Pagan Voices: Sarah Anne Lawless, Oberon Zell, Chas Clifton, Yvonne Aburrow, and More!

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  December 3, 2013 — 66 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.

Oberon (Tim) Zell, an important figure in the early Pagan councils.

Oberon Zell

“We the undersigned are a coalition of academic scholars and authors in the field of religious studies, who have done research into contemporary Paganism, and written books on the subject. Pagan studies represents a growing field in academy and the American Academy of Religion has had “Contemporary Pagan Studies” as part of its programming for more than a decade. We are approaching you with a common concern. The word “Pagan” derives from pagus, the local unit of government in the Latin-speaking Roman Empire, and thus pagan referred to the traditional “Old Religion” of the countryside, as opposed to Christianity, the new religion with universal aspirations. Paganism, therefore, was by definition pre-Christian religion. Over time, with the expansion of the Roman Church, “pagan” became a common pejorative by Christians toward any non-Judeo-Christian religion. In the 19th century, the terms pagan and paganism were adopted by anthropologists to designate the indigenous folk religions of various cultures, and by Classical scholars and romantic poets to refer to the religions of the great ancient pre-Christian civilizations of the Mediterranean region (as in the phrase, “pagan splendor,” often used in reference to Classical Greece). Today, the terms Pagan and Paganism (capitalized) refer to alternative nature-based religions, whose adherents claim their identity as Pagan. Pagans seek attunement with nature and view humanity as a functional organ within the greater organism of Mother Earth (Gaea). Contemporary Pagans hearken to traditional and ancient pagan cultures, myths, and customs for inspiration and wisdom.” – Oberon Zell, and a coalition of Pagan scholars, from a petition sent to the editors of the Associated Press Stylebook and the Chicago Manual of Style advocating capitalization of the word “Pagan” when referring to the religious movement.

Chas Clifton

Chas Clifton

“One thing I did at the recent American Academy of Religion annual meeting was stop by the University of Chicago Press booth and get the name of the managing editor of the press’s Manual of Style, which is the holy book, all 1,028 pages of it, for editors of academic books and journals—plus many publishers of serious nonfiction. A petition has been sent to her by Oberon Zell of the Church of All Worlds, etc., as well as to the editors of the Associated Press Stylebook, the holy book of American journalists, about the capitalization of the word “Pagan.” Oberon has lined up forty-some writers and academics in support of the petition […] So far, the University of Chicago Press has acknowledged receiving it and plans to forward it to its Reference Committee. This is a worthwhile cause, I think, and it is a battle that I have fought since the early 1990s (at least) when I was writing The Encyclopedia of Heresies and Heretics for the reference book publishers ABC-Clio. (A friend working there at the time commissioned it.) I won the battle on Pagan — even for ancient polytheists — but lost on BCE/CE versus BC/AD.  As editor of The Pomegranate, I have continued to insist on capital P’s except in direct quotations. This has put me in gentle conflict sometimes with British and other European contributors who favor “pagan” or at most use “Pagan” for self-conscious contemporary new religions and “pagan” for pre-Christian practices. I think that bouncing back and forth is confusing for the reader’s eye.” – Chas Clifton, talking about his support for the capitalization campaign, and his own efforts on that initiative’s behalf. 

Sarah Anne Lawless

Sarah Anne Lawless

“Modern witchcraft is changing its stripes. I need only to talk to elders and attend long-standing events to see this clearly. The young people are upsetting and delighting the older generations with their newly evolved beliefs and practices. One old-timer is horrified by an ecstatic ritual at a festival full of nudity, body paint, drumming, trance, possession, and ecstatic dance. They complain loudly to everyone and try to get nudity banned at an event that’s been clothing optional for twenty years because they don’t know how else to deal with their extremely uncomfortable reaction to the ritual itself. Another elder’s eyes shine with joy to see young people hosting a ritual the likes of which they haven’t participated in since they were taking amanita caps in the woods with their friends from college in the 1960s. They clap loudly in glee and ask for more. […] The big name initiatory traditions are no longer the be all end all of witchcraft. Younger generations of witches are putting less and less importance on lineage and formal initiation choosing personal gnosis, mysticism, direct ecstatic experience, and spirit initiation over the customs of previous generations.  Many of them would rather follow a personalized spiritual practice than follow the dogma of a set tradition. Many of them do not agree with the hierarchical structure of witchcraft covens and the many interpersonal problems it can create. Many consider strict traditions to be as divisory to witchcraft and Paganism as the different sects of the Church are to Christianity (i.e. witch wars). Others don’t like the polytheistic restriction or the inexplicable focus of only the ancient Celtic and Greek cultures within traditions. They want more options, more flexibility, and a more involved, hands-on style to their craft.” – Sarah Anne Lawless, on how the death of modern Witchcraft is a myth.

Yvonne Aburrow

Yvonne Aburrow

“It is a little known fact many of the early pioneers of the Pagan revival in England were gay: Goldsworthy Lowes Dickinson, who came up with the idea of the League of Nations, was a gay man. Back in the late 19th century, he advocated the revival of the Greek view of life, including Paganism and same-sex love. Edward Carpenter, a gay Pagan vegetarian socialist poet around at the same time, also advocated a return to nature and wildness. […]  Those of us who are LGBT and Pagan, together with our allies, are working to recover the ancient pagan traditions of the gender-variant shaman Divine Androgyne, deities of same-sex love, and to discover or invent new symbols for the diversity of LGBT experience. The Pagan community also supports marriage equality, and we see the struggle for LGBT equality and the recovery of LGBT stories, mythology, and ritual as complementary efforts. […]  If we look back into the Pagan past, we can see many queer deities, such as Odin, Vertumnus, Pan, Artemis, the Pales, and so on. There is a tradition of the Divine Androgyne in Wicca. It is not difficult to tweak the rituals slightly to make them more LGBTQ-inclusive, and this is also great for heterosexuals who find the gender binary paradigm rather tedious. In Heathenry, there is the practice of seiðr, a shamanic practice which can involve gender-bending and same-sex love, and many LGBTQ people are attracted to Heathenry as a result.” – Yvonne Aburrow, on the LGBT experience within modern Paganism, the deep history of LGBT people within Paganism, and the current state of same-sex marriage within the UK.

iao131“The fundamental Law of Thelema is “Do what thou wilt” which is a radical exhortation for each individual to explore and express their true nature, whatever that may be. Fundamentally, we as Thelemites uphold everyone’s right to be who they are. This involves a revolutionary form of tolerance or acceptance of diversity. Thelema itself is partially the result of a syncretism of many religions and philosophies. It says in The Book of the Law, “Aum! All words are sacred and all prophets true; save only that they understand a little.” We can also find reference to Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Egyptian, Greek, Hermetic, Buddhist, and Hindu ideas within The Book of the Law itself, let alone the other Holy Books and writings by Aleister Crowley. This speaks to Thelema’s ability to appreciate the truths that are held by the various ideologies across the globe and throughout history. Our eclectic syncretism is not arbitrary though insofar as everything revolves around the core of “Do what thou wilt”: threads are gathered from all corners of human existence to be woven together through the harmony expressed in the word of the Law that is Thelema. The tolerant acceptance of different points-of-view is what distinguishes Thelema from virtually every other religion that has come about in human history. This can be seen very explicitly in the declaration of the rights of man in “Liber OZ,” wherein it is written, “Man has the right to live by his own law—to live in the way that he wills to do.” We are radical in our acceptance of others as they are, however they may think, speak, or act, yet we also take up arms against dogmatism, prejudice, and superstition that impede the full expression of humanity’s liberty.” – Frater IAO131, on why Thelema kicks ass.

Anomalous Thracian

Anomalous Thracian

“Whether we draw our strength and comfort at an identity level from our absolute service to the divinities and spirits we serve and piously praise, or in our gods-spurred service to community, I think that it is important also to recognize the value in the things which make us uncomfortable, to own that discomfort (rather than to blame others for drawing it up within us), and in that way learn to either build upon resources and skills we did not previously find place for within ourselves, or else value them in others (whose participation and proliferation in those pursuits frees us to do that which we are doing). We are not all meant to be the same, or engaged in identical jobs or tasks or even modes of relation, but we are all meant to engage in the same space and occasionally come up against each other conflictually, and in so doing find new ways of pioneering the continued development of our social and spiritual and devotional topographies. Unlike chimps and bonobos, humans have the capability or at least the potential to choose to correct impulse which is at its source purely chemical and an archaic throwback to the glory days of gatherer-hunter society, before iPhones and IKEA and internet forum trolling. When these conflicts in our communities come up, I comment again and again at the value to be found in them. The key piece is not where you fall on a given issue (although, please, find out where you do, at least for your own benefit and that of your religious and social engagements in order to be more authentically and fully realized a form of yourself!) but rather that it is that these very differentiated stances actually bring authenticity and integrity to our religious movements. These discourses (gnosis and mysticism versus social engagement and advocacy, etc) are not new, in the realm of theological and religious debate; they are tried, true, and unending in terms of “resolution” or “rightness”. They are to religious debate as “nurture versus nature” is to psychological debate! The fact that we are having them demonstrates once more that we have achieved that which we have sought to achieve: status in practice (rather than mere theory!) as a religious social entity and set of movements! Our theologies and social theories and institutional (gasp!) structures have reached such a place of firmness (or fluidity..?) that they can come into competition with one another in a way that actually constructively pushes, propels, and encourages further discourse and growth, rather than theological “shut-downs” and “walk-outs”.” – Anomalous Thracian, on the subject of dissonant comfort.

T. Thorn Coyle

T. Thorn Coyle

“The Goddess Athena came to the door in disguise. Telemachus welcomed her in. Today at the soup kitchen, I saw two people I haven’t seen in over a decade. One is an old school leftist with a bright smile, a man who struggles with clinical depression. The other is a woman for whom I used to offer hot compresses to soothe the abscesses up and down her arms, drawing the pus and poison from the pinpricks on her body. I looked at her today and thought, “How is she still alive?” How is she alive after years of chronic drug use and living on the streets? The grinding of that day to day would be too much for me. Yet here she was. Then came in the well dressed, well spoken man with work steady enough to pay his rent but not feed him until the rest of the month. His shoes were shined, as usual. Then the guy taking classes at City College who was also short on cash. On and on people came, sat, laughed, ate. 125 gallons of fresh soup, and equivalent amounts of salad and bread. Everyone who walks through the gate – guest or volunteer – has a story we don’t know. Everyone gets fed. Who is a stranger? What is the unknown? Whom do we choose to welcome? Whom do we choose to spurn?” – T. Thorn Coyle, on welcoming the stranger.

Glen Gordon

Glen Gordon

“Amidst my panic and dread that I killed the deer, a flash of imagery and sensation overcome me and I pulled off to the side of the road several yards from where I hit the deer. There was no exit or other way to cross the lane and head back to the site. My mind filled with a vision of seeing the world as a deer, feeling the world as deer, smelling the world as deer (there is no other way to describe it). I felt the impulse of four legs darting underneath me, and saw another deer ahead of me. Then an unsuspected blur streaked in front and I felt the pain of impact. I was myself again and sitting on the ground next to the passenger side door which has a deer-sized imprint. To this day, I can’t look at that door without thinking of that flash of being a deer. I was shaken, as tears swelled in my eyes and I felt the fur that stuck in the crack between the door and rest of the car’s body. (In some places the fur stayed for a year.) I  trembled as I touched the bristly fur, and an unexpected sound came from my mouth. A simple string of vowel sounds in different combinations. My voice trembled as the sounds grew stronger in my abdomen and moved through my throat and escaped my mouth. The singing intensified as I got into my car and continued driving. It felt important to me that I not stop the song.  It weaved in and out in different arrangements of the same sounds. The tempo would speed up and slow down at intervals and filled up the space of the car. I sang for at least 3 hours before entering the nearest town on the route. My eyes watered and my body was moved by these sounds that moved through me but came from outside of me.” – Glen Gordon, on the “death song” he learned to sing.

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

Sam Webster

“Love is oft touted as the solution to all ills. I’m not seeing it. Without love, life is not worthwhile. It is gray, dismal, lonely and harsh. Love, mercy, compassion, care, kindness give value and joy to all we do. But is not a solution to our problems. Our problems are from bad choices, from promoting the stupidity of selfishness over general wellbeing. What love is here is too narrow a love, just for self or those closest. Wide enough love can be the spark that leads to action, but it is not the solution. For love, alone, is used as a palliative: Don’t worry, just love each other and all will be well. At worst is it the mere sentiment, the subjective feeling of love, that we are enjoined cultivate, having no impact on anyone except ourselves, and we feel so good about it. Yet the object of our love gets nothing of our sentiment except maybe words, perhaps flowers. Love at its best is the will for another’s happiness, and this at least has the virtue of being motivating, to someone. Yet, in and of itself love is not a solution. Wisdom is the ability to make the right choices, even without sufficient data, because it is founded on data, which when contextualized is knowledge, and when the pattern in the knowledge is then understood and recognized time and again such that general principals of the ways of the world can be intuited. This is wisdom and takes hard work to get there. So hard is it that the most direct discipline to acquiring it is called the Love of Wisdom: Philosophy. To forestall the hubris of claiming to be wise, we only claim to aspire to wisdom through the love of it.” – Sam Webster, on love and wisdom.

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

Jason Pitzl-Waters

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