Archives For 1st Annual Conference on Earth-Based

This past Saturday the 1st Annual Conference on Earth-Based, Nature-Centered, Polytheistic & Indigenous Faiths was held in California at the Unitarian Universalist Society of San Francisco. Organized by the Pagan Alliance, and co-sponsored the Circle of DionysosSolar Cross Temple,Institute for Transpersonal Psychology, CAYA coven and the Earth Medicine Alliance, the theme for the one-day conference was “Gender & Earth-Based Spiritualities” and featured Vicki Noble as keynote speaker. While sparked by issues arising from an incident of transgender exclusion at a public women-only ritual during the 2011 PantheaCon in San Jose, the conference itself opened itself up to a much wider-ranging discussion concerning gender within modern Paganism. Here are some reflections shared with me by conference chair and Pagan Alliance president JoHanna White.

joi wolfwomyn and Vicki Noble. Photo by Greg Harder.

joi wolfwomyn and Vicki Noble. Photo by Greg Harder.

“The Conference went remarkably well. It was well attended for a first year Conference on a cold day in SF. There was an incredible list of presenters: Judy Grahn and Dianne Jenett, Vicki Noble, Charlie Glickman, Veronica Monet, T. Thorn Coyle as well as many interested attendees such as M. Macha Nightmare, a number of Radical Faeries, students from ITP, PSR, etc. We had 5 cameras taping various lectures and performances and we hope to put out some online videos and a dvd within the next few months. Two documentarians, one filming for Ssex Bbox, and another working on a forthcoming documentary on sex, spirituality, and culture, shot video of talks at the Conference.

In her introductory remarks, joi wolfwomyn asked folks to treat eachother with respect and really listen to the different perspectives brought out in the day and that energy of respect really carried forward into the entire day of programming and events. Vicki Noble’s keynote integrated both her personal experience as a feminist separatist as well as her acknowledgement of the multitude of genders that exist and our need to respect the diversity of gender. Her statement on separatism was that it can be through having separate spaces that members of marginalized groups can become stronger and return to the larger community with the confidence and commitment to make real and positive change. The Conference had a number of workshops and presentations on 3rd and 4th genders throughout the world and was a wonderful sampling of the diversity of our community. CAYA’s co-sponsorship (along with ITP, Solar Cross, Earth Medicine Alliance, and Circle of Dionysos) on the event pushed us over a threshold where we were able to offer scholarships to many transfolk, low-income attendees, and disabled persons. Making this conference accessible to many. Hurrah!

We had some lovely seasonal Pomegranate mimosas (one of my best ideas of the year, I think) Hail Persephone and all that jazz and a beautiful food spread for attendees. Members of the Circle of Dionysos put on an amazing cabaret during the luncheon that included a costumed Sinnerjee depicted Loki doing “Every Other God a Greek.”an original composition (to the tune of Do Re Mi from The Sound of Music) by Origynal Sinnerjee, a musician depicting Freyr sang traditional Pagan songs in Finnish and Icelandic, as well as a drag Cybele monologue, an original song about Sirens a la lesbian separatists. The cabaret was overwhelmingly well received.

I had a great time and we’re looking forward to next year. We will likely continue to address Gender and Earth-based spirituality (due to overwhelming requests/suggestions from folk at the Conference), but will be bringing in some new tracks.”

In addition to White’s impressions, T. Thorn Coyle, who presented at the conference, shares her experiences in a just-posted column for Patheos.com.

T. Thorn Coyle at the conference. Photo: Greg Harder.

T. Thorn Coyle at the conference. Photo: Greg Harder.

“The 1st Annual Conference on Earth-Based, Nature-Centered, Polytheistic & Indigenous Faiths with the theme of Earth-Based Spiritualities & Gender left me with an intriguing mix of thoughts. I feel grateful that the Pagan Allianceput in the time, energy, and money to organize the conference, and am proud that Solar Cross Temple helped to sponsor it. Talking about gender in the context of Paganism feels very important to me. The sense I was left with after Saturday was that while we only scratched the surface of the topic, an elephant in the room was barely addressed, and more dialogue is necessary, goodwill was present amongst those attending, and that counts for a lot.

Many things felt heartening to me about the day: a variety of gender expressions walking through the hallways; seeing second wave feminists I cut my teeth on presenting at a Pagan conference; meeting a human rights activist from the Organisation Intersex International and wanting to talk more theology; the insightful comments and ideas that people shared with each other during my presentation on genderqueer theology; talks with people in between sessions”

While Coyle felt that the “whole subject of gender, normativity, fluidity, and polarity felt like it needs a lot more breathing room,” she applauded the Pagan Alliance “for seeing a need, and moving to address it.”

During this year’s conference Lady Yeshe Rabbit, High Priestess of CAYA Coven, whose Amazon Priestess Tribe’s Rite of Lilith at PantheaCon 2011 provided the setting of transgender exclusion that ultimately led to this day, led a Ritual of Radical Forgiveness. At her blog, Lady Yeshe Rabbit explains the rationale for the ritual, and shares the ritual itself for those who couldn’t be there.

Lady Yeshe Rabbit at the conference. Photo: Greg Harder.

Lady Yeshe Rabbit at the conference. Photo: Greg Harder.

CAYA’s commitment to gender diversity includes a commitment to creating public circles for all to practice ritual together, circles for all who self-identify as a particular gender, and private, closed circles for those who continue to identify with their gender at birth for the sake of healing and deep personal work. It is not an easy place to be. On the one hand, intellectually-sound and impassioned arguments exist for the full inclusion of all self-identified men and women in all gendered spaces they choose. These arguments are well-reasoned, clear, loving and radical- all very much in keeping with CAYA’s core philosophies. On the other hand, there are mysteries and wisdom paths that are associated with embodying a certain gender from birth and the lifetime of acculturation to that gender, as well as physical experiences associated with coming of age in that particular body. These are primal, powerful, visceral and also radical- very much in keeping with CAYA’s core philosophies.

I do not think anyone in CAYA or outside of CAYA has the final answers on how this integration of diverse and sometimes opposing viewpoints can happen effectively to the highest benefit of the greater pagan community. Certainly it won’t happen overnight. Certainly it requires delicacy, patience, and good faith.

Our hope in offering a Ritual of Radical Forgiveness at the conference was to magically and sympathetically put to rest the discord around the topic of the past year and to acknowledge that there is pain and challenge on all sides of this issue. It is our prayer that, moving forward, everyone who has a strong and powerful opinion on this topic or experience of their gender reality will be able to at least co-exist in mutual harmony, respect for one another’s right to hold their views and practices as best befits them, and non-violence in our language and actions toward one another. The religious right would love to see us tear one another apart. It would mean they don’t have to lift a finger in order to cripplingly disempower us. I, for one, will not allow that to happen if I have any say in the matter whatsoever. My intent is to create respectful unity around our spiritual diversity and thus protect it with my own intentions, prayers, words and actions. To that end, here is the ritual outline, for those who were not able to attend. The ritual was received very well by the 25-30 participants who attended, and while it is not a final step to end all conflict, it felt like a powerful step in the right direction toward peace and wholeness within our extended community.”

The results of this conference are a first step, something acknowledged by all who attended. As intimated by JoHanna White, next year’s conference will also focus on gender in order to continue the important conversations started here. A date of September 8th, 2012 has been set. For more coverage, please see the follow up post from the PNC-Bay Area bureau.

As I said earlier this year, I have few illusions that all problems will be “solved,” but I do think what we are witnessing here is historic, and will change us in ways we can’t envision now. CAYA’s Amazon Priestess Tribe’s Rite of Lilith acted as a catalyst for a long-overdue conversation about the role of gender, and transgender individuals, within modern Paganism. If you look at how quickly modern Paganism has grown in the span of a single generation, particularly in the United States, it shouldn’t surprise anyone. When Margot Adler’s “Drawing Down the Moon” was initially published in 1979, gay and lesbian Pagans were just emerging from decades of silence and marginalization within our interconnected communities, now, 32 years later, we’re having serious discussions about “Gay Paganism’s Second Wave.” In such an atmosphere, the issue of how we treat, respect, and integrate transgendered individuals was destined to stop being a fringe topic dealt with only in passing, or in isolated corners, and demand a wider discussion.

I think a collective future of “transcentric imagery, gods and goddess with the wide variety of trans bodies,” alongside and complementing the more prevalent cisgendered representations, will become a reality far quicker than any of us might realize, and that modern Paganism, a movement so ready to accept change, challenges, and differences, yet still remain identifiable and vital, will ultimately benefit from it. The collective maturity and willingness to dialog seen at this conference is a credit to our family of faiths, and when future historians look back at this gathering, it will be rightfully seen as a milestone in how we all approach the topic of gender within our interconnected communities.

Pagan Community Notes is a companion to my usual Pagan News of Note series, more focused on news originating from within the Pagan community. I want to reinforce the idea that what happens to and within our organizations, groups, and events is news, and news-worthy. My hope is that more individuals, especially those working within Pagan organizations, get into the habit of sharing their news with the world. So lets get started!

Open Hearth Foundation Signs Lease on Community Center: On Thursday, PNC-Washington DC reported that the board of the Open Hearth Foundation, a 501(c)3 non-profit organization founded in 1999, signed a lease for a long-planned DC Pagan Community Center. This places the foundation ahead of schedule in its goal of opening a community center by Imbolg 2012 (February 1st).

An interior shot of the new space.

An interior shot of the new space.

“The property is on the second floor of a stand alone building at 1502 Massachusetts Avenue NE, in the Eastern Market neighborhood of DC. The space has two partitioned rooms that will be reservable, one of which will double as a library, a foyer area, full bathroom, a kitchen, and two refrigerators.  Build out is minimal and will include a fitting one room with book shelves, installing an electric stove, as well as installing a wheelchair lift. The two-year lease begins on October 1 and the official date the center is open for business is still to be determined. It likely will not be until November 1st or later.”

Stay tuned to PNC-Washington DC (aka Capital Witch) for future updates on the progress of this community center. As for the Open Hearth Foundation, they are in the midst of fundraising to meet their fiscal needs once the center is open. You can view their goals checklist, here, and the OHF business plan, here. Our congratulations go out to the Open Hearth Foundation on this major step forward!

Gender and Earth Based Spiritualities Conference: Today, September 24th,  is the 1st Annual Conference on Earth-Based, Nature-Centered, Polytheistic & Indigenous Faiths. The theme for the one-day conference in San Francisco is “Gender & Earth-Based Spiritualities,” and  speakers will include Vicki Noble,  T. Thorn CoyleJoi WolfwomynLady Yeshe Rabbit, Diana Paxson, and acclaimed social theorist Judy Grahn. The recently revamped PNC-Bay Area has an article up on the conference, interviewing Bay Area Pagan Alliance Board President JoHanna White, joi wolfwomyn, who is representing the Holy Order of the Epicene, and Yeshe Rabbit, Presiding HPS of Come As You Are Coven.

JoHanna White, Board President of the Bay Area Pagan Alliance

JoHanna White, Board President of the Bay Area Pagan Alliance

“The issue of gender inequality in the pagan community addresses a problem, to be sure: a problem of education,understanding, privilege, and biological determinism. But the issue that really showed itself to be the disease of which the gender issue is but one symptom was that of a lack of shared set of guidelines with which we can approach challenging topics together safely, compassionately, and mindfully.” – Lady Yeshe Rabbit, CAYA Coven

This event is being cosponsored by Circle of DionysosSolar Cross Temple, Institute for Transpersonal Psychology, CAYA coven and the Earth Medicine Alliance. You can learn more about the issues that led to this conference happening, here. I look forward to more reports and reporting from PNC-Bay Area on this event, and hope to get reflections from organizers after the fact.

Merlin Stone Memorial: A memorial benefit celebration for influential author and art historian Merlin Stone, who died earlier this year, is being held today, September 24th, in Clearwater, Florida (Facebook event link). Stone was author of the seminal book “When God Was A Woman,” and a successful Kickstarter campaign was recently held  to produce a memorial documentary project in her honor. Speaking at the event will be Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary.

Poster for the Merlin Stone Memorial.

Poster for the Merlin Stone Memorial.

“Merlin Stone was an artist, art historian, author, and visionary feminist. She focused attention on Goddess reverence of the ancient past. She gathered together Goddess imagery, symbols, and lore from many peoples and shared with others through her books, radio appearances, and other endeavors. She inspired the emergence of multicultural Goddess spirituality in contemporary times. Her memorial is an wonderful opportunity to celebrate Merlin Stone, her works, her life, and her legacy”

Other speakers include Z Budapest, Ruth Barrett, Barbara Walker, Susun Weed, and Margot Adler. The memorial will also include music by Hecate’s Wheel, Emmet Bondurant, and Ruth Barrett. The memorial, which is open to women and men, will take place 11:30 am – 3 pm EDT at Unitarian Universalists of Clearwater, 1470 Nursery Road in Clearwater. Free, open to the public. Donations welcome, but not required. For those who cannot attend there will be live-streaming of Merlin Stone’s memorial. For more information, head to the official Merlin Stone site.

In Other Community News:

  • At PNC-Minnesota, Nels Linde interviews Roger Williams of Magus Books & Herbs on the store’s 19th anniversary. The secret to their success? “What you need is to be persistent. You can have all the talent in the world, if you are not persistent, you are not really going to make a difference.”
  • Writing for Patheos, Gus diZerega tackles the issue of mainstreaming modern Paganism. Quote: “I suspect we will see a deep differentiation within our community. There will be the “shamans,” those who work with little institutional connection and who have developed a reasonably reliable set of skills, be they healing, divination, something else, with which to interact with the spirit world for the benefit of others. I suspect they will do more psychological work than physical healing, but the best can do both. There will hopefully in time be priests tending temples, such as exists today in Japan. That may be a good model for what will develop here. And there will be a rank and file, people focused primarily on other activities, but hoping to live in better harmony with the more-than-human by some involvement in Pagan community activities and a more mindful living of their day to day life.”
  • This Sunday Raven Radio will be holding a live panel discussion between Folkish, Universalist, Moderate, and Tribal Heathens. Quote: “We have an outstanding panel.David Carron, Randolf Millesson, Camille Klein, Cynthia Norris-Brooks and Mike Smith. As fine of panel of Heathens as one could ask for, This show can and will touch nerves, but I expect all to act with Frith and do not disrespect OUR house.” More information can be found, here.
  • P. Sufenas Virius Lupus discusses what is reasonable and what’s insane when it comes to religion. Quote: “Absolutism of one religious viewpoint over another is the real problem, not the assertions themselves.”
  • Scott at The Juggler watches the debut episode of The Secret Circle so you don’t have to.
  • Lupa on social justice and the shaman as intermediary.

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

King Arthur vs. Archeology: British Druid leader King Arthur Pendragon (no, not that Arthur Pendragon) has failed in his attempt to force reburial of human remains found at Stonehenge, claiming the 5000-year-old cremated remains were of a royal “priest caste,” potential founding fathers of Britain.

Stonehenge

“Mr Justice Wyn Williams refused to give King Arthur permission to launch a judicial review action – ruling at a High Court hearing in London that there was insufficient evidence to show that the Ministry of Justice might have acted unreasonably. The judge heard that the cremated remains of more than 40 bodies – thought to be at least 5,000 years old – were removed from a burial site at Stonehenge in 2008 and ministers gave researchers from Sheffield University permission to keep the bones until 2015.”

While King Arthur was calling for a “day of action” to protest this decision, another group, Pagans For Archaeology, were pleased that scientific exploration of the remains will continue uninterrupted.

“The very reason we know what we do about Stonehenge and the people buried there is due to archaeology, without it you would know naff all about it, the people and the relationship between the two.”

At their website, PFA makes their case for why the retention and study of human remains is important. As for King Arthur, he insists that this “is not a Pagan argument, it is not a Druid argument. It is a matter of common decency.” Stonhenge is matter of great emotional, religious, and psychological import for many Britons. With the London 2012 Olympics fast approaching, you can be sure that the treatment, preservation, and study of this site will continue to be a newsmaking issue.

Maetreum of Cybele Sends Out a Call for Help: The Maetreum of Cybele, Magna Mater, in an ongoing tax battle with the Town of Catskill, New York, have sent out an urgent plea for funds as what they hope will be the final trial in the matter approaches.

“All along the Town knew they would lose this battle if we could just get it to trial so they have attempted to bury us under legal motions to break us financially and have spent somewhere between 100 to 150 thousand dollars to do so.  I am sad to report that unless we get significant help in this final stages, they might succeed.  Donations so far have helped but we have had to hire a new attorney at about three times the cost as our original attorney.  She is much more experienced and worth the expense but has informed me that the rest of our case will cost us an approximate additional 10 thousand dollars which simply is impossible for us to come up with ourselves at this stage.

Our priestesses have stepped forward to the point of tens of thousands so far but now we are all broke.  Please, this case is important, a milestone for minority religion rights.  If this can be done to us, a legally incorporated religious charitable organization with full IRS 501 c3 recognition, it literally can be done to any minority religious group.  A victory, which is fairly well assured if we can finish the battle, is especially important when political groups are pushing back against non Christians, clean air and water and the basic concept of taking care of each other and our common planet home.”

The law in this case seems pretty clearly on the side of the Maetreum of Cybele, but Catskill is going to wage a scorched earth legal campaign in hopes the Pagans run out of money and energy first, stating that the town was already too deep into the case to give up and that significant dollars could be saved by preventing exemptions for illegitimate religions.” A court date is set for November 15th. We’ll keep you updated on further developments. For those wanting to an make a tax-deductible donation, you can do so directly via paypal to: centralhouse@gallae.com. Or you can contact them through their website.

In Other News:

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

There are lots of articles and essays of interest to modern Pagans out there, sometimes more than I can write about in-depth in any given week. So The Wild Hunt must unleash the hounds in order to round them all up.

That’s it for now! Feel free to discuss any of these links in the comments, some of these I may expand into longer posts as needed.

There are lots of articles and essays of interest to modern Pagans out there, sometimes more than I can write about in-depth in any given week. So The Wild Hunt must unleash the hounds in order to round them all up.

That’s it for now! Feel free to discuss any of these links in the comments, some of these I may expand into longer posts as needed.