Pagan Voices: T. Thorn Coyle, Liz Williams, Gus DiZerega, and More!

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  August 13, 2013 — 10 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.

T. Thorn Coyle

T. Thorn Coyle

“Love is – or can be – in everything we do. Love is with us in the midst of the onslaught of misogyny and hatred. Love is with us in the midst of racism, injustice, and murder. Love is with us if we let it. Love is what helps us to keep choosing our lives. When you feel worn out, or pummeled, or sad, or angry, or not heard, I hope that you remember to keep choosing for the sake of love. When you feel inspired, or filled up, or well seen, or joyous, I hope that you remember to keep choosing for the sake of love. When we choose for love (not pats on the head, not cookies, not gold stars) we are strengthened for a future we can’t know. When we choose for love, we can choose rightly, even if we turn out to be “wrong”. When we choose for love, the choice is always worth the risk. We learn something. We open. We are connected. We are changed. We can kindle hope when all else fails us, for we have chosen for love’s sake, and for our own. And what we do then, we are choosing for the world.” – T. Thorn Coyle, on choosing love, even when it sucks.

Annika Mongan

Annika Mongan

“So I went to Multnomah University to meet with Dr. Paul Louis Metzger, founder and director of New Wine, New Wineskins, author of Connecting Christ, and a Patheos blogger deeply engaged in interfaith dialogue. I had been following the growing dialogue between Pagans and Christians on Jason Pitzl-Water’s blog The Wild Hunt and was excited to meet with Paul. Paul was very pleasant to speak with and time flew as I answered his deep and interesting questions. I hear the question “so how did you go from being a Christian to becoming a Pagan?” constantly and I rarely give the same answer. There are too many aspects and layers to my journey. Since Paul is a theologian and professor of doctrine, I figured I would provide a very short version of my journey and then talk about Christian versus Pagan theology. That was the plan, but I surprised myself by talking primarily about my experience and practice. When Jason visited Paul’s class, he noticed that the students’ focus was on belief whereas his own focus was on practice. Evangelical Christianity puts emphasis on “right thinking” whereas paganism is more interested in how we practice and live.” – Annika Mongan, a former evangelical Christian turned Pagan, discussing her recent visit to the Christian university she graduated from.

P. Sufenas Virius Lupus

P. Sufenas Virius Lupus

“I understand that many Pagans, in adopting this approach, are attempting to not recreate the situations of their own childhood, where a repressive compulsory Christianity was something that they did not enjoy and over which there still may be lingering issues with their parents and extended families. Nonetheless, it would be a good test of “truth of concept” for Paganism as a viable religion for one to raise a child in it, while also giving them a good background in other religious traditions (in a manner that is neither relativist nor condemnatory, and is as informed as possible). If one’s religion is good enough for oneself, why isn’t it good enough to teach to one’s own children? It is perfectly possible to raise a child in a given religion without “indoctrinating” them into it or in any way coercing them. Even pious adults sometimes skive when they are adults; children and teenagers, likewise, might do this as well, and there’s no reason not to let them in many cases. [...] No religion that ignores the “traditional” family will last long, and whether a given family has LGBTQ children or not, engagement with a queer theological structure can certainly benefit them and add to the diversity of approach and respect for all people that is so often hailed as an ideal and a virtue within Pagan religious frameworks.” – P. Sufenas Virius Lupus, on the importance of raising Pagan children.

Gus DiZerega

Gus DiZerega

“In my opinion, arguing that a woman must give birth to a pre-existing spirit because it has chosen her to be its mother is yet one more example of turning women into being primarily servants of others. It is a characterization motivated by duty and fear, and among other things, it prevents women from choosing to enter into relationships out of affection and love. Others’ needs and wants pre-empt and subordinate theirs. In my view, nothing is more important than the relationship between a child and its parents. Loved children are vastly better off than those who do not experience love, or experience it intermittently. For there to be solid love, the relationship between a mother and child must be consensual. Of course, love could develop even when initially it is absent. This was the case in some arranged marriages of the past, and I am confident it remains true for some today: fortunate couples in arranged marriages sometimes developed loving and satisfying relationships.  However, I cannot imagine these sometimes happy outcomes constitute a justification for forcing marriages on couples who otherwise would not have gotten married.” – Gus DiZerega, on Pagan abortion ethics.

Liz Williams

Liz Williams

“One advantage of this resistance to formalisation and structure is the relative lack of pagan cults. Although in the early days of Wicca it was known as the “witch cult”, there’s little that’s cult-like about pagan practice. It’s too diverse, and lacks central figureheads. There are a few people who are, let’s say, personality-challenged, who would like to set up a cult, but in large part they fail, due to the innate stroppiness and independence of their fellow pagans. Very small cult-like groups might form and these tend to be classically abusive, but don’t in general attract large numbers. As with every generalisation, there are possible exceptions: Damanhur, the extraordinary structure currently being built in northern Italy, might function as an instance of a cult, with commensurate accusations surrounding it of brainwashing and tax evasion. Central figures of its worship include Horus, Sekhmet and Pan, which brings it beneath the pagan aegis. However, Damanhur’s leader, Oberto Airaudi, has recently died, so quite what will happen to the admittedly remarkable temple that he inspired is open to some question. In contrast Philip Carr-Gomm, the nominal head of one of the largest pagan organisations – the Order of Bards, Ovates & Druids – is so low-key that many druids would be hard-pressed to pick him out of a line-up: a deliberate approach that avoids the abuses of many religious organisations. Might we draw comparisons with other, decentralised religions such as western Buddhism? I think we can, and in this light paganism is appearing increasingly progressive.” – Liz Williams, on politics, ethics, and cults within modern Paganism.

Frater Barrabbas Tiresius

Frater Barrabbas Tiresius

“I have been a pagan monist now for many years. Even so, I have always elected not to name or give attributes to that element of the One which I have tangibly experienced from time to time when I have worked my most intense magical rites or engaged in deep forms of meditation. It was only when I read the book “The Shape of Ancient Thought” by Thomas McEviley that I discovered the more intrinsic and varied aspects of that belief which I had adopted, and that the progression from polytheism to monism was a natural one and not an anomaly as some had led me to believe. This revelation helped me to advance my understanding of this phenomenon from that of a mythic perspective to one that unfolded into a kind of religious philosophy. Thus, with the aid of this book, I transformed myself from a religious faith-based adherent to an occult philosopher with a much wider view.” - Frater Barrabbas Tiresius, on how his journey from polytheism to monism was a natural progression.

Morpheus Ravenna

Morpheus Ravenna

“It now seems to me that personal sovereignty is what our lives are made of. That it’s really all we have. Fate, or chance, or whatever you like to call it, will cast us into all kinds of circumstances over which we have no control at all. What is ours is that right to exert agency for ourselves, to choose our way forward through whatever faces us, to choose for ourselves how to respond. To live by our own lights. Ancient cultures often framed this in terms of a heroic ethos, in which it was understood that even if fate took all other options from you, you could always exercise the choice to die well, and that to do so was to exercise the ultimate sovereignty. People in circumstances like mine are privileged to not have to frame this in life-and-death terms, but I think the ethos of free will and sovereignty still has merit and applies. [...] What I am telling you is: Don’t let go of your soul because someone told you that you couldn’t or shouldn’t be that. Don’t let go without at least trying for yourself, without getting your feet dusty attempting to climb the path. Don’t give your sovereignty away. Don’t let go of your soul.” - Morpheus Ravenna, on personal sovereignty, and keeping hold of your soul.

Sannion

Sannion

“Let me tell you about this community. It’s polytheism without borders. Not without standards, but definitely without borders. You see, it’s a community of people who love their divinities and love other people’s divinities and want to see all divinities being honored properly and abundantly. It’s a community of people who are deeply engaged in worship and want to make that worship as powerful and beautiful as possible. We don’t discuss politics and our personal issues and our hobbies when we’re together. If we want to socialize, we’ll go socialize somewhere else! We come together for the sole purpose of honoring our divinities and other people’s divinities and helping our fellow community members do that as well. We share knowledge and resources and help get the word out about the awesome things that other people are doing to honor their divinities and lend a hand whenever we can. We aren’t concerned with who’s in or who’s out – because the only “in” is doing stuff and as long as that stuff is pleasing to the divinities that’s all that really matters. It’s a community of people who are fed up with politics and infighting and talk, talk, talk and want to find people to do stuff with. We don’t always see eye to eye and some of us do stuff that’s radically different from the stuff that other people are doing, but we don’t get overly concerned about that. Because it’s more important that people be doing their stuff and when you’re all up in other people’s stuff, you aren’t doing your own stuff.” – Sannion, on polytheism without borders.

Jason Miller

Jason Miller

“As a practitioner of magic you are working to open yourself to spirits and contact them. Opening and expanding this connection is a two way street. Unless you tightly control it, spirits have access to you. Some traditions emphasize constant banishing and only allowing contact with entities that you consciously invite into your sphere. That’s fine for some people I suppose but I fall into the category of people that are more open to spontaneous contact. The trick is having the ability to close contact when needed, having the spiritual authority to control contact when necessary, and the power to knock the shit out things that fuck with you anyway. Basically I see it as similar to how you deal with people [...] Avoid mistakes when you can. Make offerings as amends when you can’t. Give warnings when you are about to do magic someplace other than your temple. Basically, don’t be a dick. Once they know that you know better, they are less forgiving.” – Jason Miller, on the importance of having good etiquette with spirits.

David Oliver Kling

David Oliver Kling

“Most of us did not plan to be “ministers” of any sort, but life can take us down some unexpected paths. If you feel drawn to serve others, you will sooner or later find yourself over your head if you have not had some good training or mentoring, or both. Chaplaincy brings up all of our personal issues and creates its own anxieties. Will we say the right thing? Do something unethical without realizing it? Offend someone unintentionally? Whether the context is a small faith community, a Pagan festival, an interfaith project or gathering, you need to order your personal ideas, lower your anxiety and function as the professional that you are. Chaplaincy is less about book smarts and more about common sense. It’s about entering into someone else’s spiritual distress without getting pulled into it and allow it to take over. It’s about being able to function in multiple settings as a leader, being the person who is capable of journeying with someone else and helping them in their life journey. My best advice for new chaplains is that if you can only do one thing, that would be listen to someone else, summarize what they have told you, then help them process what they are feeling. That’s the basics of chaplaincy, and if that’s all you do, people will appreciate that.” - David Oliver Kling, a teacher at Cherry Hill Seminary, on the Pagan as chaplain.

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

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Jason Pitzl-Waters

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  • Baruch Dreamstalker

    Unitarian Universalism has a generations-long track record for raising kids to be UUs while teaching them about other religions as part of the Sunday School curriculum. On three occasions I have been asked to be part of that curriculum presenting Paganism for the Sunday School of the UU fellowship to which I now belong. At my previous UU church, in a different city, I pioneered a UU Samhain service and was asked to get together with a Sunday School gathering after church to talk about death and the dead. (And I learned some things, too!)
    So I wholly support the words of P. Sufenas Virius Lupus; one need not indoctrinate. Indeed, the first step in raising kids to be the kind of person your religion says they should be, is to be that kind of person oneself.

    • P. Sufenas Virius Lupus

      It’s amazing how strongly people can react to a single word, like “raise” in the context of children and religion. So many Pagans react likewise with words like “religion,” “worship,” and other things that don’t necessarily have to mean what they mean in the religious traditions that they were raised with…it’s sort of sad.

  • Northern_Light_27

    That Liz Williams article makes me irritated because it’s so completely wrong. Saying there’s even a “relative” absence of cults or hand-waving off the ones that form because they’re too small to “attract large numbers” does an immense disservice to the many Pagans who are working through one degree or another of PTSD thanks to being in Pagan cults.

    • Baruch Dreamstalker

      [M]any Pagans … are working through … PTSD thanks to being in Pagan cults.
      The testimony of someone in that situation would make a very interesting Wild Hunt post.

      • Northern_Light_27

        The vast majority, including me, wouldn’t do it because naming the groups we were in (or giving enough specific detail for it to be guessed) would bring down a whole ton of harassment from members of the group that most don’t want to deal with all over again. For me it’s a story I only tell face-to-face.

    • Lēoht Sceadusawol

      In fairness, to the article, it is written from a British point of view and Pagan cults seldom make headlines. If there were a significant number of them, they’d be in the news all the time. Paganism gets in the news pretty easily. (Every time a horse gets attacked, Pagans/Witches are blamed.)

      Sure, this does not negate the potential for abuse to happen, but it does mean it happens on a far lower scale is less likely to be institutional.

      • Northern_Light_27

        Why would they be in the news? Unless someone died on their watch or something equally attention-grabbing like imprison the wife of the leader for so many years people file a missing-person report (i.e. $cientology), cults in general aren’t on the media radar. Small group has terrible group dynamics with a leader who thinks they’re the conduit of the gods/a sacral king/etc. and an inner circle who are abusive to people, that’s not really newsworthy. Especially since the attitude of most people, particularly secular people, about cults is “if they were dumb enough to get that badly duped, they kinda deserved it”. You could have a hundred tiny, awful little groups and unless they did something very showy, they’re not going to end up in the news.

        • Lēoht Sceadusawol

          Because the Daily Mail is a British paper that loves to sensationalise and seems pretty convinced that Paganism should be eradicated from the Christian Nation that is Britain.

          Look at the case in Cornwall recently:
          http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-cornwall-20705898

  • cernowain greenman

    Kudos to David Kling and his leadership in the field of Pagan Chaplaincy. He is certainly right about being able to lower your own anxieties and be professional, still this is hard work and takes a lot of practice. I also like his advice to beginning chaplains in that listening is key, and this takes practice, too. I can only hope more Pagans look into chaplaincy in the military, hospitals, universities and prisons, because they are needed.

    • Crystal Hope Kendrick

      Hear, hear!