“It is vain to talk of the interest of the community, without understanding what is the interest of the individual.”
Dread-laden whispers speak of “the community”…what’s best for it, what drama is in it, and how we can serve it. “The community” has become a sort of beast that many Pagans are not sure how to manage and many have opted to avoid altogether. For those brave souls who try to tough it out and interact with it, the experience can be rewarding, not unlike gaining the trust of a particularly skittish and close-to-insane cat.
When working with “the community”, it is best to come equipped with a thick skin. It can lash out with little to no warning, completely misunderstand your intentions, or just be in a sour mood. This is likely due to internalized pain, but it’s a pain we’ve had trouble treating. “The community”, that is, the Pagan community, has grown so large and so varied that it can be difficult to ascertain what’s best for it. How can you help the whole of the community if it’s made up of so many different, unique parts? The answer: by treating the different parts. By helping the individuals.
Many Pagans feel as if they do not have the time, the money, or the energy to commit to their practice, let alone a community. I wonder if this is because the society we live in teaches us that we are all born lacking and that no matter what we do, we are still somehow falling short. A person who has grown accustomed to hearing this, and worse, believing this, might wonder what the point of trying to better themselves is. Why try, why improve, why put effort into yourself if you will never be good enough? This leads to the belief that they have nothing to offer the community, so they withdraw into themselves and shut down. Paganism teaches us that everyone is capable of improving themselves, however. Even our Gods know that they are not perfect and that there are areas of themselves they have to work on before they can be of any use to anyone else.
I am reminded of Odin, the All-Father of the Norse people. “All-Father” sounds pretty impressive, doesn’t it? Even with such a lofty title, however, Odin acknowledges that He is not perfect. There’s still so much that He doesn’t know, even with all His years and all His wisdom. Odin is willing to work hard and go to extreme lengths to improve himself, as He knows that improvement does not happen over night or with no effort. In one story He sacrificed one of His eyes in order to prove that He was worthy to drink from a well of knowledge. In another story He starved Himself for nine days, wounded Himself, and hung Himself from a tree in order to gain the knowledge of runes. If even a God is willing to work hard to better Himself, how can we mortals do any less?
Take a look at your life, both spiritual and mundane, and decide which areas you need to improve. Are you having trouble starting a devotional practice? Do you need help organizing your finances? Are you continuing your education? There are so many areas we can all improve in, and the amazing thing is that we don’t have to do it alone! Community is more than just a group of people who show up for potlucks…community is a network of people with knowledge and interests that they can share with and teach others. By bettering ourselves and in turn helping others in our community to better themselves by sharing our knowledge, we honor the lessons we have learned and our place in the grand design.
Remember, being Pagan is not about having the shiniest Pagan toys, the latest Pagan books, or attending the swankiest Pagan festivals. Being Pagan is about honoring the Gods, honoring the land, honoring death, and honoring life. Honor is something the richest and the poorest of us are able to give, and give much of. Bettering yourself, and in turn sharing that with others so that they can also better themselves, is one way to be honorable and give honor. This is how you build a strong community.
Ashley Nicole Hunter
Vice President at Pentacles of Pride, Int.