This started as a stray thought after reading a number of things about the recent pop-culture pagan debate, and when I chased it down it turned into . . . something.
I’ve noticed a few experienced polytheists – people who I read because I respect them and find a great deal of inspiration in their writing – bemoan the fact that the “kids today” (meaning the majority of pagans/polytheists, but especially younger/newer pagans and polytheists) are too focused on socializing to take their religion seriously, that they’re willing to spend time and money going to things like Comicon but claim poverty about attending a multi-day religious festival, or putting the same energy into other religious activities that they put into hobbies.
And I’ve seen some of these same older folks freak the fuck out over Tumblr. I understand why, but I don’t want to digress from my main point.
Here’s what I think: many if not most people won’t get more into multi-day religious festivals or the like until it IS a bigger part of their lives, until it IS something with a really strong social component to it, where they go not just because of their desire to worship the gods, but because it is an integral part of their culture.
I don’t hang out on any big forums to know what sorts of socializing/culture is going on there, but I do know that there is a place where there IS that kind of mix of socializing combined with really strong love of practicing religion and spirituality, where people often express frustration over not having more places local to them where they could have those more serious ritual experiences and holidays. Where people talk about how their faith, their practices, their relationships with their gods affects their day-to-day life. And some of it is written in a way that sounds irreverent, but many of those people, in my experience, also talk about the serious aspects of their practice in a serious-sounding way. They are talking about both the big-picture hard stuff, the serious devotional work, along with the – well, fun aspects, and the little stuff that builds up and adds to the bigger picture.
And I really get how a lot of the Tumblr stuff does “make us look bad,” but I can’t just dismiss the Tumblr paganpolytheist “community” – because it’s not one cohesive community, ha ha ha NO – out of hand for being worthless because there is a lot of crap there, any more than I will dismiss the cranky older folks for being too cranky (or too old or too mean or whatever), because we need that, too, to push more people, to raise the bar and show examples of what really intense devotional practices can be, to crack the whip and inspire more from newcomers.
I don’t think everyone can or should be at that level of intensity in their practice, because in order for any polytheistic tradition to be a really full faith, we need a lot of people who are more or less “normal” people just as we need people who are pretty much full-time priests or nuns or similarly dedicated to their gods. If any polytheistic tradition is going to reach the kind of normalcy that the major monotheisms have (and polytheistic faiths in other parts of the world, like India), it has to be more common among people who aren’t godtouched.
Which means it has to be socially acceptable to some degree. Normal along with grocery shopping: People talking about saying a prayer to their tradition’s deity of wealth or abundance as they set out to buy groceries, and how they felt about that. That they then found an abandoned coupon book as they stepped into the store. All that little fluffy stuff that gets derided from time to time on the SRS BSNS parts of the internet.
We need community in order for this to turn into fuller worship, to create and sustain bigger rituals and festivals more often – and that mostly does not exist in any serious concentration in most cities. Not yet.
I don’t know that it will necessarily magically grow out of Tumblr (or Facebook, or whatever), but right now that is a place I know of where it IS acceptable to talk about all the little ways polytheistic practices are important to people, and an integrated part of people’s lives, and I can see how that is encouraging to other people, regardless of how sensitive they are to the presence of deities.
. . .
I always hated trying to write tidy conclusions to essays, so I won’t.