November 21, 2010
FLORIDA–Years and many a day past, when Paganism was but a vague inkling in my young mind, many evenings were accentuated with late night trips to the bookstore and rambling voyages across search engines. Sifting through the jumbled myriad of writings and prose, neophytes are often beset with information overload combined with daunting intrigue about this mysterious “new” phenomenon, known by many names but known by all as the Craft.
Many beginners start with “that one book.” We all remember our first, or our first several watershed tomes. Sometimes we are browsing through the store, and our eyes so happen to pause at that title. Other times, some books we find are “randomly discovered” in the library clearance pile or in the garage sale bargain bin. Or a book “just happened” to be given to us by an acquaintance who said with a chuckle, “you’re a little weird, you might like this one”. It is through the written text many of us still notice the moment where cloudy drudgery along our spiritual quest is about to come upon a great big, blinking sign. As products like the Kindle™, the Kobo™, and the iPad™ continue to infiltrate our society, a new generation of techno-Witches will be viewing these cherished writings not on paper and ink, but through electricity and plastic.
As the electronic mills in our information age methodically churn with ceaseless authorship about Paganism and Magical traditions across the Internet, they now can be seen in every major language and nation. There are blogs, Wikipedia entries, news and journalism sites, online communities, academic publications, professional Pagan theology colleges, and streaming documentaries, all growing more numerous by each turn of the earth.
These satiate a new Pagans’ curiosity at the onset, but there comes a point when the solitary explorer-cum-communitarian suddenly says, “I want to go meet some of these Pagans for real. Books and blogs are only telling me so much.”
Welcome to your local Pagan Meetup group. All 650 of them.
Aside from 1) knowing a Pagan directly, or 2) diligently hunting out a local open circle or nearby festival, or 3) visiting your neighborhood metaphysical store, the prime venue for new seekers of the magical ilk is quickly becoming Pagan Meetup groups. The inception of the Internet and social networking sites like Meetup.com has sprouted a type of “fourth branch” of access and uplink. These groups represent a unique intersect in the Pagan landscape, a place where longstanding community members and teachers can be instantly accessible to previously unconnected, solitary newbies. Like ancient soil meeting a new tide, the marginal zone where sands churn in the waves, Pagan meetups are a mixture of old and new–hybrids of both online and offline realms–a new alternative for community and gathering.
Meetup.com reveals the following numbers of Meetup groups available, based on the related keyword searches. These are ‘worldwide’ searches of its entire network.
Here in the Sunshine state, the following Pagan Meetup groups were identified through Meetup.com, ranked by membership totals.
|Jacksonville Witches Meetup||360||2002||Duval|
|The Tampa Pagan Meetup||340||2002||Hillsborough|
|Miami Wiccan & Pagan Meetup||325||2004||Miami-Dade|
|The Orlando Witches Meetup||316||2002||Orange|
|Lake Worth Pagan Meetup||305||2006||Palm Beach|
|Orlando Pagans Downtown||217||2007||Orange|
|Greater Gainsville Pagan Meetup||215||2002||Alachua|
|Orlando Pagan Meetup||198||2002||Orange|
|Hollywood Pagan Meetup (Ft. Lauderdale)||162||2006||Broward|
|Tallahassee Pagan Meetup||156||2008||Leon|
|Orange/Osceola Pagan Oracle||140||2008||Osceola|
|WOW West Orlando Witches||136||2009||Orange|
|Port Saint Lucie Pagan Meetup||125||2007||Saint Lucie|
|Pagan Witch’s Meetup (Jacksonville)||107||2007||Duval|
|Jacksonville GotEM Witches’ Meetup||83||2009||Duval|
|Mystic Moon Pagan Meetup (St. Petersburg)||83||2009||Pinellas|
|MysticWays Church (Palm Coast)||78||2008||Flagler|
|Wiccan Concepts Spiritual Circle (Crestview)||76||2008||Okaloosa|
|Pensacola Wicca & Pagan Circle||68||2007||Escambia|
|Downtown Orlando Circle of the Sublime Elm—||65||2010||Orange|
|Jax Correllian Study Group (Jacksonville)||56||2008||Duval|
|Orlando GLBT Pagans & Witches||39||2010||Orange|
Over 22 major Pagan Meetups are currently active across Florida, summing over 3,600 registered members, not including numerous smaller, narrow-topic groups. Many other Pagan-related groups can be found by searching current Meetup.com listings for your city.
Of interest, the Orlando area boasts a whopping seven Meetup groups, and in Jacksonville, there are three. One must wonder if the Goddess is very busy in these locations, or due to widespread geography, multiple Meetup sites are needed to cover the broad terrain.
Insiders View of Pagan Meetup: The Miami Wiccan & Pagan Group
Six years ago, I was elated to find a Pagan meetup group here in Miami, the Magic City. Still a newbie and very wet behind my ears, I stumbled upon our Miami-Dade County forgather while perusing the web for all things Pagan+Miami. At the time, I didn’t even know what a “Meetup” was.
Bandora is credited for starting the Miami group. Now a former priestess of the Circle of the Golden Moon and a very good “Friend of Fox” (Florida Pagan Gathering regulars will be familiar with FOF). The group was originally named “South Miami Witches Meetup”. I anxiously drove to my first meeting in 2004, first held at the Whole Foods Market on South Beach. I recall meeting Bandora, two other women, and our current group coordinator, Ody. Except for Bandora, all of us were fairly green to the Craft. Remarkably, from that very first meetup, Ody and myself have kept the lantern burning bright for the group, six years and going strong. Only the Gods could know what a serendipitous gathering that would turn out to be.
The group started very modestly. Bandora tried a few alternate locations on differing days to see if the group “clicked” somewhere. The Starbucks across from the University of Miami was a location at one point, with the theory that college crowds may have some curious new seekers. At one of these Meetups, it was just us two. We got to conversing more personally. I asked her, “Bandora, why did you start this group?” She said something like, “I felt inspired to go out and do something in public for the community, so I asked my guides, and the message I got was to start this group.”
At another meeting, again just us two at the Starbucks on Kendall Drive–soon to become the group’s mainstay location–she surprised me with unexpected news. “I’m turning the group over to you.” I nearly gagged on my Triple Venti Extra Caramel with Whip Macchiato. “What–?” I queried. She said, “I’ve been getting too busy with other commitments in the Pagan community, and I think you’re a good candidate to run the Meetup.” I countered, “I just found out about Paganism six months ago, and you’re going to turn the whole Pagan meetup group over to me? I have no idea about anything!” She smiled, “Yup.”
I bravely took on this new mantle, and kept to scheduling regular meetings, held on the second Sunday of each month at 7:00pm. Before long, membership and attendance started to increase. I enlisted a variety of helpers over the years, including Galen Silverleaves. Ody started attending again, and a core group of regulars soon emerged. As we started to get to know one another, our confidence about the Meetup quickened. We’ve often searched for alternate locations to host the Meetup group, but they are either too expensive, or too inconvenient. We keep returning to this place.
While we now have at minimum 8-12 attendees per event, at several Meetups we’ve amassed 28 people, all packed into the Starbucks, rationing every chair in the store. That was the evening that I knew we were on to something, and that a definite void was being filled. Ody has graciously taken on the reins as lead coordinator this year, and new members continue to join.
Ody begins, “We are modeled like most other Meetup groups,with the emphasis on gathering in-person at events, instead of connecting online only.” Ody, a Cuban-American in her late twenties, has recently become a dedicant of the Ár nDraíocht Féin (A Druid Fellowship). She adds, “The group provides a neutral ground and meeting place where visitors and members can feel comfortable and welcome. No one is ever criticized or judged. Many different paths and traditions are represented here. We have become a special haven for newbies in Miami. In the same breath, we also attract some Elders and Third Degrees, as well.” Due to her leadership, the group has expanded activities in addition to the Sunday meetups. She has scheduled Tarot presentations, Pagan Warrior talks, Beatnik Poetry evenings, and even Pagan Pub nights and alternate Saturday afternoon meetings at The Witchs Garden in Hialeah.
For a period of time, other Pagans from the community attempted to offer multiple Meetup “clone” groups across different Miami-Dade County locations. There was at one point a North Miami Witches Meetup and a Coral Gables Pagan Meetup Group. These have since folded, and the North Miami Witches Meetup members were invited to link up to the South group.
Ody contends the cultural diversity of participants, and the multitude of lineages and backgrounds that intersect at the Meetup are it’s greatest strength and richest offering. “Members will show up with a question they are struggling with, or have found something new they want to deepen their knowledge about. Come to any Meetup group and there are at least 12 people on a given night who you can talk to, and if we don’t know something, we can point you to someone in the larger community who does.”
Despite its mainline, suburbia locale, members feel comfortable throwing down tarot spreads in plain view, casting astrology charts, or wearing pentacles or triple moon pendants around their throats, and sporting Udjat and Athena tattoos on their skins.
Fael, a longtime member of the group and a Feri practitioner, owes his romantic fortunes to Meetup. “I’ve been coming for five or six years now. This is the place where I first met my current Pagan girlfriend. I like the group because of the community and friendships you make. There are a lot of different people here, it’s a cool place to come hang out.” Fael has conducted a special “Path of the Pagan Warrior” workshop, which drew large attendance.
Even Starbucks employees look forward to Sunday nights with Miami Pagan meetup. One employee shared with PNC Florida, “I love having you guys. When I started working here, I was like, ‘who are all these awesome people coming in?’ Sometimes customers will come up to the counter and say, ‘Who is that group over there?’ I tell them, “Well, they are a Pagan group, but you don’t even have to be Pagan to join. You can go and talk to them, they don’t bite!”
Marion, new to the Craft, has no specific tradition yet. “I’m still trying to figure out where I fit in best. I made a personal dedication in November last year. The more I’ve thought about it, I think the goddess has been speaking to me since I was twelve. Here, you can make new friends and expand your social circle. It’s also great to be exposed to more advanced people for advice and support. It’s all about the fellowship. We don’t talk about Paganism exclusively. We talk about non-Pagan things all time.”
Miami Wiccan & Pagan Meetup: Quote, Unquote
The Miami Wiccan & Pagan Meetup group has created a welcoming presence for Pagan all-comers, attracting members from Homestead and as far north as West Palm Beach. Now entering it’s seventh continuous year, PNC Florida interviewed attendees at the November event for a first-person perspective.
Lady Ausit Moon shares about her first time visit, “I was very comfortable, very at ease. I don’t feel like I’m out of place. Sometimes people judge you. Here it feels like home, like you belong. You can speak your mind. For the first time that I’ve come here, it’s just feels good. When it comes down to it, we’re all one together, all looking to feel accepted. In the Pagan community there are some people that try to bring us down. It feels good to meet people who accept you for who you are.”
Faelin, a longtime Strega practitioner for over 15 years, adds, “I attended years ago, but stopped coming because there were some crazy people here that got on my nerves. I’ve come back, now that the riff raff is gone. I like the people, it’s a great environment, I can sit here, be myself and open things up. I wanted to reconnect with Pagan community, and I’m glad this Meetup is here.” Faelin is planning a future workshop event for the group on the “Male Mysteries,” sure to draw a crowd.
Another member who identifies herself as a Priestess of Hekate and a Tarot reader for over 15 years quips, “I like the opportunity to meet people in the Pagan community who are not in a specific circle. When I came out looking for community in Miami, there are very limited options. I really like the fact there is no ‘lobbying’ to join a specific circle, it’s more about meeting people who can speak your language. You can get a little taste of what different people are doing, you’re not limited to ‘OK we’re just talking about Samhain tonight’. You will see people doing runes, reading astrology charts, and sharing their current books. It’s nice to share our interests and talk with those who are open to our ideas. For example, I’ve been doing cards here, I can share my mini-readings with people.”
Ian, a recent high school graduate, has been attending for the past few months. “Reading about Paganism, it just feels more correct, and more right to me, then Judaism. The biggest concept for me is the duality of the God and the Goddess. It’s not just dominated by the male. I feel this ideal should be reflected in other religions as well.” Ian continues, ”I like socializing, meeting new friends, seeing different viewpoints, but mostly the social aspect of Meetup is the main draw for me.”
Andrea has attended the group for nearly two years. She identifies as Wiccan. “I was cruising the Internet, and I came upon Meetup. I went to my first event, which was right after my first Moonfaire festival. This group has helped me realize I’m not alone. I still practice solitary, but up until Moonfaire and Meetup, I didn’t know there was this many people who were Pagan.”
Jessica Shadow, a member for over year, is a Feri practitioner and body modification artist at Phat Joe’s Tatttoo Parlour in Miami. “This place has a real positive vibe going, everyone is really open minded, you learn a lot. I’ve met a lot of great people, I’ve learned a lot being here, a lot more than I would have learned by myself. These are real frienships. This is my family. My Pagan family.”
Kyle, walking the Order of Bardes, Ovates & Druids (OBOD) path for four years, said this after his first visit with Miami Pagan Meetup. “I’m a member of the Hollywood Pagan Meetup and the South Florida Tarot Meetup. Both are really great groups, but I stopped going to Hollywood because they’ve become more of a ritual circle exclusively. I missed the social and interaction aspects this group has.” Kyle concludes, “It was great experience. The energy level was very welcoming.”