Monthly Archives: September 2014

The Politics of Second Sons

Yesterday, I attended Catholic Mass.

Don’t worry; this isn’t one of those posts where I explain why I’ve decided to convert.  I attended Mass for as simple reason:  I was visiting my in-laws and they, and my partner, are Catholic.  Regardless, something struck me as very timely for our American experience this fall in relation to the gospel reading and our midterm elections.

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The Roots of Heartbreak: Uncovering your role in healing your impact and that of your community

Courtney Weber guest posts on Pagan Activist about the People’s Climate March which happened in New York City on Sunday, September 21, 2014. The largest climate march in the world, it attracted 400,000 people. She is a Priestess, Writer, Tarot Adviser, and Activist in New York City. She is the High Priestess of Novices of the Old Ways and an organizer with the Pagan Environmental Coalition NYC. Her website is The Coco Witch and you can find her on Twitter. @thecocowitch.

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What brought me to environmental activism? I can’t point to one moment, but several small moments that all piled up, eventually. Maybe it was my science homework in the 4th grade when I cried as I read about the destruction of rainforests. Maybe it was the family vacations to the Oregon coast and seeing swaths of deforestation like a fresh shave on a wooded giant’s face. Maybe it was in college when I noticed that summer crept longer into autumn each year and it scared the hell out of me. Maybe I’ve always had an itchy bug to fight. As a teen, I jealously watched footage from actions of the 60’s and wished I’d been “born in a time when there were things to fight.” (I’m very careful with what I wish for, now!)

I’m often asked what the environmental movement means to Paganism and honestly, I don’t know how we could separate them. It’s like asking what the philosophy of Christianity has to do with helping the poor or what Buddhism has to do with peace. Our Gods are in the living Earth, itself. How could we not fight for it? I often think of this Alice Walker quote: “Activism is my rent for living on the planet.” I think all persons have a responsibility to carve out at least one portion of their life for making the world a better place. There is a tendency among Americans to say, “I’m too busy.” But we don’t have time to be too busy to work on this. It’s like a cancer patient saying they don’t have time for chemo. There’s also a frightening tendency among Pagans to act as though directing their energy toward a place of need is enough. When it comes to issues surrounding the environment, sometimes there is a sense within us that we are exempt from the injuries inflicted on the planet simply because we worship it.

Years ago, I learned about true energy exchange with the Mother which ironically involved carbon. I once had a single diamond stud earring that belonged to my mother, but after several moves, it disappeared. One day, my dad told me he wanted to have family diamonds made into a brooch for my mother and asked for the stone. I regretted to admit that I didn’t know where it was. A few months later, I visited Mt. St. Helens for the first time as an adult. As a kid, I’d been bored (of course), but in my 20’s, I was deeply moved by the beauty of the natural destruction. The forests were still gone, but the most brilliant of purples dotted the landscape as there is a specific flower that does well in the volcanic ash. I wanted to take a piece of Mt. St. Helens back with me. Despite the park signs that asked people not to take ash with them, I took a scoop for myself. As a Pagan, I knew the power of volcanic ash and would have a deeper respect for it than the average person. In short, it was “okay” for me to take it “because I was Pagan.” I left a piece of hair for the mountain, a piece of me in exchange for a piece of her. Later, I tried to give the ash to a beloved teacher who, while she appreciated the thought, insisted that I return the ash to the mountain.

“Those are her babies!” she said. “The mountain needs that ash to rebuild!”

I realized what a mistake I had made. I’d arrogantly thought my hair was a good enough exchange because my intention was pure, but it wasn’t. My hair would do nothing for the mountain, and in truth, the ash would do nothing for me except inflate my ego for “having a piece” of something so powerful. I had taken for my own desires and injured the landscape. I boxed up the ash, mailed it to the national park, and received a very kind letter from a ranger a few weeks later, thanking me for doing the right thing. Soon after that, I opened a drawer to dig for a necklace and the missing diamond earring rolled out. Carbon-for-carbon…somehow, I’d done something right.

Pagans aren’t blind. We know environmental degradation is ever-present and pressing. There are two dangers I see the Pagan community skirt. One is reclusive complacency: a belief that we are the only ones who care; therefore, stick with others who care like we do. Why bother doing anything else? The other danger is what I illustrated above: Acting destructively on the Earth and feeling we’re exempt because we’re Pagan. We’re worried about climate change, yet we drive fuel-chugging cars thousands of miles to festivals or use disposable products at Sabbats. We not only have a responsibility to be self-aware of our actions, we have a responsibility to aid in shaping the future. It’s our Goddess, right? Would we let people smash our statues of Isis or Hekate? Why would we let people destroy our forests or poison our water? Why would we let ourselves do that?

Pagans have a blessed voice to bring to the action table. We don’t proselytize, so secular groups aren’t nervous that we are out to convert. We are fun! At the Climate March, the Pagans brought the party to the inter-faith group. Buddhists, Jews, UUs, Atheists, Muslims, Christians….at least one of everyone found their way into dancing and singing along with our drums and chants. I love to tell stories of the spontaneous Pagan-Buddhist dance party in Columbus Circle and of the Jewish guy who rode up beside our group in a bicycle-cab, playing his clarinet along with us as we chanted “Air I Am.” Be they interfaith movements or secular rallies, we have spirit and presence to contribute that is unique, timely, and necessary.

Not everyone is able to contribute to the movement in the same way. The climate march was a seven-hour day on our feet—five of those involved just standing. I personally love them, so they’re easy for me. I also have a job that’s moderately flexible with my time and health enough to be on my feet for seven hours. But for those reasons or more, marches aren’t feasible or enjoyable for everyone and they don’t have to be. A thousand people rushed Wall Street the day after the march and hundreds were arrested. I was there in Spirit, but my own life cannot afford me to have an arrest record at this time so that’s not a way I can help. But I don’t have to be arrested to be effective. There are letters to write, awareness to raise, photos to take, hell—just GO to the places of destruction and tell people what you saw. I could quote all the facts about what’s wrong with fracking, but it’s more effective if I simply show the photos from PEC-NYC’s visit to fracking sites earlier this month.

What breaks your heart? What could you possibly lose to climate change? Find that painful spot, and address it in a way that brings you joy. It’s a hard enough battle on its own. Find that place in yourself that injures the world you love and work on it. Find a way to address those actions in your community and work on that, too.

Find the roots of your heartbreak and your own roles in it. In working on it, do so in a way that makes that heart sing.

Nature’s Law and Our Relationship with Animals

demeterIt’s the harvest season and my garden seems to be slowing down. This has been my first season gardening and I’ve been thinking a lot about Demeter, the cycles of the Earth, and our place in all of that. In fact a good part of this post was inspired by a gardening comment I left on one of Michelle’s posts and conversations I’ve had about it.

In the comment I talk about the spiritual experience gardening has been for me, and since it’s a response to a blog about Pagans and food, I mentioned veganism. I really do think veganism is a logical extension of common Pagan values of non-harming, loving the Earth and our bodies, and love of liberty.
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A Rainbow Pentacle (or other religious symbol)

by RevKess

LGBT Pride season is over and done with for 2014. There may be a few events yet to happen, but June and July are the main months for such festivities. We’re now in full swing for the Pagan Pride season, August 1-October 31. Both are opportunities for “fringe” or “marginalized” segments of the community to celebrate their pride in themselves and share of their communities with the rest of the world.

In both instances it is sometimes dangerous or even life threatening to be out and proud. Around the world, in the Middle East, parts of Africa, Asia, even in some areas of Europe and the Americas it can be extremely dangerous to be out as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, etc. In many of those same countries, and elsewhere in the world, it can be very dangerous to be public about non-Abrahamic religious and spiritual paths. All we have to do is look to Uganda, South Africa, or Iraq to see what can and does happen to people who are either non-hetero or of a different religio-spiritual persuasion. The full-scale hunts of gay men in parts of Africa and the rabid accusations of witchcraft in South Africa or the displacement of the Yezidi in Iraq are just a few examples of what can happen to someone who is open or discovered to be “other” (or even rumored to be).

In the United States we are a little more lucky than some other parts of the world. Since the Civil Rights Movements and the Feminist Movement in the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s we have seen gradual improvements in the public view of homosexuality and non-traditional religions. We still have many strides and baby steps to take before both segments of the greater community are accepted. Events like Pride and PPD help take those baby steps.

My personal experience with Pride events is limited to my immediate local community. I’ve sat a booth for Star City Pride the last four seasons. First to help the host of The Wimmins Show on our local community radio station, KZUM, and then with my co-host on Lavender Hill. Each time we are there representing KZUM. I’ve seen churches and local community outreach programs, as well as businesses, artists, and eateries with booths at the events. What I haven’t seen are visible representations of the Pagan community. I know that most of the local Pagan community is supportive of the LGBTQIAA community, they just don’t have a booth to share their support. I’ve heard that many other Pride events have Wiccan churches, Pagan temples, and other organizations sit booths or have some other visible presence.

Many LGBT community members are drawn to Pagan religions and spiritual philosophies. Wicca and other flavors of Paganism embrace the LGBTQ community, openly and without reservation. In my own local community the largest Wiccan church has many openly gay, lesbian, bi, or trans members. Many Unitarian churches have CUUPS chapters as well as LGBT Welcoming Committees, their memberships often overlap.

In the interest of full disclosure, I’ve not had the opportunity  to attend any PPD events. I have attended several Pagan festivals in the Nebraska, Kansas, and Colorado areas. Many of these having overlap with the LGBTQQIAA community.

Both communities can learn from each other. They have grown up alongside each other, though there was little overlap in the beginning – at least open overlap. I should point out here that the Feminist movement overlapped with the Pagan movement and the Lesbian community while the gay men’s community overlapped with certain segments of the early Pagan movement. A clear and distinct overlap was not present.

In my first post with Pagan Activist I wrote about how some in the Pagan community have difficulty accepting transgender persons. The outpouring of support and response from other segments of the Pagan world showed that those who have difficulty are a minority. What I wrote about there is only one example of how Pagans need to work on their acceptance of “the other” within their own community. It should be obvious that I am going to focus on the acceptance of the LGBT community in this article, but the intersectionality of the Pagan world is far from limited to that. Others on this site have written about Pagan issues with physical disabilities, mental illness, dietary preferences and the like. I’ll leave it for them to continue on that topic of they desire.

It has been my personal experience that much of the discrimination and ‘phobia around homosexuality (bisexuality, transgender, gender fluidity, etc) can be traced to the simple fact of ignorance. In the past I would frequently encounter people who were homophobic because they did not know someone who was gay. Being open, frank, and honest with them helped to open their eyes to the reality of what knowing a gay person means. Quite often those same people would come back to me days, weeks, even years later, and apologize for their past words and actions against myself or other members of the LGBT community. Saying that getting to know me helped them to understand that a gay person is pretty much like a straight person.

The same holds true for when someone who is afraid of Pagans, or the concept of Paganism, gets to know someone who is Pagan. When you boil it down to the base elements of spirituality and religion, there is not much of a difference between Paganism (in its many flavors) and the Abrahamic traditions. I know, I’m going to get a lot of flak for that statement. I believe it to be true. The real differences are a matter of perception – how we as Pagans see the Divine compared to how members of the Abrahamic faiths see the Divine. Even within Paganism there is a vast difference in that perception. But stop and think, don’t all religions give guidelines on morality? Don’t they all address the afterlife (whether or not there is one in that faith)?

Being open and willing to talk with people about your religious and spiritual beliefs, about your sexual identity, or about both can go a long way to resolving issues that may come up when someone is suffering from that all too common intellectual affliction called ignorance. When time allows, even at work, I will try to dispel misconceptions that someone might have about my religious and spiritual beliefs or about my sexual identity. I’m rather open and frank about things in my life. The majority of my customers know that I am gay, many have learned that I am Pagan. All o my coworkers know and are cool with it all. I can also go years working with someone and them not knowing that I am gay. If it never comes up in conversation, it never comes up.

Ultimately, how you choose to work within one or the other or both communities is up to you. It is my experience that being able to work openly within both makes for a happier and healthier life. I’d imagine that most of the readers of this site are Pagan of some sort or another. Think back to an experience you’ve had an event where someone who was gay came into the gathering and was uncomfortable because they seemed to be the “only one”. Maybe you were that person. What did you do to help make them comfortable? What was done to help make you comfortable? What do you wish had been done?

You may have noticed that throughout this article I’ve used several acronyms for the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender community. I did so because there are far more “flavors” to non-heteronormative sexualities and identities than lesbian, gay, bi, and trans.

WHY DO WE CHOOSE TO ACT IN THE WAYS WE DO?

There are countless ways for us to reach out and share our messages. For those among us who choose to stay out of the spot light, this can be accomplished through making phone calls, sending emails, signing petitions and making donations. Each of these approaches allows for participation from the comfort of home, if not anonymously, then certainly without publicity. Even more public events such as rallies, marches and town hall meetings grant the opportunity to participate and make our voices heard without having to move into the spotlight. While it may be impossible to avoid media cameras, requests for interviews can be denied, we can move our physical location to the sidelines of an event and we can let our signs or a spokesperson represent our thoughts.

There are other, more “center stage” ways of being involved and I have been wondering lately what it is about those actions that call to me. After all, I was the performance dancer who sickened moments before going on stage! It can be a big step from attending an event to actually planning one, from listening to a speaker to being the speaker before an assembled crowd, from participating in chants to taking the bull horn and leading a group to a crescendo of voices. Recently, as I was returning from an event where I took part in two unanticipated on-camera interviews, I thought about three possible motivators for my participating in these ways. They are the “thank you” factor, the need to practice and hone my skills and setting an example that I hope others will use in developing the courage to take leadership roles.

The “thank you” factor comes when someone says, “Thank you for __________ (fill in the blank). That simple statement is an affirmation that what I am doing is of value to someone other than myself, that my goals are shared by others and I am not alone. Two small words can provide huge motivation to continue.

The second motivator is the need to practice those things that I believe must be done but that certainly do not fall within my comfort zone. Fear, self-doubt, uncertainty about my own abilities are all capable of stopping me before I get started if I allow that to happen. Had I allowed my dancer self to avoid taking the stage I would have missed out on some of the most joyous experiences I’ve had. The best way to get past a fear of public speaking is to speak out more often. The best way to overcome a belief that someone else will put together a better rally is to plan rally after rally and learn what the strengths and weaknesses of each event were – time after time – and keep getting better at it.

The third reason for “getting out there” is the one most important to me in the hope that it will inspire others to do the same. How many times have I witnessed leaders in action and thought that they must have some innate comfort zone that allows them to do something I can’t? How often have I assumed they all must have some magical talent that costs them nothing to do what they do? The answer is “too many!” At an event that my Activate CT cohorts and I put together this past May in Mystic Ct, I agreed to an interview with both an independent reporter and a reporter from an area newspaper. During one of those interviews I heard myself say that had anyone had told me four years ago I’d be planning rallies, speaking at town hall meetings, participating in radio and television interviews or meeting with elected officials personally to make my views heard, I would have called the whole idea folly but now I believe that if I can do it ANYONE can do it. For those of us who have reservations about our abilities it might take a few more “thank you” comments and a bit more practice and tense filled hours before we go into action but it can be done.

There are so many justice, environmental and economic issues that need attention. If we rely on a small number of people to take on spokesperson and other leadership roles to address them there will never be enough people to do the work that needs to be done. I believe it is up to all of us in the activist community to inspire, teach and support everyone in the community and help each other push aside our own perceived limitations that stand in the way of our becoming more effective and visible. We can do this by not only encouraging participation but offering to stand by each other (literally!) when we take on roles that are intimidating.

So, when I post my activities and accomplishments on facebook or share them with people in other ways, I am not doing so in order to say, “Look at what I did. I am special. I, I, I, I………” but rather to say, “Look at what I did. I am not special.  You can do it, too!” The next step is to begin asking, “How can I help you get there?”
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The Nail Polish Debate and How Good Ideas Can Be Taken to a Bad Place

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There has been a great deal of controversy about a new product being developed by four students in North Carolina; a nail polish which can be worn and used to detect date rape drugs in a drink.

The concept is simple. You can put on this nail varnish and if by chance you are concerned about the safety of your drink, you can just stir it with your finger and if the color changes, you drink has tested positive for date rape drugs.
Now when I first heard about this I was impressed. While drug assisted rape is not the most common form of rape it still happens and even a small percentage of an epidemic problem is significant. I was glad to see that there were people who were doing what they could think to do to address the issue.

Then I began to see article upon article slamming the product stating a number of different concerns. Some are more reasonable than others. Many women feel that the drug-detecting nail polish is a fantastic idea while others believe it actually furthers rape culture concepts. Here are some of the discussion points that I’ve seen.

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Greening your magics: Bones of the earth

A few days ago, I bought myself some new jewelry. I’d been feeling pulled to find some pink tourmaline and rutilated quartz, and succeeded. And I also succeeded, knowing full well what this post would be about.

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I’ve loved semi-precious gemstones since I was a kid. And for a long time I have been well aware that they do not make it to the market through altruistic means. The process of mining gems, precious or semi-, most often involved damage to the earth (like other forms of mining), the use of toxic chemicals, and exploitation of workers in the most disadvantaged parts of the world.

That said, I’m not here to shove some sort of guilt or privilege on you, readers, for even thinking about buying gems, whether for spiritual purposes or because you like the piece. My hope is that you will put some thought into your purchases, and maybe consider other options.

But what if there is a stone which would be perfect for your upcoming magical workings, and you don’t already own it? That’s what I had above. Incidentally, it turned out my intuition for being pulled to both stones had merit. Pink tourmaline is said to support the adrenal glands, and rutilated quartz can give energy to people dealing with chronic health problems. Both are still problems for me, and I am still working on healing. It may be psychosomatic, but I am already feeling a change in my state of health, and for the better.

In addition to educating myself about mining practices, I’ve decided to take a few courses of action with gem buying now.

1. Buy with intent
In the past, yes I have bought gems because I thought they were pretty, shiny, and just because I could. Which means that now I do have a nice little collection and can cover a lot of bases with spiritual needs. If I feel pulled to having something new, I will look around and find the right piece. Not just buy a few and hope one of them works out.

2. Buy vintage
Or even secondhand. I’ve bought some lovely stones in the last few years from friends selling off some of their collection. Should you be worried about unwanted energies hanging around the stones, you can clean them with water (where applicable) or put them in sunlight. But not all stones can handle such cleaning. My favorite way to clean gems now is to set them on a piece of selenite. The gem is also said to be self-cleaning which means I do not have to worry about cleaning IT in addition.

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3. Look outside your door

Several years ago, I left my house one day and discovered a regular round rock sitting on the ledge of one of the flower beds. Now, the land around my house isn’t all that rocky, and my neighbors aren’t the sort just to leave stones near the door. I’ve kept that rock, even though I don’t know just what its purpose is yet. But gem and rock work is not limited just to shiny polished stones fit for jewelry. A rock from your property can be used for protection work, healing (by drawing out illness), or any Earth-related magic.

A few years ago a friend of mine told me about going to a gem show, hoping to find amethyst and pyrite. There was little to be found that day. According to one of the vendors, a high demand from the New Age market (and yes I am kinda throwing us pagans and polytheists into that group) meant a limited amount of material available. I would hate to think that our demands would also mean these gorgeous materials would no longer be available.

Resources

Bendell, Jem, et. al. “Mindful mining.” in The Journal of Corporate Citizenship. 12/2009, issue 36.

Duffy, Rosaleen. “Gemstone mining in Madagascar: transnational networks, criminalisation and global integration.” in Journal of Modern African Studies. 45:2. 2007.