September lies in the heart of Pagan Pride season, where communities large and small come together to celebrate all that it means to be Pagan. On Pagan Pride Day in many places, one of the public components is the act of giving back, such as hosting a food drive for the homeless. Many Pagan Pride Day celebrations are held in parks, as one requirement of these events is that the festival be held in a public venue. At these times, those who have little to no knowledge of Paganism can find the best of any local community in one place during one day. Whether through the variety of rituals, music, vendors, or religious organizations on display, a local person who might have an interest in Paganism can seek and find answers to questions. For those who already consider the Pagan community home in some sense or another, Pagan Pride events are also the perfect places to find role models or mentors.
The Greek word “mentor” actually arises from Homer’s epic poem The Odyssey, wherein Ulysses leaves his son, Telemachus, in the care of his friend Mentor. In the second book of The Odyssey, the goddess Minerva appears to Telemachus by taking on the physical appearance of Mentor. As Mentor, Minerva gives advice, which Telemachus takes, and she sets off with him on the journey to find out what happened to his father. At later points in The Odyssey, Minerva speaks and guides events through the personage of Mentor.
Just as Homer’s work demonstrates how the gods intervene in the affairs of humans, in the current time period, the word “mentor” also is used for one who counsels or gives advice to someone who is just starting a particular task or path in life. High school counselors, college advisors, teachers, and small business advisors are just a few types of mentors. For those new to the community of Paganism, finding a mentor helps with the journey of a seeker or aspirant. One problem newcomers often face is finding someone who has been through similar situations. For some, the practice of any Pagan tradition only can be done in private due to fear of negative repercussions from family, employers, friends, or one’s immediate community of neighbors. The desire to find someone who has walked a similar path may be strong. This is where large, well-advertised, public Pagan events can help.
Pagan Pride Day solves this problem of isolation in three ways. First, as a larger community event, a wide variety of groups from various religious traditions and organizations can be found in attendance. If someone is looking for others who are new to the community, there are welcome sessions and a tent or booth where information is freely available to all. Second, Pagan Pride Day is free and open to the public, so there is no initial cost to act as a barrier. For some who are starting out, money may be a factor in choosing where to go to find others who are of a similar mindset. Third, Pagan Pride Day is a time when it is easiest to see how Pagans of many backgrounds interact and choose to live their lives in the community. The traditional donations to a local food bank during the harvest season demonstrate how charitable Pagans are to the larger communities in which they live. This breaks the stereotype that there is only one type of person in the Pagan community.
A celebration of Pagan culture and diversity marks an opportunity for each part of the community to reach out and welcome those who might not know that others are interested in drum circles, magical craft and ritual items, or listening to local Pagan musicians. For those who have never attended a ritual, there are usually one or more held on-site; it is not difficult to strike up a conversation with those who are presenting or with those who are in various booths or at tables at the festival. Mentoring relationship can form from encounters with those who just start out as friends or as new sources of information about the community. Pagan Pride events are also great places to encounter community leaders, such as those listed by Crystal Blanton or Jaime Gironés in their recent Wild Hunt lists of influential Pagans. Stopping by the main booth at any Pagan Pride Day to ask who might be a good person to know is a great way for new Pagans to meet experienced members of the community.
Within many religious traditions, the training process starts with matching someone who has an interest in the tradition and its beliefs with someone who has a variety of positive experiences in the same tradition over a long period of time. This can be as straightforward and formal as the first teacher in a training class for seekers who ends up being a more permanent mentor when the individual progresses through to initiatory stages; the process could also be as casual as seeing someone from a different tradition once a year at Pagan Pride. The beauty of Pagan Pride is that it is a time to renew friendships, to make new friends, and to foster community growth.
Another way to find a mentor is through volunteering for Pagan Pride Day. Solitary practitioners may find the act of volunteering for such an event a way to gain mentors who can help to strengthen the practitioner’s connection with the community overall. This also helps to continue to ensure that large Pagan events such as Pagan Pride Day continue. While many communities have a celebratory Pagan Pride Day event, each year there are some communities that lose volunteers to the point they can no longer hold a community-wide Pagan Pride Day. One of the saddest sights to see is pictures from Pagan Pride Days in 2015, 2016, and 2017, followed by an announcement that there will not be a Pagan Pride Day 2018, which happened in Raleigh, North Carolina this year. It is sad because the Pagan community is so widespread in certain places that the only potential connection with others of a like mind is a public event such as Pagan Pride Day.
While there are many reasons to attend a local community Pagan Pride Day, one of the best is the opportunity to find a mentor. Mentors are guides who can help those who are new (and those who are not so new) navigate the myriad paths and traditions of the larger Pagan community. Mentorship is a gift for the recipient and the giver. Pagan Pride Day is about educating the general public about Paganism, but it is one day a year; the mentors one might find there, however, help the Pagan community continue to grow and thrive throughout the year.
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The views and opinions expressed by our diverse panel of columnists and guest writers represent the many diverging perspectives held within the global Pagan, Heathen and polytheist communities, but do not necessarily reflect the views of The Wild Hunt Inc. or its management.