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Facebook’s “real name” policy has caused a recent storm of responses from many social media consumers, increasing the number of people who have started the process in taking their social media loyalty someplace else. The resulting controversy and consumer response to the deactivation of accounts under this policy have caused many people to question staying on a social media platform that does not appear to care about the needs of its consumers.

As The Wild Hunt reported on Wednesday, Facebook recently issued an apology, specifically to the LGTBQ community, about the way that the policy was enforced this past month. While Facebook said that the policy will remain in effect, they also said that they are re-evaluating the way that the name policy is enforced because it disproportionately affects those from the drag queen, transgender and LGBTQ communities.

[Photo Credit: Emily Rose / Tako Fibers, Flickr]

[Photo Credit: Emily Rose / Tako Fibers, Flickr]

For some people using a real name does not pose the same problem as it does for others. This issue has highlighted some of the safety risks and challenges that the social media world poses to different people. Whether due to personal preference, performing with a different persona, taking protective measures for marginalized communities, or the safeguarding one’s personal life for professional reasons, there are a lot of circumstances in which a person might use a pseudonym on social media.

Pagans are among some of the marginalized groups that utilize alternative names on social media. Sometimes this is a protection mechanism from judgment that would affect their ability to thrive in their physical community and sometimes this is a spiritual choice. The change in the name policy and the enforcement of this policy could have a big impact on the Pagan community and others.

The responses within the Pagan community to Facebook’s “real name” policy and the subsequent apology has been quite varied. It has ranged from people completely leaving Facebook and transitioning to other social media outlets, like Ello or Sgrouples, to being resistant to a social media switch.

Author and Activist T Thorn Coyle has been one of the Pagans speaking out and actively transitioning her personal social media needs away from Facebook. She said:

T. Thorn Coyle

T. Thorn Coyle

Facebook has never been a good fit for me. While I appreciate the conversations I have with people on my public page, the way the private pages are used has never appealed. Also, in the last couple of years Facebook has made it very difficult for grassroots organizations and independent artists, musicians, and authors to reach the very people who want to hear from them. The shifting algorithm and the push to pay for “views” to people who have already signed up for public pages has made it an increasingly less useful tool.

The controversy over the “real name” policy looked like a great opportunity to finally make the transition away. I already use Twitter far more than Facebook – keeping in touch with on the ground activists around the world, and with thinkers I don’t otherwise have exposure to – and I am liking Ello even in beta form.

Facebook made all the right noises regarding their meeting with the drag queens, but frankly, that was only after the exodus began. When 40,000 people swamped Ello in one week, Facebook took notice. Facebook had already met with the queens earlier and discounted their concerns. The turnaround came after concrete action was taken.

I don’t trust Facebook to do the right thing, and never have. I don’t think they care about the concerns of people who have very good reasons to not use legal names whether it is from religious choice, self-expression, shift in identity, or because of personal safety issues. What Facebook cares about is money and information exploitation. Making money is fine, but not at the expense of the well being of the people who provide you with the means.

Facebook is a tool that I will still use – my public page has around 5,700 people – but I’m quite happy to be shutting down my private page.

Elizabeth Rose, a social worker that deals in clinical services, mentioned the complexities of this professional field and the challenge of choosing a name on social media profiles. There are professional reasons within certain fields, and in conjunction with being a Pagan that makes this process more complicated than just using your “real name.”

Elizabeth Rose

Elizabeth Rose

I think there are two main points to be made: 1. Many workplaces have a “no Facebook policy.” Mine did not, however it did have a policy, however “unofficial”, of not being critical of the institution. I’m a social worker. As much as I like the population I work with, and I’m grateful to my workplace for giving me a job and for existing, I was trained to criticize the institution. That is to say I was trying to analyze where systems fail, and what to do about it. Trust me, large bureaucracies don’t want you expressing this to them or to anyone else.

2. My life is my business. Particularly as a Pagan, who works with a population that contains a lot of evangelical Christians, I have no desire to be subject to personal criticism, nor do I wish my life and or my religious beliefs to be an issue for my patients. I’m there to facilitate THEIR healing process, neither to discuss nor to defend my personal religious beliefs, which would be a major distraction from this process. In fact knowing I was Pagan would probably inhibit, if not actually frighten, a number of my clients to the point where they felt they couldn’t trust me with their personal information. As a therapist creating a sense of safety and my clients is paramount. I have no intention of letting any poorly thought out or invasive policy threaten that. A pseudonym addresses this issue very effectively. And I have no intention of using my “real name”. In fact, I’m thinking of de-camping to Ello for this very reason.

Sister Krissy

Sister Krissy

Sister Krissy Fiction is a queer Gnostic Pagan drag clown nun, a fully professed Sister of Perpetual Indulgence and the Prioress of the Order of Benevolent Bliss in Portland, OR. She previously was quoted in the Wild Hunt piece on the Facebook chaos this past week. In her interview with Heather Greene, she discussed feelings about the apology:

I do believe that Facebook’s apology was sincere.  I’m not sure if the apology was offered as a result of activists taking action against Facebook or because members were flocking to other social media platforms, but I do appreciate and accept the apology.  However, as they say, the proof is in the pudding.  I appreciate the apology, but I’ll appreciate some real changes even more.  I’m hopeful that Facebook will do the right thing.

Other community responses gave insights into personal agency to identify as one chooses and the spiritual impact of not being able to use a spiritual name in social media.

Stephanie Kjer

Stephanie Kjer

There are a lot of problems with a “real name” policy in Social Media, not the least of which is safety – many people in the Pagan Community, and other marginalized communities, adopt pseudonyms for a myriad of different reasons, not the least of which is safety or concern about how people in their family or professional life might feel about their affiliations, and how that could affect job opportunities, advancement, family interactions, etc… While I don’t think that real name policies are intended to be harmful, I definitely think it’s coming from a place of privilege and ignorance about how other people may find it necessary to keep parts of their lives separate or private from each other. Additionally, in a lot of traditions, it’s quite common for someone to adopt a name that has personal significance for them, and their interactions with the gods. One might even call it on par with a marriage or baptism, whereby someone takes a name as a sign of devotion or of a higher calling, and even though that is not the name they were born with or legally assigned, it is WHO THEY ARE, and denying people the right to choose for themselves who they want to be in their interactions is an act of forcing them to deny themselves and their connection to their spirituality. I also believe that a real name policy is invasive and seems more about profiting on data mining rather than a genuine intent to enable honest interactions between the users of a social platform. People can be disingenuous using their real name just as much as they can with a pseudonym.

I am open to exploring different ways to connect with people, and a requirement of real name is not a deal breaker for me, per se. I’m more interested in whatever platform allows me to interact freely with the people who matter the most to me. I do find the idea of being data mined to be a bit repugnant, and so a media platform that values my privacy but that still fulfills my desire to connect with people would be ideal. – Stephanie Kjer, Priestess and Advocate

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Yeshe Rabbit

If Facebook requires me to use my legal name, I will likely leave altogether. Now, there is nothing wrong with my legal name, Jessica Matthews Robles, nor is there anything wrong with people knowing it, on my part. However, when I made my formal commitment to Paganism and the host of spiritual practices that came along with it, one of those practices was the taking of a new name. The name Rabbit symbolizes my connection to the Earth and the Mother Goddess, my choice to be a healer, my lunar practices, my playfulness, and humor. I took this name because I meant it. I use this name every day in all areas of my life, and each time I see or hear it, I am reminded of my commitment to walk this Earth-based, Goddess-centered path. I do not think it is appropriate for Facebook to attempt to set my priorities for me. I know who I am and why I chose the name I chose. That ought to be enough.

I have largely stepped back from Facebook for several reasons. 1) a personal reason: because of the commercialism and spamming that I am experiencing there. I do not like all of the ads and assorted game requests, for starters. But also, 2) a political reason: I have noticed many articles about Facebook’s violation of peoples’ privacy, manipulation of emotions, and other general creepiness. That’s not right. So, while I really value the connections I have made with some good people on Facebook, the environment is no longer to my liking. In switching to other sites, I am stepping into a new teahouse, so to speak. I figure that those of us who were in our discussions in one teahouse will eventually encounter one another in similar discussions in a new teahouse. Because we are in love with tea and discussions.  – Yeshe Rabbit

The recent Facebook apology has brought about much discussion and question of Facebook’s intentions, and it appears that there are a lot more communities that have also been affected who were not included in their apology. Pagans and members of other marginalized groups, are continuing to surface and talk about being forced to change their name or lose their accounts. And while Facebook is not changing the policy itself, the understanding and enforcement of the policy, it appears, suggests a larger problem than one created with just one social media giant.

The changing trend within today’s functioning society includes the use of social media profiles as a means of conducting business, engaging socially, connecting with family and even participating with society on multiple levels. In today’s electronically driven culture, decisions around the use of social media are as important as the communities with which we choose to engage and the friends with whom we decide to build relationships. The power of personal choice and agency in the world of social media is as important as our choices in the use of any other tool for life; the importance of the power to choose is not lessened by the fact that it is an online format.

While trust in Facebook’s policies and intentions continues to be of question, the reality is that this situation has pushed some people to move towards a more consumer driven social platform. And maybe it is time to really ask ourselves what we want from social media, and how this can be used to serve the Pagan communities in the future.

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Oddi

Eric O. Scott —  October 10, 2014 — 13 Comments

 

The church at Oddi, Iceland.  Photo by the author.

The church and graveyard at Oddi, Iceland. In the foreground, a statue of Sæmund the Wise hitting the devil with a Bible. The devil is in the form of a seal. I swear this is true.
Photo by the author.

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Part four of my columns on Iceland. Previously: Oxararfoss, Njord, and The Candle.

Imagine that the old lies are true – that the world is flat, that the bounds of creation are marked by mountains, that with enough light and pure air you truly can see to the end of eternity. Imagine that you are sitting at the exact center of that world; imagine that, for a moment, the universe spins around neither the sun nor the earth, but instead only around you. Imagine that, and you may have a sense of how it felt for me one Saturday afternoon at a place in southern Iceland called Oddi.

There was very little on the property itself. The farmers lived in a white house beside the graveyard. There were a handful of landmarks – a silver compass that gave names to the mountains, a statue of Sæmund the Wise, a folk hero who once lived at Oddi – but beyond that, there was very little to indicate that this farm had been one of the most important sites in Iceland’s history, home to some of the country’s most famous sons. The others on our bus tour had gone to look at Oddi’s church, a white building with a red roof, like seemingly every other little church in Iceland. It was ninety years old, and, we were told, quite beautiful inside, an example of a lovely rustic style of Icelandic church. But I did not want to look at it. Perhaps if I had the freedom to pick how long I could stay at a given place, I would have toured it, but we could have been ordered to get back on the bus at any moment. My time was too precious to waste inside a church.

Instead I sat on a hill with two other apostates, Danni and Robbi – these were the names our Icelandic instructor had given to them. (They knew me as Eiki.) They were both still in college, the same age as the students I taught in my daily life. I doubt we would have been friends in other circumstances, but we had been living together for five weeks, struggling with a language that nobody in America seemed to know existed, much less spoke. At that moment, at least, they were the best friends I had in the world.

Danni had lain down in the unkempt grass with the hood of his purple jacket drawn up around his head, leaving Robbi and I alone. Robbi had black hair, parted on the right, plastic gauge earrings, and a thick beard that he kept better groomed than I have ever managed. That day he wore a lopapeysa, a special kind of Icelandic sweater. It was the sort of thing other students planned to bring home to their mothers, but Robbi wore his without irony. We sat in the grass together, looking out over the farm; miles and miles of grass surrounded us, an eternity of green interrupted only by the occasional farmhouse or barn. In all directions we saw mountains, or hills that might have been mountains; they looked like walls built to protect a sanctuary. Rocks to ring the world.

The ring of the world – Heimskringla – is the name scholars gave to a collection of sagas about the kings of Norway written in the 13th century. The manuscript itself bears no name; Heimskringla comes from the first words written in the oldest surviving copy, Kringla heimsins, “the Earth’s circle.” The manuscript itself also bears no author, like most Old Norse texts, but it has been attributed for most of its history to the writer Snorri Sturluson, who also wrote the Prose Edda and, perhaps, Egil’s Saga, one of the greatest Icelander sagas. Snorri spent his childhood here at Oddi; he might have sat in the very same spot as me, eight hundred years before. Even though I know that the title of his masterpiece is an accident of history – the manuscript that begins with kringla heimsins was incomplete, and those were not, in fact, the first words of the book as a whole – my mind cannot help but draw associations between the ring of earth named in the book and the ring of earth that surrounds the place Snorri spent his boyhood. It is an accident of history, unless one believes that there are no such things as accidents; and I find myself wondering, sometimes.

I have a difficult relationship with Snorri; every Heathen does, I suspect. The first thing the Edda tells us – Heimskringla, too – is that the old gods were not true gods, but only the kings of ignorant men. From the first, Snorri disavows the idea that there might be truth in the myths he tells; from the first, he invents, he adds, he almost certainly subtracts, in order to present a version of the past in accordance with his own needs. He wrote the Edda for poets, not for devotees; because Old Norse poetry relied so much on kennings, which were unintelligible without the old mythology, an ignorance of myth meant an ignorance of art. He did not write the Edda in an attempt to revitalize belief in Odin or Freyja – he wrote it because he decided contemporary poets had forgotten how to make a good poem.

I am only in Iceland – only a Heathen at all – because eight hundred years ago, Snorri Sturluson decided that all the poets he knew sucked. No Edda, no Ásatrú. Another accident of history, or not, depending on one’s relationship to destiny.

I couldn’t help myself; as much as I wanted to empty my mind of everything but the gorgeous landscape, I kept drifting back to these academic ruminations. I wanted to be happy with the sentimental notion of a young Snorri sitting in the same spot where I sat; instead, I found myself thinking about the manuscript history of Heimskringla, trying to remember an article that traced it back to the first source to claim that Snorri had written it all.

I complained of this to Robbi. I had never found a more perfect stretch of earth than Oddi, and yet any time I tried to surrender myself to the dirt and the sky, I found myself worrying instead about Snorri Sturluson and the precarious nature of my religion. Some pilgrimage.

Robbi shrugged. “What was it St. Paul said?” He scratched his face and looked off into the distance. “‘I’d rather be in the mountains thinking about God than be in church thinking about the mountains?'”

Did Paul actually write that? I don’t know. I am a little afraid to find out. I didn’t come all the way to Iceland just to start agreeing with saints.

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On September 29, the US Coast Guard gave WWII Vet, Andrew Haines, a ‘Viking-style’ burial at sea. The USCG placed Haines’ ashes on a wooden replica of a viking boat, brought it out to open water, and set it on fire.

A handmade wooden boat containing Haines' ashes burns during a burial at sea Sept. 29. [Petty Officer 2nd Class Cynthia Oldham / USCG]

A handmade wooden boat containing Haines’ ashes burns during a burial at sea Sept. 29. [Petty Officer 2nd Class Cynthia Oldham / USCG]

 From the Navy Times:

[Andy]Haines said his father [Andrew Haines], a World War II veteran who finished his tour at Atlantic City, had been planning his funeral for years. Andrew Haines emigrated from Norway as a child in 1927 and had stayed connected to his Scandinavian heritage throughout his life.

About 10 years ago, Andy said, Haines’ cousin in Norway sent him blueprints for a 100-foot wooden ship, which he scaled down as small as two feet, as a small construction project.

“When I came over to the house one day with the wife and one grandson, we were in the basement, and he’s got the whole bottom shell done with the deck, getting ready to put the rest of the stuff on,” Andy recalled.

Then Andy had an idea. He asked his father if he still wanted to be cremated, and he said he did.

“So I said, ‘How about if we try to make a Viking funeral out of this for you?’ ” he recalled.

Haines built five versions of the ship, his son said, settling on a 54-inch version for the ceremony.

More remarkable, Haines built the boats one-handed. He lost an arm in a 1975 boating accident, which ended his career as a commercial fisherman for Atlantic City Fisheries, the family business.

USCG Burials at sea are free for any US Veteran. Haines, despite the manner of his funeral, doesn’t appear to have been a Heathen. The funeral itself, with the burning ship, may be more a product of Hollywood than known historical practice. Yet this raises the possibility for U.S. Heathens, who are also military veterans, to have a similar funeral. But is this something that would appeal to modern U.S. Heathens?

Nicholas Ritter, Theodish Heathen

Burning-ship burials aren’t well attested, except mythologically, for the god Baldr, but internment in ships or ship-shaped graves does show up in the archaeological record. In my experience, what is done with one’s remains is a matter of importance for Heathens generally, and a lot of thought is given to different combinations of burial and cremation, with grave goods and without, and the funerary symbolism of ships, as well as horses. We’re lucky enough to have good information on pre-Christian Germanic burial practices and beliefs, and I have found that Heathens generally want to have funerary arrangements that fit with how they lived their lives. I would think that most Heathens would be in favor of this kind of burning-ship burial as one option among many.

Laura Anderson, Heathen

This is really neat, and I’m glad he was able to do it. But I’m not interested in a Viking funeral for myself. I’ve always been big on observing natural cycles, and death and decay is a part of that cycle. My ideal funeral would be one where I’m put directly in the ground and allowed to decompose to nourish the spot where I’m buried. I see it in gardening all the time – we create compost piles to spread on our gardens; I allow the autumn leaves to rot where they fall throughout the winter because it’s healthy for the plant life. Continuing the cycle is important to me, and I want my body to contribute. So while a Viking funeral at sea is really cool, and I’m glad that there’s a precedent set for others who want to do it, it’s not for me.

"Sutton Hoo ship-burial model" [By Steven J. Plunkett] Lic. CC Wikimedia.

“Sutton Hoo ship-burial model” [By Steven J. Plunkett] Lic. CC Wikimedia.

David Carron, Redesman of the Troth and modern Ásatrú reconstructionist

I fully support folks doing things like this. To do otherwise would refute his ten years of labor to create his final vessel. The Vikings of old did these kinds of burials for the same reason that we find them fascinating; it’s epic, memorable and requires the involvement of a dedicated community. While I doubt I would ask my family to do something like this for me, due to costs and efforts, I can appreciate it.

Clearly, Mr. Hains was well-inspired and driven to make this happen. The fact that he spent his twilight years of his life, doing this by hand and one-handed, just makes it that much more praiseworthy of a story. I suspect that the ship-board ceremony had more in common with our memory Blots then not. Hail Andrew Haines! Luck to his family.

Bryon Wilton, Heathen

You know I think it’s awesome. I like that a man had enough courage when it came to facing death that he bucked the tide and entered the next realm as he so chose. There is also a county in Colorado that allows for funeral pyres. But you have to get rid of the five 5 gallon bucket of ash and it’s only available to residents of that county. As a veteran I have been content to know I’ll have a mjolnir on my headstone in a national cemetery. But, yes, if I had the money, I would love to have the option of a funeral pyre and I think a lot of people would love to have a Heathen ceremony by boat. I think it’s a good thing that Heathens of all stripes be allowed to celebrate the road to Hel as they choose.

K. C. Hulsman, Heathen, Gythia of Urdabrunnr Kindred

Thanks to film and TV, the thought of a Viking burial on a boat being burnt at sea has caught the imaginations of people the world over, which has led to a common misconception in modern times that this was a commonplace occurrence. In actuality the association of an actual ship with a burial or funeral pyre was something reserved for very special persons, usually those of greater social status, by wealth or power. For most people they were far more simply buried or cremated, and the customs around it varied by region.

One of the few accounts we have of a ship being burned, wasn’t at sea. In the account of the Arab traveler and chronicler Ibn Fadlan, he relays the funerary practices for a chieftain among the Viking Rus. The deceased had been placed in a temporary grave while preparations for the funeral were made. After several days, a ship was pulled to the shore and his body was then laid out upon a bed on the ship. From this point the account can get to be a bit gruesome as it involves the human sacrifice … The boat is set to burn in a pyre-like conflagration, and what’s left is then all buried, right there. So this is a fiery Viking ship funeral, not at sea, but rather on land. So as visually romanticized as this concept is in pop culture, thanks even recently to “Marvel’s Thor: The Dark World,” it just doesn’t appear to have been very common.

Interestingly enough we see people entombed in a boat then buried as in the Oseberg Longship archaeological find. In Lindholm Høje in Denmark, we see graves are outlined by a series of stone markers giving the impression of a ship’s shape. We also have found graves where people were buried in wagons. Scholars and believers alike speculate if there may have been some sort of tradition needed to convey symbolically travel to the afterlife.

While I have no desire to be sent off to the halls of my Gods and ancestors en flambé at sea, even before considering possible safety issues, sanitation concerns or ecological factors for the world at large, I have to give kudos to the Coast Guard for honoring a World War II veteran in fulfilling his final wishes and in the support they provided to the grieving family in making it a reality.

Erin Lale, gythia of Ásatrú and the author of Ásatrú For Beginners

It’s heart-warming that the U.S. Coast Guard would give Haines a Viking funeral that had both personal and cultural meaning for him. Perhaps Heathen veterans will be able to have such a sendoff in the future, too. Asatru, one of the modern sects of Heathenry, recently had its symbol, the Thorshammer, approved by several branches of the U.S. military for use on headstones. Heathens in pre-Christian times practiced several different funeral customs, including cremation in a ship, burial in a mound, burial in a ship, burial in a ship-shaped grave, and cremation followed by burial of the ashes in a mound or ship-shaped grave. Symbolically the ship carries the soul to the afterlife.

Burial Mound "Tumulus Dissignac2" [Credit: Aeleftherios at fr.wikipedia Lic CC]

Burial Mound “Tumulus Dissignac2″ [Credit: Aeleftherios at fr.wikipedia Lic CC]

Lisa Morgenstern, member KAP Hrafn Skjoldr Kindred, The Troth

Actually I just performed a funeral for a dear friend of our kindred. Extended family. I performed his sister’s wedding, and as it happens my husband works with his father. He had asked for a Viking funeral. We had a ceremony at the mortuary followed by a wake, and his family hopes to arrange something similar to this for him. Sadly, he did not serve.

I think that scattering remains in this manner is a great way to honor the traditions of burial at sea for those who honor the Norse traditions.

Anthony Arndt, Ásatrú

Would I be interested in something like the Coast Guard’s “Viking funeral”? Absolutely!

Though in my case, as someone who is Ásatrú, an educator, a serious living-history re-enactor, and a family man, I would aim for something a bit more “authentic” while still not necessarily 100% historically accurate.

The reason that I would not want it 100% historically accurate is two-fold. First, this is the 21st century, not the 11th, time has moved on and we should adapt to it just as our ancestors adapted to the changes in their eras. I am an English teacher, and while I may be somewhat mercenary in outlook, I am not literally a pirate.

Second, I may make my living as an English teacher now but my academic background is in early medieval Nordic archaeology, history, and literature and cremation burials are the bane of the archaeologist. Graves are timecapsules and I find that inhumation graves are far more informative of the physical culture of a time than cremation graves.

Now on to what my own ideal burial would look like.

A memorial service is much more for the people who gather to witness it than it is for the deceased. So first I would want them taken care of. I would want plenty of mead, beer, and food for all the family and friends who came. And a good bonfire and live music long into the night.

As far as the body is concerned, if possible, I would be perfectly happy if it was all done quickly and it was my body on the boat. Barring that, my ashes in some sort of body-shaped shrouded straw-man (like the Karls made for some holidays), taking the place of my body would be an acceptable compromise… 

The most controversial part, would be the feast. To provide the meat for the feast. I would want it provided by a proper blót to Óðinn as Vegtam ,”way-tamer”. Though historic sources consistently mention that horses were most closely associated with blót to Óðinn, the type of animal is less important to me. A single, well-cared for animal that would be large enough to provide meat for the feast would be ideal…

As for the boat and fire itself, first, I would want the boat on land not in the water. A high spot on family land, preferably overlooking water. I would want the keel oriented North/South with the bow pointing North. Then the boat would be loaded with the grave goods and kindling … The best and most personal [grave goods] would either be with me when I was cremated or in the boat, the second-best copy in a “treasure horde”, that is to say a proper time capsule …

After the cremation was finished and the time capsule placed, I would want a cairn of stones raised over the ashes, then a small mound of earth covered in raw clay, then a larger mound raised over that and edged with stones. I would want the final mount at least two meters tall at the peak and probably a reasonably flat four by six meter top to it for mound sitting. Then I would want the mount seeded with something … Maybe something like a mix of clover, St. John’s Wort, mugwort, heather, and berries, preferably lingon berries, I would also want some rosemary somewhere for Kira (my wife, she loves the smell of Rosemary). At the peak I would want some type of tree planted, an ash or yew tree that grows well in that area. Then a runestone raised in the style and manner of the old picture stones found in the Nordic lands. Finally, in the area around the land, if possible, I would like to have edible perennial plants which would be appropriate for the kin of the beast that fed my final guests to feed themselves.

A bit more about the “treasure horde.” As a time capsule, I would want a certain amount of important things placed within. Copies of texts that are important to me, like the Elder and Younger Eddas in English and in Old Norse. A book about modern Asatru and its history. A scholarly book about runes … Perhaps some fiction, Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, Gaiman’s American Gods, and a selection of Pratchet’s Discworld series come to mind. A photo album of some of the more important events in my life with dates. My passport and current driver’s license/identification card. One set of my historical reenactment garb … My reenactment armour and weapons … a drinking horn … A well-sealed bottle of mead, probably with natural cork and coated in a thick covering of wax.

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Early in September, a large number of people received notification that their Facebook accounts were in violation of company policy. These advisories explained that all users are required to register with their authentic names. Because the majority of flagged accounts belonged to drag queens, there was an immediate outcry based on the assumption that Facebook was deliberately targeting the LGBTQ community. That outcry led to action, and the action led to results.

In response to the initial warnings, affected users such as Sister Roma, Lil Miss Hot Mess, Heklina, and others living in the San Francisco Bay area, immediately spoke out via Twitter, radio shows and other venues. They accused Facebook of discriminatory practices. Sister Roma, a performer, activist and longtime member of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, led the charge. In a tweet on Sept. 11, she said:

Sister Roma’s tweet was the catalyst for the hashtag campaign #MyNameIs, which was quickly picked up by other affected Facebook users and, subsequently, printed on purple signs and logos. A live protest at Facebook headquarters was planned for Sept. 16.

However, the protest was canceled when Facebook called a meeting with the activists. On Wed Sept. 17, Sister Roma, Lil Miss Hot Mess and others met with Facebook representatives who explained the reason for the name policy. They gave all the flagged users an extra two weeks to create profiles with their legal names.

By this point news was spreading beyond those directly affected. As that happened, Facebook users, including many Pagans and Heathens, began looking for alternative social media platforms. Many worried that Facebook was stepping up enforcement of its name policy. Like drag queens, many Pagans and Heathens use adopted names corresponding to their chosen identity. The rumored “crack down” could have significant repercussions on the well-being of many social and cultural groups. Sister Krissy Fiction, a Gnostic Pagan and Prioress of the Portland Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, told The Wild Hunt

This is really about much more than just drag queens.There are lots of valid reasons why people might not want to use their legal name on Facebook. While we’ve gained a lot of ground, there are still those in the LGBT community who can’t be fully open about their sexual orientation. They risk losing family relationships and jobs. In the Trans* community, sometimes a legal name might not match their current gender identity or how most people know them. Do we really want to out Trans* people by forcing them to use a name that belongs to a gender they don’t identify with?  

In the meantime, the #MyNameIs campaign was bolstered by the Facebook meeting. A new protest was scheduled for Oct. 2 on the steps of San Francisco’s city hall. One affected user, Mike Woolson or Unkle Mikey, designed this graphic to illustrate clearly that the name policy doesn’t only burden the LGBTQ community.

image2

Facebook’s insistence on maintaining a name policy is encased in very real concerns that fake identities facilitate abusive acts (e.g., cyber-stalking, trolling) and could possibly foster other destructive social or criminal behaviors (e.g., bullying, stalking, domestic violence, terrorism) by masking the real identity of those that commit the acts. It is more difficult for authorities to identify or track an abuser, troll or terrorist, who uses an online pseudonym. However, as illustrated in the above graphic, the same mask that protects the criminal also protects the victim or the potential victim.

Sister Krissy did not have her page removed. She was already using her legal name on Facebook, only partially due to the policy. Sister Krissy is one of the lucky ones who does not worry about the public exposure of both identities. But that level of comfort doesn’t exist for everyone, including many practitioners of alternative religions.

Sister Krissy Fiction [Courtesy Photo]

Sister Krissy Fiction [Courtesy Photo]


Should it matter if the adorned name is for personal protection, artistic expression or sacred purposes? Sister Krissy said:

There is a long tradition of using chosen names within our [Pagan] communities.That exists partly to help protect from possible discrimination, but also because we recognize that there is power in chosen names and we value being able to decide what image we are going to present to the world. The reality is though, that if Facebook doesn’t change the policy, we run the same risk of one individual fueled by spite being able to shut down hundreds of profiles. Sure, this time around it was drag queens and Sisters, but it could have just as easily been someone who doesn’t like Pagans who decided to go on a reporting spree. 

Two weeks after the initial meeting, Facebook called a second one. Sister Roma tweeted, “Off to @facebook representing the millions of users with chosen and protective names – your voice will be heard.”

At that Oct. 1 meeting, Facebook Chief Products Officer Christopher Cox formally apologized to the coalition of activists and the represented communities. In a press release, Cox explained that the company was not at all targeting drag queens. The accounts were flagged only after someone complained. Additionally, he stated, “Our policy has never been to require everyone on Facebook to use their legal name. The spirit of our policy is that everyone on Facebook uses the authentic name they use in real life. For Sister Roma that’s Sister Roma. For Lil Miss Hot Mess that’s Lil Miss Hot Mess. Part of what’s been so difficult about this conversation is that we support both of these individuals, and so many others affected by this, completely and utterly in how they use Facebook.” The response was posted on Facebook:

 

After that meeting and Cox’ public statement, the coalition of activists announced that the Oct. 2 protest would now be a #MyNameIs Victory Rally. While some have criticized Facebook for its back peddling in the wake of potentially losing customers, most people are applauding Facebook for attempting to find workable solutions that fit their security concerns and also serve the real needs of loyal users. In an Oct. 5 video interview, Sister Roma said that she was “thrilled with Facebook.”

Sister Krissy agreed, saying: “I do appreciate and accept the apology. However, as they say, the proof is in the pudding. I appreciate the apology, but I’ll appreciate some real changes even more. I’m hopeful that Facebook will do the right thing.” As critics have pointed out, the policy has yet to be changed. Facebook’s promise was only to evolve the way it enforces the policy, not to alter the policy itself. Some don’t consider this a win.

However, The Human Rights Campaign (HRC), who had representatives at the Oct. 1 meeting, suggested otherwise. It said in part:

The coalition in attendance, including HRC – which is a member of Facebook’s Network of Support team, combatting [sic] anti-LGBT bullying online – will continue to work with Facebook’s team as the policy is clarified and new measures are put into place to ensure LGBT community members can still think of Facebook as place to call home.

Despite HRC involvement and Facebook’s apparent interest in serving a diversity of populations, both revising and enforcing the policy poses complications that raise questions about self-making and identity within our culture. Facebook wants to protect its product through preventing phony user accounts employed for spamming purposes and false identities that mask criminal activity. Even if Facebook doesn’t require legal proof of identity, issues will still arise. How do you prove a legitimate, self-made identity that has no documentation? Many religious-based or Craft personas fall into that category. They can’t be proven with even unofficial documents such as junk mail or club cards.

Regardless of these sticking points, like Google before them, Facebook has now conceded that the process of defining what constitutes a “real identity” is complex and requires more than a simple algorithm or automated process. “Real identity” extends beyond the typed letters on a birth certificate or gas bill.

On Saturday, Crystal Blanton will tackle this subject. In her column “Culture and Community,” she will explore the issue as it specifically relates to Pagans and Heathens who, like drag queens, often live with multiple real identities and multiple real names.

 

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In Florida last week, a moment happened that some members of religious minorities have been anticipating since the Supreme Court (SCOTUS) ruling on sectarian prayer at public meetings. An elected official walked out rather than hear an invocation given by a Pagan. Now, due to similar religious freedom efforts by that same Pagan, the local school board may face a lawsuit for discriminating against minority faiths.

David Suhor [Courtesy image]

David Suhor [Courtesy image]

David Suhor, who describes himself as “an APPLE Biter – that’s an Agnostic Pagan Pantheist Living Existentially and biting every apple I want to,” firmly believes that a moment of silence is the only way for public bodies to be inclusive when they incorporate prayer into meetings. He has been using the language of the Greece v Galloway SCOTUS decision to push that agenda. The court held that prayers are acceptable so long as a policy of nondiscrimination is followed.

Suhor has been repeatedly asking permission to offer a prayer before several boards in Escambia County, Florida. The video of Suhor calling to the quarters singing a prayer written by Starhawk with accompanying magical gestures quickly went viral, to the delight of Atheists and others troubled by the SCOTUS decision.

In this video, he stands before the County Commission. However, the county’s school board has repeatedly rejected his requests.

“The resistance is unique to each board,” Suhor said when reached for comment. “The County Commission and school board let each of the five commissioners choose who gives a prayer. The [school] board [members] all said no. [On the] County Commission, the chairman accepted, [but it] took a little pushback before he accepted. My goal is each and every member should be willing to be welcoming of anyone if they’re going [to have prayer, but my] goal is really a moment of silence.”

What Suhor calls “pushback” has been called “pushy and off-putting” by one of those being pushed, school board member Jeff Bergosh. In Suhor’s campaign to have the school board’s meetings follow the same prayer protocol as expected in the classroom (a moment of silence), Suhor has been theatrical. He told a local news reporter that he may choose to pray to the Flying Spaghetti Monster or Satan if his requests continue to be denied.  On one occasion, he unrolled a prayer mat and chanted while a Christian invocation was delivered. Bergosh characterized this act as distracting, saying on his blog, “I’lll leave the room and come back after, or wear Bose noise cancelling headphones,” rather than witness “disrespectful” behavior during an invocation.

Suhor has also threatened legal action, which prompted the school board to consult its attorney, Donna Waters. “At present, I don’t see that the board has to change its past practice (of holding invocations),” Waters said, adding “that practice does carry some degree of risk for litigation.”

Suhor’s push to force local boards into abandoning the use of an opening invocation goes back long before the controversial SCOTUS decision. “The tradition of allowing each board member to choose who will give the prayer means that they tend to pick their own religion,” he said, “and I’ve sat through a lot of Christian prayers.” He points to his difficulty getting on the calendar; he did it once before at a County Commissioners’ meeting two years ago.  But he has been repeatedly rebuffed by the school board. “No one wants to stand for a minority religion,” he said.

Seal_of_Escambia_County,_FloridaWhat do other local members of those minority religions think about the firestorm Suhor has created? The reactions are generally positive, although the specific content of his prayer is sometimes questioned. While Suhor has participated in Pagan observances at a Unitarian Universalist church, he isn’t well known in the local Pagan community, being mostly solitary. Rev. Edward Livingston of the Fire Dance Church of Wicca said of Suhor:

He has never attended our church or taken part in the greater Pagan community. But not all Pagans like to work in groups or circle with others. I support his challenges to the legal and governmental system, but I also see him as doing this to make them stop using invocations and prayer, but a moment of silence instead. He has said to me he would consider all invocations and prayers outside the normal local top three religions until they change the rules. We are not as political as he is, we are a small Wiccan/Pagan church that provides a ritual 8 times a year for those who want to circle with others.

Cynthia Jurkovic is an ordained Priestess-Hierophant of the Fellowship of Isis who also lives in the panhandle of Florida. She supports Suhor’s goals, but questions his methods. Jurkovic said:

After reading the article about this incident in Escambia County, and watching the news clip from WEAR 3, I have a few thoughts to share. First, I totally agree that if prayer is to be allowed before any meeting of government bodies or other institutions, all spiritual/religious traditions should be given the opportunity to offer a prayer.

Likewise, I support David Suhor’s right to step up to offer Pagan prayers at these government functions. Where I feel he took a wrong turn is in what he presented at this meeting. Invoking the elements is not in alignment with the intention of speaking a prayer to a higher power, however you name it, for wisdom and guidance in decision making, and working toward the highest good regarding the outcome of the meeting.

I thought it was ridiculous that he sang elemental quarter calls. He was not there to cast a ritual circle. The elements are not the same as deities. Why did he not say a prayer to Pagan deities suitable to the intention of the meeting? It appears to me that by coming before the assembled people and then singing elemental quarter calls, complete with gesticulation, that he was purposefully irritating and provoking a dramatic response. This was completely inappropriate!

For Suhor’s part, he’s a musician, and explains that he’s more comfortable singing in public than speaking. “I wasn’t going over the top,” he said, “just expressing as fully as I knew by calling the quarters.” Identifying as a Pantheist, his view on the divine nature of the elements differs from Jurkovic’s. In response to the criticism that the invocation was too long, Suhor responds that he’s sat through many Christian prayers that were longer.

Was he “purposefully irritating and provoking a dramatic response,” as Jurkovic believes? He told one reporter, “In a way I would like for other people to experience what it’s like when I go to a meeting and am asked to pray against my conscience.”

And what about that County Commissioner who walked out? He told a television news reporter, “I’m just not going to have a Pagan or Satanic minister pray for me.” Commissioner Wilson Robertson was not able to be reached for this story, so it is unclear if he’s conflated those two terms, ascribing them both to Suhor, or if he doesn’t care either way.

As for the Escambia County School Board, it continues to be recalcitrant. The Wild Hunt will be watching this story as it develops.

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The Druid NetworkOn September 29, the Interfaith Network of the United Kingdom (IFN UK) admitted both The Druid Network (TDN) and The Pagan Federation (PF) into its organization as members. Previously, both Pagan groups were denied membership because they did not represent “one of the big nine faiths.” According to The Druid Network, “This refusal resulted in TDN becoming involved in dialogue with IFN, with a view to reviewing their membership policy to become both more inclusive and to remove any suggestion of discrimination against minority faiths.”

The Pagan Federation and others were also involved in the talks, which eventually led to a presentation before the House of Lords. TDN says, “The eminent human rights lawyer, John Halford, from Bindmans LLP publicly issued a legal opinion for the event.” After that official meeting, IFN began a “strategic review” of its membership policy that has resulted in revised criteria by which both the PF and TDN are eligible. Additionally, Rev. Prudence Jones of PF will be serving on IFN’s executive committee. She marks the first Pagan to hold such a position within that organization. TDN says:

This is an historic achievement on many levels, it is the fruition of the work of many people seeking to find resolution within conflict, those people coming from many diverse backgrounds, professions and faiths. The Druid Network extends its appreciation and thanks to all who helped bring about this momentous.

conference-logo-transparent-background1The 11th Conference on Current Pagan Studies will be held January 24-25, 2015  in Claremont, California at Claremont Graduate University. This year’s theme is “Fecundity and the Richness of the Dark.” Conference organizers explain, “Monotheistic notions over the past two millennia have separated and polarized our manner of being in the world into realms of light and darkness, positive and negative, holy and desacralized, valued and devalued.  Polytheists, Pagans, animists, et al view differently the interplay of light and dark, and seek to revalue, re-sacralize, and retrieve the dark. How do we interpret the Darkness?” 

This year’s keynote speakers will be Viviane Crowley and Orion Foxwood. The deadline for submissions is now October 15. They say, “We are looking for papers from all disciplines. A community needs artists, teachers, scientists, healers, historians, philosophers, educators, thinkers, activists, etc.” 

10689864_296726883849996_5087655294117168377_nThe Minneapolis Collective of Pagan Artists (MCPA) is holding its debut exhibition at the Stevens Square Center for the Arts from Oct 25 – Nov 15, 2014. The public exhibition is titled, “Doorways to the Underworld” and will feature Ali Beyer (Artemis Namaste), Anne Marie Forrester (Helga Hedgewalker), Paul Rucker, and Roger Williamson. MCPA says, “In this exhibit, Halloween is explored through the eyes of those who experience the season as a profound time to commune with the ancestors and the spirit world.  For these artists, the work is an extension of their spirituality, allowing a glimpse into what is often an unseen tradition.”  The opening reception includes a dance performance by Alana Mari and live music by Comets Ov Cupid.

In Other Pagan Community News:

 

That’s it for now, have a great day!

 

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LC BookSeventeen years after the release of her last book, Laurie Cabot has returned to the world of publishing with a new title called Laurie Cabot’s Book of Spells and Enchantments. Produced by Copper Cauldron Publishing, her new book details the “nuts and bolts” of spell creation, including some of the recipes, rituals and secrets contained within her own family grimoire. In the book, Cabot also discusses the place of magic in life, a Witch’s apothecary, divine power and her own spell-making tips for both the beginner and lifetime practitioner.

Laurie Cabot is arguably one of the most well-known witches in contemporary American culture, outside of Pagan circles. In the 1970s, Governor Michael Dukakis honored her with the title “The Official Witch of Salem,” a name she accepted proudly.

Throughout much of her magical life, Cabot has owned and operated witchcraft stores in the historic New England town of Salem. Through those stores, she was able to do what she loved most: sharing the beauty, reality and power of Witchcraft. In 1973, Cabot opened her very first store, called The Witch Shoppe, and, as it turned out, it was one of the very first stores of its kind in the United States. At one point, she also owned the well-known Crow Haven Corner and, more recently, The Cat, Crow and Crown, which was eventually renamed The Official Witch Shoppe.

In 2012, at the age of 79 years, Cabot announced that she was finally closing the doors of the Shoppe. She explained to The Boston Globe, “The Witch City has dipped to the point where a brick-and-mortar store is no longer sustainable.” Despite the downward turn in business at its physical location, the store has maintained an online presence to this day.

During the 1990s, Cabot wrote and published four books including, The Power of the Witch (1989), Love Magic (1992), Celebrate the Earth (1994) and The Witch in Every Woman (1997). Writing books became another way for her to share the magic and joy of Witchcraft with new audiences and new seekers. However, after publication of the last book, she turned her attention away from writing to focus on other pursuits and didn’t publish again … until now.

We talked with Laurie Cabot about her new book, the current state of Witchcraft in today’s society and her future projects. At 81 years of age, she was enthusiastic to answer our questions and share her thoughts. Her passion for teaching and for the art of Witchcraft was very evident in her voice as she answered the questions. Please note that the conversation was not recorded and, therefore, will not be presented in a traditional interview format. 

After a 17 year hiatus, why suddenly return to print?

Laurie Cabot [Courtesy of P. Cabot]

Laurie Cabot [Courtesy of P. Cabot]

When answering this question, Cabot was very candid. She explained that writing books had become very cumbersome. She is not a computer user and, therefore, her books were all written long-hand with paper and pen in the old-fashion way. The task was enormous and, in 1997, she didn’t want to devote the time and energy into producing another one. Then, several years ago, she finally agreed to produce a new spell book because, as she said, “I had a wonderful person who could type as fast as I could talk.”

That person was Christopher Penczak. In the forward of the book he says:

…on a Beltane evening, while discussing the state of publishing, I suggested that she release a spell book because she loved sharing the majick. She agreed, but asked for my help in organizing it, along with her daughter Penny, and thus the seeds of the book you hold now in your hands were planted.

Cabot added that Penczak having his own publishing company, Copper Cauldron Publishing, “made it easy.” After the process was complete, she said, “I could have done three volumes because we have collected and created spells for over 50 years. But I wanted to do something that was easily understandable to all people.” The result of that collaborative work is this new book – a “how to” guide to spell making born from sixty years of Cabot magic.

The book is aimed at a general readership; not only Witches or magical practitioners. Why?

Cabot said, “There’s a little witch in everyone.” She believes that the science of magic is “what is vital” and, as such, “can be used by anyone.” She added, “Quantum physics tells us what we are doing is real.”

In the book’s introduction, Cabot says:

You don’t have to be a Witch to borrow majick. Some think you do, but I say absolutely not. Anyone can use majick. We teach the science and art of Witchcraft separate from religion, so you can be a scientific Witch. You can be an artful Witch too. And you do not have to practice the religion at all.

She went on to describe how she dervived at such a science-focused understanding of Witchcraft. She said that it was the “finding of science” within the spiritual experience that became so important to her development. As a child she had many psychic experiences, after which her father would always say, “There has to be a science behind it.” She said that it was those conversations that “led [her] in search of that.”

Laurie Cabot [Courtesy of P. Cabot]

Laurie Cabot [Courtesy of P. Cabot]

Why the “j” in majick?

In the book, Cabot uses the term “majick” rather than magic or the popular magick. When asked what the spelling difference meant to her, she simply said that a “j” is used in place of a “g” to identify her particular system of Witchcraft with its focus on science. She has been using this spelling for over a decade.

What major observations have you made concerning the changes, beneficial or otherwise, in the practice of Witchcraft today as compared to past decades? 

When answering this question, Cabot focused on the retail experience, which has dominated much of her “majical” life. When she opened The Witch Shoppe in 1973, there were no witches anywhere. She said that the store was the only place where people could find a witch. Now, there are stores everywhere.

She said that, unfortunately, today, “it seems that people open stores to become rich.” She said, “You don’t become rich with one store. It may pay for the mortgage but you won’t be rich.”

Cabot also observed that the focus of modern Witchcraft stores has changed. In opening any store, her intent was always to “help people understand that Witchcraft was real.” She wanted to teach and share her passion. All her products, including incenses, spells, potions and oils, were handmade. She said, “I know the ingredients. I know how to make them real.” The store was an experience for the buyer that she created from her experience as a Witch.

Now, most metaphysical shops get their products from vendors. She laments this system saying, “the spells may not work. They may not have anything to do with the right energy.” This commercialization of the Witchcraft industry saddens her, and she added that people just seem to be “jumping on the band-wagon.” However, Cabot did acknowledge that the increase in stores has significantly helped with the sharing of magical practices, making them more widely accepted.

Cabot with Chris Levasseur outside Enchantment in Salem [Courtesy of P. Cabot]

Cabot with Chris Levasseur outside Enchantment in Salem [Courtesy of P. Cabot]

As awareness has grown over the years, Cabot has noticed a recent influx in the number of international students coming to her classes. She said that, just last week, 6 Brazilians flew to Salem in order to attended her Witchcraft 101 class at Salem’s magickal store, Enchanted. In addition, her online classes have been attracting an international audience. She said, “They want to learn the science,” which she thinks is “wonderful.”

What would you say is the most important legacy or message that you would like to leave for future generations, Pagans or not, as the Official Witch of Salem?

Cabot said, “I would like everyone to know that magic is real.” She said that there has been “so much propaganda.” She explained that, as children, we all know in our hearts that magic exists but we are told by adults that it is just imaginary. But it does.

She also wants more people to accept and learn the scientific aspects of magic. She said, “I want it to be used to better the world.” Then she added, “Isn’t that what the world needs right now?  A little magic.”

One would be hard pressed to argue that point.

Now that the book is finished and due to be released in digital and paperback formats later this month, what other projects are on the horizon?

Along with her teaching at Enchanted, Cabot has several new projects in the works. She enthusiastically shared that she is working on her memoirs. Although she does not have a time frame for it’s completion and release, it will be published by Copper Cauldron Publishing with the help of Christopher Penczak.

Cabot is also developing a Tarot Deck, one that she hopes to release in the spring of 2015. She said that it does not have a name yet, but the deck will be focused, as one might expect, on scientific and the numeric spirit in the occult system.

As the conversation ended, Cabot added, “I’m using my time carefully now. I want to make sure that I leave something for people to gain knowledge. I don’t know everything. There are people that know far more.” But what Laurie Cabot does know, she wants to share in ways that will foster a better and deeper understanding of the self, the outside world and of the art of Witchcraft.

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Emerald Tablet depiction, c1608 (Public Domain)

Emerald Tablet depiction, c1608 [Public Domain]

The sun is not the brightest star, but it is the closest, the loudest.

The sun is so close that it blinds from our eyes all those others who, by mere virtue of distance, must wait for the darkest of hours to remind us of their light. Without that garish ferocity, we cannot live, but it is at the cost of the myriad that this one Truth shines upon us.

If these words were in German, her warmth could bronze and perhaps sear your skin with rays of feminine brilliance. Were you reading this in French, his beckoning light might bring you instead to think on his mannish illumination gently coaxing out the life of plant from soil. The sun is feminine in many Germanic languages, while masculine in many Latin-derived tongues, and the moon is likewise gendered. It is female in French and male in German.

Is the sun male or female, though? It certainly cannot be said to have identifiable genitalia, so we are unable to resort to a particularly base methodology to discover our answer. One might even suggest that it has no gender at all, in accordance to our manner of ordering nouns in English. If this is the case, though, we must immediately judge all speakers of languages, which gender the sun, to be fools or, charitably, inheritors of a hopelessly primitive linguistic system.

Another interesting possibility exists. Perhaps the sun is both female and male, according to how and where one views it. We know, certainly, that the sun can both give life and take life away. It can both warm and burn; it might illuminate or blind depending upon where you happen to be standing or looking. That is, the sun is many things simultaneously; many things to many people. In the far northern hemisphere, I experience it in subtle degrees as the year grows cold. My friends in that other hemisphere now feel its coming strength as their winter thaws and spring flowers bloom. Those betwixt our homes at this moment shield their eyes from it, sweating fiercely under its burdensome weight.

The sun is both warm and cold, distant and close, searing and life-giving. Within Her and His and Its intensity is all the contradictions and opposites which compose a wholeness, a unity only understood in its fragmented difference.

One, Two, None, All

For more than a millennium there was one God. Before, there were many, but then there was but one, and he was male - a fierce, strong, creator-lord full of justice and power, might and judgment, as well as love, mercy, and some degree of kindness to those deserving of his favors or loyal to his causes.

We need not be so simple about it, though. There were certainly others gods; otherwise our Paganism is mere aesthetic, and vast civilizations utterly misguided, as the fundamentalist believers in Progress would have us think. The “progression” of religion from Animistic Shamanism to Polytheism, then to Henotheism, then to Monotheism and finally, at the top of glorious and final present, Atheism relies upon the hope that our present existence is somehow “better” than yesteryear, and that we should consider the succession of this forced march closely.

It proposes first a “simplistic” relationality between nature and humanity, followed by an unfortunate anthropomorphization of natural forces into human-gods. Then the desert cults, laboring under the searing, garish and very-loud sun, chose just one of the many and, when a prophet is hanged upon wood, they decide their one is an only.  Nearly two millennia later, some French and English writers decide there’s no god at all, and we are finally now enlightened–from all, to many, to one, to none – and too bad the billions in Africa and Asia just can’t catch up.

Beyond the extreme arrogance of asserting that a mere 2% of the world has accurately answered the question of the existence of gods, we should specifically complicate the “evolutionary” narrative of progressive ascension. Since so many ancient and indigenous cultures think in circles and wheels rather than vertical lines, it’s surprising that such a theory of religious succession could still maintain a grip upon Pagan thought – a theory which can be seen particularly in an unfortunate misstep of Wicca regarding the gender of the gods.

Adam And Eve in The Garden of Eden--by Lucas Cranach The Elder

Adam And Eve in The Garden of Eden–by Lucas Cranach The Elder

A popular reading of the re-introduction of “The Goddess” into modern religious thought (not just Pagan, but also some strands of Christian ‘Theology’) is that it’s a necessary correction of two millennia of male-centered, Monotheistic thought. This is a fair reading, and one can certainly point to all sorts of social and religious tendencies which, through a belief in an a male-gendered Only-god, contributed to the systematic degradation of a full half of humanity. That there was only one god, and that this only-god was male, is certainly peculiar and suspicious, particularly considering the patriarchal succession of priesthoods of this only-(male)-god.

As a political act, the insistence on an equally-important Goddess was quite radical, but also incredibly problematic. Besides the failed attempts of some writers to re-narrate a matriarchal past into pre-Monotheistic Europe (and history is only narration, so we should applaud their attempts as much as we cringe at their failure), the question of the only-(male)-god is hardly answered by giving him a mate, as if the Hebrew god’s act in Eden were a model to emulate.

Worse, this Goddess is a no-one; just as the monotheistic God was also a no-one.

They are not just no-ones, but also All-Ones, or Half-Ones. The Pagan (particularly Wiccan) Goddess is a conglomerate principle, a pastiche, a compound being encompassing half of a split divinity gendered female, or a corporate entity sometimes named the Divine Feminine. What then is left which is not of the one-Half-(female)-Goddess is then re-pasted upon a feral-yet-civil hunter dressed up in sacred loin-cloth and antlers. And, we are thus supposed to sigh, relieved that the One-God’s rib forms his eternal companion.

I do not say here that there is no Goddess, rather that there are many of them, a multitude, a myriad.  Nor would it do much good for us to debate precisely the theological import of such statements like, “I acknowledge the Goddess in all Her forms” (a sort of universalist-monism) or “I worship the Goddess by her many names” (a less corporatist approach). Rather, we should ask precisely why, as inheritors and escapees of monotheistic power, we’d settle for two gods as a solution to the tyranny of the (male) one.

Being a believer in the existence of gods (by which I also mean goddessess–let none say English does not possess gender!) requires me to be a bit extra polite when another Pagan, in ritual or in conversation, speaks of Pagans collectively worshiping “The Goddess.” I must do a bit of translation of their statement in order to not be offended. It’s an allowance for their shorthand, regardless of how much I really wish to ask, “wait–which goddess? I’ve met five of them, and have heard of another eighty, at least.”  

To say they are all-one, that all the goddesses enfold into one great Goddess is a bit colonialist. It’s also understandable, since we do the same thing with gender.  We speak of “female” and “male” as if all humanity is easily divided into two sorts of people, each composing a half of a corporate whole called “humanity.”

It’s a short-hand, a quick-sorting category, which is certainly useful in some circumstances, but it is also only that. And, like all categories and labels, often times they don’t fit, no matter how hard we try to peg certain beings into the spaces we’ve created for them.

Which Man? Which Woman?

Like race, we often approach the idea of gender as if it is a naturally-derived or divinely-revealed thing, though we forget we must actually be taught these categories. I had many black friends and female friends and even a few (but very few) wealthy friends when I was a child. But it was not until our differences were explained (and re-iterated, and enforced) that I understood that there was a difference between them and I. The skin-color of my friends was a mere characteristic, not a difference until I was told that being “white” meant something and being “black” meant something else. Similarly with female: a girl was a sort of a friend, not an opposition to boy. Different genitals was like different hair-length–utterly inconsequential.

But male and female, like white and black, mean something, or mean something to lots of people. Being one means you get paid less, being the other means you get paid more. It’s better to be white and male than all the other things, depending on where you live, but only because people have decided that white and male are better things than black or female.

Even our divine was male for awhile (and maybe even white, judging from most popular depictions of Jesus). Having a female divine as well is certainly nice and having her be equal (and in some traditions superior) to him corrects some imbalances certainly.

But there are many sorts of men, and many sorts of women. There are very old, withered-but-wise men, and very young, mewling, just-out-of-the-womb men. There are the strong and muscled ones, the furry ones (my favorite), but also the lithe or round ones. And the same for women–the maidens, the mothers, the crones, the really strong ones and the really graceful ones, the large and fecund or the diminutive and fierce. To say they are all women or are all men is a strange thing to say.

There are several ways people have gone about re-imagining gender, or re-enforcing gender, and several of these attempts are worth staring at.

One of perhaps the more common treatments has been to re-inforce the divisions between them, cutting deeper “no-man’s lands” betwixt her and him. One strand of thought focuses primarily on the genitals of the person, and to some degree the genetics. On the side of “her” has been Z Budapest and other Second-Wave feminists, insisting that women are only those who’ve been born into such things as “the uterine mysteries.”

On the side of “him” have been writers characteristic of the New Right gaining increasing popularity within Paganism, such as Jack Donovan. “Men” for them are those who possess not just testicles, but also certain physical characteristics defined precisely by their opposition to an imagined Feminine.

In both cases, it is the fault of the other which has brought them to such matters. Second-Wave feminists cite patriarchy as the cause of their need for exclusion, and writers like Donovan cite Feminism as the reason men are bound to desk-work and served “manly” drinks in thin stemware.

A second treatment of gender fails equally. The “Radical Feminism” (which is hardly radical at all) of people like Lierre Keith and Derrick Jenson of Deep Green Resistance, as well as certain positions leftover from late 60’s American Paganism, attempts to resolve the matter of gender by abolishing it altogether. On its surface, such an idea is appealing, as must have been Atheism to Enlightenment writers, noting the problems of European Monotheism. Without gender, there is no division, and all humanity becomes one. Only in its particular violence against a certain group of people, however, does one begin to see the flaws in this.

In fact, what all these attempts have in common is a shared hatred of a specific class of people–trans-folk. Humans, who have chosen to physically embody a gender according to their will rather than circumstance of birth, attract such vitriol from all these groups that we should seriously consider why. Donovan, Budapest and Keith, all on apparently opposite sides of the gender question, stand united in their venom against trans-folk. Why?

The trans-person (and, equally perhaps, the queer) stands in a place more revolutionary and radical than any of their critics can hope to occupy. By choosing their gender, they do not abolish gender, they transform it into a human act, reminding the rest of us that gender, like race, is something we create and can choose to embody, rather than something we are born into. The all is split into many; each half of humanity split into a multitude of individual embodiments.

This transformation is revolutionary because it affects the rest of us. I am a cis-male, deep voiced, muscular, “man,” but if I rely only on accident of birth to claim my specific maleness, I exist in a passive realm of non-choice. For the multitude of other sorts of men, is it not the same thing? As well, for women; if a female relies on her uterus for her identity, what sort of identity is that?

That is, we cannot merely say woman, we must also ask “which woman?” Just as we cannot merely say Goddess or God, but rather ask which goddess? Which god?

"Starry Night" [Photo Credit: ESO/H. Dahle  Lic. CC - Wikimedia]

“Starry Night” [Photo Credit: ESO/H. Dahle Lic. CC - Wikimedia]

The Multitude and the Myriad

To lump a very large group of things, or people, or beings into one whole has not gone very well for us humans these past few millenia, particularly because we’ve had to, like Cinderella’s step-sisters, take some bloody steps to force things to fit into the receptacle of our categories.

Monotheism required the annihilation of other gods except the One God; just as it required the destruction of cultural forms to make people fit into its categories. Communism and Fascism both require similar annihilation, crushing all humans within their realm into the worker or the volk. But likewise, Atheism is hardly an adequate answer, which abolishes all gods just as some would abolish all gender. More pernicious has been Capitalism’s answer, which erases identity altogether, except what can be purchased or sold, leaving individuality to one’s choice of smartphone or automobile. Any anyway, it hates forests.

Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt introduced the idea of “the Multitude,” the vast teeming flood of humans and their experiences which threaten always to overwhelm Empire. I suggest we Pagans embrace it and expand upon it. I like, particularly, the word Myriad, as in a “myriad of stars,” an immeasurable number which likely has a limit but one we cannot quite reach.

In all our multitudes of experience, we define ourselves and our genders. Each man is a sort of man, each woman a sort of woman. Each goddess is a sort of goddess, each god a sort of god. They are themselves them selves, just as we are each neither cog nor component.

How many gods are there? I do not know, anymore than I could hope to innumerate the sorts of women I’ve met, or of trees. I know it’s more than two and, definitely, more than none.

Likewise, how many ways of encountering the Other, or of making love, or of relating to each other are there?  How many sorts of sunlight are there, how many kinds of illumination does the sun shine upon the earth?.

A multitude, certainly.

A Myriad.

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[From time to time, we invite guest writers to share their thoughts about issues making news in our communities. Today's guest is Lisa Roling, a licensed clinical social worker, a member of Covenant of the Goddess, and the co-priestess of Inanna's Well. She lives in the valleys of Eastern Pennsylvania, where she is loving her pregnant wife and spinning yarn. If you enjoy the diversity of opinions and the new voices that come through our guest posts and through our monthly columnists, please support our Fall Fund Drive. You make it possible for us to continue this work. Consider making a donation today.Thank you.]

Thirteen years ago, on September 11, our country shook as we faced the devastation that hate can inflict. Regardless of our religion, race, sexual orientation, or any other socially-recognized division, we stood together as a people; held our loved ones more closely; grieved for our losses; and vowed to stand together in pride. On this September 11, two gay men were savagely beaten on the streets of Philadelphia, the “City of Brotherly Love.”

Philadelphia Sky Line [Photo Credit: Jeffrey M. Vinocur. cc lic Wikimedia Commons]

Philadelphia Sky Line [Photo Credit: Jeffrey M. Vinocur. cc lic Wikimedia Commons]

News reports quickly highlighted a similarity shared by each of the 12 people who had confronted the couple, including the three who had physically attacked the men. All were graduates of Archbishop Wood, a local Catholic high school. A coach was also present. However reports differ on what, if any, role he played in the attack. He has since resigned his position, and the school has renounced the actions taken by the mob of former students. Three individuals have been arrested and subsequently released on bail.

The LGBT community is understandably furious, especially since they are now reminded that sexual orientation is not covered by the state’s hate-crime laws. Some members of the LGBT community have found renewed energy and determination in lobbying for the creation of legislation to include sexual orientation and gender expression in the list of protected groups.Several hundred residents of Philadelphia recently gathered in Philadelphia’s Love Park to show their support for the severely beaten couple and to speak out for the protection of the LGBT community by the Commonwealth’s hate crime laws.

"LOVE Park Philly" [Photo Credit: Smallbones. Public Domain lic. via Wikimedia]

“LOVE Park Philly” [Photo Credit: Smallbones. Public Domain lic. via Wikimedia]

Others have directed their anger and outrage into the public shaming of the assailants. On the Internet, there has been a particular interest in the female defendant, who has been widely criticized as being a promiscuous, binge-drinking homophobe. There is also no shortage of hate speech pointed in the general direction of the Catholic Church. It is understandable how easy it could be to look to the Church considering its stance on homosexuality.

But are the acts of a small group of people a reflection on the teachings of the Catholic Church?

Soon after it was learned that individuals involved were graduates of the Catholic high school, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia released a statement in response, stating:

…Catholic schools are centers of learning where students are expected to treat each other in a Christ-like manner at all times and that everyone deserves to be treated with respect and dignity. The actions of those who took part in the attack are reprehensible and entirely unacceptable. They are not an accurate reflection of our Catholic values…

Many people have rolled their eyes at this statement and, with heavy sarcasm, laughed it away. Notwithstanding the new voice of Pope Francis, the Catholic Church has had a long history of speaking out against gay marriage and teaching that homosexuality is “sinful.” The general stance on the subject has not wavered. However the Church has attempted to repackage it to fit the current cultural context by saying, “love the sinner, hate the sin.”

The assumption in this statement is that homosexuality is simply a behavior, just like wearing clothing of mixed fibers, burning bulls to please the Lord, and eating shellfish. While Catholicism does not rail against eating shellfish in this day and age, they have maintained their stance on homosexuality. Clearly this institutional belief and teaching does not endorse violence. Howevever, it does reinforce that LGBT individuals are different and, therefore, not deserving of the respect and dignity of which the Archdiocese speaks.

The Catholic Church, however, does not have the corner market on the intolerance of “difference.” Generally speaking,  we humans, do not like people who are different. Regardless of religious belief, or lack of religious belief, we innately distrust anyone who is different from ourselves. Learning to look past differences, see similarities, and ultimately accept people for everything that they are is a learned behavior. Our biology is such that we are easily convinced to distance ourselves from people who are different from us. If this distrust is a natural human instinct, can we hold a religion accountable for violent and reprehensible actions conducted by an individual member of that religion?

There are certainly many Christians who distance themselves from the likes of the Westboro Baptist Church and Muslims who distance themselves from the ISIL. There have also been countless times that individuals have committed cruel and unforgivable acts, stating that it was part of their Pagan identity. In such cases, members of the Pagan community, have responded by denouncing the person and the act: “This is not a value of our religion!” or “This person isn’t really a Witch!” But the truth is that every religious group, every racial and ethnic group, every conceivable “type” of person we can lump people together as a group, will contain individuals of whom we are not proud; people we want to distance ourselves from because they are clearly not like “us.”

Robert L. Schreiwer

Robert L. Schreiwer

Portraying the entire religious group in that manner, however, is often inaccurate. Rob Schreiwer is a resident of Philadelphia, the manager of Heathens Against Hate, a Chaplain of In-Reach Heathen Prison Service, President of Distelfink Sippschaft, Assistant Steer of The Troth, and organizer of the Delaware Valley Pagan Network. He says:

I want to be careful not to pin the actions of a few adherents of another religion on the religion itself… We Heathens, in particular, know what it is like to be tarred by the brush of vile actions perpetrated by others in the name of our religion, so we must be extra vigilant not to engage in a rush to judgment ourselves.

While the Catholic Church does have a institutional violent streak in its past, the individuals that acted in this particular case appear to be just that: individuals. They did not say they were acting on behalf of their religion. According to media reports, they were simply acting on their own accord; only on behalf of their own intolerant and volatile nature. Unfortunately, as Schreiwer notes, “Such forces are destructive, not only to their victims, but also to entire communities and even to the perpetrators.”

How do religious communities heal from situations like this? How does the LGBT community heal and move forward? Certainly not by ostracizing and shaming the assailants. For as much as our self-righteous indignation enjoys that in the moment, many members of Pagan and Heathen communities know the pain and suffering that come from being on the receiving end of that very same indignation. Schreiwer says that the Heathen community has responded to such actions by taking a more proactive stance. They are “helping to educate at-risk Heathen populations as well as institutional administrators and the general public about what Heathenry is and what Heathenry is not.” He adds, “While there must always be freedom of consciousness and thought, each community has a right and a need to stand against the devolution of our society and the disintegration of law and order.”

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[Cara Schulz is another one of our talented weekly staff writers. She brings you the news and issues that affect Pagan and Heathen communities around the world. If you like her work and that of our other writers, help us by donating to our fall fund drive. Bringing you news and stories is what we love to do. Your continued support makes it possible for us to continue. Thank you very much.]

This year’s Antelope Valley Pagan Pride Day (AVPPD) had some unwelcome guests, a small group of loud protesters yelling Christian prayers and slogans. AVPPD organizers asked police to disperse the protesters, but the Lancaster Sheriff’s deputies refused to assist.

The AVPPD event took place September 27 at George Lane Park in Los Angeles County. The organization had rented a portion of the park, and was just getting ready for its first ritual of the day, a Heathen Blot scheduled at 10:30 am, when four protesters arrived. They carried signs with bible verses on them. The protesters did not attempt to enter the park, but stood on the sidewalk as one of them yelled prayers and admonishments about going to Hell.

Lisa Morgenstern, president of the First Pantheistic Center of the Antelope Valley which is the sponsoring organization for AVPPD, approached the group and asked them to not enter the park or disrupt the worship service with its yelling. Ms. Morgenstern captured the encounter on video.

Morgenstern says the protesters interfered with their religious service. “It delayed the beginning of our opening blot, because we were trying to get police response. And there were some children that he frightened because he was shouting.”

Lisa Morgenstern [AVPPD fb page]

Lisa Morgenstern [Photo from the AVPPD Facebook page]

Morgenstern called the Lancaster Sheriff’s Station to ask for assistance. In California, it is a misdemeanor to intentionally interfere with a public meeting or assembly, such as a public prayer vigil, and carries a possible 6 month jail sentence. There is a similar law, with a higher penalty, which makes it illegal to disturb a religious meeting, but this only covers worship services held in a tax-exempt place of worship. Morgenstern says:

I called the station directly instead of 911 since it was not an emergency per se. Unfortunately I do not remember the name of the Sheriff’s Deputy with whom I spoke. He did tell me, however, that despite the fact that we had a religious event going on, that he could not take action because the picketers were not on the park property but on the public sidewalk. I walked towards Wayne to notify him of this information and he pointed out the Deputy parked on the lawn, and I spoke further and walked over to him. As I walked the Deputy on the phone was apologetic but did say that they would make a point to slow down their drive-bys when they came by the park to make their presence known. Deputy Goldman told me the same thing after speaking with the Deputy at the station on my cell phone at the request of the station Deputy, that he could take no action without them stepping into the park. At this point I was in tears because I know that it is illegal to disturb a religious worship service in California intentionally, and this was definitely intentional. I asked Deputy Goldman, who was still sitting in his vehicle by the way, if he could walk over to where they were and maybe just observe them and cross his arms and let them know he was there, or look threatening? Please? He responded, ‘I’m not going to do that.’ 

Morgenstern says the group went ahead with the blot and tried to drown out the protesters, who continued to yell until they left, sometime in the afternoon. “The things that he was yelling bothered me enough that I actually turned on some music and tried to drown him out,” says Morgenstern.

Ritual held at the September AVPPD event. {Photo from AVPPD fb page]

Ritual held at the September AVPPD event. [Photo from the public AVPPD Facebook page]

This is not the first time an Antelope Valley Pagan event has been disturbed by protesters, nor is it the first time the Lancaster Sheriff’s department has refused to help.

On March 16th, 2002, a Spring Equinox ritual was held in the parking lot of a Lancaster Pagan shop when a group of Christians arrived to protest. According to news site Unknown Country:

At first the Christian guests remained mostly seated along the edge of the Pagan ceremony, praying quietly. Among them was a volunteer chaplain from the Lancaster Sheriff’s Office who sat in an SUV with its motor running. But as the ceremony got rolling, the Rev. John Canavello [of Life Changers Christian Center ], who has since been suspended from the Sheriff’s office, allegedly pumped up the volume on his car stereo, drowning out the Pagan songs with a loud blast of Christian music, according to High Priestess Cyndia Riker, owner of the Witches Grove gift shop, which hosted the event. Rikker says the protesters then circled the Pagans and began praying loudly.

This time, too, the Lancaster Sheriff’s department, located 3 blocks from the store, was called but didn’t arrive until 4 ½ hours later, long after the Equinox service had ended and the protesters were gone. Lancaster Sheriff’s Capt. Tom Pigott said California law only places limits on protests taking place in tax-exempt buildings that disturb a group, not events held in parking lots.

The AVPPD doesn’t know to what organization or church the protesters from the September 2014 event belong. But organizers say they feel unsafe knowing local law enforcement won’t assist them if they have problems. “Our Pagan Pride event is considering whether or not we need to move back to Palmdale,” says Morgenstern. She added, “We had moved to a county park to save money, but I can say with great confidence that if I call the police in Palmdale, we get response there. The mayor of Palmdale, James Ledford, in grave contrast to the standing Mayor of Lancaster, is open minded, and attends almost every Antelope Valley Interfaith Council event.”

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