Monthly Archives: June 2014

No One Will Be Turned Away for Lack of Funds

Have you played the game I never? It goes like this: one person says “I never___”. They fill in the blank with something they have never done.

Lets play. I’ll start.

I’ve never been to a Pagan conference.

Let me go again. I’ve never been to a Pagan festival.

I’ve never been to these kind of Pagan events for one simple reason: I lack the funds. However, I have been to rituals. Attendance has been inconsistent because money is uber tight in this, the Great Depression 2.0.

Lots has been said about Pagans and money. There’s the on going debate as to whether Pagan leaders should charge for services, rituals, classes, events, and conferences. I see it like this: no one should be turned away for lack of funds. This language is prevalent on Pagan websites regarding events and rituals. But what is the reality behind this statement?

Depression 2.0 has hit me particularly hard. I have not been able to find a job for many years now. It’s not from a lack of looking, that’s something I do every day. I apply for jobs, get interviews, but for reasons known only to deities, I remain unemployed. During the worst period of this, I slipped into one of the darkest depressions I have ever endured. I needed community, needed it like you need oxygen. It was at this time I was losing my house, rehoming my dog, and choosing which healthcare service to skip so you can imagine the depths of my despair.

isolationI was super isolated trapped within depression and the Depression. I needed connection so I did what I could to try and interact with humans by seeking out to my spiritual coreligionists. I found a group over an hour away from my home. The first ritual I attended, I was pleased with the size of the group. Previously, I had never been in a ritual with more than a dozen people. I loved the energy. Cost of ritual was on a sliding scale ($15/pp was the lowest amount on the sliding scale). Since it took over an hour to get there, I spent, generally, $40 on gas and tolls and another $20 on food to share. So $15+15+40+20=$90. Ninety dollars. For one night. (That math includes my husband’s attendance.) I squirreled away every dollar, quarter, and dime I could find to come up with the funds to attend the sabbats. I wanted to attend full and new moon rituals but that was out of the question. The finances just weren’t there. There were classes I wanted to take that were financially unfeasible. It was on my bucket list to become a High Priestess but that too was cost prohibitive so it remained (and still remains) unchecked on my list.

I’m persistent if nothing else so I volunteered as this was one of the recommended ways to make connections and build friendships. I went early to set up and stayed late to break down. At one point while my husband was working two jobs, I was able to attend one group. It was a regular group of women who went. Soon we self segregated: the two co-facilitators would end group then go into the office, close the door, and talk. Two other women talked mom-stuff, and the last two women talked young woman stuff. I sat alone. Because of the time it took to commute home, I started to leave as soon as group was over since no one talked to me anyway. One time I forgot something and went back in to get it. When I did they were all sitting together, laughing and having a great time. They silenced themselves as soon as I was in the room. Then, as I was leaving one said “Lets to get something to eat now that Michelle is gone.” Later, when I confronted one of the facilitators she said “oh, we go out to eat after group but we know you have no money and besides, it’s food you don’t eat.” I was extremely hurt to be deliberately excluded.

When it came to the sabbats, I suppose I could’ve paid nothing or less than the “suggested” $15 but the infrastructure was not amenable to doing so. The way the room was set up, a line would form behind the woman who took your money, thus a physical barrier was set up. So, one is standing in line waiting to get up to the woman. The social stigma of paying the lowest amount was already there. She cocked an eyebrow but didn’t say a word, her disapproval was in her body language. As time went on and she saw I always paid the lowest amount, her chit chat ceased. She no longer welcomed me, asked me how I was, or acknowledged me unless I initiated conversation to which she would reply politely yet in a manner which made it obvious she did not wish to converse with me. On more than one occasion she talked to the person behind me, all full of joy to see that person only to take my money while never making eye contact. I can’t imagine telling her I was paying nothing or less than the suggestion though that would’ve gotten her attention. It’s like when you put a quarter in the basket sent around at Catholic Mass instead of a bill. No one will say anything to your face but certainly they will let their disapproval be known nonverbally.

I was never turned away for lack of funds, I was ignored away. This was done so in a subtly overt manner which reminds me of junior high girlhood. I gave it about a year before I finally accepted I was unwanted. I believe that rejection came from a lack of greenbacks and my vocalization of such. I was never told why I was snubbed nor have I been contacted by a member of the group since leaving. Sticking to their tried and true manner, they have pretended like I don’t exist.

Last Samhain I thought I’d give the group another try but it was more of the same. Not a single person talked to me or my husband. In a room with over 100 people, I felt an intense loneliness. I have not been back since nor do I plan to go. Ever.

Something good did come out of that rejection: Pagan Activist.

I am a Pagan and I am an Activist. They are symbiotic. They cannot be separated or disconnected. The deeper my Paganism becomes the deeper my activism becomes and vice versa. Pagan Activist fermented because of the deep isolation and loneliness during this period of time. I saw a wrong and I tried to right it. Goddess, was I mistaken thinking I could enact positive change. Thus, I took to the internet and created this blog as a way to connect to like minded Pagans so that isolation and loneliness would abate. I want no one to feel how I felt (and still do) because they are rejected for a lack of “little green tickets”. I want no one to be excluded by leaders or laypeople, I want no one to be snubbed. The pain I’ve carried these years has been intense enough that it’s kept me from attending ritual with any new group. I crave community and human interaction yet I’ve become a solitary practitioner even though I don’t want to be out of sheer necessity to protect my emotional health and my wallet.

Keeping cool

How do we keep our cool as activists? I’m thinking about this not only in terms of keeping our cool in the moment – when directly confronted with something inherently wrong – but long-term. We talk about recharging and doing self-care and avoiding burnout, and all of those are vitally important, but I also mean something more: how do we keep going when there isn’t an action to do, or when the very necessary action we have to do is waiting?

It’s times like Litha that make me need to ground. (Grounding and centering are of course part of the answer, but not all of it, I think.) It’s days like these midsummer ones when I long to be outdoors, even if the heat and the air pollution aren’t really good for me, and I have to stop myself and put on sunscreen and just generally exercise so much more restraint than I would like. (Explain to me again why I can’t be topless on my own balcony? Never mind.) The energy of these times is pulling me up and out and into action. But sometimes that’s not what I need to do.

I was talking with another Witch about how frustrating it is that when we are confronted with what seems like clear-cut discrimination, the first thing you have to do is wait. You keep your cool in that moment, and you document, and you ask firmly and politely, and you document the responses. You don’t start shouting about the Constitution and firing off curses even if that’s really what you want to do. You don’t crawl away resigned, even if you are shaking a little bit out of shock, even if that’s what a lifetime of being a woman tells you to do. You begin to work the system, gathering allies and mounting a response, and then you wait.

And you wait for a long time. Consulting experts takes time – even finding the right people to consult about something can be a significant challenge. (Your cousin’s niece’s friend who worked at Starbucks by the law library for six months, or anyone else you encounter on the Internet, is probably not the expert you need.) Once you find them, the experts go to work, and you wait some more. You remind yourself that all your other options remain available, but once you get aggressive, you can’t go back, at least not easily. You listen to the advice of the experts, and you wait. Somehow, you sustain yourself.

I’m writing here from the perspective of the issue that I went through trying to get my ordination recognized, but I think the same issues arise in a lot of other activist work. Even when it is not so purely personal, there is a ton of waiting involved. I know I’m waiting right now to hear the Supreme Court decision about reproductive health care requirements in the ACA. That case was heard in March, and the oral arguments were just the latest step in a long line of developments. Now we wait.

Experiences like this are challenging me to develop a more nuanced view of activism. It seems like activism should be all fire – acting and making changes in the world. Litha should be high time for activism. But just as I am learning that I need to ground at Litha, I am learning that activism isn’t all about catching fire. As often as not, the fire will catch you. It does that. The challenge is learning how to channel it, how to direct it, and maintain it, banked and smoldering on a gray and rainy day of waiting.

I am only beginning to come up with my own approaches to this problem. One of them is everyday activism, trying to make better choices on an ongoing basis, in the hopes of contributing to gradual change. This approach is necessarily limited; I do not fall into the trap of believing that consumer choices alone will motivate the necessary developments, even in areas where my consumer choices can make a difference. At the same time, I need to focus on my personal work, and stay connected both to my everyday and to the bigger picture, so seeing my choices in both contexts is helpful.

Another approach is magic. The emotion that develops while waiting can be powerful fuel for magical energy, if I can direct it and not be overwhelmed by it. Gathering up and directing that emotion into energy for change is a powerful experience, and it is not limited to a single time and place; I can do magic for my purposes many times while waiting, and it can be a fruitful outlet.

I would love to hear about your own strategies for “keeping cool” in this sense. What I notice about the two approaches I have mentioned is that both are ways of nurturing hope. Concentrating on my smaller individual choices helps me hope. Doing magic can change emotions of frustration, anger, and even fear into energy that sustains my hope for a different outcome. I think that’s the underlying message that I’m learning about sustaining activism and keeping cool: when I’m not acting, I’m hoping.

A Call for Civility

The last several months have been busy ones for me on the activist front. We held a successful march against Monsanto in Mystic, CT that was preceded by a teach-in and two sign making events. We paid a visit to a CT congressman hoping to sway his vote to a “NO” on Fast Track for the TPP and this morning I attended a rally in support of a transgender teenager who is currently being held in an adult prison, much to the consternation of a wide community calling for more appropriate arrangements. Add to this the daily check-in on Facebook to keep up with issues, actions and perspectives on so many other fronts.

All of the events mentioned above have given cause to question the place for civility in our dealings with those whose views we are trying to influence, including those whose positions and practices we find abhorrent. Many of us at the march against Monsanto believe that corporation to be as evil as they come and that our efforts to stop it must be tireless and fierce. Is it then acceptable to carry signs and sing out chants with the message “F— Monsanto”? What reaction can we reasonably expect from motorists or pedestrians who are passing by and actually paying attention to our messages? Will they be receptive to messages conveyed in such a manner? Will our other messages, both verbal and in print, be taken seriously or will our entire group be seen in a negative light?

Our experience of meeting with a CT congressman maintained a very positive tone. It was agreed that our approach would be one of open communication rather than attack. While we pressed our belief in the importance of our position and our unyielding belief that it is the right position for the congressman as well, we did so in tones of respect and found that he truly listened. This certainly doesn’t mean that he will come around to our way of thinking but as the meeting neared the end of our allotted time, everyone realized we hadn’t covered a good portion of our intended agenda. It was actually the congressman who suggested a follow up meeting in a month or so to continue the conversation. I absolutely believe that his willingness to meet with us again had as much to do with our delivery as it did with our message.

Today’s rally in support of the transgender teen who has been underserved (to say the least) by DCF and others, was well planned, well attended and energetic. We gathered in front of DCF headquarters with signs and a bull horn. Most of what people shared while using the microphone was supportive of the teen and critical of DCF. So far so good. Did it remain good and effective when some speakers referred to “the f—ers in this building or to the head of DCF as a “f—ing liar”? Chances are, if the head of the agency was indeed in the building, she was aware of our presence and what was being said. What are the chances that being referred to as a “f—ing liar” would do anything to make her listen to anything else we had to say?

And then there is Facebook. I had an exchange with an activist friend about a week ago (no names here!). In her post she referred to anyone who supports the political party to which she is opposed as an “ignorant, manipulated moron”. I felt compelled to send a private message in response. My position is that if there was any possible room for debate, discussion, sharing of perspectives or any chance to influence the thinking of someone in the group to whom she was referring, it was destroyed by the likes of that comment. Are we influenced by people who deride us for our positions? Are we willing to listen to people who dismiss us as hopeless? I believe it is more likely that we turn such people off as they turn us off when we use that approach. The sad part is that the only thing accomplished by such outbursts is the smug and naively self congratulatory feeling on the part of the attacker. Nothing else is accomplished – nothing! Indeed, the only result of this particular Facebook post was a long thread of reciprocal and vitriolic back and forth.

We talk about the ineptitude of Congress, where members of opposite parties can’t stop deriding one another long enough to actually talk and listen to each another. We are tired of Congress doing little else than playing the blame game. We roll our eyes when the rhetoric begins, knowing full well what is coming and losing all interest and patience before it gets too far. I believe we need to be better, both in terms of our legislative process and as individuals.

It’s important to tell you that I am very fond of expletives and my description of Monsanto and other corporations/policies/individuals is often uncivil at best, downright vulgar at worst. The difference is that I try to be careful about the settings in which I let loose my insults and swear-ridden rants. They don’t appear on the signs I carry, in face to face meetings with people whom I’m trying to influence or in Facebook posts that I know will be seen by people whose positions I’m trying to change. We need to decide if our mission is to influence or insult, communicate or shut communication down, make a difference or just make noise.

There is no doubt in my mind that there are times when our anger, frustration and insistence must be expressed in terms that are unmistakably sharp, clear and unapologetic, using whatever language and messaging is necessary to accomplish that goal and I’ve participated in my fair share of such circumstances. It is in our narrower, more personal interactions when we have the possibility of influencing one other person’s thinking that I hope everyone will take a little extra time to consider how our ideas will be delivered. Time and energy are limited. Let’s use them wisely.

Selling Us Apathy

The other night I ordered a pizza from a popular chain. If you’ve read my other articles, you can probably guess that it was a vegan pizza. The website where I ordered it even had no cheese as a standard option. But the box they sent it in told a different story.

The top of the box named and pictured five cows. The company hailed them as their unsung heroes, calling them an important part of their team.

I guess they picked the wrong box for my cheeseless pizza.

It’s hard to read it with a non-vegan eye. Was I supposed to take the box seriously? Was I supposed to be moved to a newfound respect for cows’ importance in the web of pizza? What was the purpose of this?
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Self-care for activists… and the rest of us

Polytheists, pagans, and animists, as a general rule, are not people involve with traditions based on mortification of the flesh. We don’t make martyrs.

However, we do live in a culture which encourages overwork, under-reward, constantly being “on,” controlled substances either to keep us up (nicotine, a slew of prescription drugs) or are promoted to help us “cope” with stress (alcohol, anti-depressants), and discourages vacation and rest time. It’s a sure-fire method to wear out the population.

Add to that the extra stress which comes from fighting for causes which engage us and hold our passion. It can be easy to throw all our internal resources to these actions because we want to, but no one can keep up that kind of pace. We need sleep. We need down time. We need to be able to take a step back, be receptive, and take in what sustains us.

Since I’ve seen more than a few people talking about doing so (including me), I declare now to be a time for all of us, activist or not, to take some time (rather than “make” it) to take care of ourselves, nourish our spirits, and step away from the hectic pace of life.

Relax by Dorli Photography used under Creative Commons

What counts as self care?

If you were to listen to our overculture, rampant consumerism and booty shaking with beer should be all we need to restore ourselves. I’d like to propose that perhaps there are ways to do it without fueling debt, drunk driving, or potential alcohol dependence. Do things to help you relax, be calm, feel more at home in your body.

Before you begin: Take this time for yourself! Don’t combine it with errands or obligations. Do that at another time. If you have children in your care, see if you can find someone to watch them for an hour or three if you want some time fully alone.

1. Do what you most want to do, not what you think you should do. Again, note this isn’t an obligation.
2. Drink water! Especially if you do some of the beauty treatments. You want to stay hydrated if you are going to be doing things which might pull junk out of your skin. Also, if you tend to be chronically dehydrated, consider some other options for fluid. When I feel extra parched, I find coconut water, mineral water, and kombucha to help with hydration.
3. Disconnect from social media. Turn off the phone, the tablet, the computer. They will be there when you return. And that latest open carry meme randomly coming across your screen is sure to harsh your mellow.
4. Give your bathroom a good cleaning. Since I am going to suggest a lot of pampering, a clear sink counter and tub will make the experience much more enjoyable.

The usual caveat applies, as this is a list of suggestions to help fuel your own ideas.

What can I do?

The cure for anything is salt water: sweat, tears or the sea. -Isak Dinesen

*Take a bath! I LOVE BATHS! Ahem. I especially love baths since last summer when my bathroom got renovated and for the first time since I was small, I have a bathtub suitable for soaking. At the minimum, you can take a good bath with Epsom salts or you can use bath bombs (either made ahead of time or purchased from Lush—I recommend avoiding ones with artificial dyes) or other bath salts. Sit and enjoy or maybe bring in some LIGHT reading.

*Have an at-home spa day. I love Crunchy Betty for recipes to make DIY body care items. Have a masque, dry brush your skin, use some sugar scrub on your face (gentler than salt), or salt scrub for the body. Do a pedicure and use Epsom salts for soaking before you take a pumice to the soles.

*Get a massage if you can afford it. This one is perhaps my favorite. I don’t handle stress well and most of the time suffer skin hunger, so getting the knots worked out and some physical contact helps on all levels.

*Take a nap and do not feel bad for whatever amount of time you rest/sleep.

*Make art! Whether you are a trained artist or playing with coloring books or finger paints, let art be your way to unwind.

*Play with kids or pets.

*Take time outside in green spaces. My guess is that a few readers are familiar with Lupa. She has written for years about her time in the non-manmade world and how essential it is for her spiritual life and her own self.

*Restorative yoga. I became familiar with this style of yoga through one of my local teachers, Sue. If you are someone who does practice or has practiced yoga, you are likely familiar with terms for energy like prana and tapas. Restorative yoga, on the other hand, is the only form of yoga which builds ojas, or vitality. Instead of Warriors, downward dogs, trianges, or peacock poses, you are holding poses like corpse or child for long periods supported by blankets, bolsters, and pillows. A friend of mine once described the local two hours restorative workshops at the local yoga center as leaving you with a feeling like you have spent two weeks at a spa. If you can’t find a local restorative practitioner, you can do savasana or lay on the floor with your calves resting on the seat of a chair, covered with a blanket and a pillow for your head, and hold those poses for 10-20 minutes.

I hope that not only have I inspired you, but that you will soon be doing something like this.

Not Just Words – Catcalling and Why It Needs to Stop

by Lauren Ouellette-Bruchez


I’m pasty.  It’s the truth.  I come from an Irish and French background so in general there is not a whole lot of pigment here.  I love running but as the days grow warmer and brighter if I want to go for a day run, I have to dress like a beekeeper.  Thus, I tend to run at night.

Running is my meditation.  I’m usually busy but when I run there is an entire hour at least when I won’t be answering to anyone else.  I can listen to the music that uplifts me without having to compromise and I can really take in the world, the way I feel we’re all meant to.  I have the cool breeze and the occasional stray cat as a running mate.

Just this past week I headed out for one such run.   As I took the last leg of my tour I noticed that a beat-up Buick was barreling down the road at a much higher speed than is advisable with the windows down.  As the car passed, the guys inside made sure to lean out the windows of the car and yell inappropriate comments about me, my body and what they wanted to do to me.  Luckily the incident was done within seconds and they just drove off.

I was annoyed but also scared.  It irritates me when an adult man decides that it is somehow acceptable or even flattering for him to yell at me in public.  As I am not a plough horse or a show dog, I don’t respond well to being barked at regardless of what’s being said.  But part of me is always wondering when such an encounter will turn ugly and violent.  Whenever I’m out alone, which I frequently am, I am on guard.

I am self-employed and frequently travel for work.  I’ve worked very hard to not sit in an office all day long.  My life is hectic and I am almost always moving.  Because I’m on my own so often, I have had to create a system of covering my tracks in case something happens to me or I go missing.

If I am meeting a new client or business contact I text their information to my husband and let him know where we are and when I’ll be there.  Depending upon how long the meeting goes, I will text him to let him know that I am still good.  If he doesn’t hear from me in a certain amount of time he knows to be concerned.  I call once the meeting is finished.  I am also a trained martial artist and assistant instructor for my dojo.  Just in case something goes wrong, I can defend myself, though I hope I never have to use those skills for anything beyond centering and personal development.

Not a week prior to my running incident I was participating in a psychic fair fundraiser for the local Pagan group I currently lead.  I arrived at the location which had parking meters and I was uncertain as to whether or not the meter had to be paid on Sundays.  A couple of men happened to be eating lunch nearby and I apologized for interrupting their conversation but I asked if I needed to feed the meter.  One of the two men immediately stood up and approached me a bit too closely.  Luckily I was aware enough to leave a fence in between us but when he noticed the tarot card related materials I was carrying he immediately told me that I needed to “touch” him to tell him something about himself.  Once again I was fortunate that there were other members of my Pagan assembly not far away.

Later that same day I walked down the street to get a salad for lunch.  I was yelled at and told how sexy I was and how certain guys wanted to take me back their place. This was in the span of a two block walk during which I simply kept to myself.

This isn’t about concerns of feeling self-conscious or being propositioned by someone I consider unattractive.  Frankly the moment a man, any man, begins to yodel at me like a yak in heat, any thoughts of attraction that may have been there go right out the window.

So, why is catcalling a problem?  Because we are all told that words can’t really hurt us and that is a lie.  While those guys were bellowing at me something did happen.  Nothing violent perhaps, but something did occur.  What is sadder; an adult man yelling at a person minding their own business because it amuses them to demean and objectify a person they’ve never met, or those hearing about this who don’t believe it is a threatening act because no one raped or assaulted me?

Why does it have to go that far to register?  Why don’t we take harassment seriously unless a woman is wearing a toe tag?

Because boys will be boys of course!  Right?  It’s completely okay for men to be aggressive because in order to be considered a big strong guy you have to gain the respect of other big strong guys.  How better to do that than to dominate a woman?  Because women are walking pleasure centers.  Because we exist to sate the sexual urges of men who feel entitled to our attention.  Because the thought of “conquering” a fellow human-being is just too delightful to resist.

So here’s the question.  What do you do when you see a woman being catcalled?  Do you object?  Do you join in?  Do you ignore what’s going on?  Are you the recipient of the harassment?

Catcalling is just where this starts.  A few days ago this happened. A Chinese woman was at a McDonalds when a group of men began harassing her for her number.  According to reports some witnesses believed they were trying to get her number for personal reasons.  Others say that it was an information gathering tactic used by a cult to which all 6 men belonged.  When the woman refused to share her information she was beaten to death in broad daylight while onlookers did nothing but yell and record the beating!  This is far from the only instance.

So why was nothing done? Why did no one stop them?  Considering this happened in public view, is it any wonder why I was afraid when I was out running? Do I seem over-dramatic for being leery as I walked to get my lunch?  How often have you or someone you know told a woman she was being too sensitive when some jerk decides to hoot and holler at her?

Words are not just words.  If you are a Pagan practitioner you know the power of words.  Words program the mind and the mind controls will.  Will changes everything.  Words can educate.  They can teach compassion and self-awareness.  They can also teach and enforce entitlement and misogyny.  When those words can create monsters like Elliott Rodger, or the Chinese cult members, or any number of other guys we all have met at one point or another, we are obligated to assert our Will and rewrite dangerous and antiquated modes of behavior.

Guys, we need your help here.  I am so proud to have men in my life that respect me and care about me.  Those same men would never raise a hand to a woman, would never feel that she is required to give them attention or sex and would not ever allow another man to assault a woman in their presence.  These fellows know that yelling obscenities at a woman isn’t manly.  It isn’t funny or witty.  It’s lame and harmful.   For the “men’s rights activists” who feel this is going to work out for you, think again.  The only thing you’re showing is the reason women find you repulsive — because you don’t know how to treat them with respect.  And for the record MRA’s, PUA’s, or any other guy  behaving poorly,  we owe you nothing…ever…regardless of how many times you’ve been turned down or for whatever reason. You’re not a “nice guy” or even a “player”.  You’re just another fool hanging his head out the car window interrupting my jog.