Someday, Pagans Will Have Harlem’s Problem Too

I have been hearing of this for a while — “spiritual tourism” in Harlem.

Although gospel music is part of the heritage and spirit of the neighbourhood, some have suggested that scenes in local churches are starting to resemble a Hollywood movie. Tourists visiting have become an issue of contention, to the extent that some are now shut out of services.

Shrinking from gentrification on one side, some of Harlem’s well-known historically black churches, famous for their gospel choirs, are overwhelmed on the other side by tourists (many of them European, I am told).

Others report that their church stopped letting tourists come to services because of the disrespect and rudeness they exhibited. For example, in some cases, as soon as the “praise and worship” or music ended, they got up and left.

The scale is much, much, much smaller, but I think back to the Wiccan wedding that M. and I conducted here in Colorado in the 1980s for an American guy and his Thai bride — they met while students at Colorado College.

Her relatives orbited the circle like electrons, camcorders whirring. It really put me off. I was not used to multiple electronic devices during ritual — not “in circle,” but “right outside of circle.”

The bride’s father was some kind of United Nations functionary — he lived in Italy — and after the wedding he did take us all to a Thai restaurant in Denver, where he ordered without reference to the printed menu, and we had a delicious feast, while his daughter made sarcastic remarks about the king of Thailand, whose portrait hung on the wall.

That made up for the uncomfortable ritual just a little.

But imagine if Pagan ritual theatre begins to attrach attention outside our community. We will have to adapt. Some already have — watch this video of a recent Greek Pagan procession through shopping and entertainment districts of Athens. As opposed to lining up in rows in pews, I think that the procession is a quintessential Pagan large-group ritual. And maybe some day the tour buses will be there too.

7 thoughts on “Someday, Pagans Will Have Harlem’s Problem Too

  1. Medeina Ragana

    Whenever I held Circle and there were visitors, I stipulated that you either attended as part of the Circle or leave – no inbetween, no standing outside the circle to “watch”. You’re either a participant and respectful of the ceremony or you are disinvited. If I had to go to a church for a wedding or funeral or whatever, even though I may not agree with the teaching of the church in question, I certainly would stay for the whole ceremony, and stand, sit or kneel with the rest of the congregation. To do otherwise is disrespectful. On the other hand, if I had real deep serious philosophical problems with the teaching of a specific church (and I have), I simply would not attend.

  2. I’ve already experienced ‘pagan tourism’ enough already to have a ‘no tourist’ rule. I live in a place where there is an ivy league university, a well known private college, a community college and a state college. It means, since I’m out on the interwebs, that I get contacted a lot for class projects. For the most part, the experiences have been good and respectful. However, there have been some bad experiences. Because a lot of pagans (in my experience at least) tend to be intensely private, some of the bad experiences have come from my fellow pagans. I work at the state university and I like to help students, however, I now have a no more student project rules.

    I really appreciate the link to the ritual parade in Greece. Your thoughts are exactly how I feel about large public rituals. In addition, I’ve learned through experience, that photographing or videoing ritual does not communicate the feelings or spirituality at all. This celebration is a great alternative. Celebratory, inclusive, and photographs well.


  3. The parade in Greece looks like fun. I wish I could let go like that. I would love to be a background dancer for someone like Miley Cyrus or Brittany Spears. Although choreographed, those dancers look so liberated and free, and it is very moving (at least to me) just to watch them. The parade in Greece was not private, so I understand the tourists. Spectators always photograph parades.

    Old news, but tourists can enjoy pagan festivals by going to the Vatican or attending Sunday morning church. People wear funny hats, carry smoking purses, and NONE of the rites are symbolic—it is all REAL magic.

  4. Pitch313

    We are all watchers of the human condition and all manner of human spectacle. One of my recent mantra-like observations amounts to–I am as paparazzi as the next surfer on the Interwebz or smart phone/tablet user or movie goer or TV addict or fan! More you Tube, please!

    OK, tourists may arrive like ants at a picnic. So we actually doing stuff gotta put up Tupperware walls…!

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