I find pagan coffee to be a very conflicting situation for me. I love the idea of a bunch of pagans showing up for coffee on Sunday and shooting the shit. I like to hear about how the others are doing, even though we almost never talk about our religions. The occasional reference is often enough. That we enjoy the same activities, have sympathy for similar causes, and can mutually (mostly anyhow there's always go to be a few bad folks) respect where each of us comes from job and resource wise is most of what I need in a community.
In truth, I find if someone starts talking about their religious experience in any depth during coffee meetup, I get uncomfortable. Part of me is always watching our venue, and while it's no secret we're a pagan meetup and where we meet is very relaxed, I worry about how public a space it is to talk faith. I don't know what makes me worried. Am I worried that someone else will be offended? Am I worried that we'll be judged? Am I worried we'll look dumb to strangers? Why do I have this need for privacy and a deep feeling of protectiveness over my faith? I know I don't want to share what I think or experienced in a coffee shop but I don't know why I feel that way.
When I share my faith in person, it's always in the privacy of a home or living area and it's often intimate between two or three people not a group of thirteen-ish people. There is a background of my experience already understood as I understand those three of so people's experiences. So when they talk about seeing fairies, or about their preference for natural remedies or their meditation I don't have a ton of follow up questions or corrections.
In pagan coffee meet up, I don't have the luxury of all this complete understanding and when people speak often times I feel the urge to correct or seek to clarify but I bite down on it. I don't want to offend them or invalidate their experience no matter how bonkers is sounded. Seriously, last week this guy went on a long rant about how depression can be cured with diet and exercise and how his medication made him into and I quote an "emotional zombie" and that it was just the stuff he would ask to take if "he ever wanted to go on a killing spree". And I'm sorry he had a bad experiences with medication and perhaps in his case they doctors were too quick to write a prescription, but what he just said about how depression is pretty much all in your head and lifestyle shows that he KNOWS NOTHING about depression. People sometimes feel down for no reason and yeah you can change that with vitamins and exercise or better yet a diet change. Doing this can benefit a depressed person too, but if you're in the throws of actual clinical depression, you need minimally counseling and you may need medication at least to help jump start you. As a person who has depression, social anxiety and a few other nervous disorders I can tell you it's not rational and it's not something more iron and b12 and some st john's wart will fix. Yes I am currently medication free and I struggle at least two or three times a week to keep balance and I have an amazing social support system between my family and my mate who work with me to keep my above water. I know the balance is very precarious. Of course this same guy took one b12 pill once ever and immediately felt very sleepy which he believes is because the b12 produced so much energy regeneration for him that he had to take a healing nap to aid the cell regeneration going on in his body. Perhaps I shouldn't let him rile me so with how he intersperses jung-ish gods, meditation, and holistic diet.
I figure the people there all feel I'm a pagan newb because when asked about my faith I brush it off as an eclectic pagan with ties to local gods and generally refuse to elaborate. It's so odd to me that I can write down and post about my experiences with my gods but if you want me to speak the words in front of an actual group of real people watching me my throat closes in anxiety. My face gets red and sweaty, I stammer and I can't hold eye contact with anyone. I mean it can't be that I'm afraid to share, because I do in perfect detail online, perhaps it's not being able to control exactly every aspect of what I say, or maybe it's just my social anxiety? I'm not verbose in the friendly large crowd about begin things let alone religion.
Of course, in some ways I find pagan group even more isolating because I don't see common ground in my practice and their's---and of course my own silence makes it hard for me to go out finding common ground.
A few weeks ago we had a new comer in our group. She's moved back to Alabama from Alaska, where she was part of a very active pagan community. She wanted to hear everyone's variety of paganism and she wanted to really talk about magic and faith. The group as a whole was not largely responsive to her entreaties. I could see her deflate a little and head back into herself some. She told us in the beginning that she wasn't sure how often she'd be able to come down because of how far she had to travel, but I feel like she probably won't come back based off of her experience with us vs what she's seeking.
I felt bad for her and was annoyed with her at the same time. We share the desire for a book group or a specific course of say divination or aligning with nature or perhaps different styles of spell crafting—though I think our styles are too different to share a group of that kind. And I was annoyed because she has that outgoing demanding personality that made me feel certain that while she wouldn't be able to get that with us she would seek until she had what she wanted. I'd still be sitting here with pagan coffee group more or less never speaking, hoping that I'd get comfortable and some magic force of will would make it so I was able to connect with these people. It's true that as I get to know them I feel like I could connect with some of them in meaningful friendship levels—which is new in my adult life too-- but I don't think we have enough in common for there ever to be a group ritual or for there to be a study group reading the same book and I'm sorry about that.
I've identified a new-ish woman in the group who may practice with me, but I think we'd have to take turns creating rituals in our respective paths style—which I'm good with as a start, but I'd love to actually have community where we could all be on the same page about what we are practicing and why we are practicing instead of just bringing respectful presence to ritual.
I guess I should count myself lucky that I have a pagan community and that they welcome me and that we could even have the potential for respectful shared ritual space. It all comes in time right? That of course doesn't make the wait any less frustrating.