Xenophilia means an affection for unknown/foreign objects or peoples. (Think Xenophilius Lovegood in the Harry Potter books and movies.) Y’all might have noticed how very common it is in paganism.
There are times when it makes me shake my head a little. My belief in the value of the close-at-hand and common is no secret at this point–and sometimes the pagan propensity for courting the exotic seems a little over the top to me. And sometimes it leads to bad behavior like cultural appropriation.
But–surprise!–I’m not actually writing this piece to complain about xenophilia.
Because here’s the good thing about the pagan community’s obsession with the other: it means there’s a place here for those of us who don’t fit in very well everywhere else. As a community, we are far from perfect–we’re all still mostly human after all–but the thing is that as a general rule we don’t fear what is different. If anything we like it a little too much.
Of course it makes sense. So many of us come to paganism because we long for a spiritual path and a spiritual family, but we’ve been too deeply wounded by mis-handled mainstream religion to remain in an Abrahamic faith community. And a lot of others come to paganism because they want a spiritual life but abhor the idea of following a bunch of rules. And some come to paganism because they see and hear things other people can’t see or hear, and they know that doesn’t make them insane.
Then again, a lot of us come to paganism for ALL of those reasons, and a few more besides.
This means we’re sort of a diverse community by default, and maybe that inevitably leads to welcoming the misfits. Hooray for the riff-raff and all that.
Example: I started going to these meetups on Saturday morning in SW Portland where the facilitator picks a topic and we all discuss how it relates to our personal practice. Both of the meetups I’ve been to so far have had at least one or two people who are pagan curious. And both times, without fail, they were welcomed unreservedly and got their questions answered (loudly, enthusiastically, and sometimes with so much information they probably left with their heads spinning).
We’re not a perfect community. But we’ve got the whole embracing outsiders thing nailed. And I think that’s awesome.