Diversity is one of those funny things. There never seems to be enough diversity in any community to reflect all the many different intersections within society. Ideas of diversity are often limited to race, ethnicity and gender in larger conversations, and yet there are so many more variations and flavors to the many different types of people, ideas, experiences and circumstances. It has become more of a buzz word in many spaces, such as the workplace, academic institutions and even spiritual spaces – an expectation instead of a reality in some circumstances.We know that diversity means variety and the representation of a range of differences. Do we have diversity within modern Paganism? Like with many different communities, Paganism has areas of great diversity and some areas that are seriously lacking. While areas of ethnic diversity are have been slow to expand, areas of diversity in sexual orientation, spiritual practice, gender variances, traditions, and socioeconomic status seem to be the opposite. There are a lot of different types of people in our circles, groves, houses, covens, groups and conventions that fall all along the different continuums.
The sheer nature of experiential spirituality allows for people’s differences to have a place within the community dialog, and when it doesn’t it is noticeable. I tend to crave diverse environments, and when there is a noticeable lack of diversity in a specific area, I notice it pretty quickly.
Diversity can be vital to the sustainability of any given community because it challenges our thoughts and stretches the boxes that we construct within our own limited exposures. Diversity supports growth. In The Benefits of Diversity, What the Research Tells us, authors D. Smith and N. Chonfeld talk about quantitative and qualitative research on the impact of diversity in higher education and within organizations. Data continues to point to the importance of diversity and the benefits that diversity has on the development of a community, and the individuals within it. “Our review reveals important links between experiences with diversity and increased commitment to civic engagement, democratic outcomes, and community participation”.
The ability for people to grow and learn through the experiences and connections with a myriad different types of people benefits our ability to think critically and have a larger world view.
So what does diversity look like in the Pagan community and how do Pagans feel about the layers of diversity that we do have? I spoke to four different types of Pagans and Polytheists to ask these questions. John Beckett, Niki Whiting, Sabrina Taylor and Lorrie Patrick; all different people from different flavors of practice with different backgrounds. Some of these people are writers, or college students, and have different socioeconomic statuses. All of them are connected to our Pagan and/or Polytheist communities.
I asked three questions of all three people interviewed:
1. What areas do you feel we are the most diverse in our communities?
2. What do you enjoy about the elements of diversity that the Pagan and Polytheist communities have?
3. What areas of diversity would you like to see our communities grow in?
The answers to these questions were quite diverse in themselves, and show a snapshot of how simple and yet how complex diversity can be.
We are most diverse in our religious and magical traditions. When I first began exploring Paganism in the early 1990s there was Wicca and Druidry and that was about it. here were other traditions (Thelema, for example, is older than Wicca) but if you were new and didn’t know anybody, you didn’t have much of a chance of finding them.
Now there are more traditions than you can keep up with, and with the internet and especially with social media, a seeker can find pretty much exactly what they’re looking for. The problem now isn’t that there’s not enough diversity, it’s differentiating one group from another.
I like going to Pantheacon or Pagan Pride Day or just surfing the internet and learning something new and different about how to form and maintain relationships with the Gods, ancestors, and spirits of Nature. I like learning about religions and cultures that were thought to be dead that are being revived and reimagined here and now. And I especially like to see Gods that were forgotten being worshiped again, perhaps for the first time in thousands of years.
I’d like us to become more aware of the wide diversity that exists in the Pagan and Polytheist communities. We’re not all the same, and that’s OK. I’d like to see a deeper appreciation of our diversity of beliefs and practices, not just to avoid cultural appropriation (although that’s certainly important) but to form and demonstrate respect for our differences.
And I’d like for us all to learn to listen better, so we can help seekers find the tradition that calls to them and not steer them toward a tradition we think they “should” follow based on their appearance, name, orientation, or other categorizations. The Gods call who They call. – John Beckett
I don’t really know how to answer that question. I don’t think I’m capable or qualified to do so! My communities are relatively small and most active online, which skews my reality. What I see online, what I witness at PCon, and what I saw at Many Gods West are quite different!
The one thing I’ll say is that overall we do a good job of fostering and supporting LGB folk. Some communities are better than others about the T in that equation.
Overall, I love the spirit that is present in both communities. In my limited experience I think the polytheist communities are doing a better job of discussing a wide array of social, environmental, and economic justice issues, and also of listening to diverse voices.
I was pleased to see just how gender variant the attendees at MGW were. Attendees also came with a variety of social needs and several had mobility issues, and all were accommodated in a very organic way. If those people are in our wider communities I feel very hopeful for inclusion and continued diversity in both Paganism and polytheism.
Access and money for access. Many of the people involved in our communities are not wealthy. We make sacrifices to attend gatherings and groups, to tend our shrines and altars. But many people with more than one hurdle are often left out of such gatherings. How can we make these events and gatherings more accessible?
How can we reach out to communities that might otherwise be sympathetic but see Paganism as a white, hippie enclave? I think polytheism has a better “in” in this regard. There are many traditions that don’t consider themselves Pagan but are or can be approached from polytheism. Many of these traditions come from indigenous cultures or Afro-diasporic cultures – groups that are tremendously important to the United States’ history and culture, but often get left out (sometimes by their own choice!) in the overwhelming European milieu of modern American Paganism.” – Niki Whiting
What I have noticed in my limited exposure is that we all seem to come from very different backgrounds particularly where and how we were raised. We seem to have a great deal of diversity among us not only in what part of the country or world we grew up in but varying socioeconomic status, religious backgrounds, how and by whom we were raised, and the life experiences that have brought us where we are today.
I enjoy this diversity because I feel we all come together due to a common thread but still have so many different things to offer one another which hopefully helps us to learn and grow.
My hope is that our communities continue to have open dialog about their differences. That we can recognize them, embrace them and use our shared knowledge to strengthen the community in every way possible. – Lorrie Patrick
I believe that the Pagan communities are most diverse when it comes to online communities. I think many different factors play a part in this. Due to location (I live in Seattle) I rarely run into other Pagans of color except at festivals and larger community gatherings.
I enjoy the fact that many of us bring an element of social justice to our communities and spiritual backgrounds, either due to who we are as people or what we experienced growing up due to being a minority.
It would be great to see more diversity in pagan leadership organizations as well as within our community’s media. – Sabrina Taylor
When I think about the reasons I was initially drawn to the larger Pagan community I think about the different conversations, and vastly different types of people with whom I got to connect. While it is very apparent that diversity within some areas of our community are slow to develop, I still find that other areas of diversity have been just as important in the connection that I, and many others, have within modern Paganism or Polytheist communities. It is my personal opinion that any community should be made up of all different kinds of people. My ideal community would be made up of Black, White, Latino, Multi-Ethnic, female, male, transgendered, gender queer, heterosexual, bi-sexual, gay, meta-sexual peoples of all different socioeconomic statuses, from all different types of regions, from different age groups, different abilities, with the many different experiences and engaging in many different types of spiritual practices.
The more that our communities can identify, embrace and celebrate the various forms of diversity we have, the more culturally competent our communities become. Increased opportunity to break out of the mold of groupthink allows for innovation, enhanced understanding of cultural nuances, and cross-cultural interconnected relatability.
We need to continuously ask ourselves where we excel, where we need to improve, what faces are missing from our circles and how can we support diverse spaces that encourage health of our overall spiritual communities.
There was a section that stuck out to me in reading What Do Leaders Need To Understand About Diversity on the Yale School of Management website. “Here’s the key: If you want diversity of thought, you have to bring in people around you who have diverse experiences. Differences in race, gender, and socioeconomic background are three characteristics, but so are differences in learning style or differences in professional field. And I’m not suggesting that any one of those points of diversity is more potent than others.”
It is important to celebrate where we are great and examine where we need to improve, while fostering an environment that promotes healthy engagement in our myriad differences.