(Originally published in Druid's Progress 14)
Our yearning for belonging extends beyond the spiritual to the practical. What groups do we identify with? As an American I believe in freedom of religion. I am inspired by life and the natural world. This, combined with my reverence for the earth as our Mother and my fascination with ancient religions has led me to identify myself with a group calling themselves NeoPagans. Many people may share NeoPagan beliefs, but few actually call themselves NeoPagans. There are many reasons for this. The independence that we value in our spirituality and thought don't make us natural joiners. Fear of religious persecution or public ridicule can prove a substantial obstacle to many. Many more don't know that such a thing as NeoPaganism or NeoPagans exist. For those of us that identify ourselves with these beliefs, we find ourselves constantly searching for ways to strengthen our bonds with them. To feel at home with your beliefs is not the same as feeling at home with a group of people that share those beliefs.
Most NeoPagans are solitary practitioners. They take comfort in their personal relationship with spirit and a direct sharing that is vital to our belief system. Our religion does not require our coming together to accept a common path to salvation. Yet religion is by nature a sharing of spiritual practice and belief. It is not enough to recognize our religion and give it a name. If we are a group, we must manifest as one. Through workshops, study groups, gatherings and festivals NeoPagans get a face to face view of their community. A large portion of our community know each other from correspondence, computer, publications or phone. Obviously some NeoPagans find comfort and joy in sharing their NeoPagan experiences with others. On the other hand, combining ones spiritual experience with a social one can be very frustrating. We value our common relationships and our individual freedom.
How did you come to associate yourself with Druids? Those of us that belong to a Druid organization have chosen to support a shared concept, belief or identity as Druids. My own experience with ADF drastically changed my practice as a Druid. ADF identifies Druids by their role in the community. Consequently my very personal, self-serving spiritual path transformed into a public expression of my group's beliefs and practices. The religious beliefs of ADF are not exceptionally different from other Druids or NeoPagans. Its emphasis on serving the community and building a NeoPagan tomorrow has made my Druid experience very different from that of a Druid in an initiatory mystery school. Although various Druid groups promote their own truths, ADF's foundation isn't in ancient mystery but in establishing a responsible and credible service for our community today and tomorrow. I thought it was a wonderful idea when I joined and I still do, but I didn't realize how much work was involved. A big part of that work has been recruiting and organizing volunteers.
It's easy to get people to agree that we should provide this service or that, but without volunteers joining together to make it work, it just doesn't happen. You can make a difference, and it's up to YOU what kind of difference you make. Oddly enough, joining a group doesn't mean your individual identity is lost, quite often it is nurtured and challenged. Your choice to join a particular group or effort is itself an act of self-definition.