Currently viewing the tag: "Pagan"

Salvation Mountain USA

I don’t want to be a voice for the Newly Saved.

I don’t want to be looked at as an example of what happens when Christ enters a person’s life.

I don’t want to stand as a representative for all the Pagan converts out there, as though Pagans are so unified a group that there could be such a thing as a “Pagan convert.”

I appreciate the prayers and the support from the Christians who’ve reached out to me on Twitter, but I’m afraid that they have unrealistic expectations of me. I feel like they’re looking at me to fulfill some sort of Prodigal Son role; my story simply fitting into a narrative that they already understand.

I think that all of our stories are more nuanced and complicated than we’d like to admit publicly.

I’m unnerved that immediately after my story was exposed to the largely Christian audience of The Blaze I received my first hateful comment from a white supremacist.

Christians should take note: there is a hateful contingent among you, speaking mean-spirited things in the name of God. It should worry you. It should cause you to take a closer look at your theology, your war-language, your relationship to the “least among us,” your need to be “right” and your engagement with those who you perceive are not.

My concerns and reservations come after a long week of worrying; worrying about being misunderstood, or misrepresented, or misread. I’ve worried that Christians will see me as a champion of The Cause, and Pagans will see me as The Villain. I’ve worried that my hyper-awareness of Audience will get in the way of me listening for the movement of the Spirit in my life. I feel like the experience I had with the woman on the street — the experience which has since become a talking point on the Glenn Beck show — was a call to something. I think it may be a call to ministry of some sort, but I start to get agitated when strangers rush to tell me that they know exactly what I’m being called to.

How can they? How can they know the direction of my own life when I’m still trying to figure that out?

God works in mysterious, disruptive, seemingly illogical ways. We can pretend that God’s Will is a single thing, or a simple thing, or an easily discernible series of choices, but it’s not. We can try to tweet “God’s Will”, but unless the tweet reads “Love God, & love your neighbor as yourself,” we’ll probably be wrong.

So I don’t want to be a voice for the Newly Saved. I don’t want anyone to look to me and expect to see a cookie-cutter Christian. If you think you’ve “won one for the team,” I encourage you to reevaluate your us/them mindset.

Our call is to love.

That’s it.


Everything else is politics.

If our actions are not an extension of the directive to love, we’re missing the mark.


Photo by Renee Silverman
Get it?

A pair a’Docs

  • I’m the kind of Pagan who hasn’t gotten rid of his Bibles.
  • I don’t think there is a single Truth any more than I think there’s only one god, but I do think there’s something which unites everything in the universe. And I’d like to imagine that this connecting force is sentient, but I don’t know that for certain.
  • I’ve built connections on the internet with other Pagans, and some of those connections have felt like “community.” But I’ve never really sustained an on-ground community with other Pagans. I think this may contribute to why it feels difficult to clearly identify at times just how I’m a Pagan. I don’t have a community of people who mirror that for me.
  • I find it difficult to have discussion about practice without having some kind of acknowledgement of belief. It feels false to me to think of the two as separate. I think they’re inherently woven together. For some belief comes first. For other practice.

I don’t know which of those people I am.

  • I feel like the best way for me to learn something new is to be a teacher, and the best way for me to teach is to be a student. This has been how I’ve approached the development of my Paganism.
  • I want to be having more conversations about morals and ethics than do many of my fellow Pagans, it seems. Discussions of morality don’t scare me, because I don’t think that morality needs to be connected to Divine Judgement. I think discussions of morality are incredibly useful for the development of a healthy society.
  • I don’t think that everything is subjective. Sometimes I want to draw a line in the proverbial sand and say — “no, that’s wrong.”

And yet I also think that drawing that is wrong.

  • Someone told me once that Goddess spirituality was born from this deep yearning for the Sacred Feminine; a principle which was absent in Western Christianity. She said,

“We just wanted a Mother.”

Her words made me remember that as a Christian I delighted in the phrase “Mother Jesus.” The idea really fucked with my perspective, and I loved that feeling of being shaken into a new way of seeing the divine.

But I’ve never really felt the kind of pull to the Goddess that I hear other Pagans talk about. I took God for granted, and I never really thought of God as a father, even if I did refer to God as “he” (which I stopped doing in my 20’s).

  • I’ve tried to make my Paganism into a religion, but I don’t think it actually functions well as a religion. It’s not defined enough. It’s not clear enough about what it is. It’s a framework — a loose framework — and maybe even a way of being, but I don’t think it’s a religion.
  • I think that polytheist reconstructionists are doing religion.
  • I have a religious nature, but the way in which I engage with religion is to get inside of it and take it apart. And I want for it to push back against me and challenge me.

I don’t know if Paganism is inherently challenging. At least, not the kind of Paganism that defaults to “whatever works for you.”

That said, I often default to that perspective because I don’t want to be judgmental. I think that you can benefit from the strengths of pluralism and still push yourself to think deeper about your assumptions, but I don’t know how many others in the Pagan community want to be challenged in that way.

  • I’m a Pagan who’s in the middle of rediscovering the impact that Jesus has had on his life. I’m also a Pagan who’s still exploring what Druidry means to him.

I’m a Pagan of paradoxes, and for now I think I’m ok with that.


Photo by Camera Eye Photography

Results, by Rosa Saw

“There can be no direct results of ritual. The results are always just part of the fabric of all action.”

— Sean Michael Morris

As I prepare for my upcoming appearance at the Sacred Harvest Festival I’ve been giving thought to assumptions I’ve made about Paganism; assumptions that many of us make.

We assume the Wheel of the Year. Many of us assume a circle. We assume nature reverence, but I’m not sure how many of us connect that ideal to our own patterns and habits of consumption. We assume gender for things that (I think) are genderless. We often assume and ascribe a universality to European forms of Paganism, and sometimes take that one step further to assume whiteness where race or ethnicity should play no part.

We make a lot of assumptions.

And I think, to a degree, that’s to be expected. One studies in a tradition and begins to adopt aspects of the worldviews inherent to that tradition. If universality — true universality — is not central to that tradition, you’re bound to pick up certain tribe-specific ways of thinking.

In some respects, the training I received in ADF (which, I should note, was a partial, incomplete training) is one that seeks to inform modern Pagan practices with knowledge about ancient cultures. It works with the Wheel of the Year and is rooted in and influenced by Indo-European practice and worldview. One might say that ADF Druidry it’s prototypically Pagan, even with it’s differences and distinctions from it’s more popular cousin, Wicca.

And ADF assumes, as many modern Pagan traditions do, that rituals (especially public ones) should result in something. At the very least, an ADF ritual is designed to facilitate reverence and piety; the result is often a deeper and more meaningful connection with the Kindred. These rituals can also include some kind of magickal working, but even if there is no intent to do magick there is always the expectation — the assumption — that the ritual should do something (i.e. have a result) in the physical world.

But then there is this idea that rituals are “just part of the fabric of all action.” Rituals, when seen this way, are ordinary, poetic acts that, if done well, draw people into a deeper awareness of the extraordinary reality that already exists everywhere around and inside of them. The rituals themselves aren’t fabricating the awesomeness; they’re simply reminding you that the awesomeness is already there.

That could be result enough.

Perhaps it isn’t so much a question of articulating what results I’d like to get from the ritual I lead at SHF, but rather the intent of the ritual that I should focus on. It seems like intention is the only thing you really have control over when putting this kind of thing together. The results will be what the results will be. That really isn’t up to me. But the intention? That I can (and should) decide in advance.

So my intention is for this ritual to push through my assumptions about what a Pagan ritual can look and feel like; to play with ideas of sound and movement, silence and song; to inspire participants to find a still place within, the place where their creativity is born, and to bring that creativity out in a joyous way.

Here’s the description language of my Sacred Harvest Festival ritual:

Harvest of the Soul

When we harvest, we sing. When we pray, we dance.

This is the season of the harvest, a season to look inward and reap what we have sewn. In this musical, movement-oriented, participatory ritual, we will gather together and make a good song in celebration of the harvest, acknowledging the hardships and rewards of a season of good work.

This all-ages ritual will be influenced by certain aspects of ADF Druidry, and will seek to make welcome participants from a wide variety of Pagan paths. Bring an open heart and open mind, and prepare to lift up your voice in celebration of this sacred time.

Boom. That is my intention. The results aren’t something to concern myself with too much between now and when the festival begins on August 5th. If anything, it’s time to start imagining the “how” of the ritual…

I’m curious —

If you’ve ever designed rituals, what has been your process? Is it important for you to attain some specific result, and is this something you achieve by a magickal working? Are you aware of the assumptions that you regularly make, and do you focus any of your work on challenging those assumptions?

The Fool

Something broke today: a levee on the inside. My heart, tight and clenched for days, softened.

And when it did, I knew…

I have to leave ADF.

I spoke the words out loud, and they sounded right. They didn’t sound easy, or pretty, or anything remotely uncomplicated.

They just sounded right.

I’m not leaving because it’s convenient. Quite the contrary. Leaving ADF means, by extension, stopping my work for the Solitary Druid Fellowship.

That kind of terrifies me.

I have built this thing, virtually all by myself, and I don’t know what will happen to it. I don’t plan to take it away from ADF and have it be my own Druidic group. ADF leadership always feared I’d do something like that, and I assured them I wouldn’t. But more than that, I don’t really feel called to keep doing the work.

I’m in the middle of a 7-day series called “Shared Gnosis” that was supposed to wrap up with the release of a new liturgy. The High Day — Summer Solstice, the Feast of Labor — is in less than a week. But this series was a desperate attempt to re-inspire myself into doing this work at all. For the better part of the past month or two I’ve felt almost completely disconnected from the work of the Fellowship. I’ve been trying to encourage others to dive into a liturgical practice when I, myself, have begun to question the relevance of liturgy. I’ve been talking about hearth cultures and High Days, and I have felt almost no connection whatsoever to any of those things.

I’ve been doing ADF drag.

Leaving isn’t convenient, and it isn’t pretty. This doesn’t make me look good. In fact, this looks very much like a repeat of what is becoming a trope of Pagan culture:

• Person finds Paganism.

• Person finds tradition.

• Person is inspired by tradition, and moves into leadership position.

• Person has a crisis of — what? — faith? (I thought we didn’t have faith.)

• Person leaves tradition.

• Everybody rolls eyes and says they saw this coming.

• Repeat.

I’ve been around for only a few years, and I’ve already seen the cycle more than once.

And now here I am.


Shutting down the thing that I created.

Starting the cycle all over again.

The thing is, this is my life. This is me, right here, trying to be human.

And I think my biggest challenge in being a part of ADF was that I didn’t feel like there was anyone really speaking to the challenges of being human. In a devotional religion, the emphasis is placed over there, not in here. The things that cut deeply for me, that are real and sometimes really difficult for me — things like compassion, despair, forgiveness, hope, kindness, patience, honesty — I don’t feel like we spend any time talking about these things. I think we experience these things, but they always feel secondary to “right relationship.”

Frankly, I don’t care about right relationship. Or right action, for that matter.

I think those concepts are distraction from the messy, mucky, complicated, beautiful acts of being human that have nothing to do with how virtuous or pious we are.

I didn’t think I could earn my way into Heaven when I was a Christian, and I don’t think I can, through my own actions, earn my way into good standing with the Gods.

It’s the same thing to me. It’s a repeat, and it just feels wrong.

I can try to do well and I often fall short, but — amazingly enough — when that happens I experience a deep, profound, spiritual understanding that, in spite of what any ancient person said…

I am not at the center of the cosmos.

I cannot will things into happening exactly as I would like. My life, at times, feels really broken, and I don’t know how to proceed, and I need to own up to that.

But all of these things, these inner conflicts that I will mostly likely continue to process through here on this blog, are extremely personal and contextual to my own life. I can believe that ADF needs to place a greater emphasis on matters of the heart, matters of the psyche, the soul, with the same level of rigor and intensity that they’ve been looking at academic texts about Celts and Norseman for twenty years, but that’s not what the organization is all about. I can think, “who cares what the ancients did?!” every time it comes up in an ADF e-mail list or Facebook group, but the truth of the matter is that some people do. Very much. That’s very, very important to them.

And I respect that. I don’t want to try and dismantle that, simply because it doesn’t hold much (or any) importance to me.

So I’m choosing to step aside.

I don’t know what’s going to happen with the Fellowship. There are a number of people who have contributed to the life of this project, including some ADF members on the path to the clergy, and I’d gladly let them take the helm in they feel inspired to do so. If this project — this idea of uniting solitaries of a variety of traditions around a liturgical practice — is something that has a place in the world apart from me, then it will continue to live on.

If not, then it has done its work.


I have different work to do.

Pagan Jesus

I started reading a book yesterday called Contemplative Practices in Action: Spirituality, Meditation, and Health. It’s an academic volume which seeks to demonstrate that contemplative practices have positive affects on the lives of those who engage in them. It’s of personal interest to me for a number of reasons.

First, I would like to see an emergence of a contemplative stream of Pagan practice. I would like to see Pagans, through the lenses of their traditions, build and develop contemplative practices that are both true to their community identity, but also examples of how the Pagan ethea is relevant in the modern world. To some whose tradition already incorporates contemplative-style activities in their group work this shouldn’t seem like much of a stretch. But I’m not sure if they’re identifying what they’re doing as “contemplative practice.”

But aside from my conviction that the modern Pagan movement needs more contemplatives, I was drawn to this book because I feel a need to enrich my own contemplative practice. My writing in recent days has been centered around my own inquiries and doubts, but the current running underneath all of it is a desire to have a deeper and more fulfilling contemplative life.

For an academic text rich with footnotes and references, I was surprised at how quickly I started in on this book. The second chapter, Similarity in Diversity? Four Shared Functions of Integrative Contemplative Practice Systems spelled out a few ideas that immediately made me think about ADF and my Dedicant Path studies (which, truth be told, have all but been ignored over the past long while). The author, Doug Oman, looks at a variety of systems, including The Eight-Point Program of Passage Meditation, Centering Prayer, and Mantra Repetition and outlines four elements or themes present in most of them. A practice system, he asserts, could be considered an integrated contemplative practice if it contains these four common elements:

1. Set-aside time–time that is set aside regularly, usually daily, for a disciplined activity or exercise that has a comparatively powerful effect on training attention.

2. Virtues and character strengths–qualities of character and behavior, such as compassion, forgiveness or fearlessness. … Typically, the recommended qualities involve subsets of six cross-culturally prevalent classes of virtues recently identified by positive psychologists–wisdom, courage, humanity, justice, temperance, and transcendence.

3. Practices for centering/stabilizing that are usable through the day–such as during occasions of stress, anxiety, or unstructured time.

4. Spiritual models–attending to the individuals whose behavior reflects desired spiritual qualities–provide a unique resource for spiritual growth. … Attending to spiritual models’ words and actions can motivate sustained practice, and guide or inspire implementation of other spiritual practices. (Oman 8)

(emphasis mine)

This last one, spiritual models, caught my attention.

We don’t have those, I though. Or, at least, I’m not sure there is one particular spiritual model set forth by my tradition to look to for inspiration or guidance. In fact, I’m sure that there isn’t.

I posed these questions on Facebook:

Are Pagan traditions offering the kind of “spiritual modeling” that you might find in, say, Buddhism or Christianity? Do we have spiritual figures — either from history or from myth (or in the fuzzy place in the middle) — that we regularly look to for examples of how to act in the world? If so, who are these folk?

Who do *you* look to for “spiritual modeling”?

The responses were interesting.

Some look to figures like Marcus Aurelius, Epictetus, or Hypatia. Others see Crowley and Doreen Valiente as figures to look to (both in a historical and in a magickal sense). MLK was mentioned as was Malcolm X, the current Archdruid of ADF, and the heroes of Celtic legend.

Michael York asked, taking us to an archetypally pagan place, “Is not our ultimate spiritual model nature herself?”

All of these things were relevant to the people who offered them, but as I sit with these ideas now I realize that — for me — I need my #4 to be connected more closely to my #2: I need a spiritual model that demonstrates the virtues and character strengths that are meaningful to me.

In my time as Pagan, I’m not sure I’ve found that model.

As a Christian, Jesus was that model for me. While I was always a little uncomfortable by some of the language that accompanied the act of “following Jesus,” especially anything that ascribed to the person of Jesus attributes that seemed little more than projections of the follower, himself, I was still influenced by the example of this man. He was something concrete to look to, even if his life was represented in an incomplete and biased fashion. It was a point of reference, and that was valuable. He wasn’t important because of the “saved soul” factor; he was important because he made it easier for me, personally, to connect my actions to a system of values.

Some people who responded to my questions don’t look to anyone other than themselves. They are their own example; their own spiritual model.

While I respect everyone’s right to develop their religious and spiritual life as they see fit, I don’t think I can serve as my own best example. I need something to look to that is outside of myself, even if in the form of a character in a story or myth, in order to help me better understand the nuances of my own humanity.

The question is, who’s going to by my Pagan Jesus?


While talking with my husband I realized that many of the arguments I’ve been making during my conversations with hard polytheists, particularly with Galina Krasskova (read our Facebook chat here and see the post it inspired from her here), are not necessarily reflected in or supported by the evidence of my own practice.

Or, in other words, I think Galina may have been right about a few things that I wasn’t admitting.

First, a regular devotional practice is a good — even great — foundation for a meaningful spiritual life.

Galina, and other hard polytheists I’ve spoken with, put significant value around the development of a devotional practice. If they were proselytizers (which they aren’t, technically) that might be the one message they’re preaching: develop a devotional practice. Do the work.

Act as if, Galina writes.

I’m familiar with the approach. And, in spite of all the things I’ve said in the past week or so, I have benefited from it at times.

My own practice has become much less regular and much less of a devotional practice in recent weeks and months. Interestingly, it stopped being quite so devotional after I had a very profound and palpable encounter with the Morrigan. One might think that there would be even more desire to develop a sturdy, robust devotional practice after something so visceral, but that isn’t how it’s happened and I don’t know why.

The periods in my life as a practicing Pagan that were most rich with spiritual awareness and the sense of connection were times when I had the most consistent and reliable devotional practice. During these times I was also much less concerned with critical thinking as it pertained to things like the nature of the gods, or the logic (or lack thereof) behind my actions. My actions were serving a spiritual purpose. They were keeping me in relationship with the gods.

At least, they were strengthening my personal sense of relationship. I was showing up before the shrine, doing the work, and as a result I felt more connected.

Now, during this period of less engagement with a devotional practice, I feel several things:

For one, I feel as though my critical thinking skills are getting a workout. I’m much more inclined toward objective analysis. That becomes problematic when I’m unable to shut that part of my mind off. My husband reminded me that ritual — like the kind I used to do daily in my devotional practice — can work wonders for shutting that function down for a while. In many ways, that’s ritual’s sole purpose. It prepares us for an encounter with the holy.

But I’ve also experienced a desire to do something different than what I used to do in my devotional practice. I want something less wordy, less structured. I want for something that isn’t so centered around ADF’s cosmology, or language that I’ve crafted for the Fellowship. This desire for fewer words comes, I think, from the fact that words are what tend to send my mind into an overactive frenzy.

For as much as I find liturgy to be valuable, especially when it comes to the regular celebration of High Days, in my daily practice I think I want something a little more formless. I’m not sure what that looks like, or how much it would resemble any kind of devotional practice.

I think, though, that the first step is to start listening more than I speak. I’ve been doing a lot of outward-focused work, and the ideas are flowing quite steadily in that direction. But it may be time to reverse the flow. It may be time for more listening.

I stumbled across this image, The Tree of Contemplative Practices, while searching out contemplative practices. It was published on the website of The Center for Contemplative Mind in Society, an organization that seeks to incorporate more contemplative practices into higher ed. In my ongoing pursuit to discover what a distinctly Pagan contemplative practice might look like, I find that this illustration demonstrates that there are many, many ways of developing a contemplative practice. As I wrote in my last post, cultivating a devotional practice may be one way to do that, but I feel the need to give myself permission to explore other ways of achieving the same state of awareness.

Perhaps beginning with one of these branches is a start.

© The Center for Contemplative Mind in Society Concept & design by Maia Duerr; illustration by Carrie Bergman

© The Center for Contemplative Mind in Society
Concept & design by Maia Duerr; illustration by Carrie Bergman

Have you found any of these practices to be relevant and meaningful in your personal spiritual journey? Perhaps they naturally fit into your religious tradition, as with the “Ceremonies and rituals” branch. But what about Silence? Storytelling? Deep listening? I know that I “bear witness” quite often on this site, and I like the idea that it may be a component of my own contemplative practice as a Pagan.

Tell me:

What do you reach for on The Tree of Contemplative Practices?

Photo by Piermario

Photo by Piermario

It’s the last morning of the last day. I’m in my hotel room, waiting for the rest of the attendees to rise. I’m an early-morning Pagan, it seems. I’m in the minority of this minority.

Intentionally reflective blog posts can be a saccharine mess if you don’t watch yourself, so I’m choosing my words carefully. There is a temptation to speak about my experience of the Con as though it is indicative of all experiences of the Con, and that would be wrong. I could make statements that say, “PantheaCon is…” or “PantheaCon is like…”, and while that may be useful to some of my readership who has never attended this conference, it would inevitably be a little (or a lot) untrue, and completely one-sided.

The real truth of the matter is that being at Pantheacon provided me the space and opportunity to reconnect with the things that are meaningful to me. I have found myself remembering and affirming what it is about all of this messy, complicated, Pagan stuff that I love, and what it is about my messy, complicated heart that I love, too.

The heart is the only nation, we sang. Our voices lifted upward to the Morrígan, and we made an affirmation of our sovereignty. To be honest, I’m not sure I understand what sovereignty means in relationship to my own life, or how to make it so (how to do sovereignty, if you will). Twice it came up in ritual for me this weekend, and when I read John Beckett’s post on the Morrígan I saw the word repeated again.

This heart may be sovereign, but I also feel a deeper sense of my kinship to so many people after this weekend. My heart is not a nation with border patrol. My heart is a nation so big and so great that there is no need for fear of invasion. My heart/your heart/the heart is the only nation, and this truth is clearly something I need to sit with for a while. I’m considering tattooing the words on my flesh to make the reminder more permanent.

(I let out a sigh. I am acutely aware that the Con is ending for me. Even with my morning’s presentation on the Fellowship on the horizon, I can feel myself coming down from all of this. I peer into my memory of Friday, a day that is an epoch away from this moment, and all I remember was anticipation for something real; something visceral.

I was given that this weekend. No — I claimed that for myself this weekend.

It was, I suppose, an exercise of my sovereignty.)

I have a lot to unpack about PantheaCon and I’m not exactly sure when that process will begin. Rather than diving into the world of inquiries and examinations, blog posts and dialogues, I will be spending the remaining two weeks of the month immersed in music. Perhaps what has been born here will influence that process, or maybe the music making will inform my processing. I don’t know.

I do know that I feel changed again by all of this. The change is less like the overhaul that took place after last year’s PantheaCon, and more of a subtle shift; an awakening of a dormant awareness; a rekindling of a fire.

And that’s what these things are supposed to be, right? That’s the point. We gather together, and we make ourselves vulnerable enough to be changed, to be shifted, to have our awarenesses adjusted, vertebrae-like. We walk away a little taller, a little more firm in our bodies. We remember our names — all of our names — and we honor the parts of us that are, and possibly have always been, unnamed.

We honor — I honor — much as I leave this place. I honor you, those who read this blog and participate in the dialogues that take place here. I honor those who have opened their hearts up in ritual for my benefit. I honor those who inspired me to radical honesty in my life. I honor those who have listened with kindness and compassion as I sorted through the messy, complicated beauty of my innards.

And from this place of honor, this place of embodiment and sovereignty, I recognize that there is still much work to be done.

Photo by Donna Higgins

Privilege, Photo by Donna Higgins

Yesterday I said, “Be nice.”  Perhaps encouraging nicety is not the right approach.

Perhaps to say “be nice” is too simplistic, and worse, reads very much like, “Hush now, your problems are not important,” or, “You are making me uncomfortable with your anger,” or “There really isn’t that much to be angry about, so can’t you just be a little more polite?”

“Nice” comes with baggage.

Kindness and compassion may be more appropriate, but there is still a problem. Encouraging anyone, especially people whose lives I don’t really understand, to be anything other than what they’re already being, even if what I’m encouraging is a little more kindness and compassion, places me in a strange position of authority. (To be clear, it isn’t that I feel I am in authority in any way, it’s just that making those statements reads very much like an authority figure trying to control the emotional reactions of a group.)

No, I don’t see myself as an authority figure at all.

I write this blog, and have for over two years. I post my thoughts and opinions, and I’ve fostered a vibrant readership. But, I’m not an authority on much of anything. I ask a lot of questions. I get stuff wrong. I’m completely fallible, and I’m not ashamed to say it.

But yesterday, as I wrote about this idea that being nice would help us in our online communications, I also stepped into a conversation that I felt unprepared for. That conversation is one about privilege, particularly my privilege.

Privilege: The Other “P” Word

I say that I was unprepared, because I didn’t see encouraging kindness (or niceness, which I was conflating a bit with kindness) as an exercise of privilege. I wasn’t seeking to strengthen the Pagan side of the Pagan/polytheist divide by weakening or stifling the polytheist’s voice through the imposition of niceness. But, it was kind of read that way.

I learned that my privilege (or at least, my assumed privilege — some of the accusations made about my privilege were inaccurate) was sprinkled all over my post, and it seems it has been present throughout many posts on my blog. My first reaction to this information was a kind of shutting down. Being called on privilege, whether that call is warranted or not, feels a little like a silencing. In effect,

You’re speaking from a place of privilege. You don’t really know what you’re talking about. You’re off base, out of line, misinformed.

BOOM -> Silence.

No one said these things to me directly, but they could have. I’ve been silenced before, and being called on my privilege had a similar feeling.

And, to be honest, I’m not sure I can argue about having privilege. I can clarify about the assumptions that are made about me (that I’m not 100% white, that my marriage is gay, that I’m not currently “financially secure”), but I can’t dismiss the fact that, upon closer inspection, I do have privilege.

My own paganism, after all, is Eurocentric. It’s what I’ve gravitated towards, and what (at this time) feels natural to me. But how does that Eurocentrism place me in a position of privilege, especially within a community which, itself, is not privileged?

I could evaluate my life, look at it from a distance, and see where the privilege lies. I probably should. We all probably should. We all have unexamined privilege, I imagine.

But me looking at my own privilege seems different somehow than a person who doesn’t know all of my life pointing out my perceived privilege. Is the act of calling a person on their privilege itself an act of privilege, I wonder?

I’m writing this, as always, from a position of non-expert. I don’t know the answer these questions, nor do I understand clearly how privilege plays into every aspect of my religious life or my social and cultural interactions. With that said, I’m open to learning. It’s no one’s responsibility to teach me (even if they feel compelled to do so), but I think it’s my responsibility to learn.

My hope would be that in this process of coming to better understand of what privilege is and how privilege may be informing my thoughts, opinions, and perspectives, that there is also something to be learned about what to do when you recognize privilege in yourself or in others.

If we are all privileged in some way or other (and, if you’re reading this post on a computer screen — one that you own — you are probably more privileged than some), than what do we do with that information?

What do we do when we recognize a certain privilege in ourselves or others? How do we avoid silencing one another, or feeling silenced ourselves?

I had occasion to speak to a very nice, young man last week about online etiquette. For me, what it boils down to is this:

Be nice.

It may seem simplistic, or perhaps reductive to some. But, I think it’s a good rule.

Two Kids Smiling

Photo by Toni Verdú Carbó

Be nice when you talk to people, whether you know them or not, and your conversation (or, at least your side of the conversation) will remain civil.

Civility, I’m finding, is a scarce resource in our online discourse.

Last week was heated. It seemed like every day brought with it another blog post about identity, and accompanying that post was a slew of polarized viewpoints. I read threads and noticed that people were not really listening to each other. People were regurgitating the same ideas, the same frustrations, and sometimes the same lines of snark.

The discussion about what “Pagan” is and who it includes was sounding a lot like the makings of a Pro-Pagan/Anti-Pagan platform.

I think we’re better than that, to be honest.

The problem arises, in part, due to the medium. Our method of communication and connectivity does not encourage a paced, patient way of dialoguing. Everything happens so fast on these blogs. We scan, we find the sentence that we take issue with, and our fingers race to compose a witty comment, a more informed perspective.

It takes no time to bark, it would seem.

Barking kid

Photo by Mindaugas Danys

We’re not assisted by facial expressions and body language cues in our online communication. We have no context for the people we argue with, and yet for some reason we still feel justified to argue. We walk blindly into conversations and state what we know, sometimes doing so without any consideration for how we’re saying it, who we’re saying it to, and what the ramifications are of our tone.

We’re not nice to each other, a lot of the time.

My husband asked me over the weekend if Pagans (and I think he may have included non-Pagan identifying polytheists into his use of that term) have some sort of ethic around kindness, and of treating each other well. It was an interesting question, and I was surprised to find that I didn’t have a ready answer.

The Wiccans do, I suppose. Harm none, right? But that’s so broad, and harm is so difficult to detect in our online conversations. We sometimes don’t know if our online speech is harmful, because what we’re doing is less like speaking and more like posting fliers onto a bulletin board. Someones posts one, and we post another on top of that, and then the next and the next. (Also, I think some people reject Wiccan wisdom simply because it’s Wiccan, just as some avoid any Abrahamic wisdom on a similar principle. Both miss out on a great deal of wisdom, I think.)

But his question, “Do we have an ethic around being kind to one another?” I didn’t — I don’t — know how to answer that.

I know that some people feel bullied right now. People on both sides of the discussion. Some feel bullied to assume a word that they don’t feel applies to them, and others feel bullied because they perceive themselves to be misrepresented. The point I’m making is not that either one is right or wrong, but rather that their sense of being bullied points to a problem in the way we’re communicating with one another.

When I spoke to my young friend about online communication, I gave him the following tips (which I’m expanding upon here):

  • If you are uncertain about your tone, read your comment out loud. Speak it slowly, and see if what you’re saying is something you’d say to a stranger, or a person you wish to be kind to. The post will still be there in five minutes. It can wait for you.
  • If you find yourself reacting in anger to a comment, wait to respond. Take a step back, and ask yourself if your emotional response is pointing to something unresolved in you. The person who wrote the comment may not even know you, and may not have been trying to offend you. Your emotional reaction is a tool that you can use to better understand yourself.
  • While you wait, take inventory of yourself; physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Ask yourself if you’re being true to your values and ethics, and look to see if what you’re sharing with the world is helping to build others up, or tear them down. When in doubt, do a meditation, a brief devotional or ritual, or simply shut your computer for a few minutes.
  • Default to nice. It’s a better place to begin. You can always walk away from an online conversation that’s becoming disrespectful. You can always take the higher ground.

We need not rush to make our point after every heated post. We need not be a people who speak without listening. We need not feel so threatened by one another. We can be nice, and disagree. We can be nice, and hold space for others who do not identify as we do. We can be nice, and in doing so we may discover that the practice of kindness actually helps to facilitate a deeper understanding between people.

I don’t know if we, historically, share an ethic around kindness, but I don’t see any reason why we couldn’t put one into place now.

Be nice. It feels good, for everyone.

Grinning Girl

Photo by Meena Kadri

genderqueerMy kid is transitioning, but he’s not trans. He’s genderqueer. He doesn’t mind being called “trans,” because it’s accurate, but he identifies as something different.

For some, this is a brain breaker. I don’t blame them or vilify them for that. One has to be flexible with definitions in order to approach these (seemingly) subtle, nuanced uses of identity language, and we aren’t often taught how to be flexible in this way. One also has to be completely willing to respect another person’s authority and sovereignty over their own self-identification.

This is where it gets really tricky for some of us.

In response to my last post, When Pagan Discourse Becomes Reality TV, Daniel Grey, author of the blog Sage and Starshine, wrote the following comment. When I read it, something in my brain opened up. Daniel draws a great comparison between the plight of a genderqueer person and that of a polytheist distancing themselves from “Pagan”:

Teo, I admit that I didn’t give this story much more than a passing glance when it first broke. I don’t know Star, nor do I read her blog, so when I heard that she no longer identified as Pagan I couldn’t see how that was possibly my business. The negative reactions I’ve seen – confusion, hurt, betrayal, even anger – have left me feeling sorely uncomfortable. My stomach’s been in a twist today as I’ve read my Twitter feed and skimmed a few blog responses, and I think I’ve finally pinned down what’s been bothering me.

I’m genderqueer – I’m not sure if you knew that, Teo, especially since we started conversing after I adopted my male monicker for most of my online Pagan life. I feel comfortable as a Daniel, but that’s not the only label that fits me. I still go by my birth name irl; I still use female pronouns with many folks; I have actually become more comfortable presenting as femme and have experienced less gender dysphoria since embracing the “Daniel” part of me. However, I still have dysphoria. I’m still not cis. And at a certain point, all I can do is shrug my shoulders and say, “I don’t know what a woman is exactly, only that I’m not that.”

But what is a woman? What is the definition of a woman? We know it’s not biologic, or physical, or genetic. We know it’s not just being socialized as a girl. There are as many definitions of “woman” as there are individual who identify as such – and there are plenty of definitions that include people like me. I have the body. I have the upbringing. I pass as woman. But I’m not.

When we’re talking about people – especially the squishy, wibbly-wobbly bits like gender, or religion – then this is how definitions work. There’s a polyvalent logic which says that gender is not binary, that religion doesn’t have to be black or white. Things are complicated and paradoxical and incredibly, ultimately personal. Just because someone similar to myself embraces the label “woman” with open arms and finds that label wonderfully affirming doesn’t negate my own experiences of not-woman-ness. Just because I do call myself Pagan and consider the term very open and loose (and not at all equivalent to “just Wicca”) doesn’t mean that I don’t respect folks who have declined the label for their own use.

What bothers me most about the fact there’s even a controversy around Star’s statements is that whether or not one agrees with her definition of Pagan is, in my opinion, completely irrelevant. Part of the core of my social justice philosophy is that people deserve to have their personal agency respected and protected. It doesn’t matter if I disagree with what they do with that agency (until they start interfering with someone else’s agency) – what matters is that it’s theirs. We have the right to protect our own sovereignty and have that respected. And if someone doesn’t respect that… well, that’s really, really problematic.

These questions that Daniel asks — what is a woman? what is the definition of a woman? — have come up in Pagan circles over the past several years. They make some people very uncomfortable. Substitute “Pagan” for “woman,” and you’re looking at the conversations that have been spreading across the Pagan blogosphere all week.

With my kid, I have no problem accepting genderqueer. It’s how he identifies, and I love him. I also recognize that his decision is an invitation into dialogue. His self-identification calls me into a place of contemplation about my own identity, about the presumptions we all make about gender, and about our cultural rigidity around labels.

He does that all through a very natural and organic act of self-identification, and I enter into that contemplative place because it feels like the compassionate thing to do.

I wonder –

What is it that makes people uncomfortable about this flexibility of definition, either around gender or religion? What is it that leads us to want to firm up our identities, or to hold court around the identities of others? If we find ourself getting defensive, is it because we feel personally threatened by another’s fluidity, or is it because we recognize that this other in our midst is threatening the societal structures and institutions we’ve come to accept as the “norm”?

How can Pagans think about/approach/relate to these polytheists who don’t identify as Pagan? Can we, as I do with my kid, who I love completely, choose to see their act of self-identification as an invitation into deeper contemplation, or will we feel threatened?

I’ve been transfixed by a particular reality television show on Netflix. I’m not typically a reality TV kind of guy, save for a few of the more hands-on creative shows. And the ones with drag queens, of course.

This show documents the Olympic-like achievements of super-couponers, who, if you don’t know, are people who stockpile mass amounts of food through the meticulous, methodical use of coupons. These stockpiles are worth thousands of dollars, but the couponers accumulate them for next to nothing.

I watched six episodes in my first sitting. My train of thought looked something like this:

Wow — are all couponers southern?

And Christian?

How is there this parallel between Christianity and stockpiling food? Is that biblical?

They are really going to extreme lengths to stockpile that Mountain Dew.

Everyone looks so unhealthy. Sure, you can fill six refrigerators with frozen food, but what is in that frozen food? Is that really something that supports your body’s health?

Do they ever think about where there food comes from, I wonder. Is that a privileged way of thinking?

They’re broke. They’re feeding families of eight on less than $100 per month. I shouldn’t judge.

But how do you just have eight kids? My god, straight people have a lot of sex.

All of these products in the stockpile are the lowest grade available. The detergent is probably the worst kind that could go into the water supply, the soaps are made with petrochemicals, the boxed foods are packed with preservatives — they’d have to be, if they’re going to sit on those shelves forever, and the plastic — the plastic — there is so much plastic.

Wow, they are really getting a savings, though. She’s keeping her family alive. There’s something to be said for that.

In some earlier time, these people would have been farmers. This lady with the two binders of coupons, who spends 30-60 hour per week riffling through the newspaper inserts and online forums would have, in some pre-agribusiness world, been concerned with the soil. She would have had a seed stockpile. She would have canned. Her kids, who sit next to her at the dining room table and help cut coupons, would have been in the field picking vegetables. And the food they ate, it would have been real food. It would have been food of the earth, more than food of the lab.

But those savings…  look at those savings…

The show leaves me conflicted. I do get a little rush when I see the woman score $1,000 worth of food for a penny. It’s like a consumer triathlon. She’s a champion.

But I watch them cart away the bottom of the barrel (in terms of quality) food, and I feel bad for them. I feel like their bodies are being robbed of nutrition, and that their success in frugality merely reinforces the system which pumps toxic chemicals, preservatives and plastics into their bodies.

I sit on my couch, and I make observations. I judge them, I root for them, I analyze them, and ultimately, I dehumanize them. It’s what reality TV is made to do. I watch them shop, and I think about how I shop. I look at their choices, judge them a little, and then think about how I make my choices.

I hold court in my living room.

The medium allows me to dehumanize them, to turn them into an idea, a concept, a symbol of what is wrong about the American food industry. Our social media and blogging networks make possible a similar behavior, and I feel like there’s a parallel here with the conversation that’s been going on around Star Foster’s decision to back away from Paganism.

Photo by Andrew Bowden

Photo by Andrew Bowden

Star has been a blogger for a while, and bloggers share a lot about themselves. Some of Star’s readers have sat back and rooted for Star and others have been her chorus of naysayers. But all of us who took the opportunity to use Star’s public, but personal, choice to hold court from our couches — myself included — are participating in a kind of reality TV of our own.

We’re making each other into symbols, into characters in a grocery store, into something to champion or something to criticize. These symbols we become represent our fears about our collective future, our hopes for something better, our doubts and suspicions and reservations about one another. This act of symbol-making, easy as it is to fall into, might be substituted with something more productive.

What if, for example, as a community, we spent the same amount of time and energy that we used to discuss Star’s choice to unpack the definition of the “pagan sensibility” that Jonathan Korman wrote about in his December 30th post, which he defines as:

The pagan sensibility sees the divine in the material world … and so regards the human as sacred.

The pagan sensibility apprehends the Cosmos as composed of a multiplicity of different interconnected forces … and honors all of those forces.

Would it be, I wonder, more beneficial for us to have a thriving, active dialogue about what “Pagan” might include, rather than what — or who — is not a part of it?

[A public note to Star: If my sharing of your post led to an unwanted onslaught of attention and judgement, I apologize. As I wrote in the comments of your post, I do wish you the best on this journey — however that journey is defined by you.]

Top of the week to you!

BW Teo Bishop square

This week is starting off with a whole bunch of Internet happenings.

First, it seems that my RSS Email subscribers haven’t been receiving my blog posts since mid-December. Sorry everyone.

Here’s what you missed:

Star says goodbye to “Pagan”

Star Foster

Star Foster

Star Foster is no longer identifying as Pagan.

For some, this news may hold little relevance. People identify as they choose, right? But Star has held a rather prominent position in the Pagan media, and she’s done a lot to champion the voices of many Pagan writers (including myself). She’s done much to initiate conversation (sometimes heated) within the Pagan community, and she’s continuing that tradition with this announcement.

I posted a link to Star’s coming out on Facebook, and now there is a HUGE discussion going on around the post. I encourage you to pop over and read through the comments and respond there. I would summarize them here, but as of writing this post there are nearly 100 comments. It’s tremendous.

The timing of Star’s announcement, and the subsequent dialogue popping up on my FB post, is rather interesting. Heather Greene has posted the first in a two-part series on The Wild Hunt about “Pagan solidarity,” asking whether or not Pagans can support one another as a community, and if it is important to be a united body. In her second post she’ll be unpacking whether or not this kind of unity leads to religious institutionalism.

I wonder if the idea of “Pagan solidarity” is even approachable if the identity of “Pagan” is becoming less tenable. I may blog about this in the coming days on The Wild Hunt, but first I’d like to see how this conversation continues to evolve.

The Solitary Druid Fellowship, and Devotionals

SDF Square LogoLastly, the work at the Solitary Druid Fellowship is going splendidly. The first High Day ritual was a great success, with about 450 people receiving the first SDF liturgy, and many joining in a dialogue about their experiences.

You can read about people’s experiences with the liturgy, and see the group interpretations of the SDF omen in our crowd-sourced Google doc.

There is also a new service provided by SDF — daily devotionals. The first morning devotional was published over the weekend, and more are coming soon. One solitary participant in SDF has already used the devotional and written about it on her blog.

I’m happy to see that people are using this shared liturgical practice to enrich their personal religious lives!

That’s all for today. Happy reading, everyone!

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?

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 workany 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.

Her heels are green and powerful, I promise.

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.]

Trans knotwork on Zazzle

Inspired by a comment posted on Trans Is A Teacher For All Of Us, I posted the following status update to Facebook:

“I wonder how my Wiccan friends might respond to the idea that the Lord and Lady gave us our form, or that a trans person transitioning is the greatest insult to them.”

The feedback I received to this one status update was proof to me that we need more discussion about gender essentialism in Pagan communities.

[Full disclosure: I’m not a Wiccan, nor am I a believer in deities who, in any literal sense, gave us form. I’m also the parent of an amazing trans kid who just underwent top surgery, so I’m biased.]

Below are some of the responses to my status updates. I’ve left people’s names off of this post to keep the emphasis on the ideas.

“I am not Wiccan, but I find it incredible hubris to think that we could decide what is the “greatest insult” to any deities. How does that person know what the wyrd of a trans person is?”

“The presence of a hard and fast gender binary in Wicca was kind of a turn off for me. In the Radical Faeries in DC we expanded this concept into recognizing God-Forms as Male, Female, Both, and Neither. When theology fails you, change your theology.” (emphasis mine)

“As a Wiccan, I find that idea very belittling.

We have a way of working in Wicca that makes a heterofocal use of sex differences. And personally, I love it – connecting with the way male-female pairings are how the natural processes that give us people (including trans people, gay people, straight people with no interest in ever reproducing, and so on) and food (again, eaten by the lot of us) is a very powerful thing to me.

But to take that way of working, and turn it into a single minded view on sex, gender, sexual orientation, and/or sexual expression I don’t just find bullshit in itself for its quite obvious disconnect with reality, but also an insult to that fertility focus that I love in its implication that others of us who find spiritual expression in focusing on it share their inability to see beyond it. The wonder of fertility is in the fact that we *can* see beyond it – that it leads to things beyond itself. Otherwise it would just be an interesting machine.”

“Personally, I think a trans person making the physical transition is taking the path they were meant for. Each soul has its own journey of discovery and growth, and trans people have a harder road than some other people. They should be nurtured, welcomed, and accepted for who they are. I may not understand the trans person journey, but that isn’t required for me to be supportive and caring, one human being to another.”

“Trans is the manifestation of analog gender. It’s produced by nature. I wonder how animals manifest it, for it must occur in them. And as below, so above.”

“This is what I love & honor so much about trans & two-spirit nature. They destabilize so many fixed notions. They make everything more complex & interesting. Fundamentalists of all stripes are forced to gracefully bend or clumsily break.”
“When my spouse of ten years came out to my as transgendered, I stayed. The small community where we live views us a different, some of the people most offended by the transition now are great supporters. If nothing else Andrea has shown people that we are all the same deep down just in different wrappers. I’m pagan, she is working on her own spirituality.”
“Any theology that doesn’t take the realities of both biology and human social structure/culture into account is just superstitious nonsense. Saying that any deities “made” us a certain way and have some sort of “plan” for what we’re supposed to do with our lives is just nuts and might as well be fundamentailist *xian* thinking re-packaged into a dualistic concept of deity. Harumph and phooey.”
“My theology is that of co-creation with the Gods, not submission to their will. If I were to embark on that kind of change, I would consider it a dance of co-creation with the Gods, not a defiance of them.”

“Many of us pagans converted from religions in which the godform(s) were authoritative rule-givers and have a hard time giving up that paradigm. Personally, I don’t have much truck with deities who demand obedience or subservience to their will; if that’s what I wanted, I’d have stayed with the religion of my birth.”

There is a lot to sort through here, and admittedly I don’t have the space or perspective to work through it right now. But, that doesn’t mean the conversation can’t continue!

Please share your thoughts about gender essentialism, its connection to Pagan traditions, and how you think it needs to be embraced, adjusted, or rejected altogether.

Then, after you’ve updated your feed, show your love of this newly independent blog by sharing this post on the social network of your choice!

(P.S. Thank you to everyone who sent love and prayers to me and my family. We really appreciate it.)

Should I let go of my stuff?

Should I have a metaphysical yard sale, in which I sell my Cunningham books, my surplus of pewter jewelry, and my…



GET your hand off that… It’s priceless.

Should I rid my closet of the long, green, hooded robe I’ve worn twice, my Guatemalan patchwork jacket I scored for $7 bucks, or my black ceremonial duds? How about my malas, my God and Goddess candle holders (don’t you just love P. Borda?), or my copper OM chalice?

When I look at the shelf above my desk, I read the titles:

  • A Book of Pagan Prayer
  • A Pagan Ritual Prayer Book
  • The Book of Common Prayer (i.e. Episcopal Church)
  • A Canticle For Leibowitz (thank you, Themon, for the recommendation)
  • Sacred Fire, Holy Well
  • Creation Spirituality
  • The Re-Enchantment of Everyday Life
  • Pagans & Christians

Is that too diverse?

What about my entire shelf of Bibles? I’ve got the Green, the NIV, the Aramaic translation, the King James, the Revised Standard, the Edicion Pastoral, the Good News Bible, and the New International Version.

I also have a Humanist Bible, which is a whole ‘nother story.

I like stuff. Most of us do, to some degree. But I wonder if this surplus of metaphysical stuff I’ve accumulated throughout the years gets in my way.

How much of this stuff do I actually use?

Not much.

You’d think I was a Witch or somethin’.

These thoughts occur to me as I continue with my ADF Dedicant Path studies. I feel like I’m studying to be one thing, but the stuff around me suggests that I’m something quite different. I’m studying to be an ADF Druid working within a Pan-Celtic hearth, as it were, but my stuff indicates that I’m really quite eclectic.

This isn’t a crisis by any means, but it is something to consider. What does our stuff say about us? And, how much stuff do we need in order to do our religion?

Is an excess of spiritual stuff an indication that you don’t have enough religion?

Should religion curb your consumption? And when it doesn’t — when your spiritual/religious work winds you up with tupperwares full of serapes, tapestries, and unused statuary — is it really nature spirituality that you’re practicing, or stuff spirituality?

It may sound like I’m romanticizing asceticism, but I’m not. Like I said, I like stuff.

I’m just beginning to question why I have so much of it.

This post is not designed to preach what is the right relationship to stuff. I’m just hoping to inspire some classic Bishop In The Grove dialogue about stuff.

I want to know about your stuff. 

Take a look around you. Look at the stuff on your shelves, on your windowsills, and in your dresser drawers, paying close attention to all of the stuff that’s connected to your spiritual path or religious work (whichever term you prefer).

What’s there? How much of us it being used on a daily basis? Any? All? Some?

Do you save your stuff for the High Holidays? Do you haul out the cooler of candle holders for your coven’s rituals, or has it been collected cobwebs in the corner?

Let’s all take a minute and talk about our stuff.

The harvest season comes, and the kids go back to school. I can’t pass a rack of school supplies without stopping to see if there’s anything I want need. There rarely is, but I still like to look. The eco-folders and notebooks, while more ecologically responsible, are nowhere as cool as my Trapper Keeper.

It was rad.

Not my actual Trapper Keeper.

I love school. Or, I love the idea of school. Perhaps I’m nostalgic for a time when I was unaware of the responsibilities that accompany adulthood, many of which creep up on you unexpectedly; a time when all I had to worry about was punctuality, or juggling homework assignments, or ensuring that I was just a little more cutting edge with my clothes than the kid with the thick sideburns was. School provided me with an environment in which to be outwardly inquisitive, inwardly critical, and overtly creative.

Yeah, I love school.

That said, it looks like returning to school to complete my Bachelor’s Degree — a desire of mine for some time — will have to wait a bit longer. (Sorry, Marylhurst.)

There are a few reasons for this decision.

First, college is stupid-expensive, and I don’t want to take out loans. The federal government was kind enough to toss me a few hundred dollars per quarter, but that barely covers books. This is a dry-beans economy, man. Who can dish out two, three, four thousand dollars ever four months on top of everyday-life bills?

Not me. Not now, at least.

Second — and perhaps more relevant to the themes discussed on this blog — I have some unfinished druidic work to do.

I began an ADF study program called the Dedicant Path (DP) almost two years ago. This blog, in fact, was first created to record my progress through the program (check out the first few 2010 posts in the Archives). As the blog evolved, I moved away from my DP studies and more into the realm of a public discussion and dialogue around all-things-pagan. I don’t regret this decision. I’m delighted at the evolution of our work in community.

But over the past month I’ve watched several of my friends, ADF members who started the DP around the same time as I did, submit their work to the DP review board, and pass. Some are involved in Groves and Protogroves now, and a few are even considering clergy training. I look at them, and I remember what I started. I remember looking at ADF’s course of study and thinking — this is a really legitimate approach.


Here is the outline of our Druidic Basic Training:

1: Right Action – It is proper to attempt to do only good for one’s self, family and community. We present a model of virtue based on Pagan lore.

2: Piety – Pagan ways are based on active individual involvement with the rituals and practices of tradition. To be truly involved is to attend or perform rites regularly and do the work.

3: Study – The study of actual archaeological, folklore and classical sources is vital to restoring the old ways in out time.

4: Basic Meditation – In order to open the mind and spirit to wisdom, improve well being and learn control, nothing is better than simple, silent meditation.

5: The Two Currents – Using skills of imagination and concentration, the student learns to connect with the primal energies of fire and water, sky and earth.

6:The Home Shrine – It is proper to set aside a corner of one’s home as a personal shrine where the student can deepen her awareness of the spirits.

7: Full Ritual Worship – The core of ADF’s work is our order of ritual, which brings closed contact with the God/desses and spirits. The student completes a set of worship tools and learn the order of ritual.

8: The Dedicant’s Oath – When you feel sure that the Pagan Ways are your ways, we encourage a formal oath to announce your will. This is the first step in the formal work of our Druidry.

9: Patronage – In polytheistic religion it is proper for each person to develop a personal relationship with a specific Deity or pair of Deities. We offer techniques to establish and enhance that special partnership.

As I look through the Dedicant Manual, which comes with the cost of annual ADF membership ($25), I see how the DP could absolutely be treated as one would treat a college course. There are a few time-sensitive activities, such as needing to document your meditation work for a six month period, and attendance at a year’s worth of ADF rituals (the latter of which I’ve kept up with). But, aside from those, most of this work could be done in the course of one or two college quarters.

So, that’s what I’ll do. I’m putting off college in order to keep some food-money in the bank, and to complete my Dedicant Path work. If I start now, I’ll be done with my studies by Imbolc.

It occurs to me that we’ve had dialogue on Bishop In The Grove about formal education as it relates to Pagan leadership, but we haven’t talked much about our individual experiences with pagan study programs. So…

Have you ever been involved in a formal study program through a Pagan group? What was that like?

If you’re an ADF member, have you done the DP? If so, what was that experience like for you (feel free to share links to your any of your DP work that lives online)?

How have you been schooled in your form of Paganism? 

In a recent discussion with a group of Pagans about the development of an American pantheon for use in ADF ritual, someone said this:

“When we look at historical evidence to find the ancient deities, we look at what was left behind and what survived for long periods of time, such as the stories that remained popular … These and many other things help us to form a picture of the beliefs of an ancient culture. I’m using the same types of techniques to examine our modern culture … Elvis is a good example.”

I don’t want to be mistaken for a god.

What if in some distant future, one populated by a new batch of revisionist or reconstructionist Pagans, there is an idea that the celebrities we follow in the present day, the politicians we support, the cultural figures we align ourselves with, were deities?

What if between now and a thousand years from now all of the precious archiving we do of our daily lives, through our blogs, through Twitter, or through the old-fashioned paper medium is lost, and as people are looking back to uncover what we were like they make a profound mistake when they stumble across a tiny piece of information about my life (or yours), and misperceive me (or you) to have been, not a person, but a god of some sort?

Perhaps you wouldn’t mind. Perhaps it would not be such a bad thing for some future Pagan (who I’m sure would be called something other than “Pagan”) looked back at the trace evidence of you and decided to make statues of your likeness, chant your name before pouring oil onto a fire, tattoo your mug onto their shoulder to let everyone know just who their god is. Would you be into that? Does that idea sit well with you?

Let me repeat that I do not want to be mistaken for a god.

At the very least, it would seem terribly inaccurate to me, because I know who I am. I am rooted in my humanity. I am also someone who has been in close proximity to a great deal of celebrity in his life, and I can guarantee you that celebrities are also rooted in their humanity. I get wigged out when modern celebrities are elevated to near deific status in the eyes of the public, and I’m even more troubled by the thought that they might one day, in that far off future, be completely mistaken for gods.

None of this seems like a problem if we’re willing to conceive of the gods as archetypes or ideas that affirm something about ourselves. The stories about humans can morph into stories about gods, and those gods can inform future humans about their own humanity. Through learning about our true, albeit fictional selves, the future Pagans learn something valuable about their own identities.

I’m down with that.

But hard polytheism makes it tricky.

If you or I become a god one day, and people worship us at their shrines and make prayers to us in their moments of need, hard polytheism says that you and I will be cognizant of that. We may even respond by granting their request. If the future reconstructionists do their homework, they’ll know that I like tortillas, coffee, hard cider and pineapple cake with cream cheese icing, and they will prepare such offerings when they want me to — what? — help them with a creative project, guide them on their travels, or — me forbid — change the weather. We will fall into their correspondence charts, and people will write songs about how amazing we were. Tuesday might even become Teo’sday…. or they may suggest that it was always Teo’sday.

I joke a little here, but mainly because I feel uncomfortable by the problems this introduces. I don’t know how to reconcile these ideas, and I worry that if they’re allowed to play themselves out all the way they will eventually call into question much of my current conception of deity.

So, I present them to you in the hopes that you might be able to offer up some fresh perspective.

Do you find any of this troubling? Would you mind much if people in the future venerated you as a deity, or does that idea lead you to reexamine the way you conceive of deity?

I approach my home shrine in the morning and prepare my offerings.

Into three small, porcelain sake glasses, which were given to me by my stepfather, I pour a small bit of sugar, oats, and oil. These were the foods that made the most sense to me, although I’m not sure why.

Whether I’m clothed or naked, I drape a stole over my shoulders. The stole it green and white, and was made by hand; made by a woman I met at a metaphysical fair in the fall of last year. She gave it to me as a gift after I purchased a longer red one. She told me the stole was a traditional rose pattern, and she felt I should have it. There was just something about me, she said.

I remember that moment when I drape the stole over my bare shoulders.

I light the charcoal which sits at the middle of my altar, and wait for it to turn red before placing into the concave center a few pieces of something fragrant. This morning, frankincense and myrrh.

Some things I will never leave behind.

Using a prayer from Ceisiwr Serith’s book, A Pagan Ritual Prayer Book (Weiser, 61), I purify myself by saying,

“From all that I have done that I should not have done, may I be purified.”

I dip my finger into the water, and raise my hand to touch my forehead.

“From all that has come to me that should not have come, may I be purified.”

Again, the water.

Sometimes I slip into saying, “For all that I have done…,” and doing so makes the prayer feel more Christian, more connected to sin. That isn’t the point of this prayer. Purification, in the way that it is approached here, is not unlike washing one’s hands before supper. It is done because there are things which one brings to the shrine that are best cleaned away before doing the business of worship.

The prayer ends simply,

“May I be pure, may I be pure, may I be pure.”

One need not believe in a god who washes away sins to see and experience the power in that language.

Then begins the ritual; the Core Order of Ritual (COoR), to be exact. My druid tradition is united, in large part, by an agreement about practice, and the COoR is the center of the practice.

I perform the ritual in silence, pouring the offerings out into a cauldron as I recognize the gods, who remain somewhat a mystery to me, the ancestors of blood, spirit, religion, tradition and place, and all that exists in spirit on this land.

I do all of this in the morning in order to affirm my place in the cosmos, or at the very least to try to get a better sense of what the place might be. I do this ritual to affirm my relationship with the Kindred, these aspects of the great mystery to which I belong, of which I cannot fully explain. I do all of this not to win the favor of the gods, but more to practice sincerity in my relationship to them; to practice honor, to practice reverence, and to practice hospitality and generosity.

Regardless of whether the gods can hear me, or if these bits of food are of any use to them, I perform this daily practice so that I might come to better experience these qualities I cherish. My daily practice is simply me holding up my end of the relationship.

I show up. That is all I can do. The rest is up to — what — fate? Grace? The will of the gods?

Ian Corrigan said in his response to my last post,

“I make a good sacrifice, using my limited mortal means, and the gods grant a blessing that while it might seem disproportionately generous is simply the obligation of their station. This is grace of a sort, surely.”

Obligation… what an interesting word to use in this context.

I wonder —

Do you feel that by making a “good sacrifice” you enable the gods to perform the “obligation of their station?” Or, do you have different language for what the gods do? If you have a daily practice, do you perform your ritual in order to win the favor of the gods?

Why do you show up at your shrine?

Organized sports never suited me. But wrestling with my faith? Someone should give out trophies. I would have a garage full.

When I left for the Eight Winds Festival, the first ADF gathering I’d ever attended, I was concerned that I may not be able to invest myself fully on account of a little religious indiscretion I had with the Cosmic Christ (if you didn’t hear about that, read this or this). I thought there was some need to resolve the conflict I experienced after reading Jesus Through Pagan Eyes in order to fully participate in the rituals, workshops and fire-side chats. To my delight, however, Jesus did not cockblock my weekend.

I spent four days firmly planted in polytheistic soil, surrounded by some of the brightest minds and the warmest hearts I’ve ever had the pleasure to meet. I talked about the gods, talked to the gods, made offerings to the gods, and did so without any hesitation or reservation. And, I found that discussing my history in Christianity was welcomed by my fellow ADF Druids, in so much as it could provide a context for my perspective about liturgy, ritual and church structure. One need not dismiss what came before in order to value what is happening now, I learned.

If you’ve been a long-time reader of this blog, you’ll know that from time to time I’ve been undecided about whether ADF or OBOD is best suited to my temperament. I’ve had many conversations online with others who go back and forth about which expression of modern Druidry is right for them. For some, this in-between spot suits them well, and I respect that. For me, though, after a weekend of Druidry, ADF style, I’ve realized that ADF provides the kind of religiosity that makes sense to me.

One festival attendee, Elizabeth, summed it up quite perfectly when she said,

“ADF intellectualizes spirituality, and spiritualizes the intellect.”

Spot on.

The intellect is a tool which can enrich so much of religious practice. You don’t have to suspend your critical thinking skills in order to engage with your religiosity as a mystic. There is a time and place for everything, and I appreciate how much ADF Druids value the mind.

I used to be concerned that ADF might lean too much toward scholarship, and by doing so make it difficult to originate anything new or spontaneous within the religious practice. I’m not a Reconstructionist at heart. But I now think that ADF’s approach to religion creates an amazing tension between the scholarly, and the intuitive, creative approaches to Pagan religious practice. As Ceisiwr Serith told me during his presentation on ritual theory,

“If you want to be a jazz musician, you better learn your scales.”

And that’s the whole point of ADF’s emphasis on the study of Proto-Indo-European cultures. It’s the reason that ADF suggests that Pagans look with a critical eye at any claim of “unbroken lineage.” Something does not have to be ancient to be relevant, but if you’re going to claim that it’s ancient, you better be able to cite some sources.

One’s own experience, their personal gnosis, should play a prominent role in their religious practice. Your intuition, your imagination — these things are valuable components of your growth as a mystic, a magician, or even simply as a Pagan. Ours is a tradition that allows each of us to be our own priest to the gods, whether that be expressed in private at our home shrine, or in public at open rituals.

ADF, I’ve come to believe, is a Neopagan Religion that is broad enough to include the mystic, the intellectual, the musician, the artist, and the priest. ADF provides a framework that can unite Pagans who feel drawn to many different ancient cultures, and it allows for enough autonomy for it not to feel like a dogmatic religion. ADF — if you can’t already tell by my gushing — is really floating my boat right now.

There is more to unpack, literally and metaphorically, but I’m not going to rush it. Many seeds were planted during the Eight Winds Festival, and they need their time to take root.

As Uncle Isaac used to say, “Fast as a speeding oak.”