The Marshall University student paper The Parthenon lets us know that Marshall University’s Pagan Association has ceased meeting. Why is this small bit of news relevant? Because this was the group that made national headlines for prompting the university back in 2007 to allow excused absences for Pagan holidays (I even got interviewed by the AP about it).
“Marshall University’s Pagan Association, which once received national media attention, no longer meets on campus. Marty Laubach, professor of sociology at Marshall and faculty advisor for the Marshall Pagan Association, said no one from the association has contacted him this semester and the members may no longer be together as a group. He said the association most likely did not drift apart due to conflict within the group, but because members have become more involved with their studies. George Fain, former president of the Pagan Association, worked to establish the pagan group at Marshall in spring of 2007, Laubach said. A September 2008 story in The Parthenon reported that Marshall received national media attention for recognizing Paganism as a religion.”
While some would still question if this is development was truly “newsworthy”, I think it does convey an important truth about modern Paganism: that small Pagan groups often disband or drift apart, and that this is a normal thing. It is an important fact to know, because journalists used to the congregational model of worship might think a group disbanding might be sign of ill health within the faith itself. Instead, it is just a side-effect of our strong individuality. Indeed, according to the Pagan group’s former faculty advisor, we’re “notoriously” ephemeral when it comes to working together.
“Pagan groups are notoriously unstable,” Laubach said. “Smaller groups come and go very quickly. Groups will last as long as the people can get along together.”
This isn’t to say that there aren’t Pagan groups and organizations that have managed to exists for decades, to the contrary, just that the typical expectations for what constitutes a “healthy” Pagan community varies widely from what might be considered healthy within a Christian or Jewish community. A “typical” Pagan community might see a few groups that have survived the years, as well as an ever-rotating and shifting assortment of ad-hoc groups and short-term alliances that change as the needs of the particpants change. So the Marshall University Pagan Association ending might not be news, but it’s the kind of “not-news” that may trigger some better reporting on Pagan communities in the future.