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I remember when I first came out as gay, I wanted to read other gay writers. I wanted to listen to gay music, and wear gay t-shirts, and stitch a gay patch to my high school backpack. Gay was the thing to be, as far as I was concerned, and “gay bling” was hot currency.

Along with my proclivity for rainbows came the opinion that the lack of this dearth of gay pride was a clear indication that there was gay bigotry afoot. Certainly, if they weren’t shouting slogans at the front of the Chorus Line, they were holding up “God Hates Fags” signs with the other Christianists.

This was a simple, reductive way of viewing the world, and one that provided me with a sense of both victimhood, and superiority.

That’s a dangerous mix, right there.

I was reminded of that experience a few weeks back when I was scrolling through the HuffPost Religion page, looking for something remotely Pagan. Compared to WitchVox, this place was a barren desert. Search “Pagan” on the site, and you come up with a few references to New Gingrich, some pieces on Stonehenge and Beltane, and a piece on how Easter eggs have pagan roots.

I’m not hating on any of those posts, but there was a part of me that wanted something more.

In my time on Patheos, I’ve witnessed some amazing writing, reporting, and community dialogue taking place on the Pagan Channel blogs. On my blog alone, started as it was to be a place for me to process my own work through ADF’s Dedicant Path, I’ve seen vibrant, respectful, meaningful dialogue taking place. We don’t post here so that our ideas win out; we post here to initiate or further along the conversation. We post here to be understood, or to ask questions, or to raise a point that seems missing from the conversation. By and large, this has been a respectful, insightful process.

I’m happy to see that HuffPost is beginning to open up the doors for more inclusion of Pagan and polytheist expressions of religion. They published the post, Pagan Books: 27 Essential Texts about Paganism For Your Bookshelf. From the piece:

Recently HuffPost Religion put a call out to our community about books on Paganism that every Pagan and those interested in the varied strands of Paganism should read.

The result is this great list of 27 books that range from introductory to scholarly in nature and cover the entire gamut of Pagan religions — Witchcraft, Wicca, Shamanism, Asatru, Druidism, Egyptian and Hellenic.

These books grapple with issues of sexuality, tell personal stories of faith, and provide information on the various Pagan religious rites. HuffPost Religion hopes that this list will be equally valuable for those who identify as Pagans, as well as those who are interested in Paganism, both academically and as a spiritual pursuit.

Many of you contributed to this list on Facebook, under the organization of David Dashifen Kees. I’m grateful for your contributions, and the time and effort David put into this task. The list, I’m sure you’ll agree, is far from conclusive. The idea that 27 books would ever cover the “entire gamut” of “Pagan religions” is likely inspiring more than one spark across the Interwebs, but come on — it’s a start, no? For many looking at this list of books, the idea that there was anything to Paganism outside of Wicca (the Buffy kind) will be somewhat of a shocker.

The inclusion of more representations of Paganism on HuffPost is a step in the right direction, I think. The gay teenager in me, the one who scrolls through sites in search of Pagan Pride, is calmed for the moment. But if that teenager is ever going to grow into maturity, it may be time to become a little more proactive in the conversation, myself. If one notices that there is something missing in the world, that might just mean that they are the person to create it.

So, I submitted a post to them. And, they accepted. It’s called, “How Do We Talk About Paganism?

Do you feel like it might be possible for us to have the same quality of dialogue on HuffPost that we have on Bishop In The Grove? Do you think that this opening could provide Pagans and polytheists a chance to be better understood? I wonder what you think about this kind of representation of Paganism on mainstream sites.

It was my first time being fingerprinted and I couldn’t stop giggling.

I wasn’t drunk. I wasn’t being arrested, either. I was in the police station by choice, and the man who was gently rolling my inked fingers across the regulation fingerprint-card was taking it all in stride.

“You know,” I said, “this action, when taken out of its normal context, is totally neutral. It typically has so much stigma attached to it, but it’s really nothing!” (giggle) “This is actually kind of fun!”

I don’t imagine this was a typical conversation for the policeman. I couldn’t help myself, though. I was beginning a process of transformation right there in the police station, my hand being guided by his, and I couldn’t help but be a little giddy.

Once we’d finished, I took the two cards in my ink-stained hands to the front desk, paid the nice lady her $18, and walked out of the station, one step closer to being fully me.

What is he talking about?

I’m changing my name.

For most of you reading this, there will be no need for adjustment. You won’t have to update your RSS feed or your address book. Nothing will change for you. You’ll continue to see my posts on the blog, or my musings on Twitter and Facebook. Everything will continue as it has since you first stumbled upon my writing.

But, for a few of you, and for my friends, my family, my bank, the Post Office, and just about every other institution I’m currently involved with, things are going to be very different.

You see, I’m not changing my name from Teo Bishop to something else; I’m legally changing my name from something else to Teo Bishop.

Simply put, this decision is an outward sign of my personal commitment to my spiritual and religious path. Changing my name is me owning up to the fact that the person I am when I call myself Teo is the person I’ve been at my core for all of my life, and the person who I wish to continue being. It’s not simply a commitment to being a Druid or a Pagan; it’s a commitment to being introspective, pious, inquisitive, passionate, and compassionate. It’s a commitment to nurturing my relationship with the Gods, with the Spirits of the Land, and with my Ancestors.

It’s me coming out as me.

Coming out is a spiritual experience. Whether you’re claiming a new name, being open about your gender identity, telling your family you’re a Pagan, accepting, publicly, that you no longer believe in God, or performing any other act which affirms something true about you that may have been unseen or unknown by others, coming out is willing your life to be different from how it was before. For all the magick workers out there, you recognize the power embedded in this language.

To be called by a new name, in my mind, is not to deny what I’ve been before. It’s simply to reassign my focus; to place the emphasis where I feel it truly belongs. I write these words as a cisgendered man, but I can’t help but wonder if this feeling of aligning one’s outer self with their inner self is an experience that my trans sisters and brothers could speak to.

When coming out, there’s cause to feel giddy–I think–even in front of an unsuspecting police officer. Coming out is worthy of celebration. Every moment we claim possession of our own life, our own identity, our own journey, we channel the power of creation; the power of the Divine. By being true to ourselves, we are honoring the Great Mystery, and we consent to participate in it.

Needless to say, I’m throwing myself a party once the FBI processes my fingerprints and feels satisfied that I’m not a dangerous criminal.

There are many of you reading this who have experienced coming out in one way or another. Some of you are a part of the Alphabet Community (LGBTQIA…), and many of you have come out as Pagan to your friends or family. Some of you might even be on the fence about coming out, and are seeking some words of encouragement or guidance.

I invite all of you to take a few minutes and reflect on what coming out means to you. If you feel comfortable, I encourage you to share your story here in the comment section, and reach out in support and compassion to your fellow commenters. Then, feel free to share this post with anyone who you think might have something to contribute to the conversation.

My Queer friends don’t want to be called Gay or Lesbian. Too many connotations. Not accurate enough to their own personal experiences. They’re much more complex than what those labels allow for. Gay is too easily marketed to, and at this point completely co-opted by the mainstream.

Gay is Will & Grace. Queer doesn’t even own a TV.

My Gay friends don’t really understand Queer. What’s wrong with Gay, they ask? There’s a history to the label; rich and complicated, and worth preserving. You lose that legacy when you abandon the label. So what if you’re anti-mainstream? You’re still subject to oppression from the mainstream, aren’t you? Bigots don’t care if you call yourself queer or gay or faggot or tranny. Its all the same to them. You’re Other, no matter how you choose to self-identify.

Thus, the Gays, Lesbians and Queers remain distant, abbreviated letters — G’s, L’s & Q’s, with B’s & T’s squeezed tightly between the three stodgy siblings.

Pagans Are SO Gay

I’m watching this debate go on about the validity of the term “Pagan”, and whether or not it’s useful anymore. Admittedly, I’m a newbie in the Pagan community. But, I am no newbie Gay. And, I feel there’s a valuable parallel between our struggles that no one is picking up on.

The GLBTQ…xyz community, in actuality, is not the tightest knit community. We have little pockets of community. We micro-organize. We have bars, community centers, gathering places, apps. We have parades. But, we’re a tiny minority living in the midst of an often antagonistic majority, and the subcultures within our subculture often don’t understand each other or work toward a common end.

I see the same thing going on right now with Pagans.

Some Polytheists may not consider themselves Pagan any more than most Queers consider themselves Gay. But, the Queers are out there having that crazy homo-sex. You know… the thing that first led the Gays to seek one another out, to organize in protest of widespread oppression? Remember all that Stonewall jazz?….

And the Polytheists are out there worshipping those same Old Gods that all the Pagans are buying statues of in our local metaphysical shops. Polytheists may approach their religion with more academic backing (or they may not), and they may feel compelled to reestablish and align themselves with cultural identifiers and practices which have long since disappeared (i.e. Reconstructionism). But, whether you trace back your spiritual lineage to Gardner or to an unnamed Celtic Warrior of Old, you’re still a part of something that’s happening right now, in the world. This world. The present.

Identity v.s. Branding

This isn’t so much a question of identity. We’re pluralistic, the LGBTQ’s & the Pollies/Pagans. There isn’t ever going to be a single identity which we can embody, and I think it would be a shame to make that a goal. Our diversity is what gives our respective cultures their intrinsic value. I don’t think anyone is trying to reduce us down to the lowest common denominator.

This is really a question of how do we — Polytheists and Pagans — wish to be portrayed outside of the festival grounds. I wouldn’t use the battle language that Laura LaVoie used, but the sentiment here is mostly the same. When we try to make our place in this world, amidst a religious majority that might not allow us the space or respect we deserve, what will unite us as a people. Our title?

T. Thorn Coyle may have said it best when she wrote:

What do I think is this thing that ties such diverse ways and means of practice, experience, and belief together? We all have a sense of “Divine with us on earth.” The Gods are not just far off in Asgard, they are in our gardens and our homes. Goddesses don’t just live in some distant place, they help us run our businesses, and teach our children. And these Gods and Goddesses have their own agency, too. Paganism(s) and systems of magick – as they exist in contemporary religious expression in this loosely knit group of practitioners – hold theologies of immanence in common, whether this is directly acknowledged or not.

Do we need to develop any more interfaith language around this? Must we have a single word that defines the whole group? Or, is it possible for us to make space for an individual’s choice to reject Capital Letter Titles in favor of a label that feels more specific and resonant with her own religious approach (like, for example “I am a priest of the Old Belief, a polytheist through and through, and more than anything else the Heroic Life is my religion“).

It’s a Queer approach, but if done with respect for the hardcore Pagans and the diehard Gays it may be the next step in our spiritual and cultural evolution.

What do you think?

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Over the past few days I’ve taken great pleasure in reading and re-reading the posts of the Rogue Priest, Mr. Drew Jacob, who describes himself as,

Priest of many gods. Freelance author, nonprofit professional, and full-time adventurer.

I like Drew. He’s intellectually rigorous, but not snobby. He’s thoughtful and respectful of his readership, and he challenges us to think broader and deeper.

I think I’d end up a regular at his Temple if it weren’t 900 miles away.

Drew doesn’t identify as a Pagan, although I took him for one. I asked him how exactly he wasn’t Pagan, and he did a mighty fine job explaining that in this post, “Why I’m Not Pagan“. Give it a read.

In response, I’m writing to explain my relationship with the identifier, Pagan, and how it sometimes fits and often does not fit my sense of religious identity.

An Acolyte’s Primer

There’s no better preparation for becoming a liturgist, Pagan or otherwise, than to train directly with a priest in the Episcopal Church. They do liturgy well. I discovered a love of ritual at a very young age. Eight, maybe? The smells of incense, the white robes and rope belts, the ringing of bells and the chanting… it was heavenly.

I loved church. I loved being a part of a community. My priest taught me, directly and by example, that my actions, be they ceremonial or mundane, helped to created something vibrant and meaningful for myself and for others. Liturgy can be truly transformative magic, and the magic took root in my soul. But more importantly, the magic had context within the community. It served a greater purpose than my own personal fulfillment.

Did I love Jesus? Was a Bible thumper? No, not exactly. I didn’t not love Jesus. It just wasn’t really about him, blasphemous as that may have seemed. It was more about all the stuff that surrounded Jesus; the myth made manifest through our actions. That’s what made me feel good about being Christian. That, and the community of people who cared about me.

The Beauty of Ruin

I had my hard times with the church, don’t get me wrong. But I always returned because I believed in the magic that happened during the services, and between the people who showed up. I believed in an incarnate Spirit, and that She wasn’t just some idea for theologians to parse out. The Spirit was real, and moved through a place. God was a mystery, but the Spirit was the the source of the most amazing, moving, meaningful magic.

For a brief while, I was a youth leader for the Juniors and Seniors at my Cathedral. I was tattooed, queer, and unwilling to allow them to rest on dogmatic laurels. I challenged my kids’ assumptions about God, about faith and about the strange and often uncomfortable intersection of the two. I opened them up to the idea that there was more than one way to connect with the Divine. I told them that I didn’t really care what they believed. I just cared that they sought out something deeper. I wanted them to experience the magic I’d felt in my heart.

In time, I came to realize that the Church was not concerned so much with magic. The Church is a business, a bureaucracy. Ultimately, it all boils down to belief, and due process. Jesus is God, and God is Love, and saying that Love is the Law is legalism, eventually.

So, in spite of all the joy it brought me, I left.

by Hee K. Chun

From That To This

Being Pagan is much more than simply not being Christian. You don’t walk away from the Church and just – poof! – you’re a Pagan. At least, this has not been my experience.

Two years ago I found OBOD, The Order of Bards Ovates and Druids, and I thought that their expression of Druidry might be a good fit for me. They hold up creativity as sacred, and their understanding of Awen (a Welsh word meaning, literally, inspiration) felt very much like my understanding of the Spirit. I sent off for their correspondence course.

OBOD isn’t a religion, per se. They are a Druid Order, and they approach Druidry more as a philosophy. You don’t have to be Pagan to be a Druid, they posit, and their stance was important to me at the onset of my new quest, because I didn’t know if I was Pagan. I just knew I was seeking something mystical, magical and communal. I was seeking an immediate connection to the Source — the Awen.

OBOD’s study course was interesting for a while, but I slowly lost interest. I had no community support, and the absence of religious structure left me feeling aimless in my studies.

I found religion and structure in ADF, or Ár nDraíocht Féin (Our Druidry in Irish). ADF also offers a study course, but it leans more towards the anthropological and less to the philosophical. ADF is much more like a Reconstructionist tradition, placing high emphasis on building a religious practice the approaches the traditions of the Indo-European people. Accuracy is paramount. ADF is also explicitly Pagan.

Pagan as Pre-requisite

I joined ADF and decided that I might be able to find the magic by participating in the religion. Rather than chase the Spirit, I would build the Temple. creating a home in which the Spirit could dwell.

And I’ve done that, at least on a small scale. I have an altar, and I worship daily. I’ve taken to reading books on polytheism, Indo-European tradition and Celtic deities. I have a personal religion now, albeit one I still don’t completely understand, and it satisfies my need for fragrant, candle-lit, ceremonial liturgy. What it doesn’t do, however, is provide any real sense of community.

A Context of Communion

It comes to down to is this: I believe that a solitary, Pagan/Druid practice is not a viable substitute for communal worship. Not for me, at least. The work I do alone should prepare me for work I do in community. Magic requires context in order for it to be valuable to anyone other than just myself, and community creates the context.

I think Pagans – and for now, I include myself in that category – would do good to sit with the idea of Communion, as it relates to community. Set aside the Christian connotation for a moment. I’m not talking about the consumption of body & blood. I’m talking about the something more universal.

See, communion is more than just a Christian sacrament. Communion is a human birthright. We commune with one another so that we might catch a glimpse, experience a moment of kinship with the spiritual forces that create our world, and with whom we work to create the magic in our lives.

Communion, as an extension of community, creates the context through which our personal magic is imbued with purpose.

So, for now, I’m a Pagan in search of Communion. This is my new starting point.

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I sat in my room, staring blankly at my altar. I hadn’t even lit the candle or prepared the incense, and I was already stressed, bewildered, and overwhelmed with the drama of the morning.

The episode leading to this emotional state of emergency involved two missing shipping receipts, a lost package in Alaska, and $400 dollars. I was a frantic mess, running around the house, trying desperately to find the pink and gray Post Office notes, certain that I would end up with a very expensive consequence for my dis-organizational tendencies. My husband tried to reassure me, but I couldn’t be consoled. I collapsed into my chair, folded my arms across my chest, and proceeded to pout my very best pout.

He quietly left the room.

After a few minutes alone I thought about making a petition to the Kindreds, and I thumbed through A Book of Pagan Prayer. There was nothing for my specific situation. I started to wonder if there was something ethically problematic about asking for aid in the retrieval of a lost item. Is that too trivial? Should I wait to petition the Kindreds for something more dire? Recovery from a life-threatening illness, perhaps? I didn’t know what to do.

So, I decided to do my devotional anyway. I would approach my altar with sincerity, and, if it felt right in the moment, I would ask for otherworldly assistance in as respectful a way as possible. I would do it in a spirit of ghosti.

I centered. I purified. We opened the Gates. I blessed my offerings and lifted them up to the Kindreds. I lit a fire for Brighid. I sought out guidance through the tarot, and the images were both intuitively correct and intellectually foggy. Then, I approached the altar, closed my eyes and spoke from my heart.

I said that if the Kindreds deemed this cause worthy of their assistance, and if they would kindly help resolve this situation in my favor, I would, in return, donate a portion of the $400 to a group that seeks to restore balance and harmony with the Earth, and that honors the Gods.

There. I’d spoken my peace. I’d also made an oath to the Kindreds; not something a devoted Pagan should take lightly. I felt better. I’d done all I could do. I closed out the space and left my room.

Sitting in his office across the hallway was my husband, typing away at his computer. When he saw me he paused, and reached for something on the desk in front of him. He held up the two missing Post Office receipts. He’d just found them.

I grinned, and chuckled under my breath. How brilliant. How perfect.

Before thinking to long about it, I went back into my room and opened my computer. I went to ADF.org and found the link to “Donate” through their web-store. I made a donation, fulfilling my promise to the Kindreds.

All was right in the world again… just like that.

Ghosti!

This post is a response to the blog post “Omens and Tarot“, posted yesterday on Grey Wren’s Flight. I encourage you to read the full post for context, and I’ve provided a brief excerpt below which summarizes what she wrote.

“I’ve been incorporating omens into my devotionals lately, partly because I’ve been wanting to take my spiritual work to the next level, and partly because I have so many beautiful tarot decks that need love. (I’m such a little kid, wanting to play with my toys.)

The short version of this post: how do you take omens during a ritual?

What’s the best way to take omens? It must vary from person to person, but how does one find a method and feel confident that it’s working? Any thoughts?”

I’m delighted to read the you’re incorporating the tarot into your daily work, especially if you already have a relationship with the cards. I also use (as one of 2 or 3 regular decks) the DruidCraft Tarot, and I know exactly the image you’re speaking of.

For me, I’ve chosen to use the cards in a slightly different way. After making my offerings, I ask of the Kindred something like:

“If my offerings are acceptable to you, please provide me a point of focus, a message of guidance, an Omen.”

Then, I work with the cards. I may lay out a single card, or a three card spread. I have an Ogham deck, and I may choose to use that over the more visual, narrative cards. I allow the spread to be guided by my intuition.

I also may change my request of the Kindred to suit my needs at that moment. Today, my request was that they provide me insight into the story, song and poem that I’m preparing for the Bardic Chair competition at Wellspring. When I sat down at my tarot table, I chose to pull one card from 3 different decks – the DruidCraft, the Llewellyn Tarot and the Ogham Deck (something I’d never done before). The message that came forth was amazing!

This may not be strict ADF or PIE orthopraxy, but to me it feels right. I don’t just want to know if my offerings were accepted or acceptable, because I don’t think that all the Kindred want from me are some oats and a bit of oil. This is a relationship, and the offerings, in large part, are symbolic of something much deeper. I make these offerings so that I might initiate contact with forces that are greater and more powerful than myself. The objects I use are – I think – mostly arbitrary. It is the sincerity with which I share these object – these symbols – and the focus and intent with which I hold them up in worship that matters most.

I believe we should make offerings that feel right to us, and make requests of the Kindred as our needs and desires dictate. If, by Their wisdom, they do not see fit to provide us with exactly what we are asking, it seems to me that we need not take that as an immediate sign that our offerings weren’t “good enough”. It could be that our requests were simply not coming from the place of true need or right desire (if I might risk sounding moralistic by using that phrase).

So, use the tarot as feels best to you. Or, seek out their Omen in the clouds…or in the pattern of your coffee grounds! Or, perhaps best of all, still your soul and listen for the sound of their voices in the sanctuary of your heart.