Monthly Archives: June 2013

Priorities and Alliances

There are two things on my mind these days.  The first is that activist burn-out can creep up on us when we least expect it.  The second is that we must be very careful about vilifying or extolling the virtues of either some individuals or governmental agencies.  Here’s what I’m thinking…

Here in CT our hard work to pass a GMO labeling bill was finally successful after what seemed like a very long campaign.  Aside from supporting other states in their efforts to do the same, through phone calls and emails to their representatives, this Summer was shaping up to be more relaxing in terms of activism demands.  Then along came news of the NSA spying debacle, an explosion of new information about the TPP and the Supreme Court decision regarding voting rights.  Add to this our continued need to speak out about fracking, global warming, women’s reproductive rights, college education that is now becoming economically impossible for more and more students, “stop and frisk” activities that continue in NYC, and of course the continuing antics of Monsanto and its biotech cronies.

Blessed as I am to know amazing people who keep me informed of all sorts of issues and campaigns, I receive almost daily pleas to help save polar bears in the arctic, primates in the rain forest, corral reefs, wolves, abandoned pets after natural disasters and many others too numerous to list here. 

Each and every one of these issues is of prime importance to one or more aspects of our society and planet.  How do we make a choice to allocate our limited resources (time, energy, understanding and physical presence) to some and not others?  When I delete the email or pass over an article about one issue or another, I often experience a gnawing sense of guilt for not caring enough, for making a judgment that one issue isn’t as worthy of my time as another or that distasteful attitude that “someone” will take care of it.

I am not writing to share any words of wisdom about how to solve the problem of living comfortably with a limited “to do” list as an activist.  I am, rather, writing to ask others for their ideas about how to go about this.  No one can do everything but sometimes we feel that everything is our responsibility when we see so much that needs attention.

My second thought is about our responses to the Supreme Court specifically and our government in general.  When the Court ruled as it did about voting rights in the South, I posted a picture of all nine judges, 5 of them wearing KKK hoods.  I felt as justified in that post as I did when I railed against all of their Monsanto rulings.  How easy it is at times like those to dismiss the Court as an enemy of the people, not to be trusted or admired.  But how do I reckon those feelings with my overwhelming respect for their decision regarding same-gender marriage?  I realized this dichotomy just seconds after my first celebratory post to Face Book.  Wait a minute!  Isn’t this the same Supreme Court that I just summarily denounced?

I think the important lesson to be learned here is that each instance, whether a decision by the Supreme Court or legislation at either the state or national level must be judged on its own merit.  A CT politician once raked over the coals for inaccurate accounts of his military service is also a most valued ally on the GMO labeling front and not every Republican or Democrat can be counted on to vote as expected at every turn.  Sometimes the perceived bad guys hook up with the good guys.  How do we form temporary alliances with groups or people we sometimes see as the enemy or comfortably laud their accomplishments and decisions without feeling as though we’ve sabotaged our own broader agenda?

So, fellow Pagan activists, I submit these questions to you in the hope that our collective answers can be of help and offer perspective to each other when it all seems a little too much to deal with.  We’re in this together and I look forward to your thoughts. 

Greening your magics: What are you giving?

Offerings. Every spiritual tradition on earth has them in some form. It helps to form as relationship with the unknown and unknowable of our traditions. The rune gebo and a line from the Havamal sum it up well for me: a gift for a gift. Gods/spirits/ancestors give to us, and we on the living side give to them.

In some traditions, offerings revert back to the devotee. For others, the offerings are left out to be burned or taken in by the spirits themselves. Which often then translates into the local fauna consuming them.

What are you leaving out for your spirits then?

Over the past year I’ve blogged a lot here about food. Hel, I have an entire blog devoted to the subject. I spend a lot of time thinking about what I put into my body, as well as what others ingest. I know Those in the Unseen world do not have the same nutritional needs as people do, but I still wonder how some of the food in our culture might nourish them.

Do we want to share offerings comprised of fake sugars which the pancreas cannot process? Or fake fats? Or overloaded with potential allergens and fake colors and an overall ingredient list which sounds more like a chemistry experiment?

Also, if you are going to leave the offerings out for the spirits, and for animals to consume, do you want to put out food which could make them sick or cause death? Chocolate is toxic for dogs, for example.

My friend Lupa spoke about this recently. There is more to offerings than food. You can offer actions. You can offer words. You can offer objects. I’m a big believer in quality over quantity. My ethics won’t allow me to spend a huge amount of money on little trinkets which were made in the sweatshop of a poor country.

So what do you do, especially if you only have a small amount of money to put into your offerings? If you want to buy food or items, get the best quality you can. Negotiate. Ancestors especially understand not having a huge amount of money for what amounts to gifts. When done with love and thought, they matter a lot more than throwing around a lot of money for flash.

What have you been offering recently?

Standing Up Against a Step Too Far

As you may be aware, there’s been a bit of an argument going on in Pagan circles relating to the nature of the gods.  I’ve never encountered a power greater than or outside of myself.  I choose to operate in a hard polytheist framework because I trust the experiences of others and choose to believe that their experiences can have value to me both instead of and in addition to any of my own.  But, I digress.

Jason Mankey at Raise the Horns sort of stole my thunder on Friday, but I think I’ve got a slightly different take on things than he does.  For reference, please check out the following from Galina Krasskova.  The step too far is as follows:

“I would go so far as to say Paganism that isn’t Deity centric isn’t Pagan.”

Firstly, let me say that I have no problem with Galina’s point of view with respect to her devotional practice.  Hell, I don’t even have a problem with her feeling that it’s better than other practices.  I think she probably should feel thusly; most of us do likely think that we have a pretty solid way of operating that works well and we often judge others based on our own point of view.

I do take issue, however, with her saying that things different from her way of being Pagan aren’t Pagan enough.  And, as an activist, I think it’s important for us to stand up and say something when things have gotten out of hand.  It doesn’t make us popular–it doesn’t even make us right–but standing up for what we believe in is what we do and it’s a necessary process of figuring out where we stand and what we stand for.

The quotation above is a step too far.  It reminds me, in some ways, of the concept of being a race traitor, i.e. a person who takes a position that is seen to be against the better interests of his or her racial identity.   Krasskova, in her statement above, seems to be making a similar argument; if a person doesn’t focus on a devotional, deity-centric religious practice, then their somehow advocating a position that is against the better interests of a wider Pagan identity.

To be fair, I suspect that Galina and I have a very different perspective on what a Pagan identity should look like.  My point of view is more like what John Halstead describes in his post relating to the three centers of Paganism.  I would recommend reading that essay in full, but the TL;DR version is that there are three basic areas on which Pagans tend to focus:  the self, the earth, and the deities. Indeed, most Pagans include more than one or all three in their practice.

John describes more of what one might find in each of these areas, and in my view, people who operate within each of these areas–and within more than one of them–should be free to call themselves Pagan.  Or not! indeed, someone can have a reverence for the earth and an understanding of the interdependence of all things and not call themselves Pagan.  Similarly, a ceremonial magician or a devotional polytheist may also operate within a framework that can either Pagan or not depending on their choice and preference.

Regardless of our own personal views, it behooves us to remain civil in our disagreements and I think we’ve lost that within the community–whatever shape it takes–in recent weeks.  As an activist, it’s hard to take a stand.  It’s harder, sometimes, to take a stand against those with whom we share so much; those within our family, if you will.  But, perhaps that difficulty makes it all that much more necessary.

My fear, if we leave statements like these alone to hang in cyberspace, that others entering our community in the future my find them and take them to be a statement of fact rather than opinion.  That they may feel belittled or othered by these words.  Indeed, I feel othered by them considering I suspect my devotion is less ardent than Galina’s and wonder where, in her view of what is and is not Pagan, I may stand.

But, in the end, that doesn’t matter.  What has mattered, and what I hope continues to matter, to us in the greater Pagan community is that those within it choose to be a part of it.  I have a great love for my Pagan brothers and sisters–the devotional hard polytheist and the Wiccan ceremonial magician–and my faith and my understanding of myself is deepened by my encounters with the diversity within our faith.

Fat Activism, Food Activism, and Health

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–By Shauna Aura Knight

Hi, I’m Shauna, and I’m a fat Pagan. I’m also celebrating having lost over 100 pounds in the past couple of years, and improving my health by leaps and bounds. Actually, this week I’ve hit a milestone of being about to cross under 200 pounds for the first time in 7 years.

Weight and health are an issue that recently divided the Pagan community in some drama. About a year ago there was a big hoopla about a post my friend Peter Dybing wrote on his blog. I can sum it up as, there are folks who were concerned about the number of fat Pagans and the health issues they observed in the Pagan community. The backlash from many Pagans was, stop judging me for being fat and I don’t need to lose weight for you.

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Come One, Come All: Calling all Pagan Activists

On May 25th of last year, I wrote a post over at No Unsacred Place briefly telling about my time in Chicago and of meeting Shauna Aura. I offer it here for you all to read and comment on.

shaunaI spent the greater part of last week in Chicago advocating for progressive change in the US and around the world. There were all kinds of groups in Chicago doing the same: Occupies from all over the country, civic groups, military groups, religious groups. But what I didn’t see was a Pagan group.

While marching, I saw this woman. We talked and I found she too is Pagan. I asked her about a Pagan contingency of activists. She said there were individual Pagans in the crowd but they were not marching together as an organized (or quasi-organized) group. And surprisingly, there’s wasn’t a group of climate change activists though there were individual climate change people in the #noNATO march on Sunday.

I would’ve liked to have marched with Witches for Change (I just made that name up) or Pagans Against Climate Change (another name I made up) or any Pagan group committed to peace, social justice, and solving/undoing climate change. But there is a vacuum of sorts. It seems no such group exists or no group attended the week long events in Chicago. Not that I saw anyway.

It makes me wonder if we are really that difficult to organize. And it brings me back to my inaugural post Leader of the Environmental Movement where I wondered aloud why Pagans aren’t leading the charge against climate change.

It’s been a year since I wrote that post. And a few months after writing it, I started Pagan Activist because I felt there was a tremendous hole to be filled in the progressive and Pagan communities. Slowly we are coming together to bring our individual issues to the forefront: Shauna often writes about community organizing, Debra writes GMOs, Soli writes food, Dash writes interfaith issues, and I tend to be all over the places (thanks ADHD!) And guest posters such as Peter Dybing add flavor and authenticity to our little bump on the information super highway.