Archive for July 17, 2014

Pagans Behaving Badly: An Autistic View

(I wrote this several months ago, after Paganicon, and it seems to tie in well with my other post for today)

At Paganicon, I had the pleasure of meeting Oberon Zell Ravenheart. He’s a friendly jolly fellow who had many interesting anecdotes to share in the keynote about the early days of Neo-Paganism back the in 1960’s, along with Deborah Lipp. Later I caught up with a friend who is Wiccan, (and by Pagan standards a relatively conventional person) and another companion of hers asked her what she thought of how Oberon presented himself in public- dressed in a wizard robe, with a long beard. If I recall correctly, she said that it wasn’t really to her taste, but it didn’t bother her now as much as it might’ve in her younger, more activist-y days. I said that it didn’t bother me at all. Oberon has done a lot of great things for the community, if he’s a little eccentric, so what? Dressing up like a wizard is pretty harmless. (And besides, I’m a Druid, and she’s a Witch- is there that much of a difference?)

I’m autistic, as I’ve mentioned before- social skills do not come as naturally to me, I learn them much as I do a second language. In many places, I feel very awkward and unsure of myself. But for me, the Pagan community is a break from a very judgmental and constricting society. And usually no matter how odd I am, there is someone else who makes me look downright boring by comparison! Unfortunately one thing I’ve come to realize is that we often have trouble drawing the line between harmless eccentricity and behavior that is deviant in a dangerous or destructive way.

I believe with my unique perspective on social skills that I’ve had to learn intentionally, I can help other Pagans understand where that line is. There are of course, many Pagans with unidentified or un-addressed mental health, addiction problems and learning disabilities like ADHD and autism/Asperger’s. That is one reason I’m trying to become more public about being autistic, so I am available to people who want to understand themselves or others. Actually having a label is not an excuse either I might add. I was once fired from a job for a panic attack, which while it was related to my autism, it was still my fault because I had not found a way to effectively deal with my anxiety and do my job.  There is also plenty of bad behavior by people who are neurotypical- in fact that is probably the majority of bad behavior that goes on in society. (Neurotypical is a term we autistics use to refer to people that are considered neurologically “normal”, it is not meant to be derogatory) Since social communication is the “native tongue” of neurotypicals, sometimes you folks get a little lazy and let your social skills slide, just as a native speaker of English might get a little sloppy with grammar. Whereas self-aware autistic people are often, much like immigrants trying to prove their English skills, very conscientious about being socially appropriate.


July 17, 2014 at 1:00 am 2 comments

Who’s With Me?

In our very divided world, that’s the question that is always asked. Man or Woman? Gay or Straight? Black or White? Liberal or Conservative? Christian or Atheist? There is almost always only two options, nothing in between can be a trustworthy position. That person is light-skinned- are they “really” Black or white? We can’t trust the bisexuals, or the trans*, or genderqueer folks- they have to pick a side. You’re too moderate, you can’t caucus with us.

For some time now, a religious division has been arising, in small subset of the population- Pagans vs. Polytheists. Some “hard”- (the gods are totally separate) polytheists argue that the Pagan subculture emphasizes an all-Gods-are one theology,  a secularized hippie culture that doesn’t fit with their values, and has a bias towards Wicca, and religions that resemble it. There was conference last weekend, the Polytheist Leadership Conference in Fishkill, New York that discussed many of these issues. I’m glad to hear of its success- many thoughtful, talented and dedicated people were involved in it, and plans are being made for another one next year. I’m glad to see polytheist traditions grow and develop spiritually and intellectually. I’ll talk more about that in another post. But for now I will put this into perspective in my own life.

As I’ve discussed before, I’ve tried to do what I can for my local Pagan community. I’ve served in a couple of leadership positions, I’ve tried started groves that haven’t gotten off the ground due to different scheduling and commitment issues. Other people have planted groves in places I couldn’t get to by bus. I’ve accepted that. I was in a cult-like Celtic group at one point. I moved on from that, and in keep with the subcultures code of silence regarding abuse, I even kept my experiences to myself. (A decision that I am not proud of)

One of the things that has kept me going, in the Neo-Pagan subculture is, as an autistic person, and one who suffers from depression & anxiety, it was one of the few places I could feel truly accepted. I rarely had to explain myself, my quirks, my difficulties. No matter what, there was always someone at a Pagan gathering who was weirder than me. Some of them are autistic or neurodiverse- wired to be weird. Some of them just had a goofy personality.

But acceptance isn’t enough. I’m very fortunate, for an adult on the autism spectrum. I was identified at an early age. I had the opportunity to go to college, and one with a great learning disability program to boot. I completed my degree. I live in a community with many social services for people with disabilities, and a fairly good awareness of autism. I’ve never been homeless, I’ve for the most part avoided the abuse folks with disabilities so often receive from various “loved ones”. I’ve met many others who weren’t so lucky. I can do a lot to help these other people, but I need to help myself first. But I can’t do it all alone.

Whenever I look for work, I rarely think of asking other Pagans for help. It always seems like they’re struggling to keep afloat. The economy sucks, and some of them have disabilities too. Maybe the more well-off and well-adjusted Pagans keep to themselves. Besides, it always seems like much like when I go to one of my sci-fi or gamer-geek events, people come to Pagan events to escape their “mundane lives”. To reconnect with the past, their ancestors, their gods. Their cultural roots. All the things they feel the need to deny and bury and hide when they go back to work. They don’t want to talk about that stuff. It’s just too depressing. I don’t blame them. Many Pagans have strong political opinions, but I rarely see them at the political events I attend. Maybe they’re too busy with their religious activities- or geeky activities. Maybe they are more involved in radical anarchist type groups. I don’t know.

I go to Unity, and sometimes I feel as if everyone there has their lives together- at least if they don’t, they don’t seem to advertise it as much as Pagans do. Sometimes maybe Unitarians are a little out of touch in some ways. Maybe a little too privileged, or idealistic or optimistic. Most of them don’t know a lot about Paganism beyond Wicca or feminist Goddess worship 101. But it still seems they are a lot more in touch with reality than most Pagans I meet. Certainly I go to church in part to relax, to find support and community, but the Unitarians very much ground themselves in the issues that are happening in the community- locally and globally. I wasn’t sure how to ask them for help either. I went to their “career transitions” support group, which mostly was populated by middle-aged job seekers who didn’t seem to know what advice to give me.

So look folks- I know we want to talk theology, or ritual design, or spirit work. Or sometimes things like should we raise funds for a building, or what the role(s) of clergy should be. We’re a religious community those things should naturally be our focus. What about people in small town and rural areas? Many of them just one understanding person to talk to them about their religion, in their town, regardless of their personal beliefs. What about people who are getting out of prison (or are currently there) whom society rarely gives second chances to?

Some folks involved in the conference are primarily spirit-workers, they have stated, and I understand this- that their primary calling is serving the spirits and the gods, rather than the community- or that they serve the community by serving the gods. That’s fine. I can respect that. I feel called to serve the gods by serving community. I’d just like to remind you of something. Yes the gods have been neglected for thousands of years, and they want our attention. But the gods are not going to starve if you don’t feed them, or freeze on the streets if you don’t house them. They will not commit suicide if they feel alone, abused by their families or spiritual leaders, abandoned by the American Dream.

So I ask you, are you with me?

July 17, 2014 at 12:57 am 2 comments


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