My experience with the pagan community: circles, covens, fitting in and sitting on the edge

When Earthdragon joined a coven years ago, I was allowed to particpate in the Sabbat circles, I was about 12 for the two that I attended, the one was a Midsummer festival and the other Lammas if I remember correctly.

As I was so young, many adults didn’t take my interest in the craft seriously. Of course I was less into deity worship and more of a nature child who longed to dance with fairies and dragons but I was still serious about my path as a pagan, and I knew that I was always meant to be a pagan.

I enjoyed the dancing, and the enactment of the realm of the Fae, I enjoyed the bonfire and meeting other people, my biggest problem however was that at 12 people thought that I could not grasp the importance of the seasonal changes.

The Lammas celebration I went to was a bit more solemn, I took a friend along who was also interested in the craft, and we went through a  pathworking. Here at least I had someone I could talk to, who wasn’t judging me based on my age, as we were the same age.

I asked Earthdragon about her initial experience with finding other pagans and a coven to join, and she told me that she felt like she was coming home, that she was happy to meet people who believed in the same things she did. She had made some friends, but the coven was a bit cliquish, and people gravitated toward certain other people, there may have been a real friendship connection with others, but some people would be standoffish. Her first Sabbat celebration was Beltaine and she had a great deal of fun, and felt it was wonderful to be part of the group mind, she felt connected.

As time went on however, Earthdragon was pushed out slowly from the coven due to her views, she questioned the HPS’s ethics, egotistic standpoint and some of the teachings.  Of course the path Earthdragon took was inevitable, she would not be molded as easily as the others in the group, and left, disappointed that this particular pagan community which branded itself as open, friendly, spiritual and not swayed by ego which  in fact turned out to be incredibly cliquish where questioning was disapproved and where people had ulterior motives for instance being the biggest coven in SA.

On Earthdragon went to join Witch school International, the teachers of Correlian wicca. From what I’ve gathered they have questionable ethics and are not quite reliable with good information either. When Earthdragon joined this coven, they were free, as time went on, people had to pay for the courses, and now of course there are books on the three “degrees”.  I joined Earthdragon again for a circle celebration, I was about 14 I think, and the first thing I felt was that I was incredibly uneasy. The group was cliquish and rude, Earthdragon reports the same feeling. They were also incredibly disorganised for their circle celebration, and the circle casting and trying to raise energy outside of the circle I felt was unsuccessful. This, in my opinion is brought on by the fact that with the courses, the tests were multiple choice, there was no real practical work to be monitored and Earthdragon received her first degree reverend certificate after a few months of doing multiple choice questions. She felt cheated, and when the certificate arrived she felt nothing for it. There was no real training in the Correlian groups.

Earthdragon and  I trained ourselves through trial and error and books, but we had to actually practice it as well, and we had no idea whether or not we were doing it right, as no one with real experience could monitor our progress. Of course now Earthdragon’s husband was trained in a traditional witchcraft setting, his training provided him with proper experience and he is able to help out with some remaining questions now and then. Not only was correlian practice teaching some serious rubbish, they were also helping to develop the great big hole that the pagan (specifically wiccan) community now faces, undertrained people who cannot even cast a circle, or raise energy effectively with a group mind.

Our next forays into the pagan community came through with a Pagan Freedom Day* celebration which happens every year on the 27 April. I cannot remember what year this was exactly but I must have been about 15 or 16. This is the heart of pagan interaction within Johannesburg. I came dressed in black, all black, I’m a goth after all, but I felt the stares and felt incredibly uncomfortable. Earthdragon felt a cliquishiness here too. Of course I don’t believe all pagans should jump up, hug the heck out of each other and have one big hippy fun time, but a smile of friendliness goes a long way, and I didn’t receive that at all, and I’m a smiley person, maybe people feel shocked at seeing a little goth kid smile, but whatever the reason I felt displaced, we left shortly after we arrived. Although a sense of community is the main theme of Pagan Freedom Days, and it was great to see all those people, discrimination against my dress sense, my level of seriousness about the craft and cliquishness prevailed.

Online community… hmmm, this was the greatest learning experience and quite frankly as much of a disappointment as well. What I’m talking about here, is social networking, through various online pagan groups. I was awed by the amount of knowledge one could find online, and was astounded by the knowledge and experience of certain individual pagans from various paths. It was overwhelming and I joined about 10 different sites in the first week. I learnt so much and found out that much of what I found in books was not necessarily true, I also found that certain covens were teaching nonsense and that people with actual vetted credentials were much more reliable.

I was online for 3-7 hours a day, and wrote some articles, started some discussions and corrected some information as well. I became a networker extraordinaire and became more and more tightly involved with certain groups of people. Then one experience happened in my very real life that made me move away from networking, it was hard, upsetting, and frankly ripped out from under me the comfy pagan rug of online friendship. Either people had changed completely or I understood things differently and I was the one who had changed. Of course as social networking with people from another continent is not a very in-your-life experience, the impact of practically leaving the online pagan community was not the same as leaving a physical pagan community. Friends I had were now gone, I jumped networks due to fluffy notions of whitelighter witches and vampire trolls, and even after jumping I just stopped. It no longer meant anything to others that I was away for months due to my life changes, and it no longer meant anything to me to remain in contact with people who had proved to be quite distasteful, rude, and full of crap. Of course I still look to social networks for possible topics, interesting articles and to the elders and leaders of the community but most of my online interaction now comes from blogging and Facebook.

Blogging has been a different experience altogether. Of course although there are still people with questionable ethics, questionable knowledge and questionable understandings of paganism they are much easier to avoid. Of course I’m also a goth blogger so my experience blogging is peppered with the wonderful goth interactions I’ve found and the amazing goth bloggers from all over the world which I enjoy learning from and reading. With blogging I know it is my blog, I can write what I want on here, without having to listen to trolls and put up with discrimination and bigotry. I feel like I am able to fully put myself out there without having to hide one part of who I am, a goth, hippy who embraces my path, a hard polytheist who is creating my own system of witchcraft. I can develop my opinions, without the childishness that comes with social networking and I can voice my opinion without being told by a slew of people who I’m being too harsh or fluffy. I can argue both sides of the coin without feeling like I’m going to lose “friends” because I don’t hate Silver Ravenwolf and I “mix pantheons”. I can voice my feminist opinions without having my discussions stained with notions that feminism is dead. I don’t have to spoon feed information on Hekate and Anubis to people because blogging is more about self-responsibility, and bloggers tend to be good researchers.

Facebook of course is a different story, my Pagan interaction comes from a group I now live a bit far from , but once wished to join, some people are fluffy, silly and have off notions about ethics and morality, most however are quite wonderful who offer different perspectives, leadership and friendship.

The question remains however, Do I feel like I am a part of the Pagan community?

I’m not sure, I feel that, as I worship Psychopomps I will always be outside of the general pagan community, I will never really fit in, if it’s because of me worshiping liminal deities who are on the fringe, or if it is because I do not ever fully feel like I fit in due to me being a goth, being a solitary practitioner for so many years, me not completely identifying with Wicca, me not feeling the need to sacrifice my beliefs for the sake of fitting in does not really matter to me as much as it did 2 years ago at the height of my online interaction.

I do still wish I had more like-minded individuals to interact with, but it is very rare to find people in my physical reality who fully embrace psychopomp energy, liminality and a more shamanic understanding of the world. Many witches I still find are scared of Ouija boards, ghosts, cemeteries, walking between two worlds, and death.  Many Witches still live their lives in fear of things they were taught in previous religions, they still let their morality and ethics be determined by fear rather than love, they still fear being on the fringe, and being looked at like freaks to the point where goths and alternative people are discriminated against. I do  not belong to any coven currently, one day I might, but the likelihood of me being part of a fertility religion like Wicca-proper is slim. The likelihood of me finding someone who see’s Hekate for what she really is, is slim, my chances of finding someone who is not afraid to step outside of the boundary and dance the magic, dance the two worlds is very slim. The likelihood to find a group of people in SA then who do what I do is incredibly minimal.

I still interact with various pagans through various avenues, and I enjoy it, but whether or not I truly belong is a different story. Belonging is more than just enjoying conversation with other pagans, it is about a mutual understanding, a connection, a shared value system, a shared understanding of the world in which we live in. Although I may belong to the greater pagan community with all of its many paths, there is not one smaller more intimate community I can claim as my own, I belong on the fringe.

It has come to the point where I either embrace that, embrace the liminality and the beauty of walking between the worlds, and be considered odd, freakish, strange, a hedge jumper, the lady in the cottage in the forest, surrounded by animals and spirits of both the dead and non human, or I can conform, feel displaced, never be myself, never ride the hedge, and live a lie, continuously denying my gods, my ancestors, and the ghosts that walk the planes. I have chosen the former, so although through my own path, people may be uneased, by the fact that I walk astride two large black dogs, one a more wolf like, the other more jackal/wild dog, I know that I am walking where I am meant to walk, walking the crossroads and the grave sites. Although I am pagan, and Identify as a witch, I am that witch which is hard to place as part of “normal”, mainstream community, I am that witch, who dances freely with the dead, I am that witch, who is never really here, but travels both worlds at the same time, I am that witch, with her many changing faces, that personifies nature as much as she can. I’ve always unsettled people, and I can’t expect anything different when I’ve lived my life as part of this world but part of another as well. So in the large venn diagram of paganism I’m sitting on the edges, as that is what resonates most with me.

I doubt I’m the only pagan who feels the way that I feel, in fact many people have left any vestiges of the pagan community behind due to the hypocrisy, ridiculousness and “witch wars”. Many have moved away, to the margins to live in service of their gods, of nature spirits, of their ancestors, of their path, rather than trying to fit in with a crowd of pagans who desperately want to fit into the mainstream bubble, chasing dreams of consumerism and capitalism.

I keep up with pagan news, but not as much as others, I’m often on the butt-end of it, and most of my pagan news I receive through Confessions of a Pagan Soccer mom, some of it interests me, much of it doesn’t, and that is partially due to the fact that it either doesn’t affect me in any way or that it is simply not a concern of someone who is not working within the accepted frameworks and parameters of neo-pagan practice. Although I often feel a need to belong to the pagan community itself, as a need to belong is inherently human, I still don’t quite belong. Sometimes that need overwhelms me, but then I feel freer, as I don’t have the strict set of codes and conventions to follow, I don’t need to act mainstream just so that other witch’s can feel less threatened  by my whimsy, I don’t have to be a part of a community of people who try so hard to be mainstream that they lie to themselves, I don’t have to fit in, and that is ok, because that is my truth, my path.

Many people may find their home within the pagan community, and feel truly happy with it, and try to develop it as much as possible, but the truth is that with so many types of pagans in the mix, a true pagan vision is difficult to imagine, more likely is that there are groups of people who exist, with their own vision in their own pagan religion or niche. I’m happy for those pagans who have found their home within the wider pagan community, it is indeed something wonderful to be able to belong. But as Hekate herself was a “distant” goddess, a liminal deity, on the margins, I can comfortably walk those roads, those roads I travelled since childhood, even before I became pagan, when I first found that old antique key, when I knew I was different, when I knew I was not completely in this world, when I never fit in completely with any group.

* I may be writing about Pagan Freedom Day 2012, if I am able to attend.

All blog content is Copyright © 2012 of Nightshade


3 thoughts on “My experience with the pagan community: circles, covens, fitting in and sitting on the edge

  1. I have been reading your blog for a while now but this post touched my heart strings in an unexpected way. I just wanted to reach though the computer screen and hug you. We are of such a similar mind on a lot of issues. I raise s glass to your Independence and your determination to be true to your self.

    My own primary gods are Athena and Hermes (a psychopomp). I may not follow Hecate the way that you do but I get her, who she is and just how powerful psychopomp energy is.

    May your ‘black dogs’ bless you and always keep you safe.

    • Thank you, this means a lot to me. I really wish I could meet you, and others like you, it is really difficult to find people who understand what exactly I’m talking about.

      May you be always blessed by Athena and Hermes!

  2. Pingback: Change « Haven't We Done This Before?

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