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Solidarity, not unity: An interview with Jason Pitzl-Waters

December 23, 2012
Jason Pitzl-Waters

“Community isn’t about unity, it’s about solidarity, it’s about seeing some kind of relationship and having common goals.”

Snowflake by Simply InnocuousWinterviews continues today.  From the Solstice till Imbolc, we’re bringing you non-stop interviews and other goodies from big-name authors:

Our first interview brings you a top journalist in the Pagan scene (if not the top journalist): Jason Pitzl-Waters of the wildly popular Wild Hunt blog, newly moved to an independent website.  Jason discusses what it takes to forge community.

B. T. Newberg:  You’ve served the Pagan community for a long time in various ways, not least of which is through the wildly popular Wild Hunt.  Would you like to describe in your own words what you do?

Jason Pitzl-Waters:  I am an advocacy journalist working for the interconnected Pagan community. That’s the center of what I do with The Wild Hunt. I am writing the site I had always wanted to read and providing a running snapshot of where we’re going, and the challenges we face getting there.

BTN:  Can you share an experience that made you want to give back to the community in this way?

JPW:  Shortly after 9/11 I remember looking for Pagan responses to that tragedy and had a hard time finding them. There were a few, but scattered, and often hard to find. Meanwhile, I loved The Witches’ Voice Wren’s Nest feature, but wished it engaged in more commentary and contextualization of the news links it so generously found and shared. I wanted a central place that would give me an understanding of where we were as a community,  a place where I could find myself in the daily news.

So, in fits and starts, I started to do it myself. First with a project called “MythWorks,” which evolved (briefly) into “Pagan Thought,” and finally into The Wild Hunt. My goal, at first, was to prove that there was enough going out there to write something every day, several years later that mission has evolved into nurturing journalism for our community as a whole. During this process, I found that I had inadvertently radicalized myself on the subject of Pagan news and Pagan journalism.

BTN:  What do you mean “radicalized”?

JPW:  Sorry, I don’t mean “radicalized” in the traditional sense, just a bit of personal shorthand for “driven into action and out of apathy by a defining event.” That’s what I mean.

BTN:  So you were looking for a place that would give an understanding of where we were as a community, and now here you are, the creator of just such a place.  The perspective must be quite different now.  What has the experience taught you?

My experience with the Wild Hunt, and in Pagan journalism generally, has taught me how precarious our notions of Pagan community and Pagan infrastructure are, and just how much work we have to do if we hope to preserve and build on those two concepts. It has taught me that our leaders, clergy, and activists are human, and have the same hopes, dreams, and personal failings as anyone else. It taught me that our engagement with younger Pagans is vital if we hope to see some of the organizations we love and depend on last another 20 or 30 years. It taught me that the very idea of Pagan journalism evokes feelings of deep ambivalence among some rather prominent people, but has also been whole-heartedly embraced by others.

Above everything, being a prominent figure within Pagan media has taught me that we need so, so, many more people interested in devoting their lives to the process of writing about what happens to us, and that Pagan journalism is far more vital in knitting together a “Pagan Community” than anyone might expect.

4.  Vital indeed.  I can only imagine Pagan journalism must encourage a sense of shared interests, and an identity that exists not in private meetings but in relation to the non-Pagan public.  Maybe it suggests we’re evolving to a new stage in our community, beyond the “Pagan 101″ courses to something more well-rounded.  In that sense, Pagan journalism appears to do a great service to the community.

Yet, you also mention some “deep ambivalence” around the idea of Pagan journalism.  Can you elaborate on that?

For many Pagans, especially among our elders, the relationship with the press has been problematic, at best. Sensationalism, distorted information, attacks, and general mockery had been the rule for many years. Even today, reality television treats Pagan religions as if they were a personality quirk, or subcultural pose, rather than a deeply held belief system.

Because of this, the mention of “journalist” can make some instantly withdraw, or become very cautious, even with a Pagan journalist. I’m now used to people telling me, in informal conversations, that the conversation we’re having is “off the record” with varying degrees of seriousness. I completely understand this impulse, as I understand its opposite, the elders and established figures who leap at any publicity, holding to the adage that there’s no such thing as a bad publicity. Like our Buddhist friends, I hope to walk a middle path here. Reiterating the importance of advocacy journalism within our interconnected communities, while also acknowledging that sometimes it’s better to tell a reporter no.

5.  Right, people have gotten burned often enough in the past that they are suspicious.  Makes sense.

To shift the focus a bit, what about this whole notion of a “Pagan community”… do you think any such thing exists?  Conflicts continue to rage over whether the label “Pagan” even means anything anymore.  Are we becoming so splintered that we’re fracturing into multiple communities with disconnected interests, or are these just growing pains in a process “knitting” us together more tightly (to use your metaphor)?

I think “Pagan Community” does exist, though the notion isn’t all that old. You could point to periodicals like The Green Egg as early signs that we were starting to think “big tent,” but I really think it’s Margot Adler’s “Drawing Down the Moon” that helped push the idea that all of these small and often isolated communities were connected in some meaningful ways. Since then, there have been plenty of debates over terminology, theology, who’s in, who’s out, but I think that barring growth at truly unprecedented rates we’re pretty much stuck with each other.

Further, I think those wanting to “jump ship” and not be seen as part of a “Pagan Community” (however you want to define that) haven’t reached numbers significant enough to damage the larger body politic. For now, just about every large Pagan organization, and most of the prominent authors, clergy, and activists, seem to want an interconnected community in some form. We all want to share a drink at PantheaCon (or any other large festival/convention) together, or at least most of us do.

Maybe Facebook is what’s keeping Pagan community alive?

Having said all that, I think too many of us have ignored important intra-faith conversations that need to happen regularly if we aren’t going to routinely alienate groups that we want to be part of our extended Pagan “family.” The most damaging thing we can do is take the participation of various religions, traditions, and groups in this community project for granted. We need to do the work, have real dialog, and take critiques of the dominant members of our community seriously.

Community isn’t about unity, it’s about solidarity, it’s about seeing some kind of relationship and having common goals. We won’t always agree, but so long as we keep talking to each other, keep listening to each other, I feel optimistic that there will be a Pagan Community for some time.

6.  Solidarity, not unity… yes, I couldn’t agree more.  At times it feels like the community is ripping itself apart, but it also seems that each in their own way is striving toward something firm enough to support that kind of solidarity.  A sense of “legitimacy” was how Alison Leigh Lilly put it.  In one corner you’ve got Recons and Hard Polytheists doing great work to promote historical accuracy and serious religious devotion, in another corner Eco-Pagans are working toward more genuine commitment to the environment, and in a third corner are Naturalists (like myself) working toward plausibility in light of mainstream scientific evidence.  All these seem to pull in opposing directions, and some seem embarrassed or horrified by this lack of unity.  Then again, as Heraclitus says: “From the strain of binding opposites comes harmony.”

In this dynamic mix, which can seem less like solid ground and more like churning lava, a sense of solidarity is vital.  Pagan journalism is one way people can contribute to that.  What other ways do you think are currently urgent?

Solidarity is nurtured by gaining perspective, by acknowledging that we do share goals. Yes, we have real differences that we should respect and work towards understanding, but that doesn’t change how we are perceived by those completely outside of our culture. Once there, you realize just how much we do share, and how much work there is to accomplish before we can eliminate the “umbrella” once and for all.

And maybe, once we don’t need that umbrella any more, we might find that we want to keep it for other reasons, reasons that move beyond shared problems and into a shared affection. I find that all the best ways to gain perspective is to lead a life of service, whether that be journalism, activism, interfaith, chaplaincy, community organizing, or simply doing your best to support your faith community as you see it.

7.  A shared affection – yes, it’s ultimately that group bond that keeps communities together, and it may start with a perception of shared problems.  For that, journalism seems key.

Well, to keep up on that journalism, we now have a new place to go.  You recently made the switch to blogging on an independent website.  Where can people find you now, and what do you have in store for the future?

You can now find me at: http://www.wildhunt.org, which is where I started before I moved to Patheos.com. As an independent entity I’m hoping to look towards building a truly sustainable Pagan media site. My successful Fall fundraiser was only the first step, with that money I’m going to pay my contributors, develop and highlight new voices, and ultimately, create something that will outlive my tenure on the site.

I’ve always been very conscious that there may come a day where I won’t be able to do The Wild Hunt any longer, whatever the reason. When that day comes, I want to know that I’ve created something that won’t evaporate in my absence. I want The Wild Hunt to become an ongoing resource for Pagan journalism, and Pagan thought, for generations to come.

The interviewee

Jason Pitzl-Waters

Jason Pitzl-Waters: Since launching The Wild Hunt in 2004, Jason Pitzl-Waters has become one of the leading voices for analysis and insight into how modern Pagan faiths are represented within the mainstream media. In addition, “The Wild Hunt” has also conducted in-depth interviews with prominent figures within modern Paganism, academia, and religion journalism. Jason wants to raise the level of discourse and journalism on important issues within the modern Pagan and Heathen communities, while advocating a broader commitment to encouraging religious multiplicity and solidarity (where appropriate) with surviving indigenous and non-monotheistic faith groups.

In addition to his work with The Wild Hunt, Jason has also written for newWitch MagazinePanGaia MagazineThorn Magazine, and Llewellyn Worldwide. He also maintains a weekly podcast entitled“A Darker Shade of Pagan” that explores underground music from a Pagan perspective.

Jason is a former Board of Director member of Cherry Hill Seminary, and is coordinating The Pagan Newswire Collective, an open collective of Pagan journalists, newsmakers, media liaisons, and writers who are interested in sharing and promoting primary-source reporting from within our interconnected communities.

You can contact Jason at jpitzl at gmail dot com.

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10 Comments
  1. December 24, 2012 2:39 am

    Another dimension to the “Pagan community or not” question that I didn’t get to ask about is the consequence of false consensus bias.

    This is where people routinely over-estimate how much others agree with them, assuming that others believe as they do. I think this is especially troubling in religion, where people are especially concerned about finding “like-minded” fellowship. When people discover others in their religion that believe in radically different ways, it is jarring. I have certainly experienced the feelings of shock, betrayal, and despair upon such a rude awakening.

    But now, knowing about the tendency to false consensus bias, I can remind myself that community is *not* about finding others who think just like you. It’s about something else. Something deeper.

    Jason, when you talk about “solidarity, not unity”, this is what I think of.

    • Dave permalink
      December 26, 2012 9:38 pm

      Hi B.T.,

      For me community is finding the essential humanity in people who couldn’t seem more different than you. I think Jason nailed it with solidarity. Great interview.

      Cheers,

      Dave

      • December 26, 2012 9:46 pm

        Interesting, Dave. I’ve been thinking about it in a similar way recently. I’m tentatively calling it “deep community” – bonding beyond the narrow “thinks/acts like me” mindset. A typical family, for example, remains bonded despite usually having radically different personalities, political views, and so on. There’s something deeper there that needs to be brought to awareness.

        • Dave permalink
          December 26, 2012 11:45 pm

          When it comes to religious community it’s probably more a matter of bonding around first principles and then staying bonded based upon shared humanity. You may end up in radically different places once you step away from those first principles but I think you retain both a group identity and can develop a sense of shared humanness to overcome differences to work together effectively. An idea that comes to mind is Teo Bishop’s “shared agreements”.

          • Dave permalink
            December 26, 2012 11:50 pm

            If I were to suggest first principles for “Pagandom” I might say they were 1.) A shared sense of Pagan identity 2.) A respect for nature and/or the natural world and 3.) A desire to be good to each other and to live ably and well. I think that really captures the essence of “Pagan”, at least for me. From there we might go forward as different “paths” or “traditions” organized around shared agreements/additional principles.

  2. January 3, 2013 11:23 am

    Thanks for this interview. I’m a big, big fan. Some years ago I participated in a study of how people get news online, and that was when I realized how important The Wild Hunt had become to me as a source of information. The Wild Hunt has played a crucial role in shaping my sense of identity and helping me learn about new realms of human endeavor I didn’t even know existed. Thanks, Jason, for all the work you’ve done.

  3. February 6, 2013 4:21 am

    “Solidarity, not unity: An interview with Jason Pitzl-Waters Humanistic
    Paganism” was in fact honestly compelling and instructive!
    Within modern society honestly, that is really difficult to manage.
    Many thanks, Valeria

Trackbacks

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