Ever been to Austin? If you have, you’ll recognize the title of this post, Keep Paganism Weird, as a variation of the city’s popular catch phrase. Plastered on buildings and bumper stickers is a reminder that Austin has a history of wild, weird culture, and that it’s important that the young’ins continue the cultural tradition into the future.
On my last night in South San Francisco, we were visited at our hotel by the fabulous, beautifully painted, perfectly pickled one, Titania Humperpickle. She is one of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence.
Witness her loveliness:
Sister Titania (pronounced with a soft “i,” as in tits, and a soft “a,” as in tah-tahs) identifies as a Pagan (it’s a big enough umbrella for her), but the Order isn’t rooted in one religious tradition. Anyone with a calling to slap on some heels, get painted, dress up in nun attire in order to do service work — any kind of service work, mind you — can become a Sister (after a long vetting process, of course).
I sat on the floor in the presence of a white-faced, platform-shoed nun, totally in awe. She brought with her a vial of Holy Glitter, which is glitter mixed with — I kid you not — the ashes of former Sisters, the ashes of some of the Order’s most cherished relics, and a few other delightfully magical things. She made a little bindi-esque dot of glitter on our foreheads as a sisterly blessings (see photo below). She told stories of the Order’s origin, of the stuggles of LGBT people over the years, and of the inspiring work being done by Sisters across the globe.
By the time she left, we were all grinning ear to ear. It was really wonderful.
The Sisters embody a kind of theatricality that I find completely refreshing. They take their work seriously, and they are intentional about their presentation (the white-face, itself, has a story), but they also bring with them a kind of whimsy that, honestly, you don’t see in every corner of the gay community.
Personally, I think we gays need to embrace the radically expressive elements of our community. We don’t all need need to be Martha Steward devotees in order to be gay. Gay can be more mismatched and fabulous than that. Gay can be weird, and sometimes it should be.
When I wrote the piece Pagan Is The New Gay, I looked at parallels in the how Pagans and LGBT’s (i.e The Alphabet People) struggle over their titles and categories. Perhaps there’s cause to search out parallels again.
The Sisters keep it weird. They challenge social norms, and they force us to reexamine what we assume about gender, about service, and about how presentation of persona is something that, to a greater or lesser degree, we all do. They are radical, and by being radical they make possible the space for something extraordinary to occur.
They are a shimmering ritual on heels.
Can we take cue from the Sisters in the Pagan community? Do we (do you? do I?) permit ourselves to be extravagant, weird, or over the top in our presentation, or would doing so feel like too big a risk?
LGBT people have worked so hard over the past ten, twenty years to be accepted by the mainstream culture, and in the process many have forgotten that it was a drag queen that threw the first brick at Stonewall. Is a similar thing happening with modern Pagans? Are we pulling back from the weird?
This morning I head to Denver’s Pagan Pride festival, and I have no sense of how weird or how tame it will be. I’ll be sure to report next week. But in the meantime, I ask you:
Do you want to keep Paganism weird?
[After you post your comment & share this post, visit the new BITG feature, Letters. Then, check out the BITG post written last year about another Sister of Perpetual Indulgence, The Day The Heathens Built A Chapel.]