Walking back from the post office this morning I met my very elderly neighbour. We stopped and talked for a little while and I noticed how frail she’s suddenly become. “I want to fly away,” she said making a gesture skywards, like an aeroplane taking off.
6 months ago her middle aged son and only child had a fit and died in her living room leaving her alone in the world for the first time in her life. Her companion animals have predeceased her and although she has a number of friends who happily help life is changing too quickly around her. Our estate is on the verge of demolition and whilst being forced to move is stressful enough for anyone, for elderly people it can prove fatal. The anecdotal evidence for this is strong enough and it’s backed up in a metastudy which demonstrates that the elderly can’t be treated as units to be shuffled about as everyone else’s needs require.
This afternoon another study winged its way into my inbox, this time from the Association of Therapeutic Communities list. From our enlightened Nordic neighbours comes research about an old peoples home as a therapeutic community.
Here’s the final sentence of the abstract:
“The results suggest that in all organizational sub-processes - housing, treatment, administration, team work, know-how -the old people's therapeutic community functioned significantly better than the controls, namely traditional old people's homes.”
Therapeutic communities, although created and run for and by mentally ill people, are basically healthy intentional communities. Here in the UK there was one Pagan intentional community and now it seems to’ve disappeared. Why can’t we manifest what we say we really desire? The word ‘tribe’ is so overused as to become trite, so what’s preventing us from creating tribal life in a modern setting?
The non-religious intentional communities I’ve visited over the years all have money at the centre, root and heart of their being, it’s what’s allowed them to succeed. They are also highly regulated often to the point of exclusion, sometimes to the point of madness, but these boundaries hold everything else together. The religious communities I’ve visited are sustained by money, tradition, benign dictatorship and the individual intent to submit to the communities foundations. Of course, where the community prevents people from leaving abuse occurs but I sometimes wonder if some of what we call abuse might actually be appropriate communal and personal discipline.
Is Paganism ready for this kind of surrender and engagement?
Modern Paganisms began as a way for each individual to become her own priestess and in the best of worlds there would be no need for chaplains at all. Our companions would, as they sometimes do now, support us when we’re admitted to hospital; we would be personally prepared to manage our own deaths if we were involved in some kind of lethal event; we would have our chronically ill and dying close at hand, as part of everyday life and the manifestation of our beliefs. I’m worried that in our concern to compete with other religions on their terms we lose sight of what’s important to us. I long to offer my neighbour more than I do now and I long for that to be offered to my family too. Being part of a tribe, a community, isn’t a retreat from life but a deep engagement with it and for Pagans, a bottomless reciprocal engagement with all life. Can we manage it? Have we the individual and collective will?