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Yesterday Dan and I were talking about pagan groups and organizations. I still hold to my belief that human interaction is optimal within small groups. We build large ones because we need them, because we have developed into a society that needs them, but they never do work all that well.

I'm not bashing the big groups (heck, I belong to three, although I'm not all that active in all of them)--I like them, and what they are good at, they are very good at. Generally speaking, the groups I'm familiar with (ADF, The Troth, Hellenion) are great for networking and for providing information on their respective religions, for educating members, and for training clergy. All the big-picture stuff.

What you can't get out of a large organization is spiritual experience and group identity/cohesiveness/that sense of "family." For that, you need a smaller group. And the large organizations recognize this--ADF is made up of solitaries and of groves, and, honestly, there is a lot that a sol is not going to get out of ADF because they lack the grove experience. Same with Hellenion, I suspect. Both of those groups are designed around the concept of group worship, and provide for the formation of official groups--groups that are a part of the larger organization, and that fact is underlined by whatever requirements the larger organization puts on them (public rituals, reporting requirements, particular holidays that must be celebrated, etc.). The Troth does it a little differently; there are Troth-affiliated groups but as far as I know The Troth does not attempt to control what these groups do in any strong sense--and it seems to be more a matter of existing groups choosing to affiliate with the larger organization rather than smaller groups originating as a group of the larger organization.

My personal feeling these days is that, while I find my as-an-individual memberships in these groups rewarding, I am really not interested in affiliating as a group with any large organization. I like being autonomous--I like it that the only considerations as to what to do and how to do it are the preferences of our group. I just don't see any benefits to joining a larger organization as a group that would override the advantages of being a single unit, not at this point, at least.

But I know I could be thinking this because of having been part of a failed ADF protogrove--which is to say, the group stopped being a part of ADF. We existed for several years before then, and we are still going strong, several years later. Over time, we changed. I don't foresee any substantive changes in the future because we seem to have reached our home base as a heathen kindred. And the particular group of people was/is more important than any identification with a particular organization could be. What was important was finding a way that we-as-a-group could work together to honor the gods.

Comments

( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
qorinda
Jun. 21st, 2004 09:27 pm (UTC)
Very interesting post, and something I have talked over with my little grove. We are affiliated with ADF, but for awhile, I began to obsess about numbers and doing it the way ADF wanted us to do it, and making a good impression, and being a good representative of the mother grove. My "grovees" jumped all over me, and said I was missing the spirit of the thing, that we are together because we LIKE to be together, and we like worshipping together, and NOT because we are meeting some quota or whatever. Since I changed my attitude to reflect just THAT, other things seem to be coming together for us. Go figure.

But first and foremost, always, and even WITH ADF as a national organization, I think the focus HAS to be on honoring the gods and goddesses from our heart, and as long we have our hearts engaged, we are on the right track.
hearthstone
Jun. 22nd, 2004 12:58 am (UTC)
I think in retrospect our error was in not preparing sufficiently before joining ADF as a group. We had researched the standard liturgy fairly well--I remember evenings spent poring over the official material, in addition to as many different groups' variations on the liturgy as I could find. Maybe if we had done more actual ADF-style ritual before signing up as a PG...although I'm really not sure that would have helped, as it took a while before we realized it just wasn't working for us (a small and fairly minimalist group, we have always been a bit "low church"). For us, simpler was and is better. Since we found ourselves trimming away so many parts of the ADF liturgy, it seemed like a good sign that this just was not the place for us.

Note: I've been to one of SLG's rits, so I do know how impressive the ADF liturgy can be like when done by someone who is comfortable with it. I'd go to more of them--I just wouldn't be the one doing the ritual, because I am much better at other forms.
weofodthignen
Jun. 21st, 2004 10:51 pm (UTC)
I think large groupings are necessary to enable people to find mates outside the clan. And to a lesser extent for protection against other large groups--for example, as a hospitality resource when one travels. The latter is still very much the case for us today--think of the person who relocates, for example, and most of us will relocate within five years. So no matter how deplorable it may be that we are compelled to concatenate our small groups into confederations and nations to defend ourselves against others, there are also positive reasons for it--one just tends to forget them when one is personally settled in a satisfactory small group. The mate thing is also very much true today, only today of course we have all our connections in civil society (workplace, school, neighborhood, travel for work, internet . . .) supplementing our religious associations--which in former times would have been exactly the same as our secular associations. It remains true, however, that to meet other pagans of whatever type, one has to travel. And national/regional/international organizations make that possible, and provide the gatherings--and e-lists--at which many folks do it.

Frith,
Marion
who watches neo-tribalism with interest but doesn't like it
hearthstone
Jun. 22nd, 2004 01:11 am (UTC)
I do agree about the need for large groups (and I hadn't even thought of the relocation angle, we are so entrenched here ourselves! :)). And I will say that I really enjoy going to the rare heathen gathering when I am able. But they are not where I generally want to put my heart and soul--most heathens I've met are great people, but my kindred is my focus. I know that many people are solitaries and the larger organizations and mailing lists are the extent of their interaction with other heathens (I'm in the same position with regard to my Hellenic faith, so I do understand this quite well! :)), and many people don't have the option of any other interaction--but it isn't the same thing as face-to-face, frequent interaction with people who are a part of your life on a regular basis, you know?

Now, tribalism I've been trying to understand for quite a while now. I'm not really interested in being part of a highly-structured and/or hierarchical organization--maybe that means I lack enough of the heathen mindset, I don't know.
weofodthignen
Jun. 22nd, 2004 01:28 am (UTC)
Yeah, it's easy for those who have a circle of friends with whom they can worship to forget that many don't; in some ways it's the ideal for that to be out of sight, out of mind :-)

Tribes don't have to be feudally heirarchical any more than kindreds have to be organized like warbands. There are at least two competing models of the tribe being kicked around--and practiced--in modern US heathenry. One is very top-down; the other is a federation of kindreds or hearths. The Troth is actually quite close to the latter except that it does have solitary members and it isn't geographically restricted, and many of the fervent advocates of organic tribes would see those as big no-nos. The AA has been organized as a confederated tribe for ages now (in fact only kindreds can join, individuals can't), but has a stringent ideological basis.

Personally . . . while I wish The Troth and the other (inter)national super-organizations, the regional, family-based tribes, and the ambitious neo-kingdoms alike well . . . I think any and all heathen organizations are a good thing . . . my own focus is on the entire heathen community and I don't like having to hack through layer after layer of inter-group politics and would-be exclusivism to talk to my fellow heathens of every description. Our commonalities in our love for the gods are what matter to me, way way beyond what more or less balkanized group someone is affiliated with. But that's the called gyðja in me talking; for me it's not a matter of "Who can I worship with" but "How can I help this person and that person and is there anyone I'm missing."

Frith,
M
hearthstone
Jun. 22nd, 2004 02:37 am (UTC)
There are at least two competing models of the tribe being kicked around--and practiced--in modern US heathenry. One is very top-down; the other is a federation of kindreds or hearths.

Yeah, I've heard both definitions--and I wish one or both would use some sort of modifier! To me, the latter seems more intuitively to evoke the meaning of "tribe", but I hear more about the former (comes from lurking on ASHMAIL, I guess :))

I sometimes feel like our group is a little odd because we tend to decide things as a group and are generally able to find a consensus--in other words, we have no chieftain, which some folks seem to find hard to understand ("well, isn't there someone who always makes a final decision when one is needed?"--well, yeah, but it's not always the same person!).

I'm definitely with you on the common areas being more important than the differences; at the same time I recognize that as a non-Folkish and non-tribalist heathen (not to mention being dual-faith!) some folks will not want to deal with me, and that's okay, but I want to understand why that is. So I think it is important to know what the major differences and divisions are among heathens--it seems to be an unavoidable part of being in the community.
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