If you don’t read anything else this weekend, you should read Sarah Anne Lawless. She makes so much sense and writes with such real grace about the passing of the wand that is now going on in American Witchcraft that, even on what promises to be one of the most spectacular weekends of the year for outside activity, you’d do well to read her post.
I wonder if we could come up with a set of standard interview questions that people at Pagan conferences, festivals, Pride Days, etc. could use as a basis to interview our elders before they’re all gone and that could then be sent in to some central collection point. I don’t even necessarily mean famous elders or those who founded something local. I mean everyone and anyone who came to Witchcraft in the pre-internet era. I’d really love to preserve a history of those who lived through the founding of this American religion.
My proposal springs partly from Ms. Lawless’ brilliant post and partly from a discussion that I was having with a friend this evening, over dinner on the porch, about how absent social service projects are from Pagan gatherings.
I’ve blogged before about how some of the conferences that my friend attends always include opportunities to do volunteer projects. She was telling me, too, tonight about how, when her company shows up for a monthly volunteer day at the local food bank, there’s always a group of twenty-somethings from some company or other. Those companies, she says, have figured out that, for this age cohort, doing volunteer work on company time is viewed as an important benefit. (She cited a study; I don’t remember the source.) So that’s the monthly experience, and then there’s the conference experience.
She noted that sometimes the conference’s volunteer opportunities take them out into the community where the conference is located, shoveling mulch onto park paths in Atlanta or cleaning out animal shelters in St. Louis. But sometimes the volunteer opportunities are located within the convention hotel; one time in LA, she and a group assembled bikes that had been donated for homeless children. The conference arranged a big hotel room, gave everyone a screwdriver and some directions, and people went to it.
So what if some historians or anthropologists were to develop a questionnaire, maybe something that could take 15 minutes to complete, but that could also lead to evening-long discussions between the generations, to collect information from Pagan elders? And what if Pagan conferences, festivals, Pride Day were to distribute these questionnaires and ask attendees to commit to gathering or providing the information? Each attendee could do important community service AND have an ice-breaker for social events. All that would be needed beyond that would be for some academic or some journal to collect the data and begin to — I hate this word — curate our history.
But our history matters. We’ve lost too much of it over the centuries as it is. We’ve been forced too often to follow Monique Wittig’s advice:
You say there are no words to describe this time, you say it does not exist. But remember. Make an effort to remember. Or, failing that, invent.
Perhaps now is the time to preserve what we may need to draw upon in the future.