What Century Is This?

A quick check-in. I’m prepping for my trip to the Gulf coast, to speak at the University of Southern Mississippi on earth Day.

I got a wee tablet today and am trying to figure it all out. The tiny keyboard is a bit of a challenge but the small size will be easy to travel with.

There is so much to catch you up on–a fun Willful Bane workshop, a Solio that I’m figuring out, tending two gardens…

But all that will have to wait.

 

 

 

 

 

Safe Words, Safe Spaces (Part Four of not too many more, I hope)

With the recent controversies regarding the Klein arrest and the re-emergence of the Frosts, several highly visible Pagan organizations have issued statements about their reasoned and official policies regarding participation by minors. I reviewed Mother Grove’s policies as well as our Ethics statement. I suspect that most organizations are either reviewing existing policies or drafting new ones. All of this is very good and is a hopeful community response to these difficult situations.

But it begs the question–if these statements and policies already exist then why is this still happening, why is safety a concern in our communities? Is this a question of non-enforcement of existing rules or is something else going on? Or are these random events, outliers?

My non-scientific opinion is based on the conversations I’ve had over these many years about the silencing of complaints and the shaming of complainants. There’s a group in our area that used to be quite active and is now significantly less so. This group would regularly bring in new students and then demand all sorts of things of them that had nothing to do with practicing a religion. They had to clean the house, bring food or smokes or booze, etc. And many of those students come to me years later to talk about their terrible experiences with this group.

When the larger community began processing through the Klein arrest and those of us have been around a while started to recall all the Frost controversy from years past, I got several calls and emails from people that I know. They wanted to talk. They wanted to process their terrible coven experience from years past, an experience that they had tried to fix, to work through at the time.

But instead of listening to their concerns, the people “in charge” locked down, shamed the complainers, threatened to blackball and even hex them. No one will ever circle with you again!

Amazing.

What the Hel is wrong with us? These folks were talking about different parts of the country and different covens but the experience was pretty much the same. One happened in the 90s, another in the early 2000s, the other fairly recently.

How do we make our circles safe for those who seek to join this oddball collection of spiritualities? There is often a mocking disregard for those who have learned all they know about Wicca from a couple of books but how safe is it to look for a teacher, when we won’t tell the truth about the bad apples?

Is it any wonder that so many Pagans are solitary practitioners? No, I don’t think so. We need to do some deep searching into the motivation behind these toxic expectations for new Pagans–something that didn’t just happen in the wild and wooly 80s but continues to plague our communities today. Isolated instances of sexual abuse and more frequent tales of bad teachers and leaders have to bring us to a new way, a healthy way of organizing people and treating people.

We are a collection of outcasts and nerds and freaks. And we have to find a way to speak the truth about the people we know to be problematic.

Those Who Don’t Study History… (Part Three of…several)

are, they say, doomed to repeat it. There’s a funny cartoon–probably from the New Yorker (I can’t make out the artist’s name, sorry–Thanks to Kate Laity, I want to give credit where it is due. The artist/cartoonist is Tom Toro/Torb)–that opines: Those who don’t study history are doomed to repeat it. Yet those who do study history are doomed to stand by helplessly while everyone else repeats it.

To talk about a single monolithic Pagan community is laughable, so expecting a new Pagan on the West Coast to know what Pagans that were prominent in the South in the 1980s is grossly unfair. There are, however, Pagan folk (usually authors) who are nationally known through their writings and their works on behalf of the religious movements we call modern Paganism. These people have public personas and reputations that precede them. Ask any festival or conference organizer about some of these BNPs (Big Name Pagans) and you’ll learn about their reliability as presenters, their idiosyncrasies and dietary needs, whether they are high maintenance or easy as pie to work with.

Those hard-working festival organizers have to decide if a given BNP has enough drawing power to be worth the pain they are in everyone’s ass. And–to be fair–sometimes a presenter is going through a rough patch in their private lives and they seem unfriendly and standoffish at one event but perfectly fine six months later in another place.

Ask other Pagans and you’ll start to hear the gossip about So-and-So and the time they were being an obnoxious jerk at the late night fire-and-drumming, whether they are “handsey” when drinking and they are always drinking. If you listen and learn and ask, you may be rewarded with the deeper levels of interaction. You’ll know who used to be partnered with whom and hear all about that Beltane when he found her in their tent with someone, practicing “the Great Rite.” You’ll be told who to avoid, who to look out for.

So, if we–as community members–know all that, why are we so reticent to share it publicly? There are legal liabilities, of course. If there’s no proof and are acting on second- or third-hand accounts, you would be foolish to announce what you think you know. Wouldn’t you? 

More than a decade ago, my community went through a terrible time. Following a child’s admission to her mom, a man who was mostly trusted (though thought “creepy” by many, especially in retrospect) admitted to the molesting the child. The parents called the sheriff, a warrant was issued and the man was tried, convicted and incarcerated.

But that was not the end of it.

Another member of our community rose in defense of the accused. He said that the man needed healing, not jail, and admitted that he himself had been an abuser years before and had gotten help.

The community exploded. Many of us shunned this second man and refused to be in ritual or sit in council with him. There were rounds of discussion, of counselling, in which the second man repeatedly admitted his past actions and even shared a song he’d written about it. He couldn’t understand why we didn’t believe him, why we no longer trusted him, especially with children.

When one of our number saw that this man was scheduled to staff the children’s area at a regional festival, she felt ethically bound to speak out. She wrote a letter to the greater community, in which she warned of this man’s past abuses and asked the community to be vigilant. Sides were taken and that part of the community was riven, angry, afraid.  She sent that letter out year after year for a  long time.  She hadn’t accused him of anything he hadn’t admitted to–that was key. She was brave to do such a thing in a time when lies were the fabric of so many personal mythologies, but her heart and her personal ethics would not allow this to be added to the growing heap of noxious secrets.

Neither she nor the second man are very active in the Pagan world any more. They have moved on to others things. And who is warning his new community of what he did so long ago?  Is he working with children now? And is it safe–as he insisted all those years ago–for him to be around them?

You’re Not From Here, Are You? (Part Two of…several)

We are a set of communities older and deeper than the blogosphere–which may surprise some of you gentle readers. I’ll try to tread lightly on your illusions.

In the recent controversy over the arrest of a Pagan musician who admitted to uploading the child porn found on his computer, several wandering and toxic issues have risen to the top of the pail. One is the notion that there is only one way to be a “real Pagan.”

I came up in the early days when the glory of being Pagan was that one could do that in many different ways. Certainly, if you chose to be part of one of the codified traditions, there were and are proscribed ways of doing things. But no one tradition owns Paganism. One person may be initiated and hold leadership in an old-school British Tradition, another may practice the Religio Romano. Many paths through the forest, many rivers to the sea. The Roman Recon certainly thinks her trad is the best and so does the Brit Trad Wiccan.

There wasn’t much proselytizing in those old days and there wasn’t a sense of one right way to do the whole Earth religions/Pagan/Heathen thing.  We did it the way we did it (were trained to do it or invented it whole cloth) and if others didn’t like it, they were welcome to do their own thing somewhere else. My ritual, my rules. Your ritual, your rules.  There were sometimes flame wars within traditions as one sect separated from Mother Coven, but we tended to not bother preaching to the choirs outside our own trads.

Now, though, it seems to me I hear more and more about what it means to be a “real” Pagan. Events perpetrated by a well-known, highly visible person in the larger Pagan community that triggers and shames us is often met with cries of “Pagans never do that!” and “That person is not a true Pagan”. If you have been in the Pagan community longer than a few months or you are one of those rare souls who has chosen to learn the history of these religious movements, you have learned–possibly to your surprise–that Pagans are humans and we exhibit all the traits (for good or ill) of your basic human being. All of them.

We are political wonks and we are bored by politics. We are Dems, Repubs, Independents, Libertarians, Socialists, Anarchists, Greens and nothing at all. We are pro-choice and pro-life. We are good at spelling and we suck at it. We are a wide range of genders and colors and ethnicities. We are tall and short, fat and thin. We are well, we are ill, we are healing. We are differently-abled. We are single, widowed, married, partnered, polyed. We are professionals and panhandlers. I could go on but I think you get it.  We’re humans.

We have our heads buried in the sand or we are stationed in Cloud Cuckoo Land (and you should read that play, by the way, whatever your trad) if we think Pagans aren’t capable of the full range from feeding the homeless to abusing children. Yes, “real” Pagans have done that good thing and “real” Pagans are responsible for that bad thing.  And all the sorts of things that lie in between and make up our non-binary lives.

I am also seeing this interesting drawing-back from confusing and hurtful situations by leaving it in the hands of “karma.”  Most people in the West–and this is certainly true for many Pagans–have a shallow and incomplete knowledge of what “karma” is and we are wrong to leave the safety and the future of our communities to something so intangible, so poorly understood by most of us.  “Dude, I wouldn’t have his karma!” or “Leave it to karma–she’s a bitch!” are hardly inspiring in the face of massive community dysfunction.

Our work–besides reaching down the throat of our complicated history and teaching the people new to Paganism that there is more to being a Pagan than commenting on popular blogs and forums–is to create places in the web of our diverse and argumentative communities where those communities can work through the issues that rise up and to strategize ways to repair the damage in the cloth of the community. We can try to insure that the bad things don’t recur because we have ignored them for decades and they have not gone “away.” We can actually listen when people express their discomfort or fear or anger and know we are strong enough to withstand our own deep scrutiny.

When we have been here for a few more decades, I hope people will look back on this time as the starting point for a renewed love of our people and a renewed commitment to protect the vulnerable.  There is healing there, and honor. 

 

Not One of the Cool Kids (Part One of…several)

For many of us, those middle school and high school years were the worst. I went from a small private school where I had been through 6th grade into a county junior high school that had a complex and inscrutable caste system. I was fortunate to find a few good friends–freaks like me. We helped each other survive the shaming, the bullying, the fear.

High school was a little better–it was a big enough circus that there was a freak show for almost everyone: the art kids, the shop kids, the jocks, the greasers, the 4Hers. Each one a little hierarchy and each in a particular status order. The athletes and cheerleaders stood at the peak–mostly untouchable (though the art kids and the smart kids mocked them mercilessly and always behind their backs).

We’re not in seventh grade anymore but you wouldn’t necessarily know that by spending time in the Pagan blogosphere. The recent controversy around Kenny Klein’s arrest has brought out the best and the worst in our communities. Some of the Comment Wars in popular blogs have all the trappings of the seventh grade lunchroom–the sarcasm, the name-calling, the ego-explosions. It isn’t pretty and it smells bad, as those old school cafeterias did.  You can also smell the fear and taste the anger–sour , bitter fruit from a community known for specializing in emotional cannibalism. 

There is little discussion in the flying accusations and recriminations. And so many people are silent–triggered or disgusted or despairing, we don’t know. They are quiet on the big stage of social media. But I have seen some of these walking wounded. I have looked into haunted eyes, held clammy hands, heard old and new stories of abuse and betrayal at the hands of people once trusted.

Their people. My people.

This isn’t seventh grade, friends, and I am not one of the cool kids. Chances are you aren’t either. We have to stop making “leaders” and “Elders” out of people who may only have one qualification–cool. We have to stop looking to some upper caste without some sort of deep discernment and then having our hearts broken when the star of the moment de-converts and goes back to Christianity, or simply stops self-identifying as Pagan.

And when something terrible happens in our community, our first thought and the right action should be to comfort the wronged and set up protocols to insure the terrible thing doesn’t happen again. Because we’re not the cools kids and this isn’t seventh grade. We have agency. We have power. We have responsibility.

We are the leaders. All of us

An Immodest Proposal

At the recent Sacred Space Conference in Maryland, I was fortunate to attend a ritual that was created by Literata Hurley with assistance from Hecate Demetersdaughter.  In it, we invoked the national Goddess of our land–Columbia, in her aspect of Athena.  She stands there atop the dome of the capitol, robed and armed, her headdress an eagle’s head and plumage.  No “give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses”–Armed Freedom (as She is sometimes called) is resplendent in her martial attire.

Image

 

a postcard of Armed Freedom on my home altar

It was a powerful ritual, with several aspects of great Athena present and accounted for.  (I’ve always been partial to Her–She was the first Divinity I ever honored.) And it got me thinking, as one does after a good ritual experience, about the evocation and invocation of the Divine Protectors of our land, the official Ones, the State-sanctioned Ones.

What if we created a Cult of Columbia, centered in the nation’s capitol?  Easy to imagine that because it’s already happening…birthed by some remarkable women. But what if each one of us researched our own state to find out if there is a Divine Protector that has been present in the halls of power since our colonial beginnings?

For those of you who are polytheists, may I suggest you go to your official state website and see Who may be hiding in plain sight on your Great Seal or state flag.  Here in NC, we have Liberty and Plenty.

Now, imagine that I and a group of co-religionists create a cycle of worship activities devoted to these State Goddesses. And suppose that you and a group of your co-religionists do the same thing in your state.  And now imagine that on particular days (4th of July, maybe), we link up ceremonies with the “home temple” in DC and we all invoke and evoke these powerful Matrons in defense of the helpless, the small, the unheard, the disenfranchised.

Yeah, I like it, too.  Shall we?

Who’s on your state seal?

A Dubious Balance

(This post is for my other blog at Witches and Pagans. I’ve been locked out for some reason, so I’m parking it here. )

For most of us on the East Coast, this has been a long, wintry season to be sure. And I’m certain we are not done with weather yet, March having come in like a wee lamb. We are ready–more than ready!–for spring to arrive in the hills and the hollow places.

I follow a path that teaches me that spring arrives with the snowdrops, in the dark drear beginnings of February. I have learned that spring is still a terribly changeable beast and filled with chaos and longing. When I observe the Vernal Equinox, it will be as mid-spring–just as the Winter Solstice is mid-winter–and I will know I am halfway to Summer, at Beltane.

Most likely, I will balance an egg tomorrow, for fun. And I have a funny package ready to send to my daughter and her beau, to celebrate the season. As you can see from the photo above, the hellebores that are commonly called Lenten roses are blooming in the yard. The daffodils are blindingly yellow this year and the crocus are larger and lusher than in years past. Some things need a long cold rest to do their best work.

This balance thing, though…I think we get hung-up on it sometimes. Make it too important, an odd kind of goal with a load of (if you’ll pardon the expression) magical thinking attached to it. Balance always makes me think of an old-fashioned teeter-totter–a scary/delightful playground denizen that is likely to be considered too dangerous for today’s young ones. Equal weight on both sides keeps the teeter-totter both balanced and moving, something we also forget when talking about balance.  It isn’t stasis. Balance isn’t coming to a perfect place and staying there forever and ever, unmoving.

We are moving into the real working beginning of the agricultural year in the southern highlands of the Appalachians. I cleaned out my garden bag tonight and have been pruning, sharpening tools, sorting and buying seed.  I got broccoli in during the last waxing Moon and planted some greens.  I feel like an actor ready to step onto the stage.  What is that wonderful speech from Henry V?

“I see you stand like greyhounds in the slips, straining upon the start. The game’s afoot! Follow your spirit…”

That is how the Equinox feels to me–as though I am leaning forward, into this rich and work-filled time. I am eager to leave the winter behind me and to get out into the world of soil and manure and food so fresh it is beyond compare. There is sweat in this season, and joy, and companions in the fields. For a few moments, I live in Hardy country–a land of magic and terror, of hares and ancient tended earth.

As we turn to face the confusion of the news feed–where is that plane?  how far will Putin go? can no one save the people of Syria? will no one help the water-poisoned people of West Virginia?–there is comfort in the simple homely acts of garden and byre, of tree and leaf, of propagation and weeding. It is holy work, this work of hand and back and heel of foot. It may be the holiest work of all.