Currently viewing the tag: "Pagan Pride Day"

A year ago I wrote about feeling ashamed at Pagan Pride.

The circle was to blame, I stated.

On Saturday, to my surprise, I found myself standing in a circle at another Pagan Pride, but this time I was helping to facilitate ritual. I was “West,” to be specific.

I stood in a circle, one that, when uncast, would close out the Salem Pagan Pride Day festivities, and — thankfully — I did not feel ashamed. (In fact, I can scarcely remember feeling so affected by the experience last year.) Instead I felt like I was participating in a community gathering that meant a great deal to this group of people.

I felt humbled, I think.

cieciel10_ Crochet Circle

Standing across the circle from me was a young girl, perhaps in her mid-teens, and I swear to you she was so present in that circle. When everyone turned from direction to direction, thanking the elements (which is a part of OBOD ritual but very much not a part of ADF ritual), this young girl put her whole body into giving thanks. She was participating in the theater of the event in a way that reminded me of the most pious Christians in church, genuflecting before moving through the pew and bowing their heads as the cross made its way to the altar.

This girl was doing her religion hard.

And I found that heartwarming.

It wasn’t my experience, though. I stood amidst a few OBOD members, all students of the Bardic grade, and a smattering of eclectic Pagans and I had no clear idea of what all this meant to me in a religious or spiritual sense. But looking at that girl reminded me of myself at some other point in my life. It reminded me that there was a time when I participated fully in my religion; eyes closed, hands clenched or opened wide to the sky, heart full of wonder, or mystery, or gratitude.

That was me once.

And it could be me again.

This girl gave me hope, which was something I hadn’t expected to feel when I went to the Salem Pagan Pride day event. I went with as few expectations as I could, and I was resolute not to pick aspect the event as I had last year.

Showing how something is flawed is not necessarily a constructive act, nor is it always the kindest thing to do. I’m working on being more kind.

Last year I was genuinely affected by the circle but this year it seemed benign. I wonder how much my experience in Denver was characterized by my belonging to ADF and my adoption of ADF’s ritual practice.

The Druid Fellowship is not anti-Wiccan in any way, but it does a great deal to make clear how the two trads are different. There’s a pamphlet passed out at most ADF festival booths which explains the distinctions (how ADF does not cast circle, how it sees the gods as distinct beings rather then emanations of the God or Goddess, etc.). The organization isn’t hateful toward Wicca in any way, but there was always the sense that it was important to identity how ADF Druidry, unlike OBOD, works hard to remain distinct from that tradition.

OBOD’s approach to Druidry is much more similar to Wicca, and as I consider starting up with my Bardic studies again — perhaps even working my way through the Ovate and Druid grades — I have to reconcile that this “simple shape” which “introduces our early minds to geometry, to symmetry, to physical and social design,” and that was held to blame for my feelings of shame last year might end up becoming a bigger part of life.


natura_pagana - Humility

I have a lot to learn. I feel like a beginner again, like I haven’t spent the past two and a half years being some kind of Druid. As I make introductions into the Pagan community here in the Willamette Valley, I have to soften my edges a bit. The ways in which I’ve been hard and jagged no longer serve me, and I don’t think they’re all that helpful in the process of community building (however gingerly I approach that process).

So I’m considering the circle again. I’m asking it to forgive me for being so harsh before. I may have used it to make a point about othering in a way that was unfair to the event organizers. When I said the casting of circle turned us Pagans into The Church I was taking too big a leap. Clearly others thought so, too.

This is my 200th post on Bishop in the Grove, and yet it could just as easily be my first. I am still a beginner, and about that I am not in any way ashamed.


Photos by cieciel10 & Diego da Silva

One of the most valuable contributions to the conversation around my Pagan Pride Day post came from a single commenter, who I’ll leave unnamed. He joined the comment thread and my Pagan Pride Day post went meta, because he gave me cause to take a closer look at the function of this blog, and the challenge of inclusivity.

This dude took me to town, calling me names like “yuppie,” and insulting my intelligence (he said my post was “shit for thoughts”). He also suggested that I change my name, Bishop, to Nun because, “my skirts showing.” [sic]

My first reaction to reading the comment was a kind of clenching in my belly. I was reminded of being bullied in elementary school. It felt like that all over again. But then I remembered that I’m a grownup, and that this is my space. The feeling receded.

While I was re-living fourth-grade memories, another reader of BITG posted a comment. They came to my defense, which was nice in a way, but which also made it clear that I needed to say something to set the tone of how this would be handled.

So I wrote in response:

This is the first time you’ve commented here on Bishop In The Grove, which is a site intended to create a safe space for dialogue between people of many differing perspectives. I encourage a diversity of thought and opinion, and I’m sure you have insights worthy of discussion. I just wished that you could have found a different way to share your ideas here.

I am not going to address any of what you said, directly. Your comment was mean-spirited and unkind, and I have no investment in getting in an argument with you. I’m simply going to ask that if you wish to be a part of this conversation — one that matters to a lot of people — please do so with respect.

If you feel you cannot do that, you are welcome to point your browser in a different direction.

May you be blessed and at peace with whatever angers you.


This was my way of addressing a heckler. Lay out the parameters, explain how things normally work around here, and be done with it.

What I realize now is that I was explaining to the commenter that this blog — this space I’ve created online for dialogue — is like my own, personal circle. I’ve cast a circle here at Bishop In The Grove without realizing it, and he was sort of standing outside that circle, barking objections and slurs.

He’d become the lady outside the PPD ritual, and I’d become the same ritual leader I was so quick to subject to scrutiny.

Photo credit:

In that moment of realization, I felt deep empathy for the ritual leaders. When you’ve got someone criticizing your work — as you’re doing it — it hurts. It’s confusing. You don’t know how to respond, so you respond as best you can in the moment.

[A side note: Since I published my last post I’ve been in contact with the PPD ritual leader, and we had a really great conversation. There will be a follow-up post about our talk, perhaps even an interview of some kind, next week.]

I’m bringing this up today for a few reasons.

First, I don’t feel that villainizing the commenter is useful, any more that it is useful to make villains out of the hecklers at the PPD ritual. They may both be handling themselves in a way that feels disruptive, but underneath the meanness is a human being.

Second, you can’t control everything. The PPD ritual demonstrated that, as does this situation. You can try to keep a tight hold over your space – to close the circle, to shut down or kick out the source of disruption (which in this case might have been blocking a commenter) but then you rule out the possibility that the chaos they’ve generated brings with it some new insight. Disorder can lead to epiphany, sometimes.

Lastly, I feel this pull to be “radically inclusive,” but then I find myself questioning whether it is appropriate to allow someone to be disruptive and mean on my blog. You cannot be radically inclusive and cast someone out of your space, can you?

There is the real concern about what to do when you’ve created a sacred space — in the case of this blog, an open one — and a disruptive element comes in. Disruptive elements often bring lessons that either we are unwilling or unable to hear. Other times, they just seek to hurt us.

I don’t know this commenter any more than I knew the people outside of the PPD circle, and I don’t know his motivation. In a way he seemed frustrated that he wasn’t being understood, but it could have also had nothing to do with me. I could have been for him a symbol of the things he really dislikes about the Pagan community, just as the hecklers could have seen the Pagans as symbols of something bad or evil.

Make a man into a symbol, and it’s much easier to hate him.

I don’t want to hate this guy. It’d be easier to label him a “troll”, but that makes him into a symbol; something easy to dismiss.

This blog has evolved over the past couple of years to be a place where real dialogue can take place. My PPD post’s 100+ comments are evidence that people bring to this space a wide variety of perspectives and understandings. No one of us is the authority here, most especially me.

That said, this is my blog. This is the space I created. This is, in essence, my Civic Center Park ritual, and I’m standing on the inside of a circle trying to figure out what to do.

How do you acknowledge that a disruptive force is present, and do you cast them out? Do you ignore them?

As my good friend, Seth, asked when we spoke about this situation:

How do you take community ownership of the individual who isn’t taking ownership of the community?

The circle.

The circle is fundamental.

This simple shape, along with the square and the triangle, introduces our early minds to geometry, to symmetry, to physical and social design.

This past weekend I felt ashamed at Pagan Pride on account of a circle.

Photo by Katie Walker, Flickr

My body helped form the edge of a circle. My body stood next to other bodies — thirty perhaps — in the middle of one of the most public of spaces in all of Denver, Civic Center Park. This circle of bodies in the middle of my city, in the middle of a crowd of onlookers, did something I did not expect this circle to do.

It created an us and a them.

Casting circle before a crowd of people, some of whom were unsuspecting passers-by, and others virtually residents of the park, established a kind of religious exclusivity. It was as though we said, by joining hands and turning our backs to the crowd:

This is our circle. You are on the outside of this circle. We are doing our religious work on the inside.

The circle seemed to other the onlookers.

None of this was done explicitly. The leaders of the ritual, all good-hearted Pagans, did not inform the crowd that they were to remain outside, or that they were unwelcome in the ritual. They didn’t need to.

They’d invited us to come down for ritual, but the non-Pagans were not addressed. There was no clear explanation of what the ritual would be like, what might be expected of the participants, or — for those who weren’t familiar with Pagan (or more specifically, Wiccan/New Age-ish) rituals — what it would all mean.

The insiders were told that the ritual was going to raise power to bring us protection. The irony would be that this circle inspired the same antagonism and meanness from outside the circle from which the ritual was seeking to protect us.

There was heckling. It sounded like drunk heckling. Drunk, Christian heckling. And there were disruptions from a few men who, while we stood there in our circle, paced slowly around the perimeter. One asked for a cigarette. One stood outside the circle by about 5 feet and folded his arms across his chest.

The ritual leaders did not acknowledge any of this.

In response to the jeers and taunts, one ritual leader stood in solidarity inside the circle and began to talk to us about how protection was so important because there were people out there who didn’t understand us or respect us. It was as close to a “preaching” moment as you might find inside this kind of circle.

I heard her reassure us, and I thought,

But we just created an out there by casting this circle. We closed them off from us, shut them out, but only symbolically because they could see and hear all of what we were doing. Play it like we’re the victims, but we just created — through ritual — the same kind of alienation that we feel in relation to the greater society.

We just became The Church.

Photo by Mugley, Flickr

The rest of the ritual involved the distribution of smooth stones to each of us, stones which had been blessed and inscribed with a pentacle and the word, “protection.” These were our charms, we were told, to give us strength and to provide us protection as we leave the circle and go back into the world.

I found myself feeling so embarrassed. I kept looking down. I didn’t want protection from the people on the outside of the circle; I wanted to connect with them. To explain. To try to find some sort of understanding.

But it wasn’t my ritual.

To close, we imagined a ball of white light — the quintessential ball of white light — enveloping the circle, and then extending outward to include all of this place and all of the world. This imaginary light would attempt to do what we had not done with our physical bodies, which was to include all. In that moment our meditation, our magickal working, was an obvious self-deception; a willful ignorance of what was actually occurring in the space around us.

At least, that’s how it felt from where I was standing in the circle.

I don’t know about circles anymore. I don’t know if they’re appropriate to cast in these kinds of public settings. I doubt them in a way that I didn’t before Denver’s 2012 Pagan Pride.

I trust that many of you either cast circles, or have been in a ritual where one was cast. I wonder if you could shed some light on how you see them as useful, or how you find them to be problematic. Could you imagine other forms of ritual, ones that do not create a boundary between those on the outside and those within, that would feel appropriate at a Pagan gathering? Or, is this kind of “protective barrier” a necessity?

I felt ashamed at Pagan Pride because I was a part of something that felt, on account of the circle, incredibly exclusive. Could there be a more inclusive, perhaps even radically inclusive way of doing Pagan ritual in public?