I’m sipping a glass of mead tonight, in preparation for my big Pagan weekend: The Gathering for Life on Earth. It will be my 16th time attending this local Pagan event and it has been an important part of my spiritual wheel of the year for almost two decades (there were two years in there where the Gathering had to be cancelled, so my first Gathering was 18 years ago).
When I was in university, I was running my university’s Pagan club, serving as a volunteer proofreader for a Pagan academic journal, working on the Gathering’s board of directors, running and attending other public rituals, going to Pagan Pub Nights, doing some media work, working part-time in a New Age bookstore, reading everything I could get my hands on, and running in Pagan social circles almost all of the time. But, after graduating, other activities gradually took over more of my time – and more of my money was needed for things besides books and magazines – and I slowly drifted away from the larger Pagan community. I was still very active in my smaller group, but the Gathering became my only large event, and I stopped consuming Pagan media (books, magazines, websites, email lists, podcasts) almost entirely.
At first, it was a bit of a relief. I’d stepped out of the politics, the in-fighting, the gossiping. By staying only in my little spiritual family, I could avoid the burning times conspiracy theorists, the cultural appropriationists, the woo-woo new agers, and the elitists and the fundamentalists of all stripes. I hadn’t realized that I was burning out until I had some distance from it.
In the meantime, I had become part of another community that has no overlap with Paganism. It is a specialized sporting community with a small local community, sub-divided into smaller groups based mostly on who you learned from and with, with a larger, international community. And I had hardly been a part of it for a month before I began to see the politics… and it felt so familiar. It looks like the politics of people is the same everywhere; maybe it is the price of community. And you should have seen the mess they made of their annual general meeting! It made the local Pagan non-profit at its worst look organized and tidy.
So I’m going into this year’s Gathering with a bit of fresh perspective, realizing that the politics is at least somewhat natural, and maybe not as bad as I thought, and refreshed from being out of it all for a while. I’m not ready to directly engage the politics again – I will not be running for the Board of Directors and I’ll be trying to stay neutral in the usual people conflicts – but I do miss the other parts of being involved in bigger groups: the new ideas and perspectives, the interesting rituals and chants, and the intellectual challenge of discussing spiritual ideas with people who are of the same religion, but may disagree with me and with each other. If this year’s Gathering can give me a taste of that, I think I might be ready to put myself back out there again.