Archives For Paganism

A Blessed Lughnasadh

Heather Greene —  July 31, 2015 — 1 Comment

This weekend, many modern Pagans, Polytheists and Heathens are observing the summer festival of Lughnasadh, also called Lammas, Lughnassa, and Harvest Home. Typically celebrated on August 1, Lughnasadh is one of the yearly fire festivals and marks the first of three harvest celebrations. It traditionally honors Lugh, the Celtic god of light and many talents, and his foster-mother, Tailtiu.

In addition, the weekend brings the Asatru festival of first fruits called Freyfaxi. Both celebrations are celebrated with feasting, songs, games, thanksgiving and the reaping of the first fruits and grains of the season.

[By Shree Krishna Dhital via Wikimedia Commons]

[By Shree Krishna Dhital via Wikimedia Commons]”

Tonight, Lammas Eve 2015, will bring the rare Blue Moon, or the second full moon in the month of July. According to sources, the last Blue Moon was in August 2012.

Here are a few quotes about the harvest celebration:

This is the traditional wheat harvest of England! Referenced several times in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles, its name comes from the word Hlaefmaest, which means literally the “loaf-feast” … Celebrating this holiday would traditionally involve wheat and the products of wheat: flour and bread! Baking and offering bread or cakes to your Gods, spirits, and community is a fantastic way to get in the spirit of the holiday. – Molly Khan, “Heathen Ways to Celebrate Fall”

Harvest festivals have a long history in a huge variety of cultures. Having enough food is a good thing to celebrate, and it’s downright fun. Having enough to get through the next season and be able to make both beer and bread is even better, and definitely deserves a party. But in this day and age few of us harvest any kind of food with our own hands, and although gardens are growing in popularity, only a tiny proportion of us harvest the kind of bounty that provides security through the cold months. I think one result is that we tend to focus on the mystical meanings of bread and life while ignoring the seemingly mundane but fundamentally necessary part of the harvest: work. – Literata, “Lunasa – Sacred Work”

Lughnasadh is the first of the three harvest festivals. It’s the grain harvest, which led to the name Lammas – “loaf mass.” But before we can bake the loaf, the grain must be cut down … We live only because we consume other life – everything we eat was alive only a short time before we eat it. This is what every animal on the Earth does.  Some eat plants, some eat other animals, some eat both. All of Nature is sacred. But sacred or not, life feeds on life. Sacrifice is necessary. No matter what we offer to the Gods, our ceremonial sacrifices stand as a reminder that real, tangible sacrifices are necessary. Something has to die so we can eat.  – John Beckett, “Lammas Night”

The exchange of energy is an underlying principle of magick; another is as above so below. We honor the invisible realm of the Gods and in the material realm we sacrifice something by giving to others or to the planet. Thus is the sacrifice of Lammas made. – Vivianne Crowley, “Lammas, Season of Sacrifice”

The ancient Irish Festival of the First Harvest [is] a remembrance of a time when people lived their lives in preparation for that first harvest. This holy day must seem like a relic, in a time when every crop is available, year round, in the local grocery, and the land has become this thing we live on but never speak to.

We need a better harvest. We need a generation of people who will listen to the voices in the earth. We need to discover our purpose in the land. I need to discover its purpose in me. – Shaun Paul, “First Harvest”

Happy Lughnasadh to all those celebrating this season.  And, to all of our friends in the Southern Hemisphere, a very very Happy Imbolc.

Yes it is true. Instagram, the photo sharing social media site, has banned the searchable hashtag #goddess. As could have been predicted, there is now a growing, worldwide backlash against the move. The new rallying tag is #BringBacktheGoddess.

download

In mid July, Instagram, a Facebook Inc. company, decided to ban the term #goddess to help curb policy violations. Although Instagram did not respond to The Wild Hunt, a spokesperson did tell ABC News:

In this case, #goddess was consistently being used to share content that violates our guidelines around nudity. We’ve taken similar action on dozens of hashtags because they were being used to share inappropriate content.

The spokesperson is referencing its recent ban on #curvy, #eggplant, #boobs, #scandalous and more. According to Instagram, these hashtags are disproportionately used to post pornography or photos that violate its nudity policy; a policy that in and of itself has elicited controversy.

The #curvy ban was the most recent and, after generating significant protests, the term was reinstated. In the meantime, hashtag activists took to their computers, switching to the term #curvee and posting body-positive images of themselves. The social media site was accused of censoring images of women’s bodies that did not fit an unrealistic media ideal. As with the explanation to the goddess ban, an Instragram spokesperson explained, “The tag was being used to share pornography, which is strictly forbidden on the site.”  #Curvy is now searchable again.

Instagram’s hashtag bans are nothing more than the site’s attempt to negotiate the fine line between freedom of expression and maintaining “common decency” within a public media forum. This dance is nothing new. Prior to 1930, the Film Industry was struggling with the exact same issue, with no industry standards in place. Facets of society were breathing down its neck for censorship of what was seen as sensationalism, gratuitous nudity and violence. Censorship arrived in the way of the Production Code and, then in 1968, gave way to the rating system, which we know today. TV, Magazines, Books and Video Games have also gone through a similar negotiation at one point or another. It is the difficult struggle to define the social standards of decency within a dynamic, diverse, and changing culture.

What is appropriate and when, within the public entertainment and media forum?

In the internet world, the problem becomes more complicated. There are nearly no limits or barriers to production of media, with millions of people online, from all around the world living within different cultural expectations and standards of social decency. At the same time, decisions and actions are instanteous, wide-sweeping and happening in real time.

Banning hashtags, like “goddess” or “curvy,” may help in one area, but only create instant collateral damage for others.

While there are those that do acknowledge that Instagram’s attempts are noble, there is still incongruity in its efforts. Linda Steiner, PhD, a University of Maryland, College Park media studies professor, told ThinkProgress, “I’m impressed with the attempts of Instagram, Reddit, and Twitter to try to come to grips with the problem rather than ignoring it altogether.” However, she goes on to say that the enforcement and methodologies used are inconsistent and problematic. Steiner said:

Instagram’s policy is not only weirdly enforced, I think they’re trying to have a simple policy that makes it easy for them …. Women are really bothered by the predatory invasion of their bodies … That includes posts of their body parts without their permission and the banning their own images because they don’t conform to an ideal physique.

As Steiner suggests, many of these bans, and related deleted photos, directly involve the display of female bodies and women’s sexuality. And, that has been the crux of the problem. While Instagram is trying to protect women and curb violations against women’s bodies, it is also censoring women and their positive expressions of female sexuality, spirituality, agency and body-positive imagery.

In a letter to Instagram published at Huffington Post, writer Christina Gutierrez writes, “I spend my life working with women who have experienced trauma and abuse of all kinds. I fuse modern therapy with ancient wisdom. This is how they heal. This is how we come to peace with the chaos of everyday life … The ancient wisdom texts that I work from are the stories of the GODDESS.”

Pagans and Heathens have joined the protests. Author and teacher Erick DuPree wrote:

This is not about Goddess, She doesn’t need a hashtag. This is about the sovereignty of women and their right to autonomy to hashtag something‪ #‎goddess‬ which for centuries has represented the divine feminine in many forms. That right to self expression and identity which might seem trivial has now been taken away. That is ‪#‎oppressive‬ and what it means to perpetuate‪ #‎rapeculture‬ ‪#‎patriarchy‬ and ‪#‎power‬. This isn’t about a ‪#‎hashtag‬ it’s about self determination and that is a sacred rite!

Priestess and teacher Crystal Starshine simply asked “why” and publicly shared a photo of herself and “other wild sisters at the Alternative Wombyn Retreats in Utah.”

crystal starshine

[Courtesy Crystal Starshine]

Some Pagans believe the ban is basic religious discrimination. In her Huffington Post article, Gutierrez asks, “How would the Christians and Catholics feel if their hashtag #GOD was taken away? Would the Instagram team even think to do that?” Others are pointing out that the Goddess plays a sacred role in many world religious traditions. The term is used throughout the world in many positive ways, beyond what is listed even here.

Since the ban was discovered, images of world Goddesses have been appearing all over social media in protest. And, with the new hashtag #bringbackthegoddess, women are posting images of themselves. Even on Instagram’s own site, the hashtag is being used in association with such images, as well as many others that depict female empowerment. It is now a rally cry.

#BringBacktheGoddess

Instagram’s spokeperson told The Daily Dot. “We’re also working on ways to better communicate our policies around hashtags.” The company suggested to ABC that it is always reevaluating banned hashtags. Just as it restored #curvy, it may restore #goddess. However, these decision on how to regulate decency within media, and ultimately how it is defined, are often left solely to a corporation, and are based on internal policies, the convictions of its owners, and ultimately, what it thinks will support and drive business.

[Posted on Instagram by Starsignstyle]

[Posted on Instagram with #bringbackthegoddess by Starsignstyle]

In recent months, it has been suggested that Instagram has, at times, shown a concern for the greater good. This summer, they banned #SandraBland for 24 hours and #CaitlynJenner during the Espy Awards. Instagram explained that it was receiving a disproportionate amount of hate posts using the tags during that period of time. Both tags were reinstated after the period was over. There is still debate on whether the bans themselves ultimately achieved any goal or had a positive affect.

What will happen to #goddess is still unknown at this point? However, the protests are on. Regardless of the outcome, the entire situation does bring to the forefront an important conversation about the depiction and presentation of the female body in public entertainment and media space. It presents the opportunity to question and discuss where these lines are drawn and why; what is acceptable and what is not. What photos are oppressive, which are a violations and which are a empowering celebrations.

CHITTENANGO, NEW YORK –Cindy McGinley understands the circle of life and death quite well. A former president and current trustee of the Henge of Keltria, her belief that all life is sacred includes a recognition that all life also must eventually end. It’s her love of animal life that led her to obtain a license to rehabilitate wildlife from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, a role which has sometimes required her to end the life of a creature which could not be restored to health.

Nevertheless, she now finds herself in a battle to save the lives of two does that she has been caring for at Rivendell Farm & Sanctuary, a 12-acre property she maintains mostly as a base of operations for her horse-centered life coaching practice. The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has effectively condemned the deer, named Deirdre and Lily, to death. According to the DEC’s  assessment, McGinley overstepped the bounds of her license by keeping them. That decision was made in response to McGinley’s application for a new license specifically to keep the two animals for educational purposes, because she believes that they cannot be released into the wild.

Deirdre, now five years old, was the first deer McGinley rehabilitated, according to a story in the Legislative Gazette. She was found as a fawn by the body of her mother, who had been killed by a car. Several boys discovered her and brought the newborn home. They contacted McGinley when they learned that keeping deer without a license is illegal in the state.

Despite her training on how to avoid having the young animal imprint upon her, McGinley said it simply wasn’t possible given the intense ministrations needed to save Deirdre’s life. Moreover, as she later mused in a blog post, their meeting seemed foreordained by a shamanic journey that she had taken earlier that year:

And, quick as a flash, as my heart went out to the little creature, the realization dawned that this fawn was sent to me by Morning Glory, and was perhaps even the physical manifestation of the spirit fawn with which I had touched noses in the Spirit World. I did not know if the plan was to send her to me even as I met her in the Spirit World. I only knew that with the arrival of this fawn, Spirit was at work in my life once again. Our connection was instant and powerful. From the moment we locked eyes, I became Deirdre’s mother and she, my child.

Regardless of this connection, McGinley regularly evaluated Deirdre to determine if she was ready to be released, something she dutifully reported to the DEC in the mandated annual log of her work the year she saved the animal. The doe, having lost its mother after only one or two days, never acquired any of the skills needed to survive in the wild. McGinley told The Wild Hunt that she kept trying, but life circumstances intruded. She said:

In the wild, doe fawns stay with their mothers until they are at least 2 years old. When Deirdre was just 2 years old, I sustained a mild head injury, a concussion, that really threw me for a loop. I had to take a semester away from grad school because the post-concussive syndrome was so bad, and I’ve only recently achieved a full recovery, after physical and occupational therapy. So the paperwork for Deirdre slipped through the cracks. I did have hope, too, that last summer she might be ready for what we call ‘soft release’ — that is, a gradual return to the wild where she would still receive support, shelter and food until she was entirely able to fend for herself. (Incidentally, that was not an option offered by the DEC for her.)

Lily and Deirdre the deer

Lily and Deirdre the deer

Although Deirdre had imprinted upon McGinley, this is not typical in her rehabilitation work; other fawns don’t bond with their human host simply because the doe is present, allowing them to be released. Even as McGinley was recovering from her own injury, another fawn was brought to her farm, a doe who would come to be called Lily. Unlike Deirdre, she did have the chops for life on the outside, but Lily had problems of her own, as McGinley chronicled.

I had the vet come out and she recognized a thiamine (B1) deficiency. If fawns (and goat kids, incidentally) have a drastic change of diet, thiamine production in the stomach ceases, and that can cause brain swelling and blindness. Of course, losing her mother had created a drastic change of diet! We started her on (unfortunately, painful) B1 injections, and after the first 2 days, she would not let me near her to give her anymore of that! But the vitamin did the trick, because she was strong and aware enough now to run away from me. Unlike Deirdre, Lily had had the care of her mother for 3 months and the education of a wild fawn, so she was quite wary of humans, and the painful injections did nothing to endear us to her. Lily was a candidate for release when she was stronger.

Unfortunately, though she is now quite healthy and happily follows Deirdre around, Lily never regained her eyesight.

With two deer on her hands which she could not release, McGinley set about to apply for the special license needed to legally keep them on her farm. Six weeks later, she received a rejection letter that included strict orders on what to do. Lily should have been euthanized right away, she was informed. McGinley could either do so herself or turn the blind doe over to DEC officials to end her life. Those two options were also presented for Deirdre, along with a third one: lock her out and stop providing food and water. This was a far cry from the “soft release” for which McGinley  had hoped.

That notice came in June, and McGinley has worked to save Deirdre and Lily ever since. She agrees with the law preventing people from keeping deer as pets. However, she thinks there should be some avenue to appeal decisions, and consider gray areas. “There is no reason why these two does should not be allowed to live safely where they are, so I was shocked when the [license] was denied out of hand, sight unseen, with no cogent reason given as to why they denied my application,” she said.

An attorney was hired, and she took her case to the people. Perhaps it was divine intervention, but her online petition went viral and now has over 205,000 signatures, of which she says at least 12,000 are from New York residents. When there was just over 130,000 signatures, she delivered the petition via a disc to Governor Andrew Cuomo.  She got no response.  She then brought printed copies of all 200,000+ names to his office in the state capital of Albany. ” An aide met us in the waiting area of the executive chambers, listened politely to my plea, and took the very heavy box with the 3000+ double-sided pages of printed petition back to the office. She promised a response from the Governor, but I have to say, I am not holding my breath.”

The outpouring of support for the deer included shout-outs by actor Ian Harding, who tweeted about their plight and prominently featured them in his Instagram account and on Twitter.

On the legal front, the execution has been stayed while the DEC presents its case to a judge, and McGinley’s attorney has indicated he is hopeful some kind of deal can be reached. “I have directly spent $8500 to lawyers already, and I’ve raised maybe $5300 in donations to the legal fund,” McGinley said. “The cost will be directly proportional to how long the DEC continues to treat 2 rescued does in rural central NY like they are Public Enemy Number One. I’m certainly not going away.”  She is due back in court on September 8, so the animals have at least that much of a reprieve.

Most of the money raised was through Indiegogo campaigns, but supporters are also invited to buy a t-shirt to support the effort. According to longstanding legal precedent, wild animals are owned by the state, a philosophy so entrenched it is not likely to even be challenged in this case. The best hope is to convince the DEC that McGinley’s keeping these animals is neither irresponsible nor dangerous.

Supporters gathered in Albany

Supporters gathered in Albany [Courtesy Photo]

The Wild Hunt reached out to DEC officials for comment, but did not immediately receive a reply. Other media outlets to which department officials have responded suggest no room for compromise. The role of a wildlife rehabilitator is to treat and release, period. If that’s not possible, mercy killing is all that remains in the eyes of the law. However, McGinley remains committed to the cause. Asked if she had considered what she might do if the court battle is lost and the deer condemned to either an extremely short life in the wild or an intentional execution, she replied simply, “I can’t imagine that happening.”

Two Pagans are part of an interfaith group raising funds to rebuild a temple dedicated to a female Buddha in Tibet. The temple is dedicated to Yeshe Tsogyal, a Buddha considered to be the mother of the Tibetan people and the embodiment of the “Enlightened Feminine.” The Wild Hunt spoke with one of the Pagans involved in the fundraising efforts about the temple and how her trip to Tibet has deepened her spirituality.

Yeshe Tsogyal, whose name means Victorious Ocean of Wisdom, was a disciple and consort of the Indian master Padmasambhava during the 8th century in central Tibet. This was during a time when it was thought that women’s bodies themselves were a hindrance to enlightenment. Padmasambhava, however thought the opposite:  women’s bodies were superior to men’s in the ability to attain enlightenment. She was said to have lived over 200 years and wrote an autobiography titled Mother of Knowledge. The book is written as a guide to the path of spiritual awakening through the practices of Vajrayana Tibetan Buddhism. Yeshe Tsogyal was, and is, widely considered a Buddha – a person who has achieved full enlightenment.

The original temple was built in the 9th century on what was thought to be the birthplace of Yeshe Tsogyal and named Tsogyal Latso. At the site are two springs, said to be the breast milk of Yeshe Tsogyal and to have healing powers. There is also a lake which induces visions and a sacred tree. All three were said to come into being at her birth.

Sacred lake at Tsogyal Latso [photo, courtesy of Yeshe Rabbit]

Sacred lake at Tsogyal Latso [Courtesy of Yeshe Rabbit]

During the Cultural Revolution of the 1970’s, most of Tibet’s temples were destroyed, and Buddhist practices forbidden. Tsogyal Latso was destroyed; the lake was filled in and the springs were capped. By the 1990’s, China slightly relaxed their prohibitions and, in 1994, Ani Samten, along with three Buddhist nuns dedicated to Yeshe Tsogyal, arrived at the ruins. They began the slow work of building living spaces, cleaning out the lake, uncapping the springs, and caring for the sacred tree. By 2004, the nunnery was rebuilt and there were 8 nuns living there dedicated to Yeshe Tsogyal’s teachings.

In 2015, the number of nuns had grown to 16 and they started construction on a new temple. The greater Buddhist community, especially Lama Dechen Yeshe Wangmo out of Hawaii, created Jnanasukha, a nonprofit interfaith group that helps care for the sacred site and nuns of Tsogyal Latso in Tibet. While most of the exterior work is finished, it is expected it will be several more years until the interior is finished.

Temple under construction, May, 2015 [courtesy photo]

Temple under construction, May, 2015 [Courtesy Photo]

Yeshe Rabbit, is a High Priestess of CAYA Coven and one of the two Pagan members of the fundraising committee of Jnanasukha. Yeshe Rabbit feels a special connection to Yeshe Tsogyal and Tibet. She was able to travel there on pilgrimage in 2014 and is returning to Tibet in September. The Wild Hunt spoke with Yeshe Rabbit about the temple, how studying in Tibet deepened her spiritual practice, and about her upcoming trip back to Tibet.

The Wild Hunt: People wouldn’t typically think of this temple as a “Pagan” (or Neo-Pagan) temple – why should Pagans in the USA care about this temple effort?

Yeshe Rabbit: First of all, this Temple is about religious freedom. Pagans and Polytheists uniquely understand what it means to experience religious and other forms of persecution, and overall we tend to be passionate about those subjects. In 1959, there were over 2700 temples in Tibet. But 1978, only 7 remained. This is one of the only temples that has been allowed significant construction, and this alone is a testimonial of success in overcoming the legacy of religious persecution.

Secondly, many Pagans and Polytheists are devoted to the Goddess or specific goddesses from specific cultures, yet this is still not the global operating paradigm. The global operating paradigm is still largely male-God oriented. The fact is, ANY temple to the Divine Feminine, The Goddess, or any goddess at all deserves our community’s celebration and support, as these are rare and precious, and we want them to be much more commonplace. Further, these 16 women are building a Temple, with obscenely limited resources, in one of the most highly politicized regions in the world. They are the kind of women that many of us aspire to be, because their strength and dedication is manifesting something many people thought we would never see in this lifetime.

TWH: How did you get involved with the fundraiser? Who started it?

YR: This project is a long time coming. Tsogyal Latso or “Tsogyal’s Lake” is the birthplace of Yeshe Tsogyal, who was the first female Buddha of Tibet and sacred consort to Padmasambhava, who brought Buddhism to Tibet from India. The lake was renowned since the 8th century as an oracular site, a healing site, and a site of spiritual nourishment, much like Brigid’s Well at Kildare or the Chalice Well in Glastonbury.This is because, at the time of Yeshe Tsogyal’s birth, a holy lake formed outside her home as fresh water gushed from the Earth. It is located in a magical valley overlooked by “Mount Lady Turquoise” and other sacred mountains dedicated to the Enlightened Feminine.

For centuries, Tibetan people would go there for dream incubation, traditional meditation practice, and to make petitions for their own well-being or the well-being of others. During the Cultural Revolution of the 1960’s and 70’s in Tibet, the site was severely desecrated.  All relics were thrown into the lake and the lake was clogged and blocked, with parts sealed over. In the 1990’s, as restrictions on the practice of Buddhism were alleviated somewhat, several Tibetan practitioners began the work to restore the sacred site, and brought the message of this sacred place and its magic to their western students. Among the principal supporters of this site since then have been the late teachers His Holiness Dudjom Rinpoche and Lama Tharchin Rinpoche, as well as the still-living Sang-ngag Rinpoche. The work is now being carried forward by a western woman practitioner and translator, Lama Dechen Yeshe Wangmo, who is one of my teachers.

About 8 years ago, I read an account online by Nagasiva Yronwode of Lucky Mojo Curio Company about an experience he had at a ceremony for Yeshe Tsogyal in the 90s, and I felt tremendously drawn to her energy. I read several versions of her autobiography, received initiation to her practices, and my personal connection grew from there. I appended her name to mine as a symbol that she is an exemplar in whose footsteps I follow. Then, I found out about Lama Wangmo and Jnanasukha, and my relationship with Yeshe Tsogyal and this sacred site has grown stronger and stronger since that time.

TWH: Is this why you became involved in the effort to rebuild the temple?

YR: I am involved with the restoration and ongoing care of this site because, simply, it is my karma to be involved. I cannot explain the magical circumstances that led me to Yeshe Tsogyal’s practices, and inexorably drew me to this site physically, in any other way. From the moment I read that, “a miraculous lake rushed forth at the time of Tsogyal’s birth,” I knew, KNEW, that I HAD to see this place. I sent donations of support to Jnanasukha, waited, saved up, dreamed, and prayed for 7 years, and finally took the steps to bring that visit to fruition in 2014. I had no idea when I visited last year that this would become such a big part of my life going forward, though in reflection, I should have known based on my prior attraction to this place, and Tibet in general.

Although I have no familial or blood connections in Tibet, I have nonetheless been drawn to Tibetan culture and the dharma since I was 13 years old. For the past decade of my more formal study, I have sat with many, many different teachers of Tibetan Buddhism and Tibetan cultural arts, yet nothing has moved me as much as the profound desire to be near this specific place and to steep in Yeshe Tsogyal’s mysteries. At a heart-and-soul level, this place is sacred to me beyond what words can describe.

Yeshe Rabbit, and her husband Albert, meditating.

Yeshe Rabbit, and her husband Albert, meditating.

TWH: You did a previous fundraiser to help you with your spiritual education – how did that experience and education change your life – spiritually and in mundane ways?

YR: Last year my husband Albert and I were able to raise the funds, through the generous donations of many people, to go on a 6-week pilgrimage where we did a little bit of teaching and a whole lot more studying. We attended the Sacred Harvest Festival in Minnesota and I offered some rituals and presentations there, which was really fun and we cemented some great, continued friendships from that visit. Then we went on to Tara Mandala in Colorado, where we performed the 9-day White Dakini Drubchen, a Great Accomplishment ceremony. This is a ceremony that runs continuously for 9 days, with a highly-structured series of activities, daily teachings, and a rigorous schedule of mantra recitation. I brought a lot of what I learned there about ritual structure, the evident power of continuous magical activity over a period of time, and certain methods of personal discipline, back with me. For instance, I can now sit a bit longer in meditation, chant for longer periods of time without needing a break, and have learned better techniques of moving energy through my body with sound. I also learned, at that retreat, a certain passion that had not arisen in me before during dharma practice. An ecstasy beyond the previous ecstasy. Last Samhain, CAYA Coven did our first ever- 24-hour Ancestor chanting marathon, and it was very powerful. I am hoping we will do something like that again this year.

Following that, Albert and I went to Tibet. And to be honest, it was very, very difficult in so many ways. The most challenging place I have ever been…very provocative on so many levels. The altitude quite literally takes your breath away. The ardor of spiritual practice there is unequaled. Spirituality is built into every.single.aspect of daily life, from simple transactions to elaborate ceremonies, and spiritual practice there is quite demanding. The terrain is still really rugged in many places, though that is changing rapidly, and there is construction on an enormous superhighway through Central Tibet which will bring its own set of difficulties. But there is also a holy beauty there. A somewhat terrifying beauty. The landscape is craggy, sharp, wild and harsh, yet so peaceful, all at the same time.

I walked away from the experience with an inner sense of my identity disturbed. Truly, my mind and spirit have changed since then, and not always in comfortable ways. I have come to see where people here take so much for granted, thinking how difficult we have it. I am aware of how much we can learn from the indomitably peaceful and tenacious commitment to skillfulness that is inherent in Tibetan spirituality and culture, and I admire how generously and caringly they share their practices. In Tibet I learned fortitude, and how to push past walls of aversion, and that it’s OK to need help and to ask for it. I learned how to give up hope, in a way. How to give up wishing things would be different, in favor of just taking care of what is right in front of me as best I can. I learned a new level of honesty with myself and others, how to let go of my story about what’s happening, and just be with what’s real– this is not always pretty, or media-friendly, or happy, and once seen, cannot be unseen. I learned that pride is useless in a crisis, and that the world will never not be in crisis in some way. I learned to just do the best I can with what I have.  And this visit set me on a path. I do not know where that path is leading, but right now it is leading me to care for this Temple, and it is leading me to commit to going through that challenge again.

TWH: You’re visiting Tibet again this year, correct? When is your trip and what are you looking to accomplish?

YR:  I will be in Tibet for most of September this year. In addition to bringing support to the nuns for the new Temple at Tsogyal Latso, I will be on pilgrimage throughout Central Tibet to visit different sites associated with my lineage, as well as several other oracular lakes. Personally, I hope to accomplish the main goal of any pilgrimage: to deepen my connection to my spiritual practice, and that my journey will in some way be of benefit. But on a socially-conscious level, I will be bringing some practical support to this Temple and the 16 nuns who live there.

TWH:   Anything you’d like to add that you think is important?

YR:  In addition to financial support for the Temple and the nuns, which we are gratefully accepting at the Tsogyal Rising web site, we have also been invited to perform mantras and prayers to ensure that this venture continues to go smoothly, that it receives the support it needs, to clear all obstacles, and that it become a profound blessing to the community of practitioners. I host an online group nearly every Saturday morning at 10 am via Zoom for the new temple at Tsogyal Latso. If folks would like to join me, they are welcome. It is one hour in length. You can find the practice text and the link to the video conference on the Sky Dancer Sangha website here.

RobertRudachukHeathen Robert Rudachyk has announced his candidacy for Canada’s Liberal Party of Saskatchewon. Rudachyk ran in 2014 and, in an interview with The Wild Hunt, talked about his goals and his work as an openly Heathen candidate.

He said,If I am able to become the candidate, I intend to run my campaign on the issues facing all Canadians, not on my faith. I will never hide who I am, but I will also not whip my hammer out in public and shove it into people’s faces.”

This year, Rudachyk is running “to be elected as a Member of the Legislative Assembly ( MLA) for this seat or district as you might call it. It is for the provincial government of Saskatchewan It is essentially the provincial parliament.” The campaign was just announced, and we will have more from Rudachyk in the weeks to come. The election itself will be held in April 2016.

*   *   *

Sabina Magliocco at the Conference on Current Pagan Studies. (Photo: Tony Mierzwicki)

(Photo: T. Mierzwicki)

On July 17, Professor Sabina Magliocco created a new survey for an independent study on fairy legends in the Pagan community. Magliocco is a professor of Anthropology at California State University – Northridge. Her online survey was titled “Fairies in Contemporary Paganism.” She wrote, “I’m interested in your legends, experiences and beliefs surrounding the fairies, fae, sidhe, Fair Folk, pixies, trolls, and similar creatures from any cultural tradition. What are they? Do you work with them in your spiritual practice? What is their role in the world today?”

Within one week, Prof. Magliocco received over 500 responses, far exceeding the allowances of the technology used. She announced the survey’s closing and began compiling the data. Although the work has only begun, she offered this quick assessment: “a majority of respondents believe fairies are real and associate them with the natural world. Nonetheless, fairies are not central to the majority of respondents’ religious practice — but a substantial number of respondents do interact with them, mostly by making offerings.” The full results will be presented at the Conference on Current Pagan Studies, held in Claremont, California in January 23-24, 2016

*   *   *

Many Gods West Facebook Photo

Coming up this weekend is the brand new conference, Many Gods West. As noted on the event website, it is “meant to be a celebration of [many] traditions, those newly-reconstructed and those continuously-practiced. There are many gods in the world, and many peoples worshiping them.”

Held at The Governor Hotel in downtown Olympia, Washington, Many Gods West will feature three days of workshops, lectures, rituals and more. The keynote address will be delivered by Priest and Author Morpheus Ravenna on Friday at 7:00pm. Rituals include the Bakcheion (Βακχεῖον)’s “Filled with Frenzy,” Coru Cathubodua’s “Devotional to Cathobodua,” and Viducus Brigantici, Filius’ “Kalends Ritual” and more. Many Gods West opens for the very first time on Friday, July 31 and runs to Sunday, Aug 2.

*   *   *

HUAR Logo

Over the past few months, there have been some changes to the group Heathens United Against Racism (HUAR). According to various sources, the group experienced internal conflict in June, which led to a split between the various moderators, organizers and facilitators. The disagreements were centered around internal operations and structure.

HUAR is currently still in operation and slowly re-building. In a recent post, The HUAR Team wrote, “We have undergone some recent internal reorganization to be more effective in accomplishing our goals of opposing racism and co-optation of Heathenry by racialist groups and organizations. We’ve learned a lot of hard lessons from the mistakes of the past few years and are working to be more effective now and going forward.” *

In addition, a new group has formed called Heathens For Social Justice (HFSJ), which was created after the June events. HFSJ is run by nine democratically-elected board members. They describe the group as a “safe space” and as being “committed to fighting all oppressions, wherever [they] find them, in service to both [the] heathen community and [their] local, regional and national communities.” Organizers added, “We are about action, not platitudes.”

While the two groups do have some crossover in purpose and goals, their focuses do appear to be slightly different. We will continue to report on both groups as they continue or begin their advocacy and work.

In Other News

  • The Sacred Harvest Festival is about to kick-off its eighteenth year at its brand new location in Northern Minnesota. The festival will be held at Atchingtan in Finlayson,MN, which is 90 minutes north of St. Paul. As always, the scheduled is packed with rituals, drumming, workshops and other events. The guest speaker will be Shaman Joy Wedmedyk. PNC-Minnesota has recently published an interview with Wedmedyk, in which she says, “I want the people who attend to know the reason I teach is because I want people to have as much information as possible to be able to move forward spiritually and to know prosperity and abundance in all levels of their life. I love to encourage people to develop their own skill set, and perhaps offer them a different perspective about a practice they may already be doing.” Sacred Harvest Festival begins on Monday, August 3 and runs through Aug. 9.
  • Mills College Student and co-founder of the Pagan Alliance Kristen Oliver has been selected as a Chapel Programs Assistant. Oliver said, “I will be working for the interim Multifaith Chaplain and Director of Spiritual and Religious Life (SRL). I will be doing things like managing SRL’s Facebook page, helping to organize and lead activities and events like the school’s multifaith Festival of Light and Dark which happens in December, and being available to students who have spiritual/religious queries.” Oliver added that she “continues to be impressed” by the school’s support of the Pagan Alliance and Pagan students.
  • As we reported last week, Starhawk has ventured into self-publishing for The City of Refuge, the sequel to her novel The Fifth Sacred Thing. To accomplish this task, she will be opening a Kick Starter Campaign to pay for various aspects of the process. The campaign will begin on July 31, as suggested by Starhawk’s favorite astrologer. As she writes, “It’s also the eve of Lammas or Lughnasad, August 1, one of the eight great festivals of the Celtic and Pagan year.” 
  • EarthSpirit co-founder Andras Corban-Arthen was invited to sit on a panel called the “Indigenous Leadership Talk Issues and Innovation” at the Nexus Global Youth Summit, held at The United Nations. The other panel participants included “Abhayam Kalu Ugwuomo, Chief Kalu Ugwuomo, Tonatiuh Cervantes, Aina Olomo, Ricardo Cervantes, Mary Ann Thompson-Frenk.”
[Courtesy Photo]

[Courtesy Photo]

  • Ivo Dominguez, Jr will be hosting a new workshop in Delaware to be taught by Byron Ballard. Held on Aug. 29, the workshop, called “Old Wild Magic of the Motherlands,” will be based Ballard’s new research on Appalachian traditions. Ballard’s work is focused on the magical traditions and cultures of her home in the mountains of the Appalachian region. For her next book, she has been studying the various customs that came over from the British Isles. Ballard notes, “The charms, spells and talismans that crossed with those ragged immigrants from Scotland, Northumberland, Cornwall and Cumbria are little known and very interesting. Weather workings, healing charms, curses and blessings–all handed down to us from a by-gone age.” The new workshop will present her findings and will be held in Georgetown, Delaware on Aug. 29.

That is it for now! Have a great day.

On Thursday, legislation was introduced simultaneously into both the U.S. House and Senate, which seeks to ensure equitable treatment across a wide-range of social structures, regardless of sexual orientation and gender identification. The Equality Act, as it has been called, will “prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex, gender identity, and sexual orientation, and for other purposes.” Along with any new statutes, the act also aims to strengthen protections against discrimination for other minorities through the expansion of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It is considered landmark legislation and has been called “visionary.”

[Photo Credit: Kate Ter Haar / Flickr]

[Photo Credit: Kate Ter Haar / Flickr]

In his opening speech before the Senate, Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR) said:

There are few concepts as fundamentally American as equality … For more than two centuries, we have been working to fulfill that vision of equality. We have taken direct action as a nation so that our laws align more closely with these founding ideals. We have challenged unjust rules and destructive prejudices and chosen to advance basic civil rights.

Merkley introduced the Equality Act (S. 1858) in the Senate on behalf of himself and 39 other Senators. At the same time, Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI) introduced the same bill in the House on behalf of himself and 157 other representatives. Cicilline, who is one of seven openly gay House members, said, “Fairness and equality are core American values. No American citizen should ever have to live their lives in fear of discrimination.”

The Equality Act predominantly focuses on amending established federal legislation. In many cases, the terms “sex, sexual orientation and gender identity” would be added to the list of protected classes “joining race, color, religion and national origin.” The acts to be expanded or amended include, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, the Jury Selection and Service Act, the Fair Housing Act, the Government Employees Rights Act of 1991 and the Civil Service Reform Act. Through these changes, lawmakers hope to establish and enforce a more equitable environment in various areas such as public accommodations and education; employment, housing, federal funding, juries and more.

The legislation is considered landmark, because it is wide-sweeping, rather than focused on any one particular area of society. In 1974, two representatives introduced a similar bill. House Bill 14752, also called “The Equality Act,” proposed expanding the Civil Rights Act to include “sexual orientation.” However, that bill never passed. Then in 1994, the idea was revisited, but only for the employment sector. That became ENDA, or the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which has been lingering in Congress ever since.

After The Equality Act of 2015 was introduced, three corporations immediately announced their support, including The Dow Chemical Company, Levi Strauss & Co. and Apple Computers. Apple’s Tim Cook, who is the only openly gay chief executive officer of a Fortune 500 company, told the Human Rights Campaign:

At Apple we believe in equal treatment for everyone, regardless of where they come from, what they look like, how they worship or who they love. We fully support the expansion of legal protections as a matter of basic human dignity.

In March, The The Washington Post published an op-ed written by Cook, on a slightly different but related topic. He said, “There’s something very dangerous happening in states across the country. A wave of legislation, introduced in more than two dozen states, would allow people to discriminate against their neighbors.” He is speaking of the federal and state Religious Freedom Restoration Acts. Cook goes on to say, “These bills rationalize injustice by pretending to defend something many of us hold dear … This isn’t a political issue. It isn’t a religious issue. This is about how we treat each other as human beings.”

Apple CEO Tim Cook [Photo Credit: Mike Deerkoski]

Apple CEO Tim Cook [Photo Credit: Mike Deerkoski]

The tide is certainly shifting, as suggested by the recent SCOTUS ruling, the push for anti-discrimination legislation across the states, growing awareness of transgender struggles, and even the recent proposed policy changes for the Boy Scouts. The RFRAs are seen as reactionary legislation to this cultural shift, and are, thereby, dragging religion into the socio-political spotlight as a shield against change.

For example, in June, Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ) co-sponsored a bill called The First Amendment Defense Act, which was introduced in response to the SCOTUS marriage equality ruling. This bill seeks to “prohibit the federal government from taking discriminatory action against a person on the basis that such person believes or acts in accordance with a religious belief or moral conviction…” with regards to same-sex marriage. He told U.S. World and News Report, “Religious freedom is something that is essentially the cornerstone of all other freedoms. If we lose it, the Founding Fathers’ dreams are lost.”

The new Equality Act addresses two important points regarding the protection of religious freedom. First, in regards to employment, the act makes no changes to the current religious exemption. It “would continue to allow religious corporations, associations, educational institutions, and societies to hire only individuals of a particular religion to perform work connected with their religious activities.” In other words, a Pagan-specific charitable organization or church would not be required to hire non-Pagans to “perform work connected with religious activities.” The Equality Act protects your right to religiously discriminate in those very limited and specific circumstances.

However, with that said, the new act also dives directly into the RFRA debate. In summary, the act reads:

The Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) cannot be used [as] a defense for individuals or entities to discriminate on any basis under any provision of existing law amended by this Act.

With this piece, the Equality Act goes beyond protecting only LGBTQ rights and also strengthens those of all minority classes. It essentially takes the wind out of RFRA sails, disallowing the use of religion as a shield from the law. The bill makes it very clear that RFRAs would not be able to be used to defend any act of discrimination “on any basis under any provision of existing law amended by this Act.” In this way, the Equality Act and the newly introduced First Amendment Defense Act are in direct conflict.

In a blog post, The Human Rights Campaign noted the same point, saying “While the act provides much-needed protections for the LGBTQ community in all 50 states, it would additionally strengthen protections for all men, women and racial, ethnic and religious minorities.” The deputy legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union agrees, calling the act visionary, historic and long-overdue.

While there does appear to be much support for the Equality Act, suprisingly some LGBTQ members and organizations are not rallying in support behind the congressional effort. An article in The Washington Blade illustrates why. In summary, there are those people who believe that “opening up” the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is dangerous, because it is a sacred piece of legislation specifically protecting racial discrimination. Others believe the Equality Act doesn’t go far enough in its protections. Still others are concerned with the lack of Republican backing. LGBTQ Republican Party members have expressed a feeling alienation, saying that the Equality seems to have been drafted as “a partisan cudgel [rather] than a pragmatic LGBTQ non-discrimination bill. by the lack of inclusion.”

While some opponents, outside of the LGBTQ community, do state a concern over privacy rights and federal government interference in industry, most fall back on the religious freedom argument as exemplified by the Rep. Franks statement above.

Regardless, many supporters speculate that the act is ultimately doomed due to the current political climate in Washington. Slate writer Marc Joseph Stern said, “The Equality Act, of course, will go absolutely nowhere … Still, it’s notable for two reasons.” Stern goes on to explain that the new act serves to keep the issues of equality central to current public discourse, while also “sounding the death toll” for ENDA, which is still limping along in legislative limbo.

Whether or not it does pass, the Equality Act, as noted by Stern, continues the discussion of LGBTQ rights and the realities of discrimination across social platforms and peoples; the potential need to revise older legislation to meet contemporary needs; and to highlight the potential dangers present in the RFRAs.

downloadReview: The Case for Polytheism. Written by Steven Dillon. (Iff Book, 96 Pages)

As an undergraduate freshman I stumbled into a Philosophy 101 class primarily by default. It was the only class out of the list of humanities requirements that still had a space available, and I needed full-time status to keep my scholarship. I was not excited to learn about the self-indulgent musings of dead white men; Philosophy 101 usually means Western Philosophy after all.

By the end of the term, however, I was considering changing my major to philosophy. While I ultimately chose not to change majors, I took as many philosophy classes electives as possible. Why the change of heart? I realized by studying Aristotle, Kant, Descartes, et al, that I had never learned to think critically. It was exciting to learn how to deconstruct a series of premises and to weigh the merits and fallacies of arguments made.

Now that nearly 20 years have passed since my last philosophy class, I honestly could not tell you much about any of those philosophers, their assumptions, or their arguments. I found that I lacked interest in reading philosophy without a group of people to talk things out so my studies ended and much of what I knew (or thought I knew) slipped away.

So it has been years since I thought about those classes in logic, existentialism, epistemology, and ethics. Upon reading Steven Dillon’s The Case for Polythiesm, I began to wish that I could remember everything that I had worked so hard to understand so many years ago. I wished that I could be surrounded by others reading it simultaneously so we could talk about it’s content. I wished that there was time to read it a second time and third time to truly absorb and more fully consider its propositions.

In his book, Dillon engages the reader in a defense of natural theology, which is “just a systematic attempt to ‘prove or show’ to be probable the existence of God or gods, and to acquire knowledge about them, on the basis of evidence or premises that can be accepted by non-believers, such as empirical knowledge about the natural world.” While monotheists have been the primary voices in natural theology arguments, Dillon brings polytheism back into the conversation with this book.*

Dillon begins with an exploration of what a God is, and if there is a God. He proposes three conditions needed for something to be considered a God: disembodied consciousness, immensely more powerful than evolved minds, and remarkable greatness. He goes on to explore each of these qualities in turn, recognizing the problem of defining terms like “consciousness,” “immense,” and “remarkable.” He then goes on to present a formal argument for theism followed by an exploration of the assumptions within. The argument he presents is:

  1. The existence of the universe is either due to its own necessary nature or to an external cause.
  2. If it is due to an external cause, then at least one god exists.
  3. The existence of the universe is not due to its own necessary nature.
  4. Therefore, it is due to an external cause (From 1 and 3.)
  5. Hence, at least one god exists. (From 2 and 4.)

The following 8 pages are an exploration and defense of each of these premises in order to present a “reasonable case for theism.” It was at this point in the book that my recollection of my former classes came to the front of my mind, and I felt an unexpected desire to be back in those 200-year-old un-airconditioned university buildings surrounded by other lovers of wisdom.

I have problems with these propositions for which I cannot seem to find the words. I can sense a gap in the logic presented, but have no idea how to express it. In psychology, the lack of words to describe one’s emotions is called alexithymia. Alexithymia (literally, “no words for emotions”) has been linked to depression, eating disorders, and other lovely conditions. I don’t know what the word is for “no words to explain the reason for a dysphoric cognitive response,” but that word should exist for situations such as this. And I am quite sure that this condition would be linked to headaches, inattentiveness in conversations, and forgetting to eat dinner.

But that aside…

After a brief break, I moved on to the next chapter which explores the question of how many gods there are. Since I am Pagan, and therefore biased by my own polytheistic beliefs, his arguments for religious experiences of gods were not personally problematic. However, this could be a sticky argument for a lot of monotheistic and atheistic folk. To sum it up as succinctly as possible, he writes that we can trust perceptual experiences (“unless and until we have good reason not to”) that, if gods have been perceived then polytheism is true, and that gods have been perceived, and therefore, polytheism is true.

It is an endearingly simple argument, but so loaded that I would like to secure a front row seat to watch the debate ensue. He spends several pages presenting these arguments that he assumes (and rightly, I think) would be used to deconstruct his propositions. He even addresses one of several I had but had no name for (until now): the Theory-Ladenness Objection. It explains that prior theory affects observation, and that this influence makes our interpretation of perceptual experiences unreliable. For instance, if one is only aware of a single warrior Goddess, than any warrior Goddess that is experienced would be perceived to be the one already known.

In the end, Dillon concludes that he finds the objections “wanting” and that through his arguments

…we have managed to mount a reasonable case for polytheism. We have good reason to believe in the deities that have been perceived all over the world, from the Goddess experienced by Wiccans and Cernunnos by Druids, to the Hindu deities that have been experienced, and even YHWH. The gods and goddesses come in all shapes and sizes.

I finished this chapter thinking that the objections to his propositions are deserving of more consideration, and that his arguments for polytheism are wanting.

Dillon states that his goal with this book is to “inspire thoughtful individuals to discuss and reevaluate the merits or demerits of polytheism.” Despite any problems with his arguments, he succeeds in opening up a conversation in academic circles, and I feel an unexpected sense of gratitude for this. However, the book may be a bit inaccessible for people without some background or understanding of philosophy and debate. Regardless, Dillon presents many interesting points and poses plenty of questions that naturally encourage discussion and exploration.

Author Steven Dillon is a Pagan living in South Dakota. He publishes the blog Pagan Scholasticism. He “primarily works on researching and developing theoretical foundations for Pagan ideas.” A Case for Polytheism is his first book. It is currently available in electronic and paperback formats.

*  *  *

* The term polytheism, as used in this book, expresses the generic meaning “many gods” within any religious tradition or practice. This is distinctly different from Polytheism as a very specific religious identifier. As such, the term ‘polytheism’ is not capitalized in the book or the article, whereas the identifier would always capitalized. For more on this distinction or on Polytheism in practice, read the Polytheism Primer or visit Polytheism.com

Whims of the Father

Alley Valkyrie —  July 24, 2015 — 9 Comments

(Author’s note: The following attempts to capture a recent four days in time and about time with as much accuracy as possible. Minor details have been changed to protect privacy.)

I walked from my apartment to the elevator, going past a dozen or so doors on the way. It was early afternoon, and I could hear a TV blaring in nearly every apartment as I walked past. In a typical apartment building, most folks would be at work, but here in this building a noticeable number of the residents are home all day with little to do other than to watch television. I was used to the sound of TV as I walked past, but right then it was much more noticeable than usual.

I live in what is generally referred to as “tax-credit housing”, meaning that the property was built under a federal program that grants a 30-year property tax credit in exchange for renting the units for well below market value and only to those who make less than 60% of the area median income. As a result, the building is composed of a noticeably varied range of working-class and poor folks, from single moms and working families with kids to retired folks who live on Social Security, as well as a significant number of disabled folks, including several war vets, who also live on fixed incomes. There are also several multigenerational households, where younger relatives work while their elderly parents and/or grandparents are at home during the day for the most part.

I stepped into the elevator, where a man was awkwardly leaning in the corner, propping himself up to relieve pressure off his leg, which I noticed was in what looked like a permanent brace.

“You ever watch that Kardashian show?” he asked me as the elevator door started to close.

“Nope,” I replied. I don’t have a TV.”

He looks at me in amazement. “You don’t have a TV?” He looked me up and down. “Well, I suppose you don’t need one. You’re young, you can go amuse yourself in the real world. Twenty years ago I thought I couldn’t afford cable. Now I realize I can’t afford not to have it.”

I nodded. It had occurred to me often as of late that the very fact that I can sufficiently keep myself occupied to the point where I did not need a TV was a significant privilege that many of my neighbors did not have.

“My nephew criticizes me, tells me I’m wasting my money,” he continued. “I asked him, what else am I supposed to do with it? I get a little over $700 a month plus my food stamps and whatever I can get returning cans. $595 for rent, $40 for electricity, $20 for a big bag of dog food, after that I got well under a hundred dollars left to amuse myself for the entire month. Can’t even afford a respectable drinking habit. So cable it is. Perhaps it shouldn’t be, but it is. Cable and my dog, that’s what keeps me occupied.”

“Makes perfect sense to me,” I said to him as the elevator door opened into the lobby.

He nodded. “Thank you, I need to hear that. My nephew, he’s the only blood family I really have around here but he’s so judgmental. The kid doesn’t understand how easy it is to think the way he does when you’re bringing in $50K a year. He goes bowling, goes to the movies, goes to the coast. Doesn’t know what its like to not be able to afford all that, and then lectures me for how I spend my money. He doesn’t think about the fact that his time itself is worth money, while my time doesn’t hold value for anybody. ‘Time flies’, he says to me. Not for me it don’t.”

I looked at him sympathetically as we walked out the front door. “You know what’s best for you better than anyone else does,” I said to him as we parted ways.

As I walked on, his words rang on in my head, as they illustrated the core divide that the sound of the TV had come to symbolize for me as of late: the divide between those whose time had a market value, and those for whose time did not carry a transferable value and was often regarded as a burden, as the enemy, as something that needed to be intentionally wasted and consumed in the absence of a meaningful way to spend it. For some, time flies, while others are in constant need for time to fly away.

tempusfugit

*   *   *

I was sitting for a moment just outside the library when he approached me.

“Hey, you got a smoke?”

I’m not a smoker nowadays, but I still carry cigarettes sometimes, deeply aware of the power that tobacco has to initiate random conversations with strangers. I handed him one and he lit it up.

“Ah, thank you. I’ll tell ya, it’s the only addiction I have left, but this one’s manageable and I’ve stopped trying to give it up. I gave the rest of them up, I still need something, you know.”

I nodded and he continued.

“My counselor said to me many times that addiction was a demon. I could tell that she meant it as a metaphor, but over time I’ve come to realize that it’s literal. A heroin addiction is the ugliest of demons – it’s a beast inside of you that you constantly need to feed, and feeding it becomes your utmost priority over time. But time is the key, time. An addiction also eats the time, and gives purpose to the time, and time itself is another demon, one that also eats away at you. And as screwed up at this sounds, in the face of the demon of time, the demon of addiction is actually a bit of a comfort. Simply put, it gives you something to do. You wake up, and the first thought is that you need a fix. Immediately you have a task, a goal. Something to do with your time. Something to take care of, something to feed.”

“How’d you kick it?” I asked.

He pointed down towards the corgi at his feet. “After I finally got through rehab, I got myself a dog,” he answered. “Figured having something else to feed would keep me out of trouble. And it did in terms of smack, but I didn’t stay completely out of trouble and after a while I collected a wife and then a kid as well. So now I have a houseful of creatures that howl to be fed in the morning.”

He paused for a moment and smiled. “But at least they’re all external. And I love them all dearly. I’d rather feed kids and dogs than those other demons. But often it’s better to feed demons than to be left to the whims of the father without sufficient distraction.

“The father?” I asked. “You mean God?”

The price of a conversation. Photo by Alley Valkyrie.

The price of a conversation. [Photo by Alley Valkyrie.]

He laughed. “No, Father Time,” he said. “But he might as well be God. Cruelest force there is, that time. Never enough of it when you need it the most, then it drags on endlessly when you desperately need it to pass.”

He put out the end of the cigarette. “The tricks of the Father are endless. Time files sometimes, but never when you want it to. A winged demon, that Father Time.”

“And that’s no joke, that’s real as you and me.”

*   *   *

“This next sequence will run for four minutes.”

The strange patterns of beeping noises started again, and I closed my eyes and desperately tried to relax, trying to block out absolutely every aspect of the current situation. As I had discovered in the past, if I ignored the headphones and earplugs and panic button in my right hand, the coldness and the brightness and the very fact that I was in a cylindrical tube, if I blocked out all of that successfully, for a split second it was almost as though I was just lying down listing to some sort of avant-garde techno music.

I held the illusion for a moment, until the beeping shifted to a faster-paced and much more jolting rhythm, which snapped me back immediately into the realization that I was currently in an MRI machine. I think this is why I don’t like techno, I thought to myself.

“This next sequence will run for two-and-a-half minutes.”

I closed my eyes once again and tried my best to pretend that it was a just techno-tunnel.

When the final sequence was over, it struck me how 38 minutes in a tube, broken down into 2-4 minute segments that are announced step-by-step, makes for one of the most accurate flows of time that I experienced as of late. As uncomfortable as it was on one level, it was exactly as long as it seemed, as long as it was supposed to be without the catches and loopholes that are often present in time. The ‘tricks of the Father’ were conspicuously and surprisingly absent this time around, which considering the circumstances was quite a relief. For once, time seemed a strange constant.

They pulled me out of the tunnel, took down some additional information, and told me that I would hear back within a week.

“I know that the waiting is the hardest part,” she said to me, sympathetically. “Time can be especially cruel that way…”

I thought of the man that I talked to that morning with the dog outside the library. Time can be cruel in many ways, I silently whispered to myself.

“Do you need a parking validation?” she asked.

“No, I walked here.”

She looked down at the screen at my info for a moment, and then looked up at me again. “That’s a quite a bit of a walk,” she said to me.

“Yeah, it took a while. But I find it a good way to clear out some time.”

“Must be nice to have that kind of free time,” she said.

Trust me, its not nearly as nice as you think, I thought to myself, and thought hard for a second before answering

“Yes and no,” I said to her after a moment. “Free time tends to lose its value and appeal once its no longer being weighed against the time you wish you didn’t have to spend elsewhere. Eventually, it becomes somewhat of a liability, especially when you don’t have adequate ways to waste or spend it. I’m grateful in a sense that I’m able to spend the amount of time that I do walking around Portland, especially considering how many folks I knew with mobility issues who don’t have such an option. But the time itself isn’t always a good thing to have, especially for those who can’t get out as I can.”

She looked at me, silent for a moment.

“Huh,” she finally said. “I hear you. I never thought of it that way before, but I can definitely see what you’re saying.”

*   *   *

I dragged a chair and a small table out on my patio, intending to spend a good portion of the afternoon making pinch-pots while watching the traffic below me.

My upstairs neighbors started watching a TV program about UFOs, which I could hear clearly from where I was sitting, and before I realized what was happening I found myself sucked in. I forgot about the clay in my hand as I strained to hear their TV above the sounds of the traffic while staring out mindlessly towards the street below.

Out of nowhere, their dog started to bark uncontrollably, which set off the dog next door and another dog nearby, and the neighbors either muted or paused the TV while yelling at their dog to shush. I snapped back into reality, and as I listened to the chorus of barking dogs I looked out and noticed the doggy day camp van pull up in front of the luxury condos across the street. I had noticed the van many times before, but seeing it in that moment brought with it a whole new significance.

I tuned in to the cacophony of barking throughout the building for a moment, dogs that for so many folks here were instrumental in giving their time and their lives meaning in the face of very few accessible amusements or comforts.

And as I listened to the barking, I closely watched across the street as the van driver walked the dog toward the building, the owner approaching them from the other direction. In stark contrast to my upstairs neighbors who spent most of their waking hours caring for their dog with the TV blaring in the background, this dog owner’s time is so valued under capitalism that he can afford to pay someone to amuse his dog for several hours every day while he’s gone so that the dog itself doesn’t get bored in his absence.

Sitting on the porch, staring across the street, I realized that I was experiencing two worlds at once, worlds that in the moment were being illustrated by dogs and separated and defined by the value and perception of time.

As the van drove away and the barking died down, they turned the UFO show back on upstairs. I started to listen in once again, but my thoughts kept interrupting my ability to concentrate as I couldn’t help wondering what a dog actually does all day at doggy day camp.

*   *   *

“Daddy, why is the market only open on the weekends?”

“Because during the weekdays, everyone is at work. They’re off on the weekends, so they can come here and shop,” he replied.

Sitting in the back of my market booth, the weekend ‘workplace’ that I’ve steadily inhabited for over a decade now, I tipped both my eye and my ear towards the direction of the conversation.

“But there are some people who work on the weekends too,” the kid countered. “These people here all are working right now,” he said, pointing towards the booths in front of them.

Smart kid, I thought to myself, curiously anticipating how the father would attempt to explain this particular aspect of class dynamics to a six-year-old.

“Well, yes, you’re right. Some people do have to work on the weekends.”

“But when do the people who work on the weekends get to go to the market?”

“I guess they just don’t get to go,” the father said after a moment. “We’ve talked before about how the world isn’t always fair.”

“Are the people who work on the weekdays more important than those who work on the weekends?

“Well, I guess some would say that. Those who work weekdays generally make more money than those who have to work on weekends, and there are many people who think that those who make more money are more important than those who make less money.”

“That’s stupid,” the kid said defiantly. “The people who work on the weekends should make more money, because they’re the ones who are missing all the fun.”

Portland Saturday Market. Photo by Steve Morgan.

Portland Saturday Market. [Photo by Steve Morgan]

“Are you hungry?” the father asked abruptly, desperately trying to change the subject at that point. The kid nodded and they walked away towards the food carts.

“If I was in charge, I’d have a market all week just for the people who have to work weekends,” the kid said as they walked out of earshot.

The father looked around for a moment, his expression one of pure helplessness and exasperation.

Right on, kid, right on, I thought.

*   *   *

As I watched her hand, moving so eloquently and furiously, I realized that I had seen her before, although in a different park on the other side of the river. She finished the bird with a few quick strokes and started to write underneath the picture in Chinese, quickly scribbling out a few rows of text in what seemed like seconds.

She then picked up the picture, blew on it, quickly looked both ways, and muttered a few words under her breath. And before I really understood what was happening, she pulled out a match and quickly set the paper on fire.

I gasped aloud, not meaning to, and she turned around, surprised to see me there. She nodded hello at me and I nodded back.

“It is OK, it is supposed to burn,” she said to me, smiling. “It is a prayer for the sparrows.”

“But you just spent so much time….” I stopped mid-sentence, recognizing the thought-trap regarding the value of time that I was about to fall into. She laughed.

“I have all the time in the world to draw things and set them on fire,” she said. “I am retired, I do not work. I do not like TV, I do not like bingo. Instead, I draw and I pray and I pay attention to nature.”

I stared at her for a second, wondering if I should say aloud what I was dying to ask her, then took a breath and went for it.

“Do you mind if I ask why? Why did you burn what you just drew, what was it for?”

She motioned for me to sit, and I immediately dropped down on the ground next to her.

“I draw them to ask forgiveness for the past. When I was a girl back home, one day our leader commanded all the people to kill the sparrows, all the sparrows. It was a matter of duty, of honor, patriotism, all of those things, to kill every sparrow we could find. So we did, we chased them, killed them, destroyed nests, some shot them out of the sky. Throughout my village, throughout the country, the people killed all the sparrows, every one they saw.”

As she paused for a moment, I thought about her age and realized that I was hearing a personal account of the Great Chinese Famine. My stomach clenched up as I anticipated what she was about to say next.

“But sparrows eat locusts and locusts eat grain, and when sparrows don’t eat locusts, locusts eat all the grain that is grown to feed the peasants. And then, after the sparrows were gone, after we killed them all and the locusts came, the droughts also came. And for years, there was famine, and millions and millions died.“

“Years later, I moved to America to be with my daughter, and everywhere I see different kinds of sparrows. And they reminded me of my childhood, of the famine and the death, and at first I was very angry at them. They almost felt haunting. But then I thought of what the people had done, and what happened as a result, and how all of the species are connected and interdependent. Here we both reside, me and the sparrows, and we are both alive, both survivors, and I don’t like bingo. So eventually I thought why not reach out to them?”

She smiled and looked around. “So I started coming to the parks, and when I see sparrows, I draw them and write prayers of forgiveness and send them up towards where I spotted them. I think it heals both of our wounds.”

I stood there for a moment, slightly shivery. “Thank you for sharing that with me,” I told her.

She nodded. “Nobody can change the past, but I can at least give them the time I have now. I often feel like I’m just wasting my days away when I sit at home, but then I remember the sparrows and I realize that my time has value.”

*   *   *

Walking back from the park towards my building, I noticed the man who has asked me about the Kardashians the other day, sitting on a bench smoking a cigarette. He looked up and I nodded; he waved me over.

“Hey, you ever hear of a time bank?” he asked.

Before I could answer, he continued, excitedly. “I saw something on TV this morning where they were talking about unemployed folks in Greece and how they’ve started these exchanges called time banks. It’s a bartering of services where if you can perform a skill, you can trade your time for the time-skills of another. Everyone’s time is worth the same no matter what service they perform, and services are traded hour for hour, no money exchanged.”

I nodded and he went on. “I’m one hell of a wood-turner. Put me in front of a lathe and I’ll make you some of the most amazing things you’ve ever seen. But I can only do it at most for a few hours at a time, which is why I’m useless to an employer. But if I could trade a few hours a week’s worth of my skill for, say, someone who could help me fix my car up or could repair my boots, I’d be so much better off.”

He pointed toward our building. “That whole place, I’m sure almost everyone can do something. But so many do nothing at all, because they’re trapped in their apartment with nothing but a TV and maybe a chat with the neighbor once in a while. What they know, what they do, it all just goes to waste. Nobody’s time has any real value as it stands.

“But just think of what we all could do if we all decided to start organizing ourselves and our skills around something other than money. You’d have a whole bunch of folks who think they’re useless who would suddenly find themselves quite useful again. We’d all have an easier time of it, a much easier time.”

“A much easier time,” he said again after a moment. “It always comes back to time.”

 *   *   *

This column was made possible by the generous underwriting donation from Hecate Demeter, writer, ecofeminist, witch and Priestess of the Great Mother Earth.  

2002 [Photo Credit:  Christopher Werby]

2002 [Photo Credit: Christopher Werby]

Priestess, ritualist and elder Deborah Ann Light passed away the morning of July 21, 2015. On Wednesday, her family announced:

Philanthropist Deborah Ann Light, a key figure in establishing Eastern Long Island’s Peconic Land Trust and pioneering Wiccan priestess, died Tuesday, July 21, 2015 in Gainesville, Florida, at age 80 after a long illness.

Deborah was born in London to American parents Dr. Rudolph Alvin Light and Ann Bonner Jones, while they were both attending Oxford University. She was raised on a farm in Nashville, Tennessee, while her father taught surgery at Vanderbilt University. As she grew up, she lived in a variety of places, including Virginia, Italy, and New York. In 1961, she graduated with a B.F.A. in textile design from the School for American Craftsmen at the Rochester Institute of Technology. With her first husband, she gave birth to her son, Michael, in 1963.

Four years later, Deborah settled in the small hamlet of Amagansett, Long Island, where she quickly became involved in local politics and community service. As noted by her family, Deborah engaged in every activity with “dedicated professionalism” and, at the same time, indulged in many eccentricities. At one point, for example, she cared for over 36 cats.

In addition, Deborah became increasingly dedicated to women’s issues and earth stewardship. With a love of the land, she continued to acquire more property around her home, and became involved with a local land trust.

Then, in 1980, Deborah attended a Reclaiming-sponsored trip to Ireland, and had, what her family calls, “a spiritual epiphany” that led Deborah on a brand new journey. In 1982, she started attending EarthSpirit’s Rites of Spring. Through that connection, she also became an active member of the newly formed North East Local Council of Covenant of the Goddess. And, during the same period, she began attending Circle Sanctuary’s new festival, Pagan Spirit Gathering. As a result, Deborah became an active member of all three organizations.

While building relationships within the growing Pagan world, Deborah began working on a masters degree in religious studies at Norwich University in Vermont. Her thesis, titled “Contemporary Goddess Worship: The Old Religion as Currently Practiced in the United States” reflected her new spiritual direction. In 1985, she received her degree, and also met her life-partner, Jeri Baldwin.

But it wasn’t until the 1990’s that Deborah’s philanthropic and active dedication to her new path became very public. In 1989, she was diagnosed with terminal cancer and given six months to live. As a result, she endowed nearly 200 acres of land, part of her Suffolk County estate, to Long Island’s Peconic Land Trust. Her goal was to keep the land from being over-developed. The Trust established Quail Hill Farm. Honoring Deborah a hero, Alec Hirschfield created a film about the farm called Out Here in the Fields: Quail Hill Farm (2008).

Then, in 1992, Deborah created the Thanks Be to Grandmother Winifred Foundation, which “encouraged individual mature women to achieve goals that would enrich the lives of other adult women.” Named after Deborah’s Grandmother Rachel Winifred Upjohn Light, the foundation supported 321 projects over its nine year history. In 1996, photographer Robert Giard was commissioned to capture the faces of the many women recipients. These photos are archived at Radcliffe College, Harvard University.

Deborah Ann Light at 1999 Parliament [Courtesy Photo]

Deborah Ann Light at 1999 Parliament [Courtesy Photo]

Fortunately, Deborah beat the odds of her diagnosis and began taking on a far more active role in interfaith work. In 1993, she became one of the first Pagans to sit on the assembly at the Parliament for the World’s Religions as a representative of Covenant of the Goddess, EarthSpirit and Circle Sanctuary. At the start of the event, it was announced that there was only one open assembly slot for Wiccans. The three attending organizations chose Deborah, who happen to be a member of all three and who had proven her dedication by quickly securing the required insurance for their open full moon ritual. As their representative, Deborah signed the Global Ethics Charter as a “neo-pagan” along with Lady Olivia Robertson and Rev. Baroness Cara-Margurite Drusilla.

Deborah’s interfaith work continued over the next seven years. She traveled the country representing Covenant of the Goddess (CoG) as one of its first Interfaith Representatives. She became a member of Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans (CUUPS) and wrote for the newsletter Pagan NUUS. In 1998, she attended the United Religions Initiative (URI) Global Summit. In 1999, she once again represented Wiccans at the Parliament.

By the turn of the millennium, Deborah cut back on her public interfaith work. CoG interfaith representative and longtime member Don Frew remembers that, after she stopped attending URI summits, attendees always asked how Deborah was doing and added, “give her my love.” Frew said:

Everyone always wanted to give Deborah their love. She called forth the love in everyone she met. We could never have asked for a better ambassador to the religions of the world. I could never have asked for a more loving and caring friend.

In 2001, Ellen Evert Hopman published a book called Being a Pagan: Druids, Wiccans and Witches Today containing a 1994 interview with Deborah. Starting on page 291, the interview discusses Deborah’s practice as a witch, performance artist and ritualist. It notes that her work “honors the earth as she presents alternative creation myths.”

After retiring from public interfaith service, Deborah continued the loyal support of friends and community. She attended memorials, weddings, and Pagan events around the country; she continued to donate money to EarthSpirit, Circle Sanctuary and other Pagan organizations. In 2010, she and Jeri formed the Crone’s Cradle Conserve Foundation with 756 acres of land in Florida’s Marion County. The land, which had been obtained over 25 years, was established as an ecological preserve and education center located in Marion County.

Unfortunately, Deborah’s health slowly started to decline. In 2007, she began having blood pressure problems and moved permanently to Florida, where she regularly practiced yoga and continued to spend time with family and friends. Her condition worsened in 2012, and she was placed in hospice. A Facebook group was created in order to share daily blessings and news with her. In 2014, the Covenant of the Goddess honored her with its brand new Award of Honor “for outstanding service to the greater Pagan and Heathen communities.” Frew accepted on her behalf as she was not able to attend.

[Courtesy Photo]

[Courtesy Photo]

In recent months, Deborah’s health only continued to decline, and on July 21, she passed away in the presence of her partner and family.

Andras Corban-Arthen, co-founder of EarthSpirit and a close friend, said:

Deirdre and I are saddened to let our community know that, early this morning … our beloved Deborah had died … Deborah’s diverse contributions have been instrumental in shaping who we are as a community today: as she now becomes one of our venerable ancestors, we will continue to keep her legacy alive.

Circle Sanctuary posted its own tribute. Rev. Selena Fox said:

Along with others in the Circle Sanctuary Community, I am thankful for [Deborah’s] friendship, wisdom, intelligence, grace, strength, and dedication to helping others. May we take comfort in knowing that she lives on in the lives and endeavors of many individuals and groups that she inspired and supported. 

Pagan author Byron Ballard said:

It’s a joyful moment to think of her free and dancing and creating and…she has been dear to me since she befriended me at a URI North America Summit in Salt Lake City. I didn’t know anyone and she took me under her wing, gave me projects to do and introduced me around. A good good heart.

It is clear from the trails left behind that Deborah’s life was one of service, compassion and outreach. Pushing well beyond the boundaries of the Pagan community, Deborah used her influence, her spirit, her passion and her love to empower and protect. She did this through philanthropic means as well as through setting a living example. According to Frew, not only did she bravely “come out” as Pagan at the Parliament of the World’s Religions in 1993 in order to protect religious rights, but she also came out as a lesbian before URI’s international attendees in order to stand up for LGBTQ rights.

Deborah was brave; she was bold; and she was gracious. As Frew said, her “charm won people over.” But Deborah was more than a philanthropist, a ritualist, Pagan witch, an organization member, mother, partner and friend. Deborah was a inspiration. Not only will her spirit live on in the memories of all those who knew her; but it will also continue to live in those many paths that she forged and the projects that she built, which have allowed so many others to thrive.

What is remembered, lives.

 

IRVING, Texas –On July 27, the national executive board of the Boy Scouts of America is expected to ratify a new policy regarding adult leaders. If passed, it will clear the way for adults who identify as homosexual to volunteer in the organization at all levels — with significant exceptions carved out for religious objections. Such a move would bring the organization’s rules more in line with an underlying philosophy that the Boy Scouts is not an appropriate place to discuss, nor engage in, sexual activity.

Photo Courtesy of Flickr's  deflam

Photo Courtesy of Flickr’s deflam

Back in 2013, the Boy Scouts agreed that sexual orientation should not be a barrier to participation by boys themselves. This most recent move was in response to pressure from both within and without, and a recognition that the current policy forbidding volunteers based on sexual orientation is not likely to survive all the court challenges it faces.

Dr. Robert Gates, before becoming national president for the Boy Scouts, oversaw the repeal of the U.S. military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy as Secretary of Defense; a policy which was put into place as a compromise under President Bill Clinton. Speaking during the national business meeting in May, before the Supreme Court ruled that same-sex couples have the right to marry, he said that he had hoped the 2013 decision to allow gay scouts would put the issue to rest for the duration of his two-year term. That was not to be.

. . . events during the past year have confronted us with urgent challenges I did not foresee and we cannot ignore. We cannot ignore growing internal challenges to our current membership policy . . . in open defiance of the policy, to more and more councils taking a position in their mission statements and public policy contrary to national policy. . . . nor can we ignore the social, political, and juridicial changes taking place in our country . . . not to mention the impending US Supreme Court decision this summer on gay marriage.

The legal and cultural pressure placed “the BSA in an unsustainable position,” he said.  It could lead for court-ordered changes to the membership policy if the executive board itself did not act. “Waiting for the courts to is a gamble with huge stakes,” and could lead to the removal of all membership standards, including the “duty to god” clause, which requires all members to believe in a higher power.

What’s emerged is a policy which will allow adults to apply for volunteer positions, but preserve the rights of religious organizations which sponsor troops to continue to discriminate. Since some 70% of Boy Scout troops are sponsored by religious organizations, how much more leeway toward equality this new policy will actually grant remains to be seen.

Gates and the executive council, which released the proposal on July 13, believe it will be enough to shield the BSA from litigation. To that end, he promised a crackdown on councils that have imposed more inclusive policies. The Boy Scouts will also defend the rights of its religious sponsors to bar gay adults from participating. A statement released after the body approved the plan said in part:

This resolution will allow chartered organizations to select adult leaders without regard to sexual orientation, continuing Scouting’s longstanding policy of chartered organizations selecting their leaders. The National Executive Board will meet to ratify this resolution on Monday, July 27.

“This change allows Scouting’s members and parents to select local units, chartered to organizations with similar beliefs, that best meet the needs of their families. This change would also respect the right of religious chartered organizations to continue to choose adult leaders whose beliefs are consistent with their own. The 2013 youth membership policy will not be affected and remains unchanged.

Much like that youth membership policy, this one has been deemed unsatisfactory by people on both sides of the issue. Presidential candidate and Eagle Scout Scott Walker said that the existing policy “protected children and advanced Scout values” but later backpedaled to claim he meant to say that it protected those children from media scrutiny. Reactions among Christians are mixed, with some churches pondering if it’s time to end the relationship, and others supporting the measure.

The Mormons, who sponsor a lot of troops, issued this statement:

As a chartering organization, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has always had the right to select Scout leaders who adhere to moral and religious principles that are consistent with our doctrines and beliefs. Any resolution adopted by the Boy Scouts of America regarding leadership in Scouting must continue to affirm that right.

Southern Baptist Russell Moore predicted the decision won’t go well. “I have seen a definite cooling on the part of Baptist churches to the Scouts,” Moore said to Religion News Service. “This will probably bring that cooling to freezing.”

Advocates for equal rights are dismayed by the religious exemption. RNS quoted Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, as saying:

(W)riting in an exemption for troops organized by religious organizations undermines the potentially historic nature of the executive committee vote …As we have said countless times, half-measures are unacceptable and discriminatory exemptions have no place in the Boy Scouts.

Zach Wahls, executive director of Scouts for Equality, took a more measured tone. “While this policy change is not perfect — BSA’s religious chartering partners will be allowed to continue to discriminate against gay adults — it is difficult to overstate the importance of today’s announcement,” he said on that organization’s web site.

Boy Scouts 2010 Jamboree. Photo Courtesy of Flickr's  Preston Kemp

Boy Scouts 2010 Jamboree. Photo Courtesy of Flickr’s Preston Kemp

Circle Sanctuary minister and Eagle Scout Bob Paxton joined the protest against anti-gay policies in 2012, when he symbolically returned his Eagle ribbon in protest, a decision he discussed in an interview with Cara Schulz on behalf of the Pagan Newswire Collective. The Wild Hunt asked Paxton to weigh in on these new developments, and what it might mean for an organization that helped him, and likely other boys, find their way to Paganism.

The Wild Hunt: What do you think of the proposed policy on adult leaders?

Bob Paxton: The policy, which was adopted last week, now permits gay leaders, while still permitting troop sponsors to make their own choice on the troop level as to whether to discriminate or not. I think it’s a positive step forward — but not quite enough. The Girl Scouts of America has had a blanket anti-discrimination policy for quite a long time.

The difference in sponsorship and ownership models is significant: Boy Scout troops are “owned” by their sponsoring organizations, where Girl Scout troops are “owned” by the national Girl Scouts organization. While Girl Scout troops do often get local sponsorships, the lack of a sponsor does not mean the troop is dissolved. However, if a Boy Scout troop loses its sponsor, it must either find a new sponsoring organization or dissolve. 70% of Boy Scout troops are sponsored by religious organizations, with half of those troops being sponsored by the Mormon church — which as we know has been strongly opposed to GLBT rights initiatives.

I can understand why the national BSA organization made that choice, but I don’t think they were as courageous or as helpful as they could have been. That said, the perceived need to placate sponsors says to me that the BSA should re-evaluate the balance of power between sponsors and the central organization, and endeavor to fix that weakness in their structure.

TWH: My understanding is that the BSA has longstanding rules which prevent an adult from being alone with a boy, but revelations about the secret files kept on adults of concern suggest that either those rules didn’t work, or weren’t being enforced. Given that there’s no compelling research suggesting a link between sexual abuse of youth and sexual orientation, do you think it’s possible to come up with a policy that protects the boys, but allows them to benefit from the mentoring which is a strength of scouting?

BP:  BSA’s current Youth Protection policy is quite good. It also didn’t exist in the 1980s, when I was a Scout. That said, those secret files — which the BSA fought unsuccessfully to keep private — tell interesting stories. A large number of them were released in 2005, and can be reviewed here.

Reviewing a small random sample, what I see is a fairly consistent pattern of behavior: reports of problematic behavior, some degree of investigation, and a permanent note in a confidential file which barred that person from attempting to register as a Scout leader elsewhere in the country. To that extent, it seems to me that the BSA organization tried to protect Scouts against predators. What I did not see was reporting to local law enforcement, and that’s a problem. The current Youth Protection policy puts mandatory reporting at the very top, which is as it should be.

All of this is to say: I don’t believe any of that changes with this new policy allowing for gay troop leaders. The BSA’s current Youth Protection policy is strong and unambiguous.

TWH:  Should the policy be passed, would it change your attitude toward the organization? Would you want your Eagle back?

BP:  My attitude toward the Boy Scouts has always been conflicted. There were a lot of positive values, and there was a lot of bullying and other problematic behavior. The programming itself is very good, and the facilities are really top-notch: any Pagan organization who got their hands on a Boy Scout camp like the one I went to in northern Wisconsin would have a festival ground which would be the envy of Pagandom. I can’t stress strongly enough how astonishingly good the Boy Scouts’ infrastructure is — it’s the result of decades of successful fundraising and quality maintenance. All of that was marred by enshrining discrimination in policy, thus providing official sanction for a cultural bias against young men whose sexuality differed from the perceived norm. As such: if the “on the ground” culture in Boy Scout troops shifts toward tolerance as a result of this, then that’s a good thing.

As to getting my Eagle medal back: when I returned it to them, it was a symbolic gesture showing my displeasure with the BSA’s failure to come to grips with this social change. I did not send back to them the really valuable things — the lessons I learned of leadership, or the formative experiences I had in the woods which led me to become a Pagan. Would I ask them to return it? No. Would I accept it if they chose to return it to me? Absolutely.

TWH:  Any thoughts on the short- or long-term consequences this policy might have on the BSA?

BP:  Short-term: it really depends on what the sponsoring organizations do with this. There may be some loss of sponsorships, which would be a pity. Long-term: it really depends on whether the BSA organization engages in the restructuring I talked about earlier, where individual troops would no longer be so tightly-controlled by conservative religious groups. It could be a transformative moment, or it could be a continuation of the gradual membership decline they’ve seen in recent years.

TWH:  Do you believe that there is still room for boys to connect with Paganism through this organization, in the manner you described in your interview with Cara Schulz? Is there room for a more overt Pagan presence, such as troop sponsorship or religious awards?

BP:  There was room for me to connect with Paganism organically in the 1980s, and nothing has changed about that. There are great benefits to encouraging young men to get outdoors consistently, regardless of the religious paths those young men eventually walk. I do think there is an opportunity for Pagans to engage more deeply with both Boy Scouting and Girl Scouting, especially now that troop sponsorship is an option for those Pagan orgs which may have held back due to that discriminatory policy. That opportunity isn’t so much proselytizing — that’s not really our thing — but in highlighting the sacred values of interconnectedness and inclusiveness. There is genuine value in working with organizations that have long institutional history, good funding, and highly-developed infrastructure and programming. Many Pagans like to go their own way — that’s how they got there as Pagans, after all — but building coalitions and working with others gets faster and often better results.

*   *   *

This controversy has given rise to alternative organizations for youth development, most notable in the Pagan sphere being the Spiral Scouts. However, due to its deep infrastructure and, as Paxton pointed out, excellent facilities, the Boy Scouts are likely to continue to play a part in the lives of Pagans into the future, although it won’t always be tacit. And, while it’s likely that some scout troops will become more inclusive as a result of this decision, it may take a bit longer for openly Pagan-sponsored troops to emerge.