Community Doesn’t Just Build Itself

So, there was a blogosphere dustup about whether Paganism is “dying”, complete with defensive denials, gross oversimplifications, and quite a bit of ridicule all around.

All of which rather missed the point, in my opinion.

My guess is that—in developed nations, anyway— if you looked at any subculture not made up exclusively of the young, you’d find numbers dwindling. Populations are graying, and that means that many kinds of communities are shrinking.

And make no mistake about it: the American Pagan community is indeed getting older, on average, judging from what I see at Pantheacon. It seems that many second-generation Pagans, while they may enjoy being a part of the community, are less interested in actually practicing Paganism. As one such twenty-something said to me, “rituals aren’t really my thing.”

Is this a basis for panic?

Not in the least.

Demographic changes are driven by mathematical forces. Populations of particular groups will swell and ebb, and there’s nothing we can do about it. Young people will make their own choices. Perhaps as they grow older, they will come to find renewed value in observances and rituals…when they have their own children, perhaps.

We can’t do anything about that. All we can do is wait, and find out.

So if we want to be in Atheopagan community, we need to build it around ourselves.

Where I live, there are a reasonably large number of Pagans. An hour’s drive away, there are a lot of them. I know this isn’t true everywhere, but it doesn’t matter.

Generally speaking, we all have friends. We have people we wish to share in community with. For the most part, people enjoy social gatherings and occasions, and even if they aren’t Pagans, even if they aren’t atheists, they may well still find value in celebration of the beginning of autumn, or of the longest day of the year. A delicious dinner with a short ceremony beforehand may be just the thing to draw your circle of friends closer together, to build community.

Atheopagan ceremony has certain advantages in this regard: you’re not asking people to “believe something weird”. You’re not expecting them to invoke goddesses and gods or to pretend that they are doing magic. You’re just taking a moment to settle in and become present, to acknowledge the qualities you’d like to infuse the moment, to sing a song, perhaps, or light candles, or do some other symbolic act that represents the meaning of the season, and then expressing gratitude and closing.

Such events can bring groups of friends closer together. They can develop and strengthen true community. It’s can be a slow process, but incredibly worthwhile.

Community doesn’t build itself. And I think a lot of Pagans have been cruising along in their circles of like-minded friends and family, not making much effort towards building it.

Whether you’re new to this or a longtime practitioner, I encourage you to do your part.

We can’t do anything but useless hand-wringing or head-in-the-sand denial over whether Paganism is growing or shrinking. But we can build Atheopagan community—whether it calls itself that or not—and make our lives richer, and the world a better place.

So let’s get to it, shall we?

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7 thoughts on “Community Doesn’t Just Build Itself

  1. Re, the aging of Paganism: we’re simply part of a phenomenon experienced by all religions in America, and elsewhere. Generally speaking, Millennials are turning away from anything that smacks of organized religion: http://www.cnn.com/2015/05/12/living/pew-religion-study/.
    Given the turning away from “faith religions”, this might suggest a future for religions based on natural phenomena- or, maybe not. It’ll be interesting to see.

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  2. John, I think ti does indeed suggest a future with religions based on the real world. The Pew data cited shows that Millennials, and those of all demographics, are fleeing Christianity because they simply don’t fall for the supernatural stuff anymore. -Jon Cleland Host

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    • I’m sure that’s a part of it, Jon, but I think there are other factors just as important. For one thing, they are rejecting the religions of their elders, just as young people have done for time out of mind. This does not mean, as the article said, that they may not return, as they age, of course.
      Personally, I think the internet may have a lot to do with it. “Community” has a whole different meaning from that of my youth, and even from my days as a “baby pagan”. Remember, the explosive growth of paganism took place largely in the 80’s, before the internet as we now know it. These kids have never known a time when they weren’t connected, electronically. Somehow, I’m not surprised they’re not all that interested in taking the time and trouble to stand in a circle, somewhere, holding hands. That is SO 1990.

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