Monthly Archives: May 2014

I’m Swedish, Heathen, and not a racist

And I hate the fact that I need to make such a declaration.

Last month, three people were killed at a shooting at the Overland Park Jewish Community Center in Kansas. Soon after the shooting, it came out that the main suspect, Frazier Glenn Cross, identified as an Odinist.

It’s bad enough that one of my traditions often carries the image of people playing Viking (remember when Dan Halloran ran for political office in New York?) but worse still is that the traditions honor the Aesir and Vanir can so easily be co-opted by people who will use them to claim superiority based on skin color.

And yet it is happening. Happening so much that there are articles and a book on the subject, and renewed discussions of racialist paganism (direct audio link) happening within our greater community.

At this point I cannot even start to cover the range of issues which this subject entails, and if I were to try, I am afraid my passion would overtake me and I do not want to make this post into a big rant. What I do want to do is share material to demonstrate that Asatru and Heathenry are not automatically religions of racism and separatism. Nor is it just contained to honoring of Germanic deities. There are also people claiming such separatism in the name of Celtic, Finnish, and Russian deities. Perhaps there are more but so far I have not come across it.

I will tell you where I stand on the matter of who can/should be honoring the Aesir and the Vanir. Those who are called. Period. This is not a religion for everyone, but I also don’t think any of the monotheisms are meant for all people (as much as those faiths might differ), nor is Kemetic religion (my primary faith), Hellenic, Baltic, Near Eastern, African traditional (full disclosure: I do serve the lwa and at some point plan to initiate as a hounsi in Vodou), or any other you might name. But as far as I am concerned, the Gods and spirits will get to sort that out. And even if you do think there is a certain color line which may not be broached when it comes to pre-Christian religions, remember that most Black people in this country (since that seems to be where the a certain faction wants to declare said line) do not have exclusively African ancestry. Think about that the next time you want to talk about metagenetics. (If you decide to search for that word, you’ll find an essay which I admit I cannot even stomach the idea of reading.)

We’re not living in a “post-racial” society just because we have a bi-racial, Black president. When there are people using the N word to describe him and selling stickers with that word and his image, we still have a big problem with racism. And even in Heathenry, we thankfully have people who are getting a national platform to state that we are not a religion of racial superiority.

We also have Heathens spearheading a fund drive to benefit the victims of this horrible shooting. There are only a few days left, so if you feel so moved, I encourage you to contribute.

If you want to get involved in anti-racism work with polytheists, you can check out Heathens United Against Racism and Caorann – Celts against Racism. If you know of any other related groups, please share in the comments.

And to leave this post with a little humor, here is Jon Stewart talking about racism on the Daily Show last month, in light of the then-recent Donald Sterling racism talk and Cliven Bundy’s “let me tell you what I know about the Negro.”

We have made enormous progress in teaching everyone that racism is bad. Where we seem to have dropped the ball is in teaching people what racism actually is. Watch this clip to see Klansmen talk about having Black friends and not being racist.

Inter-Traditional Cooperation

roundtableI’ve been pondering how to write about this topic for quite sometime. Actually ever since Shauna first suggested I write for PaganActivist.com. It is a broad topic, but that’s not what makes it so difficult to write about. I keep thinking about my own experiences and how they are possibly outside of the norm – that is, they are relatively good experiences. Not to assume that every other person’s experience with working within a diverse community winds up in the realm of negative.

My first real attempt at working with multiple traditions and paths was back in 1997. My friend Sarah and I had this wonderful idea of trying to get the local Pagan community to work together on a single project, something like adopting a park or a stretch of high way. I really don’t remember.  What I do remember is the overwhelming number of local community leaders who showed up at the table. We put the call out over a local radio show – Murphy’s Magic Mess – on the local community radio station. We decided to meet at a local restaurant and see what we could accomplish. Unfortunately, even with over 20 local leaders at the table we couldn’t even agree on the term “Pagan” let alone what project to do together as a community. (Note: I am purposefully leaving their names out of this.)

In 2009, I sat down to coffee with one of those same leaders. We discussed what had happened over the years to change how our two groups had changed. Both groups have grown, matured, and branched out into new and better projects. We’ve still not reached the point of adopting a park or stretch of high way, but in some regards both groups have gone much further than that. What was the result of that conversation? We planned and executed a large group ritual for Beltaine that Spring.

I did learn a few things from that original meeting back in 1997. Namely, when you get that  many community leaders together for a “round table” discussion you are bound to run into egos and power struggles. It is part of human nature. As I often say (and I know someone famous said this), “wherever two or more people are gathered there will be politics.”

  • Sarah and I were 19
  • The average age of the other participants was 38
  • Sarah and I were “new” to the scene
  • Everyone else at the table was a known element

Those are just a few examples of why we didn’t feel like we had been taken seriously.

There were a few surprises along the way, as well. More than half of the people sitting at that table had never even met before. Here we had over 20 leaders of the local Pagan community and most of them had never even met! Can you believe that?! They all knew of each other, some had even stood circle together, but they had not spent any real time together. The biggest surprise was that everyone else at the table knew that one of the people at that table was a registered sex offender and a pedophile. Yes, a matter of public record – but not something that two 19 year olds were thinking about. (And yes, I did just admit that at 19 I didn’t know everything.) Some time after the round table we were finally informed of his crimes.

Fast forward to the present. Sarah and I are still friends, we still work together on community projects and try our best to work within the Pagan community. One of those projects is our podcast (shameless plug!). We’ve had a variety of guests on our show over the nearly five years of our series. Well known Pagan names like Oberon and Morning Glory, Wendy Rule and others. New comers to the scene like Faith Hamilton and Crystal Blanton (when she was very new on the scene). Musicians, authors, visual artists, etc. Why do I even mention this? It is safe to say that the majority of our guests are from different traditions and paths than we.

We open ourselves to new experiences. And that is one of the reasons why inter-traditional cooperation is important. Opening yourself to new experiences is not just broadening your horizons.  It is allowing yourself to experience something that may be out of your comfort zone.

Last December at your Yule time, I participated in a blot hosted by Nebraska Heathens United, a new group in my area. This wasn’t the first time I had attended a blot. I’d attended one 20 some years ago and again a few years back when visiting my mother coven in Colorado. I don’t remember much from that first blot. The one in Colorado was definitely interesting – meeting Hel at Samhain is a very interesting experience. The blot at Yule was a lot different from Hel. Somewhere around 50 people were gathered in the common room at the local Unitarian Church, passing the horn and toasting the Gods. Only about ten of them were Heathen, the rest were some flavor or another of Wiccan. We were all having a good time and I do think that some in the room truly had a spiritual experience.

Flashback time. My mother coven is a construct of many different paths. Twenty-three years ago we started out as an off-shoot of the Georgian Tradition. That said, we were not your typical Wiccan coven. Faerie and Native American influences abounded – and still do. Our trad’s founding HPS was influenced by the Eastern Star and her life partner is Druid. Our trad’s founding HP is where the Faerie and NA influences came in. We also had a heavy dose of activism at the beginning – still do. At our founding, we could count the number of straight members on just a few fingers. As Lady Rhiannon quips, she walked into a group of Dianic gay men waiting for a high priestess. Here we are today, a progressive and (we like to think) unique group of individuals with a vastly differing collection of back grounds. Everything from Native American to Ceremonialist, Wiccan to Druid, Egyptian to Celtic and just about anything else you can imagine.

But if you think about, the modern Pagan movement started out as a construct of many different paths. I know there are those who will argue that Gardner received his lessons from a long line of witches, some will argue that today’s Druids come from an unbroken line. To be honest with ourselves, the only “unbroken” traditions are those that have been passed down through the native peoples of certain lands (the Aborigines of Australia, the surviving traditions of Native Americans and First Nations Peoples, small pocket communities in the Middle East and the Basque region of Spain, just name a few). To hear Janet Farrar tell it, as she did at a workshop at Heartland 2013, Gerald Gardner basically made it up from bits and pieces of folklore and teachings of the Masons and other “secret societies.” That doesn’t make it any less valid.

That said, sometime after the advent of Alexandrians there began to be decent within in the Wiccan world. The Gardnarians claimed their way was the only way, the Alexandrians that theirs was the only way. Other traditions began cropping up, each claiming they were the true recipients of Gardner’s Book of Shadows. In recent years, though, there has been a bridging of the gap between the many of the various Wiccan traditions. a sense of cooperation is developing.

And that sense of cooperation is not limited to just the Wiccans. As I said above, in my area I have seen Wiccans work with Heathens, I have seen groups formerly at odds with each other reaching out to work together. I’m hearing about that elsewhere in the United States (and I can only speak for what I see here, not being familiar enough with Pagans elsewhere around the globe). I’ve seen it first hand in Denver, I’ve heard of it in Seattle and Chicago. It is happening.

The importance of cooperation. We are approaching a point in the history of the modern Pagan movement where it is important that we present a unified front to the rest of the world. Not something where we are all the same, one leader, that sort of thing. No. We need to show the public that we have the ability to police our own, handle issues within our communities, grow and share with others who do not follow Pagan paths.

In late March we saw the arrest of a prominent Pagan elder. In April we saw a man claiming to be Heathen attack another religion’s practitioners with gun fire and violence. Within a few weeks certain segments of the community reached out to each other and formed the Council of the Phoenix to address issues of abuse (all forms) within the Pagan community. Other areas of the Pagan world saw the banding together of diverse traditions and paths to form an Elders’ Council to address other issues within the community – particularly in the Denver area with the idea to grow and expand the concept. These are but to example of how inter-traditional cooperation can happen.

It is unfortunate that it took such drastic events to begin to unify the Pagan world. The outreach and cooperation have been needed for quite sometime. The internet is a key player in how this cooperation is beginning to take place. Through social media networks, through the blogosphere, and through the shrinking perceived distances between individuals and groups across the United States and around the globe.

Now it is your turn. It is your turn to talk about inter-traditional cooperation. What have you seen, heard of, that demonstrate such work? What are you doing to make it happen?

Campaign Finance Reform

I didn’t intend to return to the topic of campaign finance reform as quickly as this; my last post discussed it as well.  But, there’s been some developments in that arena that provide us both a more clear picture of what is wrong with the current way we operate our political system and how beautiful a system it could be.  Ironically, the same individual provides us both of these understandings:  Chief Justice John Roberts of the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS).

If you don’t have much time to read through the whole post, please just scroll down to the heading So, What Should We Do About It?.  Obviously, I think exploring our current political situation is important; I wouldn’t be writing about it if I did not.  But, what I share with you all after that exploration is really the point.  If you read only one (more) part of this essay, please make it that one.

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Net Neutrality and breaking Cable’s monopoly on the Internet.

Net neutrality has been a huge topic in the news of late. With Comcast(r), AT&T(r), Google(r) and Netflix(r) as players in any game, with the power of monopolies at stake, with Billions of dollars up for grabs, those with power and money will all be flexing their muscles and spending a great deal of money to defend their piece of the pie, and, to hopefully shave just a bit more of that pie of somebody else’s piece.Image

So now the question is net neutrality. What does “net neutrality” actually mean? Simply put, it means that those who provide the connection to the Internet shouldn’t restrict or hinder the content that an individual user is able to access via that connection. So, if your Cable provider is also your Internet service provider, net neutrality would mean that your cable company shouldn’t restrict access to, for example, Netflix(r).

This brings up an interesting dilemma for cable providers. A growing number of people have become increasingly upset with the content offered on network television – they have discovered that it’s far easier to watch what they want, when they want it, via distribution methods on the Internet, and many have canceled their TV service and opted for an Internet-Only option from their cable provider. The days when Cable TV “also” offered Internet connectivity are coming to an end, and the model is beginning to look more like an Internet provider that “also” offers television.

If we look at things strictly from the point of view of a Cable company that provides Internet services, it sort of makes sense to consider that when users download their television programming from other providers (especially with Comcast’s purchase of NBC), that these companies are actually providing access to the content that is undermining their own business. From a purely business point of view, it’s a model that doesn’t make a great deal of sense! Add to that the fact that Netflix alone accounts for some 33% of ALL Internet traffic here in the United States, and it would seem that Comcast is being required not only to provide access to their competition, but to pay for increases in infrastructure in order to make that even possible. It would seem that this isn’t a very viable business model.

But the problem is that in deciding that a company shouldn’t have to provide access to competing services is a very slippery slope. The problem we have here in the United States is that most homes have but one choice when they are looking for broadband Internet, and that is their cable provider. Years ago, when the Internet was young, the telephone modem was the means of connecting to the Internet – and lots of companies were providing Internet connectivity. AOL, Juno, Compuserve and many bulletin boards had Internet connectivity. If you were a university student, you might have even been able to connect to the Internet via a dial-up connection provided by your school. But in those days, 56Kbps was a very fast connection, and nobody was streaming video, or, for that matter, even much audio. Most computer users of that era remember a time when you could read text as fast as your modem could deliver it.

But in the mid 1980s, dial-up was the best way to get an Internet connection, and there was competition. Then DSL and Cable came along. While at first, these two seemed to compete head-to-head, in the end, it was Cable who was able to provide the best and most consistent service to the most people. DSL has a nasty habit of not working well too far from the central office. And while fiber-optic has the potential bandwidth to easily supplant Cable, the infrastructure costs money, and until somebody comes along who is ready to spend that money and go head to head with the cable companies – they are left with virtual monopolies wherever they happen to be.

So what does that mean for the rest of us who don’t wish to support big business and monopolies? What can those of us who are activists do? Is there a way that we can work together to break the power of monopolies?

If we’re going to break the power of monopolies, it’s important to become somewhat technologically savvy. We can’t fight the monopolies without understanding something of the technology that the corporations are using. Most of us have our hands tied, in part, because we don’t know any better – we presume that “The Internet” is something delivered to us via a cable – for which we each have to pay a fair bit of money. But are there ways that we might work together to avoid being beholden to a single company?

In some areas – in fact, in most urban areas, there is often something that can be done – and which can give groups even more reliable Internet connections. It takes a bit of work and study, but it can be done. In my own home town, we have our local cable company, but in my office, which is only a half-mile from my apartment, I’ve got a fiber connection. I also have access to cable there as well, but the fiber connection is more than fast enough for even multiple video and audio streams. A small collective in my office building is sharing that connection, and we all have high speed Internet for much less than the cost we would be paying via Cable.

If I wanted to share that Internet connection with my home, there are ways to do that as well. There are wi-fi transceivers that will easily make the ½ mile hop from the office to my home.

Ham radio operators have also been doing a great deal of work with the Internet. Because they often are called upon to provide communications when everything else has failed, they actually have digital communication paths that will work even when the Internet disappears. In my own home, where I refuse to pay for cable, even without an Internet connection, I can still receive email via an amateur radio program called Winlink. With this, my computer is connected to a small box called a TNC (Terminal Node Controller), which is connected to a radio. Every now and then, the computer talks to the TNC, and makes a connection to another ham station that is connected to the Internet, and will retrieve email for me. Of course with amateur radio, this can’t be used for anything involving money, but the point is that there are options.

Amateur radio has also been involved in something called “High Speed Multimedia Mesh”, and this could be of real significance to activists. Basically, this involves re-programming some of the older Linksys WRT-54G routers, and allows them to connect to each other automatically. With decent antennas on them, it’s possible to set up a high speed network. This has been used in wilderness races to provide video coverage of the race for distances of a number of miles. For purposes of activism, this could be used to distribute video of an event even if the cell systems and the Internet were shut down.

It seems that activists might do well to study what radio amateurs are actually doing – they use a variety of technology – often inventing their own, to provide communications, wherever it is needed, no matter what might be happening. It is hams who provide communications for the Boston Marathon, and when the bombing occurred, and the cell system was shut down, communications in the area were facilitated as needed, by hams. With Amateur programs like the Amateur Radio Emergency Service, and the Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service, hams are constantly training and ready for just about any situation that might arise. For we who are activists, and who wish to insure that we can communicate with each other under any circumstance, whether it’s providing access to the Internet for a neighborhood through cooperative use of available services, using a high speed mesh-network to make sure the larger world has access to actual video of an event, hams have already done this, and we can learn from them.

To set up a neighborhood mesh network that can access the Internet, you’ll probably want at least two Internet service providers – if one goes down, the other will likely stay up. You’ll have to learn about things like routing, load-sharing, TCP/IP, how to “flash” your router and a bunch of other things, but you can make it far less expensive for everyone in your group to have Internet access. And until there is real competition for broadband Internet access, this might be one way to work collectively to make the Internet available to more people for less money.

One last note regards the monopoly that cable and satellite companies have over our television viewing. If we wish to break the hold that corporations like Comcast have over us, in this area too, we need to find alternatives. For most people, it would seem that our choices are limited to cable or satellite. But in most areas, a fairly modest antenna will allow you to receive at least one or two – likely more – channels. And often, the other special programming that we want to watch is available on Internet services such as Hulu.

The point of this is that we don’t have to be beholden to large corporate interests we need to do a couple of things – we need to be willing to sacrifice some small measure of convenience, and we need to be willing to learn and adopt technologies that will enable us to become more self-sufficient. We don’t have to submit to the dictates of corporations that we view as unethical; we don’t have to support their practices.

External links:
Wikipedia entry on High Speed Multimedia Mesh (HSMM): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/High-speed_multimedia_radio

Broadband Hamnet (HSMM) home page: http://www.broadband-hamnet.org/

The American Radio Relay League is the major US organization for hams. If you’d like to consider getting your license, or if you want to learn more about amateur radio, find the ARRL here: http://www.arrl.org

 

The Physical, Mental, and Spiritual Empowerment of Being Carfree

car free SundayLast year I was on Dee’s radio show, PaganFM.* On it I discussed how I wanted to go car free but, because of poor public transportation choices in my area, I didn’t feel I was able to. I was torn. I wanted to give up the Ultimate American Status Symbol (UASS…how appropriate!) but feared doing so. What was I so afraid of? Being trapped. Of being un-free.

I am now car free. What pushed me through my fear? Finances. I admit, the financial cost of my car is what drove me (no pun intended) to make the decision to go car free and not the idea of putting Mama first as I said on Dee’s show. My car was getting more and more expensive every year. It was a decade old with 200k miles on it. Bobcat, the name of my car, needed work which cost more than it was worth and more than I had.

My husband and I spoke about going car free often. We desired it. But we just couldn’t let go of the keys. We came to an agreement in December: if the car failed inspection we wouldn’t get another. It passed inspection. I cried.

Winter was particularly harsh this year so I didn’t push the idea of selling the car. As the weather started to warm up I decided it was time and really pushed to sell it. We left it in the driveway with the idea we would use it only in “emergencies” but those emergencies became trips to the grocery store or husband not wanting to walk to work on a crappy day. Realizing our intentions were good but there was little follow through on our part, I sold the car. In the meantime, we got our tax refund so we went to our local bike shop and bought ourselves bicycles.

Being a member of the bike culture has changed my perspective immensely. I now look at roads and drivers much differently than before. I get annoyed when a driver is stopped at a red light but is over the crosswalk requiring me to walk around the car. I become frightened when I’m on a divided highway while on the bike. I look at how roads are built differently: can I safely ride my bike to a particular part of town? Or should I walk because it’s safer?

Going carfree happened in stages and took a long time. When the moment came I felt like an American failure because I couldn’t afford a car anymore. I felt trapped. But now I feel freer than I ever have. The idea of buying another car gives me the same sense of failure as I did when I was selling my car. I can’t imagine buying one again and will actively work against doing so. In reality, I just don’t want one now that I don’t have one. Giving up shampoo, eating local and organic, gardening, Freecycling, eliminating paper products, recycling, none of that has made me feel connected to Mother Earth as being carfree does. Whether I’m walking to the grocery store or riding my bike for fun, I feel more empowered physically, mentally, and spiritually than ever before.

And you never know, I may end up buying one of these:

*You can download episodes here. I was on October 3, 2013. You can also hear Shuana on a few of Dee’s episodes.

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Death and Taxes : Pagan Legal Discrimination

Temple Altar Maetreum                                                   Written by Lauren Ouellette-Bruchez

Growing up in America we are all raised with the understanding that there is religious freedom in our country. I know that where I went to school, I had classmates who were Jewish, Christian and Muslim. I was blessed to live in an area of the United States with some diversity. While I was raised Catholic, my parents taught my sisters and I to respect the beliefs of others even if they differed from our own. My mother and father always let us know that people of all races are beautiful and equal, and that sexual preference was a person’s own business. They were also accepting and supportive when I told them that I was a Pagan.

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