The Pagan Bubble Remix

There are two interesting posts that have gone up in the past few days–one by Teo Bishop guest-posting at the Wild Hunt, and the other, a response by John Beckett from Under the Ancient Oaks, over at Patheos.  Teo brings up the idea that Paganism exists inside of a bubble, and wonders if perhaps we would be better served to lose the bubble, while John argues that the bubble is a necessary and beneficial thing for the Pagan community, but perhaps it could use to be a bit more permeable.

We live in a Pagan bubble.

Mostly, we seem unaware that the bubble exists.

We talk a lot to ourselves, Pagans do. We talk to ourselves about who we are and who we are not. We talk to ourselves about what we believe, what we do not believe, and sometimes we even argue about whether or not belief is that meaningful.

We argue, Pagans do, within the Pagan bubble.

We also, at times, dive deep into meaningful conversations that look nothing like argument. Some of us sit in contemplation with the difficult stuff of community building, and we do so with grace and compassion. We are complicated, for certain.

~Teo Bishop  (read the rest)

I’m familiar with this phenomenon.  I mean, I do write a (mostly) Pagan blog, co-own and co-administer Pagan Forum, coordinate a Pagan meet-up, etc.  At least half of my leisure time is devoted to Pagan pursuits (with and without the witchkins), my husband is Pagan, and we are raising our children as Pagan (with a healthy dash of Unitarian Universalism).  When you walk into our home, you know something is up (well, not right now because mostly everything is packed for moving next month, but you know what I’m saying)…typically we have multiple altars, deity statuary, goddess art, a book shelf full of Pagan titles, herbs hanging from the ceiling and our open door wafts incense into the great outdoors.  I hang out quite a bit in the Pagan bubble…but even so, I’d hate to think that I live in the bubble.

I’ve talked about it before, but I’ve never been in the proverbial broom closet.  Not when I was in high school, or college, or the military, or back in college, or with the kid’s schools, or at any job I’ve ever had.  My religion is part of who I am, it informs my decision making and my morality, and I’ve made a conscious decision to not hide it.  At the same time, I don’t feel the need to wear a t-shit or jump up and down a shout it really loudly in line at the grocery either (I’m a fan of the “religion is like a penis” meme).  Instead, I feel very strongly about being seen as a person that happens to be Pagan, than being seen as a Pagan, if that makes sense?

As a result, I actually end up talking to a lot of people about Paganism…more people than I ever talked about during my Laurie Cabot lite stage (which I think is more off putting and other-ing than not).  And I’ve noticed some of the same problems as Teo:

But this talking to ourselves about ourselves is debilitating. We become steeped in our own lore, influenced by our own memetic waves, and stuck within a vocabulary and symbol system that could really benefit from a Universal Translator. We are well versed at talking about who we are to each other, but I’m beginning to think that we are (or, at least, I am) unpracticed at talking about who we are to people who do not share our vernacular.

~Teo Bishop (from the same post, really…go read it!)

Teo’s solution though, seems to be to ditch the bubble (although maybe not, if you read the comments), while John Beckett argues that the Pagan bubble is not just beneficial, but necessary, over at Patheos:

If the Pagan bubble goes away, what would keep you Pagan?”

Our mainstream society’s values are frequently at odds with our own. It promotes conformity, consumption, and the domination of the many by the few. It offers distractions and illusions and its attraction is strong.

If the Pagan bubble goes away, what would counteract popular culture? Is your connection to the old gods and to Nature strong enough? Is mine strong enough? Is the connection of the average Wiccan, Druid, Heathen, or Hellenist strong enough? Or would we meld into the mushy mainstream?

~John Beckett (read the rest)

I have a problem with the idea that the bubble is necessary to be Pagan–yes, it makes it easier, but I was Pagan before I found the bubble.

John also acknowledges the limitations of the bubble, and that we need a way to engage with those outside of our bubble. (And he offers one of my favorite ideas as a way to do this–the elevator speech.)

 …while we need the Pagan bubble, our bubble needs to be permeable. We need to be able to explain the essence of our Paganism to Catholics and Evangelicals and Buddhists and the ever-growing Nones. There are Pagan ideas the rest of the world desperately needs to hear, like the sacredness of Nature, the Divine Feminine, the multiplicity of the Divine, and a proper definition of sovereignty. These aren’t exclusively Pagan concepts, but we’re in a good position to articulate them.

Our bubble needs to be permeable both ways – we need to be open to good ideas and helpful practices no matter where they originate. We’re quick to borrow from other minority religions – sometimes too quick. Most of us have a positive view of Buddhism. But a good idea is a good idea, even if it comes from an atheist or a fundamentalist Christian.

~John Beckett (seriously, go read the rest!)

Reading both of their posts, I’ve come to a couple of conclusions in conjunction with my own observations.  For the most part, the Pagan community does exist in a sort of insular bubble.  This bubble has allowed (and continues to allow) us to grow and experience in a fairly safe environment and to develop aspects of language and symbolism and culture.  Unfortunately, this bubble has also created a wall that many people feel unable to come out from and from which many others aren’t well prepared to come out from.   More so, that wall creates a barrier to communication which might otherwise foster understanding and compassion in  both directions.  While the bubble is a great resource to have to return to, its not so much a healthy concept to carry around with us for our entire lives.

This means that we need to develop our Pagan elevator speeches and we need to learn to talk with our families and coworkers and acquaintances that have questions about our beliefs in a way that frames the conversation positively and leaves us on the offensive (rather than the defensive).  Perhaps this also means we need to consider that one of our skills to develop as Pagans is the ability to effectively communicate with people that aren’t Pagan in a way that fosters understanding and compassion on both “sides”.  The Pagan bubble needs to be permeable, but it also needs to be transparent* and accessible.  

The public should be able to see us, to be able to talk to us…and to do that, we need people that are present outside the bubble.  We don’t need more Pagans (though that would be cool), we need more everyday people that are Pagan and actively engaging the the big wide world as people that happen to be Pagan out loud–construction workers and doctors and lawyers and teachers and soldiers and plumbers and secretaries and whatever.  We don’t need more authors and speakers, we need more people that speak up with their families and in their communities. When fear keeps us in the closet, we lose an en everyday example of a person that happens to be Pagan–and actions speak louder than words.

*By transparency, I mean that we need to be visible, not that we need to expose people against their will or to expose that which is oath-bound (people should be able to wave at us from the outside and we should still see them).  
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About thalassa

I'm a occasionally-doting wife, damn proud momma of two adorable children, veteran of the United States Navy, part-time semi-steampunk hausfrau, a bohemian beach addict from middle America, Civil War reenactor and Victorian natural history aficionado, a canoeing and kayaking and paddleboarding fanatic, a Unitarian Universalist and pantheistic Pagan, and a kitchen witch, devotee of various aquatic deities, and practitioner of Spiritual Bioregionalism. View all posts by thalassa

2 responses to “The Pagan Bubble Remix

  • thewanderingfound

    I’ve come to basically the same conclusions you did. Personally, I like the bubble. I don’t think I get ‘enough’ of the bubble, honestly, especially in the context of in-person community. Still, I have found myself a bit stumped at how to communicate Paganism to outsiders. A large part of that is that Paganism is so vast and varied, how can I possibly speak for everyone? But another part of that is that our language can be so…specified…that it can be difficult to quickly explain to someone else.

    I like to think of bubble as a resource, like a touchstone or ‘home’. But it shouldn’t be someplace we never venture from. And it should also be a place we feel comfortable bringing others, you know? Permeability and all.

    I love the idea of elevator speeches. I’m definitely going to work on developing a few!

  • Shadow

    I like the bubble to. It is a safe space where I can engage in in-depth conversations without having to take the time out to explain specific concepts. All specialised interests/hobbies etc operate within their own bubble to some extent, and so they should imho. I do however agree that the pagan bubble needs to be both permeable and transparent.

    Interestingly, I have found the more involved I am within the bubble, the more I am willing to open about it outside of it. My understanding of who I am and what I believe has grown within the bubble, and so has my confidence to share this part of myself outside it.

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