Pagan Voices: Vivianne Crowley, J. Rhett Aultman, Lilith Dorsey, and More!

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  December 26, 2013 — 51 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.

Vivianne Crowley

Vivianne Crowley

“Christians were right though – Yuletide is truly Pagan, in the sense that it celebrates warmth, food, and also the ecstatic. Solstice has long been a time of spiritual renewal and religious celebration; but also a time to drink, dance, make music and love; when all acts of love and pleasure are truly Her rituals. We need such celebrations. Our well-being is increased when we party. We let go of everyday anxieties and briefly go back to the Golden Age. Ecstatic spiritual celebrations are cathartic; they help free us of our preoccupations, our problems and issues, and the relentless negativity of world news. What draws many to Paganism is our love of life, the world around us, and the joy, even ecstasy, that people can experience through Pagan celebratory rites, where we drum, sing and dance around the fire long into the night. This is not escapism, but recognition that letting go and going back into childish pleasure and delight in the now is psychologically and spiritually beneficial and healing. Afterwards we feel stronger, more able to take up once more the burdens of everyday adult life.” – Vivianne Crowley, on reclaiming Christmas.

J. Rhett Aultman

J. Rhett Aultman

“I’m an atheist. I’m also Pagan. It’s actually not that hard to reconcile. At the very beginning, it’s worth making something quite clear — there is really no rulebook for what makes a Pagan. It’s a term that seems to encompass a rather wide and diverse set of people. Generally speaking, Thelemites and Wiccans and Heathens all seemingly share a common set of social concerns and social infrastructure, even if they don’t share cosmology or practices. The reasons for hanging together under this umbrella term aren’t within the scope of the article, nor is the history of the term. I’m not out to speak about how we got to this point. The fact of the matter is that we’re here. And what is Paganism? It is, effectively, a culture that provides a web of common reference and language for a bunch of different people with different beliefs and practices to hang together. Paganism, therefore, has no particular theological or religious test.” – James Rhett Aultman, on being a Pagan and an atheist.

Lilith Dorsey

Lilith Dorsey

“Marie Laveau’s Tomb has stood the test of time. It has seen flood, violence, disrespect, haters, and now someone has painted it pink. Marie Laveau’s Tomb is a shrine to Voodoo practitioners around the globe, a mecca if you will, that is the second most visited grave in the United States. Marie Laveau is New Orleans Voodoo Queen. Immortalized in story and song, she was said to have possessed immense power which lives on through her spirit today. The grave is a site for visitors to leave offerings and experience the majesty that still surrounds this Voodoo Queen over a century after her death. Unfortunately the pink paint is not the first time she has seen rough treatment. For years patrons have persisted in making 3 x marks on the tomb in a supposed petition for their requests. This is very damaging to the plaster which must be replaced periodically. During the filming of my documentary Bodies of Water:Voodoo Identity and Tranceformation I interviewed several practitioners from tour guides to store owners who vehemently tried to discourage this practice […] All I have to say about the potential pink vandals is Shame, Shame, Shame!” – Lilith Dorsey, on vandals painting Marie Laveau’s Tomb pink.

Hrafnkell Haraldsson

Hrafnkell Haraldsson

“Whoa! Remember us? We’re the idolaters who worship rocks and trees and when we get really wild, the whole damn earth! Just because Heathen folk like me believe that it is this life we are living that matters rather than some insubstantial (and far from guaranteed) hope of future paradise, does not mean our “materialism” compares to or has anything to do with the teachings of Christian prosperity preachers. Most liberals and progressives are celebrating, I suppose. I, for one, speaking as a Heathen, am a bit upset. It’s difficult enough being Pagan these days, a minority religion among minority religions. Bad enough we get saddled with your Satan and your endless flocks of demons; don’t go dumping your unwanted preachers on us too. Look, it is hardly surprising that the Pope holds to his Church’s centuries old belief that Paganism is inferior. I get that and I don’t expect it to change any time soon. The entire Old Testament is an anti-Pagan diatribe, a rejection as Pagan of everything outside itself.” – Hrafnkell Haraldsson, on Pope Francis calling failed Christians “pagan.”

starhawk 5 19 04

Starhawk

“I realize I have been trying to avoid, a deep and abiding sadness.  I think everyone who loves the earth must be feeling it, that sense of things slipping away, pulled by the tide out of our grasp and gone—places of great beauty, species of remarkable birds, rain patterns we can count on, the confidence that our children’s children will inherit a world in which they can thrive.   When we attune ourselves to what nature is saying, she’s shrieking in our ears that it is all spiraling out of control, too fast now to be easily stopped.  And all the big systems, the governments and international agencies that are supposed to kick in and shift our direction are themselves all spiraling out of control, like tops wobbling in a wild gyre, crashing hardest on those least able to construct bulwarks of money and power. I’m an optimist by nature, and an activist by choice.  As long as I can still balance on creaky knees and draw a breath into wheezy lungs, I’ll keep on fighting the destruction and working for regeneration. But on this Solstice when time stops, I have to stop, and draw a breath of the sea air, and face the possibility that we might lose.  All our efforts might not be enough.  Decisions made far away from us in inaccessible stratas of power steal away our future, and maybe we won’t be able to stop them.” – Starhawk, on activism, and not lighting a solstice bonfire.

chas

Chas Clifton

“When this slope burns, I thought, it will burn like a volcano. And it did, on October 23, 2012, a date seared into my memory […] All this is prelude to thinking about how an animistic/polytheistic outlook copes with such changes to the land.  No, it is not like someone paved it over and put up a Family Dollar store. Something will come back—the scrubby Gambel oak has re-sprouted, and there were wildflowers last summer, but the ponderosa pine and Douglas fir will be much slower to return. I probably won’t see this valley forested again. I will never forget walking around a week or two after the fire, when the slopes just felt nuked. Crows overhead were the only life—the rattlesnake guardian almost certainly died, if tree roots were being burned underground. The little seasonal spring, however, remains as sort of natural shrine, a focus for hope and continuity, bear cubs and wild turkeys.” – Chas Clifton, on what happens when trees disappear.

Ocean from Deaf Pagan Crossroads

Ocean

“As I discuss this whole fake interpreter issue with others, one thing becomes clear – this is a far more complex situation than just someone faking a profession for which they do not have the appropriate credentials. Much like the layers of an onion, various levels of concern can and have been identified – issues of national security and background checks, issues of mental illness, issues of creditability and accountability, issues of competence, issues of language barriers, issues of accessibility, issues of humor vs. offensiveness, issues of cultural appropriation, issues of recognition and respect. And for me personally and for many members of the Deaf Community, this whole thing frustrates us and hurts us… on so many levels. As we struggle to deal with these issues and the ensuing emotions they generate, we ask that individuals be patient, sensitive, and to the extent possible…understanding. And most importantly, that everyone be respectful of the Deaf Community’s feelings…many of which have been brought to the surface by this incident.” – Virginia L. Beach (aka Ocean), on the fake sign language interpreter at Nelson Mandela’s state funeral.

Aine Llewellyn

Aine Llewellyn

“If you don’t like that certain posts you’re writing get the most pageviews and comments, maybe it’s time to stop writing those posts. Maybe it’s time to write something else. I don’t think people are being forced to blog about specific topics (but if they are, let me know!). Blog about what makes you happy, what you think is important, what matters to you. If you blog about something controversial, it’s to be expected that you will get lots of pageviews. Bemoaning that fact does nothing for anyone, except maybe stroking your own ego or trying to prove how ‘above it all’ you are. (But none of us are, really.) Write what matters to you. If you don’t think something is important – or think the people reading your blog put too much importance on something – you don’t have to write about it. I don’t write about ceremonial magic, or even magic much at all. It’s not important to me, it doesn’t really stir my brain. If I write on a topic and then decide it’s not worth the stress, or not as interesting as I previously thought, I stop writing about it – or I figure out how to write about it differently.” – Aine Llewellyn, sharing some “thinky thoughts” during the Winter holidays.

Holli S. Emore

Holli S. Emore

“No wonder the magi watched the skies.  This is the time of year when all the heavenly bodies seem to dazzle with chilly brilliance in their indigo field of space. Here in the woodlands part of the country, the sky seems to open downward with the falling leaves. Not only does the dark come sooner, faster, longer, but small twinkling lights peep from beneath the highest branches of the woods behind my home. What wonders must have shown themselves in ancient times, centuries before anyone dreamed that a satellite camera might show the earth covered by an Indra’s net of human-made lights. Tonight from the orbiting space station, astronauts can see a grand conjunction of the Earth, Jupiter and Venus.  The sun has just completed another annual analemma, a sort of ourobouran eternal dance through the sky.” – Holli Emore, on the wonders of the night sky.

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

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  • Lēoht Sceadusawol

    “Christians were right though – Yuletide is truly Pagan, in the sense that it
    celebrates warmth, food, and also the ecstatic.” – Vivianne Crowley

    I agree with this (broadly). The festivals are not about bringing “everyone” together, they are about devotion to religion(s). Anyone that says otherwise is just trying to sell something.

    “And what is Paganism? It is, effectively, a culture that provides a web of common reference and language for a bunch of different people with different beliefs and practices to hang together. Paganism, therefore, has no particular theological or religious test.” – J. Rhett Aultman

    This, I disagree with. As it stands, Paganism is a collection of religions and religious people. Giving it yet another meaningless definition does not help anyone.

    • WAH

      Also, this made me LOL:

      “Generally speaking, Thelemites and Wiccans and Heathens all seemingly
      share a common set of social concerns and social infrastructure.”

      • Lēoht Sceadusawol

        Yeah, that bit was hilarious. I wouldn’t even say that all Heathens share a common set of social concerns.

        You may also note the stock inclusion of Heathens, once again.

        • WAH

          Right, and there’s certainly no similarity of “social infrastructure.”

          • Northern_Light_27

            Yeah, that’s the especially baffling part to me. It’s kind of a Venn diagram thing IME. There is some overlap between Heathen and Pagan circles but there’s an awful lot– a plurality if not outright majority– that doesn’t overlap at all.

          • WAH

            Which is why Pagans get so confused when some of us object to things because “all *my* Heathen friends agree! What’s your problem?” As to the “non-overlap” people, I don’t know what it’s like in your area but where I’m at I’m seeing more and more people either come directly to Heathenry, bypassing Paganism, or leaving Paganism entirely to focus on Heathenry. It seems to be a growing section of people, but maybe that’s just anecdotal on my part.

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            Paganism used to be a “Gateway” religion but, as the different religions (formerly) contained within the umbrella grow, it is easier for people to head to the source of interest rather than ‘settling’ for something that is a compromise between availability and the focus the individual really wants.

            (Note, this is not saying all people will feel this way, just that those who are drawn to a specific tradition, rather than eclecticism.)

          • WAH

            Yep, which I think is a dynamic that will further accelerate religions leaving the umbrella, as soon as they realize it.

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            Agreed. An umbrella is a shelter and I think that more and more religions that have used it are realising they don’t need that shelter any more.

            We are better off as interfaith allies, rather than interfaith synonyms.

          • Northern_Light_27

            No, people becoming Heathen without first trying any other flavor of Paganism is definitely an actual trend. Heathenry is a lot more visible than it used to be, and you don’t have to find Wicca first before you trip over your first mention of Asatru, and the younger Heathens do seem to be coming in without the “gateway Paganism” experience common to older Heathens.

        • Northern_Light_27

          I’m going to comment on that one and ask what in the world she meant, because I can’t even guess at the thinking behind it. I don’t know that it’s stock inclusion, this time. I’m betting on festival culture– it’s one place to see all three under one roof, and Heathens who do pan-Pagan festivals (with exceptions, of course) are very neo-Pagan Heathens. Or may not be Heathen at all, thinking of one very visible BNP who the Heathen community at large wants nothing to do with but who seems to be taken as the voice of all polytheism to neo-Pagans.

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            Maybe there needs to be more Heathen festivals, then?

            It’s problematic for the UK, since only 1,958 people identified as Heathen in the 2011 census for England and Wales.

  • Franklin_Evans

    Lēoht, one can approach Aultman’s assertion from another semantic direction: we come to the term “Pagan” not as any specific belief system, but as a diverse set of beliefs that identify a commonality.

    I do have some sympathy for the “meaningless definition” aspect. There can be a “test” involved, but it need not be on the details. It can be a shared connection to Spirit even while our expressions of it may differ.

    I am a non-theist. I qualify that with a personal rejection of any anthropomorphic essentialism over my perception of Spirit. I use symbols, metaphors, even specific and recognizable images, but they are not the essence of my experience. I need that rational veneer, but I don’t give it attributes from that veneer.

    That is necessarily vague. I’ve struggled with being coherent about it since my very first step on my path. Calling myself Pagan just makes sense. The rest is the usual effort we all need to make in making and maintaining our connections with each other.

    • WAH

      “It can be a shared connection to Spirit even while our expressions of it may differ.”

      This could just describe “religion” in general, really.

      • Lēoht Sceadusawol

        That is how I’ve always seen it, yeah.

    • Lēoht Sceadusawol

      What would that commonality be? What is it that all who would be included under the Pagan definition share?

      • Franklin_Evans

        I’ll start by stating what I believe is not necessary: a common set of religious beliefs, a common politics or political ideology, a common ethnicity.

        I’m not being evasive, at least not more than temporarily. I need to leave the house to do errands in a few minutes, and I want to offer a substantial answer.

        I do acknowledge that this is potentially at least a can of worms (perhaps a barrel, eh?). If it gets to that point, I’ll let you know how my foot tastes. :-D

        The counter-question, implied in my first post: Do we need to have boundaries, and if so why?

        • Lēoht Sceadusawol

          “a common set of religious beliefs”
          The very fact that there a multiple distinct religions currently huddling under the umbrella shows that is not the case.

          “a common politics or political ideology”
          Again, we see great divergence in political ideologies, from the anarcho-collectivists through to the Nazitru (if we are lumping Heathendom under the umbrella).

          “a common ethnicity.”
          I don’t see how that one can even vaguely be claimed.

          “Do we need to have boundaries, and if so why?”
          We don’t need boundaries, but they exist regardless of need.

          What is needed are clear, easily explainable labels. As I have said on previous occasions, labels are for those who are not defined by them.

          You may struggle to put your personal beliefs into words, but you identify as Pagan. Doubtless we could find someone who has wildly divergent views to you, but still self describes as Pagan. How do we explain, using a simple dictionary – level definition, to the man on the street how both of you are Pagan?

          • Franklin_Evans

            I’m sorry I couldn’t get back to this sooner. However, it did give me more time to mull this over, and to see my dilemma: you are asking for a “simple dictionary-level definition”, I want to be able to provide one, and I’ve not (yet) figured one out.

            I do want to help this part of the discussion to progress. thelettuceman below begins well, and I see you’ve agreed to it at least provisionally.

            I would expand (or enhance) “immanency instead of transcendence” using a spectrum set I settled upon several years ago, and after all that mulling it seems appropriate to introduce here: acquired faith — revealed faith.

            Ours — Pagan, Heathen, New Age* — is heavily weighted towards the acquired end of that spectrum. It is primarily experiential — that UPG thing, and I really want to explore that as well as its own tangent — and while it can look to or result in a holy text of some sort, it is not primarily dependent upon it. That, by reference, is the other end, where revealed is heavily based on some combination of holy text, formal education (or indoctrination) and structured tradition.

            * I feel obligated to include New Age, because I have a strong personal, negative bias towards that category in general. I must allow for some subsets of it to be undeserving of that bias… I just don’t know of any at this point.

      • thelettuceman

        As best I can figure, a “common set of religious beliefs” would be (to badly paraphrase York), “Immanency instead of transcendence; lack of belief in historic revelation; interrelatedness and codependency in the physical and spiritual”.

        • Lēoht Sceadusawol

          I would even agree with those, necessarily. After all, a common (but not universal) trend is the belief in pre Christian European gods. Gods that, by necessity have to have been historically ‘revealed’ to the peoples of Europe.

          • Baruch Dreamstalker

            Good point. Skepticism of revelation sounds more UU than Pagan, and while that’s in my comfort zone it’s certainly not a Pagan constant. Also, a lot of Pagans, including myself, take their own UPGs very seriously, and what is revelation but somebody else’s UPG long ago?

          • Jason Hatter

            Very true. However, very few people, at least in my limited experience, are going around saying that their UPG is the be all and end all, and if you don’t do it that way, you’re wrong and are in trouble. Most of us may hear someone’s UPG, and might think it’s interesting, or might try something along that lines, and then judge it by the results we get, rather than taking it from “on high” as it were.

          • Baruch Dreamstalker

            So for you it’s more, no evangelism.

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            All religions had to start with UPG.

            I take mine very seriously, but try to corroborate it with prior record. If something is at odds with everything that has gone before, I tend to chalk it up to imagination rather than inspiration.

      • Wyrd Wiles

        “What is it that all who would be included under the Pagan definition share?”
        The only answer that I’ve ever been able to come up with is:
        “A desire to be included under the definition of Paganism”

        In the end, the only thing you can be sure of is that those who call themselves Pagan, want to be counted as Pagan. Anything much more specific than that and you end up including those who have no interest in being included, or excluding those who do…

        • Lēoht Sceadusawol

          “A desire to be included under the definition of Paganism”

          That seems to be the only working definition, but it is self defeating, isn’t it?

  • Diare Turtlemoon

    I likes what Vivianne Crowley writes, “This is not escapism, but recognition that letting go and going back into childish pleasure and delight in the now is psychologically and spiritually beneficial and healing. Afterwards we feel stronger, more able to take up once more the burdens of everyday adult life.” Beautifully said, exactly what I look for in community. Thank you,

  • James

    Atheism and pagan do not go well together, and I will not take someone seriously that has a link to FFRF on their website. It’s not even worth addressing further.

    • Baruch Dreamstalker

      Depends on how one defines “atheism.” I embrace the Goddesses and Gods as archetypes of the collective unconscious. I’ve been told that makes me theistic in Pagan usage but I’m not sure.

      • Lēoht Sceadusawol

        That is arguing the nature of the gods, rather than their existence.

        • Baruch Dreamstalker

          So I suppose you also would classify me as theistic? I’m interested in James’ take on it.

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            You acknowledge the gods. How you acknowledge them is a different matter entirely.

          • James

            I’m not a hard polytheist either, but I am a theist. I suspect you are too. You believe in something. Whatever it is, it’s personal to you, and in my opinion that is the essence of paganism. Where the author lost it was saying he couldn’t explain his experience of the divine to others so it wasn’t real… that’s what led him to be an atheist. That is an odd sort of logic in a path that is all about a personal journey.

          • Baruch Dreamstalker

            I’d say the key word in your comment is “real.” What is real, anyway? I believe in a world made up of atomic matter and physical energy — but that some amazing things can emerge from atomic matter and physical energy, including the works of Beethoven and Shakespeare. My UPGs tell me that my conscious mind accesses only a small part of what’s out there (or, perhaps, in there). One generally cannot explain a UPG experience to anyone else. What one can do is attempt to recreate the experience in another by ritual, music, narrative or the other classical means of carrying over spiritual content.

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            Go back a couple hundred years as radioactive energy was unknown. They are still trying to discover antimatter and dark energy.

            Then there are the quantum theories such as string theory, multiple/parallel universe theory…

            Magic, really, is just unexplained science.

          • David Pollard

            Does a non-corpeal deity have any more (or less) existence than that of a US Dollar which, while it has not been backed by material substances for decades, is taken as real by billions of people everyday?

          • Baruch Dreamstalker

            One could ask the same question of any tradition.

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            Would that being exist without people? The dollar wouldn’t.

    • Northern_Light_27

      What is FFRF?

      • James

        An in your face atheist group that does things like put up god graveyards and run ads that santa isn’t real. It’s almost like evangelical christians, but with an atheist message that we’re all morons.

        • kenofken

          I consider them useful enough allies in the fight for separation of church and state, even though I don’t like all of their tactics or attitude. At some level, many modern atheists are evangelicals turned inside out.

          • James

            I really wish they were. It would seem that minority religious and non-religous groups have a common goal… but where we have a you believe what you believe and I believe what I believe attitude many of the atheists I’ve met in person and the FFRF are very condescending towards any person of faith. Makes them very difficult to work with IMO.

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            I’d agree with that. The antagonist atheists (as opposed to the passive atheists and the apatheists), suffer from an almost fundamental level of arrogant superiority of belief.

            They are absolutely convinced that their own beliefs are absolute truth.

          • Baruch Dreamstalker

            They’re giving as good as they’ve gotten, over the years, from the in-your-face Christians.

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            The bullied becomes the bully? That’s hardly a moral high ground.

          • Baruch Dreamstalker

            I was explaining, not justifying.

          • kenofken

            They’re disagreeable bastards, no argument there. But on one very key issue for us, they happen to be pulling on our side of the rope. I don’t propose that we’ll be able to engage them in warm and fuzzy interfaith sessions or even formally ally ourselves with them,but when it comes to realpolitick fights, I don’t need their love, just their strength and tenacity toward a common enemy.

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            And when they become the common enemy?

      • Virginia L Beach

        FFRF stands for the Freedom From Religion Foundation.

  • Joy Harwood

    Thank you so much for including the perspective of a Deaf Pagan and the voice of the Deaf community in general.