During my brief stint in Seminary, my classmates faced careers in which keeping people in the pews was a major concern. Meanwhile, I worried about meeting the demands of a swelling congregation, and still do. I'm not the only Pagan Priestess with this issue. On any given night of the week in this city, a ritual is happening somewhere, and publicly. This isn't a brag-blog. My faith's growing popularity frightens me as much as it excites me.
Every six weeks, as a new Sabbat (holiday) rolls around, more people fill the rented room where my Coven hosts its rituals. I'm frequently asked to teach more classes and lead more rites. Parents want family Witchcraft classes. I am frequently sought for marriage ceremonies. The Pagan movement is growing.
I practice Progressive Witchcraft. My Divine is both masculine and feminine, reflected in the soil, rocks, trees, and the movements of the Sun and Moon. It is Progressive because it is ever-evolving. My Coven builds spiritual practice and rituals to suit the needs of our community. On Saturday, we will honor the holiday of Imbolc. Imbolc is an old, agricultural holiday which marked the time when fresh food was available for the first time in months. In contemporary NYC, where our lives are not tied to agricultural cycles, we will celebrate Imbolc by raising energy to awakening ourselves from winter doldrums. Guests include teens accompanying their parents, college students, working people, and Elders. We are a rainbow of races, ethnicities, demographics, and genders. In our Circles, people are not only accepted for their differences, they are celebrated for them.
My spiritual practice falls under the umbrella of "Pagan," but I suppose the true shape of Paganism is more like a sprawling bazaar tent. Paganism is less of a religious term and more of one that encompasses modern earth-based spiritual practices. Some stem from ancient beliefs and traditions, others are reconstructions, and still others are wholly new. There are hundreds of other spiritualities quite different from mine that sit beneath the Pagan umbrella. If I even tried to list them all, I'd run way over my 1,000-word limit.
For decades, contemporary Pagans kept quiet. Some feared religious discrimination, others simply preferred secrecy. There are still areas of the country where it is not safe for Pagans to be "out." Just a few weeks ago, a Pagan Spiritual Center received a Molotov cocktail as a New Year's toast. But the secrecy is fading, fast. Sometimes I miss the mysterious nature of my early days in the Craft, but when the glamorous secrecy fades away, the stability through "We are everywhere" (as one of my favorite Pagan bumper stickers says) begins. There is a benefit to becoming big and public. It's easier find a Chaplain, should one of us need one. It's nice to have our holidays listed in mainstream calendars. It's less exciting when our holidays are co-opted for commercialism (Hello, Gap ads for Winter Solstice!), but few faiths are exempt from that. Moreover, Pagans are taking to the courthouse and the streets to address the challenges of racial injustice, environmental degradation, poverty, and more. Like so many game-changers before us, we are fueled by our faith to shape the world into one we want to live in. We are large and our voices are loud.
But is this growth temporary? Has media depicting Witches at Sabbats, modern Druids at Stonehenge, or Orisha priests divining oracles made Pagan religions "cool" and faddish? Maybe. But I think Paganism is growing because of its endemic connection to the Earth. We are scared. Our planet is suffering and therefore, our spirits suffer. An Earth-honoring faith is not only a balm; it is motivation to change this pattern of destruction. I see elements of Paganism making their influence into other mainstream faiths. I recently met a predominant Baptist preacher refer to God as "He or She." I also heard of a group of Rabbis who began a service by standing in a Circle and inviting the four Elementals to join them. The worship of God reflected in the planet is growing.
Even in this growth, Paganism has the potential to be a short-lived swell. Like many religions, youths raised Pagan are increasingly identifying as "Spiritual, but not religious." Gwendolyn Reece, a faculty member at American University, conducted a national survey in 2012 entitled Pagan/Witch/Heathen Community Needs Assessment Survey that found 1632 (34.6%) of 3296 participants indicated that they are not raising children as Pagans. We've grown quickly in only a few decades. Will we shrink just as fast?
The wanna-be philosopher in me sees ebbs and flows in us as in all religions--self-searching and debates, division and harmony, infrastructures rising and crumbling, corruption and wholeness--the numbers rising and falling. The big hippy in me sees our hearts breaking open in joy of this world that we live in and simply reveling in Spirit without caring about the label of "Pagan" or not. The realist in me wants a cup of tea and to get on with her day because in truth, it's too soon to tell.
We're too young as a formal demographic. We cannot tell the future of Paganism any more that one can tell the future of a small child. Traces of that child's future may be evident through their budding personality and family resources, but the world has a lot of things it will eventually offer the child--both beautiful and harmful. Paganism is much the same. We're young and we're still growing. Our future will be determined by those who practice and pray, invest their time and resources, search their souls and work with others--both in Paganism and in other faiths.
I only hope that as we become mainstream, we never lose our reveling in "otherness." I hope that we continue to adore the wild and the weird. Let us grow, but let us never sanitize. Let us breathe and keep breathing and see what comes next.
So mote it be.