Pagan Voices: Crystal Blanton, T. Thorn Coyle, Byron Ballard, Morpheus Ravenna, and More!

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  July 15, 2013 — 21 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.

Crystal Blanton

Crystal Blanton

“And so I sit here, reconciling my fear of the reality that they are living today…. And acknowledging the guilt that I feel for this. I struggle to hold faith and hope for change in a world that invests in technology before human lives, and I wonder the plan of the Gods in a world that is so broken. So I take this primal rage inside of me, and I send that energy to the universe for the Martin family and for our collective grieving communities; for a mother without her child, a father grieving the loss of his legacy, and an entire community without justice. What I have come to truly understand is that there is no separation between my spiritual self, my ancestral culture and the path the Gods have put me on. My spirituality is deeply embedded within a framework that includes the divine sacredness of all beings, equally as important as the others. And so this type of injustice is sacrilegious to my belief system, and irreversibly detrimental to the Black community. Tonight I offer prayers and hold energy for a deeply wounded family, and a hurting community.” – Crystal Blanton, sharing her thoughts regarding the verdict in the Trayvon Martin trial.

T. Thorn Coyle

T. Thorn Coyle

“We are tearing ourselves asunder. The cost is high. Systemic racism means that every 36 hours an African American is killed by police or private security forces. Systemic racism means that when a black woman fires a warning shot into the air in an attempt to scare off her violent husband, she gets 20 years, despite the same Stand Your Ground Laws at play in the Zimmerman trial. Systemic racism means that every black and brown man in New York City has been stopped and frisked multiple times for no cause. Systemic racism means that African Americans are four times as likely to be arrested and jailed for marijuana possession than whites. Systemic racism means that more African Americans are in prison than were ever held as slaves. [...] This is a spiritual issue. This is all a spiritual issue. Matter is not fallen. The material world is sacred. That includes all of us. And yet we forget. We say that this portion does not deserve the light of the sun. We forget that even things that live in darkness can be beautiful and true. We say we have no power. We say it’s not our problem. We forget: we too are sacred. We are touched with divine fire. We forget that we co-create the cosmos with the Gods. We forget that every moment of every day, we get to choose: this magic, or that magic? We forget the flow of love. We forget that for love to flow freely, becoming the great connector, we must be open to it. We must open to love. In opening to it, love flows through us. Love flows on. This is a time for prayer. This is also a time for action. This is a time to open the floodgates of love. This is a time to act for justice.” – T. Thorn Coyle, asserting that “confronting racism is spiritual work.”

Donald Michael Kraig

Donald Michael Kraig

“I know, some people reading this will say, “But I can’t find a group” or “I can’t afford the travel, the costs, the time off from work, etc.” These are all good, legitimate reasons for choosing the easier, AI-2 type of initiation. I would like to point out, however, that there is another word that means “reasons.” It’s “excuses.” You can come up with all the reasons/excuses you want. But let me ask you this: If I were to say to you, “If you will travel across the country and come to my home, I’ll give you ten million dollars. It will change your life forever,” would you be willing to figure at a way to earn or borrow some extra money and get some time off in order to reach my house? I would say 999 out of 1,000 people would absolutely do this. Suddenly, those reasons/excuses given in the previous paragraph just vanish—if you really want the experience that will change your life. Similarly, you are more likely to receive a life-altering AI-1 experience by taking part in a physical initiation. I would say it’s worth it, wouldn’t you?” – Donald Michael Kraig, opining on the types and efficacy of astral initiations at the Llewellyn Worldwide blog.

Byron Ballard

Byron Ballard

“Thought I’d check in and let you all know we’re grounding, centering, focusing our wills down here in the sinking ship that is North Carolina. We know the country is watching us, wondering how much farther we can fall. Much farther, I’m afraid.  Some of you are aware of my conceit called “Tower Time.” It is my theory and experience that we are living in the time of the fall of empire (ours), in fact, I see it as the crash of several ancient toxic systems that are coming to the end of their time. Death to the patriarchy! Down with Oppression! Sic semper tyrannis! What that means in our Pagan communities is that we have some handy tools that can help us in the chaos of our General Assembly and its general assholery. The tools and techniques that many of us use in our daily practice are admirably suited to help us during this Tower Time. We have grounding and shielding and setting wards. We have Divines for healing and vengeance, and justice.” – Byron Ballard, a North Carolina resident, discussing “Tower Time” and recent political happenings in her state, at the PaganSquare.

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

Sam Webster

“The only point in saying that a person has had a UPG, an Unsubstantiated (sometimes Unverified) Personal Gnosis, is to be dismissive and demeaning to them, and on examination the claim or criticism of UPG has no worthy intellectual basis. [...] Experience is the center of all spiritual and religious life. Text is at best derivative. By creating and using such a term as UPG, “Unsubstantiated Personal Gnosis” we privilege text over experience. (This is a rather Christian move, and those who have been following my writing know how I feel about that. . .) Even more damagingly, by framing someone’s experience as a UPG we dissociate ourselves from the primary data of spirituality. We can then bracket and set aside the immediate real, and go back to our books. In the process we may have damaged both the knowledge we could have shared in, but also possibly the recipient of that knowledge, who could have been another culture bringer, but instead was told their experience was of diminished value, or of no value at all, simply because we can’t substantiate their insight in a book.” – Sam Webster, on why he doesn’t like the term “UPG” (Unverified Personal Gnosis).

Chas Clifton

Chas Clifton

“Within the academy — and here I speak mainly of the American Academy of Religion, the largest body for such study on this continent (it includes many Canadians too) — even the study of new religious movements was way off to the side. Those scholars themselves were relative newcomers to the AAR, which had its origins in the study of Christianity and which devoted most of its program sessions to textual matters. York not only situated Paganism  as “a religion, a behavior, and a theology,” he argued that Pagan elements were found in other “world religions” too — not just “Pagan survivals” but behaviors, primarily. I don’t mean to suggest cause and effect — one book did not do that  — but it was at about the same time that the AAR’s leadership, which had rejected a proposed Pagan Studies program unit — a permanent slot, in other words — in 1997,  relented in 2004 and granted it. So York helped to forge a sort of non-sectarian (not Wiccan, not Asatru, not Roman reconstructionist, etc.) definition that would change people’s minds to where they no longer thought that the P-word meant “having no religion” or “follower of an obsolete religion from long ago.” Instead, it would be a type of religion or a way of being religious. Paganism (academic definition) was everywhere.” – Chas Clifton, on the the influence and importance of Michael York’s definition of Paganism.

Morpheus Ravenna

Morpheus Ravenna

“We know that it was a common practice among the warrior traditions of the Gaulish Celts to offer dedications to their war Gods prior to a battle, and we know that human and animal sacrifices were among those offerings. It stands to reason, and I think has been shown, that these Gods (or at the very least our Goddess) still expect some kind of blood sacrifice. Modern Pagans love to talk about how the Gods evolve with us, and how forms of offerings can be different in modern times. I agree – but I think the important thing that has shifted isn’t whether or not living sacrifice is needed or useful. What has shifted is the importance of the individual soul and the idea of consent, the willing sacrifice. Everyone whose blood went into that cup offered it of their own volition. Similarly, when we organized the blood donation drive at PantheaCon last year, that was a form of sacrifice which was purely volitional. That focus on volition with regard to human offerings is reflective of how sacrifice can evolve in a modern context – a religious practice now shaped by modern values on individual liberty, but still preserving the core function of the act, which is the offering of vital life.” – Morpheus Ravenna, on blood sacrifice, and whether certain gods still want/need/desire it.

Erick DuPree

Erick DuPree

“Refuge in the Goddess however meant that I had to cast aside that I might be seen as less than magical, less than “witch” or less than what media labels “Pagan author” simply because I do not follow the traditional year in a day to initiation mold. I had to give myself permission to dare, because the one thing I am not ashamed about or worried about the world knowing is this… I was raped. I was raped over and over again and the only reason I am alive is because of Goddess.  Goddess from above and Goddess from within. That is not a feeling, or a belief, that is a documented clinical fact. On more than one occasion, trauma therapists have noted that ‘something’ kept me from a darkness. They call it “inner light” and my mother might call it Jesus, but we witches know it is Goddess [...] Many people who have been Sexually Assaulted ask themselves, “Why me?” I too, asked that very question. I too, asked, will another man ever touch me? I too, asked why Goddess?” - Erick DuPree, Dharma Pagan, on why, as a survivor of sexual abuse, he contributed to the forthcoming anthology “Rooted in the Body, Seeking the Soul: Magic Practitioners Living with Disabilities, Addiction, and Illness.”

Peter Dybing

Peter Dybing

“It has been pointed out that these references do not refer to us “big P Pagans” but rather to the march towards a post Christian society. This line of reasoning urges us not to perceive these statements as a direct confrontation of our collective religious identity. Meanwhile the public is being bombarded with the demonization of the word Pagan with out any information to dispel these statements. Our community cannot afford to jeopardize the progress we have made by choosing to not confront those whose intent is perceived as “not talking about us”.  Such a course of action will only result in more misplaced distrust and discrimination. This attempt by the religious right to frame the conversation in a way that replicates the “satanic panic” of past decades provides a perilous framework for future discourse. [...] To the general public, the intellectual exercise of differentiating between big P and little p Pagans does not exist. In defense of all we have collectively accomplished we must respond if we wish to avoid being marginalized by a reframing of the debate that has the potential to diminish our community’s voice.” – Peter Dybing, on why Pagans need to formulate a response to the increasing use of the term “pagan” as a slur by conservative Christians towards their cultural and political opponents.

P. Sufenas Virius Lupus

P. Sufenas Virius Lupus

“The entirety, however, is billed (both in the book and in the beginning of the film) as “a story that will make you believe in God.” Let’s read that sentence again: a story that will make you believe in God. That’s sort of a bold statement for any religion, and for any story. So, did it succeed? Well, for me, no, and not just because I already have particular religious commitments. Without entirely ruining the film, the end of it comes down to a choice: “which story do you prefer?” Does one prefer horrific humanistic (in the sense of “strictly human,” not “friendly atheist” or “Italian intellectual rediscovery of Greek culture”) realism and Darwinian disaster, or religion and myth and allegory that is ultimately escapist fantasy? It doesn’t really amount to “making” one “believe in God,” then: it means “does one accept the world as it is,” or “does one retreat to imagination?” And, the latter option, which seems to be the preferred one of the characters in the film, is essentially to “believe in God,” according to this film. Can you see how problematic this is, even on the surface, for anyone who actually has a religion that puts them in touch with how things actually are, even independent of the presence of the gods in such a world?” – P. Sufenas Virius Lupus, on why he was not overly fond of the film “Life of Pi” and its “slippery” theology.

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

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Jason Pitzl-Waters

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  • cernowain greenman

    I respectfully disagree with Sam Webster on his characterizing the term “UPG” as favoring written sources and calling this a “Christian” move. The purposes for appealing to the term UPG are 1) acknowledge the person’s experience as genuine, 2) recognize that not all spiritual experiences indicate a universal truth for everyone else and 3) some times UPGs that are experienced by different people have contradictory information. The term “UPG” allows us to respect each other’s experiences and not necessarily agree with all the content of that spiritual experience.

    I affirm that the Gods and Powers do indeed communicate to us; however it is still a human mind that is trying to interpret what is seen and/or experienced. And that is where the fallibility comes in, and why we should be humble enough to recognize that our interpretations of our experiences are limited by our humanity.

    Sam Webster
    Sam Webster

    • Luminous_Being

      I think my problem with the term is the “unsubstantiated.” When I was taking religious studies classes the phenomenon was referred to as a personal hierophany.

      How much is “substantiated” about gods? We can substantiate what their worshipers did – i.e. this type of animal was sacrificed to Zeus at this temple during this period of time – but wasn’t everything written about him in the Iliad unsubstantiated?

      • cernowain greenman

        That’s a good question. Who does the “substantiating”? I really think they simply mean it is substantiated when everyone else’s UPGs are in agreement.

        And that may or may not include the ancients. For example, the classic Iliad and the late era Dionysia have many points of disagreement– so which sources do you substantiate with? And different temples may have sacrificed differently at different times. Mmm.

      • Lēoht Sceadusawol

        Over time, clear pictures of the gods have been built up.

        If someone suddenly gives a very different (often contradictory to what we ‘know’) view of that god, do we take that as a valid religious experience, or do we consider that self delusion may be at work?

        Imagine if someone decided that Þunor represented sobriety and pacifism. Is that a valid stance or do we challenge it as not sounding at all like the Germanic thunder god so many know and honour?

        I am not saying that personal religious experience is worthless. Quite the contrary, it is infinitely valuable. I simply feel that any experience should be examined for truth.

        • Luminous_Being

          To a certain degree that buys into the belief that there are no contradicting versions of the stories and that deities cannot change.

          Originally, Aphrodite was the daughter of Zeus and Dione. Later she is born from sea foam when the castrated genitals of Ouranos are cast into the ocean. The second, much more fanciful version is the one I hear quoted most often by pagans.

          How many “substantiated” (or “verified” if you prefer) versions of ancient stories have only a single text that we can point to as a source? I’m not saying that if someone tells me about a screwy-sounding belief I am not going to have a personal bias against it, I just am also aware that I believe all sorts of screwy things myself.

          I rather enjoyed the book “Arthur’s Enchantresses” in which a scholar points out that while there is nothing at all about the Medieval Morgan le Fay to connect her to the Morrigan she didn’t see any problem with modern pagans working with her in that context.

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            It is not just about looking at sources from history, though. It is about using discretionary judgement.

            Another example of this would be Judaism. It used to be polytheistic, until it was changed. Most Pagans would be more inclined to go with the earlier model than the later one, regarding gods.

            I am not saying only trust existing sources, I am saying that if an experience contradicts the established consensus on the nature of a god, then we need to consider which is more likely, the view of the individual or the view of the many.

            Without direct, empirical evidence, these things are very difficult to view objectively. (I fervently believe that reality is objective and that it can be seen in such a way.)

            (I’ll ignore the Arthurian bit, since the whole mythology is just a huge mess.)

          • Scott

            “To a certain degree that buys into the belief that there are no
            contradicting versions of the stories and that deities cannot change.”

            Not at all. It simply recognizes that the community has standards for adoption of reported information about deities. That’s just appropriate discretion.

    • Macha NightMare

      I disagree with Sam as well, but for a slightly different reason. I find the term UPG helpful. I don’t see it as favoring text over experience. I see it as respecting an individual’s experience without necessarily sharing it and without being able to replicate it. I see UPG as a mystical experience or a visitation from a divine entity that cannot be proven scientifically. Some religious experiences can be cultivated using scientific methods (breath work, prolonged meditation, fasting, or dancing, for instance, may bring about fairly predictable changes); some cannot. Those unexplainable, unreproducable insights and experiences are what I understand to be UPGs.

      If my friend tells me that Hekate told her something, then I accept that Hekate did tell her that, even though Hekate didn’t tell me that.

  • Baruch Dreamstalker

    I am torn in two directions over the increasing use of “pagan” as a slur by conservative Christians. One the one hand I want to get out there in their face in the honorable tradition of the Anti-Defamation League.
    On the other hand I wonder: Who’s listening? We are, of course, but who else? It may be a dog-whistle term to other conservative Chriatians but does the general public even notice? Does it add substantial weight to to the burden the word carries in the mind of Joe or Jane Average?
    When our foes use the word “pagan” in this way I suspect it’s displaced angst at the “nones,” the increasing number of Americans who have no use for any religiious institution and thus for the conservative Christian agenda. There’s no handy slur term for nones so conservative Christians fall back on a slur term they already (think they) have.
    I would consider letting them rant to each other and perhaps do no more in response than help them look silly in the eyes of the general public.

    • cernowain greenman

      The Conservative Christians’ old fashioned term for the “Nones” was “the godless”. I’m not sure why they now prefer “pagan”, but there’s not much rhyme or reason in what goes on with the Fundies/Evangelicals.

      • Baruch Dreamstalker

        I think they woke up to the fact that the unchurched are no longer intimidated by being called godless.

        • cernowain greenman

          Baruch, oh, man, that’s another term I hate… “the unchurched”. When I hear that word, I want to tell them, “Oh, go *church yourself*! You ain’t gonna church me”. Ugh.

    • Lēoht Sceadusawol

      How much ‘outreach’ is there, from the various Paganisms?

      We all know the teachings of Christianity because they have done a very good job of getting out there and talking to the public (both believers and otherwise).

      They have also been the ones defining what ‘paganism’ and ‘pagan’ means, to the general public.

      When someone says ‘we are seeing a creeping paganism…’, what does the average member of the public think? Do they know what Paganism is?

      I would say no, they do not. Why not? Because Pagans do not, by and large, engage the wider public about it.

      There is a shunning of evangelism, amongst the Pagan communities. I am not really sure why, it is a good tool in increasing understanding, so long as it is not misused.

      • Baruch Dreamstalker

        What the right wingnuts mean by “creeping Paganism” is increased secularism as the First Amendment is discovered in some parts of the country. Pagans are often the agents of this education so, in a sense, the term is accurate, just crafted to be scary. I doubt it will frighten anyone who isn’t already scared of us.
        The reluctance of Pagans to evangelize probably arises from previous experience on the receiving end, and I don’t see that changing.

        • Lēoht Sceadusawol

          What they mean is important only inasmuch as what other people understand it to mean.

          Sure, it may not scare any more people than it already does, but the fact is that their usage is now a case of spreading misinformation.

          I think a lot of people don’t see a distinction between evangelism and proselytism. I never used to, but hanging out on The Wild Hunt has allowed me to gain an understanding of the distinction.

          Evangelism is the sharing of belief (often through the telling of stories) whilst proselytism is the attempted coercion and enforcing of belief.

          Really, how bad would it be if a group of Pagans became street performing storytellers?

          • Baruch Dreamstalker

            The only difference I see in practice between evangelism and prosetylism is one is easier to spell. It’s always in some kind of Christian context (at least in the USA) and it’s always an intrusion on one’s time or space for a message one did not seek.

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            ‘We’ redefined ‘Pagan’, why not evangelism?

            Worst case scenario, people ignore the free show.

          • Baruch Dreamstalker

            Hey, if you want to become a Pagan street performer, Goddess bless you. Throw in a little busking, maybe?

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            It is something I have been considering, more and more.

            Maybe I could do it outside the local abbey? ;)

  • anon

    Someone tell Coyle that Stand Your Ground wasn’t invoked in the Zimmerman case. Get your facts straight before commenting. BTW the trial wasn’t about guns and laws, it has been and always will be about race. the fact that a man (who enjoys white privileged, despite his ‘Latino’ heritage, its complex, but thats FL) stalked and killed a black child based on suspicion and nothing more, then claimed he feared for his life after confronting the kid. basic research should be done before writing social commentary. but than again it is the internet, anyone can make a blog and write what they want, despite the FACTS. *sigh*

    T. Thorn Coyle
    T. Thorn Coyle
    T. Thorn Coyle

    • T Thorn Coyle

      Hello Anon,

      Thank you for a chance to clarify my point. Regarding Stand Your Ground, I said it was “at play” in the Zimmerman case because of this argument:

      “While Zimmerman did not ultimately use the “stand your ground” defense in his case, Sanford police did not arrest him until almost two months after the shooting because of the Florida stand your ground rules that require police to have specific evidence to refute a self defense claim in order to arrest someone claiming self defense.” http://www.freep.com/usatoday/article/2517507

      Not sure if you clicked through, but my whole post was about confronting racism. I said quite clearly said that because of racism, Trayvon Martin is dead. It is yet another in a long list of tragic deaths.

      blessings – Thorn