Everyone knows the Pagan online community is huge and growing by the day. Blogs, websites, stores, podcasts, even social networking sites specifically for Pagans . . . the possibilities are pretty much endless.
But for many of us, our only Pagan interactions are online. There are few physical interactions. In large part this is likely due to the fact that so many of us are still in the closet. It’s impossible to deny that the online world provides a veil of privacy for those who are not open about their religion or who cannot be open about it. The Internet is a great tool for being able to learn from and interact with other Pagans through a veil of anonymity and relative safety.
Yet I think the reliance on Internet communities is working against the Pagan community as a whole. By relying on the Internet as our main means of communication and dissemination of information, we really come up short. For many of us, our greatest learning experiences, our greatest and most memorable interactions, our most lasting friendships and relationships come not from what we find on the Internet every day, but from living our lives and interacting with other people.
By not having more of an emphasis on a physical community, many of us remain isolated. Lonely. We stagnate because we can’t learn everything by reading about it (either in a book or online)–we need the interaction and free exchange of ideas that happens in natural conversation. Sure, sometimes we can get lucky and find that particular conversation online, but how often has that happened? By relying only on the online world, there still tends to be a great deal of misinformation spread, despite the popularity and number of Pagan-themed blogs and news sites that can help to correct misinformation. Since the online world alone doesn’t seem capable of fixing such problems, it seems possible that physical communities might be able to add another protection against the spread of stereotypes and misinformation.
Most importantly, in my opinion, physical communities would provide a place for newbies to go in order to begin learning, practicing, and finding their path. It is very difficult for many of us to get a good grasp by going it alone. There’s nothing wrong with the Solitary path, but physical communities could provide a place for people new to the path to learn and grow in ways they might not have been able to by studying only on their own.
Now, you’re probably asking what the heck I mean by “physical communities.” I do not mean a coven, grove, or anything else related to those ideas. Such groups may arise naturally out of a physical community, but are not the basis. What I mean when I say “physical community” is some manner for Pagans and interested parties to meet in person. If you’re truly worried about identities, you don’t have to use your real name or give away any identifying information, like your address. Study groups, dating groups, activity groups for Pagans to meet up and have fun at the movies, amusement park, regular park, picnics, etc. When I say “physical community” I mean the people in a certain area get together and hang out for a bit, talk about certain topics, and meet up again at another time. I personally like the idea of a “study group,” for lack of a better term, where I could meet up with Pagan folks every month or so and we can talk about and debate things like mythology, ethics, books, etc. That way, I get to meet new Pagany people, maybe make some new friends, and maybe broaden my horizons by learning new things or seeing topics from different points of view.
By relying solely on the Internet for information and community, I really do think we end up shooting ourselves in the foot. I’m not saying that we have to make these communities public knowledge or advertise in the newspaper or anything–we already have established websites for advertising and getting the word around. Keeping meetings on the down-low would be fairly easy to accomplish, and maintaining some level of secrecy or privacy would also be available for those who want it. But in my humble opinion, we all need to actively work on creating physical networks, for the health and strength of the Pagan community as a whole.