Author Archives: mcunha

No One Asked Us What We Thought

wailam0513_1383930570We’ve all heard the news: Dzhokhar Tsarnaev has been sentenced to death. Honestly, I was surprised to hear this. I read less than 20% of Bostonians supported the death penalty for the young terrorist. Further, Massachusetts does not have the death penalty and the last time someone was executed in the Commonwealth was in 1940s.

But the Commonwealth of Massachusetts isn’t putting Dzhokhar to death. Rather, the United States is. Because Dzhokhar was tried in Federal Court, and the Federal Government has not outlawed the death penalty, the death penalty will be applied to this 21 year old young man.

But will putting a boy like Dzhokhar to death really bring closure for victims and their families? Will it deter anyone from using terror tactics to further their message?

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Peace & Planet III

Twice now I’ve written about the Peace & Planet event happening in New York City April 24-26. And some really useful comments have come my way as to why nuclear weapons are no longer at the tip of everyone’s tongue like they were when I was coming of age in Suburban Boston during the 80s. The discussion took place mainly on Facebook (of course) where a few people commented on how nuclear weapons haven’t been much of a topic of conversation since the new century began because, well, they’re blase. ” It’s an old topic” Crystal said. And she’s right. It’s a topic going back to before WWII.

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Peace & Planet II

My last post on Pagan Activist I wrote about Peace & Planet events happening in New York City April 24-26, 2015. They’ll be an interfaith service which I hope Pagans will take a lead on. There’s a Panel Discussion planned for Thursday, March 5th, 7p-9p at the All Saint’s Church which I also have hope for Pagan attendance. (If you’re wondering why I’m not participating it’s because I live in Boston. Also, as the event is happening on my weekend to work, I won’t be able to attend, sadly.)

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Peace & Planet

1619533_514155038726222_5438626920744010539_nDid you know there are over 16,000 nuclear weapons ready to be used today? This is the legacy left to us by our parents and grandparents, the ones embroiled in the Cold War. And now it’s up to us to undo the damage our forebears have done to Earth.

April 24-26, 2015 is the weekend to be in New York City to join us to end nuclear weapon proliferation. There’s a conference as well as a march and rally. From Peace & Planet Facebook page

The fight to abolish nuclear weapons is inextricably linked with movements for economic, social, and environmental justice and peace. Over 50 peace, environmental, religious, and justice organizations from around the world serve on the Coordinating and Advisory Committees for this project. The cause is multi-generational and transcends borders, in order to use the 2015 NPT as an opportunity to build pressure on the nuclear powers, to draw attention to the terrifying threats that nuclear technologies pose to people, peace, and the planet, and to achieve a nuclear-free world. Partners from around the country join together to say: No Nukes! Take Action!

The peace and environmental movements dovetail nicely. For example, the US Military is the biggest consumer of fossil fuels. And the US Military is more likely to intervene in a civil war if oil is abundant. Soon water will replace oil for the reason for conflict, and interference, since the world is drying.

The organizers of Peace & Planet are seeking people of faith for an interfaith contingency to the weekend long events. This is the perfect avenue for Pagans to get involved with the peace and environmental movements. As Soli asked We all have a starting point. Where is yours?

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The End of 2014

2014-2015-year-end-pic2014 is coming to an end and with that we Pagan Activists offer up our words from previous posts.

I asked each of the authors of Pagan Activist to choose their favorite self-written article and a paragraph or two about it. Here are their responses:

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Just Get a Job

just-get-a-jobMany readers of Pagan Activist know I’ve been out of work for quite some time. It’s something I lament about frequently in my personal life and on Facebook. I interview to no avail. Time and again I’m am left disappointed by my inability to lock down a job. And I have no idea why I no offers come in. I show up to interviews in my best suit (which I spent a fortune on), early. I make direct eye contact, smile, and answer questions to the best of my ability. I write handwritten thank you notes after an interview. I’ve hired a professional to write my resume. I’ve participated in many mock interviews. I’ve signed up for (literally) 20 temp agencies over the last couple years. I call those temp agencies weekly to “check in” so the recruiter doesn’t forget who I am.

But still I am sans job.

My biggest critics are family members who after spit out “just get a job, any job.” I also hear “You’re being too picky” frequently. Instead of rallying behind me they play the blame game, blaming me for the inability to finding work paying a living salary.

When I lived in New Hampshire I applied at several retail outlets without success. I don’t know why I was never called for a high school job like register jockey but failing to lock down such a job really impacted my self esteem. After all, if I couldn’t get a shit job then it was no wonder I couldn’t get a real job that would launch my career.

I moved from New Hampshire to my native Massachusetts a few months ago. Now I have retail job. And you know what? It’s pretty pointless. My grandmother is fond of saying “at least it gets you out of the house” though I’m not sure why that’s so important. There are far more important things I can be doing than ringing a register: making dinner, cleaning, knitting, running… It’s as if getting out of the house is far more important than staying in it and I’m not sure why she’s of that mentality.

The place I work deliberately does not have fulltime employees. They do not want to pay benefits. The wage is one I made 25 years ago in high school. Because of the part time status and the low wage, my paycheck does not cover the grocery bill. But at least I’m out of the house. Right?

A fantastic article came out in January of this year. Entitled “It Is Expensive to Be Poor” Barbara Ehrenreich knocks it out of the park.

For most women in poverty, in both good times and bad, the shortage of money arises largely from inadequate wages.

What I discovered is that in many ways, these jobs are a trap: They pay so little that you cannot accumulate even a couple of hundred dollars to help you make the transition to a better-paying job. They often give you no control over your work schedule, making it impossible to arrange for child care or take a second job.

That’s the trap I’m falling into. With an unpredictable work schedule I cannot seek a second job. I cannot temp. I cannot seek full time employment and expect to keep this job. I can feel the cycle of economic abuse tightening its noose around my neck. Soon, like many victims of abuse, I’ll be dead.

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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.

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.

Orthodox Pagan Food

I’m an avid reader. Books, blogs, and HuffPost articles feed my unquenchable hunger for more information. The genres I read lend toward nonfiction: science, memoirs, and of course, Pagan books. Religion is something I have deep interest in and not just my religion. I love to read books by and about Jews, Muslims, Hindus, and any other religion. My favorite stories are religious memoirs, books written by people who came from some sort of orthodox life who “escaped” and are now making their way in the world. Some of my favorites include Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots, The Girl in the Tangerine Scarf, and The Namesake.

Whenever I read books on this subject an envy deep in my soul grows a little bigger. The envy is for the the connection many of the community members have: living in tight knit communities, sharing space and lives and sometimes bloodlines, of actually *knowing* your neighbors, of being able to trust those around you to have your best interest at heart.

Of course, the authors don’t paint the rosy picture my mind wants to see. Instead, they talk of oppressive patriarchal hierarchies so tightly knit together they can be almost impossible to rip back. They speak of deep loneliness, of feeling “other” all the time, not being able to trust their families and peers for fear of being shamed for wanting something other than maintaining whatever the cultural and religious norm there are.

Our religion does not fit into the above description. We Pagans tend to flee when we see the words “rules” “restrictions” “regulation” “responsibility” because many of us came from religions which had far too many of these “r” words. We bristle at the very thought of anyone having power to tell us what to do and what not to do. I’m one who bristles at the very thought of someone telling me anything. But I see there is a need for some rules. Paganism is not a free-for-all religion. We have responsibilities to ourselves, our kin, and Mother Earth.

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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.

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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