Reflections from the 1st Annual Conference on Earth-Based, Nature-Centered, Polytheistic & Indigenous Faiths

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  September 29, 2011 — 108 Comments

This past Saturday the 1st Annual Conference on Earth-Based, Nature-Centered, Polytheistic & Indigenous Faiths was held in California at the Unitarian Universalist Society of San Francisco. Organized by the Pagan Alliance, and co-sponsored the Circle of DionysosSolar Cross Temple,Institute for Transpersonal Psychology, CAYA coven and the Earth Medicine Alliance, the theme for the one-day conference was “Gender & Earth-Based Spiritualities” and featured Vicki Noble as keynote speaker. While sparked by issues arising from an incident of transgender exclusion at a public women-only ritual during the 2011 PantheaCon in San Jose, the conference itself opened itself up to a much wider-ranging discussion concerning gender within modern Paganism. Here are some reflections shared with me by conference chair and Pagan Alliance president JoHanna White.

joi wolfwomyn and Vicki Noble. Photo by Greg Harder.

joi wolfwomyn and Vicki Noble. Photo by Greg Harder.

“The Conference went remarkably well. It was well attended for a first year Conference on a cold day in SF. There was an incredible list of presenters: Judy Grahn and Dianne Jenett, Vicki Noble, Charlie Glickman, Veronica Monet, T. Thorn Coyle as well as many interested attendees such as M. Macha Nightmare, a number of Radical Faeries, students from ITP, PSR, etc. We had 5 cameras taping various lectures and performances and we hope to put out some online videos and a dvd within the next few months. Two documentarians, one filming for Ssex Bbox, and another working on a forthcoming documentary on sex, spirituality, and culture, shot video of talks at the Conference.

In her introductory remarks, joi wolfwomyn asked folks to treat eachother with respect and really listen to the different perspectives brought out in the day and that energy of respect really carried forward into the entire day of programming and events. Vicki Noble’s keynote integrated both her personal experience as a feminist separatist as well as her acknowledgement of the multitude of genders that exist and our need to respect the diversity of gender. Her statement on separatism was that it can be through having separate spaces that members of marginalized groups can become stronger and return to the larger community with the confidence and commitment to make real and positive change. The Conference had a number of workshops and presentations on 3rd and 4th genders throughout the world and was a wonderful sampling of the diversity of our community. CAYA’s co-sponsorship (along with ITP, Solar Cross, Earth Medicine Alliance, and Circle of Dionysos) on the event pushed us over a threshold where we were able to offer scholarships to many transfolk, low-income attendees, and disabled persons. Making this conference accessible to many. Hurrah!

We had some lovely seasonal Pomegranate mimosas (one of my best ideas of the year, I think) Hail Persephone and all that jazz and a beautiful food spread for attendees. Members of the Circle of Dionysos put on an amazing cabaret during the luncheon that included a costumed Sinnerjee depicted Loki doing “Every Other God a Greek.”an original composition (to the tune of Do Re Mi from The Sound of Music) by Origynal Sinnerjee, a musician depicting Freyr sang traditional Pagan songs in Finnish and Icelandic, as well as a drag Cybele monologue, an original song about Sirens a la lesbian separatists. The cabaret was overwhelmingly well received.

I had a great time and we’re looking forward to next year. We will likely continue to address Gender and Earth-based spirituality (due to overwhelming requests/suggestions from folk at the Conference), but will be bringing in some new tracks.”

In addition to White’s impressions, T. Thorn Coyle, who presented at the conference, shares her experiences in a just-posted column for

T. Thorn Coyle at the conference. Photo: Greg Harder.

T. Thorn Coyle at the conference. Photo: Greg Harder.

“The 1st Annual Conference on Earth-Based, Nature-Centered, Polytheistic & Indigenous Faiths with the theme of Earth-Based Spiritualities & Gender left me with an intriguing mix of thoughts. I feel grateful that the Pagan Allianceput in the time, energy, and money to organize the conference, and am proud that Solar Cross Temple helped to sponsor it. Talking about gender in the context of Paganism feels very important to me. The sense I was left with after Saturday was that while we only scratched the surface of the topic, an elephant in the room was barely addressed, and more dialogue is necessary, goodwill was present amongst those attending, and that counts for a lot.

Many things felt heartening to me about the day: a variety of gender expressions walking through the hallways; seeing second wave feminists I cut my teeth on presenting at a Pagan conference; meeting a human rights activist from the Organisation Intersex International and wanting to talk more theology; the insightful comments and ideas that people shared with each other during my presentation on genderqueer theology; talks with people in between sessions”

While Coyle felt that the “whole subject of gender, normativity, fluidity, and polarity felt like it needs a lot more breathing room,” she applauded the Pagan Alliance “for seeing a need, and moving to address it.”

During this year’s conference Lady Yeshe Rabbit, High Priestess of CAYA Coven, whose Amazon Priestess Tribe’s Rite of Lilith at PantheaCon 2011 provided the setting of transgender exclusion that ultimately led to this day, led a Ritual of Radical Forgiveness. At her blog, Lady Yeshe Rabbit explains the rationale for the ritual, and shares the ritual itself for those who couldn’t be there.

Lady Yeshe Rabbit at the conference. Photo: Greg Harder.

Lady Yeshe Rabbit at the conference. Photo: Greg Harder.

CAYA’s commitment to gender diversity includes a commitment to creating public circles for all to practice ritual together, circles for all who self-identify as a particular gender, and private, closed circles for those who continue to identify with their gender at birth for the sake of healing and deep personal work. It is not an easy place to be. On the one hand, intellectually-sound and impassioned arguments exist for the full inclusion of all self-identified men and women in all gendered spaces they choose. These arguments are well-reasoned, clear, loving and radical- all very much in keeping with CAYA’s core philosophies. On the other hand, there are mysteries and wisdom paths that are associated with embodying a certain gender from birth and the lifetime of acculturation to that gender, as well as physical experiences associated with coming of age in that particular body. These are primal, powerful, visceral and also radical- very much in keeping with CAYA’s core philosophies.

I do not think anyone in CAYA or outside of CAYA has the final answers on how this integration of diverse and sometimes opposing viewpoints can happen effectively to the highest benefit of the greater pagan community. Certainly it won’t happen overnight. Certainly it requires delicacy, patience, and good faith.

Our hope in offering a Ritual of Radical Forgiveness at the conference was to magically and sympathetically put to rest the discord around the topic of the past year and to acknowledge that there is pain and challenge on all sides of this issue. It is our prayer that, moving forward, everyone who has a strong and powerful opinion on this topic or experience of their gender reality will be able to at least co-exist in mutual harmony, respect for one another’s right to hold their views and practices as best befits them, and non-violence in our language and actions toward one another. The religious right would love to see us tear one another apart. It would mean they don’t have to lift a finger in order to cripplingly disempower us. I, for one, will not allow that to happen if I have any say in the matter whatsoever. My intent is to create respectful unity around our spiritual diversity and thus protect it with my own intentions, prayers, words and actions. To that end, here is the ritual outline, for those who were not able to attend. The ritual was received very well by the 25-30 participants who attended, and while it is not a final step to end all conflict, it felt like a powerful step in the right direction toward peace and wholeness within our extended community.”

The results of this conference are a first step, something acknowledged by all who attended. As intimated by JoHanna White, next year’s conference will also focus on gender in order to continue the important conversations started here. A date of September 8th, 2012 has been set. For more coverage, please see the follow up post from the PNC-Bay Area bureau.

As I said earlier this year, I have few illusions that all problems will be “solved,” but I do think what we are witnessing here is historic, and will change us in ways we can’t envision now. CAYA’s Amazon Priestess Tribe’s Rite of Lilith acted as a catalyst for a long-overdue conversation about the role of gender, and transgender individuals, within modern Paganism. If you look at how quickly modern Paganism has grown in the span of a single generation, particularly in the United States, it shouldn’t surprise anyone. When Margot Adler’s “Drawing Down the Moon” was initially published in 1979, gay and lesbian Pagans were just emerging from decades of silence and marginalization within our interconnected communities, now, 32 years later, we’re having serious discussions about “Gay Paganism’s Second Wave.” In such an atmosphere, the issue of how we treat, respect, and integrate transgendered individuals was destined to stop being a fringe topic dealt with only in passing, or in isolated corners, and demand a wider discussion.

I think a collective future of “transcentric imagery, gods and goddess with the wide variety of trans bodies,” alongside and complementing the more prevalent cisgendered representations, will become a reality far quicker than any of us might realize, and that modern Paganism, a movement so ready to accept change, challenges, and differences, yet still remain identifiable and vital, will ultimately benefit from it. The collective maturity and willingness to dialog seen at this conference is a credit to our family of faiths, and when future historians look back at this gathering, it will be rightfully seen as a milestone in how we all approach the topic of gender within our interconnected communities.

Jason Pitzl-Waters


  • Indeed, a step. However small. And no steps at all for some. May the day come when those who think anatomy is destiny abandon that foolishness.

    • AnonGuest

      About the anatomy is destiny thing – most born females, if they haven’t had a child and are under 26 years of age, OB/GYN doctors will often turn away if they want to address their difficulties with periods or their uteri or to prevent pregnancy with any permanent and non-hormonally based options such as surgery. Doctors say they are afraid they’ll later change their minds and sue.
      Then there are those who would prevent people from having any options that prevent pregnancy. At the least they’ll shame and call such planning sin, and withdraw funding for medical care aiding the desparately poor overseas or the poor at home.

  • If I can critique – and admittedly I only know from secondhand accounts – it seems one of the weaknesses of this year’s conference is that I only ever saw one name on the list of speakers that was of someone I knew to be a trans woman, meaning that the manifest ended up appearing VERY AFAB-centric and cissexual-centered. Considering that one of the critical issues Paganism has faced as a whole this year is the necessity inclusion of AMAB trans-identified women within women’s spaces, this was a grave and severe oversight.

    The article posted by T. Thorn Coyle does unfortunately confirm some of my own misgivings about the conference that happened last weekend. I hope that this first step, however, continues in a more positive direction, and that those resistant to moving finally come to understanding.

    • Baruch Dreamstalker

      Sorry to be so far behind the curve, but can you please define AFAB and AMAB? Thanks.

      • AFAB = Assigned Female At Birth and AMAB = Assigned Male At Birth. Often “C” (for “coercively”) is added to the beginning to designate that the person who is assigned has no choice in the matter.

        • We had a Transman, Lance Moore, speak on “Integrity” and one transwoman, Jeanna Eichenbaum, speak on Transgender Issues from a Trans therapist’s perspective. joi wolfwomyn, PA’s 2010 Keeper of the Light, who is trans spoke in the morning as well as giving a workshop in the afternoon on 3rd Genders. There were no Dianic lectures/presentations at all. We can only accept presenters who apply. I’d love more diversity of speakers, topics and ideas. I sent many invitations to speak to persons around the country. If you have any connections, please encourage them to apply next year.

          Max Dashu, a ciswoman, presented on 3rd Genders in Divine iconography. And Dr. Hayden Reynolds and DK Cowan of Circle of Dionysos presented on the archetype of the Sacred Androgyne. This was not a cis-centric conference. If anything it was LGBT-centric rather than being just about the Trans issues therein. The Trans-inclusion/exclusion discussion is very important, but there are other important topics as well. I’d like to give them all room to grow.

          • Mind, my feelings are mixed, not negative. I don’t know all the details, I haven’t seen much because few blog posts have come out yet. It did seem that one of the precipitating issues was more or less avoided, though, which still makes me feel a little apprehensive.

          • DK Cowan

            The thing that was really fascinating about this con was the fact that a significant segment of the attendees didn’t know about the precipitating issue of which you speak. The main reason said issue was avoided is because (in general) the major players in fanning the flames around that issue didn’t attend the conference. Thus, the large majority of presenters were arguing for trans inclusion and/or speaking to the powerful gifts transfolk bring to a magical community. There was also a strong focus on creating dialogue rather than polemics built in as a fundamental guideline for the conference. As part of the planning committee, we refused to accept any presentation that would exclude anyone from participating. And that created some greatest learning moments. My favorite for me was, while presenting on the sacred androgyne and critiquing the way that gay spirituality folks with an essentialist sensibility obscure the transgender truth of what we see in myth and priesthood, I got called out by the human rights activist from the Organisation Intersex International that Thorn mentioned for creating the same screen (covering intersex with the transgender lablel) that I was critiquing. That prompted a discussion that lasted for a good hour that was both intensely rewarding and paradigm-shifting, and I would not give up that experience for the world

        • Baruch Dreamstalker

          Thank you.

        • Katie, thanks for all of the thought and experience you are bringing to this discussion.

          I want to add one nuance and that is while some of us presenting were/are cis-sexual, we are not necessarily cis-gender.

          • Thank you 🙂 It’s sometimes difficult to put aside hurt and frustration and comment constructively.

  • kenneth

    It seems like they talked around the issue a great deal at this thing but didn’t come to any real conclusion. Are they going to continue holding exclusive rituals at public events or are they not?

    • Baruch Dreamstalker

      From what I’ve read, this conference was not organized to plan next year’s Pantheacon but to open up what underlies the potential conflict. Tension between women-born-women and transwomen is not going to be resolved at one conference.

      • The term “women born women” is a really intensively negative one, actually. It carries connotations of “real woman” by which trans women are then constructed as “fake woman.”

        I think we can all agree that this is not a good result, yes?

        • Baruch Dreamstalker

          My vocabulary in this area has been stuck in the 1980s, basically until I started picking up modern terms on this board over Pantheacon 2011. I was not intending to offend.

          • I figured you weren’t, I hope I didn’t come off as jumping down your throat.

          • Baruch Dreamstalker

            No problem. I’m well aware that this area is a minefield, vocabulary included.

          • Caliban

            I am still catching up with the lingo myself, from approximately the same era. Then again, this is a welcome opportunity to learn – and I am happy to see others are also embracing it as such.

        • AnonGuest

          I don’t like “ciswoman” because that’s not acknowledging my energy also has more than one polarity though I’m not trans. It may be more practical for some to use, since no good phrase has been given for said fairly common situation among spiritual practitioners but it’s still can seen as derogatory. It’s like saying half of them doesn’t exist because they’ve been identified in the public as a particular gender their whole life.

          • Instead of saying “it’s derogatory,” I’d like you to examine why you think that. Is it because you prefer to be unmarked?

            Well so do I. I don’t get that choice; symmetry demands that you don’t either. Either we’re both marked, or neither of us is.

          • Baruch Dreamstalker

            OK, I seem to be spending this thread on thin ice, but I have a question. Does “ciswoman/cisman” simply mean one has not undergone gender reassignment (oops, another ’80s term…) or does it mean one has accepted the gender one was assigned at birth?)

          • DK Cowan

            This is actually to Baruch, but I can’t get a reply button off of his comment: “Cisgender” means that the gender identity you claim now is the same as the gender identity you were assigned at birth, but in my experience it tends to connote a sense that gender can be conflated with body. As someone who identifies as transgender in a “third gender” sense of the term (and a presenter at the conference), I’m not a huge fan of cis in the sense that we are reifying a binary that would make me “bi-gendered” (not my experience of myself), though I admit it is useful to be able to distinguish between cis-centrism and transphobia. It should also be noted that there is a growing discussion on the need to separate sex and gender on the Cis side of the spectrum as we do on the Trans.

          • AnonGuest

            I’m trying to understand this comment, so if I get it incorrect, let me know. But I think if you call your whole self as belonging wholly to one marking/polarity that’s alright with me, but doesn’t really have anything to do with me. It’s false to claim there is an either/or or how other people must be the same as you.

    • Caliban

      @ Kenneth – according to what I could glean from the CAYA blog, they feel that exclusive rituals are essential learning events, they will continue to have them, and they have not changed their position to one of inclusion of transwomen in women-only rituals. So their “Ritual of Radical Forgiveness” seems to me to be rather premature.

      • Jay

        I didn’t get that impression at all. From what I understand, CAYA coven believes that there are times when it is appropriate to have cisgendered, women-only rituals, just as there are times when it is appropriate to have trans-inclusive women-only rituals. It’s a delicate balance, but one they’re hoping to tread with respect for everyone.

  • Baruch Dreamstalker

    “The religious right would love to see us tear one another apart. It would mean they don’t have to lift a finger in order to cripplingly disempower us.” — Lady Yeshe Rabbit.

    I would hope everyone in a leadership or influential position in our intersecting communities is mindful of this.

    • I agree with this. What I would like to add is that we can’t pretend that we don’t have critical issues that need redress, either. As a trans woman, there are a lot fewer spaces available to me by default, which means that the spaces which are available, are comparably more precious. And we also cannot allow people to deal in bad faith, using our conflict-aversion to avoid being called out.

      • Rabbit

        Katie, in some of our conversations over this past year I have shared with you my own frustration at not finding all of my needs met within the existing Bay Area pagan communities, to the point that I finally created a community that embraced the high level of eclecticism and inclusivity I was seeking. We each have the right and responsibility to create that which we do not readily find around us. I did. Anyone can. I might also add that although I live in the “pagan Mecca” of the Bay Area and you live in a comparably conservative area, you currently belong to more covens than I do! 🙂 I agree with your central point, but I also think that it is important to be honest about one’s reality. We have both, for different reasons, found ourselves painfully rejected by Women’s communities in the past. We both went on to find/found communities that suited us. I believe that is actually, currently possible for many of us, though not all. Part of our journey of friendship and mutual respect has been based in that awareness. I feel it important to point that out here, because the world is watching. You and I have done a great job of forging through some difficult topics, and we have also giggled over Star Trek and geekery together. Respect and willingness to approach with love have been great tools for us, and bespeak a strength much more profound than mere conflict aversion. I hope that we will not find ourselves retreating to unnatural and reactionary corners over this when we have already come so far.

        With love and respect,

  • I’d like to thank both Thorn (and Solar Cross) and Lady Yeshe Rabbit (and CAYA) for their postings about the Conference and what they did there. I am heartened to have been a part of this necessary project. We will be reprising this critical topic, next year’s theme will be Gender & Earth-based Spirituality: Bridging Generations.

    It will be on 9/8/2012 at the UUSF again. The Conference Planning group will begin to meet after PCon if anyone is interested in joining us. Also we are trying to find a video editor to help us put together a DVD and some online vids of the event this year. If any interest please email me

    I’d like to remind everyone that the Pagan Alliance is an all-volunteer organization. We saw a need and addressed it. If it wasn’t a magic wand resolving all gender-related conflicts, it’s because they can not be solved over night, if ever. A respectful dialogue however is a step in the right direction.

    Thanks everyone and we are looking forward to continuing this dialogue!

    JoHanna White
    Pagan Alliance President

  • Jason Mankey

    As an attendee (and presenter) last weekend, reading these comments makes me feel as if I wasn’t there at all. The feelings of inclusion and acceptance I felt last weekend were very real. I’m not sure it’s fair to critique a conference from a distance, an honest assessment can only be derived from actually being there and feeling the energy directly created by the event.

    As a conference on “Gender and Earth-based spiritualities” I was impressed with the wide range of views and topics on hand. If there were any shortcomings . . . . well it’s best to remember that festival organizers are often limited to the workshops that are submitted to them. Most Pagan conferences and festivals are run on a zero budget, and there are not a lot of funds to pay speakers or to fly them in from long distances.

    • Unfortunately, this is an issue that affects people in places far away from the Bay Area and so people are going to end up with opinions about it regardless 😉

      I think it would really help for people to share their experiences.

      • Jason Mankey

        And you are certainly welcome to your opinion. 🙂 It is an important issue.

        I felt the organizers were trying to do a “good thing” and that some of the criticisms don’t capture that. Certainly one conference is not going to “fix” anything, but with the amount of attention this conference has gotten in the Pagan blogosphere, I think you’ll see more honest talk about gender in the coming years.

    • Cigfran

      The good feelings of the conference attendees are only relevant to and for those attendees. What matters to the people who did not attend is not how you felt about it, but what it produces.

    • Rabbit

      Thank you for posting this, Jason. I agree. I was impressed that at this conference I had occasion to learn a great deal in subjects previously unknown to me, from passionate, loving, and eloquent presenters. I thought it was a really helpful and enlightening event, and I look forward to future events like it. I hope the video footage of the conference can be released in a timely fashion (which means a volunteer video editor needs to step forward to help, please! Know anyone? Anyone?) to put to rest some of the armchair analysis at a distance that is already seeking to undermine the gains made this past weekend.

  • While I think that clearly some people need to have these conversations in their religious communities, it seems odd to call this the “1st Annual Conference on Earth-Based, Nature-Centered, Polytheistic & Indigenous Faiths” which sounds much broader in scope, when it seems the event was more about interrelating with other people and less about actual religious practice and the spiritual worlds. Other than some irreverent play-acting during the cabaret, the only mention of the gods I saw in this recap was when the chair, referring to her pomegranate mimosas, casually threw in “Hail Persephone and all that jazz” – which frankly sounds pretty flippant to this devout polytheist’s ears, although some may find me old-fashioned (and probably naive) for expecting reverential attitudes or a focus on the gods and spirits at a pagan conference.

    • Jason Mankey

      You missed my workshop then which was a history of the Horned God. 🙂

      • Being my own twisted self, I like also to note that there is absolutely nothing wrong with having a Horned Goddess, as well. 😉

      • Would have loved to see that! I was only responding to the impression I got of the conference based on the quotes provided here, which didn’t mention that.

        • The article here obviously can’t capture everything that was discussed at the Conference. I was trying to explain the religious overtones of selecting to serve pomegranate mimosas. And honestly, I’m a pretty ridiculously devout Polytheist myself. There was a whole lot on the gods being presented. If I am a little flip, its because I think the Gods love to laugh. You can read a full description of all presentations and workshops offered here:

    • And what if it was flippant? The trickster deities that I work with would be giving me a slap down if I wasn’t being irreverent. I don’t find piousness old fashioned, but it isn’t the only path in the forest. Nor does Pagan equate to gods and spirits for all who identify as such.

      • Persephone isn’t a trickster deity. Irreverence isn’t always appropriate. The style of approaching the gods should be tailored to who They are, not to who we are. Pomegranates symbolize marriage, and Persephone’s commitment to stay in the Underworld with Her husband most of the year. It might be cute to make mimosas from them, but I think She at least deserves a more serious recognition than just an off-hand comment that makes light of it.

        As for your last sentence… I’m aware of this, but it saddens me. No ancient or indigenous person would have left the gods and spirits out of their spiritual worldview, only modern pagans seem to think that’s appropriate.

    • DK Cowan

      Diana Paxson presented on gender roles and the seidr. Judy Grahn co-presented on the cult of Innanna. Michael Gorman presented on Celtic myth and gender roles. My own presentation was on locating the Sacred Androgyne within a cross-section of Caucasian Mythos, though admittedly my bias toward the Hellenic Deities was clear. So I think there was as plenty of discussion of “actual religious practice and the spiritual worlds.” And as to the cabaret being “irreverent play-acting”: as one of the cabaret performers, I did not get up at 5AM on a Saturday, shave every visible body hair on my body, and then spend two hours working hair and makeup to perform Cybele in the way a(n admittedly un-bloodied) Galli priest/ess would as anything less than an act of complete reverence.

      • I’m truly glad to hear all of this. Then my issue becomes not with the conference itself, but with the way it is presented and discussed to non-attendees, and perhaps with what a lot of people seem to focus on (i.e., it’s all about us rather than about Them). Had I been close enough to attend, I never would have been interested based on what I had been hearing about it, but might have had I known some of the details you mention.

  • Kilmrnock

    all i have to say abouy this situation is like T Tthorn i believe the rights of gay and transgendered pagans needs more discussion. the big problem caused at that gathering last year was unnessecary. i have no problem w/ feminist seperatists or any other seperatist for that matter. but doing such a ritual at a large pagan gathering was innapropriate. if a seperatist fem group wants to do thier own rituals on thier own time that is quite alright and proper.but not a good idea at a large pagan gathering .i fully understand that there are fem only issues that need to be adressed, but at the proper time and place. a blood only fem only ritual was innapropriate at that time and place. Kilm

  • Caliban

    Waitaminute. This caught my eye:

    “Lady Yeshe Rabbit, High Priestess of CAYA Coven, whose Amazon Priestess Tribe’s Rite of Lilith at PantheaCon 2011 provided the setting of transgender exclusion that ultimately led to this day, led a Ritual of Radical Forgiveness.”

    The organization whose exclusionary policy created the controversy offered a ritual not of atonement or apology but forgiveness? Really? (just checked the blog and the answer seems to be “Yes, really.”)

    It seems to me to be rather odd. Whom is being forgiven? The transwomen whose anger and hurt at exclusion occasioned the controversy? For what are they being forgiven? Being upset? Or did CAYA hold a ritual in which they hoped to garner forgiveness from those they upset?

    I suppose forgiving the victim is to be preferred over blaming the victim, but the underlying reasoning seems to me to share the same underlying logical flaws.

    CAYA is to be commended on co-sponsoring the event, and for providing the funding used for scholarships to open attendance to those otherwise unable to afford to participate, and I want to acknowledge that. But I am puzzled by the ritual they chose to present. Does anyone else perceive anything strange here?

    • Harmonyfb

      I was wondering about that, as well.

    • While I also took umbrage at the notion of a forgiveness ritual, Rabbit does mention atonement in one of her posts. As I understand it the people that CAYA is working on forgiving aren’t the people who are questioning their policies, but the people who have threatened them with violence and death threats.

      • Caliban

        Well, threats of violence are never appropriate and I cannot condone those at all, and if that is indeed what they are forgiving, then good on them.

        My feelings regarding forgiveness are complicated and ambivalent. I do not feel that it is a core value of my own Pagan faith, but I do feel an interfaith obligation as a minister in a non-denominational church to be able to discuss forgiveness both as a human value and as a Divine gift.

        Atonement is a fine thing, but it implies reparation, restitution, amends. Every source I have checked gives mere reconciliation as a definition which is obsolete. I can appreciate a desire to make amends, but has that really been achieved?

        What I would suggest might have been more appropriate to the circumstance would be a ritual to bring people together in mutual recognition that a controversial situation exists which will benefit from thoughtful dialog, and a mutual renunciation of antagonism in that effort. Not taking it as achieved, but giving shape toward a common understanding of work that needs to be done.

        • I completely agree.

        • Rabbit

          Caliban, your last paragraph here suggests exactly what happened at this ritual. We offered a public apology for any harm, pain, or umbrage related to our involvement as a catalyst for this larger discussion. We also, in turn, symbolically offered forgiveness to the many, many people who, acting on rumor, hearsay, and misinformation, sent us hate mail and even sent me personal death threats. We acknowledged that this issue brings up a tremendous amount of emotion and that although death threats and threats of violence are never justified, we are willing to move beyond them and engage in actual, present, respectful conversation. We have, as you have suggested as a good idea here, been engaging in these ongoing conversations over the past 7 months since PantheaCon, and will continue to be present for them. In fact, several people who have already commented on this post are individuals with whom I and other members of the Amazons have engaged directly in loving, challenging, enlightening conversations on both parts. (waves to friends here.)

          What I find both fascinating and disappointing about some of the commentary and opinions expressed here is that, although we in CAYA are being accused of being presumptuous in daring to offer a ritual where we asked and offered forgiveness, clarity, and mutual respect, no one thinks that it is presumptuous to offer comment and opinion on an event they did not attend nor have any firsthand information about. Recently, I have been seeing a funny graphic on my Facebook feed. It depicts a Venn diagram that has on one side, “What the author actually meant,” and on the other side, “What your high school English teacher thought the author meant.” I feel that, in this “discussion” of the past 7 months (which has actually rarely been a true discussion, and has more often been a sort of clusterharangue), we have come into contact with quite a lot of high school English teachers. I have, for my own part, commented rarely and only when I felt a true injustice or outright lie needed to be addressed. Other than that, I have been spending my time in mindfulness practice: asking many questions, inviting actual conversation involving real voices in real time, thinking and considering, meditating and debating internally and with members of my Coven about our history and future and policies and language. I have been so busy ACTUALLY doing my homework that I have not had much time to sit around debating with people in the comments sections of blogs. That, to me, is a fruitless and largely ego-based activity. I am not planning to engage in it now, either. Instead, I would like to take the time to remind anyone who cares to listen that I am and have consistently made myself available to discuss any part of this topic: past, present or future, literal or philosophical, with anyone who feels it important. But it must be human-to-human, owing to the gravity of the subject, not over electronic means. Please just send an email to and either I or another member of CAYA’s High Council will respond and set up a phone date at your convenience, on our dime. We all, in CAYA, firmly believe that this issue will not be solved in one conference or one ritual (though we see these actions as positive steps.) It will definitely not be solved in the comments section of a blog, either. And, in fact, if anyone has a hard time coming up against the firm boundary that CAYA holds around respecting the diversity of ALL paths contained in our extensive, eclectic structure, then perhaps we cannot even hope for there to ever be actual resolution. But if anyone is willing to meet at the table of peace, respect, and personal responsibility, we will be there to talk, learn, offer our own points of view, listen, and genuinely care about what is being expressed.

          I am, at the urging of many Elders I have consulted, going to write a detailed explanation of the events of PCon and thereafter, correcting some of the blatant misinformation (such as reports that we turned away or ejected trans women from our ritual, which we did not), as well as my opinions of how this issue has been previously handled within the Dianic Tradition (poorly). However, in order for it to be done well, completely, and mindfully, like anything else I have offered related to this issue, it will take time. Please know that when that document is complete, I will post it and let Jason know it is ready to be viewed by any who are actually interested in knowing the truth of events, leading up to and including this past weekend’s ritual. Till then, I respectfully ask that if you were not in attendance and do not have the facts, you either contact me so I might speak with you directly, or please wait patiently while I write carefully in detail for the sake of greatest possible clarity and information. Thank you.

          • Califried

            But if anyone is willing to meet at the table of peace, respect, and personal responsibility, we will be there to talk, learn, offer our own points of view, listen, and genuinely care about what is being expressed.

            Rabbit, I think there are a number of people who are perfectly willing to reasonably discuss this issue. Unfortunately, your preferred framing of this issue (i.e. commenting on blogs is an “ego-driven” activity, as opposed to the presumably “responsible” act of reaching out to CAYA and having a one-on-one conversation) rings a bit hollow.

            Authorial intent is pretty much dead. It’s broadly recognized in literary criticism circles that while the high school English teachers you complain about may not have understood what you were trying to accomplish, they understand perfectly their reception and interpretation of your “text,” in this case your actions, your rituals and your comments about your actions and rituals. In this case, your intention as expressed in your description of the ritual held at the conference this past weekend has made several people uneasy. I suggest that this is not due to a lack of willingness to speak with you one-on-one, a failure to grasp your intent, or any other defect in understanding or reasoning. I suggest, instead, that your communication of your intent has been at fault, and that you may simply be a bit tone deaf on this specific issue. The conversation has largely just begun – perhaps now was not the time for this ritual.

            Now, you made a commitment to conducting inclusive rituals at PantheaCon 2012, and I applaud that decision. As a result, I look forward to attending one or more CAYA rituals this year! But I think it’s telling that the “high school English teachers” you complain about definitely had something to do with that decision. Again, plurality doesn’t demand silence when worldviews conflict – I know I would appreciate it if you stopped trying to frame the online conversation as irresponsible, ego-driven and fruitless. Be well!

      • Rabbit

        Hayden- you had my phone number all along. You could have just called me. I am sorry to hear this after the fact. I am sad our presentations were at the same time and we did not get to share in one another’s work.It hurts to find out on this blog that you felt that way, when you could have talked to me. If you still feel this way, please let me know. I brought you a fancy wig as a gift. We smiled and hugged like the friends we are. You never said a word. What does it take for you to ask me a direct question as your friend rather than to read your commentary on this blog as though we’re barely acquainted? I love you and care about you. Why are you choosing to refer to yoir feelings here instead of just coming to me? I offered a detailed description of the ritual’s purpose in the program, and we were mere feet away from one another’s booths at the conference. Why am I finding out about this umbrage now, in this way? It does not feel aligned with who I believe we are in one another’s lives. I hope that you take the time to actually bring it up with me directly, rather than let your feelings fester.


        • Califried

          Why are you choosing to refer to yoir feelings here instead of just coming to me? I offered a detailed description of the ritual’s purpose in the program, and we were mere feet away from one another’s booths at the conference. Why am I finding out about this umbrage now, in this way?

          Rabbit, while it’s entirely reasonable for you to provide an opportunity for individuals (particularly friends and acquaintances) to reach out to you directly, it’s more than a bit unreasonable to expect that everyone will choose to take advantage of that opportunity. As I wrote (more than once!) in discussions sparked by your ritual at PantheaCon 2011, pluralism does not demand silence when worldviews or value systems conflict. It also doesn’t demand that all criticism take place in private.

          I’m sorry to hear that you feel hurt by the actions of someone you consider a friend, but Hayden is far from the only person who is a bit surprised that you would create a ritual to forgive people who have not asked for (and may not want) your forgiveness. Have you considered that you might be a bit tone deaf on this specific issue?

          • Rabbit

            Have you read the outline and explanation of the ritual on my blog? My offer to discuss this issue is one of complete transparency and sensitivity to the wide swath of possible approaches to this issue. I have spoken with literally hundreds of people from all over the country, since February, and have found it to be the most effective, respectful means to creating actual community rather than an endless online debate. Just because you disagree with my decision to actually speak with people in the most personal and respectful way I know how does not qualify me as unresponsive, and I find your use of deafness (tone or otherwise) as an insult inappropriate and offensive to those whose hearing is impaired. I have given a sincere offer to talk to anyone, to listen as well. If you are resistant to having a real time conversation with me, I cannot do anything about that. What I do know is that when all or most individual parties in a conflict actually know and witness one another as real people, group discussion takes on a more productive, compassionate, results-oriented tone rather than devolving into a shouting match where everyone is just trying to hear themselves or a sullen, tight little meeting where no one feels safe to be vulnerable and everyone feels victimized. When we actually do the real time ground work to get to know one another and care for one another’s feelings and realities, more productive group process is the natural result. I do not, as you suggest, expect anyone to contact me if they do not want to. I do not expect nor ask for anyone to forgive me or receive my forgiveness if they do not want to. I offer these as a free will gesture from the heart and in good faith effort to create true community toward future harmony. Take it or not, as you will.

          • Baruch Dreamstalker

            Lady Rabbit:

            I would suggest to you that working well face to face or on the phone is one kind of communication skill, and that working well on-line is another kind. It’s evident that you have the first kind, but several commenters here have the second kind.

            I understand your attitude toward ego-driven online writing. It’s frequent and tedious. But not all on-line writing falls into that category. Some are good at it.

            Your complaint about people who critique the atmosphere of the conference or CAYA while only knowing about it from on-line descriptions is well-founded. On line one knows the text on the screen, period.

          • Califried

            Just because you disagree with my decision to actually speak with people in the most personal and respectful way I know how does not qualify me as unresponsive, and I find your use of deafness (tone or otherwise) as an insult inappropriate and offensive to those whose hearing is impaired.

            Rabbit, I understand that defensiveness is a natural reaction to widespread criticism. I also think that you’ve clearly misunderstood me. I certainly have read your comments as well as your outline and explanation – what I disagree with is your ongoing insistence that online communication is inappropriate (alternatively: irresponsible, ego-driven, and/or fruitless). Also, I didn’t describe you as irresponsive. While I’m sure the tone deaf appreciate your advocacy on their behalf, I’m asking you to consider that you may actually be misreading the mood of the community at large. As part of that request, I’m also asking you to consider that your intention as expressed in your description of the ritual held at the conference this past weekend has made several people uneasy. Again, I suggest that this is not due to a lack of willingness to speak with you one-on-one, a failure to grasp your intent, or any other defect in understanding or reasoning.

            I hope you have a wonderful weekend!

  • So where is the “indigenous” part? I would love to hear some California tribal spokespeople’s comments. Or are the organizers announcing that contemporary Paganism is indigenous, as some in Europe are doing? Or was “Indigenous” just added because it sounds like a synonym for Pagan?

    • Caliban

      Good point. The desire to be inclusive devolves into the desire to appear inclusive if the advertised indiginous perspective is omitted. I suppose it is possible that the intention was to include discussion of different approaches to gender issues from various indigenous practices around the world (and there is indeed a rich variety of these). In that case, however, I would question whether said traditions were included rather than discussed, as it were, in the third person.

      • The organizers, of which I was one, wanted to create an event that was inclusive of a variety of traditions and spiritual paths that have overlapping beliefs and ways of practice. In actuality the conferences was pretty much Neo-pagan in emphasis, but that was not due to a lack of effort on the organization committee to reach out to members of indigenous communities.

        • Caliban

          Well, also it was a “first annual”. With luck, there can be broader inclusion next year. I apologize if I sounded unduly critical – I know that organizing such an event is no easy task.

        • As I see it, the idea that NeoPagans can organize an event, include “Indigenous” in the title, and only later “reach out” to Indigenous communities and ask them to attend a NeoPagan event is the flaw here.

          Many people of diverse orientations and gender presentations have experienced being tokenized this way – arriving at the gathering and being expected to just be a variation on a heterosexist and two-genders worldview, and then being asked to tolerate or participate in things that are incompatible with your values.

          For true alliances based on mutual respect, it’s not about “inclusion” but about co-creation.

          I don’t think the word “Indigenous” should have been used at all in this case, not unless Indigenous people who are legitimate ceremonial people in their Nations – or at the very least culturally rooted and respected members of their tribal communities – are involved in co-creating the event from the very roots up, with full power and participation in choosing the time and place of the event, in deciding the program and presenters, in deciding what is and isn’t appropriate to do ceremonially, all of it.

          Perhaps modern Pagans who have participated in Interfaith events can relate if we put it this way: Have you ever been invited to an Interfaith event totally organized by Judeo-Christian groups, and structured according to their cultures and worldviews? Were you expected to do a presentation that was like fitting your pentacle-shaped self into their cross-shaped expectations? Did you feel tokenized and objectified? Did you feel you were only there for show? How different would the event have been if you had been in on the planning from the ground floor up, and given a full voice in how the event was structured?

          • Baruch Dreamstalker

            I daresay Unitarian Universalists have that come-be-a-token experience more than Pagans (one woman at my UU church kept reminding the town pastors that the group they shared was interfaith, not ecumenical) probably because Pagans still don’t get invited to as much interfaith stuff.

            I blush to admit I’ve had that experience as a Pagan within UUism — a district gathering, supposed to be broadly anti-intolerance, but some UUs who’d just made it to BGLT-tolerance objected to the Pagans present.

            But we don’t know if that would have been the experience of the Indigenous woman invited to do the conference invocation. To assume so is to provide her with a redundant spiritual framework; we can be confident she already has one.

          • sky

            Thank you Kathryn. Generally I find that indigenous peoples are an after-thought token. I am not sure why we are looked over in the planning of events. I would have loved to have seen contacted and included in the planning of such an event. They have a great group of speakers however they generally prefer to focus on issues rather than public displays of culture since appropriation is such an issue.

          • Sky, thank you for that organizational tip! I will certainly contact them for next year! Please contact me if you have any other ideas!

    • DK Cowan

      The initial invocation/smudging was supposed to have been performed by someone from the local indigenous community (who was also going to present in the conference), but she had to pull out at the last minute.

      • Many traditional people – the ones who actually preserve the ceremonies of their people – consider “smudging” a ceremony and will not do it for a non-Native event.

        • Aine

          Well, I know that, during my ethnic studies courses, a few traditional people came in a smudged and invoked in our classroom, and I wouldn’t have considered that a Native event. They also did it during festivals held at the school and elsewhere. Just my experience.

          • sky

            What did they invoke?

          • Aine

            Quetzalcoatl, Tezkatlipoka, Huitzilopochtli, and Xipe Totek were the main energies they invoked, since those were the ones we studied and interacted with.

          • sky

            Quetzalcoatl and Tezcatlipoca are rivals and should never be ‘invoked’ together. It’s considered to be disrespectful by Aztecatl/Nahuatl descendants and would be considered as reckless and dangerous. Smudging is not a part of this culture, these deities are offered copal incense but practitioners do not ‘smudge’ with it, it’s not for the practitioners but for the deities.

          • Aine

            Well, it was done by the Nahuatl descendants that were in -our- classroom. The deities were offered copal and we were smudged.

          • sky

            Hmmm… Traditional Nahuatl descendants do not smudge. And again they would not invoke Quetzalcoatl and Tezcatlipoca simultaneously. Is it possible that they were Mechistas as opposed to Nahuatl descendants? That would make more sense (not that I would agree with the motivations).

          • sky

            Hmmm… Traditional Nahuatl descendants do not smudge. And again they would not invoke Quetzalcoatl and Tezcatlipoca simultaneously. Is it possible that they were Mechistas as opposed to Nahuatl descendants? That would make more sense (not that I would agree with the motivations).

          • Aine

            Hmm…I think we had both Mechistas and Nahuatl descendants in our classroom, but more Mechista.

          • AnonGuest

            That context is different. That would also have been doing ritual for a class on their Native traditions and for their Native events, rather for a non-Native event.

          • Charles Cosimano

            This is totally off topic but the idea of simultaneously invoking two feuding deities at opposite sides of the room and letting them fight in the middle of the audience is one I have never thought of before.

          • sky

            Charles I think the fact that this was done is incredibly irresponsible. Though I do not agree with the potential motivations behind it, as an indigenous person I understand. I do wonder what the residual effects were, if any.

        • DK Cowan

          From what nation? When I was working as a teacher’s aide. we had a teacher from the Iroquois nation who smudged her classroom before every class she taught. And this was a public school. Native American traditions are as diverse as European traditions and it’s foolish to make blanket statements about either.

          Aside from that, the Pagan Alliance has officers who are of indigenous descent. This was not a last minute “tack every identity possible onto the title” experience. It was rather a “find a title that fits everyone in the room” experience.”

          • sky

            There are many TRADITIONAL people from many Nations that will not smudge at non-native events due to the fact that it is often then emulated by participants. Many being the majority mind you. I say this as a traditional indigenous person raised in my community who respects their Elder’s wishes who has worked with Traditional Elders from numerous Nations who believe in protection of ceremony.

            The Iroquois are not a Nation.

          • DK Cowan

            Funny how the teacher I spoke of referred to the Iroquois in that way (as a nation). Funny how someone can grow up in an area of the country and know the major indigenous nations of that area were the Iroquois, the Mohawks, the Mohegans, and the Pequots through experience with people from those nations when you say they aren’t real. I haven’t lived your experience, but I have to question it based on my personal experience.

          • sky

            The Iroquois are a confederacy made up of six Nations. I’ve never interacted with a member of one of these Nations who identified with the Confederacy rather than their community. Not once. And I’ve been to both occupations and/or ceremony in all but one of the Six Nation communities.

          • Thank you, Sky.

          • “Aside from that, the Pagan Alliance has officers who are of indigenous descent.”

            Who? What Nations? What Elders do they answer to?

            With respect, I think the distinction here is that there is a difference between NeoPagans “of Indigenous descent” and *traditional* Indigenous people. It is about what matrix one is rooted in – how one lives one’s life, and to whom one is accountable.

            In the thirty-odd years since I first encountered the Pagan communities, many, many times I have seen non-Natives with rumours of Native ancestry read a book or attend an event by an exploiter and decide they will now lead “Native” ceremony for the other non-Natives. Or they will allow themselves and their distant ancestor to be tokenized so organizers don’t have to deal with people who are actually *culturally Indigenous*.

            I am not saying that is what happened at this event. I don’t know what happened at this particular event beyond what has been discussed here. But I bring this up because those of us who have been involved in dialogue between NeoPagans and traditional Native folks approach these things with this history in mind.

          • Hello. My name is JoHanna White. I am the President of the Board of Directors. My father is half Brule Lakota (his mom was a British war bride) and was born on the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota. I am respectful and proud of my heritage and would never represent myself as any kind of a Native American holy person. In fact, I often am vocal about cultural appropriation issues and am finishing a submission on Ancestor Worship for Multi-Ethnic Practitioners for an anthology that is coming up where I discuss how inappropriate it is to give oneself a “Indian name,” lead a pseudo-Native ritual or pretend any kind of Native holy person status and how that can permanently prevent you from having a legitimate relationship with your tribal community of origin. The Pagan Alliance is mindful of our commitment to the indigenous community. If you go to you’ll see the letter we wrote to Vallejo Recreation District about not developing a local sacred burial ground into a park. We (I personally) also dropped off food to the Glen Cove spiritual encampment. I also called local organizations that were funding the project to encourage them to discontinue funding. The indigenous community is not a side-note to the Pagan Alliance. I will continue to contact and work with the local Indigenous community to bring them on board with the Conference next year. I hope that answered your concerns.

          • sky

            JoHanna I appreciate your taking the time to discuss responsible indigenous involvement within the Pagan community. I hope that you can understand my concerns. The majority of self-identifying Pagans that I have encountered (on the east coast) do not want indigenous input because it generally leads to heated discussions of cultural appropriation and similar issues.

          • sky, yes I do understand your concerns. I appreciate you airing them and was happy to address them.

  • Paganbeergod

    This is the problem with Wiccans/Pagans or any polytheistic religions as you call it. The Image is so not taken seriously. You go into a public forum or place and wear you tie dye clothes from 1969 and smell like cat feces.
    If pagans want to be taken seriously, they need to clean up the image and be taken more seriously. Practice public speaking and positive PR. I am starting with myself to portray a better more serious image.
    In today’s Social Economic Networks. The time to start is now!

    • deerwoman

      How exactly is this comment relevant? I don’t see how your comments address the issues at hand. Were you at the event and experienced Pagans acting/dressing in the fashion you describe, or are you speaking generally about other Pagans & polytheists you have personally encountered in public fora?

    • kenneth

      Hey now, let’s be accurate at least! It’s cat URINE and Nag Champa!

    • Baruch Dreamstalker

      Paganbeergod, your screen name would be a good place to start in portraying a better, more serious image. Just sayin’…

    • BHG

      I really don’t think the way to help the community image is to descend to new lows of ugly stereotyping about the community and then broadcast them all over the Net.

      You must be planning to dress pretty darn snazzy if you think it’ll make up for calling us all ‘unwashed hippies.’ 🙂

  • Nici Johnson

    Brava! These are intense, emotionally charged issues that definitely needed to be aired, and I applaud the Conference for attempting to do so. Next year I plan on attending, and hope to see many more strides taken and plans of inclusion discussed in order for some real and true aspects of our spiritualities to be realized. Thanks for the concise synopsis!

  • Nici Johnson

    Brava! These are intense, emotionally charged issues that definitely needed to be aired, and I applaud the Conference for attempting to do so. Next year I plan on attending, and hope to see many more strides taken and plans of inclusion discussed in order for some real and true aspects of our spiritualities to be realized. Thanks for the concise synopsis!

  • Whenever someone talks about needing healing spaces “free” from trans women, it reminds me that my body is other. It reminds me that those people, no matter HOW they softpedal it, see my body as fundamentally male and needing to be excluded.

    More importantly, it reminds me that, should I NEED access to those spaces – should I find myself (gods protect me) a survivor of sexual or domestic violence, I WILL BE ALONE AND WITHOUT SUPPORT.

    • I think the issue is complicated. I have a hard time telling anyone how THEY should practice, who they should include/exclude, whether what they are doing is “right” or “wrong.” As a person of Native heritage, where the gov’t told my ancestors how they were allowed to worship, I find in anathema to me. I strongly believe that there definitely need to be spaces available for ALL WOMEN especially in relation to survivorship.

      • We can’t tell people how to worship.

        We CAN tell people that discrimination is not going to be tolerated anymore. And mean that, and follow through on it.

        • Baruch Dreamstalker

          Problem with a blanket anti-discrimination rule is that no sort of women’s circle would be allowed because it would discriminate against men.

          As it happens the Unitarian Universalist Association, after being reshaped by outcomes of internal women’s groups, enacted a ban on any kind of gender-restricted gatherings at its annual General Assembly. We’ve survived.

          • What I want is to see equality. We don’t have equality in a situation where a (relatively) empowered group feels that it is justified to exclude a smaller and oppressed group because the smaller group reminds it of a group with more power.

          • Baruch Dreamstalker

            I agree. In response to AFABs who insist that having grown up female is essential to their spiritual path, and thus justify excluding gender-reassigned AMABs from their common spiritual practice, I am on record on this board as urging the latter to develop their own common spiritual practice out of their common experiences. Actually this is something I’d encourage everyone to do, but especially in such circumstances.