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If you go to a Pagan festival these days, it's rare not to have some kind of workshop or discussion group on polyamory, the practice of ethical multiple relationships. It's even more rare not to see some people being public about their poly practices; in many cases, a Pagan festival is the only place outside their own homes that they might be able to refer to "my husband/wife" and "my boyfriend/girlfriend" in the same breath, pointing them both out across the room. Polyamory is a growing phenomenon in the Pagan community, whether people like it or not; it is growing by leaps and bounds and will not be stopped. It's a rolling stone that is starting an avalanche.
Morning Glory Zell, one of the co-founders of the Church of All Worlds, a Neo-Pagan organization, first coined the word "polyamory." In other words, the word itself, and the first sacred naming of the practice, came out of the Pagan subculture. While this bit of history seems to have been entirely forgotten by the outside polyamory community, we Pagans ought not to forget it. That name was created when some brave people questioned religion and ended up Pagan, and were questioning the relationship rules that belonged to the religions that they had rejected. Some of them had come into polyamory by falling in love, and they were determined to create a workable—and spiritual—model of how that could succeed. It was more than just "free love" or simple promiscuity; it was a model of relationship bound in generosity of heart as opposed to a scarce consciousness of love.
Decades later, as a polyamorous Pagan, I found myself straddling two groups: a polyamorous community that had forgotten that so many of its roots lay in early American Paganism; and a Pagan community that mostly never knew it to begin with, and was becoming increasingly bewildered by the growing influx of polyfolk. That's when I began interviewing people, and asking them how they got it right, and more to the point, how they got it spiritually right. Some of the answers were amazing, and many changed my own outlook on how we as Pagans do the dance of multiple relationships a little differently.
Some Pagans spoke of being inspired by the diversity in nature, and how diversity is a sacred tenet in our faith. Some spoke movingly of how polytheism and polyamory were linked in their spiritual practice, and that loving more than one deity had taught them how to love more than one human. Some talked about using polyamory as a spiritual discipline of relationship, mindfully and deliberately stretching one's ability to love past the obstacles of jealousy, possessiveness, territoriality, and envy.
The most constant theme, though, was that of creating a tribe out of love instead of blood kinship. For some, the dream of the Pagan tribe had come true in the creation of a poly family; for others, this was the goal that they longed for. In this day and age of the lonely nuclear family, polyamory is searching for a new way to create extended family, clan, and supportive community. Many parents with children waxed happily about the joys of raising kids in a group of loving adults, where there were always enough hands and enough love to go around. Children who grew up in poly families spoke of how their parents were able to get divorced and remarried without necessarily leaving the clan circle, and of the advantages in having several parent and stepparent figures to give them perspective and teach them new things.
I also ran into a lot of Pagans in the community who feared and resented the growing phenomenon of polyamory, for varying reasons: fear of Pagans getting a reputation for "sluttiness," fears of its "wrongness" that seemed left over from their Judeo-Christian background, worries about children not knowing who their parents were, and people fearing that their partners might pressure them into polyamory if it were allowed to be seen as a valid alternative in the community. (In fact, my first piece of angry mail as an author came from a Pagan chastising me for writing about this reputation-ruining practice that was sullying modern Paganism!)
Out of all these interviews grew the book Pagan Polyamory: Becoming A Tribe Of Hearts. The hardest part of writing it was making sure that I was speaking equally to curious people who had never heard of this polyamory stuff, to those who were interested and seeking information, and to those who were old hands at it. I expect it's possible that this book will create a lot of passionate discussion among Pagans. But then, I've always felt that passionate discussion was a good thing. Certainly it's a subject whose time has come, judging from the huge turnout for polyamory workshops anywhere I go. The Love Goddesses bless whom They will, and They will not be denied. Hopefully, when the dust settles, greater understanding will spring up from the seeds of all that passion. I am eagerly awaiting the flowers that I'm sure will grow.
Raven Kaldera is a pagan priest, intersex transgender activist, parent, astrologer, musician, homesteader, and the author of "Hermaphrodeities: The Transgender Spirituality Workbook" (XLibris Press). He is the founder ...