Archives For Ghettoizing

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?