Peter Dybing Retires from Public Paganism

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  April 29, 2012 — 27 Comments

On Saturday, Peter Dybing, current president of Officers of Avalon, and former First Officer of the Covenant of the Goddess, announced that he was resigning from all, quote, “organizations, positions, posts and responsibilities in the Pagan community.” In a statement posted to his blog, Dybing expressed a desire to return to anonymity, saying that his very public role was causing him to neglect his partner and engaging in behavior that he personally disapproved of.

Peter Dybing

“My commitments to community service have required that my partner Rebekah make great sacrifices in our relationship.  She is my rock, my lover and my best friend; she deserves more of my mindful attention and affection.  How can I profess service to the Goddess and continue to neglect her manifestation beside me?

The events of the last two years have also convinced me that our community is not ready to embrace a spirit of service. It is with great sadness that I have witnessed dozens of prominent Pagan leaders speaking ill of their compatriots. While I have attempted to address this issue, I am sickened at the backstabbing that continues to occur within our community. Recently, to my shame, I observed myself engaging in similar behavior. I do not wish to become what I abhor. I will not miss the politics of Pagan leadership.”

A long-time participant in the modern Pagan community, Dybing, a trained EMT and volunteer firefighter, first gained widespread public attention for his efforts on-the-ground in earthquake-ravaged Haiti, giving us a Pagan perspective of what was going on there. He would go on to volunteer in the Gulf during the Deepwater Horizon disaster, and in August of 2010 was elected First Officer of Covenant of The Goddess for 2011.

“I wanted to serve the Covenant, they do some really wonderful things in terms of interfaith work, public information work, and people doing work in prisons. There’s some great things [COG does] I want to support. I think it’s really important because we’ve made so many inroads over the years that those things continue to get our support.”

Dybing’s tenure as First Officer was marked by its expansive outreach to, and engagement with, the Pagan community. During that year he publicly commented on a variety of hot-button issues, and led an initiative that raised $30,000 dollars for Japan earthquake assistance.

“This project also represents an important moment in Pagan history. Working together across intrafaith boundaries this community has demonstrated the maturation that has occurred over the past few decades. We have established that we are an effective and unified religious community that can respond to world events, take action when necessary and work together in support of achievable goals. Gone is the quietly whispered sentiment that Pagans do not work together or that Pagans do not give to charity.”

After his year as COG’s First Officer ended, Dybing traveled across the country visiting local Pagan communities, engaged in activism with the Occupy movement, and was elected President of the Officers of Avalon, a non-profit benevolent association for Pagan and Wiccan law enforcement, firefighting and emergency medical personnel and their families.

Peter Dybing at Occupy Fort Lauderdale

Peter Dybing at Occupy Fort Lauderdale

I’ve had the great honor of meeting, speaking, and establishing a friendship with Peter these past few years. To all his many roles he brought a no-nonsense, direct, and honest personality that was always ready to listen and engage. A fundamental belief that we could all be better, and that service is the highest calling of a Pagan leader. Someone who never forgot those who he was elected serve, and who wore uneasily the accolades and laurels given to him. He is a good man, and while I believe our community has suffered a loss in this decision, I know he’ll forever be on the front-lines helping those in need, and modeling the best what modern Pagans can be.

My thanks to you Peter Dybing for all that you’ve done and accomplished for the Pagan community, good luck in all your endeavors. Next time I see you, the drinks are on me.

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Jason Pitzl-Waters

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  • http://twitter.com/patchouliautumn Autumn Witch

     I am not actively involved with my pagan community.  I’m not even sure our city has that much of one, and if it does, it must be very underground.  There have been times I’ve been tempted to come out of my shell, but then I read something like this, or watch the train wreck that PantheaCon had the past couple of years with the Z. Budapest situation. 

    When I became a pagan over ten years ago, I foolishly envisioned the Scott Cunningham version of the path.  What I see more and more is infighting, division, and the exact same behavior that is exhibited in mainstream spiritual paths.  Given the independent nature of pagans, I guess I shouldn’t be so surprised by this, but I’m still taken aback by it.

    I’ve become more active on Twitter in the past months, and I began by following lots of pagans.  I find myself shedding many of them just due to intense contrarian behavior, and an “I’m always right” attitude.

    I understand many pagans would like a strong community and perhaps political presence.  However, it is this type of behavior and attitude that prohibits it, and causes folks like Mr. Dybing to retire back into private life.

    • http://twitter.com/piratessa meesha j

      I can completely understand this view.  I’m often conflicted over my desire to be a bigger part of the Pagan community at large, or not.  On one hand, I believe that we should be the change we wish to see, and all that…on the other hand, I despise drama and in-fighting over what I see as petty disagreements.  I see no reason why differing theological opinions and practices should create such personality conflicts and create such division that we can’t get anything done to benefit others or our community as a whole–things like setting aside places for groups and individuals to use for meeting places and ritual spaces, creating multi-faith Pagan volunteer organizations, and just more equitable and multi-faith discussion withing the community in general, etc…

  • GroveofGaia

    I hope Peter has a great time being personal instead of public. His service has been substantial.

  • http://www.facebook.com/dsalisbury David Salisbury

    Peter is an exceptional example of the true potential of service within the Pagan Community. He deserves to rest and reforge his practice with Goddess, whom he so heartily adores. I have personally been helped in my evolutionary process in becoming a self-possessed adult human by Peter and I will forever be grateful. And believe me, his service extends to areas and issues within this community that are far greater than most realize. I’m so happy to count him a friend.

    The only thing I see differently is that I do think we are ready to be a service-oriented path. But those who desire this growth within Paganism need to have louder voices. Loud enough to drown out all the gossipy, slanderous poison that others spew out.

    I hope many people will use Peter as template for the roles they can step into, whatever their service might be. I know Peter is uncomfortable being called a “leader” or “teacher”, but those are exactly the people who should be regarded as such. He taught and lead me more than many.

  • http://www.facebook.com/zaracon Larry Zaracon Sodders

    Peters work in the community has been a great asset, he will be greatly missed, as a public Pagan. His Knowledge and abundant Common Sense made him a true Pagan Leader. and I dare say a friend. Love Ya Peter and You and Rebekah, be blessed and thanks for letting us use your Man for so long . Z 

  • http://www.patheos.com/ Star Foster

    Peter Dybing is simply one of the best, and I am honored to call him friend.  Sad as this makes me, I’m glad he’s taking care of himself. And next time I see him he’s definitely getting a big hug and beer!

    • http://www.facebook.com/zaracon Larry Zaracon Sodders

      heck I might have to retire also if hugs and beers are in the mix

  • http://www.facebook.com/my.food.is.problematic Kei Dallmer

    I wish him all the luck possible on his journey!  Being a public figure is a difficult job, and I can’t say I entirely blame him.  Good man, that one.

  • sunfell

    I’ve been practicing for 30+ years, and gave up my own public practice a decade ago- for the same reasons. The back-stabbing was simply unbearable- and when my life and livelihood was threatened, my computer hacked, and good name trampled (along with other elders and leaders this particular person and satellites disliked), that spelled the end of my involvement- and the end of our local community. Sadly, it never recovered, and is still underground a decade later. 

    I wish Peter all the best in this new chapter of his life. Perhaps he will learn- as I did, that  being true to yourself, loved ones, and practice as a private person is just as empowering -and maybe more powerful, than being a public persona. It may not seem logical, but it is certainly easier on one’s soul.

  • Rev. Don Lewis

    It is very sad when talented people step out of leadership positions, or even out of the public community entirely. It really should make us all take a hard look at our community. The people who cause the problems and perpetuate negative behaviors are not going to change -why would they, they are very successful from their point of view. If we want a different type of community it is we who must change. One thing we must accept is that we don’t “all have to get along”. Indeed, we will never all get along. But those who do get along can still make a lot of difference, and can make a better  future if they will work together, and make a break from the negativity.

    • David

      Wise words Rev Don.

  • Thorn

    Peter is a gem. I feel grateful for his service.

    - Thorn

  • kenneth

    I never had the honor of meeting him, but he always seemed to walk the walk and came across as a voice of wisdom and temperance. The underlying problem which led to his departure is more than I can write about just now, but I think it’s a part of every community and movement to different degrees. I think Dybing also shows a very healthy attitude toward the whole thing and an excellent role model of leadership. Come into the public sphere for a time, give your very best, but also remember that the rarefied circles of public politics is not the real world or where most of it plays out. He realized that the whole point of a high public profile, of “celebrity” such as it is, is the underlying service. Too many leaders, within paganism and without, have that formula reversed.
        Even if we weren’t the ornery group we are, I think he was wise to get off the treadmill. From the sounds of it, he’s been on the road as often as not for the past several years. I suspect and hope that after some good down time, he will continue to be a very effective leader even in a private low profile capacity. I find such people usually are because their service comes from their deep personal ethics. Maybe he can quietly mentor the next wave of leaders willing to take the flogging of high public positions. Maybe this is also a call to the rest of us to put less of the burden for our community’s image on a few national leaders and orgs and more on ourselves, right where we live and circle. I think what really made Dybing the effective force he was was not his high titles or office, but his instinct to just see what work needed doing and roll up his sleeves and dig right in. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Lamyka-L/649965363 Lamyka L.

    We’ve lost more than a few organizations and individuals to the same thing that finally drove Peter Dybing away this year alone. I don’t blame you Peter, I understand it more than you know. However we might have rubbed the wrong way I never forgot how much you gave to your community nor the respect you and others like you deserve. Lady Bless & Malama Pono.

  • Gwionraven

    Thank you for your sservice peter, for those things seen and unseen that you worked on.

    It disheartens me to see comments disparaging the pagan community. Just for the sake of balance –  I, for one, am part of a vibrant, growing, service-oriented, activist community and am truly fortunate to be part of it.

    • Boris

      How lucky you are!

  • Shira

    His work has been an inspiration to many, me among them ,and not only in the Us but over here in Europe as well. If nothing else, he showed us what is possible. Thanks for that Peter, and enjoy your freedom!

  • Rachel Melcher

    Thank you, Peter, for your service.  Your impact has been significant and your calm presence in the public eye, appreciated.  

  • http://www.facebook.com/ashleen.ogaea Ashleen O’Gaea

    We met Peter a few months ago when he was in Tucson, and the conversations we had with him have begun to change the way I look at what we’re doing here, and how I participate. I sympathize with his frustration, and I wish him well on his new path.

  • Sarah

    I definitely understand where Peter is coming from, as I trend to have a lot of the same frustrations with the Pagan community. It is people like him who give me hope that we will one day be a community that cares for each other and for people in need, the kind of place you can reliably go to meet people who encourage you to be your best self.

  • Zan Fraser

    You know, one thing I have figured out, in a variety of ways in modern Paganism: you are going to get saboteurs; you are going to end up with evil-minded, spiteful, petty, mean-spirited individuals who- usually thru serious self-esteem issues- are going to want to tear down whatever everyone is trying to build up.

    You know what? Rather than try to engage them rationally, or try to get them to “come around,” or rather than to empower them by allowing them access: just cut them loose. Just go, if you can’t be on the same page here, just don’t come anymore.

    Get the disagreeable folks gone- and focus on the folks who can get it together, to have a mind for the Higher Cause. 

    • Zan Fraser

      No seriously- stories; I can tell you stories. Well, that’s the thing, right? We all can tell stories, and it’s not really right, is it, cause it’s a form of Pagan Bullying, isn’t it? 

  • Shakti Mandrake

    I have a lot of respect for Peter to establish boundaries. Too often I have seen pagan teachers and leaders verbally and spiritually attacked out of jealousy and pettiness, often with these attacks extending to their families. Last time I checked teaching and leadership are not mutually exclusive with an invasion of ones private life. Unfortunately boundaries have been forgotten in an effort to eradicate the elitism of coven -based gatherings and teachings from the sixties and seventies. I think it’s high time that more teachers and leaders are given the same respect and privacy we would also want in our daily lives and meetings at festivals.

  • http://vermillionrush.wordpress.com/ Vermillion

    Thanks for all your hard work Peter.

  • Tinkergld

    Peter’s presence as a Pagan leader will be greatly missed.  He is one of the rare few who genuinely placed the welfare of the Pagan community and humanity in general, ahead of his own self interests.

    Over the last couple of years, Peter has been an inspiration to me as a model of what is possible for each of us if we choose to serve.  He was always one of the first to offer help and one of the last to leave when the job was done.  He sought to elevate our community by setting an example of what a responsible citizen should look like and did so guided by Pagan values that I believe truly lead to a better world.  O

    I support Peter’s decision to focus on his base and relationship.  These are critically important things, and if he decides in the future to once again step up, I would be honored to be one of the first to work with him.

    Many Blessings Peter,

    Patrick McCollum

  • Guest

    IMHO, one’s family home is their #1 Coven and takes precedence over all the rest. (I don’t trust “Elders” whose birth children won’t even talk to them. ) Good luck to you, Peter, and thanks

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