Building Pagan Solidarity: The Community Wreath

Heather Greene —  December 30, 2012 — 28 Comments

In this modern, transient, and digitally-driven world, we find ourselves frequently discussing the meaning, development, make-up or even the apparent death of “community.”  For Pagans, this can be a particularly profound discussion due to the incredible diversity in our faith and practice.  How do we develop and nurture a positive and lasting Pagan solidarity across differences in belief and tradition?

Community Wreath

In Atlanta, the answer has come in the form of a wreath. In the spring of 2012, Lady Charissa, senior priestess of North Georgia Solitaries (NGS), began a community wreath project that has now been going for over nine months. She explains:

The idea behind [the wreath] is for people, groups, or covens to add a ribbon to the wreath symbolizing how connected we all are. We are connected to the people we like and work with; connected to the people we’ve never met, connected to the people that we don’t care for. All of these people, friends… make a community. By connecting to this wreath we are bringing …[manifesting] cohesiveness for the Pagan community. (From the NGS Website)

Several years ago, Lady Charissa and a fellow Atlanta Pagan, Kieran Nightstar successfully incorporated a unity wreath into an NGS Samhain ritual. The work proved beneficial and inspirational to all attending. In 2012, Lady Charissa decided to resurrect this idea when she was asked to lead an Ostara ritual at the Atlanta Pagan Marketplace of Ideas, an annual festival celebrating Pagan life. Lady Charissa remarked:

I had not considered making the wreath a long term project.  But, when I was leading the ritual and passing the wreath around, the words just came to me. “We will pass the wreath around the community during the coming year.”

Lady Charissa

Lady Charissa
North Georgia Solitaries

She started getting calls the very next week. Pagans from all over the Atlanta-area wanted to participate in her community wreath project. A few short months later, that simple grapevine circular form was covered with a menagerie of ribbons representing both solitary Pagans and covens throughout the north Georgia community.

Over the past 9 months, the wreath has been passed around the local community attending private sabbat rituals and open festivals. In September, the wreath traveled to Alabama to attend the first annual Auburn Pagan Pride Day.  As leader of the open ritual, Lady Charissa incorporated the wreath project into the evening’s work. Then, late in October, the wreath was displayed at both Atlanta’s and Savannah’s Pagan Pride events.

To date, more than eight covens and organizations, representing different Pagan traditions and faiths, as well as countless solitaries have participated in building Pagan solidarity through this community wreath.

I have been pleasantly surprised at how many people have wanted to bring the wreath into their circles and to be a part of this project. It has grown far past my original idea.

On Yule, my own group had the wreath. We tied our ribbons into its tapestry.  It was indeed transformative as we looked over the rainbow of interwoven ribbons – some from friends and others from strangers, but all a part of the community.  Through our shared experience, we were immediately connected.

In the upcoming months, the community wreath will continue to makes its way through Georgia’s Pagan world. Lady Charissa hasn’t firmly decided on its final destination. She said, “At this point, I will just see where [the project] wants to go, doing my best to facilitate the journey.”  Right now, she plans to circle the project back to its starting place at the 2013 Ostara ritual for Atlanta Pagan Marketplace of Ideas. From there, the wreath will grow in new ways, as Lady Charissa notes, just as “the community energy grows.”

Wreath building is one symbolic way that we can nurture Pagan solidarity within our diverse world. Have your local communities used any methods, magickal or otherwise, to bridge gaps, to build and maintain community in an effort to foster Pagan solidarity?  What ways have you used?

Heather Greene

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Heather is a freelance writer, film historian, and journalist, living in the Deep South. She has collaborated with Lady Liberty League on religious liberty cases, and formerly served as Public Information Officer for Dogwood Local Council and Covenant of the Goddess. She has a masters degree in Film Theory, Criticism and History from Emory University with a background in the performing and visual arts. Heather's book on witches in American film and television will be published by McFarland in 2018.
  • guest

    wait, isn’t solitary not being part of a group/hierarchy?

    • Doug
      • guest

        read the article more carefully.

        • Doug

          ? Good question though. Now you have me wondering. From the web site it states: Our mission is to provide a place that is open to solitaries
          of all traditions to learn and celebrate together.

          • RachelBailey

            Basically it a place where you are accepted if you stand alone most of the time, but want to, every now and again, to share good food, conversations, and a ritual (if you want) with those who, while may not be on the exact same path, may still share common experiences. It’s a place to see how others do stuff, to join in a craft, to bring the kids so they can talk to people their own age who would better understand common experiences they face, to play, and to socialize in a world where, on a day to day basis, it can be hard to find someone who can understand. It can be hard if you are the only Pagan of any path you know, and you don’t deal with any others on a day to day basis. Especially living in the Bible Belt. This is a place to come that expects basically nothing of you but to bring a camp chair for you to sit on and a dish for the pot luck, and who welcomes just about everyone.

          • Guest

            There are people who like community and groups for their paths and there are solitaries. Being a solitary is not for everybody and doesn’t apply to everybody.
            I understand wanting community – but not all the time, and networking, and finding a place you can take the kids, particularly in the Bible Belt. And NGS involves nice people. Makes sense to me.
            But “Solitary” is a powerful term that means NOT doing those things that you’re discussing. Solitaries don’t have a group or leadership or class program because they’re solitaries – and that means alone. NGS’ name and their rankings are oxymoronic.
            You could say it’s just it’s name.

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            In fairness, some solitaries are such because of circumstances, rather than deliberate intent.

            I guess I would be labelled as a solitary at the moment, but that is not something I want to remain.

          • Guest

            LOL I suspect rather you’ve been run out of all local groups.
            Try Otherkin.

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            Otherkin? They argue more than Pagans.

            To my knowledge, there are no local groups (or, none local enough for me to affordably get to, anyway.)

  • Deborah Bender

    I think it’s a great idea, and I thank Jason for publicizing it.

    I must say though, that that wreath looks a mess, like some Maypoles I’ve helped to dance. The more ribbons are added, the messier it’s going to get, until every inch of the foundation is covered, and then it will be folk art, which is ok.

    You can do community quilts without a common design, because each square has the same dimensions and they don’t overlap. I think the wreath projects might have nicer looking results if instead of inviting everyone to weave in their ribbons randomly, some craftsperson could propose a pattern for attaching ribbons that is simple enough to follow for people who don’t have much talent for crafts.

    You want something that makes it obvious where to stick the next ribbon. Expressing personal creativity isn’t the point of making these, and people do get to choose what kind of ribbon to add, so I don’t think people would mind being given easy directions.

    I’m not all that crafty, but if I were designing one of these from scratch, I would have a plain wrap in both directions, loops at even intervals along the outside rim to which additional ribbons could be attached, circles across the long axis of the wreath, and no ribbons across the center.

    • guest

      Unless it’s supposed to look like one of those ribbon hats that are made during bridal showers.

    • Ashta

      The wreath may look a mess to you, but to us, it is amazing. Its not supposed to have rhyme or reason, and people don’t need to be told where to put the next ribbon. Its supposed to be a conglomeration of colorful pieces that represents different lives in the community that is Georgia paganism. And that community is constantly in flux. People come and people go. Groups and covens come and go. But they are each leaving a piece behind on the wreath to show that they support the idea of a loving community. It’s not about how coordinated it is, or how planned it it, its about evolution. The wreath is constantly evolving as more ribbons are added. And that evolution is beautiful.

      • Deborah Bender

        As I said, it’s a great idea, one that will probably spread.

        Order and design can arise out of the pressure of circumstances (theory of biological evolution) or conscious planning. When it comes to things or groups that humans make together, how much order and planning are desirable is something that not everyone will agree on. What one person sees as a structure that makes the whole more beautiful and effective than the sum of its parts, another sees as oppressive and unnecessary. That’s why we have eclectic covens, traditional covens, solitaries, congregational groups, and hybrids like NGS.

        I lean toward the structure and intelligent design pole of magical religion. Not all the way to the limit; I’m not a ceremonial magician but I like coven work and public rituals that have been thought through down to the details. I don’t feel safe opening myself up to every energy or feeling that could be brought into a circle by anyone present. I would absolutely hate the kind of group ritual you describe in your second post below. If others desire and feel a benefit from such rituals, I wish them the best.

  • Medeine Ragana

    If you click on the link in the article, it takes to the North Georgia Solitaries website. It does indeed appear that it is a “church” which invites all solitaries to its rituals. I seems to me that the concept for this group is an oxymoron. How can you be solitary if you’re involved with a group like this? You’re either solitary or your not. I’m solitary precisely because I don’t want to participate in group rituals except for some very special and rare occasions and with some very special people. Group rituals, for me, is the exception. However, to each his own.

    • guest

      If you’ve started a coven and are regularly teaching a group as leader, you’re not a ‘solitary” but still calling yourself that is a great way to get those inquisitive solitaries funneled into your coven/group.

    • Ashta

      NGS uses the word ‘church’ to describe themselves because it is a word that works. It is not a coven, or a grove. And calling it a ‘group’ is not descriptive enough. It was started by Lady Charissa because she was a solitary who desired the fellowship and the love that comes with group rituals, but she didn’t want the drama that can sometimes come with a coven. NGS’s members are from all paths and all walks of life. Some identify as solitary, some are from covens and groves in the area. Everyone is welcome. Most consider themselves to be solitary because the majority of their practice is done alone. NGS generally only celebrates the sabbats together, not the esbats. And when they celebrate together, participants are reminded that they are each their own priest or priestess. They work their own magick, they bring their own tools, their is no one between them and the gods. That is how they are solitary and also involved in a group like this.

  • Lēoht Sceadusawol

    I am a questioning sort of person. I don’t blindly do things just ‘because’. As such, I have a question or few:

    Why do this? What is the purpose of ‘Pagan solidarity’? When two people can’t even agree on what constitutes ‘Pagan’, how is there (or should there) be any solidarity between disparate paths/traditions?

    Just a note – I am not saying there shouldn’t be any solidarity, I am merely asking questions I haven’t seen raised.

    • Baruch Dreamstalker

      When the religious rights of one Pagan are trampled by some school admin or zoning board — often a vulnerable mother and child — they can twist in the wind alone or other Pagans can come to their aid. The difference is solidarity. Most of us don’t need a detailed definition of “Pagan” to know when someone is “one of us” in such circumstances.

      • Lēoht Sceadusawol

        You know, you could easily swap out the word ‘Pagan’ for ‘person’ to that argument.

        • Baruch Dreamstalker

          Only if I were evading the point.

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            In an anthropological sense, indigenous spiritualities are labelled as pagan. The adherents of those traditions may well disagree with the application of that term.

            My point is not that it is solidarity between ‘Pagans’ that is important, but an appreciation of equal rights and treatment for all paths. A basic concept of interfaith, I imagine.

          • Baruch Dreamstalker

            An appreciation of equal rights and treatment for all paths is a principle, which I happen to share as a Pagan and a UU. Solidarity, otoh, arises from a visceral sense of fellow-recognition. You have it or you don’t.

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            What happens when that sense of fellow-recognition is not reciprocated?

          • Baruch Dreamstalker

            Lack of solidarity on the part of the non-reciprocator. S/he does not feel any impulse toward it and wonders what it’s all about.

            I can offer logical arguments for making other Pagans’ and sort-of-Pagans’ concerns our own on the basis of long-term self-interest, but we’re talking about an emotion here, not a reasoned conclusion. It is neither good nor bad imho to have or to lack this emotional response, but those who share it may be motivated therefrom to strengthen Paganism institutionally.

          • Baruch Dreamstalker

            This is my second attempt to reply to this question.
            What happens is lack of the sense of solidarity that arises from the sense of fellow-recognition. S/he does not understand what it’s all about.
            I could offer logical arguments for making other Pagans’ and sort-of-Pagans’ concerns our own out of long-term self interest, but we are talking about an emotion, not a reasoned conclusion. It is neither good not bad imho to have or lack this emotional response, but those who have it may be motivated therefrom to strengthen Paganism institutionally.

    • RachelBailey

      Many solitaries that I know want to do most of their practice alone, but as many know it can be lonely, and daunting to always go on your own. This allows for a sense of community. A place to turn, and a place to go and maybe see how others do it. It’s not about being a group, like a coven, but more of allowing to come together, usually on the 8 major holidays, and talk. Make friends, join in a craft, talk, vent common frustrations of living as a religious minority, join in a craft, and if you wish, even join in the ritual. I love this group. (For full disclosure I’m on staff with NGS, but do not speak for them in any way and am sharing my personal views on it). I have been solitary for 15+ years, and until I finally got the nerve to go to Atlanta Pagan Pride a couple of years ago I always felt alone in the world with my beliefs given I was the only Pagan I knew for most of those 15+ years. I was never in the broom closet so I’ve always been open, but it’s hard to do alone. I found this group at Atlanta Pagan Pride, and they are a wonderful group of people. It’s nice to know there is someone I can talk to, and who will understand and get it. I like practicing alone, but it’s nice to have a group every now and again. I’ve learned new ways of doing thing I never thought of. It’s not one particular path either, so it’s a better fit for the Eclectic Pagan to likes to pull from a bit of everything. We are also family friendly, so you can bring the kids. They can participate in the ritual, and can play with other Pagan children. Even if they are not on the same Pagan path they can still talk about some common experiences they have had. So, basically it’s a way to stand alone without always being alone.

      • Lēoht Sceadusawol

        So, in essence, this is an attempt to foster sense of community for those who self identify as ‘solitary’?

  • Liriel

    What a wonderful ideas!!! Thank you 🙂 Each wreath would take on a beauty of it’s own wrought by those who created it.
    As a solitary I am finding that in some instances, community is important and that to be a part of a community may require courage to share some of yourself. Giving other solitaries who who are of like minds can strengthen community ties.