Followup On Denver’s PPD Ritual: An Interview With Joy Burton

Teo Bishop —  November 9, 2012 — 26 Comments

To start off my first column for the newly independent The Wild Hunt, I’d like to thank Jason Pitzl-Waters for letting me be a part of this valuable, community-supported news source. I believe in the work being done here, and it’s an honor to be blogging beside so many talented, thoughtful writers. I look forward to bringing the spirit of dialogue present on my blog, Bishop In The Grove, to my columns here at TWH.


When I wrote “I Felt Ashamed At Pagan Pride,” I had no idea it would elicit the response that it did. With over 100 comments, several thousand page views, and shares galore on Facebook, Twitter and Google+, this subjective account of my experience at Denver’s 2012 Pagan Pride Day event made waves through the community.

The dialogue generated around this post offered me new perspectives on the meaning of casting circle, the challenges of public ritual, and the possibility of a mythology of victimhood within the Pagan community. But there was one perspective missing: that of the person leading the PPD ritual, Joy Burton.


Joy Burton, eclectic Wiccan priestess and founder and president of Living Earth, a Neo-Pagan open circle and church in the south Denver area.

I interviewed Joy via email with the intent to allow her the chance to voice her perspective without revision. Below is the full interview, unedited.


Thank you for your willingness to speak with me, Joy. Could you tell us a little about yourself, and about the Living Earth Center?

I’ve been an eclectic Wiccan priestess for about 20 years, with strong Reclaiming influences. I helped start Pagan Picnic in St. Louis, and have been advocating for and active in the Pagan community ever since.  I’m part of an open circle in the south metro area of Denver called Living Earth. We started in 2006 and now we have about 700 members of varying Pagan traditions. We offer a national-scale Pagan festival and musicfest called Beltania every May, hold regular Sabbats and Esbats, and this winter we’ll be celebrating our one-year anniversary at Living Earth Center.

The Center is our small but much-loved church facility and community center at Holly and Evans in Denver, hosting about 20 rituals, classes, workshops, drum circles, and other events per month. Other groups and individuals are welcomed at Living Earth Center to hold their own events and rituals too.

Community service has always been important to us, and since we’ve had our own facility, our outreach activities (called the Hand2Hand Project) have expanded to include more charitable giving, a food bank, and helping our elders and those with disabilities. We have a winter clothing drive going on now. We even have our own church bowling league raising funds for the food bank.

How would you describe Denver’s Pagan community?

Living Earth

The people I have met through Living Earth have been some of the kindest, most generous and caring people I have ever met. These are people with some really big hearts, great ideas, and are movers and shakers who have accomplished so much. They don’t just talk about creating community, they do it. There’s a willingness I see now to try new things, and connect outside their comfort zones in meaningful ways. I think Denver has reached a “critical mass” of people who want not only to be Pagan but also to create connections, develop infrastructure, and offer their gifts, time, and talents to the community.

The Denver Pagan community is growing exponentially, with more families and children now being raised Pagan than ever before. The Denver community has a high number of veterans, I’ve noticed. It’s also an aging community, with a greater need for community services and support for our elders. I worry about the disconnect in parts of our community between the older generations and newcomers.

We have a lot more people willing to be open now about being Pagan, and more mainstream acceptance of Paganism than ever before. You’re just as likely to see a khakis-wearing math teacher as a silver jewelry-bedecked hippie type in a cloak. So in that sense we are more diverse than ever. I’m seeing more people wanting to lend a hand and help their neighbors.

And like any other faith community, the Denver Pagan community is full of very human people. We are striving, like any other group, to more fully manifest our ideals of compassion, wisdom, honor, love, and so much more.

“I Felt Ashamed At Pagan Pride,” received a huge response. My post was a one-sided account, and completely subjective. Could you offer your account of what the Pagan Pride Day ritual was like?

Well at this point I think there’s been enough subjective accounting of the ritual. I just don’t see the benefit to it. I have no interest in negating anyone’s experience. If there were any less-than-ideal circumstances at that time, I would not use this forum to criticize the Pagan Pride Day organizers who so graciously invited us to lead the ritual.

I honor your experience and your right to share that experience in the forum of your choosing. I honor the homeless person who could not contain their verbal remarks which came across as heckling, and the several other homeless folks we were blessed to meet and also offer some food and water that day too. I honor the people walking through and skateboarding in the park, the man who wanted a cigarette, and their right to be there. I honor the Pagans who boldly stepped into the center that day to choose to participate in a ritual for all to see, and also those who chose not to participate.  I honor the learning experience so many of us are having as a result of Pagan Pride and the conversations afterward.

I can’t remember any ritual, public or private, where there was a consensus in critiquing it. Where one person is turned off, another is deeply moved. Where one person is uncomfortable with casting a circle, another would think it necessary and important. That’s why we are so blessed to have such a diversity of faith traditions, groups, and practices here in Denver throughout the year and at Pagan Pride Day’s multitude of workshops, booths, and rituals.

On occasion, as I move through our community, I find myself in a ritual that isn’t comfortable for me or I sense something isn’t quite going as planned.  In any case, I consider it my responsibility as a priestess and guest to prepare myself with centering and grounding, create my own connection to Spirit, and hold myself in a state of grace as an example for others. I also make a point of send positive energies to assist in a productive fashion. All of this can be done without saying a word. When we purposefully act in support of each other, it becomes not just the leaders’ ritual but everyone’s ritual, and our community is strengthened.

I really appreciate your emphasis on being a positive force within the community. How would you encourage people to serve in that capacity in their individual cities? How does one begin? 

Diana's GroveI would encourage anyone wanting a more positive community to read Diana’s Grove Cornerstones of Community by Cynthea Jones.  I didn’t discover the Cornerstones of Community until recent years, but they so accurately capture what I had to learn the hard way and what I’ve observed in those who make a difference in this world.

The five cornerstones include Choice, Thinking Well of the Group, Thinking Well of Yourself, Stewardship of the Self, and The Sacred Wound. We can make the choice to be the change we want to see in the world…or not.  Our very presence in this community is a choice. Thinking Well of the Group invites us to choose a new default attitude and behavior towards people that honors and respects them rather than assuming the worst and demonizing them when things aren’t as we expect or desire.  And if we don’t think well of ourselves, it’s difficult to think well of others and be a positive influence in the community. When we are stewards over our lives, we have a responsibility and obligation to fully manifest what we are called to do.  And lastly, we need to make our wounds sacred.  There isn’t a single one of us who isn’t wounded from our past experiences.  We can allow our wounds to be our teachers and agents of growth instead of allowing them to paralyze us.

A positive, healthy, open, giving community starts inside of each person.


Many thanks to Joy for this interview. She’s been nothing but kind to me.

I ask you, TWH readers:

If you were a part of that first conversation on BITG, does knowing Joy’s perspective change the way you read that post? Did her answers leave you with new questions?

What do you think about the “Cornerstones of Community?”

Teo Bishop

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Teo Bishop is a contemplative, a bard, and the author of Bishop in the Grove.
  • I find myself disappointed in her lack of response on the particulars of the ritual. Isaac Bonewits said that one of the biggest problems the Pagan community faced was our collective discomfort with post-ritual analysis rituals to figure out how we could make them better. I get that she doesn’t want to further upset anyone at this point, but I wish she’d given at least a few “this worked for me/us” or “this didn’t work for me/us” comments. Ah well. I’m glad the conversation is continuing, at least.

    • Bellatrix S

      I agree that Burton’s answers seemed less meaningful than I hoped for. I’m into grey areas, but if you lead any ritual, you have definite experiences, for good, ill, or unknown.

    • Glad I wasn’t the first person to say that.

  • Hey Teo, I did not attend PPD, but I have two cents to throw in… I am totally with Joy on the point that at one time or another I have been at a ritual that did not hit me right for some reason or another. And I always have to ask myself, in private later or with my mate if he was with me, why didn’t that work. Did I not quiet my mind, was the concept not one with my ideology, not my pantheon, or was it something else? Then I remember, when I go to public ritual, FOR ME, it is always a bonus blessing if I come away feeling blessed, refreshed, learned something, because that is NOT the fountain I go to to feed myself. It is the fountain I go to be social, encounter others and support my community. Public rituals are just that public and when I need something deep and personal it is up to me to get fed. To some degree, I think we all are responsible for getting our needs met and have to have some common sense when it comes to expectations. Be well my friend. See you soon I hope. ~Ang

  • Morri

    This may be politically incorrect, but in my opinion, there’s something awkward about “public ritual” in the first place. It would be equally awkward if a Catholic group held a Mass in a park. (They would get harassed, too, I’m pretty sure.)

    Spirituality is deeply personal, imo, and public displays always feel forced to me. Maybe it’s just me.

    That being said, the brave souls doing public functions are working (I think) towards making Paganism more accepted, and maybe that has some value.

    As for circles being exclusionary, that’s just the nature of a circle. You’d have to encircle the observers for it to feel differently.

    • kenneth

      It sounds like the only people excluded were hecklers and people who just weren’t able to maintain a basic level of decorum and respect for a ritual. To hell with them. No one owes those people any consideration in the name of “inclusion.” The circle format may or may not be appropriate for any given ritual or group of people, but physical and spiritual security may be one of the factors that play into that choice. Public rituals and inclusion are great, but at some point, it has to be communicated to the crowd that ritual is beginning, and it’s time to either get in space with us, observe silently, or get out of the way.

      • Charles Cosimano

        In a public park that is impossible. Or to put it more simply if they chose to neither observe silently or get out of the way the options are rather limited.

      • Baruch Dreamstalker

        I’ve been in public circles and in my humble experience the secret to a physically secure environment is to have a parade permit for the site and a ritual security chief who’s a Pagan veteran and ex-cop.
        You’re never going to get onlooker silence but attempted disruption of a religious service is a crime — IF the religious service is backed by that aforementioned parade permit.

  • David Pollard

    I was thrilled to see her plug for Diana’s Grove “Cornerstones of Community” as two of the UU congregations who hold their Sunday services as rituals have used these for several years as the foundation of their ritual teams. The way that it’s usually implemented in these congregation, there is critique of rituals, but it’s done internally. We’ve found that external critique tends to move the mindset from “worship” towards “info-tainment.”

  • Has Teo made any attempt to discuss these feelings of shame directly with the people who organized the ritual (that is, with those whom he blames for his feelings of shame)?

    Just as we should be very mindful of the difference between rituals conducted in public and those conducted in private, just so should we carefully distinguish between what is said in public from what is said in private.

    This is not some sort of religious principle, but rather a matter of good up-bringing and common sense. If you have a problem with someone, talk to them about it directly, face-to-face. If, instead, you make a public stink about it, then you are likely to give the impression that you are just using the situation to draw attention to yourself.

    • Hi, Apuleius. I’m happy to respond directly to you. Thanks for the comment.

      I have spoken with Joy, and it was a good conversation. I don’t place blame on her for my emotional reaction and subjective experience of the ritual. That’s all me. That conversation is what led to this interview, and what inspired me to give Joy the opportunity to share what she wanted to share about the PPD ritual.

      My original post was in keeping with the way that I’ve always written my blog, which is to use my personal experience as a means for initiating dialogue about shared experience. It’s personal narrative, not journalism. I think that’s an important distinction.

      Again, thanks for the comment.

      • So you saw this as just more material for your blog? As opposed, you know, to actually having constructive conversations with the ritual organizers?

        • Baruch Dreamstalker

          False dichotomy.

        • Hi Apuleius,

          There’s a way in which *this* doesn’t feel like a very constructive conversation, regardless of my attempt to be communicative with and respectful toward you. Your advice about being thoughtful of how we communicate with one another in public might be worth re-examining in light of this exchange. After all, this a public forum, and you seem to be quite comfortable with taking me to task here, in full view of all of TWH’s readership.

          I respect that you disapprove of how I went about writing my post, but is there a way for this conversation to become something different than what it is shaping up to be? Something reflective and representative of the “good up-bringing and common sense” you spoke about in your initial comment?”

          I would much prefer that, for I have nothing against you and I don’t see the value in quipping back and forth. That doesn’t really get us to a greater understanding of one another.


          • “The patience of Teo” needs to be a phrase in the Pagan vernacular. I appreciate the perspective you bring, Teo. I’m glad the Pagan community has your voice in it.

  • PhaedraHPS

    Since Isaac’s name has already been invoked 🙂 I would like to point out that he was adamant that ritual critique, feedback, or analysis be held until 24 hours had passed. (I honestly don’t remember if your blog was written the next day or the same day.)

    I was one of the people who commented on your original blog, and I do wish that Ms. Burton had been comfortable being more forthcoming on the thought processes that led up to the ritual they chose to present. She sounds like a lovely person and her group is facilitating important work–all the more reasons for me to be intrigued by her process.

    She is absolutely correct that there is rarely consensus in ritual critique. Each one of us is coming to a rite from the place where we are at, not necessarily from the place the facilitators are at. I know, too, from decades of presenting and attending public and private rituals that sometimes the energy of the participants is at odds with the plans of the presenters. I’ve seen rites planned to be solemn become filled with laughter, while a light-hearted approach can become emotional and tearful. In my thinking, that is part of priestcraft, to understand that rituals take on a life of their own and to dance with the energy as it evolves.

    That would be a question I still have for Ms. Burton. If indeed she honored the people outside the circle, did that affect her plan to present a ritual of protection? And I would also still be curious to know why a ritual for Pagan Pride would have been conceptualized as a protection ritual in the first place. As I said in my original reply, I found that a curious choice. Having heard the the voice of Joy Burton, I am even more interested in hearing her answers.

  • Bellatrix S

    I am learning a lot from these discussions, thanks for bringing them up, Teo. As a long-time pagan who is just starting to lead public rituals, I am finding that whatever ritual is going on, the leader must be mindful of the crowd and any potential crowd. None of my rituals to date have had zero complications/interruptions/etc, and I try to get used to that. Improv is a huge part of the ritual mindset, and if you have a hard time solving problems in the spot, it can be tough to create a solution that works well.

    If the circle is truly a sacred space created by the participants, what happens outside the circle should have little influence. Is this not part of the reason we cast the circle? To help us focus on the ritual at hand and contain our intentions until the whole magic has worked. If we are not building circles that function properly, perhaps we have a missing link in the fence, so to speak, that allows for others to influence the circle.

    I think you touched on this in a previous post, Teo, that the circle is as inclusive as it is exclusive. For a circle to function it must be both, with the potential for flexibility reserved for later spaces and times. It is a similar conversation as the one had in feminist circles regarding safe spaces and intersectionality. There are some great writings on those topics I will try to to dig up and post here for further reading.

  • BlackNyx

    Pollyanna Principle in action…

  • Kilmrnock

    i like the corner stones concept , seems a healthy way to approach community. Now as far a public rituals go i have attended quite a few , some have worked for me , others havn’t . To be honest i personaly am uncomfortable being to open, feeling vanerable with poeple i donot know. i personaly don’t feel safe with strangers . many people donot , i wasn’t alone at this ritual …feeling that way . i think such workings should only be done w/ people i am familiar with, know well.. i was at a ritual a few years back where we were asked to divalge personal info to a large group of mostly strangers , people i didn’t know, was a healing ritual ……….that part of the ritual i couldn’t participate in .As far as public ritual i prefer the ADF model . These rituals are open to all interested , there is a ritual review[briefing] before hand so all envolved know what is expected, what will happen and are dry . I personaly don’t think any exclusionary rituals of any kind should be done at public events .Doing so prevents the feeling of anyone being left out , excluded.We all remember the Pantheacon disaster . With all that in mind at a public outdoor ritual , heckling and such is practicaly unavoidable doing such things is bound to ruffle someones feathers , but i also believe something to exclusionary is not a good idea either . Seems to me something the general public can be invited to participate in would work alot better in such circumstances . Heck we may even be able to bring more people into the pagan fold with such a ritual . A way to show people what we really do, who and what we really are . .And also the workings of such a ritual should not be too pagan ……a topic i would suggest is maybe a simple seasonal ritual, very basic …………..something an outsider could understand.and particate in if they wished. .Well, that my two cents on this issue .. . Kilm

    • Baruch Dreamstalker

      Kilm, you raise a point that is a feature in the successful public rituals in which I’ve participated. It’s not “Pagans only”; any member of the public may participate. It’s leatleted to Pagans, but open to any who walk in. First Samhain we had some tough looking kids in identical jackets, and some nice young strangers who turned out to be plainclothes cops. No problems. And no such apparitions in subsequent years; I suppose by then we were old news and it wouldn’t be cool to mess with us.

      • Just to clear this up, this wasn’t an exclusionary ritual at all and everyone, Pagan or non-Pagan, sane or ill, was welcome! 🙂

  • I have closely watched the blogs and comments regarding Mr. Bishop’s response to Living Earth’s closing ritual at 2012 Denver Pagan Pride mostly because I am an active member of Living Earth. I was not present for this particular ritual as I do not resonate spiritually with the concept of the public ritual in general. However, I have and continue to be a participant in the collaborative ritual process LE uses for all of it’s rituals spare the eight Sabbats. We are a very eclectic group with many different paths represented at any given function. We foster acceptance and understanding within our community and believe our differences make us a more compassionate group. Although I cannot speak to the nuts and bolts of the ritual at the center of this conversation, I can speak to the intentions at the heart of all LE rituals in which I have participated. We always cast a circle, following a typical Wiccan ritual process which seems to represent a majority of our participants, though by no means all of them. This circle is created to define the “sacred space between the worlds” that we work within. Of course a circle is always created as a form of protection as well and in this case I believe it was the correct step with the ritual being in such a hugely public place with all sorts of energy bouncing everywhere. It was also most likely created to allow the spectators that I understand were in attendance their own space and not bring them unwillingly into the energy of the ritual. I also understand that everyone in attendance was invited to actively participate prior to the circle being cast.

    I honor and respect Joy’s decision to not go into great detail regarding the concept behind the ritual in question. There has been much discussion about correct “procedure” in a public setting, mostly by people who were not in attendance. I applaud the fact that this has opened lively discussion regarding the different ways public ritual is approached. Some of this has been constructive and some has not, but there comes a point when it is in essence beating a dead horse. I feel that if more detailed answers were expected from Joy it is up to the interviewer to ask the appropriate questions to obtain further detail. I feel she answered each question posed to her honestly and effectively. She has behaved with grace and kindness even as her intentions were publicly called into question without her knowledge. She deserves our respect for that response.

    Mr. BIshop chose to publicly share his experience (his personal experience) of this ritual and all of the comments and discussions that followed were or at least shoud have been based on just that. Yes, from what I understand that experience did include a protection component to the ritual itself, but I have had the principal behind this explained to me and it is not at all what Mr. Bishop felt. Here in Colorado we have had many tragedies of late, from the Century 16 massacre, to MANY out of control wildfires and most recently the abduction and unthinkable murder of a 10 year old girl. I have personally discussed with Joy (through tears) the negative effect these happenings have had on me and our community at large. Protection from further horrors such as thiese was the basis of the protection stone concept that was incorporated into this public ritual. At no time was this meant to represent protection from PEACEFUL bystanders in attendance. Although in such a public forum, I personally would have not been comfortable without surrounding myself with protection from outside energy and forces.

    I respect and enjoy Mr. Bishop’s blog and commend him on creating open and effective conversation within our greater community. However, I do think it is time to move on to another point of conversation.

  • Hello everyone! As the organizer of this year’s Denver Pagan Pride Day, I just want to clarify a few points. First off, the ritual was a fine experience for lots of people. Everyone was invited to participate, and no distinctions were made between homeless, non-Pagan, Pagan, etc.–Pagan Pride Day is an inclusive environment where everyone is welcome. The purpose of the circle being cast was to create a sacred space in which to work magick. It was not meant to exclude anyone, and everyone was welcome to join. The circle creates a sort of container for energy so that it can be coded and charged up with intent before it’s released to do the magick–sort of like, if you wanted to color a bit of water bright green, wouldn’t it be easier to scoop up a glass full than to drop food coloring at random in the whole ocean? A circle is kind of like a glass of water, a bit of energy right there waiting to be told what magickal changes to manifest.
    The protection aspect of the ritual was intended to be an individual protection, and was customizable so that everyone taking part in the ritual could choose personally what they wanted to protect, whether it was the wildlife, nature, family, etc. We’ve had lots of tragedies here lately as Joy mentioned, and this ritual was to help everyone increase their personal strength and defenses as we get ready to plunge into the dark half of the year. Protection is a goal very seasonally appropriate for the fall and winter, and was right in line with the feeling of comfort and united strength and kinship that prevailed throughout the day’s many and varied events.
    No one was trying to gain protection from the onlookers, homeless or not, mentally ill or not. The people leading the ritual are all experienced and skilled, and they can do their thing whether or not there are people staring awkwardly, watching politely, or even blurting out interuptions or nonsensical comments.
    The heckler Teo originally mentioned did not cause much of a scene. It was a pretty peaceful ritual and it all went rather smoothly, especially considering it was a giant very open very public place to lead a ritual. Joy and everyone else who took part did an amazing job at making some magick in the park.
    It was a very simple ritual, with minimal interruption.
    I thought it was great to have so many non-Pagans watching the ritual. The onlookers I talked to found it very interesting, and they did not at all feel unwelcome.
    We all have our own comfort levels and interests, though, which is why this particular ritual was just one of about a hundred different things going on all day at Pagan Pride!
    I very much appreciate you coming out to enjoy the day with us, Teo, and I hope to see you again next year!

  • I attended Denver Pagan Pride as a volunteer at the Living Earth Booth. Our booth was in direct line from the Main Stage. I had a wonderful time meeting, greeting and exchanging information with all who stopped by our booth. In fact I was having such a lovely time, that I stayed past the end of my shift, just to continue conversations with those whom were interested in Living Earth or Paganism in general.

    I didn’t attend the closing ritual however I have been part of many Open Rituals and have helped facilitate many Living Earth Open Rituals. One of the reasons I enjoy the Living Earth Community is their ability to include and be very welcoming to any one who wishes participate, irregardless of their experience in Ritual settings.

    For me, DPP is about coming out of the closet, and letting people and the community at large, have interactions with the Pagan Community. Its about educating the public to Pagan/Wiccan rites and ways. It takes real guts to lead a public ritual. At the very least you expose yourself to the community and others who may not share, understand or see the benefit of the ritual. At the most extreme, you could be putting yourself in harm’s way by exposing your religious practices to the general public. The Circle is one of the basic constructs of the Pagan/Wiccan Path and to not hold it, in public at the closing of DPP would seem odd to me. The title of the event was Denver Pagan Pride. In your blog there was reference to feeling as if we had become the Church. Everywhere there are Churches. Denver Pagan Pride is an opportunity for Pagans to be out in public, sharing our ways and beliefs. I feel uncomfortable attending a Christian Church service, yet I do not expect them to alter their services to make me comfortable. Instead I have the choice not to attend or find a Church that better suits my needs. I feel the same choices should be available for our rites. We need to take ownership and pride in our rites, especially when we hold them in public. My hope is that everyone who attends a public ritual will have positive experience but we know some will not. The bigger issue is that we continue to be open and welcoming, allowing those who are seeking to find us and allow them the opportunity to participate in ritual.

  • I am wondering why I had to read the comments to get the answers to the questions that Teo brought up, and that Joy didn’t answer. That’s all.