It’s a sad truth that harassment and discrimination occurs within the Pagan community. However, I want to call some positive attention to several Pagan events that have adopted safety and anti-harassment policies at their events. While a lot of Pagans tell me, “Duh, of course we’d kick someone out for racist comments/sexual misconduct/gay bashing,” the truth is, this is not always the case. And further, some issues–such as discrimination against transgender people–have only recently become something that more Pagans are even aware of, much less working to address.
Having just taught workshops at three of the big four Pagan conferences, and having attended a number of large Pagan festivals, I wanted to offer a bit of context for how some of these larger events have handled issues of social justice. While these events don’t represent the entire Pagan community, they do reflect issues and trends that ripple out to Pagans across the globe.
I’ve noticed a definite contrast in how specific events/communities are dealing with issues of racism, rape culture, harassment, cultural appropriation, transphobia, and other related issues. Some communities and events are actively embracing dialogue, and others don’t address these issues at all.
Yesterday Pantheacon ended. Pantheacon is the largest Pagan conference and has almost 3,000 attendees and takes place in San Jose every year. I’m posting this a day late because I’ve been at the conference and wanted to write about activism within the Pagan community and specifically on activism-related issues that come up at Pantheacon.
Several years ago, Pantheacon was rocked by the exclusion of transgender women from one of the women’s rituals, and that controversy rippled out (and is still rippling) across the broader Pagan community.
This weekend I was proud to be part of a panel discussing racism within the community. Unfortunately, that panel began on a sour note as I learned that there had been something hurtful and racist written in one of the various newsletters distributed at Pantheacon.
I’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?
When Kenny Klein’s arrest was announced a few weeks ago, I have to admit I was not at all surprised to hear that it had happened. Why? Several years ago I was in a bookstore one day with two friends and we were perusing the New Age section. One of Klein’s fairy tale books was there, and when one of my friends saw it it, she put it back fast. Then she told us that Klein used to beat up his wife.
Now here is the thing. My friend has never been a big name pagan, or even very involved in the greater pagan communities. She knew about this because of Usenet discussions back in the 1990s.
I had a bout of cognitive dissonance at this. How is it that someone who abused his spouse was also a praised and respected author and elder? In the discussion which ensued from his arrest, many people, including family members, came out to talk about being abused, and, startlingly, how they were silenced by other members of the community.
Hush used under Creative Commons license
And this is where I come to the crux of my discussion for the week. For a community with many roots in 1960s counterculture, and espousing an alternative to patriarchal culture, it’s sad to see the same models of the overculture coming into play. A reluctance to ostracize community members for abhorrent behavior and suppressing people who dare to voice that they were violated? Congratulations in emulating some of the biggest institutions in the world. The abused committed by priests of the Roman Catholic Church have become well known, but also the Hassidic communtiy and the Amish have had their problems with abuse.
While there has been some great and much needed discussion coming from this case (see Christine Hoff Kraemer’s erotic ethics and pagan consent culture, Thorn Coyle’s predators in paganism, and fellow PA blogger Shauna’s post here and the predators series on her blog), there have also been people raising a fuss at how the story first broke (comments I saw on Facebook and cannot find now) and apparently apologists (I have not seen this, due to a brain overfull with parental memorial planning) worried about how pagans would appear from this and maybe even trying to rationalize the matter.
This is unacceptable. How can we be a community which claims to hold the female as sacred and talk about personal autonomy and at the same time throw our support behind someone who has admitted to having images of pre-sexual children being abused?
Even worse, how can we have people more concerned with how we appear in the media over, again, someone who has admitted to having images of pre-sexual children being abused?
Are we that timid? That sophomoric to worry more about our image than a grave crime?
I’ve been reminded of what John Michael Greer terms the myths of progress and apocalypse. From his book The Long Descent:
“[T]he myth of progress. According to this story, all of human history is a grand tale of human improvement.
[T]he myth of apocalypse. According to this story, all of human history is a tragic blind alley.”
Greer goes on to discuss how rooted these two myths are in our current collective imagination. And that unless “we” are in a state of progress, we are inevitably heading toward apocalypse. But this is not so. Our mythologies were once full of stories chronicling the highs and lows of life, and that to be in a low state was not the end of the world. To apply it here, the fact that “we” have a formerly respected elder now charged with one of the most abhorent crimes imaginable, and that people opposed to our religions can use it as fodder against us, could lead to big trouble. Think of the lies about Satanic ritual abuse from the 1980s.
We know this is not true, in fact that it never happened. So why are we operating from a place where we think our communities might be ruined?
Maybe now is the time to take a new approach. The neopagan community (along with recon and revival religions) have some age now. Own properties. Participate in their larger communities. Have respect and legitimacy. We should collectively be able to stand up and say “this is not who we are. Further, this is not acceptable. We will no longer cover up, apologize, rationalize these behaviors. We will not silence the victims. We will respect our members, especially our women. We will say no.”
Looking at the progress/apocalypse mythos, yes this could be seen as a failure. But we’re also talking about humans. Following a different religion does not make us special, or better, or “more enlightened.” We make mistakes. We have the same problems as any other group. And maybe what we need to do, to show how we are different is to say no, to cut abusive people out of our communities.
(Incidentally, if you think that by honoring the female divine you are not capable of violating women, think again. Think about ancient Hellenic culture, where women were invisible. Think about India. Last year the BBC did an amazing documentary in response to the gang rape there called India: a dangerous place to be a woman. Watch it if you can find it.)
It’s time for a new model. Instead of sweeping predators and creeps under the rug, we need to be honest. Get people help when they need and want it, and for those who don’t, turn our backs. Maybe we should enact something like weregild, or some other way of holding people accountable. We need to take action.
And we need to remember that if anything like this happens again, it’s not the end of the world.
Your mind is being controlled. Really. It’s happening all the time, and at a subtle, insidious level.
You are being programmed.Every time you read a billboard, watch a commercial, even a TV show. You are being brainwashed. Ideas are being thrown at you. You’re being told a story, you’re being told what to buy, what to believe, what to value, what you should be doing with your life.
You’re being told who you should be. And the problem is, it works.
I believe in being sex positive. Not just in the Pagan community–I’d like to see more positive, healthy behaviors across the world. I hear Pagans talking about wanting that too, but there’s a few elephants in the room. And until we acknowledge some of them, we aren’t going to have a healthy sex dynamic in our community.
First, what does “Sex positive” mean? Continue reading
–By Shauna Aura Knight
Months ago I wrote here on Pagan Activist, calling out Pagans who used styrofoam and plastic cups during ritual. I also frequently post environmental sustainability topics on my Facebook wall. A lot of people use ad hominem attacks against me in those instances, ie, “How can you talk, you drive a car.” “You can’t say that, your laptop has plastic in it,” etc.
One person even said that, because I use toilet paper, I should not tell people that they should reduce their use of paper products.
Ad hominem is a logical fallacy, meaning, it attacks the person, rather than their argument. And, though my own use of resources does not invalidate my call for us Pagans to live more sustainably, I think it’s also worth being transparent about my own use of environmental resources, as well as explore some ways we can continue to reduce our use. This includes where I have worked to reduce my environmental footprint, and where I could do better.
If we call ourselves Earth-centered, how do we do that without being hypocrites?
–By Shauna Aura Knight
Hi, I’m Shauna, and I’m a fat Pagan. I’m also celebrating having lost over 100 pounds in the past couple of years, and improving my health by leaps and bounds. Actually, this week I’ve hit a milestone of being about to cross under 200 pounds for the first time in 7 years.
Weight and health are an issue that recently divided the Pagan community in some drama. About a year ago there was a big hoopla about a post my friend Peter Dybing wrote on his blog. I can sum it up as, there are folks who were concerned about the number of fat Pagans and the health issues they observed in the Pagan community. The backlash from many Pagans was, stop judging me for being fat and I don’t need to lose weight for you.
I live in the greater Boston area. Following the shooting at the Sikh gurdwara in Oak Creek, Wisconsin this past August, an interfaith group was formed here called SolidarityBoston. Members of that group are now working to produce another event and I volunteered to help find Pagan participants. This event will be focused on the Israeli/Palestinian conflicts, and so I specifically sought out a practitioner working with the Canaanite pantheon. When I did find such a person, I asked if she’d be willing to represent Paganism at the event.
And, she said no.
It wasn’t that she wasn’t willing to be a part of the event; in fact, I suspect she probably will. The issue was that I asked her to represent Paganism and her feelings are that she cannot. From her point of view, she is not a Pagan. Instead, she practices a religion, called Natib Qadish, that is similar to Paganism in a variety of ways but one that is different enough that she feels it is separate.
Another project of mine is to create a Pagan chapter for the Foundation for Religious Diplomacy (FRD). I’ve worked with a few other Pagans on this project and I encountered a similar voluntary separation from the term Paganism during that work, this time from Heathens rather than Qadishuma.
I have encountered that separation on a number of occasions over the last few months and every time I have found it to be jarring and personally worrisome. Primarily, this is due to the fact that I think a vibrant, growing community is one that is diverse. In such a community, the ideas of one person can be challenged by the ideas of others and by discussing and working through those challenges, everyone’s faith is made stronger and better. It is for that reason, among others, that I involve myself in interfaith activism, but perhaps it’s time for a little intrafaith work.
I contend that there are two primary branches of modern Paganism: the reconstruction or revival of ancient faiths in a modern context and newer faiths descending from ceremonial magic techniques, Jungian archetypes, the work of Joseph Campbell and a variety of other sources to create something that is very different from anything that we would have seen in the ancient world. Does that mean that these two different branches can’t sprout from the same tree? Of course not, but at times it seems that people of the former branch have distanced themselves from the latter.
I would love to see a pan-Pagan group form to begin to create a creedal document for Paganism. The goals of this group would be to create a document that would be specific enough as to define Paganism for other communities that need a little bit of information about us but general enough that a variety of different faith traditions and theologies could exist under its umbrella.
Partly, I want to see this because I encounter others through my interfaith work that are confused by what it is to be Pagan. Usually, they desire some sort of statement about what a Pagan is and what they do, and I’ve been called upon on a variety of occasions to offer my point of view on panel discussions or the like. Too often, others have remained confused about who we are because I have lacked the words to help define us to them. I worry, though, that I actually lack the words to describe us to myself.
I want our family to be as large as possible. Maybe that means that I just have to get used to people using different labels that aren’t the same as mine. But, frankly, I spent a long time to find my labels and I’d like them to apply as broadly as possible. I think that such a broad application is better for the community and it gives us the support of more people if we should ever need it. It makes us a louder voice, and if we can articulate our similarities to others as we speak, it makes us a stronger part of the chorus.
The creation of such this pan-Pagan group would be a task in and of itself. My aforementioned efforts to build a small team of people to work with the FRD has taught me that it’s hard to get us all moving in the same direction. The individual nature of our faiths is part of the problem, but I think it’s also that we have too few members of our community that are empowered to be organizers and leaders without also having to be doctors, lawyers, librarians, teachers, parents, and sometimes even web application developers. As a result, we have concerns of daily life that often are forced to supersede our spiritual interactions especially if those interactions are separate from our own spiritual practices.
That said, simply finding representatives to meet and discuss our similarities and differences seems so daunting as to make even me shy away from the idea — and it’s my own! Assuming that these representatives could be found, I worry that the process of distilling our ideas to find the commonalities in an effort to produce the sort of creedal statement that I mentioned above would not bring us together, as I hope, but might even separate us further.
But maybe that’s just part of the risk inherent in growth. Maybe my dreams of a large and better-defined Pagan family are just that: dreams. But, if there’s nothing else I’ve learned from my Pagan brothers and sisters, elders and advisers, and even from those who remain Pagan-friendly, it’s that dreams can be come reality if we work at them long enough.
Perhaps it is time for this dream to become reality, or at least for us to attempt to make it so. I’d enjoy the chance to speak with others about how this process might take place. Even if it doesn’t happen now or if it never happens, these are the sort of processes that I think we as a community need to begin to think about. I feel like we’ve been primarily concerned with our own practice but if we’re going to become a part of the larger, global spiritual community (and I believe that we should), then we need to figure out how best to do that together before we are pigeonholed in a way that we disagree with.