Pagan Religious Communities in your Area: Connecting With and Creating Them
My continuing series on pagan abbeys has been well received and I have had many inquires about pagan communities in North America, lay and cloistered. For those of you as hungry to be a part of such a dedicated group as I am, but have not yet found the right one, here are a few ways you might be able to connect with something suitable. If there are no structures in place in your area that fit your criteria, and you have the inspiration to create one, I have included some suggestions for that as well.
One of the main reasons for dissatisfaction in a group is that most aspirants don’t start by identifying their needs correctly. In Western paganism, and especially in North America, there are often so few dedicated pagan groups that one must join whatever is available regardless of any misgivings or wrong fits, simply to partake of a community setting. This is a pity, as it often does not satisfy either the seeker or the other participants. They, or others, soon leave, or there is a long drawn out period where everyone becomes unhappy. Since there are so few options, and as the community is often so close knit, that a withdrawal or rejection from one group often leaves the seeker with even fewer choices for the future.
We can achieve the honing of our expectations without burning our local bridges by clearly identifying what is most important to us before we even attend our first meeting. Most reps aren’t willing to answer a long form questionnaire for the pleasure of your presence, of course, but most are agreeable to addressing your most important concerns. As it is quite an effort for most smaller groups to include new members, knowing what you need ahead of time can save everyone, including you, a lot of grief. What exactly does a group require for you to be happy in it? What can you live with, and what is a deal breaker?
* Dedicated to your deity, sect, or practice? Atheist? Non-denominational
* Supportive or focused on other communities as well – Gender or sex based, LBGT friendly, actively and pro anti-racial, anti-ablist, anti-agist?
* Level of commitment – Full time, ritual only, class based, coven like? Working in the world or simple meet-ups?
* Level of spirituality – Full time, full ritual, same tradition, like minded or causal?
* Travel – how far are you willing to go? To move, commute, or pop by?
Be honest with yourself. Your needs are your own and no one can criticize you for your choices. Don’t expect others to change their group for you, since they probably won’t, but your self-knowledge will make the task of narrowing your selections much simpler.
Now that you have broken down into a list of what you actually require, locating a group becomes much easier.
An additional avenue to consider is the practice of your spirituality along with your sacred calling, tasks, or interests. Many pagans find inspiration and sacredness in history, traditional skills, crafts, role-play, sexuality, activism, and other practices. There are many other individuals that also share those interests, and those kinds of groups don’t need to be sacred for you to feel as though you are fulfilling your spiritual needs. They are often easier to find and connect with, and you will learn from them how to better serve your deity (if you have one) and spirit, by honing and practising the skills that you associate most with the sacred.
Another bonus of connecting with any of these communities, religious or secular, is that you should be able to network with others that share your interests, and have an even better chance of finding a less well known but perfect group for your needs. If you find something sacred, so do others!
I’m going to make the leap here that you already know how to search for a pagan group in your area using Google and other on-line means. Witchvox of course lists many local pagan groups. If you still can’t see any that fit the needs you’ve defined, do not despair! There are a lot of avenues that many people miss when they are searching. Here are some suggestions of where to start looking for a group that meets your requirements that may not have an online presence or local listing. Feel free to suggest more.
A word about Message boards: Even though scouring Craigslist, Kijiji and social networking are the first places to start, many communities don’t have the work hours to keep posting on too many sites. Going down to a physical location, like an occult or new age bookstore, whole foods store or community centre and checking or posting on their notice boards is an increasingly disused option, but one worthy of pursuit. For many groups, it’s so much easier to leave up a poster and wait for inquiries than maintain a FB feed. You will always find at least one event or group that you never would have found any other way.
Religious, National and International:
The Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids
International Humanists: Canada, US, UK, Spiritual Humanism
Maetrum of Cybele
Abbey of the Green Flame
Copper Horse Abbey
Student groups at Universities and Colleges
Less organized, organic:
Red Tent Movement
Pan Indian movement and Idle No More
Iron John retreats and The Good Men Project
Cloistered or Segregated secular communities:
alternative healing retreats
Intentional Communities: ecovillages, cohousing communities, residential land trusts, communes, co-ops, housing cooperatives
Secular Communities of Sacred Interests:
Society of Creative Anachronisms and medieval reCreationists
Bellydancing and other traditional folk dancing
sacred circle dance
martial arts and other moving meditation, archery
Women’s and Men’s Healing
sexuality groups, like BDSM
traditional skills – herbology, fibre arts, cookery, leatherworking, blacksmithing
music – medieval, bardic, folk
If you want to move to the country and dedicate yourself to a full time cloistered community, for example, and you *don’t* want to pretend or convert to Catholicism or Buddhism or Taoism or go Amish, but you don’t mind if everyone else isn’t doing the same prayers whenever you are, then International Communities or the new Ecovillages springing up are an excellent alternative. Most are secular, but not anti-religious, and are supportive of most lifestyles.
It would be fabulous if we had already available spaces for pagans who want to dedicate themselves full time as professional monks, for example, but we don’t. Yet. So for the moment, we must satisfy our spiritual selves as much as possible, before we can make those kinds of dedicated communities a reality.
Even with honing your sacred skills, you now want to dedicate your life to helping others experience that sacred community space. But there are no groups that fulfil your needs in your area, so you have decided to create one. What to do? Here are some suggestions.
Canadian laws are very different from American and other countries, of course, but there are some guidelines.
First, get your ducks in a row. Research what needs aren’t being satisfied in your area, and how to cover those. Redundancy doesn’t help anyone, and the larger the vacuum you are filling, the greater chance you have of attracting participants. Do you need a weekly group meeting at a brick and mortar temple, or event planning group, or non-denominational cross pagan discussion group?
For those interested in becoming full time dedicants in a cloistered community, there are few other substitutes for pagan abbeys, and those communities will definitely need to be established for us. The complexity of creating one is the apex of organizing skill, as well as our significant validation as a major religion, but it is certainly doable, with drive, vision, and a love of detail. To get some idea of how it’s accomplished, you don’t have to re-invent the wheel. Visit a few real life abbeys, convents or monasteries. (After all, a lot of them are directly derived from pagan abbeys in the first place!) Many have weekend or weeklong visit privileges, or you can just ask to learn from them. There is a Buddhist Abbey in Nova Scotia that I am planning on conferring with or hanging out in. They have been around since the early 1980’s. You should select one that’s a bit older, too, so they can tell you the problems they have encountered. One in your own state would better, since laws vary so much. Amish or other religious communities can help you see how that works in practice, too.
Then, *do your paperwork*. If your group is even at all organized, like renting a space for a temple, your best bet is creating a corporation or organization that can have a board and be accountable for bills and other legalities. That way, no one person is ever on the hook, and no members are so key that it falls apart if they leave. It’s one of the main factors that determine if your group makes it after the Founders all move on. If that is the best choice to get done what you need to do, make sure you have everything you need to establish your not for profit or even for profit corporation. If you want charitable status, it’s even harder, but you’ll figure which one works best for you when you come to it. Get your founders and other personnel lined up.
If you have a regular, physical location that you rent or own, make sure you pick your space with the locals in mind. They are part of your equation, too. If they feel put out or a lack of consultation, they will punish you, and all your people, and all your visitors. You will be interacting with them to get most of your services and equipment, even if it’s just parking space. It’s not good to piss them off. So arrange team games or picnics or Open Houses for example. If they know you, they will be more likely not to bother or fight you. And maybe even defend what you do.
Once you have your structure in place, with the appropriate advice from other professionals on what they have done, and what went wrong, then it’s time to listen to the community you are serving, to discover what they need to satisfy them. Unlike private or even coven worship, a temple, monastic or segregated community is completely reliant on everyone pulling their weight; as in, they WANT to be there. That means, no matter what your vision is, it can’t replace the gestalt that your group will create. It’s your job to get it together, keep the base going, and make adjustments, but they aren’t minions. If you get too controlling, or conversely, not controlling enough and let a few idiots ruin it for everyone, they will all simply leave, and badmouth your operation to boot. So choose carefully to start with. Pick people who share most of what you see, but not exactly, and select the ones you are reasonably sure aren’t going to flake on you. You can’t push people too hard for this, but you do need to help them stay motivated. Take them with you to investigate other institutions. Make sure they have the hunger for it, like you do.
Once you get it going, you will also have to maintain. This is the biggest mistake most make. Nearly all pagan communities, temples, communes or IC’s end in one generation, because no one builds it to continue. You will, for example, encounter at least one split or takeover attempt in the first 5-10 years, and one every two decades or so after that. Anticipate those, and build your group to withstand it, or it will simply dissolve. If you require a physical location for your work, purchase property if you can, instead of leasing, or in a decade, you’ll have to move, and that can destroy the community entirely. Bring in a wide variety of skill sets, and make sure your people feel nurtured and heard, or they won’t put up with it, and they will think they can do it better, or that another place can do it better. Which is why you may want to include all pagans like we do and not, say, just Wiccans, but that’s your choice. Ego, yours and usurpers, will kill your group gestalt, and then everyone loses. You are the MC, the house manager, and the CEO. But you are not the choir, and without them volunteering their lives, you have no community.
Make no mistake about it: this is a lifelong task. If you do not have these skill sets, then you must either learn them, or join an already existing community and lend your strength to growing that one. It will not happen unless you make it happen, and give it all your personal energy and focus, but without exhausting yourself and leaving you vulnerable and the task unfinished. We are at another time of change, and about to re-build and re-learn what our ancestors had. Some remnants are still here, but most aren’t. Pick where you are best suited to direct your energy, and then do it. For the rest of your life. It still won’t be long enough.