To Be Pagan Without Community

Solitary Tree

I spent the morning catching up with an “online” friend, forging a new “on ground” relationship. The internet is amazing, really. To be able to initiate these kinds of relationship and build community having only the context of Facebook or an e-mail forum is phenomenal. I’m a transplant to this town, and yet there are people here who know me, and who are willing to show me such great hospitality.

My friend and I talked about ADF, about Druidry, and about our own personal, evolutionary spiritualities. I haven’t had many occasions to talk about my spiritual path post-ADF. My departure still feels pretty fresh. Part of what makes a former spiritual tradition feel like it’s former is having the opportunity to talk about it in past tense. There’s a great value in working through your thoughts with people who either understand directly what you’re going through, or who are simply willing to listen. I was grateful to have that opportunity today.

I heard myself speak of the things that frustrated me about ADF; things that I haven’t written about online. I’ve made a deliberate choice not to spend too much time writing publicly about what I see as problematic in the religion, its infrastructure or its practices. I have no intention of bad-mouthing ADF. I’m not that dude. I don’t think that would be productive or kind.

But bringing up my departure leads me to wonder how important belonging to a new group is at this point in my spiritual journey.

I’ve been going through a few of the OBOD gwers over the past few days and thinking about picking up my Bardic studies. There’s an OBOD seed group here in Portland, and although it isn’t incredibly active I find comfort in knowing there are a few Druid-leaning people in the area. This seed group is even leading the closing ritual at the upcoming Pagan Pride day event in Salem.

A part of me feels eager to develop some kind of religious community here in Portland, but then another part of me is hesitant. I don’t need a rebound relationship. I don’t want to find some new thing to dive into, to distract myself with, or to serve as a replacement for what ADF has been over the past few years.

I also don’t want to rush into taking on the mantle of a new tradition. This morning my friend told me that, from all outside appearances, I looked to be completely invested in ADF. And I think I was invested. Mostly. Almost completely. I think I was as invested as I could be while still holding a certain amount of space for my own doubts and uncertainties. I’m not sure I believe that any one tradition is 100% complete or correct, and because of this I always hold open just a little bit of space for the possibility that it won’t be the right thing for me.

Perhaps this works to my detriment. I don’t know.

But I think about going to PPD and introducing myself to the local OBODies, and I wonder if I can manage to do that without diving in head-first into a new group. I wonder if there’s a way for me to engage in fellowship without needing to fully become some new thing. It would be nice to place the focus on community building in a grass-roots way: slower, more deliberate, more patient.

This is a liminal space. I’m not really any one thing, and I’m in a position where I have to get to choose what I want to become. There’s something exciting about that, even if that excitement comes with a degree of uncertainty. I could become a full fledged OBOD member again, or I could look into AODA. I could hunt down something altogether different, or — perhaps the scariest choice of all — I could decide to navigate what it means to be Pagan without community. With as much work as I’ve done for solitaries, I’m not sure I know how to be a Pagan without belonging to a group, and I think it would be a mistake to rush through this process simply because the solitude feels uncomfortable.

Fast as a speeding oak always seemed like a terrible slogan. It used to bother me so much. It’s funny, though, because now it seems like sage advice for me. Perhaps the trees could have served as better teachers if I’d have let them.

I always thought that ADF moved too slowly, but I wonder how much of that was influenced by me moving too fast.


Photo by Jez Elliott






29 responses to “To Be Pagan Without Community”

  1. Wytchfawn Avatar

    You raise some interesting points, but honestly… you are just a seeker bumping around in the dark like the rest of us. As someone who transplanted to an unknown city recently, I kinda relate… but I became in introvert instead and selectively made appearances at events.

    me, I have found much MORE in solitude than being active in the
    community. For me, spiritual life is not about community at all. I have been an ADF member and OBOD member for years… but do nothing WITH these folks. But then again, I am in it for different reasons than other Pagans; my witchcraft is not necessarily part of my religion so the two are sometimes mutually exclusive of each other.

    I guess my point is this: YOU are not like the regular Pagans in the community. YOU are what I term “Pagan Celebrity”: you have speaking/singing engagements, people interview you, soon you’ll write a book (I’m sure of it). If that is what your path is, then great! This path needs folks like that… but you cannot just go full-on hermit-mode because your ‘fans’ will be disappointed. You always have a choice.

    Good journeys and thoughts, Fawn )O(

  2. David Crawford Avatar
    David Crawford

    This is a very nicely written piece Teo, though I was not aware you had left ADF. I agree with you that no one religion is complete or the right one. ADF for me is like a piece of canvas, it is the base on which I paint my own master piece. I pull from all my skills and knowledge, I pull from all that I am learning, and what I find is that just like the saying goes ‘Fast as a speeding oak’ is about the right speed so that something wonderful comes from what I create, because even in a community of Pagans your spirituality is always solo for no one but you shares your temple.

  3. korper Avatar

    Teo, I keep bouncing between Paganism & Buddhism (not that a choice is necessary, of course) with similar frustrations from both communities, and on my most recent visit to a zendo, I asked the sensei why she thought sangha (community) was important because I found it to be the most difficult part of practice. To my surprise, she said that was the case for everybody. But she also thought it important because, like someone else mentioned, it challenges you to get out of your comfort zone. Personally, I despise being out of my comfort zone, so I’m sure that makes it doubly important, but that doesn’t mean I’ve figured out a solution. I hope you find a like-minded community out there, or at least a close-enough-minded community. And if not, like you said, the internet *is* amazing….

  4. elffkat Avatar

    There are several Druid Clan of Dana wgich is part of the Fellowship of Isis in your area also.

  5. Stephani Avatar

    It feels to me as if you’re struggling with the vertical vs. horizontal relationship to your paganism. I think what drew me to this online community was that everyone acknowledges what I call a vertical connection to earth, spirit, and purpose. When we are called out into the world the horizontal pull often throws us off our vertical commitment. When I get too wonky, I try to stay in my vertical orientation so that I may honor others in theirs. But it isn’t easy, modernity with its loud, fast and big offerings can easily pry us from grounding in our truth, not just ours but any. I have above my computer this great saying, I think it is by Somerset Maugham; It’s easy to be a wise man on top of a mountain.’ Amen, wouldn’t it be nice, but my life requires that I carry that mountain around with me while that horizontal pull keeps on pulling.
    Blessings to you Teo, and the very best wishes for the next step of your journey, thanks so much for sharing.

    1. Rory Avatar

      Well said. The vertical/horizontal thing is important, and I find it is simpler to have a relationship with my human, Pagan kindred when the other kindred relations are in solid balance. Beautiful extension of the mountain quote!

  6. Oididio Avatar

    See, I feel on the opposite side of the spectrum, having NOT had any community interaction for years, I’m starving for it! I live in a challenging area, admittedly. There are no meetups, no fb groups, nothing listed on Witchvox.
    I was recently a member of ADF and my membership lapsed. I think I was looking for something that wasn’t there perhaps. As a solitary with no community outlet, the work you did with SDF was monumental because it felt like someone was actually doing something FOR solitaries, rather than leave them as an afterthought.
    I may check into OBOD again myself but I don’t think there’s anything fundamentally wrong with spending time as a solitary. It can help teach you the strength of endurance, if nothing else.

  7. Michael Golden Avatar
    Michael Golden

    Each and every one of us grow at our own speed. Whether we stay in a group, coven, or grove doesn’t really matter as a community. What really matters is how WE feel about ourselves. I don’t know of anyone who has started with a group and stayed with them for their entire life’s work. As we grow we are expected to change. Change is essential, and without change we cannot grow. I’ve read a lot of your input within ADF and I feel it has helped me in some areas, as I am sure it has also helped others. That I thank you for. Spread your branches and see where the wind takes you next.

    M golden/ Manatee Oak Protogrove

  8. Debbie Doggett Avatar
    Debbie Doggett

    I left my coven after recognizing that it no longer fit me, or the path I had taken. Not long after I moved to another city and I’ve found it difficult to connect with other groups in the area. I’ve made a couple of contacts but again I felt I didn’t fit. Now I seem to be what you said, a pagan without community and I’m not sure that fits me either. I miss the connections but I don’t want to make false connections that lead me to another group that isn’t me.

  9. Heartache Into Beauty Avatar

    So much this, yes. It’s like you’re speaking what is going on in my head. I left a Wiccan tradition about a year and a half ago, and I find myself so reluctant to participate in other groups because I feel I can no longer completely trust pagan leadership or my reaction to leadership, and like you said, at this point it would still feel like a rebound relationship.

    1. Teo Bishop Avatar

      Thanks for the comment, HIB. I totally respect where you’re coming from. I’m not sure I’m feeling distrust, personally, or a reaction to leadership. But I understand those feelings and I know how they can make it hard to reach out.

      I’m curious — have you managed to maintain a Wiccan practice while being away from any groups? Do you feel like you’ve retained some kind of Wiccan identity while away from group work?

      1. Heartache Into Beauty Avatar

        Well, yes and no. I realized during the transition that my belief structure, practices, etc. do not fit in with the Wiccan paradigm, so I don’t identify as Wiccan anymore. But I’m still definitely neopagan and a witch. I’ve retained some of my forms of practice that still work for me, and developed new forms of practice. In some ways I’ve found it refreshing to be religiously accountable to no one but myself and my gods.

    2. Rory Avatar

      Disenchantment with “leadership” is, I think, a necessary part of becoming mature.

  10. Andrea Joy Kendall Avatar
    Andrea Joy Kendall

    If you are just looking to meet other Pagans, meetups can be great. When my husband and I moved to Hillsboro about a year ago we knew no one. Now we have a group of friends.

    The nice thing about the meetups is that they are more social. A nice way to connect to community without having to join a group.

    Personally I have gone to the once a month Tuesday meetup at McMenamins Imbrie hall and the Saturday morning Magickal Musings at Maplewood Coffeee and Tea. If you are interested check out the meetup group “Witches of Cascadia”.

    And welcome to the area.

    1. Teo Bishop Avatar

      Thank you for the welcome, Andrea. I appreciate it.

      I’ve given some thought to Meetups, and participated in a few back in Colorado. I’ve seen that there are some in town, including Witches of Cascadia. Perhaps I’ll drop in sometime.

      Blessings to you!

  11. Nick Ritter Avatar
    Nick Ritter

    Almost 13 years ago, I fell out of the major organization-cum-tradition that I was affiliated with, and this was in no small part because of my frustrations with my perceived inability to grow within it. I spent about 6 months trying to sort out what *I* thought, outside of and beyond any sort of affiliation, and came to the conclusion that my place was to help that tradition as an independent outsider, sharing their beliefs but not bound by their structure. Five years later, I started to rebuild some of the bridges I’d burnt. Nine years after that initial break, I re-entered that tradition in full.

    There is value in stepping back from involvement, in being alone and unaffiliated for a while and sorting oneself out. In Theodism, we call this “going into the woods”. This is recognized as a necessary thing for some people (most, actually). Some who go “into the woods” never come back to us; some remain “in the woods” and some find their homes in other groups with other traditions. Those who come back are usually better for it.

    I don’t know if any of this has any similarity to your situation, and I would not presume to offer you advice on a situation I know so little about; but, something you said struck a note of sympathy:

    “I always thought that ADF moved too slowly, but I wonder how much of that was influenced by me moving too fast.”

    That is exactly how I used to feel about Theodism.

    1. Teo Bishop Avatar

      I wish there was a campfire we could sit around, Nick. 🙂 Thanks for sharing your perspective here. And thank you for giving some terminology to what I feel like right now.

      I am very much going into the woods.

  12. Melissa Hill Avatar
    Melissa Hill

    I’ve been in one pagan religious community or another for 15 years now. For a while about half way through that time, I took a break. But I couldn’t leave it alone, and I ended up joining ADF. Having spent quite a bit of time in the pagan community and some time as a non-affiliated pagan I have noticed one thing. It’s always uncomfortable. In one way or another, my religious practice challenges me in ways that I don’t really find pleasant. As an eclectic, it was a lack of scholarship or leadership. I felt like there was no one to teach me. And then I was alone and I found that after a time I missed the companionship of others, even if community drove me crazy and I felt abandoned and unloved. I missed ritual in a circle of like minded individuals. So I joined ADF when the opportunity came by and helped start a grove. That’s brought it’s own challenges, but I think they’re of the sort that makes me a better person and I like that.

    Community is one of the most challenging things we as pagans can attempt. I also believe it’s one of the most valuable. So I stick with my community, even when I occasionally want to tear my hair out, mostly because they’re my friends, and somewhere along the way they became my family. If every way of practicing a spirituality is challenging, and I believe it is, then I choose the way where everyone gets to come along for the ride. It’s chaotic and messy and loud. Occasionally there are weird sounds or someone farts. But that’s good with me. All acts of love and pleasure are my rituals, and it’s my pleasure to work with these people.

    1. Teo Bishop Avatar

      Thank you for this testimony, Melissa. I’m glad that you’ve found a community that brings you such pleasure (if also the occasional foul odor!).

  13. Lynda E Avatar
    Lynda E

    I’ve spent so much of my life where you are right now. There is no right or wrong, but for me… I couldn’t let myself be a part of a group until I was fully fine with being alone. Then I could let go of the bits of the group that weren’t for me without feeling that either them or myself was ‘wrong’. It took years and years and years to get there though, and I think I burned the occasional bridge just with the sparks from my legs running over it so fast. Best of luck in your journey, wherever it takes you and at whatever speed!

    1. Teo Bishop Avatar

      I think I may have burned a few bridges in a similar fashion, Lynda. Perhaps without even realizing it.

      Thank you for the supportive comment. I appreciate it.

  14. Sharon Avatar

    I left ADF around May after 7 months of intensive study and turning myself inside out trying to make it work for me. The frustration finally got the better of me…but I won’t go into details. I wasn’t ready to give up the Druid path though so I joined OBOD and BDO and began their Bardic courses. I don’t think it is necessarily recommended to do both at once, but it works for me. The two groups really compliment each other and differ just enough to make it interesting.
    I believe I’ve really found what I was looking for in these two organizations. They both work great whether one is solitary or a grove member, and there is pretty much limitless leeway given to how one believes and how one practices. They go out of their way to tell you the lessons show you one way you can do things, but to feel free to find your own way. What matters in the end is the experience and going forward as intelligent, spiritual souls with a mission to improve the earth and everything upon it. About living Druidry minute to minute.
    Can’t say enough great things about OBOD and BDO.

    1. Rory Avatar

      For the modest amount of money it costs to be a member of ADF I find it is useful to toss in my annual dues, even if I am not active in any particular way. It is important for me that subscription organizations such as the Unitarian Universalist Association and ADF continue to exist in the world, regardless of my agreement or active participation. I’m a member of my local NAACP and NPR station for the same reasons: not because I am active but because I support their existence and think it provides a necessary chalkmark on the great wall of creation.

      At $25 per year I think it is worth it to join four years at a time in hopes of moving the idea of ADF forward, even when I am not actively involved.

      1. Wytchfawn Avatar

        Thanks for pointing this out Rory. I am about to renew my ADF membership and have been contemplating if I SHOULD due to my lack of community involvement. But you make some VERY good points here.
        Fawn )O(

  15. Rory Avatar

    There have been, I believe, five ADF “protogroves” in the Portland area over the past thirty years or so, and a couple of OBOD seed-groups. I agreed to spend two years working to form a sixth ADF protogrove and let that effort fold at the end of two years, having come to believe that most Pagan types either don’t want to be in religious community or are incapable. A group of friends is one thing, but a religious community or congregation takes a different set of attitudes and skills than I feel most Pagans have or care to develop, which is fine.

    The default model for a US religious community is a physical Christian church with weekly services, clergy and parishioners: a model which ADF largely was aiming toward, but experience on the ground makes me think that this is not necessarily a good Pagan one. Why be in a hurry to build structure? If one feels the need for structure, what is one aiming to prop up?

    The Druid Order refers to its members as “druid companions” and I think that is probably a healthier model than the clergy/parishioner one, especially when so many Pagans want to fancy themselves clergy or priests. Let it be enough to be a good Pagan, at home in the worlds and in proper relation with the kindred. If one has that, I think it is quite hard to be lonely.

    Community is so much more than nominative religion, with many other, simpler and stronger bonds. Welcome to Cascadia!

    1. Teo Bishop Avatar

      Thank you for the warm welcome, Rory, and the friendship. Thank you for your insights, and your willingness to listen. And for this:

      “Community is so much more than nominative religion, with many other, simpler and stronger bonds.”

      May these bonds be forged again and again over good beer, good food, and good conversation.

  16. Lupa Avatar

    One of the nice things about this area is that there are a lot of unaffiliated pagans of varying sorts. This includes a number of pagans you won’t find at the public events, but who fall pretty easily out of the branches if you take anything like the queer community, gamers, SCA, or other alt groups and nudge them a bit. And even among the more public pagans, there’s no pressure to be a part of any group; it’s easy to be social here without too much commitment.

    1. Teo Bishop Avatar

      Thanks for the feedback, Lupa.

      It’s interesting to be in this place, because it wasn’t that long ago that group affiliation meant something to me. The idea that now I’m someone that doesn’t want “too much commitment” is strange. It’s going to take some getting used to.

      1. Lupa Avatar

        *nods* when I moved here a few years ago I didn’t leave a group behind, but I did leave behind a good group of friends, pagan and otherwise. I think I jumped in a bit quicker than I might have out of loneliness, and in hindsight I probably was trying to replace something i thought I’d lost. Take your time to deal with all the changes, and let things develop organically (we PNWers love anything organic, ya know!)

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