Many young Pagans do not have opportunities to meet other Pagans and like-minded people, even in the era of the Internet. This is especially true for those folks who live in or come from small towns and remote areas in which the prevailing mindset of families and neighbors may be less than open-minded, and in which Internet access may be few and far between. But once those folks are able to get outside of the small town and into universities . . . that’s where the important changes can happen. And not just for people from small towns and remote areas, either. I attended high school in Waldorf, MD, and while I would not consider Waldorf to be remote (DC is only about 30 minutes away, after all), it definitely had what is commonly known as “small town mindset.” My opportunities to meet other Pagans were almost non-existent, and I was not interested in trying to meet people online because it seemed unwise to do so. The nearest metaphysical store was almost 2 hours away, so that was a bust.
But when I got to a big university and found the Pagan Student Union . . . literally, my life changed. For the first time, I really met people who understood what I was going through, who didn’t look at me as if I were strange or crazy when I talked about magick or energy or gods. People who didn’t tell me I was going to go to hell and didn’t try to shut me up. On the contrary, they wanted to hear my opinions and viewpoints, and encouraged open discussion. My mind and soul, so long deprived of real interaction with people who understood, burgeoned with new ideas and soaked up new information like a sponge (cliche, I know, but true).
I think groups like this are incredibly important. Groups that cater specifically to minority faiths can help those who come from backgrounds like mine, as well as those who just want to expand their knowledge of other ways of being. Groups like this, if they do active community work of some kind, help to foster a sense of community and dispel negative stories and beliefs held by others about their religion. I think it’s very important to keep groups like this alive and thriving on university and college campuses, not only for the students and staff who are involved or want to be involved, but because these groups can help to improve the public image of the whole religion/spirituality/faith. I’m not saying that that’s the most important part or reason for a group like the PSU, but it is something to really consider, in my opinion. Most importantly, Pagan and other minority-faith student unions allow students and affiliated peoples to meet in a safe space, to learn, share, and grow with people who understand what they have been through and what they currently face. My Christian friends may sympathize with what I have been through, for example, but until you have had verbal insults hurled at you for no other reason than your religion is different, you can’t truly understand what that feels like. While I love my Christian and non-Pagan friends dearly, unless they have experienced something like that, they tend to give me the sympathetic look or the deer-in-headlights stare when I describe it.
Now, the main reason for writing this post is not only to state my opinion, but also to ask a question and ask for some advice. In my opinion, I think my PSU is not doing enough to bring in new people. The group seems to be a little bit stuck in terms of ideas and/or enthusiasm. While there isn’t very much I can do about the enthusiasm except to try to help them more, I thought I would ask others for some ideas of how to bring in new people and inject some new life into the PSU. What we’ve done in the past has been tarot readings (for free) at campus events, a bake sale, Q&A sessions, and advertising. The tarot readings are usually a hit, but doesn’t tend to bring many people to the meetings. Same with bake sales. We’ve had limited success with Q&As, but truth be told, it apparently wasn’t enough.
So what are some other ideas of how to bring in people? I’m afraid PSU will stagnate and die out once the current group has graduated in a year–and about half of the group has already graduated and is either in grad school, or just hanging out with old friends. Once those old friends are graduated, that half won’t be showing up any more, either. It would be a shame to have a resource like this fade away because the group’s leadership couldn’t be bothered to bring in enough new people to keep it alive when graduation forces a roll-over in membership.
After all, humans are herd animals, we follow the leader. A group is only as strong as its leader unless someone else steps up and does what needs to be done…but I’m afraid that’s a different topic entirely.