How Do We Make Solidarity Happen?

Teo Bishop —  January 22, 2013 — 29 Comments

This is a follow-up piece to the two-part series on solidarity written by Heather Greene for The Wild Hunt. There is a great deal of conversation taking place around A Question of Pagan Solidarity: Part 1 and A Question of Pagan Solidarity: Part 2, and this post offers a practical example of how solidarity can be experienced by solitaries, and how that experience of “solitary solidarity” can inspire those in the broader community to approach solidarity as a meaningful practice.

Solitary Tree

Solitary tree at Sunset (CC)

Some have asked, “How can we have a conversation about solidarity if we can’t even agree on how we define ourselves?” I’d suggest that having a conversation about solidarity might help us have the conversation about identity, especially if we engage with one another with the intent to experience solidarity, rather than simply define it.

I’m going to offer up an example of solidarity in practice, particularly solidarity for solitaries. “Solitary solidarity” may technically be an oxymoron, but so is “deafening silence,” and who doesn’t love the poetry of that term? An oxymoron can be useful, beautiful, and relevant, and I think this example of “solitary solidarity” might even help us discern a new way of engaging with one another in community.

I’ve committed myself in service to the Solitary Druid Fellowship, which is built on the concept of solidarity for solitaries (or as I often call it, congregation in solitude). Our solidarity is not one of a strict agreement of identities, or even an agreement about an identical practice. Ours is a solidarity build around the awareness of each other’s existence, of each other’s mutual needs, and of our commonalities. Our differences are respected and supported, and they do not threaten the life of the Fellowship, because the Fellowship is not built to institute uniformity.

SDF LogoOur solidarity is the grounds of our shared spiritual practice. We join each other in a shared observance of the High Holidays, the Sabbats, using a shared liturgy. But even in that framework, there is room for individuation. Some will be observing Imbolc, and others Charming of the Plough. Some will make libations to Roman gods, and others to no gods at all. Some will take the liturgy and completely re-write it, using it only as an inspiration for their religious observance. And yet, though all of this, there is solidarity among us. We are aware of each other, we are holding each other in a state of respect, and we are, if in this way only, united.

Our consent to this solidarity allows for us to step into an experiential reality of interconnectedness. We are doing something together, even as we are apart. Our togetherness is not synchronous. We are not coordinating a “shared ritual” at a specific time on a specific day. Our asynchronous observance is more of an agreement we make to honor what is meaningful to us, to celebrating in the way that is most resonant for us, and to steering clear of the impulse to fence one other into specific ways of being, thinking, acting, or identifying.

From the outside, this solidarity we experience may seem trivial. It may appear insubstantial enough to constitute “solidarity.” But for those who consent to being part of this Fellowship, which is but one model of how “solitary solidarity” might be experienced, we open ourselves to a different understanding. Through the doing, there is a new experience of knowing.

If I were to attempt to make this solidarity into a “Pagan solidarity”, or an “ADF solidarity,” I would be missing the point, and I’d be shutting certain people out. There are ADF members who are participating in the shared practice and observance of the Solitary Druid Fellowship, of course. The Fellowship is a service extension of ADF, so this is only natural. But there are also non-ADF members who are taking part. There are people who don’t identify as Druids, polytheists or Pagans, and some who don’t have a clear take on what the gods are at all. There are theists, atheists, polytheists and agnostics taking part. They are approaching reverence, albeit for different things. They are sharing language, even as they’re engaging with it differently. They are suspending the need to be the same, and in doing so they are opening themselves up to something harmonious.

I would like to see other experiments in solidarity. I would like to see it on a micro and macro scale. I’d like individual traditions to see how they can foster solidarity among themselves, and then see if there are ways to extend that experience of solidarity outside their boundaries. Approaching solidarity with other solitaries is an opportunity to experience solidarity on the scale of the individual, and if we allow ourselves that, perhaps we might begin to allow if for larger groups who identify differently than we do.

We might experience solidarity with humans who don’t look, think, dress, love or act like us. We might begin to foster a deeper respect for one another, and come to honor the ways in which we are unique, and the same. In time, this newfound respect might extend to those non-human beings who share our land, our water, our food, our resources. In time, we might find more ways to experience solidarity than we do discord.

Solidarity can become a discipline, like meditation. Seeking to know the feeling and experience of solidarity, to understand how it can be felt among a seemingly disparate, disconnected people, makes possible new awarenesses, new understandings.

How do we have a conversation about solidarity when we aren’t in agreement about identity and terminology? We answer that question by devising new ways to experience solidarity. We find the new way by making a new practice.

Then, we come to understand solidarity.

This, at least, has been my experience.

So I ask you —

How have you sought to create an experience of solidarity? Or, could you conceive of a way to do it? 

Can you imagine a way to foster an experience of solidarity with those in your tradition? If so, what would that look like? Then, could you imagine a way of expanding that experience of solidarity to those outside your tradition?

How would you do that? Through liturgy? Through a shared calendar? Though a shared language? A common practice?

How can you make solidarity happen?

Teo Bishop

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Teo Bishop is a contemplative, a bard, and the author of Bishop in the Grove.
  • Lēoht Sceadusawol

    I still don’t entirely get the ‘why’ of solidarity. If you are deliberately solitary (rather than solitary by victim of circumstance), why is there a need or desire for solidarity?

    For me, solidarity is useful inasmuch as it works to protect the individual from the efforts and actions of others.

    As such, who are the solitaries seeking protection from?

    • It’s not a matter of protection, it’s a matter of community. I’m solitary because I haven’t found a group with whom I enjoy working not because I don’t seek to find such a home.

      As such, I look for solidarity with others so that I can, for example, sit a coffee shop with them and talk about our similar and different Pagan identities, so that I feel connected to something greater than myself in a way that I don’t feel connected to deity, and to know that there are others who, like me, also seek to create a Pagan chorus, cacophonous though it may be at times, to share our views with others.

      I am a solitary practitioner; I probably always will be. But, that doesn’t mean that I don’t want to be a part of something larger than myself.

      • Lēoht Sceadusawol

        I am a solitary, myself. Not because I want to be, but because circumstances have resulted in it. I would very much like to not be solitary. In that, I can see where you are coming from really well.

        I would say that, like me, you are one of those who is solitary not through choice but through circumstance.

        • Somewhat. I actually do choose solitary. Even when I join a group, I tend to feel like an outsider so I usually leave and return to solitary work.

    • cigfran

      I am solitary for many reasons. I also seek solidarity of a kind, and I don’t see any contradiction, nor do I need protection from anything. Solitary practice is not necessarily the same thing as hermitage or absolute iconoclasm. There are degrees.

      There is no “why” to this that really requires lengthy defense. It is how I feel, and I’m glad that someone like Teo knows that the feeling is legitimate and servicable.

      That you don’t get it is not really a problem.

    • Thanks for the comment, Lēoht. I see what you mean about solidarity meaning protection against an opposing force, but perhaps there is another way of seeing the function of solidarity as it pertains to solitaries.

      In the case of solitaries who choose a solitary practice, the solidarity that can be experienced through the Fellowship is one that inspires a sense of unity, and even a deeper awareness of our interconnectedness. These are transpersonal experiences, and they can be valuable to many who otherwise prefer the solitude.

      So, I’d say that solitaries who benefit from this kind of fellowship aren’t seeking protection, as much as they opening up to a different awareness.

      Thanks again for the comment. It was a great question.

      • Lēoht Sceadusawol

        It was a genuine question. Can’t learn if I don’t ask, can I?

        • And I’m glad you did!

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            It’s not often people actually answer my questions about sensitive topics, rather than getting defensive.

            I think that in some ways, interfaith works as a form of (defensive) solidarity. It allows people to put aside individual difference to work together for common purpose.

          • That’s a really interesting way of seeing it, Lēoht. This is kind of what I’m getting at down at the end of my post. I’d like for us to imagine how we might ask ourselves these questions, and how we might create structures which allow for this kind of solidarity, this kind of cooperative work.

            And I’m glad to answer your questions. I appreciate respectful dialogue, and I try to foster it whenever I can.

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            I will try and answer your questions, from my personal perspective (I get there are no right or wrong answers).

            “How have you sought to create an experience of solidarity? Or, could you conceive of a way to do it?”

            I feel that solidarity must first come from those who feel a meaningful connection with each other. As such, let the Wiccans have their solidarity, the Druids theirs, the Ásatrúar theirs, etc. Once the individuals are settled in their groups, allow the collected groups to have solidarity.

            “Can you imagine a way to foster an experience of solidarity with those in your tradition? If so, what would that look like? Then, could you imagine a way of expanding that experience of solidarity to those outside your tradition?”

            I think, to encourage solidarity within ‘my’ tradition (other than to finish forming it) would be to encourage shared experiences – not just turning up at the same festivals and rituals, but forging deeper bonds through more social activities. Look at how the average church-going Christian will go to, perhaps, one service a week, yet may well engage in other activities such as church fairs, bake sales, beetle drives and other community activities. All ways of getting to know people beyond just a shared religious experience.

            “How would you do that? Through liturgy? Through a shared calendar? Though a shared language? A common practice?”

            I think that, within a single tradition, it is easiest achieved through having the same celebrations and ritual formats. You are not going to feel like you have something in common with someone when all you see is difference.

            “How can you make solidarity happen?”

            I honestly do not think you can make it happen. All you can do is give it the opportunity to grow. Solidarity is a multi-directional relationship. No matter how much you support another, unless they return that sentiment, solidarity will fail.

    • I am confused by this. Solidarity exists in so many ways and many do not require a shared foe. How about national solidarity by paying your taxes? Solidarity among the members of a sports club? Or solidarity just because it’s the right thing to do?

      I do see what you mean by saying that it is odd for those who are deliberately solitary to seek solidarity, but it is not really. Firstly, as you also hint, most of us are not deliberately solidarity. I have found a great group/system in the SDF which just happens to be online. Yet it also possible for an individual to want to pray alone, serve the gods alone, yet be part of something greater through the words we share. Christians may gather together in church, but many of them will also feel solidarity with those Christians in China or elsewhere. Either solitude and solidarity are both possible, or maybe, even when practising alone physically, one is never completely solitary.

      • Lēoht Sceadusawol

        Why do people pay taxes? Either because they have to or to benefit from the services taxes provide – services such as a military to protect from outside antagonism or such as nationalised health services, to provide care when needed.

        Sports clubs are notorious for inter-club rivalry, are they not? A team (and fans) united against others.

        Being in a group/congregation does not preclude moments of solitude.

        • Yes, and I also pay taxes so other people can make use of those services. I pay more than I receive, which is a form of formalised solidarity.

          The sports club is perhaps not a good example. I thought of my own boxing school, where I only fight members of my own club, not those of other clubs.

          About your last statement. It is a matter of what you think of the most defining characteristic. I might as well say that being solitary does not preclude being in congregation, which is as true as what you just have stated.

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            You don’t pay voluntarily, though. Taxes are not optional, after all. (I’ll end that one here, we are not talking fiscal politics.)

  • I’ve worked very hard for the past year to create pagan solidarity in a witch war ravaged community. I’m quite successful so far. I don’t have the time to go through it all.

    • Thanks for the comment, Chris. When you have a moment, I think TWH readers would benefit from knowing what has been successful for you in this work to create pagan solidarity.

  • For me, the word solidarity is most often linked to the word “struggle”.
    The forceful or violent effort to get free of restraint or
    constriction, to resist attack. Put the word political or spiritual in
    front of struggle and it is more like a movement or action to gain,
    affect, or transform something. Solidarity in either of those contexts
    means I may not be a direct member of a particular struggle, but I can
    acknowledge and act in support of the goals and values of the struggle,
    because I feel similarities to my own life struggles.

    In the
    spiritual sense, my path may not be identical or even similar to a
    different tradition or practice, but I can identify with the goals of
    the path and support it as a valuable and beneficial struggle to improve
    the life of the follower. I don’t need to approve all the beliefs or
    practices of a different path or individual to express solidarity. I
    can act in, and support solidarity with Native American spirituality and political struggles, but not being one, I have no role in defining their struggle, beliefs, practice, or methods.

    ties that form between people, social and spiritual, when they practice
    spiritual solidarity, are the reward. Pagan solidarity is really
    beneficial when the need arises to jointly “resist attack”, but the far
    greater rewards are in empowering all Pagans to “get free of restraint
    or constriction” and enjoying the interconnectedness felt as a diverse
    group that can flourish within solidarity. Those benefits appear in many
    ways, and we won’t know them until we choose to act in solidarity of
    those who believe differently than ourselves. Pagan solidarity doesn’t
    need to have anything to do with common spiritual practice, so exact
    definitions are pretty irrelevant.

  • cernowain greenman

    Sometimes going through an experience together builds solidarity. At last year’s Indianapolis, Indiana Pagan Pride Day there was a Catholic track team that set up in our PPD space early that morning. The PPD team was polite and got the leaders of the PPD and the Catholics together and peacefully worked out a solution that was amenable to both parties.

    But one of the Catholic parents was upset and called the local TV station and expressed how upset he was that Pagans were out in public and that Pagans were silly and stupid and said so on camera. The TV station then interviewed our PPD coordinator who calmly explained that “this was a problem about space, not religion” and said that everything was worked out peacefully. When the excerpt aired on TV (three or four times) the Catholic parent came off as bigoted and unreasonable while the Pagans came out looking pretty good.

    An experience like that fosters solidarity and makes a Pagan community proud. When leaders are level-headed, as well as trained on how to speak to the press, then when issues arise the whole community stands strong and proud together.

  • “How would you do that? Through liturgy? Through a shared calendar? Though a shared language? A common practice?”

    All of the above, but also, as I have learned through SDF, a shared creative process. Not just ascribing to the same liturgy, but trying to create one together. That is something truly powerfull.

  • I feel that it has been a great privilege to be part of SDF, as well as a fortunate boon for myself that the Fellowship came along when it did. As I told Teo, his work facilitating this congregation in solitude is what cemented my decision to consider myself an ADF druid and continue working on my Dedicant Path. The conversations and epiphanies that I’ve seen sprung up during our discussions and crowd-sourcing activities have really been inspirational and uplifting (cheesy as that might sound!).

    At this point, I am primarily solitary in the physical world. My religious fellowship comes from working with my local Unitarian Universalist congregation, and to be utterly honest I have felt more solidarity and unity with the UUA than I have with Pagans at large. I’m the program coordinator for my congregation and have had the opportunity to lead very Pagan-y services. (I have an Ostara one planned for March!) The UU church’s struggles with solidarity and identity among a very large group of folks who tend to balk at any dogma or creed (to the point that our seven principles aren’t even universally agreed upon!) has given me some hope for where the Pagan community(ies) are headed right now. One common saying I’ve heard among UUs is “We needn’t believe alike to love alike.” And, with the religion focused so much on social justice, I’ve seen many examples of “or act alike, for the common good” as well.

    But I digress. My experiences irl with Pagans have not always been fulfilling and positive, so I see much of my community being online. My introduction to Paganism came mostly in 2007, and I remember that summer being one of Deo’s Shadow – that wonderful podcast that seems to have been lost to the netherworld – and reading through as many blogs and websites as I could get my hands on. I found the Cauldron forums a few years later and have been actively involved there ever sense. I’ve only ever met ADFers once in the real world, and I’ve been a member since July 2010… and on and on.

    I was raised a child of the internet and, as a social recluse growing up, socialized myself on message boards and roleplay communities from about 1998 onward. My solitude has been frustrating at times, but especially lately it hasn’t been lonely. I have the Cauldron, I have SDF, I now have Twitter, and I have the dozens of good friends I’ve made over the years. We might not all believe alike, but in my mind we’re all part of the same community.

  • I love the whole concept of a “Congregation in Solitude.” I have always been very fulfilled by my personal solitary path and practices, with one exception: it can be lonely. That was the motivation for my work developing “An Assembly of Solitaries,” the premise being that each of our own individual paths and practices are considered primary, and that we gather for communal celebration and fellowship though a shared secondary liturgy. I think we share common ground here when it come to solidarity. Blessings.

  • Thorbjorn

    It’s an interesting idea. On the surface I want a community where there are several people with shared ideals that can communicate with each other. I’ve never had that though. Nor have I ever really looked for it. I have to wonder, if there was an actual community to feel solidarity with, would I seek it out?

    Professionally, I have to be very interactive with the community. Personally, I’m about as introverted as one can get.

  • Kilmrnock

    For me as a ADF member i experience solidarity with my grove and it’s members , I am oathed to the grove and ADF. I am also a CR [Celtic Reconstructionist ] and part of a Recon Religion , Sinnsreachd is compatable with my Celtic Centered grove i also feel solidarity with fellow Sinnsrearaithe even tho as a group we are quite scattered and young. I consider myself a Sinnsrearaithe/ADF druid .To my way of thinking solidarity with the whole of our community makes perfect sense. When it comes to issues such as dealing with the US government great numbers speak volumes . For example the recent Pentagram quest with the VA , a battle i believe is incomplete until all pagan symbols/ emblems are recognised w/o question .In that case even the Conservative Bush Administration had to hear us .Altho our rights are constitutionaly guaranteed, in the current political climate i take nothing for granted and believe we will still have to fight for Pagan rights . In all reality this is a Judeo -Christian nation , they still enjoy a large priviledge we donot have .I consider Pagan solidarity not just a good idea , more a neccesity . This last election was closer than most realise , we could have given the RR types real power last november . Other than our LGBTQ members and freinds quess who would be next on their list , us. We as a group , the Pagan Community, need to keep a close eye on the RR fringe wackos and be ready to mobilise if the need arises , simple aliances amoungst solitary pagans and groups , ADF , OBOD, COG , etc will make this possible . For reasons i don’t fully understand these RR, NAR types have control of the Republican Party and still have real power in the House of Representatives. I think its just a good idea to be ready , if the need arises.

    • Northern_Light_27

      The reason the RR/NAR types have control over the GOP is old turnout metrics. They were, for a long while, the best-organized bunch going. (I used to be a Republican activist, a long time ago. I learned a lot, but lament the people I worked for.) Your average conservative group could field a few volunteers, and turn out some people. Call Pat Robertson’s bunch (or, out west, Dobson’s bunch) and they’ll have a bus with a hundred volunteers anywhere you want them within hours. Their voters turned out like clockwork. If a candidate said the right buzzwords, they’d get the conservative Christian turnout machine. The problem is that they also put up their own candidates, they alienate everyone else, and after too long of relying on them, establishment types looked around and realized they were shoved out of their own party. Turnout metrics now don’t look the same way they did even 10-15 years ago and you can’t win with the same demographics now, and (especially with the advent of the tea party) the establishment types really did sign a deal with the devil when it comes to relying so heavily on the RR. Their base is shrinking dramatically, and (good for progressives, which I’m now one) this newer lot have decided it’s time to stop hiding their true beliefs and started spouting off about rape and birth control.

      I think what’s left of the GOP establishment (who would have been considered very conservative back in the day and are now the “moderates”, actual elected moderates being about as common as unicorn-horned zebras) knows they screwed themselves, but there’s no clear way out of it because they don’t have another reliable base to tap. They could make a play for the center– and I think they’re either going to have to do that or splinter into two parties– but it’s far from reliable and is going to take strategists and candidates with a lot more courage than they’ve currently got. I mean, look at Huntsman– he’d have made a pretty good candidate, but he went absolutely nowhere. Even if they could get the center out for them in the general, they’d have a hard climb getting them to turn out for a primary, especially in closed-primary states.

      • Kilmrnock

        i agree , that in the last election the hard line RR types kinda shot themselves in the foot , alienated to many people with extremist policies . Going up against popular programs etc . But these people aren’t gone , still have more political power than i’d like them to have . All i’m saying is to keep an keen eye on them . I understand how they got the power they do , just as the 1%ers got power , i just don’t understand why the republicans would want to to go to such extremes and alienated that many people . A situation that bit on the arse fairly hard this last elelction .How could fairly smart politicos not see this would happen.Oh well as i have heard said , politics makes for strange bedfellows .

        • Kilmrnock

          And just for the record , i am an Independant voter . What i would call a small L liberatarian. my political views are conservative and liberal , social liberal , fiscal conservative more middle of the road . But i just couldn’t get behind these RR type radical extremist views most republicans espouse now . And dear gods all these fools in our govt .are running the economy to ruin .We need more centrist fiscal policies , extremist stuff from either side doesn’t work . And also for the record most recons share my political views .

  • As a community organizer, I hope to work with Pagans, both those belonging to groups and those who practice solitary paths, on a common goal. Through that work, I hope to foster a sense of solidarity. It is often by working together to achieve something that community begins to recognize itself, to fight together, and to appreciate the breadth and strength of its full constituency. Here’s hoping, anyway!

  • ChristopherBlackwell

    Solidarity begins with breaking down the walls and barriers we have placed around us. As I do interviews, I reach into every community that I can, wherever anyone is willing to talk to me about what they are doing. Outside of doing enough research to ask questions that will help them tell their story, I leave it to them to do most of the talking. I am open to their suggestions on what might make the interview more interesting. I am not there to pass any judgement and my personal feelings here are not important. That is for my readers , be them Wiccans, Heathens, Druids, Ceremonial Magicians.

    If they are curious about something outside of their particular community it is my job to interview someone representing that new area that they are curious about, as I did with interviewing a Gnostic Christian Priest. In the future this may lead to other groups, native religions or where ever their suggestions send me. It is not just what I am curious about but what my readers are curious about and even what people I have interviewed are curious about.

    Then once the interviews are online, I give each interviewee the expressed right to repost anywhere they like. I pass it on to other groups in other countries and give them the right to repost anything that might interest their readers. So the articles may show up quickly in unexpected places. Right now I have an interview with a Wiccan in Moscow, Russia, and the article will not only appear in my e-zine, but in Russian ones at the same time. Thus networking of information, one of my oldest interests, opens people up to groups and ideas that they might not of seen otherwise.

    They in turn may now connect with groups far from their own countries, which ever ones interest them. When I get information from other Pagan Media, I make sure to let these other groups in other countries know about them and that gives them more new sources of information. That increases their range of information and works to bring down the barriers of isolation elsewhere. Meanwhile I bring their stories back to my readers.

    I think if you want solidarity, then act a though you already have it and you will. No person, place, nor community is taboo to interview. What might not interest you personally, may spark interest in someone else elsewhere. At least that has been my experience in eight years of doing interviews, be it of well known people, or unknown people in our various communities.

    By the way, I am a solitary practitioner of my Wiccan tradition and always have been, yet that has never stopped me from taking part in the different communities more and more all the time. It is quite possible to be active in the communities and never give up being a solitary practitioner. I have done that for over 25 years. I am the outsider whom can take part in quite different communities, while remaining the friendly outsider. I am just a solitary kind of guy that must have plenty of room and space.