Ritual: Physical Accessibility, Transgender Inclusion, and more

iStock_000001460525Medium

–By Shauna Aura Knight

One of my values, as a Pagan leader, is to make rituals and spiritual experiences that are accessible and inclusive. At least–as much as I’m able to. I talk to a lot of Pagans who vehemently agree with this concept…and who then present rituals that–for various reasons–are not very accessible or inclusive. Their rituals may present difficulty for people with mobility challenges. Or the rituals may not really be inclusive of gay, lesbian, or transgender community members. And there’s lots of other ways rituals could be inaccessible and exclusive. Often this is done unintentionally; however, there is still an impact.

I’ve said before that activism is sometimes saying the unpopular thing. Often, it’s standing up for those who do not have as much power in a dynamic, whose voices are not heard.

In this case, the unpopular thing is the idea that we–Pagan leaders and ritualists–may need to change how we approach rituals in order to make our rituals more accessible and inclusive. We may even need to re-evaluate some of our dearly-held theological beliefs. If we want the dominant culture to change, to legalize gay marriage, support people with disabilities, eliminate racism…don’t we have to do that work first ourselves, within our community?

When I suggest making changes to rituals and “the way things are done,” I’ve experienced some people have gotten pretty angry at me. A few months ago I posted a blog about the idea that Pagans shouldn’t be using disposable cups for Cakes and Ale, and a number of Pagan ritualists and leaders said some harsh things in response. One of the overarching reactions I can sum up as, “It’s too hard to do something different.”

And let’s face it–making changes to the way you’ve always done something is hard.

Usually my activism centers on environmentalism, but more and more within the Pagan community I find that we need activism on some basics…yes, environmentalism, but also, body image issues, health, positive sexuality, ethics. I  observe that we don’t always pay as much attention as we should to making space for people with different needs than our own.

Dogmatic Pagan Practices
I often hear Pagans wax poetic on how non-dogmatic we are. Modern Paganism is, in some ways, just as stuck in practices based in dogma as other religions. Ask any of these folks to look at a different way of doing things, and you might get an earful about how “this is the way we have always done it,” or, “this is the way the gods want it done.” If that’s not dogma, then what is?

  • In a group that has always used sage to smudge people, ask them to explore ways they might facilitate a ritual without any smoke
  • In a group that expects everyone to stand through the whole ritual, ask them to think about ways to allow people to sit
  • In a group who has always used the story of the God and Goddess and their heterosexual union for their wheel of the year, ask them to explore a story that is not solely based on gender binary or heterosexual sex
  • In a group that has always had talking-heavy rituals, ask them to consider ways to include people with different learning modalities

If I’m running a public ritual, it is my obligation to make space for as many people to be comfortable as possible.

Accessibility: Physical Mobility
Many Pagans have mobility challenges. Bad knees, fibromyalgia, back pain. For whatever reason, some people will have a hard time standing during rituals. An obligation I hold as a leader and ritualist is to make my rituals accessible to those with various physical needs. This includes everything from choosing a venue that is accessible to those with mobility challenges, to making sure that people in my ritual are empowered to sit.

I’m amazed at how many rituals go on and on, and people with canes who are in obvious discomfort will do their best to stand through a ritual. Most ritualists, I observe, never offer any physical accommodation for these folks.

A lot of accessibility can be managed by the ritualists  and how much choice you offer your participants.

During my pre-ritual talk, I outline a few agreements such as,I will be inviting people to stand, move, and sing, and if people need to sit down they are welcome to do so, that they can participate as much as they are physically able. If they need to bring a chair in closer they are welcome to do so, or to ask someone for help in doing so. If I’m hosting a spiral dance, I ask people who need to sit to come to the center so that they can participate seated. There are more ways to include people with mobility difficulties than I can outline here. But, because it’s my value to make my ritual accessible, I don’t see these accommodations as compromising my rituals.

Accessibility: Location, Transportation, Cost
Along the same lines, I work hard to make sure that my rituals are hosted close to public transportation and easy parking.  I also work to find a venue that is inexpensive enough that I can offer my events on a sliding scale, with no one turned away for lack of funds. Achieving all of those goals inexpensively is no mean feat, which you probably know if you’ve ever organized a Pagan event.

Accessiblity: Scent, Incense, Sage, and other Smoke
I’ve talked to many Pagans who are baffled when I suggest that I do not purify with sage. Some have even posed the question, “Is it even a real ritual without sage?” I personally facilitate almost all of my rituals without smoking/scented things. I, and many other Pagans, are allergic and sensitive to sage, incense, smoke, or other scents.

In fact, I get the question so often from ritual leaders who cannot conceive of how one might facilitate a ritual without incense, sage, or essential oils that I just published a short e-book on how to use scent appropriately, and how to facilitate potent rituals without using any scent, smoke, or fire. I personally would love to attend more rituals where I don’t spend part or most of my time struggling to breathe.

Accessibility: Learning Modalities and Intelligences
Many Pagan rituals are very talky. In a way, they are similar to the classroom setting where teachers present most information as talking to students, with some visual support, and very little for kinesthetics learners. The idea of educational theory to work with multiple learning modalities and various intelligences is one that takes up more than just a blog post on its own. In fact, facilitating for different learning modalities and intelligences is getting almost an entire chapter in the ritual book I’m writing. But one thing to consider is, are your rituals predominantly talky, thusly appealing to auditory learners? How do you include your visual learners, your kinesthetic learners, your emotional learners?

Do your rituals work to include both introverts and extroverts? Internal processors and external processors? Long processors and short processors?

While the theory of the Golden Rule–do unto others as you would have done to you–is a good one, the Golden Rule is occasionally a form of discrimination. When we assume that the experience of others is just like our own, we don’t do a good job of planning and designing rituals that are accessible to people with other ways of being.

Tolerance, Intolerance, and GLBTQ Exclusivity
I hear a lot of Pagans talk about how Pagans are tolerant. Which seems to evaporate as soon as there’s an opportunity to bash Christians on a Facebook group, and doesn’t seem to last very long when discussing different Pagan faiths either.

Tolerance also seems to last until someone suggests changing the way a group has always been run, or changing the way a ritual is done. It kind of comes across as, “I totally support gay marriage, but all my rituals are going to focus on heterosexual union between the Goddess and the God.” In this article I wrote on gender inclusivity in rituals, I went far more in-depth into including transgender community members, as well as folks who prefer to work outside of the gender binary, as well as gay, lesbian, and bisexual community members.

As I said there, it’s one thing to say, “GLBTQ folks are welcome here.” It’s another thing to choose stories that don’t raise up the heterosexual union as the only divine life-cycle. Or to consciously choose language that is gender inclusive, chants that are inclusive. “When we say Goddess, we mean, the genderless divine,” works about as well as saying that God in the Abrahamic traditions is genderless.

Theology and Inclusion
Most Pagan rituals I’ve been to lean pretty heavily on the gender binary. If a tradition is duotheistic–working with the God and the Goddess-then gender polarity and binary is a core part of that tradition’s theology. Let’s talk about the elephant in the room: How can rigidly duotheistic/bigendered tradition and rituals ever be inclusive of folks who don’t work within the gender binary?

I’m not saying that if you’re a duotheist you’re wrong. In other articles I’ve talked about holding paradox when we communicate about things we disagree on. I can hold the paradox that you have the right to practice a duotheistic faith. However, I think the elephant is that we must acknowledge that a duotheistic faith may not appeal to transgender and non-gender-binary folks.

Similarly, if the core of your rituals centers on the heterosexual union of the God and Goddess, can you see how your gay and lesbian community members might not find that very inclusive? For that matter, I still hear debates among some BTW and other “old school” Wiccans along the lines of, “How can you properly initiate a priest/ess who is gay or lesbian, since the initiation only works when conferred (through sex or through ritualistic means) from a priest/ess of the opposite gender?”

I wonder if this is something that may shift over time. Not, “Your theology is wrong,” but more that our understanding of gender today is far different from our understanding of gender when Wicca began rising in popularity in the mid 1900’s. For that matter, coming out as gay or lesbian at that time was probably writing your own death warrant. Things have changed since then, and our theologies and dogmas may need to adapt in a way that most Abrahamic faiths have not been able to.

Similarly, I’ve written in past posts about the exclusion some Dianic groups participate in, barring entry to their rituals by any attendee who is a transgender woman and not a cisgender woman. Perhaps this, too, will ease in the decades to come when a transgender woman is just a woman. Or perhaps the popularity of one-gender-only groups will diminish as our population becomes more genderfluid.

What I know today is that I want to make my rituals inclusive of all genders and sexualities to the best of my ability, and that has meant changing how I do ritual, changing my language. I’m not an expert, but I do my best. My article linked above gives some insight into approaches I’ve taken, and I have more to learn.

Racial and Minority Inclusion
I’ll admit, this is an area I struggle with. I’m white, I was raised in an all-white town where we were taught that the N-word is impolite, however, that you should lock your doors when you’re in the city and there are black or brown people around.

When I first became Pagan, I never saw any Pagans of color, and I used to believe what I heard from other (white) Pagans. “Black people aren’t really interested in Paganism.” Or, “It’s too Euro-Centric.” “Black and Hispanic people have their own traditions, Voodoo and such.” Consequently, at first I went under the (erroneous) assumption that any black Pagans I met were practicing African Diasporic traditions like Vodou, which isn’t necessarily the case.

Over time, I started seeing Pagans of color at events, but it was rare. My former partner was mixed-race, and I learned a lot while I was with him. I learned how alone and even afraid he felt when attending events; he would point out to me that he was almost always the only black guy in the room, and it was true. He was grateful beyond words when there was one other person of color at a Pagan event.

What I also noticed is that when he and I ran events together, more people of color attended.

As someone who is white, I’m not sure how to make my rituals more inclusive beyond the work I already do with open-language trance. Ie, instead of defining that the Goddess is blonde and has blue eyes, I let people determine what the divine looks like for themselves. If we’re working with the story of a particular myth, such as the 9 Muses, I’ll point out that people can work with them as 9 female-gendered Greek deities, or, as 9 aspects of inspiration that go beyond gender or even a specific physical form…that each person is responsible for building up the imagery for how the divine looks to them.

Then again, I am a pantheist and an archetypist, not a hard polytheist, and it’s not important to me that Greek deities look white, or that Egyptian deities look black. For me it’s more about giving people the choice to shape the experience and their experience of the divine in whatever way works best for them.

I don’t care what gender they see the divine as, what race, or even if the divine is human-shaped for them. Story and myth is powerful, and what’s equally powerful is giving people to shape their own experience. I do this primarily through open-language trance–I ask people what they see, instead of telling them what the divine looks like for me. I hope to learn more about how I can better support making my events more accessible and inclusive for Pagans of color.

Feasibility and Cost
As a volunteer organizer, there’s some accommodations I can’t afford to make. Sometimes, I have to go with the cheaper venue. When I host a ritual in Chicago, I have one venue that I typically use that is on the ground floor and it’s pretty accessible. But, it’s not always available, and other venues are sometimes cheaper. One is up 2 flights of stairs.

Pagan festivals are often not physically accessible to everyone. People who have a difficulty walking or coping with the heat, people who need electricity to sleep with a CPAP machine, aren’t necessarily going to be able to have their needs met, and there’s only so much a festival organizer can do and make the festival viable.

If someone who is deaf attends one of my rituals, I have no budget to hire an interpreter, and I don’t currently have access to a Pagan volunteer who can offer sign language. I have, perhaps three or four times, attended a few rituals where there was such a volunteer. I hope to find more people who could offer sign language for deaf participants.

It’s difficult, as a Pagan event organizer, to take every single person’s needs into account. Honestly, if I did, I’d never be able to offer an event. There’s just no way to make an event that is inclusive of everyone. In fact, I wrote a blog recently about some of the challenges of planning Pagan events and some of the multitudes of wacky complaints I get.

Exclusive: When it’s OK
There are times when I consciously make the choice to create a ritual that may be exclusive. If I’m facilitating a ritual that is an intense ordeal and includes fasting and physical hardship, that’s not a ritual that’s for everyone.

If I chose to offer a healing ritual for women who have had miscarriages or abortions, or if I offered a healing ritual for families (all genders) who have had to cope with the same. Either one of those is exclusive, and for a particular purpose.

Sometimes it’s also appropriate to kick someone out of a ritual for bad behavior. Perhaps their bad behavior is because of a learning disability or a mood disorder. But, if someone’s being consistently disruptive or even aggressive, then I may need to bar them from events. I’ve worked to accommodate many people over the years; folks with Aspergers, with a personality-altering brain injury, Narcissists, Borderlines, Bipolar, people on medication for anger management. Ultimately, I’m willing to work with people, but if they become consistently harmful to the group, my responsibility is ultimately to the larger group.

Commitment
My commitment is to try and make accommodations where I can. I do my best, and it’s not always enough. Sometimes it’s a matter of finances; I dream of the day when Pagan events and groups bring in enough money so that I don’t have to make the impossibly hard choice between an accessible and non-accessible venue. Sometimes it’s a matter of volunteers; I also dream of the day when I have people to offer services such as signing during rituals or workshops, or people to coordinate children’s programming at events.

Sometimes, it’s a matter of taking on a learning curve. I’m white, cisgender, and predominantly heterosexual. I’m pretty physically strong. I’m not an expert in transgender inclusion. I’m not gay or lesbian. I’m not a minority. I don’t contend with a major physical disability.

However, I have compassion. I don’t know what it’s like to be beaten for being gay, don’t know what it’s like to suffer systemic racial discrimination. I do know what it’s like to be rejected, abused, and harmed for other things. My experiences aren’t the same–but they help me to have some context for what others face. It is through that compassion that I work to make space for people to attend ritual and spiritual work, to find a home in community.

And sometimes, it means standing up to call our Pagan community and leaders out for policies that are, intentionally or unintentionally, exclusive and discriminatory.

How can we work to learn how to make our rituals more accessible and inclusive? Will you commit to work to help more Pagans find Home?

—————————————————————————————————

BioShauna2Shauna Aura Knight is an author, artist, ritualist, community builder, activist, and spiritual seeker. She travels nationally offering intensive education in the transformative arts of ritual, community leadership, and spiritual growth. She’s the published author of books and articles on leadership, ritual facilitation, and personal transformation, as well as an author of fantasy fiction. Her mythic artwork is used for magazines, book covers, and personal shrines. Check out her blog on Pagan leadership and community building or her web site for more information on upcoming classes, rituals, books, and articles.

About Shauna Aura Knight

An artist, author, ritualist, presenter, and spiritual seeker, Shauna travels nationally offering intensive education in the transformative arts of ritual, community leadership, and personal growth. She is the author of The Leader Within, Ritual Facilitation, and Dreamwork for the Initiate’s Path. She’s a columnist on ritual techniques for Circle Magazine, and her writing also appears in the anthologies Stepping in to Ourselves, A Mantle of Stars, Calling to our Ancestors, and Bringing Race to the Table. She’s also the author of urban fantasy and paranormal romance novels including Werewolves in the Kitchen, A Winter Knight’s Vigil, A Fading Amaranth, and The White Dress, the Autumn Leaves. Shauna’s mythic artwork and designs are used for magazine covers, book covers, and illustrations, as well as decorating many walls, shrines, and other spaces. She is passionate about creating rituals, experiences, stories, and artwork to awaken mythic imagination. http://www.shaunaauraknight.com ShaunaAura@gmail.com
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

17 Responses to Ritual: Physical Accessibility, Transgender Inclusion, and more

  1. aurie says:

    Thank you for thinking about these things. All of us have blind spots. Let’s acknowledge them.

  2. The two concepts which resonated for me most in this article is your willingness to allow anyone to come to your rituals regardless of whether they can pay and access to public transportation. Money is what drove me from the group I formerly worshiped with. Though I paid the lowest on the sliding scale, it was still too much for my thin wallet.

    The space the group rented had a door which a member of the leadership was stationed at. You paid your money then the gatekeeper let you pass. She was quite proud of her assigned duty and made sure money was in hand before you walked past her.

    The culture of the group did not make me feel as if I could ask to attend for no fee. I did bring it up a few times to fellow worshipers who nodded in agreement but otherwise remained quiet. Once I brought it up to a member of the leadership only to have my comments met with an explanation of the leader’s personal fiances. No member of the leadership ever came to me to discuss the situation. Money was the pink elephant and to discuss it was either poo-pooed or, more often, ignored.

    The area in which the group is housed has a dearth of public transportation so taking a bus or train was not an option for me nor for anyone else. I tried to organize carpools on more than one occasion but no one lived in the area I did so that didn’t work.

    I feel as if my inquiries made me a pariah and the group was glad to be rid of me. I don’t know if that’s me just being paranoid or if there’s any truth to it. I miss worshiping with a group but I’m not in a position to pay for ritual and gas. There’s a deep isolation I now feel. If I am missed no one from the group — from the layperson to the leadership — has reached out to me in the 2+ years I’ve been absent.

  3. Oriana says:

    So many topics that need to be discussed. I hope there will be some constructive ideas that come out of this. I like to think “we” are evolving. I think the key word to emphasize here is COMPASSION. We need more of it.

  4. Janet Brown says:

    I appreciate your consideration. As a white woman who is gay, I cannot say I have felt much discrimination, other than in some career situations, unfortunately. In terms of my limited experience with ritual inthe Pagan tradition, I am happy to say I felt welcome and accepted. Perhaps because the Goddess/God ritual was done with a Black priestess whom I knew to be gay, I did not find the heterosexualistic slant offensive. Perhaps it is also because it is what it is, and I was interested in learning about the ritual, not changing it to be like me. Your inclusivity and openness to feedback is ver impressive. Thank you for such consideration and compassion.

  5. ocean1025 says:

    I would like to clarify something just to help educate the Pagan Community…

    When one talks about providing reasonable accommodations for persons who are deaf or hard of hearing, please do not refer to it as “offering sign language” or “finding signers.”

    What you are actually offering is not sign language, it is interpreting services. And interpreters are not merely people who know sign language. This is something that the general public often fails to understand – they think that anyone who knows sign language is capable of interpreting. This is not the case.

    As a Deaf person, I am a signer…in fact, I am relatively fluent signer, and I have even taught in an Interpreter Training Program. Yet in spite of my fluency and my prior teaching experience, I am NOT an interpreter. This is not because of my deafness (the assumption that if you cannot hear you cannot interpret), but because I don’t hold professional certification as an interpreter (yes, such certification does exist…it’s called CDI – Certified Deaf Interpreter. I’m currently working on my CDI, but I haven’t achieved it yet.)

    In order to be considered an interpreter, you have to trained as such. For most, that means attending an Interpreter Training Program (ITP). Most ITPs have strict acceptance requirements, and a prerequisite that you have already taken several courses in American Sign Language. The program itself is generally a two year program, although there is a push to make it a four year actual degree program, which is happening on some college campuses. Part of the requirement for graduation from such a program includes an internship under the watchful eyes of a qualified mentor to supervise such and assist with your on-going training and development.

    Even after you’ve graduated, you’re still not really a full-fledged interpreter. You need time to develop your skills in the “real world” of actual interpreting. In addition, many states require that you have to be registered or licensed as an interpreter, which often requires that you have taken and passed an administered interpreting evaluation – conducted by either a national organization (such as the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf) or a state organization as the state Commission for the Deaf. Then once you get your certification, you have to maintain it by earning the necessary CEUs on an annual basis.

    All of this costs money, folks. There’s the tuition cost for attending an ITP, then the cost for certification (which is close to $500), and the cost for attending training opportunities to gather CEUs.

    Please keep in mind that many interpreters are self-employed… if they don’t work, they don’t earn money. They have to travel for work, since interpreting isn’t something that you do out of your home or an office. They have to pay for their own insurance, and they have to keep themselves healthy (physical problems such as carpal tunnel syndrome are common amongst interpreters).

    Interpreters are professionals. They have worked hard to gain the skills that they have. When you consider the amount of training they have undergone, the cost of interpreting services are pretty reasonable. When was the last time you were able to hire a plumber for $35 an hour? And yet people constantly bitch that interpreters charge too much money and they can’t afford it. And yet these same people think nothing of spending $50 for bottles of wine or mead, flowers for the altar, or food to share at the ritual feast.

    Nice to know that my communication needs are viewed more as a financial burden than as moral obligation to assure that I feel welcomed and included in your rites.

    Something to think about, folks.

  6. Pingback: PWN #103: Shauna Aura Knight | Pagan-Musings Podcast Channel

  7. Thank you so much for writing this. As someone with fibro who has stood in agony during rituals because there was no easy way to either leave or find a chair, and as someone whose former clergy had been very hurtful when I didn’t go to ritual because I hurt too badly and knew there’d be no accommodation, this is a much needed article. COMPASSION and a reminder to do no harm is something we all need to think about.

  8. Pingback: Spiritual Scents by Shauna Aura Knight | RevKess's Reviews

  9. I appreciate your communicating the ideas of inclusiveness for non-hetero sexualities and non-binary genders. It’s nice to know some people get that not everyone can feel the model of a god/goddess. Of course, I don’t care what the current ritual is about… I tend to substitute my appropriate deities where I participate anyway because my path is quite a bit different from what the typical public ritual is intended for. I can’t hold it against them. However, if I went to a public ritual that elevated the Divine Androgen, I’d be surprised, hella pleased, and quite appreciative. Being genderqueer, I’ve often felt like the “third gender” category known to many cultures where anyone who doesn’t fit the male or female role was thought to be a “holy person” who occupied another gender entirely. I don’t really see any discussion of the concept of the Divine Androgen despite it’s appearance across many cultures. I think part of this is because not many deities embodied this concept in a visible manner, but…
    If we want to include gay people’s feelings more in the ritual aspect, a good approach might to be to look at some of the myths (they do exist btw) where there actually were some homosexual leanings. (http://www.witchvox.com/va/dt_va.html?a=ukgb2&c=gay&id=3678 A few are commented on there, but it’s not an exhaustive list.)
    Regardless, I appreciate the idea of your article.

  10. Pingback: Pagan Radio Network Pagan Voices: Shauna Aura Knight, Crystal Blanton, P. Sufenas Virius Lupus, and More! | Pagan Radio Network

  11. Liz M. says:

    As someone with mobility issues, I appreciate this post quite a bit. Here’s my $.02: disclosure often and always. Most of the time I run into something like “people with disabilities need to let us know what accommodations they need”. Okay. But it’d be nice, then, if your email address doesn’t bounce. Or you actually acknowledge emails at all. Or you acknowledge them *promptly*– I once got an an answer on a “can I bring my chair and my own food?” email (that I’d sent three weeks before a ritual) an hour before the ritual, for a ritual more than an hour away.

    Honestly, though? For the bare basics, it’d be nice if the onus wasn’t put squarely on the person with disabilities. Is it really that hard in an announcement of an event to say that there are stairs, that it requires a mile-long hike through woods, that it involves a lot of standing? My favorite one of these is the permanent event site that had a cluttered website with all manner of information about the organization– everything except *anything* about accessibility. So I wrote and asked if there was accessible parking nearby, as I have a hang-tag. The person designated as point of contact with the public wrote back and said that there’s street parking, but “most of the time you can usually get parking within three blocks”, and then asked if I’d have a problem with the two flights of stairs. I was gobsmacked that you’d have a permanent event site, for which there had been a metric ton of fundraising, and not think it worth mentioning anywhere on the website that there were stairs and only street parking! I get that some accommodations are unusual and can’t be anticipated, but some are obvious, can be, and darn well should be unless your intention is to send a message that people with disabilities aren’t welcome.

    One more: it’d be nice if organizers didn’t get annoyed when someone does ask for accommodations, or if someone shows up in a wheelchair, with a cane, with a chair, with an interpreter, or with their own food. No, really, your food looks delicious, it’s just that some folks would rather not spend the rest of the night and the next day sick because they ate it. It’s not a rejection of the host’s cooking skills. If someone asks what’s being served, please don’t respond with “what can’t you eat and why?”, just tell them what’s on the menu. Don’t ask why they have a cane or a chair, it’s none of your business. And if you do find out why, don’t tell them that a different diet/more sun/acupuncture/reiki will cure them. If you’re not their doctor and they didn’t outright ask you, for the love of all that’s holy shut up.

    Okay, two more. Light! It’s a good thing! Especially if someone’s supposed to read that ritual script that you’ve printed out (written in 10pt script font) after the sun goes down. I don’t think the Gods will care that they do so with a flashlight instead of a candle, so why do you? On a similar note, picking one’s way through dark woods is also a job requiring a flashlight, for some of us. I’ve actually been told that it ruins the ambiance. I guess falling on your arse somehow doesn’t? Printing the type in a clear font and larger print size wouldn’t exactly hurt, either, unless you want some really interesting misreadings.

    (Sorry about the ranting!)

  12. Oriana says:

    Liz. I learned a lot from your rant. It was a good one. Thank you.

  13. Liz, I also enjoyed your rant. As an event planner, I have found that it has sometimes been a personal challenge for me to hear negative feedback about events I’m hosting. And, having worked with a lot of other Pagan event planners, I’ve seen people get giant bugs up their butt when participants complain at them. I think that what happens so often is a pendulum swing to the extremes, instead of working with a healthy spectrum.

    There’s a big spectrum of difference between someone with physical needs who is clearly articulating those needs so that they can be accommodated, and someone who is a cranky whiny drama llama that you can’t please no matter how hard you try.

    Pagan event planners–well, we get a lot of the latter. And I think it numbs us, like a callous that builds up. I actually just wrote a blog post on my regular blog http://shaunaaura.wordpress.com about planning Pagan events, particularly some of the whiny comments that I get. But I guess after years of doing this, I’ve learned to discern the difference between someone who is consistently negative and whiny, and, someone who genuinely wants to attend but who will have some physical needs.

    AND–I’ve also done enough work with people and communication training that I totally recognize that sometimes, when someone is sick and tired of asking for what they need when dealing with cranky event planners, they, too, might be cranky about it.

    I’d like to see more event planners who 1. State physical requirements up front, like a flight of stairs, 2. Make more accommodations and make them transparent so that people with physical challenges don’t need to ask for every single thing, 3. Engage a culture of transparency and accommodation, like building a culture that labels food offerings as part of good hosting, 4. Just ask what their people need, ask for feedback, opening it up, asking if people are having physical or other challenges with the ritual work and how they can help with that.

    I’d also like to see more people (like Liz!) willing to speak up about physical needs. I imagine that many folks who have spoken up in the past have been growled at and shut down in the past, so it is probably hard to ask again. But, if event planners don’t know what physical needs you have, they can’t accommodate them. And–they may not be able to. If I have to rent that cheap venue with the stairs, there’s not a lot I can do about that. But I’ll try, I’ll do my best. other things are easier to negotiate.

    I know there was a time when it wouldn’t have even occurred to me to label food gluten-free, or to worry about a flight of stairs, or walking meditations in a ritual.

    If you are finding that event organizers just growl at you when you’re asking about ways to meet your needs, you might try working through some of the tools in the book Nonviolent Communication by Marshall Rosenberg. Sometimes event planners get so many complaints (and trust me, I’ve had to field some crazy, whiny people!) and it can get a little tough to listen to the genuine complaints! I think that we’re talking about a larger issue here of correcting a balance in how Pagan events are run; before we can change how things are done, we have to offer feedback. And we have to learn to offer feedback in a way it can be heard, and also, to hear feedback not as a personal attack but as, “For me to engage in this, this is what I need.”

    With care and work, we can do it :)

  14. First off, the one thing I wanted to comment on was the entire thing. I read it and never actually thought of many points that you commented on. I have many friends who have several different ability needs, from wheelchairs etc. And others who are GLBTQ some Pagan but most not. It never dawned on me how inaccessible the world in general is until I started dating my partner who has Spino Bifida and needs a chair most of the time to get around. (many dislike wheel-chair bound) While she is not pagan as I am, she constantly needs to think and ask. She commented the other day that I advocate for her when we go to say a concert more than she would think to do. But thank you for writing this, and all the consideration and time you’ve obviously put into building and defending your case. Bravo.

  15. Pingback: » The Divine Feminine II URBANIMAL

  16. Pingback: Ritual: Physical Accessibility, Transgender Inclusion « WiccanWeb

  17. Thanks for this post, and for the thoughtful commenters who have added to it. I’ll try to add to the ‘accessibility’ piece.

    One way for us able-bodied and otherwise privileged folks to learn might be to read in the disability blogosphere. Following a few bloggers who have mobility, sensory, or cognitive-processing challenges can be really eye-opening. Especially about how difficult it is to always have to be the one to ask, when 4 out of 5 times you ask you get turned down, and 1 out of 5 times you get turned down with anger.

    A place where we mainstream types consistently fail is in assuming that accessibility is somehow binary. We seem to imagine that either someone is able-bodied or they are disabled (whatever that means at the moment) … either somebody has a mobility challenge or they don’t, either somebody is sighted or they are blind, hearing or deaf. But the facts are often more mixed.

    A person with MS, MD, or ALS may be able to walk (short distances) and climb (a few) stairs but not be able to walk as far as you planned or stand as long as you expected. A person with a vision impairment might be fine in familiar, well-lighted surroundings, but lost or endangered when you turn down the lights and contrast something pink with something light red.

    A person like me with some hearing loss may not use ASL, but also not be able to participate when your ritual is held in an accoustically awkward space and your priestess faces the other side of the room. If you allow for lipreaders to be able to see your mouth move, or if the speaker turns so that each person in the room might miss only a few words at a time, it helps.

    And so on. It’s not difficult to learn to think about accessibility, but we need to practice. Thanks, enormously, for starting this important conversation.

Comment Often

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s