The Pagan Bubble

Teo Bishop —  March 26, 2013 — 133 Comments
Boy In A Bubble

Photo by Charles Strebor

We live in a Pagan bubble.

Mostly, we seem unaware that the bubble exists.

We talk a lot to ourselves, Pagans do. We talk to ourselves about who we are and who we are not. We talk to ourselves about what we believe, what we do not believe, and sometimes we even argue about whether or not belief is that meaningful.

We argue, Pagans do, within the Pagan bubble.

We also, at times, dive deep into meaningful conversations that look nothing like argument. Some of us sit in contemplation with the difficult stuff of community building, and we do so with grace and compassion. We are complicated, for certain.

But the Pagan bubble is real. And so long as we continue to live inside of it, we remain ghettoized.

At least, we are ghettoized online. The Pagan and polytheist corners of the internet foster conversations that require so much context as to be nearly unintelligible to outsiders. I suppose to a degree this is the nature of any walled-off community. It’s what religious people do: they talk within their walls about who they are.

But this talking to ourselves about ourselves is debilitating. We become steeped in our own lore, influenced by our own memetic waves, and stuck within a vocabulary and symbol system that could really benefit from a Universal Translator. We are well versed at talking about who we are to each other, but I’m beginning to think that we are (or, at least, I am) unpracticed at talking about who we are to people who do not share our vernacular.

This all came into focus for me as I was sitting at my parents dining room table this past weekend. My stepfather, a man who has loved me as his own for nearly thirty years, a man who has never been religious but who has been tolerant of my religiosity in its various incarnations, looked at me and said, gently,

“I read your blog, but I don’t really have any idea what you’re talking about.”

*pause*

I was speechless.

I didn’t know I’d been that cryptic. I didn’t realize that my writing was so narrowly focused. I’d thought that within the realm of Pagan writers I’d managed to do a pretty good job thinking and writing outside of the box. I’ve worked to consider the diversity of belief and religious practice in the Pagan world, and I often reach for something more universal — more purely human — that might unite us in a shared understanding.

But that’s just it. I’ve been doing this work from within the realm of PaganismI have been writing in a Pagan bubble.

Even this blog post I’m writing now is written on a site create by a Pagan for Pagans. It offers a “modern Pagan perspective,” primarily for the benefit of other Pagans.

The bubble is big, and there’s a lot of great work going on within the bubble. But it is still a bubble.

Reeling from this realization, I ran through the list of places that house my writing:

  • My work at Bishop In The Grove is geared toward an audience of mostly Pagans and polytheists. There is the occasional Buddhist reader/commenter, and once in a while a Progressive Christian shows up with a kind word. But mostly, it’s a Pagan blog.
  • The Solitary Druid Fellowship blog is even more specific to a Pagan tradition (ADF Druidry). It’s more universal in its language and approach than many ADF groves, being that it seeks to serve solitaries of a wide variety of hearth cultures and traditions. But, you’ve still got to get a basic education in Paganism or Druidry to benefit from all of what the Fellowship offers.
  • I write for HuffPost Religion primarily on the High Days; and while I try to include a little descriptive information in each post about the relevance of the day for the benefit of non-Pagans, the posts are mostly directed toward people for whom these days already have relevance. I write posts that serve as reflections on days that are sacred to Pagans.
  • When I wrote at Patheos, an interfaith blogging site, it would have appeared that I was working outside of the Pagan bubble. But I was writing on the “Pagan channel.” Even within this mini-verse of religious blogs, there are clearly drawn religious lines. The Pagan bubble exists there, too.
  • I have a column coming out in the next edition of Witches and Pagans, and… well… can you get much more Pagan than that?

In a few seconds I realized that the majority, if not all of the writing I’ve done in the past few years — a couple hundred posts worth — has been Pagan-specific, Pagan-centered, and Pagan-directed.

Here in my parent’s kitchen, I found myself unpracticed at talking about Paganism (or more specifically, my paganism) with someone outside of my relatively small, insular world.

Photo by Jason Mrachina

Photo by Jason Mrachina

I’m not unfamiliar with operating within a cultural ghetto. Growing up gay, I immersed myself in an ad-hoc study of gay history, gay culture, and gay tradition. I sought out resources on gay spirituality, visited gay bookstores, and sewed a gay patch on my backpack. I bought gay political rags, gauged my support of politicians based on their stances on gay issues, and checked the language of newspaper and online articles with precision to search out “gay friendly” or “anti-gay” language.

Everything was, for a time, filtered through a gay lens. And by creating a gay bubble for myself (or, rather, by gleefully recognizing my place within the gay bubble created by my gay forebears), I was able to affirm my gay identity, my gay tastes and preferences, and my sense of gay-self. I knew where I stood within the gay bubble, and I knew very clearly what stood on the outside.

The gay community first organized in response to cultural oppression and subjugation. Gays organized because they were being treated poorly, and through organization we were able to forge change within culture. We continue to do so to this day. But should we achieve all of our political goals and forge the cultural change we have sought out for so long, we may find ourselves in a position where we are no longer in need of protection against the over-culture. The cultural forces whose othering allowed for us to shore up our sense of individual and collective identities may become benign.

I suspect a similar fate for Pagans should we step outside of our bubble, and I think this may be one reason why the bubble stays in place.

As my husband (my gay husband), Sean Michael Morris, told me while discussing this matter,

“In today’s world, many ghettos, which were created by people who othered us, are maintained because we cherish our otherness.”

We perpetuate our otherness because it’s safer than being out. We perpetuate our otherness, I think, because if we allow the walls to come down from around our encampment, our stronghold against those on the outside, we run the risk of losing our sense of identity in the world.

Do these boundaries continue to be necessary? Do they serve a purpose, other than for protection?

How, I wonder, might we be better served by the deconstruction of our ghettos? What would happen if we no longer lived in this Pagan bubble?

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Teo Bishop

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

    We exist in several bubbles simultaneously, and they have common borders with other people’s bubbles providing us with a shared otherness on a variety of levels. In order to communicate across bubbles, we must look for this common ground and shared vernacular. It’s just a matter of figuring out which bubble you wish to communicate with that determines the vernacular you will use. If you wish to communicate outside of the Pagan bubble, either change your vernacular or use commonly shared language.

    • http://www.bishopinthegrove.com/ Teo Bishop

      I think you’re talking about intersectionality, Becca. Am I right?

      “In order to communicate across bubbles, we must look for this common ground and shared vernacular.”

      This makes sense to me — the common ground and shared vernacular part. The bubble still exists, though. Must it? (And perhaps the answer is ‘yes’, but I’m interested in hearing your thoughts on why.)

      • http://www.facebook.com/dark.side.of.the.heart Larissa Lee

        A bubble almost has to exist when people still feel the need for secrecy. Not all pagans choose to be openly pagan; that means they can only participate and contribute in a closed community setting. The same has occurred for many off-mainstream movements. I find less trouble with the bubbles and intersectionality, but I haven’t been secretive or even subtle about my “pagan-ness” since I started in 1999. Experience in explaining yourself (especially from the start, when you’re just learning) helps to develop explanatory skills that make for an ease in communicating with non-members of your community.

        • http://www.bishopinthegrove.com/ Teo Bishop

          I can see what you mean, Larissa. There are many who stay in the closet about their sexuality for similar reasons.

          My experience with being out (both about my gayness and about my Paganism) has shown me again and again that there is transformative work to be done in relationship to others which can only be accomplished by the openness and honesty that accompanies being out. It’s important, even if it comes with fear of retribution (and sometimes the real risk of alienation).

      • Becca

        I believe the bubble must still exist because it is a construct of ourselves, but should become more flexible to allow for the free flowing of communications between Pagandom and the rest of the world.

    • Guest

      Oh noes! I’m living in a venn diagram?

  • Sean MacDhai

    Yes, when my non-Pagan friends ask questions, it is hard to know where to start. It is challenging to put the answer in context that they will easily understand… especially in a world where we feel pressure to answer in 140 characters or less, so that we do not lost someone’s attention. But I can imagine if I asked a question of someone who was Greek Orthodox, we would have the same problem… because they are also in their own bubble ;)

    • http://www.bishopinthegrove.com/ Teo Bishop

      I think you’re right, Sean. This isn’t necessarily Pagan-specific, and the challenges can surface between any two (or more) people who have different senses of identity and cultural context. For this reason I’ve often wondered if the Humanists (secular and religious) are the ones who can really lead the way at providing an example of what meaningful dialogue *outside of a religious context* can look like.

      • Sean MacDhai

        Good in theory. Willingly or unwillingly, the humanists tend to get caught up arguing about, or defending, *atheism*. Humanism is like communism, imho: It looks good on paper, but the execution is always lacking when you mix in human beings.

        • http://www.bishopinthegrove.com/ Teo Bishop

          I see what you mean. I think I was speaking more to the principles of Humanism.

          • Sean MacDhai

            Yah, humanism as a theory *really* resonates with me. But its expression in the real world, especially in the context of religion, has always been… interesting. ;)

  • http://www.facebook.com/fathergia Conor O’Bryan Warren

    And Christians live in a Christian bubble. . .and Hindus live in a Hindu bubble, and the Turks live in a Turkish bubble. . .I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Paganism is a sub-culture, as a sub-culture we have our own lingo, attitudes, and ways of doing things. Unless we ‘hit the mainstream’ we have to get used to people not understanding our lingo, simple as that.

    • http://www.bishopinthegrove.com/ Teo Bishop

      You are right, Conor. This isn’t exclusively a Pagan situation, although sometimes its worth examining a phenomenon within one group in order to better understand it.

      You don’t often hear people talk about the gay “subculture” anymore — at least, not to the extent that they used to. We’re much more integrated now, and some would argue (and do) that as a result we have lost much of what made our “subculture” distinct. I’m not necessarily making that argument, but I think there’s a parallel here.

      I wonder if it’s really a matter of us getting used to people not understanding our lingo. In the situation I wrote about with my stepfather, I was genuinely trying to explain a very complicated culture, and where I fit into it. I *wanted* him to understand, so that he might better understand me.

      It isn’t even inter-faith I’m talking about here: it’s more inter-cultural dialogue. Does that make sense?

      • Medeina Ragana

        I wonder if your father would be amenable to going with you to a pagan ritual or mini-festival? I think that would certainly get him to understand what the subculture is all about. I know I used to go to various ethnic “festivals” which gave me an inkling – only an inkling – of what it meant to be Greek, or Puerto Rican or Black. Despite the fact that I knew I could never understand the totality of what it meant to be these ethnic groups, I still enjoyed it immensely and discovered new things.

        • http://www.bishopinthegrove.com/ Teo Bishop

          I think he might, Medeina. That’s a great idea.

        • http://twitter.com/vogelbeere + Yvonne Aburrow

          My mum read the book that made me realise I am a Pagan (Puck of Pook’s Hill by Rudyard Kipling) and said that reading it helped her to understand why I am a Pagan. Understanding is not always at the level of discourse – sometimes it’s about feelings.

      • http://www.facebook.com/fathergia Conor O’Bryan Warren

        It is just a matter of getting to understand cultures that we are foreign to. How did I get to understand the Hindu concept of moksha? I asked. Hinduism was foreign to me, and I didn’t understand it, so I asked, I didn’t pop their bubble, I got inside of it. Maybe our sub-cultural bubble will pop, I don’t think that is a bad thing. Maybe it won’t, I don’t think that is a bad thing. We, as a community, will have to deal with what happens, when it happens. In the mean time, we can educate and inform those close to us, maybe the ‘gay culture’ has disappeared, maybe that is true, but look where we are getting at now. We have an all time high of support in America, we are being *accepted* because of the fact that gays and gay culture went ‘mainstream’.

        Also, I understand about the situation with your step-father, but the point of the fact is that religion, culture, even professions and hobbies, will not ever be fully understood by the folks viewing it from an etic perspective. Things get lost in translation, nuances and implications aren’t picked up on. It is what it is. As we interact with more outsiders, we will have to get used to this fact.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnbeckett/ John Beckett

    If the gay bubble went away, you would still be gay. Your culture might be indistinguishable from mainstream culture, but you would still have a strong natural inclination to be gay.

    But if the Pagan bubble goes away, what would keep you Pagan? Is your connection to the old gods and to Nature as powerful as your connection to your husband? Is mine that strong? Is the connection of the average Wiccan, Druid, Heathen, or Hellenist that strong? Or would we meld into the mushy mainstream?

    The Jews have lived in a bubble for at least 2500 years. It’s been a very successful thing for Judaism, although a very painful thing for many individual Jews. So have many other religious minorities – Mormons and Mennonites come to mind.

    This is a complex issue that deserves more thought and more discussion. Thanks for raising it.

    • http://www.bishopinthegrove.com/ Teo Bishop

      And thank you for the thoughtful response. You ask some great questions, and I would very much like to read your thoughts at greater length.

      *Crossing my fingers for an “Under The Ancient Oaks” post about this topic*

    • harmonyfb

      But if the Pagan bubble goes away, what would keep you Pagan?

      Um…those of us Of a Certain Age went most of our lives without a ‘Pagan Bubble’. I certainly didn’t know of anyone who worshiped as I did, growing up in the late 60’s/early 70’s. Aside from one magazine article about Witchcraft (circa 1973), I didn’t even hear about anyone else who worshiped under the big Pagan tent until about 1984.

      So…if the ‘Pagan Bubble’ went away, my beliefs and practices would be unchanged.

      • Amanda

        Same here. If the Pagan Bubble went away I’d still be pagan, just lonelier. I say I’ve been a pagan for 12 years, but it’s really more like I’ve been a pagan my whole life, and 12 years ago I found out there was a word for it and other people that believed similar things.

    • http://www.facebook.com/qrejy3972 Ellie Abbott

      If the “Pagan Bubble” went away, I would still speak to trees, look to older mythologies for wisdom, seek solitude in nature as a well from.which to drink, and ebb and flow with the seasons. My Paganism comes from within, and it has since I was a child, many years before I had a label for my religiousity.

      When I give a presentation at a festival, I wear slacks and a blouse. I have literally been chastised for looking professional at my own presentations rather than looking like I walked out of Harry Potter or a Renaissance Faire. But to be fair, my religion is not my hobby, it is my religion. I don’t need jewelry or robes or anything more than the Earth herself and the universe singing in my heart for this to be my religion. I am not afraid of stepping outside the bubble, not in my mode of dress nor anything else, because my religion isn’t about the bubble. The “Pagan bubble” only gives us a place to center and regroup with others of like mind.

      Spirituality, or perhaps “God”, is an infinite concept. To commune with the infinite, we put it in a box we call “religion” so we can interface with it in a meaningful way. A problem arises when we fail to let spirituality out of the box, and we simply begin worshipping the box. I am not interested in living in the box, nor the “bubble”. I’m interested in meaningful spiritual experiences that evolve over time. And the fact is, after two millenia of oppression, those with Pagan hearts are finding our footing despite the odds. We are called to it regardless of what we lost. We had no book or mode of dress or common way of eating, and we still don’t, and I don’t want us any other way.

  • Peter Dybing

    I have been thinking a good bit about the subject of othering. When the concept is discussed in the community it mostly takes the form of a call to not “other” people, groups or individuals, which translated to not oppressing.

    What I have been thinking is how much more powerful it would be if our focus was on
    Not being the other” insted of not othering. If we as a community ,engaged with compassion when “othered”, acted as if the “othering was an inventation to self disclose, make friends, engage our human comonality.

    • http://www.bishopinthegrove.com/ Teo Bishop

      Very interesting comment, Peter.

      I’ve always thought that othering was something *done to* someone. One rarely first chooses to be othered; they simple are. Do you see it differently?

      • Peter Dybing

        Yes I do, when “othered” people are often expressing their lack of knowledge, insight or understanding. I believe that if we refuse to act as the “other” and use such experiences to engage with the individuals doing the “othering” we humanize our selves in their eyes if we act with openness and compassion and forgo indignation as a response. In refusing to be “the other” we set a place for ur selves at the table of discourse.

        • Richard Self

          I am intrigued with your thinking about “othering” Peter. The “othering”, whether self chosen, imposed or a dynamic mixture, is often(usually?) accompanied by a strong emotional response in one or both sides. So to apply your ideas, means that we recognise that we have a choice in how we respond.
          This discussion reminds me of a seminal book in the history of cross cultural communication here in New Zealand: http://books.google.co.nz/books/about/Talking_Past_Each_Other.html?id=6xV_NDcNwjEC Othering can simply occur because we “talk past each other”. The problem is exacerbated if one side has more power/influence and can operate on a personal as well as a cultural level. I can think of several specific examples – some are actually quite funny – that have occurred between me, and some of my friends who are from the US :)

        • Malaz

          Hey TB,
          Uhmm…your metaphor collapses here (no offense)
          A discourse…at a table…can only be held by 2 or more ppl.
          Which means “other” is necessary, ‘other’wise…it’s just monologue.

          ;)

          M

          • M

            (sorry Peter…clicked the wrong Reply button)

        • Northern_Light_27

          That sounds the classic Tone Argument to me, Peter. Is it the entire *concept* of othering that you don’t agree with, or is it specifically othering w/r/t Pagans? (What would be the rest of my reply would differ somewhat strongly based on which of these you mean.)

  • http://www.facebook.com/patchshorts Chris Godwin

    I like the bubble. The bubble incubates us until we are ready to burst forth, which is so not now.

    Every try to build a fire? If you don’t build it so that heat can be trapped and there is also an intake for air, it won’t work out.

    Paganism is the same thing. Unless we have a solid intake of newbies and the oven effect, we won’t reach critical mass to change anything.

    • http://www.bishopinthegrove.com/ Teo Bishop

      These are interesting ideas, Chris. You know how I respond to fire-related metaphors!

      How do you think we’re preparing the “newbies” to have the kind of intercultural dialogue that many have mentioned in the comments? Does your work in ADF speak to that end?

      • http://www.facebook.com/patchshorts Chris Godwin

        It does. I strive to serve my local pagans and to open up the barriers and doorways that exist inside the bubble. This is done by offering them a compass and a map to paganism. I do this by teaching at Druid Sunday School and giving talks. When at meetups and people are just chit chatting, you’ll find me shaking hands with the newbies engaging in exciting discussion. I love it when a new concept excites one of these folk and I get to answer all their questions. Once they have the seed knowledge they can grow throughout the bubble and though ADF might not be the place for them, we still try our best to equip them for their journey. When many people are equipped with the right knowledge, then our bubble will no longer be necessary.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100002162704205 Lori Dake

    Good article!!

    I write each Saturday for W&K on PNC for about three years now. That’s the military section, not the easiest one to come up with stuff to write about on a regular basis, so I’m often scrambling on Friday night to at least jot down an outline. I try very hard to write for the general public as much as possible, including writing about topics that affect all military personnel, active and retired, as well as civilians related to them. I’m sure not all of my articles are well-received, but all I can do is try. :)

    If I use Pagan terminology, even something as simple as “Yule”, I’m careful to either tie a link to the word or use as much context as possible so people at least can draw the correlation, as in,

    “Ooooohhh… that’s their Christmas. I get it.” (Well, not exactly, but hopefully it has people wondering enough to Google it up themselves.)

    I’m also VERY careful not to be one-sided on anything within Pagandom, since there are so many beliefs under the umbrella. My preferences are there, as I write the way I talk, complete with slang, intentional misspellings and mid-grade/cable-level curse words (I don’t think I’ve ever dropped the F bomb though LOL). And, what I write is how I personally feel about an issue, which I often invite others to express their opinions.

    I don’t know if I’ve ever lost somebody by writing from within the bubble, but your article makes a very good point to check myself more often and be even more conscientious not every reader is Pagan.

    Thank you.

    • http://www.bishopinthegrove.com/ Teo Bishop

      It can be a tight-rope walk, no?

      You know, I think it’s OK to write to an audience, and to speak to your community. I’m not trying to disassemble that altogether. I value my readership and I appreciate the opportunity to be reflective with them about things that influence us. It was just an interesting moment to recognize that, when speaking with someone on the outside, I was a little underprepared for that conversation.

      Thanks for the comment, Lori, and for all the work you do for the community!

  • Andrew

    After reading the comments I think that it might be worth distinguishing
    between a (sub)culture and a bubble. Certainly paganism would be a
    subculture with its own literature, music, rituals, practices, jargon
    etc. A bubble or the older maybe stronger word ghetto would additionally
    imply that pagans are not interacting with non-pagans. I do not think
    that this is typical though it may be happening. Though I have not data
    support this idea I would venture on the basis of the relatively low
    concentration of pagans in the population and their tendency to be
    fairly widely distributed geographically(a guess) that pagans are
    obliged to interact a great deal with non-pagans. It doesn’t seem to me
    that we have pagan neighborhoods, or pagan grocery stores, and most
    pagan probably keep fairly normal day jobs(anecdotal evidence).
    It
    would seem fairly normal that the jargon and some of the other culture
    of paganism is not very people that are not familiar with it. As other
    have pointed out their are many other examples where this is the case.
    Bishop mentions that he is specially talking about a bubble on the
    internet and there I would not disagree. But this is a tendency that we
    can observe with many other groups on the internet. This has gotten lots
    of attention over that last few years with respect to the
    conservative-liberal divide where people tend to only read and talk to
    people that they already agree with. So I would say that it unsurprising
    that the pagan internet community is fairly insular, and it is trend
    that has many parallels.

    • http://www.bishopinthegrove.com/ Teo Bishop

      Thanks for the comment, Andrew. You make some really interesting points.

      This distinction between “sub-culture” and “ghetto” is interesting to me. The former seems a more neutral descriptive, almost anthropological term, while the latter speaks to certain actions and behaviors that revolve around isolation. “Ghetto” has specific connotations that I think are worth consideration that “sub-culture” does not (including the conditions around which the cultural ghetto was established).

      And, I’m basing most of this opinion piece on observation and not hard evidence (as I’m sure you could deduce).

      • http://twitter.com/vogelbeere + Yvonne Aburrow

        The ghetto was originally intended to protect its inhabitants. Eventually it became a trap. We need to be careful that we do build bridges with other like-minded communities. After the Holocaust, many Jewish people asked, how was it that so few people stood up to protect them? Part of the reason, according to Rabbi Hugo Gryn, is because Jewish communities were so isolated and inward-looking (partly because they had moved into ghettos and stetls throughout the nineteenth century for safety in numbers).

        • Deborah Bender

          All respect to the rabbi, but that is historically incorrect on several points. As to the Holocaust, the Jews of Germany were the most culturally and politically assimilated Jewish community in Western Europe. Hitler went after them not because they were isolated from other Germans but precisely because Jews were active and influential in German economic and cultural life and Hitler wanted to eradicate their influence. Once the Nazi armies moved into Eastern Europe, they were in countries where Jews were much more geographically and cuturally isolated from the Christians, and that definitely got in the way of organizing any joint resistance, as the rabbi says. In any case, genocide does occur between neighbors who know each other well and even intermarry, as in Bosnia and some African countries.

          Second, a Jewish neighborhood does not turn into a ghetto because the Jews desire it, but because the Gentiles require it. A ghetto, historically, was a Jewish neighborhood that Jews were not allowed to live outside of, and the ghettoes of Europe had walls around them that were locked at night by the authorities to keep the Jews inside.

          When a population of Torah-observant Jews lives in an area with non-Jews are the majority population, they choose and have chosen in the past to live in Jewish neighborhoods in order to be within walking distance of a synagogue (required for sabbath observance), to be able to be able to purchase kosher food, so that their children will have social contact with a variety of potential mates, in order to pool resources to provide a Jewish education for themselves and their children, and so forth. They may also choose to do business mainly with other members of the Jewish community because there will be social pressure for fair dealing. Where there are violent anti-Semites, or where (as was the case when I was a child) there are laws or regulations preventing Jews from buying homes wherever they wish, Jews live in Jewish neighborhoods for safety or because that is their only choice. It is Gentile law and custom that turns a Jewish neighborhood into a ghetto.

          • http://twitter.com/vogelbeere + Yvonne Aburrow

            What you say is all true. I think the causes of people either acting or not acting to help the Jews in the Holocaust are very complex and can’t be reduced to a simple sound-bite.

          • http://www.facebook.com/ClownOfMomus Franklin Evans

            Deborah, my previous comments to you on this tangent might have looked argumentative. I have since seen that this is a very important topic for you. I would regret giving you cause for upset, indeed I honor your commitment to the facts about it.

            There has been much commentary from scholarly sources, and the counterpoint to it generally seems to be anecdotal accounts. My mother and her family would fit into the latter aspect. I have spoken only to two Jewish leaders about this (a rabbi and a cantor, both of whom have a passion for Jewish cultural history), and my impression is that both sides of the coin could use some better direct scholarship. Deborah, your comment above strikes me as just such a better attempt.

            My grandparents were born in the late 1890s. My mother was born in 1924. They fled their home in Zagreb in 1941 immediately following the Ustaša proclaiming their independent fascist state. Their stories tell of an uneasy assimilation for Jews in central and eastern Europe. I believe that your last statement is as accurate a summary as one can find: It is Gentile law and custom that turns a Jewish neighborhood into a ghetto, and I consider that to be an excellent caution to Pagans.

    • Northern_Light_27

      ^This. I think of a “bubble” as completely insulating– like, for instance, the lives of a lot of political professionals in the city up the road from me, Washington DC. Their media is politically oriented. So is their job. So are their friends. For a lot of them who were born and raised here, so is their family. They run into a “regular person” outside the Beltway and get into a conversation with them, and you can just about *hear* the needle scratch. Literally every single thing about their environment is part of this tiny, impenetrable, insular little world, and in it, they have such enormous power and privilege that they don’t even stop to consider that maybe they might not only be wrong about something, but also be really myopic. That’s what a bubble looks like, to me.

      Most of us? Ain’t that. Unless we’re living in some kind of Pagan commune somewhere, we’re probably spending a fair amount of time interacting with people who aren’t Pagan. Now, maybe we’re not spending all that much time explaining *Paganism* to people who aren’t Pagan, because unless you’re someone who really likes talking about religion with non-Pagans who really like talking about religion, most of ‘em just don’t care that much. You do your thing and they do their thing and it’s cool. People who are constantly interacting with non-Pagans on and offline, yet whose hobby is talking about their religion with other people *in* their religion on the internet, to me, isn’t a bubble. It’s a hobby. (No, religion itself isn’t a hobby, but what we do online kinda is, really. Or a fandom, if you’re fannish.) And if you’re spending enough time talking about a hobby with other people in the same hobby, you get jargon-y and people who aren’t into it stop being able to follow you. I don’t see that, in itself, as a problem. (My husband once realized, in random conversation, that one of his cousins also played World of Warcraft. What ensued sounded, to the non-gamers in proximity to their part of the room, like they started speaking a completely foreign language. Are we in a ‘gamer bubble’ in danger of cutting ourselves off irreparably from the non-geeky world?) When people are genuinely curious and they ask you questions, most of us, I’d wager, can code-switch and try to figure out what that’s familiar to them is sorta-kinda like that thing we do and go from there. We’re talking about a genuinely different *worldview*, not only a different religion (in many cases), so I’m not going to say it’s easy or that we’re all proficient (because true proficiency requires a fairly deep knowledge-set about whatever it is that *they* do/believe so that you can make the right comparison), but, it’s doable.

  • RabbitGoddess

    I don’t think individuality and differentness is bad. America used to be founded on those principles back before the industrial revolution and consumerist culture turned everyone into cookie cutter leave it to beaver colorforms.

    Unlike the rest of the cultural cliques, i have not seen you exclude anybody regardless of paradigm or opinion. You do not have to cater to everyone. You are what you are , and that is good.

    Let me ask you a question: if you went over to a forum like Rapture Ready; do you think they would be as concerned about excluding you from their conversation as you are about making them feel unwelcome merely by virtue of your focus of interest?

    Do you think they would fret about being too Christian oriented?

    I doubt it.

    And that scope, being able to put yourself in someone else’s shoes, that empathy, insight, and flexibility of thought is exactly why you’re a pagan..(that is my guess..sorry if i offend you)

    • http://www.bishopinthegrove.com/ Teo Bishop

      Thanks for your comment, Rabbit. No offense taken.

      I agree — individuality and differentness is a fine thing. A good thing, even. I support our diversity, and encourage pluralism.

      Let me see if I can speak to your question.

      I only know of Rapture Ready what I can extrapolate from their name, and as such I don’t think there’d be much space for a vocal Pagan in their midst. Their bubble is likely made of brimstone, and it may be rather impermeable.

      My point was not that the Pagan bubble is exclusionary (although that would be an interesting discussion on its own), but rather that it may limit our worldview, color our opinions, and keep us (in some cases) from developing the skills to speak on the *outside* of the bubble about who we are and we we believe/practice. I’m not saying that it does in every case (certainly, there are comments here which show that people can be more flexible), but it is possible for this to occur. The conditions exists.

      I do think that there are those in the Christian community (typically those who identify as “Progressive Christians,” or sometimes Christians from the “Emerging Church”) who would be having a similar dialogue about how the Christian bubble is either useful or harmful. I think those conversations are taking place.

      • http://twitter.com/vogelbeere + Yvonne Aburrow

        I also think we can learn from other theologies, such as process theology, apophatic theology, and queer theology, to refine our developing Pagan theologies.

      • harmonyfb

        My point was not that the Pagan bubble is exclusionary (although that
        would be an interesting discussion on its own), but rather that it may
        limit our worldview, color our opinions, and keep us (in some cases)
        from developing the skills to speak on the *outside* of the bubble about
        who we are and we we believe/practice.

        I can’t imagine folks who live so fully in Pagan subculture that they don’t talk to non-Pagans all the time and never have occasion to explain beliefs/practices. Clearly I have missed out, because I speak ‘outside the bubble’ all the damn time (at work, to other parents at my kids’ school, to family members, to friends, etc.)

  • Eliora

    I am loving Becca’s comment about “Venn Bubbles”.

    I see us each in our own bubble within the Pagan Bubble. All of the attributes you ascribe to the larger bubble, also apply to our individual bubbles. Our Pagan uniqueness is only apparent to anyone dwells inside the Pagan Bubble or who cares to penetrate it to take a look.

    I am fascinated by your “bubble analogy”, Teo. What holds a bubble’s shape is tension – equalibrious tension. It is at once, both very strong and very fragile – it may be broken from either the outside or within. Bubbles can expand and contract, but once a bubble is broken it is irreparable. It seems the tensions may be studied from one side or the other – you are either inside or outside. Passing through the bubble is a delicate and precarious proposition, and often a one-way journey. So, being able to do a comparative study would take skill and finesse.

    … a good subject for deeper thought.

    • http://www.bishopinthegrove.com/ Teo Bishop

      Thanks for unpacking “the bubble” a bit further, Eliora. Great comment.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=685041384 Fanny Fae

    Indigenous folks have the Indigenous / First Nations / NDN (IN-duhn) bubble. I don’t have any knowledge of the world without that or the Woman bubble, you operate within the gay bubble or the pagan bubble and those things we will always have as filters for our worldview.

    However, that does not necessarily limit us in how we deal with rest of the world. Yes, we can be particularly insular and listen only to the sound of our own voices or those like-minded voices. However, if there is a desire to participate in the world outside of our bubble in addition to the familiar territory in which we navigate more comfortably, then there is no reason why we cannot do that. As an earlier commentator said, you cannot change who and what you are – and I do not know that it is possible for the pagan bubble to disappear. I think that the more interfaith and intercultural outreach that Pagans, women, gays, Indigenous folks do, the more we can appreciate their perspective and maybe be able to bridge the gap so we can at least know what each of us are talking about.

    • http://www.bishopinthegrove.com/ Teo Bishop

      Thanks for the comment, Fanny. Perhaps my questions about the bubble’s existence don’t hit the most important point, as you suggest. The interfaith/intercultural outreach is crucial, and perhaps something that I/we need to be tackling more openly.

      “However, if there is a desire to participate in the world outside of our bubble in addition to the familiar territory in which we navigate more comfortably, then there is no reason why we cannot do that.”

      Cultivating that desire to participate *outside* our bubble and in dialogue with those who are different than us seems key, no?

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=685041384 Fanny Fae

        Thanks for the feedback, Teo. I would agree that the participation outside of our respective bubbles and the world at large is crucial. We are uniquely suited, I believe, in our ‘Otherness” to the qualities of empathy and activism to change the world to be more inclusive in a shared vision. I have always believed that not only to be possible but more desirable than just talking to and fighting amongst ourselves.

  • http://www.facebook.com/Sadwyrn.Emrys Sadwyrn Emrys

    replace the word “bubble” with the word “community” and re-read

    • http://www.bishopinthegrove.com/ Teo Bishop

      I’m not sure I see those two words as synonymous, Sadwyrn. Can you explain how you do (or *if* you do)?

      • http://www.facebook.com/Sadwyrn.Emrys Sadwyrn Emrys

        You are asking if we should pop the pagan bubble, if we should tear down the walls of our ghetto, if we should leave the protection they represent. I don’t believe there are walls to tear down. Pagans find each other, congregate, discuss, grow, and enjoy being pagan. They form a community, I have no desire to venture outside my pagan community to try to communicate with others as a pagan.

        In your article you could also replace the word “pagan” with “physicist”

        • http://www.bishopinthegrove.com/ Teo Bishop

          “I have no desire to venture outside my pagan community to try to communicate with others as a pagan.”

          This sentence is interesting to me, and perhaps a point where we differ. In that experience that I wrote about above, the one with my stepfather, that’s exactly what I was doing — stepping outside of the bubble. It felt relevant to do so because I want to be in relationship with my stepfather, and sharing this part of my life feels a valuable step in the evolution of that relationship. There’s something similar that happens when a person is out about their sexuality or gender identity. That openness and honest allows for amazing experiences of connection and understanding.

          I’m not sure that the Pagan bubble needs popping, but I think it deserves the kind of reflection that we’re seeing here. I do value your contributions to this discussion, Sadwyrn. Thank you.

          • http://www.facebook.com/Sadwyrn.Emrys Sadwyrn Emrys

            Thank you for these posts that get people exchanging ideas. You are a jewel in the ADF crown.

          • Northern_Light_27

            Do you see a difference between what Sadwyrn said and the encounter with your stepfather? I can’t certainly speak for Sadwyrn and what they meant, but putting “physicist” in there as they suggest, I get the idea that some physicists like to be physicists who explain physics to non-scientists, and some physicists prefer to do physics and talk physics with other physicists. I don’t think that means they won’t respond if a family member asks them about their work with physics, I think that means they don’t care to make a regular practice out of explaining physics to laypeople. That, to me, is important. I see a lot of talking up of interfaith work on TWH. And I agree, it’s useful and important work. But it’s not *everyone’s* work.

            I’ve found myself, over the last year and a half or so, spending a lot of time on a section of a hobby board set aside for religion, politics, and other inflammatory topics. I’m the only regular poster who’s a polytheist. A few regulars are Christians, the majority are atheists. It’s been a fascinating experience, and I can’t deny that all the time I’ve spent talking about my religion with atheists has changed how I look at my religion and what I prioritize in it. It’s not formal interfaith work, though. It can be very polite and very earnest, and it can get nasty– and I’m not afraid to be angry and show that I’m angry. It’s something privileged people (and I’m mainly talking the Christian posters here, but sometimes I’m also talking about the male atheist ones) don’t have to deal with often, saying something hurtful or unthinkingly assuming dominance and having the people it hurts say “that’s not okay” and telling them that theirs is *not*, actually, the only worldview in the world. Yes, I’ll educate them, too, and I don’t mind doing it. But I’m not always nice, I’m not always compassionate, and that suits the environment. Formal interfaith work with Christians is so very not that kind of environment, and I’m not suited for it. I think we’re all built/acclimated/inclined to different kinds of work, and I think that’s fine. We don’t need to tear down the bubble to support people finding their own place and balance.

            BTW, when it comes to family and friends, I think doing is often a lot more helpful than talking. My in-laws weren’t too fond of their son marrying a Pagan girl. I was nice, open, gave info, said “hey, any questions, anything you’re not comfy with, let me know” and got crickets. I found out after the fact that they were running around saying we were going to sacrifice a goat at our wedding ceremony (at a very nice B&B, who I don’t think would have liked blood on their antique rug!). I don’t know what else I could have done in that instance to assuage their… err… discomforts. But the wedding itself did it for me. It was, apparently, nothing like any of them expected and they loved it. I’ve had other instances like that– I followed the custom of a friend of mine and lifted the idea of sumbel in an ecumenical sense at both a party and a dinner. That changed minds and calmed fears, too, and everyone– even my evangelical Republican friend– quite liked the idea of toasting to their beloved dead. I think, with people with whom you’ve already got a bond of friendship or kinship, letting them see a bit of what you do and letting them participate in a way that doesn’t interfere with their religious beliefs (ancestor reverence almost always does beautifully, I’ve found) helps them understand a lot better than all the explaining I’ve ever tried to do.

  • http://www.facebook.com/dopollard David Pollard

    Every community speaks within a bubble. One type of privilege is not having that knowledge constantly thrown in your face.

    • http://www.bishopinthegrove.com/ Teo Bishop

      And perhaps those with in more privileged communities should start having this conversation (perhaps in the context of a conversation about privilege). That’s a good point.

      To be clear, bringing this up here was intended to inspire a dialogue, not throw anything in people’s faces. I hope that’s not how you took it.

  • Franklin Evans

    Teo, you raise excellent points, as do the commentators so far. I am curious how you (general) might fit this notion in with the historic American pluralism of the last century or so.

    Ghetto is not of necessity such a strong word. It can acquire strong connotations depending on the context. I grew up amongst several neighboring “enclaves” — the stereoptypical “Little Italy” or “Chinatown”, etc, if “ghetto” is still too strong — while never being a member of any of them except by extension. The prerequisite was always being born into them, the next (often inadequate) one was marrying into them, and the rare third being adopted (as it were). The American Melting Pot did exist, I believe it still does, but not as an automatic thing.

    All of that said, intended as observation rather than argument, brings me around to being Pagan in our society. Pluralism has often been marked by its local absence. We are neither the first nor last group to employ protective boundaries. For me, it comes down to a single question: Are we as willing to accept others into our bubbles as we wish and hope others will welcome us to step outside of them?

    It’s much more than lingo, long explanations and such. The effort to understand us must be balanced by an equal* effort to make ourselves understood. Staying in the bubble precludes that effort.

    I stipulate that the vast majority of the time it seems that we are making at least twice the effort, so I offer “equal” with a large grain of salt.

    • http://www.bishopinthegrove.com/ Teo Bishop

      You say some really important things here, Franklin. Thank you for this comment. In particular I find the following sentences to be of great importance:

      “Are we as willing to accept others into our bubbles as we wish and hope others will welcome us to step outside of them?”

      “The effort to understand us must be balanced by an equal* effort to make ourselves understood. Staying in the bubble precludes that effort.”

      In your opinion, what are the steps we take toward this end?

      • Franklin Evans

        I have two answers, Teo… which is also a way to say I don’t have an answer that I (at least) find satisfying.

        My family history is one of outsiders looking in. I won’t go into detail — I’ve made some mention of it on other threads here — so I’ll jump to my point: The US is the only nation in history founded on the explicit secular moral premise of equality, of every individual being valued as an individual rather than as a label or a group. Also jumping past the fact that our history shows how badly this nation has implemented that moral value, it remains my go-to answer. Ours is an open society. We have laws. The prevailing power structure continues to struggle as each group with power comes along and tries to reshape that vision into its own desires and preferences, and we have proof — however subtle — that it remains possible to be free individuals as we wish to be. Think of it as the libertarian ideal with caveats.

        That says nothing about our shared spiritual path. We have experienced many of the same harsh (if not as harsh) lessons of caution as our native siblings in faith, as the Jews, even as the Catholics when they first began to come here in greater numbers. We are also in a transition period from which I see two possible outcomes: A new power elite will rise to the top, as one always has over the centuries; or the Great American Experiment will finally come to be. I ask my fellow Pagans and Heathens to acknowledge that while we focus our present energy on the power elite that is in decline, we also give thought and energy to finally bringing that true plurality into being.

        Often, my view is taken as a criticism. I do mean to be critical of some people for how they insist on seeing some things. I do not mean to be critical of their efforts, because there will not be a quick fix for anything we face. I don’t expect to live to see that true plurality. Perhaps my grand-daughter will see it, but even that seems to quick. A society is a force of nature, an enormous weight of tradition, status quo and momentum. It needs many people working for a very long time. I point to the example that Ghandi gave us, the Dr. King built upon, and then point out how very little progress their examples have caused. I see my part as giving encouragement to those who choose to work outside their bubbles. I have very little investment left in that aspect of our lives — truth be told, as a chaos mage I don’t see the point in working with a net anyway :D — but I absolutely honor the freely given choices of others. I hope we all live with our choices with integrity. The rest will come… and for those of us who believe in it, we will see it in a future life.

        Obviously, this is something to which I’ve given much thought. I will add a more direct answer about next steps. Many of us are already taking them: Participate in interfaith discussions, get involved with local activism and be, at least in those areas, publicly Pagan, volunteer for your local Pagan Pride Day, or my recent personal challenge to volunteer to give a presentation on neo-paganisms to coworkers under my company’s diversity in religion program. They have one on Sikhism coming up next week. Times really are changing in small ways.

        If you must stay in your bubble, find more subtle ways. Give $5 to a kickstarter campaign. Attend a public ritual. My commitment to people of that choice is to do public ritual performances of A Winter Solstice Singing Ritual. In the ten years running I did it (last two on hiatus, alas) I met many such people I’d not known existed. Your energy is still part of the world, it is still needed in the world. Let as much of it out as you can.

    • Deborah Bender

      The difference between an enclave and a ghetto is that one has a choice whether or not to live in an enclave.

      • Franklin Evans

        My local context (Philadelphia) suggests otherwise. We have a Little Italy, a Chinatown, a Vietnamese enclave (no name for it yet), a Russian-Ukrainian section… and there are likely others with which I’m not familiar. They all were established by immigrants who both were not welcome elsewhere and quite naturally settled with the familiar and safe. It’s a chicken-egg question: were the ghettos deliberately created by the locals, or did they start out as enclave.

        Anyway, history offers examples of both.

  • 12StepWitch

    Using specialized language does not mean you are cut off from society as a whole. When you are deeply involved in something, of course you find yourself able to discuss it at a level that those who have not studied it will not be able to understand. This is not a bad thing. This is natural. This is normal among any the deeply devoted and interested in any field of study. They need to be challenged still, to be questioned, to be presented with new theories and ideas and they can only do this in conversation with other people who are as advanced in understanding as they are in a particular topic. I turn towards other Pagans for spiritual talk because I know of their intellectual and spiritual curiosity and I’m excited by the wide breadth of viewpoints I will encounter.

    Everything isn’t supposed to be for everything. I am in AA. I talk to my AA friends about my recovery because I know they will understand the language and we will be able to have a deeper conversation. I love the band Phish. I talk about tour and my favorite jams to my Phish friends because I know they understand the language and we will be able to have a deeper conversation. I am a pagan. I talk about witchcraft and rituals with my pagan friends because I know they understand the language and we will be able to have a deeper conversation. Do I sometimes talk about witchcraft with my AA friends, Phish with the witches, and AA with my Phish fans? Of course. Duh. But generally I am mostly satisfied by conversations with people who already understand the lay of the land, who do not require me to explain the basic geography. The exception being obviously people who come to you directly for teaching and are eager to be taught the language.

    So, I disagree. We do not perpetuate our bubble because we are afraid of our precious otherness being destroyed. We perpetuate our bubble because our bubble is where we are challenged, where we are intellectually nourished, where we are spiritually informed.

    • http://www.bishopinthegrove.com/ Teo Bishop

      Thank you for this comment, 12StepWitch.

      I think it’s possible (as you’ve shown) that there are many truths at work here. Some may find themselves challenged within the bubbles they occupy, and nourished. I think that’s great. I also think that for others that same bubble may exist for very different reasons, which I tried to outline above. For some (and clearly not for you), I think that the otherness is important.

      I’m glad that you find such strength and support in your communities, 12. Thanks for sharing that here.

      • 12StepWitch

        ” I also think that for others that same bubble may exist for very different reasons, which I tried to outline above.”

        Absolutely. As always, my perspective is only my own. YMMV =) Great post today.

  • Baruch Dreamstalker

    Using your post here as a model, I see the world as a froth of intersecting bubbles. Physicists, medical personnel, and immigrants all have the experience of their everyday words being inexplicable to those who do not share that bubble.

    • http://www.bishopinthegrove.com/ Teo Bishop

      That’s a great point, Baruch. (And I love the phrase “froth of intersecting bubbles”!)

      Intercultural dialogue may be a skill that we, on a broader sense, could use more training in.

  • hellpellet

    Thanks for posting. I too live in the “Pagan Bubble” What’s weird is that I have a blog. It’s not a Pagan blog by any stretch, it’s a Me blog. I do post about the change of the seasons and contemplating and immersing myself in Nature. But I’ve never Come Out on my blog as a Pagan. Food for thought for me, for sure. And yours is an interesting perspective. It’s like peering through the looking glass and seeing You on the other side. Again, thanks.

    • http://www.bishopinthegrove.com/ Teo Bishop

      Thanks for the comment, hellpellet. Glad the post resonated with you.

  • http://twitter.com/worthyadvisor worthyadvisor

    I think this is a huge problem. And yes, while other religions do have their own bubbles, they also remember to come out of them and act within the larger human community. From what I’ve seen in a lot of the pagan community, there’s a lot of talk about caring for “all Earth’s creatures” or “seeing the God/dess” in everyone” but not a lot of acting on that outside the pagan community. (Especially when it comes to the big 3 religions, but that’s a rant for another day…)

    • http://www.bishopinthegrove.com/ Teo Bishop

      You bring up an interesting question, worthyadvisor:

      How do we extend our theologies into practice? How do we take the principles we uphold *within* our communities and allow them to be put into practice *outside* of our communities?

  • vikki

    The
    same can be said of any every religion. Some religions base their whole
    theology on their sense of otherness. Is that not what cultures are? A
    ghettoization of belief and practice. That those beyond the wall are
    exotic or feared, or lesser human beings. That our value is based on knowing the vernacular of our “culture and belief” and putting it into practice.
    It is a human thing to create an “us and other” even as babies we do it.
    But the sense of who is other is very fluid and subject to constant change.
    Some
    of the great spiritual teachers have tried to widen our sense of “us”
    to include the whole world, the whole universe, not just those like
    ourselves.
    It
    is part of the spiritual journey. The bubble is a station on the way,
    helping to define our sense of self, but it should not be the final
    destination.

    • http://www.bishopinthegrove.com/ Teo Bishop

      Thanks for sharing this comment here, Vikki.

      “Is that not what cultures are? A ghettoization of belief and practice.”

      I would very much like the readership of this post to answer that question. I think there’s a lot there to unpack.

  • http://www.facebook.com/fritterfae Eric Riley

    I think that it does take separation to define oneself, and to define a community of practice. This falls back to the theory of Thesis-Antithesis-Synthesis. It takes going through the dichotomy of what is and what is-not in order to lay groundwork to bridge those gaps to find harmonies. Remembering harmony takes different notes operating in sympathy to each other to make a beautiful chord.

    There is nothing inherently wrong in constructing communities apart from the broader society. Everyone is different, and everyone has different understandings, beliefs, and personal spiritual revelations that may set them apart from others. This is neither bad nor good, it just is. Communities are built around people who share things in common, and spiritual communities are built around people who share a spiritual truth together.

    This is why there is always a need for people to have safe spaces. Sometimes the broader culture is insensitive to the needs of the individual, and sometimes it takes setting a hard line for someone to claim their personal power with a group of their peers. We need support so that we can grow and be more than who we are individually.

    • http://www.bishopinthegrove.com/ Teo Bishop

      Excellent points, Eric. Well said.

  • sarah g

    Navigating bubble boundaries….leaving the pagan bubble to “check in” with the rest of my world has been one of the best gifts I could have been given…actually I was forced into navigating bubble boundaries but I am thankful for that now. As a pagan in a Christian seminary I would hear information and ideas that didn’t (maybe couldn’t) fit with my worldview or my heart. I would leave seminary and join my grove and posit these ideas. I would then engage in awesome dialogue with people form my tradition, gain greater insight into the idea posited by a Christian institution, and end up bringing these juicy pagan insights back into my Christian seminary to hear a chorus of “hmmm wow, that’s a great point and I would have never thought of that”. I say that I am a better pagan since attending a Christian seminary….but I think I am a better person for engaging in across the bubble dialogue.
    Brief example: In Seminary I was learning that the Christian creation story is one of the only religious creation stories that does not involve a battle or violence to create the world/forms, i.e. most pagan creation myths have to do with a battle between light and dark, a tearing apart of an individual, or a rape to create the world. The question: what are the consequences of a worldview that begins…was created by…violence? What are the consequences of holding a worldview that was created by love? I was struck by the thought, unsettled by the implications, and left unsure how to proceed with the conversation as the only pagan in a room of Christians. I brought this idea back to my pagan group and asked about my peers thoughts. I listened to incredible insight regarding the ideologies of warrior-hood, or fair battle, and of the place of blood, sweat, and tears in a human (and a religious population that is still continually discriminated against). I was also given a plethora of pagan examples of non-violent creation. I brought these ideas back to class and found that most students, even the professor, was interested in expanding the idea he had posited, and ended the class with a restructuring of his thoughts regarding creation stories and religion. I learned a great deal (and so did my classmates, and my pagan community) by bringing ideas back and forth through the pagan bubble…..ideas, theologies, and person-hood may benefit from such an exercise. In other words: keep the bubble because it is full of community and insight and bliss and chaos. But leave the bubble every now and again to engage with the rest of the world. When you return to the bubble you will be the better for it, and so will the rest of our community. As always, thank you for your work Teo.

    • http://www.bishopinthegrove.com/ Teo Bishop

      And thank you for your insights, Sarah. What a terrific story of interfaith dialogue and teaching. This type of reflection is so important to the growth of our community (and the expansion of our community into spaces of dialogue with others).

  • Fawn

    Pop the bubble… the air out here is nice. :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000971162635 Sarah Buhrman
    • http://www.bishopinthegrove.com/ Teo Bishop

      This is great!

      “Everyone lives in a bubble. It is the bubble of our experiences – experiences that, realistically, not everyone has. Whether it’s the bubble of culture of the deep south, or the bubble of being “in the know” of talent agencies, rattling off specific colors, textures and fabrics with other designers, or discussing steaming vs blanching with other chefs…”

      I agree with this, and while I may not have come out and clearly stated that “we are not the only ones with a bubble,” I understand that statement to be true.

      I wonder if, in the context of a Pagan bubble, you see there being any value in – to be light and playful with language – a little “cross-bubble talk”? Otherwise known as, intercultural dialogue. Do you think that’s important?

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000971162635 Sarah Buhrman

        Of course! I share with and “educate” my friends, family and coworkers about all manner of issues (genetics, politics, physics, and, of course, Paganism) all the time.

        I think the implication that people have gotten from your blog post (whether you meant it this way or not) is that being in this bubble is bad or isolationist. That is simply not true.

        It’s just that I can’t give someone I chat with on the street a rundown of major traditions in paganism every time so that I can mention why I’m blogging/posting/discussing the pros and cons of (for example) the pros and cons of hereditary witchcraft vs Gardenerian Wicca. If I want to talk about that, in the interest of getting to the point, I need to find other Pagans with a similar background of information.

  • Khut Heqet

    Write about your Normal day to day life. Where you work, what you saw when you got up for a cup of coffee in the morning. Regarding the Pagan bubble, it is only applicable when people DON”T feel like they can be included. When talking with people not Pagan you pick subjects anyone can relate too..how about the Pagans putting things together anyone can do like “movie nights” or “craft nights” (not about pagan things) or “yoga classes” It is possible to move outside of the bubble and be safe, and it is the only way we are not a “subculture” and more mainstream…which as the fastest growing religion we truly are.

  • Cat C-B

    Dear gods and goddesses, Teo, please keep writing from your specific, specialized perspective.

    While a non-Pagan audience may be lost when they read your writing, for those of us who have been Pagan for decades, it is such a deep relief to read your work; only in blogs like yours do I find a mature Pagan sensibility given voice. Yes, it is true that we have many, many excellent Pagan writers, but that very need to make sure we appeal, if not to an audience outside the “Pagan bubble,” at least to one just barely within it assures us that most books printed will be at the level of Wicca 101. So much of what is available to us is oriented to beginners and outsiders, to those who can’t be expected to know even the rudiments of what it means to be Pagan, that it’s actually very challenging to find material thats–well, challenging.

    There’s more than identity politics at stake: it’s not just that I want a “Pagan bubble” to keep me safe and self-absorbed. It is that, having found in Paganism a spiritual path that offered me growth and wisdom and insight when I was in my twenties, I want it to _continue_ to allow me growth and wisdom and insight in my fifties!

    And for that, there needs to be the luxury of expertise. It is not elitist or exclusionary to write to an audience with a basic mastery of their subject. You compare the online world to a bubble? You could as easily compare it to the world of professional journals and conferences. Yes, if I go to a microbiologists’ conference, I’ll run into a lot of people talking a specialized language I won’t understand. But if there were no specialized arenas in which microbiologists could confer without translating their insights for all of us, we’d be up a creek without a paddle when the next epidemic rolls through.

    There is a place in the world for experts talking to experts–or at the least, to motivated students.

    DON’T. STOP.

    • http://twitter.com/vogelbeere + Yvonne Aburrow

      What Cat said, and what John said – I agree. There’s a place for 101 books and blogs, and for explaining Paganism to outsiders, and explaining LGBT to outsiders, but we need our bubbles and our safe spaces.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=807832500 Scott Baron

      I have to agree with Cat — I stepped away from the pagan scene in the early ’90s while still identifying as one, and all of the repeated Wicca 101 that was being written. Even though I don’t comment here — first time, actually, I think — I’ve been reading you for a long while. Keep at this with the voice you’ve evolved.

    • Ian O

      I find it really interesting that there seems to be this equation of talking to people outside of the bubble as dumbing it down. I find the reverse to be true. In keeping constant focus on the ‘pagan community,’ the pagan community tends to keep itself severed from the world around it.

      Assuming that having an outside voice means talking about yourself (I’m
      pagan, pagans believes, we do) is a peculiar narcissism that helps dumb
      things down more than talking outside the bubble ever will. It is vital for the pagan community to start talking outside of its boundaries by speaking from its values without constantly speaking of those values as ‘its’ values.

      To pick on a very concrete instance, John Michael Greer’s Archdruid Report does this quite well. Similar things are possible in all the big cultural domains., Having that outside voice doesn’t seem to stop Greer from having ‘inside’ bubble expertise that he shares, too.

      No dumbing down is required, but it does require folks start assuming that there is something about pagan values that aren’t just for pagans, that someone might find real cultural value in a work that assumes pagan values without needing to defend them as pagan.

      When you start doing that, you can be more open to the fact that there might be values out there held by people who aren’t pagan that might still be mighty enriching for pagans. You don’t have to lose the bubble, but maybe consider that it might be healthy for it to be more permeable. Maybe, yes, sometime down the line, the bubble disappears, but if it does it will be because a richer cultural world has engulfed it, a world that it took a hand in creating.

      • http://twitter.com/thelettuceman Marc

        Quite true. Accessibility does not equate to simplicity.

      • Cat C-B

        Of course speaking to outsiders is not necessarily “dumbing down” a subject. Where did you read in my words that I thought otherwise? Some very good writing addresses outsiders to specialized fields; for instance, there are many scientists who have had a remarkable gift for expressing the findings of their fields in terms a layman can follow–Carl Sagan comes to mind.

        However, the fact that a layman cannot follow a scientific discourse in no way means that discourse is bad… or in a bubble, cut off from influences outside a narrow specialization. When a chemist uses the specific language of chemistry, he may mystify a non-chemist… but he is being clear and lucid to those who take the time to learn that science, and possibly answering questions raised in any of a number of related disciplines.

        Likewise, when we express religious insights on what we learn over time from practicing a Pagan religion, we may speak over the heads of those who have not yet heard about some of our most central ideas: say, polytheism or the Wheel of the Year. And it is important for there to be interfaith workers who will introduce outsiders to such ideas (and perhaps bring new ideas that are relevant to us back to our internal community discourse as well).

        But if every piece of Pagan writing had to begin by defining polytheism, or listing the sabbats in the Wiccan Wheel of the Year, how tedious it would be for those who have understood those comments for years! And, indeed, in the interests of appealing to the widest possible audience, MOST published books on our religious movement take that form. And once we’ve moved past the need for it, many of us long to skip over the intros and get down to discussing the meat of our subject.

        As far as being open to values held by non-Pagans, perhaps the fact that for the past seven years I have kept a blog, Quaker Pagan Reflections, specifically dedicated to exploring one such intersection, can speak for at least my own openness. And apparently, I have a number of readers who are willing to put in the sweat equity to learn to understand what they may at first find difficult because it is outside their experience. (If you think Pagans have their own specific jargon and language, you should check out the archaic terms and alphabet soup the average Quaker puts out into the world!)

        You are right; cross-connections are important. Writing clearly, and not using jargon to create barriers is important.

        But it is not important for us always to appeal to the lowest common denominator when we write. Nor is it narcissism for at least some of what we write to demand a certain level of exposure, expertise, or sweat equity from our readers.

      • http://www.facebook.com/elizabeth.joy.rose Elizabeth Rose

        “…it does require folks start assuming that there is something about paganvalues that aren’t just for pagans, that someone might find real cultural value in a work that assumes pagan values without needing to defend them as pagan.” Yes. I firmly believe (and recent scholarship supports) that modern Paganism is the fruit of a multitude of creative processes that began emerging in the late 19th century as a response to the dawning of the ‘Scientific Age’ and its perceived reductionism and de-sacralization of the natural world (with antecedents going back to the Middle ages/Renaissance – I’m thinking of the Diggers and peasant revolts in response to enclosure). I am a fan of science, don’t get me wrong, but something got very lost with Descartes and co. I think the path forward is to both embrace Science and all its wonders, but also to resacralize the world in which we live, so that Gaia survives. This perspective does NOT require a person to define themselves as ‘Pagan’ or even to be religious (I’ve known many profoundly spiritual atheists). We can be part of the mainstreaming of these values, but not from the bubble. I believe we are part of a (continuing) cultural movement that, for some at least, has religious elements, rather than a religious (i.e. ‘Pagan’) culture, per se. We have a lot of company, but need to clear our eyes to see it.

    • http://www.bishopinthegrove.com/ Teo Bishop

      Thank you, Cat. I take your words to heart.

  • PhaedraHPS

    Wow–so many excellent comments!

    I keep thinking that the issue is not so much the bubble, but how we flow in and out of the numerous bubbles that we are part of in our lives. Could it be it’s about understanding where you are and what you need to do when you cross boundaries and face different audiences?

    Before even the Internet (when dinosaurs roamed the circles), I remember joking with friends that we were so accustomed to being around people who understood our magickal language that it could be a real jolt when we were around people who didn’t. We’d joke about a friend who, we thought, didn’t understand that in some contexts you needed to preface statements with “I know this is going to sound weird, but…”

    Geek/nerd culture is a lot like that, too. Sometimes people don’t get my Doctor Who references, but if I were to go to DragonCon where people would get all my references, I’d probably recognize only 10% of the cosplay, and get incredulous looks when I ask about them. Even though I’ve been using computers since before those darn kids were born (harrumph!), there are lots of times when I do not get what the guy at the Apple store is talking about, and a lot of times when the guy cannot understand why I don’t understand, nor translate appropriately. (Of course, especially in computer/gamer culture it is assumed I am clueless because I am a grey-haired female, so they cut me some condescending slack.) But that’s ok. I don’t think it’s the cosplayers job to educate me, although I do hope for civil answers. However, I don’t take kindly to computer store people not getting that their job requires them to transgress their bubble boundaries for people like me.

    Music? I don’t get more than a fraction of the music references I see. I don’t know the names of the artists for the songs I hear on the car radio (whoever the marketing exec was back in the day who decided that radio hosts shouldn’t give song titles or artist is on my cosmic hit list). There is an assumption that everyone knows youth and pop culture references, but I don’t get a lot of them. (“Here’s someone who needs no introduction…” Wrong!) I’m outside that bubble, and I doubt if the people inside it even get it’s a bubble, ’cause it’s a really, really big one.

    Well, I’m rambling. I guess my point is that bubbles are frothing everywhere around us, and we’re all part of and out of a lot of them. It’s all about audience, I’d say, knowing what bubbles you’re in or out of, knowing when you need to modify your language and references and when you don’t have to. I would say that’s part of the process for a conscious magician. I don’t think it’s a bad thing to talk to your bubble. But I would say it’s a bad thing to never leave your bubble.

  • cernowain greenman

    I have to ask: How permeable is the bubble in which you live? For some groups, such as Amish and some conservative Christians, the bubble is a concrete wall. Other groups’ bubbles are more porous.

    Language can be an issue. What do our words mean? When Christians say “holy” and Pagans say “sacred” are they saying the same thing or something totally different?

    Words themselves can be defined differently in various bubbles. When I say “diversity” I mean variety. When a political conservative hears that word, they might hear me “forcing” them to “accept” my viewpoint.

    Language is just one barrier of the bubble wall. There are other barriers such as customs, dress, music, dance, etc.

    But, really, are they barriers or invitations? Depends on the permeability of your bubble’s wall.

  • http://www.facebook.com/tashama Tasha Danner

    In speaking with my gay friends, this came up recently. They were discussing the “mainstreaming” of homosexuality and even transgender life (especially in Portland, where no one blinks an eye no matter how “different” or “shocking” one think they might be) and how they almost missed, at times, being an outsider. They missed the stance they were allowed to take, the looking different, the ability to perhaps distinguish themselves from their classmates, co-workers, etc. They loved being accepted, but also missed standing out as “special” or different. I found this very interesting and a huge discussion ensued. This is also true of my pagan friends. We feel the need to have pagan festivals, pagan faires, pagan picnics, etc. I know the idea is community and

    I used to attend Jewish services, as I was interested in some aspects of Judaism, but not interested in converting. I went to the High Holidays (Rosh Hoshana and Yom Kippur) and was struck by the Rabbi’s talk during services about how “special we Jews are, being here in shul, while everyone else is out there, doing their normal, everyday thing.” I hear echos of this in yoga classes, during pagan rituals, and even in Universalist Unitarian churches. There is something in humans that, though we say we crave connection and oneness, we also love feeling special, different, perhaps even more interesting than other groups of humans.

    I come from the yogic tradition, where we constantly espouse, All is One. Yet we also set ourselves apart from non-yoga practitioners, through clothing, diet, ritual, what we read, who we associate with, etc.

    This is a fascinating subject to me. While I understand our want and need to commune with those that are similar to us and have similar interests and viewpoints, I also feel it is necessary and important to reach out to those that are different or who know nothing of our spiritual beliefs. I am certainly a pantheist, a Hermetic and a yogi. I LOVE learning about Christianity, Druidism, Hinduism and Judaism, as well as all forms of Paganism.

    We can seek connection, both with those that share our beliefs and ideals, as well as with those that don’t! So much more to say on this, but space and time is limited (well, in the material world anyway-ha!). :)

    • Deborah Bender

      I think this is a penetrating observation. I have gravitated toward identifying with and joining subcultures in addition to the minority group I was born into. I think for me it’s been a strategy to cope with social anxiety, left over from adolescence. First, the boundaries of the subculture ensure that I have some things in common with the other people I’m interacting with. Second, the idea of “us against the world” creates some solidarity and mutual support. Third, people who have had the experience of being outsiders or being looked down upon often, though not always, have empathy and tolerance for other outsiders and weirdoes, regardless of the reason they are outsiders.

      After a while, I realized that spending my entire social life in subcultures was becoming a crutch, and I have tried (with mixed results) not to depend so much on this strategy.

      Not all pagans are like me or have similar motivations, but quite a few are, especially among those who got involved between the Sixties and the Eighties.

  • Uloboridae

    “Here in my parent’s kitchen, I found myself unpracticed at talking about Paganism (or more specifically, my paganism) with someone outside of my relatively small, insular world.”

    Then practice. You don’t need to break down the community to do that, you just need to talk to different people sometimes. It’s something most of us do anyway with our jobs and hobbies, so it’s not surprising that religions do the same. I have the opposite problem of you, in terms of religious conversations because I have mostly non-pagans to talk to. Even though I am pagan/heathen/whatever, I often find myself like your stepfather in that I read a post on a pagan blog and go “what are they talking about”, or more often, “what purpose does this serve other than mental masturbation?”.

    Just fiddle a bit more with language until something clicks and your non-pagan audience gets it.

  • Meredith Williams

    If you take away the “bubble,” you take away the entire point of having a specific venue for a specific audience. I don’t want to read a Pagan-centric blog written to EVERYONE, written dumbed down so everyone can understand or with topics so general they might as well not be Pagan. Sure, that can exist, great…but it sounds as if you’re saying it’s somehow a bad thing that there are specific venues for specific people and that we like them.

    There are plenty of subcultures in the world that I don’t understand, but I know that if I wanted to the ball is in my court. There’s no exclusiveness here, just assumed knowledge that appeals to a core demographic.

    This article seems to be going along the lines of the no-public-circles idea. In the quest for outsider inclusiveness you strip the point of the act entirely. Why be a Pagan at all?

  • Luminous_Being

    Very thoughtful article. I do wonder if the desire we have about the absolute accuracy of statements about paganism is a problem for us. When a (non-pagan) journalist writes about how pagans celebrate seasonal rituals there is a chorus of “No I don’t.” Maybe it was like this for Christians when they were new.

    Christians talk in a Christian bubble about nitty gritty Christian details like scripture but our culture as a whole has a basic idea of what a Christian worship service is like, partially because we see them in so many films and television shows. Pagan religious worship tends to only appear in horror or fantasy film.

    Another issue as a group of mystical religions might be the importance we place on personal hierophany (or as modern pagans describe it “unique personal gnosis”). When all views are valid (and maybe they should be) it’s hard to get a big picture of us.

  • http://www.facebook.com/WildChildWH Child Wild

    Interesting discussion, thank you for initiating it. Every group, belief system, religion, even fandoms, have their own language. If you have never seen Dr. Who and find yourself in a group of people who have watched it for years, you will have no idea what they are going on about and it would be almost impossible to explain it adequately for you to join in. I think discussing Paganism makes a good analogy to that because there are so many variations. If you spent the time to explain ADF in detail to someone, it would not give them an understanding of Wicca, Shamanism or the Heathens.

    In North America and Europe we are enculturated in the language of the Abrahamic faiths and so even if we do not adhere to them, we have the language to discuss them at some level. Within each group and variation, there will be differences. The three main threads of that source have enough differences to have trouble understanding each other. They have ripped significant portions of the world apart because of it. History has shown that those who are members of groups outside the mainstream do well to have a sense of self protectiveness that often includes staying hidden to a degree. This is a time of great change that will bring new freedoms in some ways, but also brings up fears and reactionary resistance from the old guard. Changes we are on the brink of today, such as legalizing gay marriage, have come through the suffering and death of many individuals. Looking at what is happening with the backward movement of women’s reproductive choice and freedom, highlights how far we have yet to come in changing our society’s thinking.

    Neo Pagans, Indigenous People and others who follow an earth based belief system are still feeling their way as to how to come to a place of openness, freedom and acceptance side by side with entrenched beliefs that make us odd at best and evil to many. Our discussions amongst ourselves and learning to work together, will allow us to do a better job of expressing who we are as a community, in the future. The numbers of people walking away from the beliefs they were raised with are growing by leaps and bounds, many are looking at Paganism to see if it offers what they are looking for. We are still feeling our way to how we can help them in their journey.

  • GearoidMacConfhiaclaigh

    This is a pretty succinct way to put it. Well done.

    I think I have a little more experience outside the bubble than in. I’ve always had to try and explain, usually through analogies if I can but sometimes just a long sit down, things that I believe and things that other pagans of other stripes believe and how we differ, etc etc. I’ve done that more outside than inside oddly enough. But I think that just supports the argument here. We use our own language, we have our own norms.

    I, as a Celtic Reconstructionist, can be reasonably expected to understand the basics of Wiccan thought. Just like most of “Western” society is baked in a underlying Christian culture, most of the neo-pagan community is backed in Wiccan assumptions (with the except of deliberate rejections of it, like myself and some other reconstructionists, but we are a minority within a minority there). It’s just part of the community, the soft Wiccan hegemony. But outside the bubble, people don’t understand. Frankly, in the US, it’s quite odd for someone to be more than passingly familiar with the practices of another faith. Even in that regard the pagan community is different. Then imagine trying to explain the diversity. Ugh. There is nearly as much diversity in pure theological/philosophical terms within the pagan community as there is between the pagan community and the monotheistic one. For people used to the differences in practice, not assumptions, that must seem more intimidating.

    This gets back to something I’ve pondered a lot. We don’t proselytize We don’t need to, it’s not our calling. Most of us (me included) find it somewhat offensive. But in rejecting that too many of us have rejected talking about it. Not simply because of the real disadvantages and sometimes dangers, but as a cultural thing. We don’t talk about ourselves to others, we don’t put our beliefs out there and let people flock to us. Not well anyway. I don’t even think I do, and I’ve been everyone’s “pagan friend” for some time now. It’s not blatantly obvious, but it’s not a secret either. We need to get better at it I think.

  • anne johnson

    Perhaps the illusion of a bubble exists because we do not actively proselytize outside our community. We sit back and let people find us, rather than seeking them out and trying to persuade them to become Pagan. This method of finding adherents presupposes that curious would-be Pagans are willing to join the bubble.

  • Joseph Merlin Nichter

    I love this post Teo.

    I recognize the Pagan bubble and how
    completely immersed I am within our cultural bubble. I read my morning Pagan news,
    here that the Wild Hunt and listen to Kenny Klein and S.J. Tucker while it
    drive my car. I have discussions and debates with Pagan friends on Pagan topics. I read Pagan books in my leisure time and have Witches
    & Pagans reading material available in the living room and rest room. I go to Pagan “church” and am active in my Pagan community.

    And I think that’s okay. In fact I think it’s good. I’m very proud of our Pagan bubble, it’s become very accommodating to my daily interests and lifestyle as a whole.

    But as a (volunteer) Pagan prison chaplain, I leave the Pagan bubble and work with Muggles, within their Muggle bubble.

    I’ve
    learned how important it is to cultivate and employ their shared vernacular. Terms like “Coven, Ritual and Witchcraft” carry strong and
    scary connotations and often inhibit effective communication with those not acclimated to our reality. So I replace those words with “congregation, church service, pastoral care.” I’m not a High Priest, I’m a *chaplain*.

    I think as ambassadors of our bubble we have a certain responsibility to accommodate those who don’t “speak our language,” and we have a responsibility to the citizens of our bubble not to perpetuate negative stereotypes while in Muggle bubbles. But when a Muggle ventures into our world and doesn’t understand, that’s not our fault. We don’t recruit or proselytize, so you need to come find us. But we have plenty of representatives ready and willing to give them a free tour, no strings attached.

    BB.

  • http://twitter.com/Suzy_Cherry Suzy Cherry

    I think the good thing about bubbles is that they are penetrable. From inside and from without. The kind of bubble I think you’re describing is one which doesn’t allow for discourse across the boundary. If a non-Pagan were to be interested in what you had to say, in a respectful way, and they asked you a question, you would not be afraid to answer. However, you point out that you don’t have the tools to do that easily. I understand this. In my 30 years of identifying as a Witch, I struggled with language. In the past 9 years of working from within a mainstream Protestant church system, I continued that struggle, because who I am is defined by who I’ve been. I understand most of your language, and I understand most of the mainstream Protestant language. What I struggle with now is the language to explain the meeting-in-between that I experience as my spirituality. I am a Transreligious Mystic. I believe that multi-faith discourse is imperative for creating a better world. That discourse should include Pagans of all ilks. However, many – if not most – of the Pagans I encountered over the years had a strong animosity to all things Christian, and would not sit in dialogue with them. I understand that many were disenfranchised Christians themselves – or they only knew the media hyped right wing kind of Christianity that is so prevalent. To be fair, I have known many Christians who would diminish the input of a Pagan or declare them ‘evil.’ I have spent almost a lifetime explaining the difference between the Wiccan/Pagan community and their idea of them. Today, however, I know a number of Christians who are eager to engage in discourse that includes Wiccans and other Pagans (including Druids, of course) at the table.

    I don’t think the bubble is a bad thing, because it creates a safe place and a home for those who find themselves in that bubble. I just think that perhaps there are some who must penetrate the bubble to help bring understanding and acceptance in this extremely pluralist world we inhabit

  • Anne Newkirk Niven

    Teo: you have nicely summarized my entire career in media: who is my/our audience? I see interlocking Venn diagrams: SageWoman, Witches&Pagans, Crone, PaganSquare — all of them addressing different aspects of the wider Paganesque culture. The Pagan world is moving from being a cult (aka a sub-culture in opposition to mainstream culture) to being more of a sect (aka a religious subculture that is not mainstream, but is an acceptable recognized subculture). That’s a normal evolution in a religion’s history and the point at which apologetics (the discipline of explaining a religion to outsiders) comes into being. If you want to talk to mainstream culture, go for it: Pagan apologetics is vastly underdeveloped at this time. But it will be a very different proposal than talking to the community itself. It’s not just a question of vocabulary, but of attitude: it’s the reason 101 books are so popular, and yet (inside the bubble) so despised. Me, I try to make our magazine’s accessible to the complete novice, and yet not talk down to insiders — it’s a really tricky proposal. We could probably talk for hours…

    • Anne Newkirk Niven

      Oh, and by the way: the fact that we live in a ghetto/bubble is pretty obvious by the fact that so many of us use pseudonyms/craftnames, not just online, but in all our in-culture relationships. It’s a customer-service nightmare, that’s for sure, but more than that if we are “Joe Schmo” at work and “Gandalf the Green” in Pagandom, it’s a dead giveaway that we have two identities.

      • Deborah Bender

        Someone else used the word enclave and I think that is more apt than ghetto. An enclave is created for mutual support in the face of outside pressure; living inside or outside it is a matter of choice. Ghettoes sometimes originate as neighborhoods or enclaves, but a ghetto’s boundaries are enforced by the dominant group and the oppressed group’s residence in it is not voluntary.

        The ghettoes in Rome and Warsaw were walled and Jews were literally locked up in them.

  • Lēoht Sceadusawol

    The Pagan Bubble has a problem. Many people are aware of multiple bubbles, even if they don’t inspect them. However, I feel that people outside the Pagan Bubble get confused when looking in.

    If you look at the Christian Bubble, or the Hindu Bubble, you can describe it fairly (if not entirely accurately) in a sentence or two. The Pagan Bubble, as it exists, defies such easy definition. To those within the Bubble, this is not often seen as an issue.

    But, to those wanting to interact with the larger Bubblescape, it can be a major hurdle. When your grandfather said those words to you, did you consider how you would describe Paganism, and just how many others sharing your Bubble would disagree with your words?

    Often the main way to describe Paganism (other than as an Umbrella or Bubble) is by defining what it isn’t. The uneducated layman (or family member) isn’t going to want a whole dissertation on the subject of Paganism. They are going to want a simple sentence that provides a basic insight that can spark interest to further question but also stands sufficiently well alone to not require hours of confusing debate.

    It is one reason why I feel the Pagan Bubble could do with bursting, to allow the smaller Bubbles within the space to expand.

    • http://twitter.com/vogelbeere + Yvonne Aburrow

      Ha. Try explaining Unitarianism or Unitarian Universalism to outsiders…

    • GearoidMacConfhiaclaigh

      All I can think of after reading this is trying to explain to people the differences between Celtic Reconstructionsts, neo-Druids, and Celtic flavored Wiccans. It was a headache, and I’m used to giving long, complicated explanations.

      • Lēoht Sceadusawol

        I can imagine. The very diversity of Paganism is, paradoxically, both its greatest strength and its greatest weakness.

  • Charles Cosimano

    Bubbles are not a problem in and of themselves. Most of the time folks move in and out of them pretty easily in our culture, like when I find myself with friends who are Roman Catholic, for example. I can deal with their bubble and they can deal with mine. When bubbles become an issue is when the collide, the reasons the different bubbles actually exist come into conflict.

  • http://www.facebook.com/fernwise Fern Bernstein-Miller

    Harumph! I just had a spirited debate with a passel of Episcopalians over who had the kitchiest kitch. If that isn’t interfaith discussion, I’m not sure what is!

  • Tracy

    Teo, I’m a Unitarian Universalist. I often feel something similar to what you describe. We have a lot of great chats with ourselves — boy we can talk! — but most of the time if I tell someone I’m a Unitarian Universalist, the blankness of their stare is almost audible. I just started reading you on HuffPost. Love the richness and depth of your contemplative perspective. Thanks for this post. Lots of food for thought.

  • Crystal Blanton

    this is a slightly challenging post for me to respond to but I feel compelled to. I think that one of the reasons is the use of the word ghetto, and its associations today. That word is often used to describe unwanted areas, filled with violence or challenging community dynamics… that are often minority. I am often very protective when that word is thrown around because it means a lot to those who live within those neighborhoods.

    I would then add…. that the construction of a “ghetto” is layered and not simply built or maintained with fear. There are many systematic reasons that these areas, communities, structures exist but what about the positives? Culture is bred in these small, specialized areas of life. What we (in my area of “ghettos” refer to as hood culture) often understand in hood culture is that we are in an environment where we are in our own element, with our own people. We have a culture that is cherished and often dismissed by others as ghetto. Yet it is with meaning and merit for those who exist in it.

    Why is Paganism different? Why does it have to point to fear of the greater community when culture is built inside of our own communities. Sharing culture with greater society is not the same as fear keeping us in a bubble. Sometimes we might choose to share with our brothers and sisters of same cloth because it is culturally appropriate to do so.

    I know plenty of people who write for their own community and are not Pagan. That isn’t a Pagan issue, IMHO, it is a community issue. It is building and sharing among those who are looking for specific cultural context. Muslims write for their own community, as does many other religions.

    So I guess I just feel like most people don’t care about understanding my ethnic culture, nor my religious culture, nor my hood culture…… and there is nothing wrong with building community by giving to those areas of my communities, and being a part of the culture in which I am bred from.

    • http://www.bishopinthegrove.com/ Teo Bishop

      Thank you for your comment, Crystal, and for treating this (appropriately) as a teaching moment. You are much more educated than I in the nuance of this term, and your testimony here is very valuable to me.

      My extended family, which is predominantly latino, grew up in mostly latino neighborhoods, and while they may have often been poor I’m not certain they would have classified their hoods as “ghettos,” although they may have. Some of my family lived in projects, although my grandmother and her children did not. Regardless of the terminology used, there was a sense that within the safety of their familial and cultural enclosure, a rich culture was able to thrive. I can understand the value in that. I’ve seen it happen.

      My use of the term was informed primarily by my experiences with “gay ghettos,” and there is evidence of rich culture growing within them as well. I trust that someone with a richer academic background in sociology could discuss the ways in which gay ghettos are different than ethnic ghettos, and I’m afraid I don’t have that training or knowledge in that area. But the parallels I was seeking to draw had more to do with my experience in the gay community, and less so my tangential relationship to ethnic ghettos. It is true that the term is often used to describe isolate communities “filled with violence or challenging community dynamics… that are often minority,” but that was not how I was seeking to use the term.

      As it relates to Paganism, I think there *can be* great value in connecting and collaborating with other Pagans. My statement about how talking about ourselves to Pagans “is debilitating” might have better been written as “can be” debilitating. I witness ways in which we become insular, and I think that can be problematic, even if it can also foster the growth and development of culture.

      This isn’t to say that all Pagans who do work within their communities *are* insular. I see ways in which West Coast Pagan groups are engaged with the real lives of their community members (in and outside of their particular religious body), and I’m inspired by that. But it isn’t so in every corner of the Pagan community.

      “I guess I just feel like most people don’t care about understanding my ethnic culture, nor my religious culture, nor my hood culture…”

      I do care. And I’ve witness the ways in which your testimony about your culture — from the privilege panel at Pantheacon to *this comment here* — forges a bridge of dialogue between people who do not share the same understanding. THAT is what I’m talking about here. You are initiating the kind of dialogue — intercultural and interfaith dialogue — that I think we need to be having on a broader scale.

      I hope I was able to explain more about my use of the term, “ghetto,” and I welcome any more feedback or response that you have regarding this comment. I have great respect for you, Crystal, and the work you do. Thank you for your honesty, and your presence.

      • Crystal Blanton

        Teo, I never assume that you are trying to use language that alienates, I didn’t think that when I read this last night. I know in my heart that is not the case.

        I want to also express that some language does alienate, and the use of the word ghetto, is one of them for many people of ethnic decent because of the today world associations and use of the world. I asked my husband last night what he associated the word with and what would be his first thoughts if someone said Pagans live in a ghetto bubble. His first response was that he would feel great disrespect. That was my gut reaction as well. It is like nails on a chalk board. And (my soapbox rant in one sentence) we as a Pagan community (not you specifically) have to be more conscious of how our vocabulary inadvertently distances Pagans of color from feeling comfortable. (off soapbox on that issue).

        But again, I think what is also important is pointing out the process of culture development and the cyclic nature of integration into larger community. Some work through a process and become more engaged in greater society issues or work as a Pagan and some chose not to or are not at the place where they can (for whatever reason). I think it is too presumptuous to assume that people do not have good reason to exist in whatever community, however they choose. My experience and reasons are much different than others.

        Example: I was recently asked to come to a festival, that I regrettably could not make this year. The reason? Mostly because there are Pagans of color that are either afraid to come out to a larger community, or some that want dialog with another Pagan of color to discuss how to correlate ethnic and Pagan culture. Very nitch stuff but yet there are reasons why this is important and a common community of other ethnic minority Pagans could be fruitful. It is a culture onto itself in development.

        I think some broader scale discussion is fantastic but I also think it is operating out of the Pagan bubble to assume that the greater community has a forum for us to have these discussions and will be acceptable. Most minority faiths have a culture that is not understandable to the greater whole, that is why it is a minority (fill in the blank). We are not majority culture here. There are plenty of things about Muslim faiths, Sikhism, Shinto, and Hinduism that the majority of society does not know and that we as Pagans do not know. It is the structural make-up of minority status.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Dusty-Dionne/659882192 Dusty Dionne

    Rev. Terry Micheal Riley of the Southern Delta Church of Wicca_ATC told me: “Until we start seeing ourselves as part of our larger communities, and start doing things that benefit everyone outside of our insular pagan groups, then our towns, and cities we live in will forever see us as those weird pagan folks who keep to themselves. It wont be until all the pagan groups start doing things that help the whole community (he does this through a grant with Home Dept that gives him building supplies that he uses to fix elderly towns-members houses, and through highway adoption) that we will be seen as non-threatening, whole members of our communities. It’s hard to say something bad about the church that built your grandmother a wheelchair ramp to her front door” Good article.

    • http://www.bishopinthegrove.com/ Teo Bishop

      This quote hits home for me.

      Thank you, Dusty.

  • NeoWayland

    I’d add that while the bubble can be a necessary and fine thing, we also have to go into the world and do what we’ve learned. Otherwise it’s just like a hothouse flower that can’t survive outside.

    If what we know can’t exist outside the bubble, then it will always set us apart.

  • http://www.facebook.com/lydia.m.n.crabtree Lydia M. N. Crabtree

    I have to say that I am seriously in contemplation about this! I am about to put out my first “pagan” book that I really didn’t want to be “pagan.” Additionally, as an author I’d like to be known as an author NOT a pagan author, wiccan author…..my new blog will be called Confessions of Being…… I am so much and for me pagan is integral and not final. I have been learning the song “Imagine” and I keep hearing, “Imagine there’s no religion..I wonder if you can?” For me the focus on the small corner of our religious section helps to drive a wedge in humanity. My wish was that we were seen as spiritualist – people seeking…. and my vocabulary cannot help but come from the place of pagan perspective. I wish I knew the answer.

    • Franklin Evans

      I just wanted to mention a personal irony: I am taking my first awkward steps into written art (in my case, play writing) to help fulfill my ambition of raising the audience public’s awareness of the mythic roots of our storytelling, roots that extend deeper and beyond the Christian and Jewish traditions.

  • Kenneth

    It’s good that you thought deeply enough to conceive this issue, but I don’t see our bubble as problematic. We are not living in a pagan bubble. We retreat to it from time to time to express a part of who we are that we don’t share with non-pagans. Whether outsiders understand life in our bubble fully is unimportant. If the nuts and bolts of being pagan were important to them on a deep level, they’d be here, not there.

    We have plenty of other venues for interfaith work and interaction with the wider world. We’re not a ghetto. Ghettos are situations where people only associate with their own kind out of economic or political repression or choice. Strict Hasidic communities, or Amish, or ethnic enclaves of recent immigrants are ghettos. A ghetto means that you do most or all of your daily dealings with others of your group. You do your shopping, your banking, your insurance buying, your socializing, almost entirely with your own kind. You limit your news of the outside world entirely or have it filtered through sources within your tribe. Above all, you only marry among your own.

    I would be very surprised if any pagans in this country are doing those things. Few even have the option, demographically speaking. We don’t have the glue of a common ethnicity or language or source country social customs or authority figures that real ghetto populations have.

    We read pagan sources about pagan life, because we’re the only ones doing that work. CNN doesn’t have a pagan news desk, and may not for quite some time. On the other hand, I don’t think most of us limit our news of the wider world to Jason’s blog or other pagan forums. Whatever else we may be, pagans tend to be voracious readers.

    I don’t think the bubble exists solely for mutual protection or advocacy, and thus won’t disappear when that threat passes. It will serve other needs. No matter how mainstream we become, we will still have insider baseball stuff about trads and music and festivals that will speak to us more than it will to others.

    • Deborah Bender

      The Hasidim would not call their communities and villages ghettoes. Nor would the Haredim of Jerusalem call their neighborhoods of ultra-Orthodox Jews by that label. The word originated from a specific situation in the history of European Jewry. In common American speech, the word ghetto has become much broader and looser in meaning. For a non-Jew to call a Hasidic community or village a ghetto is cultural appropriation, and it is insulting.

  • Doug Epperson

    I am a pagan and I am a physicist. Both create bubble-like existences for
    me. But very different ones.

    As a physicist, I can spray paint “physicist” on
    the outside of my bubble. Now and then
    someone freely enters my bubble and asks the opinion of the physicist who is
    me. You might say that is not a bubble in
    the sense being discussed. But it is a
    bubble in the discussion sense. I cannot
    just talk to anyone about leptons and quarks and the Higgs boson in a way that
    has deep meaning to me. Nor can I truly
    get across what is so fascinating about some random broken oscillating object. But I can just look at my colleague and point
    and have an immediate mutual understanding.
    My point here is that, for the most part, your (author of The Pagan Bubble post) articles
    are where they belong. They don’t belong
    in a hunting, knitting or physics magazine.
    They belong in the pagan magazines they are in because that is where the
    audience is. For my physics reading I
    read Physics Today. It’s pretty much
    only physicists reading it.

    As a pagan, I cannot freely paint pagan on my bubble. I am not comfortable with just any random
    human knowing I am pagan. My immediate
    colleagues know but I don’t announce it in my classes. (Though there is a fun side story in
    that. After going through my basic lab
    rules one semester a student commented,
    “So basically, harm none do as you will”.) So
    here is the difference in the bubble types.
    The difference is not in communicating paganism only within the pagan
    bubble. The difference is that most
    don’t feeling free or safe to let others know they live in a pagan bubble. It is perfectly okay that a non-pagan doesn’t
    know or care about the differences between aspects of paganism. It is very reasonable that it is hard to
    explain paganism to just anyone. This is
    like many other bubbles. The uniqueness
    is that the bubble itself cannot always be talked about.

    There are times we to step outside of the bubble. That is when changes need to be made to
    society as a whole. Pagans need to self
    identify in a safe community to let others know that pagans are safe normal
    people and to remind people of the freedom of religion. Gays need to speak out about their missing legal
    rights. Climatologists need to speak out
    about human amplified climate change.
    And we as a greater bubble community need to step out and support others
    in these matters.

    Blessed Be the Writers of Pagan Posts and Articles

  • Harry McAlister

    This is my first time to see your words young man. It was a truly well thought out article that has a very valid point. But since you are this intelligent, you must know that all things have their time and place. Had you written this as an editorial piece in the Times you would have suffered the haters, trolls, and malcontents that roam the land looking for a fight, a hate to bring out, or a shot at their dubious fifteen minutes. By the comments rendered to you, you seem to have a good following of like minded folks and that sir is a wonderful thing. In time, in the right place it will be our day to come forth, to mainstream, to bask in the moonlight. But for now a bubble, however confining allows growth. Do carry on!

  • http://www.facebook.com/ClownOfMomus Franklin Evans

    Expanding my reply to Lydia Crabtree to a general case: We can invite non-Pagans into our “homes” in a way that avoids scaling the cliff of explanations and esoteric lexicon. Tell a story.

    One need not be the author of the story, or even very good at writing one to begin with. Authors, good authors are few and far between. But, we can join them in the telling part, or even be the tellers of their stories in ordinary and mundane ways. My favorite discovery by a non-Pagan is “The Midlife Crisis of Dionysus”, a one-act play by Garrison Keillor. I produced it a few years ago, and I never had so much fun nor had so many people approach me to ask “what did that mean” without prompting them to it first.

    It’s already a well-blazed trail. They still teach Bullfinch and Hamilton in schools, read Homer and the Greek tragedians, know about Odin and Thor before seeing them in comic books. They even sometimes know about the Pagan traditions underlying the Arthurian cycle — and if you haven’t yet, read Mary Stewart’s “The Merlin Trilogy”. Talk about bringing our traditions to the mainstream!

    When I attend ritual, I am both participant and audience at the same time. I believe that gives us an immediate and somewhat intimate common ground to which to invite others to see us and learn about us.

  • kittylu

    Blogs like this one make me forget that paganism isn’t familiar to a lot of people out there. I don’t think the pagan body of knowledge is inaccessible to outsiders, but maybe it does take time to understand the perspective.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1127101530 Alan J Sheridan

    Every once in a while I take some of our pagan conversations outside the bubble and run them past non-pagans to get a different perspective. For me, that healthy dose of “other reality” helps me stay grounded about pagan hot topics and always gives me a different perspective. The guy in the cubicle next to me at work never heard of PantheaCon and couldn’t care less what happened there, for example. Last year though, it was a pretty big deal to a lot of us.

    But I also agree with what several people have said – inside our bubble we are experts talking with other experts about subjects that matter to us, and we need that. I just think that stepping outside the bubble and looking in with a different perspective is healthy.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1581897377 Peggy Tiner

    I am a lot older than most everyone who has commented here and have a different perspective. A bubble can be nice sometimes, but not to live in. It is possible and doable to have friends of various faiths and even attend their religious services for various events. I meet with my Witch friends on days of observation and weekly for studying, planning and just for fun. We attend Pagan activities with other groups in the area occasionally, but I don’t exclude people from my life because of their religion or lack of it. I can explain my beliefs easily because they are mine, not necessarily exactly the same as others in my group. I can’t explain the beliefs of other Pagans and don’t try to, except to say that there are more Pagan paths than there are Protestant sects. Since I live in the south, most people understand what that means. One should walk one’s path first, but that doesn’t rule out everything else in life.

  • Lori F – MN

    I saw the cover of Witches & Pagans. They have you listed as Theo Bishop. Better see if they can change it!
    I’m not into much of the Pagan community, But I very much appreciate your writing. If you feel the need to simplify your writing, try guest writing at other beginner sites.

  • 12StepWitch

    I’ve come back with a couple more thoughts.

    Many of us are practicing what we would term mystery religions.Alison Leigh Lilly once described theology as the practice of trying to perform vivisection–that it is “pretending that the numinous divine is a dead thing that will hold still beneath our careful knives.” So much of my practice is experiential–I can’t explain what it is like to be in the middle of a Reclaiming circle gone fully ecstatic. I can’t fully capture the feeling of energy sliding through my body as a cone is raised. I can say “Blah blah we revere nature” but that doesn’t get across the cold chill of awe that rushes through my body when I feel Hir Spirit move in the wind. The definitions and explanations evade us because they are Mystery. They are not meant to be easily explained. They wink at the edge of our ability to communicate, even with each other. We can only communicate with each other about them because our pathetic shorthand points towards shared experiences.

    So, we are (many of us) a people centered in Mystery. We do not try and shine a spot light on that, or offer up empty plastic shells of what is really going on. We welcome people in if they are interested, but they have to seek it. So why SHOULD your stepfather understand? Why SHOULD my husband understand? How could they? My faith is demanding. My practice is ecstatic and full of mystery. It cannot be transmitted across a page. You have to jump into the ocean, taste the saltiness, hear the pounding of the waves, and feel the pull of the current….all these are required for understanding.I cannot tell it to you.

    Secondly, I respectfully disagree that not being othered, or not being in a bubble would cause the Pagan community to weaken. You can do and experience things in groups you just can’t do alone. Christians are not othered and millions of them choose to worship together weekly because it brings them joy and comfort and a sense of community. We come together in circle because it brings us great joy.

    Great post Teo, as always!

    • Lēoht Sceadusawol

      I’m not a big fan of ‘mystery’. Awe, yes, but not mystery.

      Take, as an example, the rising of the sun. I know how it works (it doesn’t rise, that’s just an illusion), but I still can feel awe when watching it. I don’t need any mystery in the way of my understanding in order to enhance my experience.

      I have heard said that science is the explanation of magic. This is often (if not always) true. I don’t feel that the explanation lessens the magic.

      I do agree that, for a person to fully understand certain concepts that they need to be immersed fully in that concept. But I don’t think that Teo is talking about getting his stepfather to draw down the sun, or some such. I think he just wants people, like his stepfather, to not have to say “What’s that, then?” when confronted with the statement “I am a Pagan.” (That’s my take on it, anyway.)