Saturday, August 25, 2012

Organized religion

Been pondering some things lately as I've skimmed some blogs on news about Pagan organizations.  And my personal (and I stress the word personal) opinion is that if Pagan groups were to organize, in less than a century it would resemble Christianity in form and function.  Because people are people, after all.

One of the biggest heartbreaks for me after leaving Christianity was finding out the Pagans weren't any better behaved.  There was as much backbiting, gossiping and vitriol withing the Pagan community as there is in Christianity.  It's just Christianity has more numbers and better press.  We get to hear it all.  Pagans tend to be a bit more tight-lipped and there are fewer numbers.

When I was exploring Druidry, I encountered several groups that insisted on the right way to become a druid.  And hardly any of them had the same requirements.  Some viewed Druidry from a philisophical perspective, others from a religious.  Some insisted you had to spend years and years of study before you could call yourself a true druid.  Others insisted if you claimed you were one, then you were.

And don't get me started on Hellenic and Asatru groups.  Lots of fighting amongst the various factions there.

Then we have organizations that have fallen apart due to bad management and personality clashes, not to mention the forming of factions within.

You've got reconstructionists versus neo-Pagans.  You've got hard polytheists and soft.  You've got people who think you can't worship a deity outside your ancestral line.  People who think you must have a pure nationality to worship the gods of that culture.  Organized versus intuitive.  The list goes on.

Why on earth would Paganism strive to something that doesn't work within the major religions, let alone fails miserably within the various Pagan groups.  Sure there are some that do work out.  It would be interesting to find out the difference in why some work out.  I suspect it has more to do with the people involved than the organization though.  And I'm sure there are covens and groves out there that are managed well and everyone gets along, but I have met only one person who has had that experience.  In person or in real life.  Maybe my world is too small.  Or maybe organizing something that is so organic is hard to do with success.

Circle Sanctuary seems to be an exception as well, but there could be things going on there that I don't know about, too. 

All this has made me convinced that solitary is the perfect choice for me.  Getting together with other pagans is fine, but dealing with a coven or a grove...I just don't think it would work for me.  I'm not inclined to be drawn to a group that has too many rules on how I may or may not practice my path. 

I understand the need for social interaction and having had "church" for over 50 years, I do miss that kind of weekly experience.  Part of me wishes I could get together with other Pagans from time to time but driving an hour in any direction would be the only solution to that.  And the community would be very diverse to the point of having to water down much of everything. ETA:  I'm thinking of something along the lines of a UU church here.

I could be wrong.  It may be that most of the groups out there are great and having few problems, but if there are, I'm not hearing about them.  I think any time you get people together under the religious tent, there are going to be people asserting their hold over others.  I just don't think Paganism is an exception. I said...people are people, even if they are Pagans.


  1. Consider that pagans have been around much longer than Christians, and so they are not necessarily striving to be disfunctional as Christians- organizations in general become that way naturally over time. I am thinking about churches, workplaces, and even long-term marriages. There is drama, separation, bickering; it is natural progression. My unsolicited advice: find a group that meets your needs. Do not marry it, but still be an active participant, giving as much as you take. When it no longer fits, give it a hug and say goodbye. Whether it is a church, coven, or otherwise, isn't that what we all do? Maybe you will find a terrific group that you embrace forever, maybe you need to try on a few before you can truly be happy. Instead of researching, show up! Nothing is as informative as living the real thing!

  2. I think people are drawn to organizing because of the need for society. And I agree that organizations tend to devolve over time, into less than functional entities.

    Love your advice. It took me a long time to realize I didn't have to, as you say, marry something in order to have a relationship with it. You've put it into words that really resonate with me. Thanks!

    Unfortunately, I haven't found anything in this county so Fond du Lac of Madison is the closest I've found and that's just too far to drive for me. But I have a friend in Madison that I really hope to meet in person very soon and perhaps I'll be able to get down there more often in the future.

  3. Given that there are as many paths as there are Pagans, I doubt any formal organization will ever reach large-enough scale to be semipermanent the way the Catholic Church and her contemporaries are. I'm not sure I'd be interested in that sort of thing anyway.

    What works best for me is to have my daily practice be solitary. I'm the only one in my house who is actively Pagan and that works for me. I also have a few friends that I get together with whenever our various schedules will allow- not for rituals but just to have someone to talk to who doesn't think I'm nuts. Group practice eludes me. Probably always will.

    1. I agree, Lady. But I have read some blogs lately about wanting Pagans to be more organized into a cohesive unit in order to be more strongly united as a major religion. I don't think it's going to happen, nor do I think they really want what it would turn out to be.

      Zach is also Pagan but walking a different path so we get together occasionally and practice similar rituals together. I'm finally content with that, instead of wishing I had what I left behind, only in Pagan form.

  4. OH MY GODS!!! I have been saying that organized Pagans is nothing less than a church! Paganism in and of itself is the Spiritual equivalent of ... anarchy? Not sure if that came out right, but what I'm saying is try to get a bunch of anarchists in a room together and you'll get a collective "fuck the man". Well, try to get me in a room full of Pagans and you'll get a collective "fuck that organized shit."

    I do not get involved in groups. I've said this to another blogger who was having problems with different "religious" groups (not Christian) the other way. Those groups are usually filled with egocentric assholes who have taken the Spirituality out of life and have turned it into a pissing contest.

    1. Exactly! At one time I daydreamed about a world where Christianity hadn't been the major influence. I saw Pagan temples everywhere and kids talking about their gods in school and stuff. Then I learned that Pagans could be just as bad and realized that there would still be oppressive religion no matter what because there are people who are power-mongers and want to control other people, making them walk the same path they walk.

      Coming to this realization has made me so much more content to be just a solitary and look for friendships instead of a group to be a part of.

  5. Well as someone who was in a coven I have to say its not as bad as everyone seems to think it is.

    It all depends on the group. Our coven did not have a lot of rules and the ones we had were pretty common sense. We were all allowed and encouraged to go and learn with other groups and expand our own knowledge base. It is for the good of the group that everyone learn new things so that we can continue to try new things together.

    We had a format that was ours for ritual set up, but it was familiar and it worked for us. We didn't push our trad on others. We often invited guests and were all about community. For us our coven was a way to share our faith and we rotated who ran rituals so that you always got a different type of working or flavour.

    I loved my coven. They were like family. We had over 30 people in it and it worked for us. Sure there were random personaility issues, you get that in any group, but it was always handled in a good way.

    We had wonderful spiritual and fun rituals. We had fantastic nights out to do social things and retreats were a blast. My trad helped me shape and hone my spirituality. We never had any ego trips or things like that. What we had was good times and lots of faith and fantastic people to share stories and ideas with.

    1. Yours was the exception I was thinking of, but everyone else I have talked to has had major problems with egos and personality clashes and someone trying to turn it into a power base. I know there are covens out there that do work out but I think they have to be more democratic than what some leaders would like. We both know of a couple of people in your area who are inclined to make their coven a power base for their egos. I left the online group because of her heavy-handedness.

      I think you've been very lucky and your experiences will influence your coven, but I think your personality will be what makes you a great leader.