What does being an urban pagan mean to me? I honestly can’t say, because I’d only lived in the city for 18 months before moving to a rural area again. At the time I lived in the city, I was so far into the broom closet, I was practically in the neighbor’s apartment. I did find having access to many books through a very large library system exhilarating, particularly since – at the time – the rural library I was a member of wasn’t able to put anything but books on Christianity on the shelves.
A few years after I came out here, I exited the closet and became very public and very vocal. That didn’t sit well, more so with the urbans than the rurals. Who was “I” to speak for “them?” I wasn’t planning on speaking for them, I was speaking for myself and my grove and our choices. I would not think to speak for others when they have voices of their own.
I have a long-standing dislike for city pagans in my area. Not all of them, I suppose, but having been looked on as a country bumpkin, a know-nothing nobody, an interloper (yes, that word was actually used when I began organizing non-urban festivals and open circles) and not taken seriously simply because I choose to live outside of the city by their majority, I have cut all ties to them.
It’s not for lack of trying to participate. In 1999, I attended an open to the public event for Beltaine, and my companion and I were totally ignored by the ‘regulars,’ approached only by other folks who were new. When it seemed as though only a small handful of people were going to step up to help dismantle the Maypole, my companion and I stepped up and helped. I should say – attempted – to help. Within five seconds of our approach to the pole, laying our hands on it to help steady it as it was brought down, a woman I came to know as part of the circle of disdain screeched that we should not be allowed to touch the pole. I’ve never attended that particular event again.
I did try to become involved after I signed on with Pagan Pride in 2000. We invited city folks out to meet with us, and their immediate reaction was contempt, and a demand that we allow them to make decisions and have the initial event in the city. We refused politely, and most of us were snubbed from then on. A couple of us went out of our way to attend circles and gatherings in the city, only to be turned away at the door. Our group held our event to the constant complaints of the city people who demanded that the next one be held in the city, and several of our members were ripped off by ordering items from the city vendors which were never produced later on, and no refunds were given or even offered. The pot-luck dinner was scorned by them, and they brought in their own meals from Subway. The non-perishable food donation (which DID go to THEIR food bank) had five items from those seventy-five people. The rest of the items were from our group alone.
At our last event, I refunded table rental money to two vendors because we’d ended up boycotted (I refused to move an event meant for local people to the city, and was then told no one would come out) and only fifty or so people from the local towns came out.
At one point, after having been scammed out of money I couldn’t afford to support a group in the city that hosted a national gathering (I purchased fundraiser items that were never sent), I very nearly cut ties with everything pagan except my group and my family. Those city people were in fact the main reason I left Pagan Pride in 2007 (yes, there were other reasons). When I was verbally assaulted by a member of the planning committee for that national gathering over whether or not I (at the time I was the national director for Canada) should be on a panel specifically for Pagan Pride, that was it.
I got tired of trying to fit in with them, of trying to change myself to suit them, of even making an attempt at being civil. Recently, I realized I’d set myself to ‘no-mail’ on all the pagan groups I belonged to, except two which are run by pagan elders in the US. When I had to change my mailing address, I unsubscribed from all of them. I’d been on no-mail for at least two years, and hadn’t missed a thing.
Sadly, my encounters with the urbans have soured me – as if that wasn’t obvious – and I have made the conscious decision to not mingle outside of our group anymore, at least offline. Should we have any interaction with other pagans, it’s usually those that are also in our area, most of whom have also experienced what we have. This works for us; we’re rural, and we like it, ladybugs, big bonfires, green grass and all.
Jodi Lee is publisher and editor in chief of Belfire Press and The New Bedlam Project. Her writing has appeared in several recent anthologies as well as magazines on and offline for the past decade. Having shelved her first novel for the time being, she is currently working on two novels set in the fictional town of New Bedlam.