Cities tend to be multicultural places. Pagans are one faith group amongst many, and as society becomes more open to people following different faiths, this creates all kinds of interesting issues.
Do we want to engage with other religions? Should we be talking to people of other faiths? Secrecy and wariness have been part of pagan life for a long time and there are still places where it’s not ok to be openly pagan. Should pagans receive the same attention (and money and tax breaks) from governments that other faith groups do?
If talking to other groups, and sharing public celebrations is something we want to do, who speaks for us? There are probably as many kinds of paganism as there are individual pagans. It’s very hard to represent paganism to anyone else. There are at least as many differences as there are similarities between practitioners. (The same can be said of Christianity though).
Moots and open gatherings bring pagans of all and no tradition together. Sometimes that means exploring common ground, but it can equally lead to confusion, and discomfort. Eclectic public ritual can lose focus, becoming an ineffective crowd pleaser rather than a meaningful expression. Frequently what happens is that wiccan forms dominate, because there are more wiccans.
There’s at least as much misunderstanding between pagans as there is between pagans and non-pagans. As new branches of paganism spring up, this increases. Is it ok for us all to go our different ways? Diversity is good, but do we seek it at the cost of making sense to outsiders? Do we need to be able to speak with one coherent voice when dealing with other faith groups and people in authority? Can Fairy Wicca and Revivalist Druidry be recognised easily as part of the same thing as Gardenerian witchcraft, modern Heathenry or Celtic Shamanism? That’s scraping the surface of types of pagan. Sometimes about the only things we all seem to have in common is that we like the word ’pagan’ and we think nature is a good thing.
My feeling is, we need to keep talking to each other, and keep listening. And I don’t mean that with reference to subsets of paganism, or the interfaith scene. As human beings, we need to hear each other’s truth and stories, respectfully. We can all learn from each other. We are all different. We all want to belong somewhere and we all tend to designate some other group as ‘not us’ as part of how we understand ourselves.
I’m not a huge fan of formal interfaith things – I’ve had good and bad experiences, but they tend to emphasises ‘leaders’ speaking on behalf of ‘communities’ and that’s fraught with difficulty. But opportunities for sharing, listening and learning come up all the time. If people come knocking on your door wanting to talk about God, hear them out. We represent paganism best when we express it honourably, respectfully, in dialogue with others. We can do that, all of us, every day, and we can make all kinds of differences.