I have been living in the Raleigh, NC area for almost seven years now. I was just starting out on my Pagan path when Hubby and I made the transition here. It’s hard to believe that that journey began that long ago. It feels like forever, and yet it feels like I’m just starting out.
I had been irregularly attending the local eclectic Pagan group for some time now. On and off. Sort of. Not really…
I happily attended one of their Sunday meditations one December morning. There were a handful of us…we waited quite a while for the missing members to join…and as soon as they arrived, they complained that we should just skip meditation and all go to IHOP. They were told that since new members were in attendance, the group should do the ritual so that the group looks good for the new members.
The meditation started…the leader put on a CD and everyone closed their eyes and listened to the music and the words of the 15 minute guided meditation. Then the CD player was turned off and everyone got ready to go to IHOP.
I left. I was disheartened. I wanted to come to a place with like-minded people, and have the chance to learn and grow in my path. I could do a guided meditation- without any kind of instruction other than what was offered on the disc- by myself. In the warmth of my house. In my PJs.
Plus, there was a jar asking for monetary donations.
I kept up with the group through the interwebs and I learned that they changed leadership and therefore changed formats of their regular Sunday meetings. Instead of a simple guided meditation, it was a mini-workshop, learning aspects of the craft. However, they were early on Sunday and I was typically still in bed. I have an alarm Monday – Friday. I also saw the change and growth of their regular Sabbat and Esbat Circles. But these were typically during the week and didn’t start until 8. And I get up early during the week. I didn’t want to stay out late. One of the things I loved about Paganism in the beginning was the need to not follow someone else’s schedule. So I didn’t go. But I followed their calendar.
A few years ago, Halloween fell on a weekend night (I forget now if it was Friday or Saturday) and I went to this group’s Samhain Sabbat. It was wonderful. Everything I could ever hope to want. I couldn’t wait to go back and attend again. There was so much that I could learn and so many ways that I could grow. But then I looked at the calendar. It was all early Sundays and late weeknights.
Plus, there was a jar asking for monetary donations.
So I didn’t go back. I can do Paganism on my own in a solitary path without issue. Everything that I need in available to me whenever I wanted- from literature resources to social groups. And it was all free.
One of the biggest turn-offs with this Christianity was the corruption of funds. The church is decorated in gold paid for through funds given by its members. Some members struggle to put food on the table every day, but they always make sure they give money to the church. I’ll admit, my disdain with this practice was influenced by my mother’s unabashed hatred of the yearly Appeal, where the local Cardinal (or Bishop?) would petition every household to donate $X that year to the church. It was an abuse of power and a practice which was looked at with disgust in my house. Many families in my childhood town struggled. What happens if they pledged $500 that year, but Dad was in a car wreck? They would need that money back. My mom agreed to giving money to the church, but thought it should be done on a weekly basis, and should only be asked discretely so those who were not able to contribute at that time for whatever reason were not publicly shamed.
I listened to her discussions and looked around the church walls. And I saw all of the decorations. The church just got new plaques displaying the stations of the cross. It was great art work and something to be very proud of. Now, we need more money.
Then why did you spend that money on such a frivolous purchase?
Seeing the donation jar at the Pagan group brought all of this back, and in a very bad way.
Before I got pregnant with Witchlette, I was itching for community again, but I kept going back to that jar.
During my pregnancy, I decided that I didn’t just want community, but I needed it. I have learned almost as much as I can on my own. The online community, while it is great and vast, is no substitute for real human contact. I wanted my child to not only have me and Hubby as role models, but other spiritual community members as well. I wanted her to feel like she belonged and was a part of something. I didn’t want her to grow up completely solitary with a crazy mom who just made stuff up as she went. I wanted her to have validation and, dare I say it, fellowship. (It’s a word typically associated with Christians, but I never had it when I went to church. We got there a bit before services started, and left shortly after. So did everyone else.)
That’s when it hit me.
I was looking at this all wrong.
Donations to the church of my childhood may have been misused, but the point was for the people to take care of the church. Take care of their church. The pagan group operates out of a garden, a fenced wooded lot in Downtown Raleigh. The people who are a part of the group contribute to the maintenance and the upkeep of the gardens. Of their garden. For the sake of fellowship. For the sake of community.
I get it now. And I am a part of it now. This isn’t just me kind of sort of coming and going when I can. This is my community and my space. I am one of them and they are one of me.
And it is a beautiful thing.