Wednesday, April 16, 2014

My Perspective on “Wiccanate Privilege”

There’s been a lot angst expressed over the notion of “Wiccanate privilege.”  Personally, I dislike the term.  I think that stating this dissatisfaction at the outset by the using the notion of “Wiccanate privilege,” or any other kind of privilege, sets up an oppositional stance when perhaps none was intended.  Or if it was intended to be derogatory or critical, I feel disappointed, even hurt.

I’ve read most, but surely not all, of the discussions of this topic in the Pagan blogosphere.  Between what I’ve read and attending the “Wiccanate privilege” discussion at PantheaCon, I feel reasonably well informed. 

I’ve participated in interfaith activities for several years now.  I publish reports of most of these activities on my Broomstick Chronicles blog, the CoG interfaith blog, and Wild Garden at Patheos.  I’ve been active member of Marin Interfaith Council where I live.  Most regular attendees at MIC events know me.  For some years I worked more specifically on MIC’s Justice Advocacy Team.  I’ve learned a lot about situations in my county: housing for the homeless; teen suicide; substance abuse; affordable housing; water and open space issues; increases – they’re nearly always increases – in the number of people relying upon food giveaways to feed their families rather than as a supplement; and many other local problems.

I’ve also participated in other, sometimes broader interfaith efforts: United Religions Initiative; Interfaith Council of Contra Costa County; MountainTop; People of the Earth; Auburn Theological Seminary’s Center for Multifaith Education are some. In addition, I’ve participated in co-created interfaith rituals (homeless memorials; celebrating light in winter; reaffirming peace efforts on the 10th anniversary of 9/11, re-integrating returning veterans, for example).  I provide this sample of my involvement so readers know I’m speaking from personal experience within the interfaith movement.

At most events everyone is asked to introduce herself[1].  When I first began this work, I used the name “Macha” and the term “Witch,” because that is who I am and because the organization I represent is the Covenant of the Goddess, a witchen organization. (I’m not getting into the Wicca/Witchcraft terminology discussion here.)  Before long, I began to introduce myself as a Pagan, because I am a Pagan.

No surprise, others asked me about what Witches do and what we believe.  One of my Roman Catholic friends in the JAT once asked me, very hesitantly, “You don’t worship Satan, do you?”  I said no, and spoke a bit about horned and antlered gods and their having been conflated with the Christian concept of the devil.

When I speak of being a Pagan, I make a point to mention that Witches (or Wiccans, for those for whom the term is more comfortable) are not the only kinds of Pagans out there.  I explain that we are the more visible and the more populous, so that’s what the public sees.  That is why the uninformed (both the general public and religious leadership) may be unaware of the diversity of spiritual expressions found in contemporary American Paganism. 

I explain that Paganism is an umbrella term for many contemporary, generally polytheistic, sometimes ethnic-based non-Abrahamic forms of religious expression.  I say that the term embraces Druids, Asatru, Kemetics, reconstructed religions, et al., and that some of them considered themselves to be Pagans while others chose not to identify with that label (thinking of Heathenry in particular, since some Heathens shun the association.)

I make no claim to be able to speak knowledgeably about minority Pagan religions.  I say nothing beyond the most basic description.  For instance, that Kemeticism is a reconstruction of the religion(s) of ancient Egyptian.  Further, I offer to find them resources, and then, if they’re really interested, to try to find a real life human practitioner with whom to put them in touch.

I make these points in my conversations with interfaith colleagues because I don’t want them to see us Pagans as being monolithic.  In my view, our diversity and our questioning and reevaluating, are among our greatest assets.  I believe we are richer and healthier when we share our perspectives.  This is true for me in terms of interfaith (or multifaith or interreligious) engagement as well as within the Pagan spectrum.

For those of us who find these explorations of who we are, what our sources are, where we find inspiration, what our ancestors were up to endlessly fascinating, great!  But for most of the population, at least that part I’m exposed to, this kind of talk just makes their eyes glaze over.

Unless they’re theologians (few are) or evangelicals (again, few are inclined to work beyond their own sects), they don’t want to know all that.  The people who participate in interfaith activities are those who already can see that there are lots of different ways of experiencing and expressing the sacred beyond their own. They see that we (or at least I) share common concerns about society and the environment.  We share life-affirming values.

I invite non-witchen Pagans to join us.  That way you can be assured of the accuracy of any assumptions about who you are and what you do.  If that’s not feasible, then I ask you to trust me to speak on your behalf in a way that is respectful and not misleading.

[1]     I’m using feminine pronouns herein because I’m speaking from my own experience as a double X-carrying person of the female persuasion.

Thursday, April 03, 2014

My Take on the Kenny Klein Affair

If you’re one of those Pagans who socialize on the Web, you’re no doubt aware of the current shitstorm in the wake of the arrest of prominent Pagan musician Kenny Klein for possession and distribution of child pornography.

The way I see it, this occurrence has brought out the best and the worst conduct on the part of Pagans.

Among the worst are (1) screaming for his head; (2) protesting in his defense because there’s been no adjudication yet, just an arrest; (3) dredging up all manner of rumor, founded and unfounded, from the past; and (4) untenable ad hominem attacks on other prominent Pagans.

Among the best:  Bringing up all manner of past questionable conduct on the part of individuals, groups, and festival organizers.  You’ll note that this “best” relates to the third “worst” mentioned above.  Many have pointed out that they were silenced when they tried to speak out about someone’s bad behavior (much of which went far beyond the fairly innocuous and relative term “bad behavior”).

Much of this stems from the Pagan, or at least Witchen, emphasis on secrecy.  My friend Holli Emore notes: 

“Wherever secrecy and opacity trump community values, whenever we think that it is more important to hide ourselves or our group from the rest of the world, dysfunction can then grow rampantly, like black mold in a damp basement.”

I want to point out something that I haven’t seen mentioned yet.  That is that the mainstream news reports of this incident never once mentioned any kind of religious affiliation or persuasion on the part of the perps.  No mention of the fact that Kenny is known in the wider Pagan community.  Not one word.  That is as it should be.  No news reports ever mention anyone’s religion unless the report is specifically about religion, like the recent passing of Fred Phelps, for instance.  That, in my opinion, is one the triumphs of this situations. 

So when I see folks griping about how unfairly maligned we Pagans are, it bothers me that they cannot also see that work has been done to dispel misunderstandings about Paganisms since at least the 1970s.  So many of our Pagan cultural efforts – festivals, publishing, music, art, blogs, conferences, symposia, seminaries, and the like – would not be experiencing the warm and enthusiastic reception they enjoy were it not for this groundwork having been done.

Some of us old-timers have been working on behalf of Pagan credibility in the overculture for years.  We have worked to educate journalists, reporters, and the media in general.  Some have worked with law enforcement, even in the investigation of crimes around which such things as Tarot cards, sigils, and home altars have been found.  Others have worked in academia, speaking to college classes and seminarians, and some have worked in the arena of local, national, and even international interfaith.

So I choose to see this discussion, with all its fractiousness, as a sign of the birthing of a new, more established Paganism.  Labor is messy and painful.  All this screaming and figurative bloodletting I see as part of that process.

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

PantheaCon -- Part III

Jo-Ann Byers-Mierzwicki, Corby Lawton, me, Tony Mierzwicki
If readers are confused, PantheaCon – Part II, is about veils.

Saturday began with breakfast Jessie Olson, who explained her Cornerstone Pagan Fellowship being launched at PantheaCon in a welcoming hospitality suite I’d visited the previous night.  I’m down with their motto of “Making the Old Ways New,” but less enthusiastic about “Let’s make Paganism mainstream!”  I question whether that goal is either something to strive for or realistic.  Having said that, I do hope – and work for – Pagans achieving visibility and respect in the wider world.  I wish Cornerstone good luck.

Sometimes making it to a presentation at the appointed time is difficult.  Restaurant service can be slow; we can get deeply engaged in discussion with an individual or small group; and sometimes we just need a break.

I wasn’t able to make any of the 7 pm programs, although I was drawn to “Dancing with the Elements: A Magical Bellydance Show.”  Unfortunately that was one of the offerings that was closed once it began.  I guess it was big magic.

Remembering Our Forebears

I noted there was “A Wake for Hyperion,” put on by The Unnamed Path Brotherhood.  I didn’t know Hyperion in life, but I can see what a profound influence he had on many Pagans so I was heartened that they created a special memorial in this large venue.

Years ago after my friend John Patrick McClimans died, his photo graced the registration area over which he’d presided when he was alive.  I also missed seeing Barbara Glass.  We’re losing so many of our “founders” (by which I mean early Pagan presences, teachers, and activists).  I miss Sequoia and Bone Blossom, Judy Foster and Raven Moonshadow, Alison Harlow, Beki Fillipello, Tara Webster, Tyrell O’Neill, Moher Downing and Luanne Blaich, and so many others.  On the feedback form I suggested that PantheaCon have a room dedicated to our Beloved Dead so an altar containing photos of these departed loved ones can be erected and maintained throughout the Con, enabling mourners to honor them, as well as providing an ongoing link to our Pagan history.  I’m aware of two or three people who attended PantheaCon this year who are unlikely to be there next year.  Further, I hope to be remembered by my Pagan communities when I’m gone.  I’m in no hurry, but in only 29 years I’ll have reached 100, if I make it, so…..

* * * * *

I reluctantly passed on Tempest and Nathaniel’s “Dreaming the Raven: A Morrigan Dance Ritual” (belly dance), which appealed to me because of my personal affinity for the Phantom Queen and because I seldom see Tempest and enjoy her dancing.

That same evening I also missed “Sekhmet Empowerment Ritual: Claim Your Power,” intriguing because of a very powerful experience I had with Sekhmet at Her temple in Nevada.

Instead, I visited various suites and schmoozed.  Had a fun time in the ADF suite with Sean Harbaugh of the Sierra Madrone Grove, William Ashton from Denver, and others whose names elude me.  It was fun to tell them of Cherry Hill Seminary’s “Sacred Lands and Spiritual Landscapes” symposium, co-sponsored the University of South Carolina and featuring noted British historian Ronald Hutton, last year, and the fact that the papers delivered there will appear in book form shortly, under the aegis of ADF Publishing.  Here’s an informative report from one Druid’s perspective.

Since I’m a part of two, and sometimes all, of the three sponsors in the Pagan Scholars Den, I hied myself to that suite for the Pagan History Project’s meet-and-greet.  Unfortunately, we had a lot of technical problems with the screening part; however, we made up for those problems with fun conversation.


Over (1) “Second Generation Paganism,” because I’m interested in the overall health of our communities, and their sustainability; (2) “Hypatia’s Ancient Spiritual Magic for Modern Times,” because Hypatia is our Guardian Ancestor at Cherry Hill Seminary, and a fascinating woman; and (3) “The Etruscan Discipline and the Oracle of Geomancy,” with Murtagh anDoile (the only one of those three presenters I had any familiarity with), I opted instead for “Pagans and Institution Building” with Amy Hale.  Judging by the good turnout on the first thing Sunday morning, and the discussion this presentation engendered, this topic is one whose time has come for Pagans.  Well, it’s obvious I’ve been on that bandwagon for many years now, since I’ve been active (and sometimes inactive) in CoG since 1981, active in various interfaith groups and activities for 10 or 15 years, and deeply committed to making CHS a sustainable institution for scholarly- and/or service-inclined Pagans since circa 2000.  Most recently I’ve joined in the work of the Pagan History Project.  I’m always interested to see how others set these things up.  As it turned out, this was mainly a launch for the Pantheon Foundation, as expected.

I’ve seen Pagans attempting to establish various kinds of institutions for decades.  Most are worthy dreams that don’t end up finding themselves grounded in the reality of nonprofit institution building.  We have tons of talent, lots of brainpower, plenty of enthusiasm, yet I feel that some of us end up working at cross-purposes.  Or stepping on each other’s toes.  Ideally, I’d like to see more collaboration and mutual support.  I wish the Pantheon Foundation good luck.  I wish the same for the newly established Cornerstone Pagan Fellowship (also launched at PCon this year), the Temple of Witchcraft, and all the other Pagan institutional endeavors.

Lots of reports, experiences, opinions, and deconstruction have already been posted on several blogs about the “Wiccanate privilege” discussion held in the CoG/NROOGD/NWC hospitality suite on Sunday afternoon.  As a Witch (technically not a Wiccan) who’s been active in interfaith efforts locally and nationally, of course it concerns me if other Pagans feel un- or misrepresented in those fora.  I went and listened attentively.  I’ll contribute my tuppence about the “Wiccanate privilege” discussion in a subsequent blog. 

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Judy Harrow, 1945 - 2014

Judy Harrow, March 14, 1945 - March 21, 2014
I've just learned of the passing of my old friend Judy Harrow.  Her health had been fragile for some years now, so her passing is not entirely unexpected.  That said, it is a great loss to American Witchcraft and the Pagan movement in general.

First Meeting & CoG

Judy and I first met at CoG's very first MerryMeet festival at Rodeo Beach, Marin County, California, in 1981.1  Not only was this the first MerryMeet, but it was a first in other ways.  It was my first exposure to Witches2 beyond my Northern California Local Council of CoG.  It was the first time Witches from other areas attended a CoG gathering, and among those was Judy.  Also there were two Witches from Chicago and two from Salt Lake City.  From there Judy left to sow the seeds of a CoG presence in the Northeast.  If memory serves me, she also left with a membership in CoG and the first officership!  I'm not entirely sure about that, since it's possible that the two Chicago Witches,  unnamed here because I don't know their preferences about being identified publicly (although I suspect that now, as opposed to then they wouldn't object) left with that office.  CoG records can determine this accurately.  (There is more about Judy's involvement in CoG on Wikipedia; however, since her birth date listed therein is incorrect, I can't say how reliable the rest of the entry is.)

Judy left that event full of enthusiasm for CoG and its goal of assuring Witchen clergy the same rights and privileges as clergy of other religions.  Of course, the definition of clergy has changed since then, and is hardly uniform now.  That was a time when Witches were viewed as the 'clergy' for the rest of Pagandom.3  In any case, shortly thereafter there came into existence, in large part due to Judy's activism, the Northeast Local Council of CoG (NELCOG), encompassing New England, New York, and New Jersey.4

One of Judy's earlier efforts on behalf of CoG was to get CoG ministerial credentials accepted by the City of New York.  I recall this as having involved applications, hearings, petitions and meetings and other bureaucratic bother, with much help from Phyllis Curott, over a period of five long years.  In the end, Judy's and Phyllis' efforts resulted in one more jurisdiction recognizing the validity and authority of ministerial (and elder) credentials issued by a Pagan organization.  For that achievement alone Judy should be honored.

But she didn't stop there.  Judy's coven, Proteus, has engendered many prominent, and I daresay well-trained and -educated, Wiccans.  Some have gone on to write books and help to change and shape culture in other ways.

Some years later, in the 1990s I think, Judy and I sat on a panel at MerryMeet somewhere in Upstate New York.  The panel concerned different Craft traditions; among those speaking was the late Grey Cat of the NorthWind Tradition of American Wicca. This was at a time when Judy was struggling with the Gardnerian oath to which she'd been bound conflicting in some ways with what she believed was "right."  Now one individual's "right," "correct," or "proper" is not necessarily everybody else's "right," "correct," or "proper" even when presumably done with the understanding that everyone is swearing the same oath.  Since I'm not Gardnerian, I hadn't witnessed any of her efforts within that trad.  I do know, from a conversation with a Gardnerian elder this very day, that her statements on that panel claiming a "Protean schism" continue to have repercussions to this day.

I'm reminded of that day by Ivo Dominguez, Jr., who says (to Judy's spirit):
I first met you in 1991 at the COG MerryMeet when you gave a powerful speech before those assembled proclaiming that Protean Gardnerians were as valid as any other stripe of the Gardnerian Tradition. I was moved and impressed though I had no stake personal stake in the debate or the outcome. You made me care and you did it with clear words alone. I will miss the important though infrequent calls we had over the years. May you go forth shining and I'll see you on the other side. 

I remember standing up for Judy and saying I thought the venue she chose to make this announcement was entirely appropriate, much to the dismay of some others in attendance. I thought what she did and how and where she said it were entirely righteous.  I still do.

Gordon Cooper added:  "I encouraged her in that I told her if she felt a need to be heard, it should be said in public, in front of her peers."  Another in attendance, Cayte Jablow, says, "I was there also, & remember her courage & eloquence there as well."

Good people disagree about what Judy did, how she did it, and what it has meant to some of them ever since.

Honoring Precious Friendships

One of the fall-outs from that public announcement involved Judy's and my mutual and much-loved friend, John Patrick McClimans (one of the first Priests of Church of All Worlds).  He had worked with Proteus Coven when he lived in the same apartment building as Judy in Manhattan.  He went on to initiation, and if I'm not mistaken, to his Third Degree.  He was just fine with that, until the time when Judy contacted her initiates about her change of heart concerning the oath they'd all sworn.  John refused to change anything he'd avowed.  This led to an estrangement between the two that lasted for some years, until just before he passed.

I had the privilege of serving a one of John's death priestesses, an experience I described in "Sitting Vigil with the Dying" in The Pagan Book of Living and Dying (1997).  Something not mentioned in that piece is the rapprochement between Judy and John while he lay on his literal death bed in California.  I had alerted Judy to the direness of John's condition.  Judy phoned John, and they talked in low voices for a couple of hours during his final days.  I watched John's face from across the room.  I know both John and Judy were deeply moved and much relieved by this triumph of love over differences of opinion.  I know I was, because I loved both of them and knew how much each meant to the other.  I mention this because I'm hoping that any friends from whom Judy was estranged before her death had the opportunity to make things right between them.  I mention it because it's my hope that no one loses another or leaves this world with fractured relationships that remain unmended and unhealed.  I mention it because none of us ever knows how much time we or our loved ones may have to make such needed repairs.


Judy also was among the 40-odd contributors to The Pagan Book of Living and Dying, with "Coup de Grâce: Neo-Pagan Ethics and Assisted Suicide."

Shortly after that book was published, a Canadian publisher contacted me to write a book about the impact of the World Wide Web on Witchcraft and Paganism, resulting in Witchcraft and the Web (2001).  At that same time the publisher sought to publish a line of books about contemporary Paganism.  They asked me for suggestions.  I immediately thought of Judy and the late Grey Cat.  As a result, I'm happy to say that ECW Press published two of Judy's books, Spiritual Mentoring (2002) and Devoted to You (2003) as well as Grey Cat's Deepening Witchcraft (2002).

From there Judy and I, who had the same agent, moved to Citadel Press, publisher of subsequent titles.


In 2005 Judy, Katrina Messenger, and I were both invited to Center for Multifaith Education at Auburn Theological Seminary for what they called a "text study," which meant discussing Torah and Bible writings about women and Witches (or women with power?).  We had an interesting discussion with a rabbi, a Catholic sister, a Protestant pastor and others, all subscribers to book-based religions, whereas we are not.  Later than evening we sat on a public panel, at which Judy presented her piece "Exegesis on the Rede."  Others who are active in international interfaith organizations likely have more to say about her involvement on that level.

Cherry Hill Seminary

Somewhere around that time (late 1990s-early 2000s), Judy's and my mutual friend, Cat Chapin-Bishop, asked Judy and me to take a course she's designed for Cherry Hill Seminary.  That class was "Boundaries & Ethics," one of the best courses I've ever taken anywhere, and now a standard required course for all matriculating students.  The results of Cat's scheming have played out big time in Judy's and my continuing involvement with the seminary.  Cat was Chair of the Pastoral Counseling Department at that time, and when she returned to school to earn a teaching credential, she left the department in Judy's hands.

Judy took on this job with her usual determination, broadening the scope and fleshing out the department with new courses and new teachers.  At one point when she was ailing, she chose an assistant department chair, with the understanding that she'd be prepared to take Judy's place if Judy was no longer able to perform her duties.

I ended up taking on several different jobs over our first few years of feeling our way along, striving to keep to the vision, and making a school that worked.  Eventually the seminary shifted and settled and arranged itself into a stable state of operations.

It was during this time that Judy became the strongest influence in overcoming my reluctance to seek accreditation.  Now I'm a proud old hippie, one who treasures the fact that we arose from the smoky rainbow-hued '60s counter culture.  Not entirely, to be sure, but many seekers who eventually found a Pagan spiritual path wore flowers in their hair.  Anyway, Judy was active in a professional organization I recall as being the American Association of Pastoral Counselors, specifically the New Jersey Chapter.  I disliked the entire notion of pastoral care because of its Christian connotations.  Sheep in need of a shepherd indeed!  Hnf!  It seems an inaccurate term when applied to broom-closet Witches and other Pagans.  She convinced me that it is the accepted professional term for the field she'd devoted herself to, and that we needed credibility with such organizations.

Even more, she convinced me that Pagans in the military had a right to Pagan chaplains -- she wrote, or co-wrote, a Wiccan5 chaplains' manual for the U.S. military at one time; I don't think it's in use currently -- and that having graduates come out of an accredited seminary with a Master of Divinity was essential in order for them to be accepted.  The more I learned about the situations of Pagans in the military, especially with the evangelical Christian agenda of most career military chaplains, the more I agreed about accreditation.  The fact that hospital and school chaplains, as well as others in professional counseling positions, benefited too made the prospect even more compelling.

Judy and I both served on the CHS Board of Directors for a while, she for one term, I for longer.  In more recent years her health led to her reduce her workload, so she's left more of the day-to-day work of making a seminary to others.

In 2009 when Judy had retired from CHS, the Board honored her service by designating its new online resource the Judy Harrow Library & Information Center "to meet the specific information requests of professors for their courses and students, and serve as a repository for faculty and student work" and to complement our current relationship with the New Alexandrian Library.

For many years she also served on the Board of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice.

During those years Judy and I also enjoyed our participation in the Nature Religions Scholars Network, which grew to become the Pagan Studies Section of the American Academy of Religion.

As news of Judy's passing circles the globe, our AAR colleague from Dale Cowley Wallace in South Africa writes me:

It is so early here in Africa and I have woken to your mail on Pagan Studies telling of the passing of Judy.  My heart is broken at this news and I feel lost, bewildered and so far away.  This wonderful person I loved so dearly and whose life was such a gift to so many.  I spoke to her very regularly and my last call just a few days ago.  My friend was filled with optimism, new thoughts and much laughter.  Like she told me once in another context, she is "off to new adventures".  Out of words I send blessings to you.

High Maintenance

Like many of us strong, proud, opinionated women, Judy tended towards high-maintenance.  Not so much in physical terms, more in emotional and intellectual terms.  If you knew her, you know what I mean.  That's not a criticism, merely a statement of fact learned from observation and experience.  I'm not exactly low-maintenance myself, though I try to be.  In fact, such tendencies may be evidence of one who is driven to change culture, to serve one's community(ies).

Oh, there's so much more to say about Judy and her life!  Others have told their Judy stories elsewhere.  There's plenty of drama to go round.  In my experience, however, over many years and many projects, Judy maintained the ability to keep her eye on the prize.  Regardless of personal disagreements -- and they could be long and heated and irresolvable -- Judy made sure we kept our focus on the goal toward which we were striving.  Her life influenced many people, from teaching coveners to getting NYC to accept CoG's credentials, from writing a Wiccan chaplains' manual for the military to schmoozing with world religious leaders in Barcelona, from dancing round a bonfire to helping create a respected Pagan seminary.

Knowing Judy has enriched my life beyond measure.  She was a Pagan pioneer.  If you knew her, you know all this.  If you didn't know her in life, know that her work has advanced our religions and made our futures more assured and comfortable.  She has blessed us all.

Judy went to the simmering cauldron of emerging American Paganism and added something every once in a while.  Then she'd stir it to mix it all in and to keep stuff from sticking on the bottom.

Hail the goer!


Note:  I am positive that the date of April 3 which appears on Judy's Wikipedia entry is incorrect.  I know she was a Pisces like me, since we often made note of that fact.  I'm uncertain of the year.  I thought it was 1946; Wikipedia says 1945; I could easily be mistaken.

1.  This was not the first CoG Grand Council, only the first MerryMeet.

2.  CoG is an organization of Witches, some of whom are Wiccans (i.e., lineaged British Traditional Witches).

3.  No need to get on my case about this.  This is not a stance I take, it's just the way it was then.

4.  NELCOG dissolved some years later and reformed in other iterations, including Weavers LC.

5.  Yes, Wiccan, not Pagan.  After all, Judy was a Gardnerian priestess.  Getting this manual under the eyes of military chaplaincy personnel was a righteous act that ultimately benefited all Pagans.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Finding My Footing

Painting by Barbara Jacobsen

If you've been reading the Broomstick Chronicles with any regularity -- I post infrequently -- you're aware that in August of 2012 I disaffiliated from what I'll call my 'matrix community,' Reclaiming (San Francisco, the matrix, and offshoots of that matrix) -- after more than 30 years of doing what I could to help create and establish a community, one that evolved into a tradition in its own right, one that contains roles and practices that I had a hand in, and a statement of Principles of Unity that I helped articulate, bylaws I helped write, a 501(c)(3) tax status that I helped to acquire, and, not least, having taught magic and ritual to people who went on to claim the appellation Witch.

In many ways I experienced this as an amputation or a cutting adrift, an unmooring, although now that I look back, I can see there wasn't much of a dock to which to moor.  I can now forgive myself for being blinded by idealism.

I've always felt a sort of honorary membership in the Paganistan community.1  I've felt welcome among the Seattle Pagan Scholars.  I've enjoyed my involvement in the Pagan Studies Section (and others) of the American Academy of Religion and the Claremont Pagan Studies Conference.  My more recent work with the inmates of the Wiccan circle at San Quentin State Prison has been a rewarding challenge. The work I've done in the area of local and regional interfaith has taught me much and in a sense mellowed me.  I believe my involvement has benefited Pagans of all religious expressions.  That's satisfying.

Most satisfying of all are the years I've spent helping to establish a Pagan seminary, not to parrot overculture models, but to explore our roots in an academic mode, and to prepare Pagans who wish to serve their communities to do so more knowledgeably and more effectively.  The good folks, nearly all of whom except faculty are volunteers, who work to make Cherry Hill Seminary happen maintain their focus on CHS' visions and goals regardless of minor disagreements from time to time.  In other words, they're mature adults who play well with others.

I do all those things under the auspices of either CoG or CHS.  That's community, of course, but establishing a respected Pagan presence in interfaith, academia, and beyond, is work I've been doing more or less independently all along regardless.  Opportunities have arisen from these activities, and I mean to take advantage of them when they come my way.

In any case, for the past 18 months I've been seeking to regain my footing.  I've been feeling wobbly.  I've opened myself to see if and how I might reestablish a sense of belonging, a sense of community.  

I found the beginnings of a sense of belonging to something I'll call a 'meta-community' at PantheaCon in San Jose in February.  Spending last weekend with the wonderful folks at Sacred Space Conference in Maryland sealed the deal.  I'm a Witch at Large, an activist on behalf of Pagandom beyond Craft or tradition.  My 'meta-community' has transformed me from Witch to welcome presence almost anywhere.

Not only that, but I've been here in this meta-place all along!

1.  In the late '90s some members of Northern Dawn Local Council of CoG proposed making me an honorary member.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

On Veils, from PantheaCon

This photo is from a commercial source selling hijabs for girls.

Picking up where I left off my previous blog about PantheaCon –

On Saturday evening I went to a workshop called “Taking Up the Veil,” with Xochiquetzal Duti Odinsdaughter.[1]  The description in the program intrigued me:

“A growing movement among pagan [sic] women is a turning towards modest apparel, veiling, or in some way shielding the corporal body as honor to the Divine.  In this exploratory class we’ll try some veiling techniques, discuss methodology of veiling form a Pagan perspective[,] and some of us might even develop a deeper meaning to our practices…”

I love veils in general.  I especially like to wear one over my head and face when meditating or doing other ‘still’ work such as “anchoring.”[2]  I also find veils very useful in ritual when one is embodying a divine entity; with the veil, others see no mortal face.  Not my face or your face or the face of anyone they know in the mundane world beyond the particular sacred circle space to which that divine entity has been called forth.  Similar to working with masks, the veil both distances and brings closer in strange ways.

This workshop, scheduled on prime time Friday night, appealed to plenty of people, all women, but for one brave man (presenting as a man in jeans, T-shirt, unshaven and makeup-free), who came because he’s a cross-dressed and clothing and adornment evidently appeal to him.  My friend Serena Toxicat always lights up a space when she’s present, although with her uniquely Goth approach she may be intending to darken it.

Xochiquetzal began by speaking of modesty and dressing in solidarity with Muslim women.  She mentioned how adolescent females are excessively sexually objectified in our society, and how comforting it is to wear loose-flowing clothing and a head covering.  I completely agree with this second point.  How many of us would have welcomed being able to hide our bodies when we were out in public as we adjusted to its changing into that of a woman.

On her first point, however, I have a different, and very strongly held, perspective.

Some years ago in an online group called Our Freedom: A Pagan Civil Rights Coalition a younger woman suggested the very same thing, wearing head coverings in solidarity with Muslim women (at least those who were forced to wear hijab).  Again, I am all for solidarity with oppressed sisters, but I think the situation is more nuanced than a simple black-and-white “Let’s cover our heads in solidarity.”  After all, Roman Catholic nuns, along with royalty throughout Europe, were compelled to cover their heads in various ways, in the former denoting a pledge of celibacy (or life-long virginity if it’s not too late), and in the latter, relative social status.

To that suggestion on that list, both Phyllis Curott and I, who are just under a decade apart in age, objected.  We felt we’d struggled too hard to free ourselves from so many, many, many restrictions placed upon women in the society in which we’d grown up.  I grew up wearing girdles, hose with a seam up the back, garter belts (talk about uncomfortable[3]), shaved legs and underarms, sleeping in metal, brush, plastic, or bobby-pinned curlers.

Girl children in my day seldom wore pants, and never were allowed to wear them to school.  Never!  Dresses and skirts only.  As any active person knows, dresses and skirts can cramp you style if you’re climbing trees or playing on a play structure.  In Winter we wore two-piece woolen snowsuits, with our skirts either tucked into the pants when we went outdoors, thereby wrinkling, or flounced out over the bottoms like a peplum.

Modesty, a quality Xochiquetzal rightly extolled, was something that was forced upon girls of my generation (during and just after WW-II).  Our quite necessary response was to go for uppity (rebelliously self-assertive; not inclined to be tractable or deferential).

There was even a time in my lifetime when there were ‘public’ places, such as restaurants, pubs, and clubs, where women were not permitted to enter, or, if it was a really progressive place, a woman could come in if she were accompanied by a male patron, and even then, she had to remain seated at a table and could not approach the bar to place an order.  This was in San Francisco, folks!  And it wasn’t all that long ago.

But back to the workshop -- Xochiquetzal demonstrated various ways to wrap veils and headscarves, and most of us tried those techniques. I find many ways of dressing the head (not hair) very beautiful.  She spoke of different purposes, such as shielding the most emphatic among us from jarring and/or toxic.  These are all good reasons.  I, however, feel confined and restricted when my head is bound.  I seldom even wear hats, except for protection from sun and sometimes rain.  But sometimes I do wear veils, as I mentioned above.

She also spoke a bit about the sexuality implied in hair, especially thick, long tresses.  For much of my adult life I wore my hair long, and I felt it to be very sexual, though I liked it for other aesthetic reasons as well.  I made do with tying it back on the nape of my neck when I was doing things it interfered with.  I loved all this talk.

There was one woman there who seemed to bring with her something of a party attitude, as she frequently interrupted Xochiquetzal’s talking, and others who tried to speak.  She may have been ‘three sheets to the wind,’ I’m not sure.  In any case, the presenter handled these interruptions gracefully.

This workshop discussion underscores the value of, and need for, increased and more frequent inter-generational conversation about our worlds and our Paganisms.


Which brings me to the real highlight, for me, of my having attended this workshop.

Understand that I’d come to PCon after a drastic disaffiliation from my ‘home community’ and another set of misunderstandings/disapprovals over the past year-plus, so I’ve been processing those changes and contemplating what my place might be, if any, in the Pagan world I love so much.

At one point Xochiquetzal recognized my raised hand, so I began to speak and was interrupted.  She then stated to the group something complimentary about me.  I was amazed!  I didn’t even know she’d any idea of who I am.  But she did, and she said it loud and clear.  It sure felt good to hear her speak.  Not only was this incident a highlight of Xochiquetzal’s workshop; for me it was a blazing highlight of the whole Con.

I’m thinking of a possibility we’d both articulated at the time, that we might have a mutually enlightening conversation about the matter of veils, along generational lines.  I could even see a colloquy between us that could be formatted into a more formal article.

[1]   Gods, what a splendid name!
[2]    A sort of dropping-and-centering awareness technique used in some larger rituals to help maintain the focus of everyone present on the larger working of the group; something like a tent pole (holding the space up) and/or pegs (keeping the space anchored and contained).
[3]   None of this even begins to address the advances made in menstrual care products.  Some methods used before the advent of sanitary pads that adhere to one’s underwear were downright tortuous!

Saturday, March 08, 2014

Something I Need To Mention

Congratulations to Goddess Ink upon their latest publication, Stepping into Ourselves: An Anthology of Writings on Priestesses, edited by Anne Key and Candace Kant!  And thanks to them for asking me to preview it and contribute a blurb.  My one-sentence blurb reads:

"This volume is a veritable witches' cauldron of brewing bits of nourishment and mystery."

The paragraph printed above my name that precedes this sentence appears there in error.  This error will be corrected in subsequent printings.