Why a Physical Pagan Community is Important


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.

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6 responses to “Why a Physical Pagan Community is Important

  1. Also, hell, maybe you could start a study group. ^_^ You talked about having some interest in a shop; I know that’s a huge venture, but most area shops function as the hub for physical Pagan communities. ❤

    the initiation process of a newbie involves the newbie learning that she does, in fact, have the option she so desires. First finding the path, then finding the turns that lead you where you wish to go.

    • I actually have been thinking of starting up a study group, though not at the moment because work has been taking so much of my time and energy. I just don’t think I have the energy for a new project right this moment. As for Pagan stores, there is really only one in this area now, and it’s not that great. This area isn’t known for metaphysical stores, unfortunately, so that’s not really an option. If I were to start a study group, I’d probably try to hold it in a restaurant where we could pull some strings and get a private room or something.

      • Yeah, the Enchanted Fox up near where I live is way better than some other foxes I can think of… although sometimes I’ve struck up a good conversation over at the other fox.

        I hate Pagan stores that are cliquey. In my travels I’ve been to a couple where a circle of people hang out in the back room, laughing and talking, and everyone ignores you but the one who works there, who ignores you unless you look like you’re buying or stealing. Like, dang. Couldn’t ya hang out and socialize after hours?

        Well, may the currents change so that you can start your group and still have plenty of work.

  2. Hm! I think the best part of joining an online community was meeting up with the members, physically. You find a quality site and use common sense re:personal safety, and the IRL meet-up won’t be shady or cliquey. Fact is we Pagans are a minority, and over the Internet, we have the opportunity to reach across the globe and instantly share a common interest with strangers. Weird, but true. Anyway, you find a level-headed drama-free forum, and meeting the people in person is like meeting old friends. It would be nice if we could get together for coffee regularly, but a retreat once a year is very nice too.

    Other ways I keep a physical community of Pagans around: made friends with the local Pagan shop owners, go to festivals, go to conventions, go to towns with a higher and more open Pagan community (I’m looking at you, Salem – but if you walk around the main street of any artsy town, you’ll probably find at least one blatantly Pagan sign or flyer). Where there’s a will there’s a way. I wanted to go to a powwow this summer, and only when I actively searched for one in the area did I find out there were several of them around here every weekend! Here in New England, where growing up I thought 97% of people were white and Catholic or Protestant!

    And yet: although I am part of the forums, here I am responding to your blog as if I’m on a forum. Because I know you in offline mode, it’s more exciting to discuss things with you (even if it’s odd and lonely and more one-sided/tangent-filled than it would be in person). We were lucky to have the PSU. But I do like the online mode of communication, ’cause we didn’t often go in depth at the meetings; even when the presenter went in depth, the members (understandably, and including myself!) were not always prepared to respond in depth.

    Bottom line is, it’s nice to be hanging out with someone around whom you can grin knowingly, say something like “THAT’S MY MERCURY IN GEMINI FOR YA!”, and have the person grin knowingly back.

    I am going to continue scrolling down and reading, but I will suppress the urge to respond anymore because I think I’ve barraged you enough for one night. >.<

  3. You have some good points, but I think you are not giving enough credit to those online communities that actually provide most, if not all of the same things that you say a physical community provides. There are just too many people that live in areas that don’t have a large (or even small for that matter) Pagan population. Those that do, aren’t necessarily going to find that the personalities in those communities mesh well with each other.

    I have made some incredible, lasting friendships through online groups with people that I am closer to than most blood family. Even though we may live all across the country or, in some cases, on the other side of the planet, we have been able to give each other that sense of community. No, we can’t just pick up the phone and say “Let’s go to a movie”, but we can, and have, arranged weekend get togethers. Some of us have even managed to participate in rituals together, online, that were just as powerful, if not more so, than any ritual shared by a single physical space.

    There is also no difference in the accuracy of the information found on the internet and the information you would get from someone face to face. Some of it is going to be good, solid, factual information and some of it is just going to be garbage. Like everything in life, you have to look at what is in front of you, evaluate it with a certain level of skepticism and filter out the bad to get to the good. In the end, it really does come down to what works for you. I for one have found a huge value in having the online communities available to me and am beyond grateful because of that.

    • Thanks for the feedback! I appreciate it!

      I don’t want to completely discount the importance of the online community. That would be terribly hypocritical of me since I run a blog and am a part of that community! Of course online communities are useful and important, especially for those areas, as you pointed out, that don’t have enough people to form a diverse Pagan community or for those who prefer absolute anonymity (this, of course, leaves aside the question of how anonymous the Internet really is).

      And I agree that it’s necessary to consider the issues in front of you critically and with a certain degree of skepticism. Honestly, I’m not sure my argument on the accuracy of information was developed enough when I posted this post. I may go back and amend the argument later on. When I wrote that portion of the post, I had in mind the secretive communities that existed throughout history, when the historical “pagans” operated under the radar for the most part to avoid trouble. They kept information between themselves and, although information and ideas evolves over time, their information wasn’t necessarily misinformation. Obviously my argument needs to be worked on, and I realize this, so thank you for weighing in with your take on it.

      I do still think, however, that a physical community, if it’s possible to form one in an area, is important. Certainly you people wouldn’t have to join if they don’t want to. Just like with any community now–if you don’t want to join the community in your workplace and hang out with people after work, for example, you don’t have to. If you don’t want to spend time with certain people, you can choose to absent yourself. If the online community works better for you, fantastic. But I think it would be nice if people, especially the newbies, had the option.

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