Hecate tells the truth about Pagan Standard Time and links to Kerr Cuchulain’s little video about it. Hecate talks about the experience of a circle with respect to PST. Kerr says that it’s a violation of the Rede and gives examples about attending a ritual or leading a class. They’re both right on about this problem.

The worst part is that it’s a Prisoners’ Dilemma. I attended an event earlier this year where the organizers were 45 minutes late, due to inexcusably bad planning about transportation that any reasonable person would have foreseen. This was as predictable as saying that the Metro to the Cherry Blossom Festival will be crowded.* You simply have to know this; there is no excuse.

As a result, I, my spouse, and someone else meeting us there – who realized she was going to be running a few minutes late and rushed to make up that time so as not to be rude or miss the event – ended up waiting outside in the heat for over an hour.

There were also delays because part of the plan amounted to “we’ll call you when we get there” going six different ways. News flash: that’s not a plan. That’s a lack of plan. It puts off the effort of making decisions and disseminating information to attendees at the price of creating a logistical nightmare and a game of, literally, telephone at the site. Aside from its ineptitude, it is a lousy way to prepare for a serious observance because it creates more stress and frustration that we have to ground and center to get rid of first.

The joke about “Pagan Standard Time” is supposed to be that everybody will show up late, because they know the vast majority of others will – that it’s become standardized. But it’s not funny: some people show up on time and get punished by sitting around with nothing happening because of the bad behavior of their fellows. That’s a classic prisoners’ dilemma. None of us have any incentive to fix it until everybody’s going to fix it.

Except that we can’t work that way. Maybe a small circle of close friends can run on PST, but anything larger can’t. It just can’t – festivals fall apart, rituals don’t happen, and our relationships with the earth, with deity, and with each other get damaged.

There’s no easy way out of a multi-sided prisoners’ dilemma. We can try to make agreements with each other beforehand and then stick to them. None of us are perfect; as Hecate points out, crap does happen. So we need to be understanding about that, even while recognizing that our understanding has limits. For example, even though I’m trying to use my bad experience as an example, I’m trying hard not to make an example of the people involved.

I’m not going to use Pagan Standard Time as an excuse, and I won’t accept it from others.


*It was not a cherry blossom event. Unrelated examples are unrelated.

5 thoughts on “The Prisoners’ Dilemma of Pagan Standard Time

  1. I think you can imagine how I as the child of two army officers (both of whom had been company sergeants before making it to officer status) feel about being on time.

    I also see the behaviour you describe as passive-aggressive “territory marking.” Because those who are staring things late never worry that, for example, if it is a one hour ceremony due to start at 1–that the venue will close at 2:10 whether or not they start late. And since they get to futz around before the event starts while you sit on your hands they are effectively stealing time away from you.

    Don’t know about the US military but in the Canadian Army invitations might read 8 for 8:30 — which means that the doors will open a 8 for anyone who wants to come and socialize and the actual event will begin (like clockwork) at 8:30.

    1. The dining out events that I’ve been to have generally had a designated “pre dinner drinks” (also known as “make sure you shake the CO’s hand and compliment his spouse”) time listed on invitations.

      And on reflection, I realize that my coven tends to work that way – I will send something out saying “gather between X and X:30.” I just got another invitation specifically for 11:30 where the details note ritual will start at noon.

      Plus, to me there’s a big difference between a half-hour flex/gathering time and “Ritual starts at 5,” so I get there at 4:15 while everybody else drifts in between 5 and 5:30.

  2. It’s not just pagans. Any religious group (from tiny evangelical christian to mid-sized mainstream protestant to UU eclectic) I’ve ever belonged to operated on X Standard Time. Likewise the Sci Fi Fantasy Guild in Virginia operated on Guild Standard Time. And the local Home Schoolers operate on HSST – I think it may well be a broad societal thing. We (generic) become confused and even a little angry when things actually start one time (because we’ve been factoring in the running late, and so we miss the beginning).

    1. I bet it’s actually about organizational size. Nobody expects the Presbyterian church to hold off on starting service until you’re there, because you’re just one out of a hundred people who might or might not come. (Unless you’re the pastor.) But if you’re part of a small group, people feel bad about starting without you, or they’re depending on you to invoke the South, or whatever. When you’re 25% or 10% or even 5% of the group, you as an individual matter a lot more.

  3. How different from when first came to paganism – I was taught back in the 70’s that Pagan Standard Time meant to arrive 15 minutes early.

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