Article Archive – Circa 2005 – Splintered Tribes

There seems to be quite a push for a show of Pagan unity floating around lately. Though it can be found just about everywhere, it seems to be strongest within the North American Pagan Community.

At first glance, one could surmise that it is a reaction to the re-election of George W. Bush as US president. Many are afraid that the damage he and the neo-cons have the capacity to cause would not only take decades to undo, but could also plunge us into a time of darkness and persecution. Everything from the reversal of Roe vs Wade to the outlawing of faiths deemed not ‘real’ religions by the Religious Reich, are trotted out as examples of what could befall us if we let our guard down.

The answers to these numerous threats to American freedom are often just as varied. Activists suggest that Pagans get more involved in local government and the political process by writing letters, running for local office and even staging protests when the situation warrants it.

Others feel that our only chance is to conform … to prove to the mainstream public that Pagan faiths are ‘real’ religions deserving of constitutional protection. It is from this side that the assorted Pagan unity campaigns seem to spring. Ideas like Pagan run charity shelters and soup kitchens, Pagan slanted educational and environmental campaigns, and even structured Pagan churches are all designed to build a strong united Pagan front.

Many of these are great ideas and are being put into effect all over the world. But I have also seen calls for all Pagans to jump from the broom closet for the good of the community, and proposals for the creation of ‘Witch Clans’ or Tribes so that our true numbers may be known.

Many Pagans can see the flaws in this ideal, and refuse to be involved in anything promoting Pagan unity. The ever hopeful and optimistic among us are often crushed by the nay-sayers, unable to understand why we can’t just put aside our differences for the sake of protecting our rights and freedoms.

There are a myriad of reasons behind the refusal to conform (trust me, it isn’t just a bunch of old cranks out to spoil your Utopia):

The main reason for such resistance is the diversity of Pagan faiths. One of the most beautiful things about the Pagan Community is that we can follow such vastly different paths and still occasionally come together in pursuit of a common goal. But having a Wiccan and Asatruar work together for the duration of a festival or a protest is worlds apart from expecting them to work the same ritual together every esbat.

Many fear that the result of structured Pagan unity will be a homogenization of our varied and sacred paths into one non-denominational, soulless Universal Pagan church, where truth and mystery are lost to the desire to remain non-exclusionary.

Another point is that any clan or tribe set up has to be run by someone (or a group of someones). As it stands now, there really is no standard by which we can judge someone’s experience and/or credentials. Any council of elders (assuming that one could be created that everyone would accept) would face continuous problems with some group or other being unwilling to accept that everyone’s knowledge and experience was as valid as their own, as well as complaints that someone’s concerns were not being heard due to no one of their path being on the leading council. This sort of in-fighting has a tendency to permeate just about every place, in real life and online, where Pagans gather.

On the flip side of that coin, there is always the possibility of certain individuals and groups being excluded from the tribe all together because their path does not conform to someone’s view of ‘accepted Pagan practice’.

Even if we could work past the first two problems, there is always the lingering question of ‘Who is gonna pay for all this?’ In a coven or grove-type setting, the priests and priestesses still must maintain regular jobs. If we expected our leaders and elders to take on the challenge of running groups that are likely to be at least three times as large as a normal coven, we would need their undivided attention. And that means providing them an income to help support their families. Many of us can barely afford to feed ourselves, let alone financing the upstart and maintenance of a tribe and council.

Still another objection to the whole idea is that of ‘Why should we have to do this?’ I understand this stance intimately as it tends to be my own when this issue comes up.

Why should Pagan faiths have to unite to be deserving of respect and constitutional protection? Why should we have to water down our mysteries and practices so that they will be acceptable to the mainstream public? How is that freedom? How is that any different than sitting in a pew every Sunday? Because you still get to wear your pentacle? Symbols don’t mean much when the faith and practice they represent must be gutted to appeal to the palette of the ‘normal’.

As we tell our Seekers and Newbies, ‘Pagan’ is not a religion. It is a term used to describe those of us who fall outside of the religiously ‘normal’. If you try to strip away those differences, you strip away the attraction that Paganism has for so many. The assorted Pagan paths are meant for those who want to make their own way in life … those who don’t want to be told how they should feel and what they should believe.

In the end, the quest for structured unity is doomed to failure. Though we all hold in common that we are not of an Abrahamic faith, we are still too different from each other to be forced into the same mould. We are a mosaic, not a melting pot. Enjoy the unity of the annual Pagan Pride Day and Witchfest, for in actuality, that is really as long as it will last.

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