Archive for March, 2014

Whose Community? Whose Reputation?

Many of us have been rejected by the larger culture- for our spiritual beliefs, for being GLBTQ, for being geeky or socially awkward. And we find a community where we feel accepted, so we feel we must accept everyone, no matter what they say or do. All too often putting the individual right to self-expression and unquestioned acceptance of bad behavior allows manipulative people the ability to trample the rights of other individuals with less power- like children.

Many accusations of abuse have come forth since Klein’s arrest. There have been attempts to silence the accusers with cries of “what about innocent until proven guilty?!”. Yes, that is how our legal system works. But there is the court of public opinion and there is the court of law- sometimes an individual gets more justice in the court of public opinion than they do under the law. Other times, they get more justice from the law, but unfair treatment from the public. Crimes must be proven “beyond a shadow of a doubt”. When it comes to the safety of our children, we can’t afford that burden of proof. The burden of potential abuse is much greater. And so, we need to take these accusations seriously, and act on them even if Klein or other people are not punished for crimes we suspect them of. I hope people do make formal reports on incidents they witnessed or experienced.

There are some people who will unfairly judge an entire minority group (or cluster of them) no matter what they do. It doesn’t matter if everyone who could be socially classified as “pagan” was entirely law-abiding, didn’t hurt a fly, and was as Properly Respectable as possible- there would still be some people who would judge us for not being Christian, or being religious in a deviant way. But if a community knowingly tolerates abuses for decades then, yes they do deserve a bad reputation.

The important thing is: what is your community? what is your spiritual tradition and what values does it teach you? Does your community share those values, both in words and action? If not, you might need to find a community who does- or create starting with yourself.  This Lowest Common Denominator Pagan Community is not one I want to be a part of. And while I have not tolerated outright abuse, I have all too often allowed bad behavior to go on around me without objecting to it. All too often, I’ve just written it off as “oh, well what do you expect, they’re pagans.” Enough. This stops now.

Recommended Reading:

Five Geek Social Fallacies (commonly “suffered” by many pagans, including those who don’t consider themselves geeks. I think they’re also Hippie Social Fallacies.

Geek Social Fallacies of Sex– a useful follow-up from another writer, specific to sexual mores among geeky communities

Geek Feminism Wiki- esp. see articles Harming the Community, Silencing (a list of techniques used against accusers)

Advanced Bonewits’ Cult Danger Evaluation Frame, Wiccan author Diana Rajchel’s presentation on it from Paganicon 2014

Predators in Paganism by T. Thorn Coyle

Genital Monologue by Helio Pires

Fish Rots From the Head Down by Lydia Crabtree

Evil Thrives on Secrecy by C.S. MacCath

Community Safety Guidelines by Ivy Vine & Sannion- suggestions written for the Polytheism Without Borders community. I think I’m going to start looking at by-laws and policies of various religious groups (obviously starting with ones I personally belong to) and other organizations, as well as research laws regarding abuse.

March 31, 2014 at 6:07 am 1 comment

Does the Criminal Injustice System Help Protect Our Children?

Trigger warning: discussion of sexual abuse, warning for literalists: major sarcasm ahead

I was planning on writing about sexuality leading up to Beltaine. Sex crime/abuse wasn’t what I was planning on writing about, (and I’m sure I’ll write something in addition that’s more positive) but a publicly Pagan guy just got busted for child porn possession, and there’s a big uproar. Ironically I’d never even heard of him until a while ago, when a couple of other bloggers I read commented on a post he made about how Pagans need to be careful about how they represent the community- criticizing individuals that do comparatively harmless things like dress up like fantasy characters and so forth. Yay hypocrisy! Anyway this is not about him. He should be held accountable, and so should anyone who knew what was going on. And I agree with Conor, that this is good opportunity to become more aware of sexual abuse and rape, and take measures to talk about it openly within our communities- religious and otherwise. I would like to add a “big picture” perspective.

Here in Our Glorious Fatherland* we have less than 5 of the world’s population, but almost a quarter of the world’s prison population. Wow, doesn’t that make you and your children feel safe? To make you feel even safer, most employers ask if you have a criminal record (this has now been banned in a couple of states) and require background checks. Many landlords do this as well. Fortunately, former criminals can easily find ways to get free housing and food with all of the useful productive skills they learn in prison. So, we also have a kick-ass recidivism rate (fancy word for folks going back to prison) and here in Minnesota we have one of the highest rates in the country! Persons that are registered sex offenders- who might’ve done anything from run down the street naked (indecent exposure) to possess child porn, to actually produce it or actually molest/abuse/rape children or adults. And then there’s statutory rape- in some states, there are “Romeo and Juliet” laws that allow for exceptions for couples than are within a particular range of the age of consent- which also varies by state.

The beautiful thing is, laws that control the lives of ex-sex offenders are something that brings liberals and conservatives together. It’s so rare to see, but these brave lawmakers come together to make sure these irredeemable scumbags can’t live within X miles of a school/church/library etc. And in Minnesota we care so much of the safety of our children, that the scariest sex offenders never even get out of prison- with our fine, well-funded MN Sex Offender Program, these lowlifes get only the finest psychological treatment. We can’t be sure if works though, so they never leave! That’s why those filthy socialists over in Britain didn’t allow a person convicted of rape to be extradited to Minnesota, saying his civil rights would be violated. OK, so now you’re getting the idea of the fabulous system we have in place.

So back to ol’ Kenny. He was convicted of child porn possession, remember not production. Should this be considered a crime? It isn’t in some countries. I think production of it definitely should, as it directly means violating the sexual protection of children. It’s also been mentioned that he was a photographer, so it seems pretty likely he may have been taking pictures. People who look at child porn are more likely to also be child molesters, but most of them never act on it. Also, is there much of a separation between porn involving young children vs. teenagers?  Considering how much the media sexualizes teenagers, and even pre-teens at one point do we consider it pornographic? It’s interesting to compare different ideas of sexuality around the world and what is acceptable to show, and at what age. France just banned child beauty pageants. This was surprising to some, coming from a country that is famous for being sex-positive (well kinda sorta) but they did it to protect young kids from being sexualized. Debate about that as you will- I know it’s not going to happen here. Treating kids like prize show dogs is a national past-time.

Remember even if you’re not convicted of a sex crime, merely being accused can get on a record and ruin your career and reputation and well, your life. Frankly, I hate to say it but any man who works with children that are not his own, especially young children is looked upon with at least a little bit of suspicion by American culture. It’s sad but true.

So as you can see things aren’t as morally black and white as they seem. Laws governing sexual behavior how they are enforced are just as messy as sex itself. But I challenge you to think about this- are there better ways for us to prevent sexual abuse- of both children and adults? Could we get psychological help to people who have sexual desire for children, before they act on their desires? (Much as we might get counseling for someone who has a desire to kill but hasn’t done it yet- that doesn’t happen much either) Are former sex offenders all irredeemable? We never ask these questions, because our primary concern is, as it should be for the victims/survivors. To suggest anything other than harsh punishment and status as a permanent social outcast would be ignoring the pain of the victims. This is a false dichotomy, and it’s time we challenged it.

*I invite my readers from outside the Land of the semi-Free to share reflection on how your country deals with sex criminals and laws regulating sexual conduct- for better or for worse.

**Upon reading Conor’s post a second time, I noticed that there have been allegations of abuse by K.K– in fact allegations that have been suppressed by other Pagans, I’m afraid. I hope these are brought into formal legal investigation.

 

March 29, 2014 at 1:24 am 4 comments

Intro to Fionn Mac Cumhal

Fionn Mac Cumhal (often anglicized as Finn MacCool) is one of the major heroes of Irish myth and legend- a body of tales, collectively known as the Fenian cycle, rose up around his folk memory. This is the latest of the Irish myth cycles- and so its Christian influences are more apparent, and the Tuatha De Danann don’t appear much in it.  It even ends with a story in which Fionn and his friend Cailte (or in another story Fionn’s son Oisin) encounter St. Patrick and much interfaith debate ensues.

I became intrigued by Fionn particularly after reading an article by John Machate years ago that speculated that he may have been Ireland’s long-lost stag or hunting god.  I thought he made a lot of interesting connections and later sought to learn more by reading Wisdom of the Outlaw by John Falach Nagy. (It’s out of print and horribly expensive, but fortunately I took a whole bunch of notes when I read it!)

Fionn is poet-seer, a filidh as well as a fian, an outsider-warrior.
A filidh is parallel in many ways to the role of a shaman- it is believed that he or she gets their poetic abilities from a connection to the Otherworld. A Fian is a person who has been socially displaced or dishonored in some way, or perhaps a young person who has not yet found their social place. Fianna (also called Fenians) is a group of fian- and followers of Fionn in particular, though there are said to be other fianna bands who are more destructive and anti-social.

March 26, 2014 at 1:26 am 1 comment

Functions of Pagan Clergy/Leaders

One of the workshops I attended at Paganicon was about Pagan Clergy and Eldercare. This included discussion of the role of clergy in taking care of elders, and and taking care of elders who are clergy while while respecting their roles. It was touched upon briefly that this was originally not the role of a clergy-person, but the job of family members. The problem as one person mentioned is that modern families are very scattered and disconnected. Anyway, point being we often have to rely on chosen families- particularly since many of us with alternative spiritual views and gender/sexual identities have been rejected or alienated from our families of birth.  We didn’t discuss much how or why care-taking of elderly, sick, disabled, poor and homeless people had become considered clergy duties- though I talked more with one of the participants afterwards about healer/shaman/medicine man type roles, I tried connecting these ideas with Christian influences on social ministry but that part of the conversation didn’t seem to go anywhere.

The theme for March on the Patheos Pagan channel is “What Will Paganism Look Like in 50 years?” I really have trouble seeing 10 years ahead let alone 50 (my being only 32 probably doesn’t help) But I would like to explore the roles and functions of Pagan clergy and leadership. There is a lot of tension between the desire for personal spiritual autonomy and resistance to institution-building on the one hand, and desire for church-like institutional and clergy functions on the other.  There is also tension between ancient models of priesthood and modern usually mainline Protestant influenced models.  I think something could be learned from both, in order to find ways of fitting alternative values into post-modern society. The important thing to remember is that just as there is no one “Paganism” there is no one Pagan clergy model. Instead we have a broad range of functions that cannot be filled by one person. Many if not most of these functions can in fact be done by intermediate level practitioners of a given tradition who may or may not be clergy, and some of them can be secular jobs than can also serve in spiritual capacities.  We need to consider that mainstream churches are having trouble supporting themselves, as fewer people attend church. Many churches rent space to other religious groups and non-profits. Many clergy people work full-time for low pay, or officially part-time while doing lots of work “off the clock”. We also need to work towards an economy that allows for more life-work balance. If the kinks in the Affordable Care Act get worked out, and the minimum wage gets raised, that will make it much easier for committed volunteers, artists and others to combine their passions with part-time work.

Some solitaries or peer/egalitarian led groups won’t see a need for clergy or lay leader roles. That is fine! These are all options, not requirements. Brainstorm yourself and feel free to add! I will likely go into more depth about them in other posts. First I list functions that we definitely think of as clergy, then I go into others.

Temple Priest/ess: Serves primarily deity rather than community- or serves community via connection to deity. Lives in temple full or part-time, performs offerings, ceremonies, tends images, symbols or perhaps animals and plants that are sacred to deity. Performs ceremonies for community on temple grounds, may interpret messages from god or act as oracle. This is an ancient model– particularly relevant to Kemetic, Canaanite, Hellenic and Roman reconstructionists. In days of yore, these priests would be supported by the community- with taxes and tributes.  As you can see this would be very difficult to revive in a modern context.

Celebrant– from baby blessings to weddings, to funerals (in some combo: at minimum they marry people) Many pagan celebrants are flexible about what religions they are willing to work with- often performing interfaith weddings.

Institutional Chaplain: Military, College/University, Hospital, Prison– this person may be a volunteer or have a formal paid chaplaincy position. Typically they will serve a broad range of pagans and spiritual practitioners.  They may teach classes or do presentations, help with holiday celebrations and perform rites of passage and provide counseling, and end-of-life support. In prisons or elsewhere in the legal system they advocate for prisoner’s religious rights.

Priest/ess of mystery tradition– initiates and teaches members tradition. Wicca and other initiatory witchcraft, as well as mysteries of a particular deity in polytheistic religions (Dionysos, Isis etc)  Serves that specific subset, not so much larger community.  This is one of several clergy functions which are more similar to an abbot/abbess than the leader of a congregation.

Counselor/Spiritual Director/Therapist– offers spiritual and ethical counseling, and possibly mental health counseling if they are (hopefully) trained in it. An increasing number of Pagans are getting licensure as professional therapists- some of them are doing this to further their skills as a clergy, and being able to pursue their vocation (in part) as a paid profession. Others are not clergy, but want there to be more Pagan-friendly therapists available. I think we need to seriously consider how much overlap is appropriate between these different roles. A Spiritual Director is another specific role that some Pagans are seeking training in- from what I understand is a spiritual counselor/mentor with some training in religion and psychology but is not a therapist.

Social Outreach Ministry/Activism– could be done by clergy or layperson. Among Christians this sort of work sometimes has an ulterior motive of spreading the Gospel, among Pagans it’s mostly a focus of helping people- broader community or Pagans specifically. Volunteering or doing paid work in mainstream organizations or for pagan-run ones to assist members of society who are vulnerable/oppressed or have other special needs:  low-income and/or homeless people, people with disabilities, elderly, mentally ill people, LGBT people, veterans and military families. Many of these efforts are in part interfaith.

Meditation/Yoga/Tai Chi’i (etc.) Instructor– this is another function that could be a clergy role in an Eastern or New Age religion by itself or part of a Pagan clergy person’s calling. Martial arts is also kind of similar. This person will probably be professionally trained and paid.

Leader of public/celebratory group– leads, organizes rituals and possibly otherwise administrates a group that is public or semi-public, exoteric (not a mystery tradition) as a result, probably not initiatory or focused on heavy magic or energy workings. Examples: CUUPs chapters, open circles, college student groups.

Healer– Could have training as an energy healer (Reiki etc) professional or amateur herbalist. I also know a zillion Pagan massage therapists. Might work with spirits in a shaman equivalent role. Usually I see clergy who are healers as part of their role, rather than healers who are seen as clergy because they are healers.  Typically charges for services but still needs a day job- unless their type of healing is more “mainstream” like massage therapy, chiropractor or even a nurse or doctor.

Seer/Diviner/Psychic– Like Healer, may be part of a clergy role, but is often a vocation unto itself. Even more so than a healer, probably needs a day job- though some professional astrologers and feng shui consultants may be able to make a living.

Bard/Musician/Poet/Comedian– Not typically thought of as a clergy role, but it is a very important function to Druids.  Whether providing music for rituals, entertainment at festivals, or privately writing devotional poetry, the bardic arts are key. Bards performing at Pagan events should get paid. We take our artists for granted far too much. And you can debate all you want about paying for spiritual teaching, but it someone is training you musically you should be paying them. Note: I mean this as formal gigs not “open mike night”.

Organizer of Pagan Networking group– local Meetup, coffee/pub moot at an more informal level, or a Pagan Pride event at a more complex level.

Scholar/Historian/Theologian/Philosopher someone who studies religion, history, magic etc. whether as a professional academic or not, and shares their knowledge and ideas with writing, public presentations- as one time workshops or ongoing classes online or offline. Most people who do this even as authors need another source of income.

Support Group Leader/Sponsor–  There are also increasing numbers of Pagan Twelve-Step type support groups for addiction problems, and support groups for various illnesses and disabilities are forming as well.  A support group leader may or may not be a professional, but a sponsor is meant to be a peer who is further along in their path of recovery who serves as a mentor and supporter of a person who is newer to recovery.

Naturalist/Environmental Activist– this person focuses on their personal and/or societal connections to nature- they may work closely with nature spirits, garden, farm, raise animals, explore and learn about nature and engage in environmental activism/advocacy. A person could serve this function in many secular jobs: park/forest ranger, veterinarian, biologist or other natural scientist, environmental lobbyist.

Mediator/Interfaith Diplomat– this person helps resolve conflicts (non-legal) among Pagans or between Pagans and other cultural or religious groups. They may be involved in interfaith, anti-racism, or anti-domestic violence work. Or this person might actually be a lawyer or legal assistant and help Pagans with legal problems.

Funeral Director/Hospice Worker– this person works with the dead or the dying in variety of roles- helping them be comfortable on their journey to the other side, comforting them and their kith & kin.  Preparing the body for burial or cremation, arranging funerals and memorials. Tending gravesites, and making offerings to the dead, perhaps communicating with them, and leading or participating in Samhain, Dia de los Muertos and similar celebrations.

March 20, 2014 at 8:59 pm 3 comments

Friendships Beyond Faiths

I attended Paganicon this weekend- a conference held by Twin Cities Pagan Pride– which is why this post is so late, but the experiences I had there inform the post.

I went to various workshops- which I’d be happy to further discuss, but my favorite part of Paganicon was having informal conversations with people, and making new friends and re-connecting with old ones- both local and from around the country (and Canada too) The interesting thing in retrospect, is that I don’t think I had any in-depth discussions with anyone who I would say really shared my tradition or spiritual focus. No, I’ll scratch that- I talked to several people briefly who shared a devotion to Brighid. All from different types of paganism.

I didn’t attend the workshop on Kemeticism, but still learned a lot about it from several people that I knew from the Cauldron Forum– about open statues, the misinterpretation of Set and the myth of Osiris and Isis by the Greeks and later Christians and modern Pagans. I learned about the Kami of Misfortune from a Shintoist. I witnessed a procession and installation of a golden calf idol of Ba’al.

I reconnected with old friends and acquaintances from the Wiccan Church of Minnesota (thanks to Neva & John for the rides!)  and Standing Stones Coven, and various other pagans I’ve known a long time from hanging out in the community. I hadn’t seen many of them for a long time- I mentioned to some of them that I’d fallen away from spiritual practice and was trying to re-connect and find my place. No one really seemed to judge me for that.

And all the online fighting about “Wiccanate privilege” and what “real” polytheism is, and all that jazz just seemed so stupid.  I’ve had my problems with pagans. But funny thing- most of the pagans I’ve had problems with- weren’t Wiccan. They were recons or polytheists or Druids of some kind. (Though I’m sure if I had been more involved with the Wiccan groups, I would’ve had other problems.)

Twin Cities Pagan Pride, for the most part does a pretty good job of including a variety of paganisms. Do their events still to tend to have more Wiccans and Wicca-based programming?  Somewhat, yes, but that’s based on numbers of people who show up and get involved. Yes, some of us are busy with building our religions, devotions to our gods and so forth. That’s fine. Some of us don’t feel we have much in common with other pagans, and don’t feel the need to identify as pagan. That’s fine. Yes, some polytheists have experienced social exclusion (not the same thing as discrimination) at supposedly pan-Pagan events. So have various other groups (racial minorities, trans people, gay people, etc) We need to believe others when they make these claims- or at least give them the benefit of the doubt, and address things accordingly. We probably can’t do an opening ritual that will make everyone happy. (Maybe we just shouldn’t have one!) But we can be more inclusive.

March 17, 2014 at 4:23 am 2 comments

A Polytheist Among Unitarians

After joining my local UU congregation some years back, I have struggled with figuring how I fit in, socially & spiritually into UUism. I sought out Unity for many reasons- a major one being that I wasn’t finding the social stability I needed in Pagan groups. I’ve belonged to, or attempted to help organizing, multiple Pagan groups that failed (it wasn’t just me, I swear!) I occasionally enjoyed attending chapel services in college, the worship service structure was psychologically familiar, and I like singing along with consistently good music- certainly music & chanting in pagan rituals can be good, but there is a lot less practice & professionalism. Having trained clergy with no other “day jobs” is also nice.

As a whole, I wonder how compatible polytheism is with Unitarian Universalism. Unitarianism is after all, a movement that started to try to make Christianity more monotheistic- by rejecting the very notion of the Trinity and emphasizing the Unity of God. The traditional Unitarian view of God emphasized his transcendence (even more so as the Transcendentalists came along) and took a liberal non-creedal form of Christianity, viewing Jesus as merely human, discounting belief in miracles in the Bible- Jefferson Bible anyone? When attempting to explain my church to others, I often call UUism “the church of Enlightenment values”. Reason, freedom, equality, science.

Neo-Paganism, on the other hand is a child of the Romantic movement- which was an earthy, emotional artistic reaction to the perceived stodgy and dry Enlightenment.

In spite of its broad philosophical/theological inclusiveness, Unitarian Universalism does have a distinct worldview, which emphasizes several “meta-narratives” large over-arching trends- The Myth of Progress and the Perennial Philosophy- which I will focus on for now.

The Perennial Philosophy is one term for the general idea that “major world religions” such as Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism and Buddhism all teach the same perennial truths. Proponents of this idea like to use metaphors like “we are all walking different paths up the same mountain” or tell the old story about the blind men and the elephant. That’s an old standby in UU Sunday school.  I also wonder if some blind people would find the story offensive? I used to find these metaphors more useful when I was back in high school, but my studies of religions have led me to the conclusion that their similarities are often over-emphasized to the point of oversimplification. Even Christianity and Judaism are much more different than they appear. Christianity is focused on salvation by faith in Jesus. Judaism is mostly focused on living a good life. The afterlife is not very emphasized in many forms of Judaism, but it is central to most forms of Christianity. Hinduism is hugely diverse, and I get the impression that certain types of Hinduism- those that focus on unity rather than multiplicity are favored over others in the Perennial Philosophy. Polytheistic religions don’t mesh into the Perennial Philosophy very well- Teo Bishop actually has a post on this, and after reading it I was not surprised that he returned to Christianity.

(I started this post way back in December, and have periodically been adding to it- time to release it into the world!)

March 17, 2014 at 3:43 am 2 comments

Favorite “E” PBP Posts

Eclectic(ism) Sulischild tries to balance an eclectic path while being aware of cultural appropriation, and also ponders views of disability in ancient Celtic cultures. Australis Incognita on using red brick dust (a tradition from New Orleans voodoo)

Ehwaz– Musings of Huginn & Muninn

Eithne– Caer writes about the mother of Lugh

EldersDonald Reese-Engstrom “I have noticed that we are of a variety of opinion on this topic. Therefore, I encourage us all to closely examine our own understandings of the roles of an ‘elder’ and then to engage in dialog with one another with clear eyes, open minds, and compassionate hearts.”

Elsewhere– Refreshing to see a skeptical (yet open) look at otherworldly/astral travel

Enheduanna– Mistress of the Hearth writes about a talented Sumerian priestess

Entitlement– Cave of Night (I considered writing about this myself!)

Eolas– Scathcraft shares insights on the pros and cons of oral and written tradition (in French, translation link on site)

Eostre– Aiwelin on the Anglo-Saxon goddess of spring and the dawn

Erlkonig– Cry of the Cicada writes of a German song by Schubert poem by Goethe based on Danish folklore of the Erlkonig (Elf/Alder King) a luring personification of Death

Eriu- Goddess of Ireland by New Pagan

Ethics: Beyond the Intersection of Non-Harm & Return– Ci Cyfarth challenges the assumption that all pagans believe in the Three-fold Law of Return (or karma or something similar) and proposes alternative ethical ideas.

Eye of the Needle– Magickal Pen uses the metaphor of sewing tips on maintaining a balanced spiritual practice

March 17, 2014 at 3:22 am Leave a comment

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