I was doing my occasional web searches today and, for some reason, looked up the phrase “Pagan Tea House”. Anyone who knows me is aware of my involvement in the Pagan Tea House on AOL back in the ancient days of the Web. But just for reference, I should say that Pagan Tea House was a private member room on AOL, started by a fella named Falc, and which was largely reserved for discussing Pagan issues and hanging out. It became quite popular and eventually was codified by AOL as a public chat room (which essentially meant that AOL stole it from us). Those original members wandered away to various parts of the Web and their individual lives, and then a curious thing happened. A lot of the later members took the Pagan Tea House banner and spread it to various places on the Web. First on Internet Relay Chat, and then eventually to various discussion groups in various places scattered about the Web.
At one point I tried to tie all those different places together by creating an online organization called the Pagan Tea House Group, hoping to provide a central resource for all the various PTHs, which I’d thought might possibly help us create a larger Pagan community. What I discovered was that most of these people didn’t give a shit about Paganism or any sense of community, to put it bluntly. “Pagan Tea House” was a cool phrase that they all laid claim to, and none of them were interested in networking with other groups calling themselves “Pagan Tea Hosue”. These people didn’t give a damn where the original Pagan Tea House came from or who started it or who the original members were. It was something they’d appropriated, and each group had its own reason for keeping the others at a distance.
I once registered the domain paganteahouse.com to use with the PTH Group. I tried to provide resources for different PTHs to use, offering space for web pages and links to IRC chat rooms. No one really took me up on anything. Which I found frustrating and confounding. Eventually as I started getting interested in more political issues and started The Watch, I let myself be browbeat into putting the PTH Group to rest. There were some folks in the EFnet IRC PTH who were third or fourth generation members of the original PTH and felt that they somehow had ancestral rights to the name. I finally got tired of banging my head against the wall and washed my hands of all of it. I turned the paganteahouse.com domain over to someone I thought I could trust with it, only to find myself frustrated when she didn’t do a damned thing with it but sit on her ass and hold it so that no one else could use it.
I shrugged it off and moved on. Through the years I’ve noticed that there has been no shortage of people looking to cash in on the popularity of the Pagan Tea House name, whether that be in establishing a chat room or a discussion group. It’s a catchy name, so who can blame them? But it’s always bugged the hell out of me that not one of the people involved in these groups has ever acknowledged the lineage or paid honor to that humble chat room that started it all. To make matters worse, I haven’t been able to find a single instance where a sense of community has sprang up around the name that in any way pays honor to the original Pagan Tea House.
All this came from that Web search that I did. Should it bother me that so many people are using the name “Pagan Tea House”? Do I have any right to feel a sense of ownership about it? Well, actually, that’s a bad choice of words. I don’t feel like I own the name, or that anyone should, really. But it does offend me somewhat that so many people feel free to use it, without ever wondering where the name came from or what it might have once meant to people.
You know, one of the reasons I had for creating the PTH Group was that I wanted to codify the name in some permanent fashion before someone got the bright idea to incorporate a business and start a chain of coffee shops under the name. I wanted to lock it down so that it would continue to belong to the entirety of the Pagan and PTH community, so no one could swoop in and lay claim to the name, like AOL had done when they stole the original chat room from us and made it a public room. But I let myself be shouted down by a bunch of people who had no right to an opinion on the matter, and I let them browbeat me into turning over the proverbial keys to the kingdom, which they promptly put in a proverbial box to sit on a proverbial shelf somewhere, gathering proverbial dust.
Well, I’m sort of thinking that it might be time for the PTH to raise its head again. Not that I’m thinking of trying to start some kind of community. There are certainly enough PTHs running around. But I think there needs to be at least one history page. Every one of the fluff bunnies might wrap themselves in Paganism and pretend that using the phrase “Pagan Tea House” was somehow an original thought, but there are still Ancient Ones (as someone once called me and the other original PTH members) such as myself floating around out there in the ether on the Web who know better. I don’t want to disabuse anyone of the right to use the name, but I want people to know where it came from.
I haven’t decided yet. I mean, I already have plenty of stuff on my plate. Do I really need yet another project? But I do so want there to be some kind of heritage page. I feel like I owe the memory of the original PTH that much. In many ways, I feel like I wouldn’t be the person I am today had I not met those wonderful people at a time when I desperately needed their fellowship and guidance. They deserve a monument of some sort.
If I decide to put up a PTH page again, I defy anyone to challenge my right to do so. I was one of the original members of the original Pagan Tea House. No one who came later has a right to tell me anything, or to have an opinion on how the name should be used. Almost a decade ago, I wrote Falc and asked him how he felt about the PTH Group. He gave his blessing. That’s the only acknowledgement I’ve ever needed.
I guess what I’m saying is that anyone who doesn’t like the fact that some old fart like me sets up a corner of the Internet and puts out a sign that reads “Pagan Tea House”, they can go take a flying leap. Where the PTH is concerned, that’s about like a priest from Boston trying to explain to one of the original Apostles what Christianity is all about.