So what does it take to create community, and is having one really all that worthwhile? There are many things that we are very grateful for in our little corner of the wider Pagan world, but one of that time and again we received fantastic comments on and engagement with is what we call our Túath.
The word comes from old Irish and as one might expect it has a variety of meanings, but chief among them is ‘people’ referring to a tribe, collective, or in our case a community.
The Nature of Humanity
Humans as a species are not the fastest, toughest, or even the most skilled predators on our planet, yet we have ascended to a primary place in its ecosystems. Despite our lack of individual ability, it is the fact that our ancestors functioned as a collective that has enabled us to evolve into the beings we are today.
We know for a fact that early humans hunted and preyed upon creatures much larger and more deadly than ourselves. This was accomplished by our ability to work collaboratively, sharing ideas and intentions within a collective.
It is inbuilt within us to bond with others. From the pheromones that our infants give off (that new baby smell is a real thing folks) to the development of behavioural traits that our peers accept and respect, to personal traits that will allow us to attracts a partner with whom we can share our lives, humans have a need, even on the lowest of levels, for interaction and engagement with others.
We have a need to create community.
Declaring Authentic Boundaries
One might think that declaring one’s boundaries is creating some form of wall or blockage to the formation of community, a form of restriction that leads to gated groups and echo chambers.
Well, I guess that could happen if things are done with a closed mind, defensiveness, or fear. Yet if we avoid negative motivators and honestly and proudly declare our boundaries then we are not building walls, we are instead building flags that will help others to find their way to each other, and to have honest expectations from the outset.
For example, in Irish Pagan School Community spaces we are loudly against racism, sexism, ableism, homophobia and transphobia. We do not accept hate speech of any kind. We work hard to raise the awareness of native voices and call out the harms of cultural appropriation on indigenous people.
Now I know there are a lot of big words in that statement, many of which might for some reason or another cause a certain amount of discomfort. The thing is by being upfront from the beginning we are raising our flag tall so that those who share our stance, have been harmed by hate speech, or had their voice marginalised will know that they have safe space within our groups.
Of course it can be a challenge to be vocal about one’s principles because there will no doubt be those who don’t share the same values as we do. Yet when creating a healthy and engaged community, one does not do it from a place of denying access to those who differ from us, but by being open about our authentic values and welcoming. Those who share the values will find a space easily, but also those who are willing to learn to change their perspectives in keeping with the principles can find security in their time of growth.
Always Open to Growth
People are not static things. We have such a great capacity for learning, growing and changing that over our lifespan we may become someone very different indeed from wherever we started. This is fundamental to human nature and given that communities are collectives of humans, they too need to allow space for change.
Communities with clearly defined boundaries don’t restrict change, but instead give frameworks in which changes can occur safely, but even those boundaries themselves do need to be subject to revision should change be required.
This is what we mean when we talk about growth. Healthy communities need to be spaces that make allowances where possible for growth. Mistakes happen. Misunderstandings occur. Miscommunications are inevitable. Yet communities that take a stance of compassion first, will almost always manage to remain stable and safe in times of growth.
In the Irish Pagan School spaces we have adopted a quote from Maya Angelou, an American memoirist, popular poet, and civil rights activist.
“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”
Purpose and Intent
Having covered a lot of ground already it’s important to ensure that this step is not forgotten when we begin the process to create community because this is in essence the ‘Why’ of it all.
Taking time to define this means that there are not just clear boundaries, but also clear direction for the collective. Be it a group who gather to discuss the meaning of life, explore the rise of expressionism in art, dedicate some time and energy towards a deity or environment, pursue activism to improve the life and options of others, or even just watch a favoured sports team or play make believe with a variety of polyhedral dice. Communities with purpose engage its members’ passions so that the flow and exchange of thoughts and ideas become something that stimulate and engage our interest.
Likewise it is important to be clear on the intent of the collective. This is where honest and authentic principles and purposes really come to the fore. There are many troubling stories out there of communities which appear to fit a collective need, only to have its members realise that they are participating in some hidden marketing project, or data gathering exercise, or worse a cult of personality.
Having a clear intent at the outset means there are no ulterior motives or agendas. For example the Irish Pagan School community is for students of the school to engage in discussion and connection with other people who follow Irish Pagan interests. Or the Morrigan’s Cave and Dagda’s hearth facebook groups where the focus is solely dedicated to discussion and sharing of content that is specifically about these deities.
So Why have Community?
There are of course many spaces out there as there are many facets to every human out there. As we grow and connect more and more in our global landscape there are more opportunities to explore and enrich our lives in connection to others.
Yet we cannot leave a discussion on creating communities without reiterating how important and impactful the acceptance and recognition of a collective is to each of us. We are social creatures. We cannot exist in isolation. In fact scientific studies show that isolating a human from others is so detrimental that it is now considered a form of torture.
Feeling of rejection and alienation are sadly all too common in our world. A world where we are raised to judge one another, either by our gender, sexual preference, ethnicity, education, social status or any number of factors. Those that seem to conform receive the acceptance, protection and benefits of certain collectives, while those that do not are ostracised, othered, or in the worst cases, assaulted and killed.
What everybody ought to know about creating community is that every person, regardless of their apparent differences, deserve recognition, acceptance and protection. Community isn’t just about how our species has survived. It is how we have thrived, grown, evolved and needs to be seen as core to the human condition. We are always stronger together. We are always more when we gather than when we are isolated, and when that gathering has clear boundaries for the safety of all, clear purpose and intent to establish direction for the collective intellect and energies of the community, well, then even the largest or most daunting of challenges will be no match for us.
Where To Now?
If you think that Paganism is interesting, and might even be something you’d like to explore further, you can always: