Pagan Voices: Joseph Merlin Nichter, T. Thorn Coyle, Crystal Blanton, and More!

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  February 28, 2013 — 9 Comments

Pagan voices is a spotlight on recent quotations from figures within the Pagan community. These voices may appear in the burgeoning Pagan media, or from a mainstream outlet, but all showcase our wisdom, thought processes, and evolution in the public eye. Is there a Pagan voice you’d like to see highlighted? Drop me a line with a link to the story, post, or audio.

Joseph Merlin Nichter (aka WitchDoctorJoe)

Joseph Merlin Nichter (aka WitchDoctorJoe)

“I first started volunteering at one particular prison because the Protestant chaplain called me and ask me too. He asked me to because the prison had put him in charge of facilitating religious accommodations for the Wiccans, Druids and Asatru (oh my!). And he could not, in good conscious, perform that task because it violated the doctrines of his faith. While I agree that it is a perverse conflict of interest to put him to such a task, I would argue stronger that he should resign his position as a “Chaplain” and return to being a “Priest.” Because there is a difference.  Being a priest is about being a servant of your religion, being a chaplain is about being a religious servant to others.”Joseph Merlin Nichter, a Pagan prison chaplain, writing about “Spells for Cells” at PaganSquare.

Sam Webster (with Herm), photo by Tony Mierzwicki.

Sam Webster (with Herm), photo by Tony Mierzwicki.

“So, when somebody with some seniority and some knowledge in our community makes an assertion, states a clear if challenging opinion, what claim has that on anyone? None, except if the author is lucky, to make you think, perhaps to feel. You are still responsible for your own views, accepting or rejecting theirs. Likewise, we must be mindful of the power dynamics in such a statement. Does the person making the assertion have the power to enforce it, and the desire to? I was asked if I would be imposing a doctrinal test upon anyone who came into circle with me. Seriously? What makes you think I care what you think? Your beliefs and opinions, except to the extent you inform me, are inscrutable to me and a matter of your conscience. Likewise, so are mine to you, except that I’ve been doing some informing. If I don’t think someone is being a “proper Pagan,” why should they care? They have a right to their own opinion, just as I do.” – Sam Webster, author of “Tantric Thelema” and founder of the Open Source Order of the Golden Dawn, on the nature of Pagan authority.

Crystal Blanton

Crystal Blanton

“One moment that sticks out to me was the emotion that was evoked within me when speaking about my own privilege, a privilege that the kids I work with do not have. I think people automatically assume that those who talk about privilege are standing in a “victim” mentality role. I recognize that I am often the oppressed and the oppressor. I am humbled by a society that puts people in a position to be on both sides of the fence and awareness becomes the most important tool we can harness.” – Crystal Blanton, author of “Pain and Faith in a Wiccan World,” on the Pagans and Privelege panel held at PantheaCon 2013. For more on this, see T. Thorn Coyle’s reflections. You may also want to read Crystal’s pre-PantheaCon interview at PNC-Bay Area.

J. Rhett Aultman

J. Rhett Aultman

“Atheism has, over the past century or so, seen a very serious restriction in its definition.  There are many reasons for it, not the least of which are religious interests in America using politics to attempt to restrict science and science education.  In a broad historical perspective, though, there have been atheist philosophies within every religious tradition and several religious traditions that classify the cosmos in such a way that there’s simply no room for deities to exist.  Your atheist Pagan might take a highly psychological viewpoint on divinity, or may believe that divinity isn’t an entity and thus not subject to existence, or may think divinity is simply “the absolute,” or may simply not really feel concerned with questions about divinity.  Much as atheist philosophers have shaped the history of Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, and various aspects of Christianity, atheists in the Pagan community are there, keeping things from becoming ossified into some canonical form of religiosity.  Our lack of commitment to existential divinity is a feature, not a bug, and there’s a good chance that we were quite welcome to the discussion before we brought up that whole atheism thing.  Let us hang out.  Tell us if we’re telling you what your spiritual reality should be; let us have our spiritual reality and speak from it.  We’ll get along fabulously.  I promise.”  - J. Rhett Aultman on the care and feeding of the atheist Pagan.

“People are so afraid: How will I pay the rent? Will our daughter make it home from war? How will we get through this next crisis? Will the planet hold up under these climate shifts? Will my son make it home from school today? What if I die alone and unloved? What if the Gods aren’t real? Love is greater than our fears. All of them. Even the very real fears. Even the imagined fears. Love is greater.T. Thorn Coyle explaining how love is greater than fear. Thorn has a new book out tomorrow entitled “Make Magic of Your Life: Passion, Purpose, and the Power of Desire.”

P. Sufenas Virius Lupus

P. Sufenas Virius Lupus

“One of the matters which Thorn pointed out in the discussion is one that I’ve very much taken on board over the last twelve years: don’t make very much of the distinction between “the mundane” and “the spiritual” or “the otherworldly,” especially as it applies to events like PantheaCon. PantheaCon is just as much a part of the world as anything else is, and the world with all of its marvels and difficulties is just as much a part of PantheaCon as the gods, spirits, and magic are–and in fact, sometimes even more than we would expect! Thinking back over the PantheaCons I’ve attended since 2007 (i.e. all of them between then and now), I can remember each year just as accurately by what the sleeping arrangements were and how clean I and my fellow room-sharers kept the bathroom (or not) as I can by what events occurred that year or what sessions I offered. I know my memory can be unexpectedly prodigious for such details, even surprising myself on some occasions, but likewise, food varieties and availabilities and amount of rest and patterns of carpet and size of luggage and comfortability and sexiness of clothes and status of ongoing health situations–which, to some, would constitute “mundane matters”–are just as important to me in my memories of these events as the presence of the gods, the movements of spirits, the effects of magic, and the positive or negative influences of specific individuals have been on each occasion. The “mundane” often gives the basis from which we are able to access the “spiritual,” and to ignore this is to ignore one of the very most basic and important teachings of the wider pagan umbrella at present, I think.”P. Sufenas Virius Lupus on processing his post-PantheaCon experiences, and the false separation between the “mundane” and the “spiritual.”

That’s all I have for now, have a great day!

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Jason Pitzl-Waters

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  • PhaedraHPS

    What P. Sufenas Virius Lupus is very true, as is the converse. So often at events I hear people say, “Oh, I wish I didn’t have to go back to the Real World.” Those events are the Real World, too, as real as anything else in our lives. I think that idea should be celebrated and those experiences not arbitrarily segregated.

    I hope those who were able to attend PCon (and so many other events) can take a moment to consider the privilege that represents. It represents, among other things, health, disposable income, prestige enough to be an invited guest, geographical proximity, or a host of other factors.

    I shook my head at someone, I don’t remember who (hope it wasn’t you!), who said that PCon was truly national, then listed presenters from all over the country. The presenters may well have been flown in especially as honored guests (not to suggest that’s a bad thing, all big cons do that). They might not attend otherwise, especially if considerable travel was involved. I would be more curious to see the geographical demographics of non-invited attendees. I suspect it is narrower, with outliers certainly, but realistically it’s going to skew to the West Coast. I can’t recall any Midwest or East Coast friends who would typically go to PCon–unless they were invited to come as presenters. It’s just a reality. We’re a big country, travel is expensive, hotels for the event are both scarce and expensive, it’s inevitable that only so many people from far away are going to come. But I digress.

    • Jason Hatter

      I know that as much as I would love to go, travelling to PCon is just not an option at this time (Living in Michigan). I’m grateful for more local events such as ConVocation for just that reason.

  • http://egregores.blogspot.com Apuleius Platonicus

    Back in the day, Porphry wrote a letter to his friend and fellow Pagan philosopher Iamblichus, and in the course of that letter Porphyry states that he acknowledges the existence of the Gods. Iamblichus strenuously objects to this way of putting things, though, on the grounds that our “innate knowledge of the Gods is coexistent with our nature, and is superior to all judgement and choice.”

    Iamblichus further states that the “contact” that we have with the Gods is not the same thing as what we usually mean by “knowledge”, in which there is a knower separate from that which is known. Prior to all such second-hand knowledge there is “the unitary connection with the Gods that is natural.” Therefore, our connection with the Gods is not “something that we can either grant or not grant,” because “it is rather the case that we are enveloped by the Divine presence, and we are filled with it, and we possess our very essence by virtue of our knowledge that there are Gods.”

    In practical terms, though, there is absolutely no issue when it comes to inclusiveness or acceptance. The only time someone would be directly quizzed about “beliefs” would be in the process of formally joining a group or something similar (initiation or taking on a leadership position, etc). It’s a different matter, though, if Pagan atheists themselves choose to make their beliefs, or lack thereof, an issue. If you hang a sign around your neck that says “I reject your Gods”, then you must deal with how people respond to that.

    • Deborah Bender

      I should get better acquainted with Iamblichus.

      • http://egregores.blogspot.com Apuleius Platonicus

        He is definitely worth getting to know!

      • Robert Mathiesen

        Iamblichus is very much worth reading. There are three English translations out there (that I know of) for his treatise “On the Mysteries.” I like Thomas Taylor’s translation, simply because he took the Pagan Gods seriously and thus he understood (I dare say) on a gut level something of what Iamblichus meant. Indeed, there has long been a story current that Taylor once sacrificed a bull to Zeus back in the late 1700s. Alexander Wilder’s translation seems to be a revision of Taylor’s. About ten years ago there appeared a new translation by Emma C. Clarke, John M. Dillon and Jackson P. Hershbell, which I haven;t yet had the time to examine carefully. The translators’ reputations promise an accurate translation, but I don’t know whether they entered enough into Iamblichus’ own frame of reference to really get things right. Apuleius, have you looked at it carefully yet? I’d be very glad to hear what you think of it.

        • http://egregores.blogspot.com Apuleius Platonicus

          Taylor’s translation is the one I put the most “trust” in, if that is the right word, for the reasons you mention, but I also make use of the translation by Clarke et al. because their English is more contemporary (and simpler), and also because it has the original Greek on the facing page.

    • Northern_Light_27

      What I got out of what you said is that atheists are welcome as long as they don’t talk about being atheists. Is that what you intended to express? Why should atheists be any less free to talk about how they process god-concept questions than someone who not only believes in gods, but thinks they talk to him every day and express what he should eat, wear, and listen to that day?

      There are so many very vocally god-bothered, mystically-inclined people running around Pagandom eager to tell you at very great length all about not only what their gods think about everything, but about the muddiness in your aura or the time they dealt with evil spirits as guardian witches or the vibrations of the rocks you’re wearing or the message that the tree you’re standing next to has for the world that I find it something of a relief when I run across someone who says “truth be told, I never felt any of that and I don’t think I believe in it”. There’s a sort of peer pressure on people in the Pagan community to experience these things, to not only believe in gods but to have a patron deity and know exactly who that is, to feel energy, etc. that I don’t think is terribly healthy. I like having atheists around, and I think it’s good for the movement to have atheists around who are actually willing to say what it is that they do and don’t experience, and I don’t want them to be more quiet.

      • http://egregores.blogspot.com Apuleius Platonicus

        As far as I am concerned, atheists are welcome period. And they are welcome to talk about their lack of belief in the Gods, and other Pagans are welcome to take issue with that. Pagans who do believe in the Gods very often disagree, and often quite vocally, over those beliefs. Pagans who don’t believe in the Gods shouldn’t expect any special treatment – their ideas will be subject to the same spectrum of responses that anyone else can expect.