And my mama said
That it’s good to be natural
And my mama said
That it’s good to be factual
But I’m always on the run.
I don’t play well with others.
I am an ENFJ – I like people, I like meeting people, I like talking to people. I’ve been told I’m a good friend, I’ve been told I’m very funny and fun to be around.
But me and group dynamics go together like bleach and ammonia.
It isn’t that I go out of my way to be rude or engage in annoying behavior – I’m actually a fairly mild-mannered, easygoing, easy-to-get-along-with person who tries to be polite and courteous even when I am not always in the mood to do so (but there’s a line there).
The reason why I don’t play well with others is because I am a fucking weirdo.
If you ask most people in the pagan community, “Do you consider yourself weird?”, 9 times out of 10, they’ll say yes. Most people in the pagan community that I’ve known over the nearly two decades that I’ve been pagan, think they’re weirdos. And by the standards of mainstream society, they might be “a little weird”. But if you can fit in well with a tradition, a group structure, a subculture, if you don’t chronically feel like an outsider looking in and like even places that are a near fit are still sort of “off”… you’re not as weird as you think you are.
When I was in school, I was picked on. There were a number of reasons why: I was too tall, too fat, too developed for my age, I wore glasses, I walk funny, I had a speech impediment (that was corrected via speech therapy, but still was a point of occasional snarkage with people who knew me in first grade), I was very obviously autistic, I had a genius level IQ and was a straight A student and got nicknamed “Little Professor” and “Encyclopedia”, I was poor and got my clothes from thrift stores before that was trendy *hipster glasses*, I have an overbite, I had a pretty bad case of acne as a teenager, blah, blah, blah, blah. In my tweens/early teens I tried to take steps to remedy the difference between me and my classmates, trying to do fashionable/trendy things with my hair, not wearing my glasses, “dumbing myself down”, trying to “act normal”, and no matter what I did it didn’t satisfy my “peers”. I was bullied severely enough that I had to be pulled out of public school and home-schooled for high school, and I really shudder to think what would have happened if my mother hadn’t done that (and one of the few things I am grateful to her for).
Contrary to what a lot of the “It Gets Better” folks say, my life did not magically improve when I turned eighteen. I wound up losing a rather dramatic amount of weight to get my body in shape to join the military for college $$ (which didn’t happen, but that’s another story for another time), and with money from a part-time job I got better clothes, my skin cleared up – I was actually pretty smoking hot when I was 18/19, to all accounts – and I had mastered the art of Present As Sane™ to where this day I’ve had people meet me IRL and be surprised to find out later I am on the autistic spectrum. (For what it’s worth, I resent doing this and I am in no way suggesting that other people do as I do, I actually find such suggestions to be ableist, but it’s something I forced myself to learn because the alternative was more bullshit.) And even then, something about me was “off” enough that I would still sometimes get bullied and harassed at work by co-workers and employers. It was like nothing I did would make me fit in anywhere. People could tell I was different. It was like they could smell it on me.
And this is without even getting into my gender shit.
Why does this matter? Like many people disaffected by mainstream culture, I became pagan. I did not become pagan for the community, I became pagan because I needed a belief system that made sense and when I was younger that meant “nature is awesome” and “divinity is female as well as male”. But when I wandered into the pagan community, I thought “oh boy, fellow weirdos!” Except… no.
I found out I was too “conservative” for Wiccans/generic pagans I met because I wasn’t into having casual sex and/or doing drugs, also I was a Doc Martens-wearing rudie punk rather than a hippie or goth which offended some sensibilities, but then I was too “leebral” for Asatruar because I’m queer, crunchy, disapprove of public drunkenness, and then there was the whole woo/UPG thing and being Vanic rather than Aesic. And then I was too recon for the woo people (which is ironic considering that some of these same spirit-workers have gone on the More Recon Than Thou crusade against woo-informed people they disagree with… interesting turn of events, that). I was too Druid to be heathen, and not Celtic enough to be Druid. I was too witchy to be heathen, and not *~magical~* enough to be witchy. I am a polytheist and have personal relationships with gods and demons, but I am also too much of an occultist to feel comfortable in polytheist spaces, because my Work involves wyrdworking/magic and while that is a form of devotion to me, there are polytheists I’ve met who don’t feel that way and think what I do is “hubris”. On the other hand I am too much of a polytheist and an animist to feel comfortable in occultist spaces where it’s standard talk to speak of summoning/controlling/”owning” spirits – I’m owned and collared by a demon (that would be D., the One I Can’t Talk About) so I have Feels about people trying to order the spirit realms around. I know a few other people who visit Vanaheim and know/work with elves in common but their Work is different from mine (as it should be). I could go on. And on. And on. And on.
Initially, I tried to shoehorn myself into other people’s boxes. I tried to conform to other traditions. But over and over again, it was like the pair of jeans that doesn’t fit properly and if you bend the wrong way they rip and expose your ass. It took me a number of go-rounds with traditions/sects of paganism for me to finally get it through my head that I am really better off not strongly identifying with any established tradition. In some of these cases, people have been reasonable about letting me tag along even if I don’t fit the mold 100% – nobody’s kicked me out of the Druid order where I hold a degree, for example. But in many other cases, it was like the same patterns of shit repeating themselves, where something about me was “off”, I tried to “fix” it to fit in and be “normal” and that still wasn’t good enough anyway and it was like I got even more shit for doing so.
In large part because of that, I am a solitary (well, solitary to all appearances in meatspace; I do magic and ritual with my spirit companion/s and other entities like [obviously] Asmodai). Even with groups that tend to be more accepting, I keep a distance because yes, there are some people who can theologically disagree on something, or have different ritual aesthetics, but still manage to stand together in ritual; I basically can’t. I have one of those minds that will start MST3K-ing rituals
and if I don’t, Clarence does XD. I see a tradition or a liturgy and my brain immediately begins to dissect it and wants to muck around with it, “seasoning to taste” much as I do when I cook. It’s a very tricksy thing, my brain.
And yet, I am not FOREVER ALONE. I have friends who belong to traditions that I was or tangentially am still a part of. I have close friends who deal with the same spirits that I do (more or less, some deal with some I don’t deal with and vice versa) and we can “talk shop” and compare notes. I am not completely doing the hermit thing, much as I’ve tried, because even though my Work does not involve the standard conception of a community per se, I cannot be a Gatekeeper if others are not going through the gates or don’t even know where the gate is. My “community”, spiritually speaking, is not a group or a tradition or a subculture, but people from “around” who may not have much in common except I seem to be there in part to help them get where they need to go.
Liminality is neither being a part of the crowd, nor wandering in the wilderness. It is existing on the border between the two. Serving as a living reminder to the crowd of the paths less travelled, of the world beyond what they see. I used to think this was the greatest curse of my existence and hated myself for it and why couldn’t I just be normal, or make myself conform to $TRADITION or $GROUP, why did my brain have to start getting itchy and uncomfortable and rebel against the status quo, and why when I tried to be normal did people treat me worse than when I stopped trying and acted like myself. A couple of years ago, Clarence lectured me about this and told me, “The more you try to pretend to be sane and normal, the crazier it makes you. The only way you’re going to be able to keep surviving is if you own ‘the crazy’, if you accept you are always going to be different, if you stop trying so desperately to belong somewhere.”
And he was right.
A funny thing happened when I stopped giving a shit about trying to conform to other traditions and groups and subcultures, and was just myself. I stopped being so angsty all the damn time. I started to feel free.
And I realized that, like a turtle or a snail, my home is on my back wherever I go. I already have a place to belong, with my elf boys and my demons, and this Work that wyrd has given me. I don’t need to search anymore for a place to belong.
This doesn’t mean I stop being weird. I am totally weird, and it means that I am necessarily a bit of a loner. But I’ve come to accept that, and see it as an asset to the Work that I do rather than a burden. I won’t lie that I sometimes get a little lonely, being on this WTF path beyond the pale, as a person who wasn’t winning any popularity contests to begin with. But what few people I have who do accept me as I am, are worth more than the dozens who accepted what was actually a mask, and where I was suffocating underneath.
There’s a lot of rah-rah about pagan community, and this expectation to get into a group or you’re doing it wrong, even from people who are solitary in meatspace, will still try to find other like-minded people to talk to (like the Lokean community as a notable example). This is not always wrong, and I’m not telling anyone they can’t try to find others to fellowship with. But everything has a price, and some prices ain’t worth paying. My freedom is hard-won, and I’ll be damned if anyone takes it away from me. I am a liminal outsider weirdo and I am damn happy being one, and I think it’s important that this be presented as just as valid a path as trying to find “community” and “belonging”. I belong to my spirits and I belong to the Earth, and that is all that I personally need, anything or anyone else is just gravy. I have the freedom to create my own path, a tradition that works for me – I have the freedom to do the Work that I was born to do – and that I find deeply rewarding. You can’t put a price tag on that.