone like me has three choices:

  1. I (possibly) join a small ritual group of my faith (if I can find enough people to make it worthwhile)
  2. If I’m interested in doing more public things, I join a large group that doesn’t really meet my needs on the religious front, and just keep my mouth shut.
  3. I remain a solitary practitioner of my faith, and talk with my co-religionists online.

Now I know some of you will insist that it’s not like this. That such groups really are open to anyone. And that’s true: they’re open to me, I can join. But the question I’m posing here is why *should* I join? If all I want is community, and I have to join another religious group to get it, why not go to the Christian church down the street? At least it’s close to home, and besides, it likely has more resources.

So, where does the secular group fit in here?

A secular Pagan group starts with the idea that they’re not going to focus on ritual. They’re going to focus on the community as a whole. They’re not going to define “Pagan” (and in particular, they’re not going to try to define Pagan by starting with the definition of Wiccan).

They’re going to focus on communications and connections. They provide a point of contact for many groups. They focus on things like libraries, community service, and charity. They happen to be Pagan run, and Pagan focused. But they create a place where all those smaller ritual groups can connect, and a place where people can work together without needing to argue about who’s leading next month’s full moon ritual.

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