Once upon a time, there was a deeply oppressed minority whose very existence was illegal: the gay community.
And though we* are far from winning the fight for full equality for LGBTQ folks, it is fair to say that much progress has been made, and the LGBTQ community has made transitions as a result. For one thing, it isn’t as necessarily committed to secrecy, to clandestine gathering in obscure locations like dive bars and bathhouses to avoid police and the general, critical public.
I believe the Pagan community is arriving at a similar crossroads, and is changing as a result.
Recently, two major announcements have discomforted the North American Pagan world: the shutting down of Witchvox.com, which used to be one of the most heavily trafficked websites for Pagans, and the ending of Pantheacon, up to now the largest indoor gathering of Pagans and witches in North America.
I think these reflect a similar trajectory to that of the LGBTQ community: not downward, but outward, in expanding visibility, acceptance and social influence.
Once, Pagans and witches were freaks. We were rare, and we were thinly spread, and the mainstream culture DID NOT LIKE US. Before the Internet, we were a tiny minority: perhaps a hundred thousand of us in the US in the 1980s.
Under such circumstances, it made complete sense that isolated communal gatherings were the only way that we could build relationships and community. That we would have to travel long distances to get to such gatherings, and it would be worth the expense and effort. And that people of varying practices and traditions would all clump together into a single community.
We’re still a minority, but in the US there are now estimated to be a million of us, possibly even two. We’re showing up in the media, and not always in a negative context. We’ve achieved some legal recognition.
There is now the Internet, which enables us to connect with those we share common values and practices with, no matter how far away, and specialize in our practices and paths.
And, let’s face it, with the ongoing cannibalization of the middle class by the very wealthy, most of us have less in the way of disposable income to travel long distances to such gatherings than we did in the 80s and 90s. (Not to mention the carbon footprint.)
It’s a different time, and sociologically speaking, we’re evolving. More and more of us are embracing our Pagan hearts, and declaring ourselves.
Now, I have loved many of my experiences at Pantheacon. I have been glad to be a part of it. But a top-down, for-profit enterprise as the great communal gathering place has always struck me as incongruous with Pagan values.
Maybe something new will rise in its place. Maybe not.
But my point here is that it doesn’t matter very much.
Times have moved on.
There are enough of us now that many of us can gather in more local clusters (and I encourage you to roll your own). The Internet has enabled large communities to convene virtually…which, while it seems far less “real” to me, I am assured is completely real to younger generations than I. People who follow small traditions can find one another, communicate and share community.
The days when we all needed to drive long hours to pitch a tent and spend precious hours with people of like mind are over for many of us. We have social circles, communities, local organizations.
And we have computers.
Is it sad, in some ways? Surely, of course it is. Just as with all beloved contexts that have evolved and changed—think Renaissance Faires, or Burning Man—I feel a little sad longing for those Pagan festivals of 30 years ago.
Paganism is changing. It is in the nature of people to resist change, to see it as threatening what they value about the past. Perhaps it is no longer in the reasonable scope of a budding young Pagan to go to a convention with thousands of fellow Pagans. Perhaps now it’s a local community group or event. Or a private circle, or coven.
Or simply being solitary, and contented with it. As so many are.
Times are changing. Our culture is evolving.
It’s not a crisis.
It’s just a phase in an inevitable evolution. We’re getting bigger, more visible, and more accepted.
We’re gaining ground, folks.
Don’t mourn: celebrate.
*We: LGBTQ folks and their allies. I’m making no claims here except to be on the side of equality and justice.