On Infrastructure

The Wild Hunt has posted an article on a topic that has been on my mind for some time, the topic of infrastructure in the various interconnected communities of paganism. It reminds me alot of the article I talked about some time ago by Keith Parsons. He claims that paganism will be “non-institutional.” To elaborate on this idea, he has this to say;

“Will pagans build churches and hold weekly meetings, while bored kids squirm, exasperated moms reproach, and anxious dads check their watches to see how long to kickoff time?  I hope not.

As I see it, pagans would form informal communities, like the early Christians. In general, the aim of pagan religiosity would be to return a sense of enchantment and delight in the experience of the natural world…”

Ok, my thoughts on this are kind of mixed. On the one side, I think it is worth re-quoting from the Wild Hunt article.

” “We need Temples. Urgently. It brings us together as a community and we certainly need that. … I can’t imagine anything that would make me happier than to one day go to a Temple with my husband and children and bow before the statues of the gods. I crave so badly for the restoration of Paganism to the glory it once had. There is no structure, and I think we need that. We need structure, we need community.” ” – Hendrik Venter

I agree, we do need temples. Places for community worship, and homes for our gods and spirits. At the same time, I am fairly nature-centric person myself, so I openly question the need for mega structures and things like that. Personally, I am of the line of thought that says that “the forest is my temple,” and this makes me wonder if what paganism needs is large structures like the Hindu temple example?

On that line of thought, here is another quote from the Wild Hunt;

“Not all, over most, Pagans want temples or community centers or libraries. They most certainly don’t want to pay for clergy. For them such things either simply aren’t needed or they’re even seen as a spiritual detriment. “My temple is a forest,” has almost become a Pagan maxim.

Dr. Kimberly Kirner, Department of Anthropology at California State University, Northridge, says, “expanding infrastructure isn’t necessary if we keep a small, home-based meeting model and don’t mind that groups often die rapidly and then reform as something else. It isn’t necessarily a bad thing.” ”

This hits on a couple of things I think are rather important. On the topic of “my temple is a forest” we need to maintain the natural areas that we deem are our temples. Conservation is a big thing here. Forests need to be preserved, biodiversity protected. If every pagan adopted an acre of public or private land, and helped to preserve it, that would be significant. The Wild Hunt article said there are approximately 1.2 million pagans and heathens in US. That would be 1.2 million acres of land under stewardship. It would be like a pagan equivalent of “Adopt a Highway”.

Personally, I envision a world not unlike the one portrayed in My Neighbor Totoro. Where old trees are also places of worship, and things like stone spirit houses and roadside shrines are a common, as well as accepted part of our society.

The second point is, that the small, home-based model is not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, in my opinion, paganism starts in the home. We don’t seek out converts, and often our families are also often our communities. This also allows for a multi-generational transmission of traditions and beliefs. This is a really important point, and essential for the survival of our ideas and traditions.

In addition, small groups dying and reforming isn’t a bad thing either. I have been through several groups that imploded for various reasons. All of them were learning experiences, and I will carry those lessons on. In a way, that kind of structure allows for a more fluid and dynamic social network.

At the same time, the home cannot be the end all for paganism. Some of us were not raised in pagan homes, and interested seekers might not be either. Regardless of upbringing, some will change paths, and they will start looking for resources.  That is where the next level comes in, things like local shops and local community. I cannot stress enough the value of local metaphysics shops. We have one where I live called The Wandering Owl, and it is a regular meeting place for discussion, classes, and other resources. This makes a wider network outside the home. That is an important part of the infrastructure that is needed.

In summary, I think we do need infrastructure, and in some ways we are already laying the foundations. The various communities are growing, and they will need support. Newcomers will need access to good information, and methods for transmitting between generations is a must. Many foundations have already been laid, but there is still a lot to do. The question we must ask ourselves, is what form that infrastructure is going to take?

References;

http://wildhunt.org/2015/01/building-pagan-temples-and-infrastructures-part-one.html

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/secularoutpost/2014/08/18/towards-a-rational-paganism

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About Nicholas Haney

I am a writer, author, hunter, craftsman, and student of anthropology/archaeology. View all posts by Nicholas Haney

3 responses to “On Infrastructure

  • Sarenth

    I think an expanded idea of what infrastructure is, is really needed.

    Infrastructure, to my mind, is not merely the building, the land, or the facilities a place provides. The physical structures are nothing without the human infrastructure to lay the initial groundwork, and back all of this up physical infrastructure up. Without the people in place doing what they need to do, whether it is a single person or a group raising a vé in the woods on someone’s property, or a single person, board of directors, or community coming together to raise a temple, it will not work.
    I believe that a mix is really needed.

    A lot of polytheist folks host their Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir on their own shrines. What I find heartening is that there are enough people coming together to justify public temples in terms of human scale. What I find often lacking is the willingness for folks to dedicate to these in terms of time and money, which is what is deeply needed for these to continue. Unless there is a dedicated, wealthy member of the community propping these up, they probably won’t get started in the first place without dedicated membership.

    I think of how well the Northern Tradition Study Group works. It’s basically a roving religious group that meets in a few places that it calls home. It works. Given that many people cannot find a spiritual home in the few Heathen groups in MI, I also see where infrastructure could be a huge advantage, in that it would give folks a dedicated place to meet the Gods and receive religious instruction if they wanted/needed it.

    I see a whole lot of upsides to infrastructure, especially as our Pagan and polytheist folks age. You’re absolutely right that paganism and polytheism starts in the home. Many of us are reconstructing, reviving, or taking up what are also communal religions. I think this community focus is a powerful force in modern Pagan and polytheist life that should be tapped into more, but it should be done in a responsible way. I see Pagan and polytheist families as part of how these communities thrive, and the same goes for temple, shrines, community centers, etc.. These folks are literally invested in the temples, shrines, and communities. I think that is a good part of the solution to the human infrastructure at issue above that I mention. The people need to have a stake, spiritually, emotionally, physically, in their places of worship. That’s a lot easier at the moment with home shrines and roaming religious infrastructure at the moment.

    I don’t think we should take away the notion that nature Itself is temple/sacred space; I am kind of going for both sides of this as more to the good. I am for whatever gets people in closer with the Gods, Ancestors, vaettir, and community. Kind of a gestalt approach.

    • Nicholas Haney

      I agree with you on several points. I don’t think either that infrastructure is limited to just the physical constructs. To me at least, infrastructure covers some of the physical manifestations, sure, but perhaps just as importantly it also covers the intangibles. As I think of it, infrastructure is about the connections between people, and the support and resources that comes from such a network. There are a lot of different levels and facets to such a thing. The home provides one level of connection, shops like the Owl another, the study group is another facet, and so on. Infrastructure is about those connections, and physical places are just a means to build those connections.

      In my opinion, those connections between people, is really the heart of it all. As you said, it is a means to build the community. Without the community, the physical places don’t matter.

      I am not saying the sole take away should be that nature itself is temple/sacred space. To put it another way, those connections are the real base of our infrastructure. The networks between people, which includes non-human people as well. In building and strengthening those connections and networks, the Gods, ancestors and spirits need to have a seat at that table as well.

      • Sarenth

        Without the necessary bonds which gird the reason for infrastructure there’s not much point to it. The bonds of friendship we share, the Gebo, the hamingja, are all, I think, necessary for infrastructure to work in the first place.

        I did not get the impression that nature alone is temple/sacred space. It is one among many places to recognize it, to acknowledge the sacred ground, or to establish it anew.

        Re. connections to non-human Beings, absolutely, as I see polytheism as being about relationships with and to these Beings. Well said!

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