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As we reach the close of 2012, it is time to stop for a moment and take stock of the previous year. When you look at (and for) news stories regarding modern Paganism (and related topics) every day of the year, you can sometimes lose focus on the larger picture. So it can be a helpful thing to look at the broad strokes, the bigger themes, the events and developments that will have lasting impact on the modern Pagan movement. What follows are my picks for the top ten stories from this past year involving or affecting modern Pagans.

10. The John Friend Scandal: Since the beginning of 2012 I’ve been keeping a close eye on the fall of John Friend, founder of the Anusara yoga school, since allegations emerged of sexual, legal, and fiscal improprieties. Of those improprieties was the allegation that Friend ran a Wiccan coven, named the “Blazing Solar Flames,” as a pretext for sexual liaisons with Anusara students.

Anusara Yoga founder John Friend.

Anusara Yoga founder John Friend.

John wanted us to do the ritual in sexy underwear and kiss each other on the mouth, tongue-y kissing,” said ‘Melissa,’ a former member of the coven who asked that her real name not be used. [...]  Friend suggested to the other coven members that sexually charged rituals would heighten everyone’s senses and therefore raise more energy, according to Melissa. “It was certainly never the way that I had experienced Wicca,” Melissa told The Daily Beast, but she was initially open to the experience, in part because of her intimate relationship with Friend and because of her confidence in him as a leader and teacher. “A teacher’s voice is so deeply engrained in your brain, and you implicitly trust them because that’s what helps you do great things in your practice,” she said.

Friend would go on to assert that he takes Wicca “really seriously,” and that he has “taken Wiccan oaths over the years where death is actually the consequence of telling the truth.”  This scandal is important for our communities not only because Friend claims Anusara yoga is “a philosophy and practice that is totally aligned with Wicca on every level,” but because this scandal should be a wake-up call for national Wiccan organizations, an opportunity to engage with myths versus the reality of how our traditions work. As other, more noxious cases of abuse done in the name of Paganism emerge, the need for a more proactive approach to these incidents seems clear.

09. Transgender Inclusion In Modern Paganism: For two years running, the issue of gender, and transgender inclusion in designated women-only spaces, has sparked debate, protest, and remarkable shifts within the Pagan community. The events at this year’s PantheaCon, where debate, protest, and controversy emerged around a scheduled “genetic women only” ritual led by Dianic elder Z. Budapest in part led to one Dianic group removing themselves from Budapest’s lineage, and PantheaCon changing its policy regarding limited-access events. However, this issue was not isolated to events at PantheaCon in San Jose, California, as transgender inclusion became a hot topic at Pagan Spirit Gathering in Illinois as well. That instance led to a historic press conference where prominent Dianic High Priestess Ruth Barrett acknowledged the womanhood of  transgendered activist Melissa Murry.

barrett murray

“Both women said the transgender community is trying to find their voice, similar to the feminist movement in the 60′s and 70′s.   Like the feminist movement, they speak of suffering, pain, and violence.  Murry and Barrett also spoke of the value in claiming mysteries and rituals specific to their sacred journey as women.  “Within my Tradition, which is about the female body and the journey of being born female and the journey through the bloods and birth and menopause,” said Barrett.  “That is a different journey for transgendered women who come to womanhood through a different path.”

What we are witnessing, in real-time, is change happening. A realignment and reconsideration of gender both within and outside a Dianic context that seemed almost unthinkable a decade ago. No doubt there will be further debate and analysis related to this issue, but I think the shifts seen in 2012 are a predictor for future changes in how modern Paganism thinks about, and engages with, gender identity.

08. Cherry Hill Seminary and CHS Graduate Achieve Major Milestones: While there are many Pagan learning institutions Cherry Hill Seminary is reaching farther than most, working towards accreditation as a seminary for Pagan clergy. This year two important milestones in their journey were accomplished: the awarding of its first Master of Divinity in Pagan Pastoral Counseling, and graduate, Sandra Lee Harris having her credentials examined and accepted by the Board of Chaplaincy Certification, Inc., the credentials-examining body for the Association of Professional Chaplains. This not only frees Harris to her to complete the process of becoming a board-certified chaplain but, in the words of David Oringderff, Ph.D., Harris’s department chair and adviser at Cherry Hill Seminary, “the precedent set by the BCCI/APC decision, which could strengthen the case for future acceptance of Cherry Hill Seminary degrees by other institutions, the U.S. Department of Defense, for example.”

Sandra L. Harris, M.Div., Pagan Pastoral Counseling

Sandra L. Harris, M.Div., Pagan Pastoral Counseling

“The courses credited toward the first Master of Divinity in Pagan Pastoral Counseling from Cherry Hill Seminary are shown to parallel those of degrees from two accredited seminaries, Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary and Tyndale Seminary, when religion-specific requirements for Bible and Christian history studies are replaced by Pagan studies and personal spiritual formation is based on the stated mission values of Cherry Hill Seminary rather than the teachings of Jesus. Further analysis, given similar accommodation, suggests that the Cherry Hill Seminary curriculum in Pagan Pastoral Counseling could satisfy the accreditation requirements of the Association of Theological Schools.” - Sandra L. Harris, M.Div., Pagan Pastoral Counseling

As the Wild Hunt’s Heather Greene noted, “these advancements indicate a shift in society towards genuine respect for alternative religions within the professional world.” Meanwhile, 2013 is shaping up to be a notable year for CHS as well, with their upcoming partnership with The University of South Carolina  for the “Sacred Lands and and Spiritual Landscapes” symposium.

07. Druid liturgy in Paralympics Closing: One unexpected highlight of 2012 was the inclusion of Druid liturgy in the London 2012 Paralympic Games closing ceremony.  Alongside performances by Jay-Z, Rihanna and Coldplay artistic director Kim Gavin, Music Director David Arnold and Designer Misty Buckley showcased a seasonal theme which “took the audience on a journey through Autumn, Winter, Spring and Summer.” Part of the seasonal-themed closing ceremony, spoken by Rory Mackenzie, a representative from Help For Heroes, was in fact written by Druids from the British Druid Order (BDO).

Lance Corporal Rory Mackenzie at the Paralympics closing ceremony.

Lance Corporal Rory Mackenzie at the Paralympics closing ceremony.

“We were sworn to secrecy beforehand, but Emma Restall Orr and I [Greywolf] were approached by the organisers of the 2012 Paralympics closing ceremony with a surprising request. They wanted our permission to use parts of the gorsedd ritual we wrote in 1997. So, about 20 minutes into the ceremony, these words went out to 750 million people around the world,”

Philip Shallcrass (aka Greywolf), Chief of the British Druid Order, says that the original ritual was written to bring people from different backgrounds and faiths together, so “its use in the Paralympics closing ceremony seems perfectly in keeping with this original intention.” While the 2012 London Olympics opening ceremony featured brief hints of Britain’s pre-Christian past, it featured no explicit contribution from the vital Pagan threads that exist in the United Kingdom, a nation that has played a huge role in the revival of Pagan religions. So it seems fitting that the last closing ceremony in London, for the Paralympic games, would explicitly reference modern Pagan contributions to British culture.

06. A Major Setback For The Maetreum of Cybele:  Earlier this yeear I reported on how Maetreum of Cybele, Magna Mater, in an ongoing tax battle with the Town of Catskill, New York, lost their exemption battle before the New York State Supreme Court. Catskill’s lawyer intimated to a local paper that he “does not expect much protest from pro-pagan groups now that a judge has carefully analyzed the evidence.” That lawyer may have spoken too quickly, as the Maetreum seems fighting mad, not cowed, though Pagan attorney Dana D. Eilers (author of “Pagans and the Law: Understand Your Rights”doesn’t seem convinced that the Maetreum would be able to turn this decision around on appeal.

The Maetreum of Cybele's building.

The Maetreum of Cybele’s building.

“We are now at risk of losing our property to back taxes under a corrupt local system that does not allow for payment plans, installment payments or anything other than immediate payment in full. We are a poor order and spent all our money fighting the Town of Catskill in court. Currently four women live at the Maetreum who would be homeless otherwise. We need to take the battle to Federal court at this point and we need help in doing so. We need to raise the back taxes just to hold on to our property and continue our work.” – The Maetreum of Cybele

The Maetreum is about to launch an IndieGoGo crowdfunding campaign to raise funds to save their building, and hopefully further pursue their legal case against the town of Catskill. We will keep you posted as this story continues to develop in 2013. I personally don’t think this fight is over as the Maetreum feels that the judge analyzed the evidence through a lens that delegitimized practices he didn’t understand. Quote: “Charity is not charity, prayer, meditation and spiritual activities are not religious, duties of clergy clearly spelled out are not spelled out, activities every week and formal ones every two weeks are “irregular”, some mythical standard of number of regular congregants was not met.  We are a “legitimate” religion but actually exist to wrangle a tax exemption (not legitimate)  I am personally a liar with no actual evidence provided to justify saying that.”

Tomorrow I will post the top five Pagan stories for 2012. In the meantime, I invite you to check out the top religion stories from some different perspectives. The Religion Newswriters Association top 10 religion stories of 2012, HuffPo Religion’s top 10 religion stories of 2012, and 13 religion stories that went missing in 2012 from  Religion Dispatches.

Pagan Community Notes is a series focused on news originating from within the Pagan community. Reinforcing 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 let’s get started!

A Breakthrough on the Issue of Trans Inclusion? In Friday’s Unleash the Hounds, I reported that questions over transgender inclusion at women-only rituals had become an issue at the then in-progress Pagan Spirit Gathering festival. A situation that echoed incidents at PantheaCon in the past two years. Yesterday, newly returned from the festival, Cara Schulz from PNC-Minnesota reports on what may be a historic press conference held on Saturday, featuring Rev. Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary, Dianic High Priestess Ruth Barrett, and festival presenter and transgendered activist Melissa Murry.

“Both women said the transgender community is trying to find their voice, similar to the feminist movement in the 60′s and 70′s.   Like the feminist movement, they speak of suffering, pain, and violence.  Murry and Barrett also spoke of the value in claiming mysteries and rituals specific to their sacred journey as women.  “Within my Tradition, which is about the female body and the journey of being born female and the journey through the bloods and birth and menopause,” said Barrett.  “That is a different journey for transgendered women who come to womanhood through a different path.”

Rev. Fox announced that at next year’s PSG they would offer a mystery ritual and rites of passage for transgendered persons if Ms. Murry would lead them.  After Murry agreed to do so, she asked Barrett if she would assist her.  Barrett was unsure if she would be able to attend PSG next year due to changes in her personal life, but said she would help Murry however she was able.”

In a release sent to various Pagan media outlets, Barrett said that she couldn’t “express enough how happy and hopeful I am from the work accomplished at PSG,” and that the work accomplished at this festival will be “a model for other pagan festivals that are dealing with female-born space and trans inclusion/exclusion issues.” While not all concerns about ritual inclusion were solved, there did seem to be some important shifts taking place at PSG, including the acknowledgment that trans women are women by a prominent Dianic leader. You can listen to, and download, audio of the entire press conference, here (note, the PNC is looking for volunteer transcriptionists so we can make the content more accessible) .

Pagan Pride at NY Pride: Earlier this month I reported on the involvement of Christopher Penczak‘s Temple of Witchcraft in the 2012 Boston Pride Parade, now we have a photo from another Pagan group in a LGBT Pride Month parade.

New York City Pagan Pride at Pride (photo: Gary Suto)

New York City Pagan Pride at Pride (photo: Gary Suto)

As you can see from the photo, that’s a contingent from the New York City Pagan Pride Project at the New York City Gay Pride Parade, showing their support for LGBTQ rites. This NYC Pride Parade marked the first anniversary of same-sex marriage becoming legal in New York. Also involved in the parade, carrying their own banner, was the NY Gay Men’s Open Pagan Circle. Zan Fraser, a contributor to The Juggler, was there, and plans to post about his experiences soon.

Songs of the Goddess: The blog Songs of the Goddess, where Draeden Wren diligently reviews Pagan and Pagan-friendly music, has released a free sampler of Pagan music entitled: “A Pagan Music Collection (Volume 1).”

“I am truly a fan of these artists, and I am so grateful they accepted my proposal for them to be a part of this project.  More important than that, I am so happy to be a soundboard for these artists.  They need people to know about them!  We are able to listen to brilliant Goddess/Nature-based/Tree-hugger music because of these creators.”

Artists on the compilation include Sharon Knight, Damh the Bard, Wendy RuleKenny Klein, Deborah “DJ” Hamouris, Amelia Hogan, and many more! It’s a nice round-up of the bigger names within Pagan music, and you certainly can’t beat the price. You can find the download link, here. You can also find Songs of the Goddess at Facebook.

In Other Community News:

That’s all I have for now! Are there blogs, podcasts, or other Pagan news sources you think I’m missing out on? Please leave links in the comments, and if there’s news in your community be sure to share it!

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.

Preliminary Australian Census numbers. (PaganDash)

Preliminary Australian Census numbers. (PaganDash)

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.

Anusara Yoga founder John Friend.

Anusara Yoga founder John Friend.

Kenneth Anger. Photograph: Linda Nylind

Kenneth Anger. Photograph: Linda Nylind

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

Today, the organizers of PantheaCon, the largest indoor Pagan-oriented convention, released their policy on limited-access rituals. Most notably, for those who’ve been engaged in the ongoing dialog/debate over gender and the inclusion of transgendered individuals at officially scheduled events and rituals, the policy explicitly states that women-only or men-only events will be open “to all who self-identify as such.”

PantheaCon Logo

PantheaCon Logo

Here’s the entire policy statement:

“PantheaCon will adhere to state and federal laws which require age limitations and non-discrimination on the basis of age, race, national origin or gender. We also affirm the importance of safe space and will continue to schedule presentations that limit attendance to specific groups of individuals. All workshops or rituals that say “Women Only” or “Men Only” will be open to all who self-identify as such.

PantheaCon cannot police all boundaries. One thing has become evident, simply seeking to make restrictions on gender unambiguous is not sufficient. Prospective presenters applying to make group-specific presentations should be clear in their language about limitations and observe these guidelines. Private rooms, including Hospitality Suites, at the DoubleTree are not subject to this policy. In the past, groups have held invitation-only events and skyclad rituals in private rooms, and PantheaCon will not interfere in these private arrangements.

PantheaCon aims to provide a safe environment for all of its attendees to enjoy their diverse paths. As we evolve, this policy may be subject to some nuanced changes in the future. We welcome any and all comments on this policy. Feel free to email feedback at pantheacon dot com – although we cannot promise a response, all emails will be read.”

This can only be seen as win for those asking for a clear policy regarding exclusive spaces at PantheaCon, and step forward for those fighting for the full inclusion of transgendered men and women within the Pagan community. Coming days after the announcement of the Amazon Priestess Tribe / Bloodroot Honey Priestess Tribe retiring from Z. Budapest’s lineage, and changing their official stance regarding gender, it’s clear that the “genetic women only” event at PantheaCon 2012 has sparked some deep reevaluations and changes. No doubt there will be a lot of comment and commentary on this clarification of policy, and I will keep you informed as they emerge. As always, please endeavor to keep discussions civil.

Modern Paganism is a movement, an umbrella term for a variety of individual faith groups that share common practices, goals, outlooks, and theologies. In this, modern Paganism is more like Hinduism, than, say, Catholicism. There is no Pagan “Pope” or acknowledged leader that can label one group heretical, or cast individuals out. There is no singular statement of belief, or religious rule, that binds us all. So when schisms happen, when new groups form, our “umbrella” simply expands to encompass them too. That said, changes, evolution, and yes, schism, can signal a sea change within the larger whole (think of Buckland and Cunningham ushering in the self-initiatory “solitary” paradigm). A barometer to measure changes in our community’s weather. It is within this context, I feel, that we should view the press release just sent out by Lady Yeshe Rabbit and the Amazon Priestess Tribe.

Lady Yeshe Rabbit. Photo: Greg Harder.

Lady Yeshe Rabbit. Photo: Greg Harder.

“With gratitude for a wonderful learning experience and warm memories of sisterhood over the past 5 years, Yeshe Rabbit and the Amazon Priestess Tribe announce that as of today, March 8, International Women’s Day 2012, we are retiring from the Z Budapest lineage of Dianic Wicca in favor of forming an independent lineage that reflects our particular approaches and views regarding Goddess-centered practice.

We offer our reverent thanks for the wit, writings, and wisdom Z Budapest has offered us and the world, while acknowledging that we nonetheless find ourselves at thealogical and ethical crossroads with some core practices of her lineage.

Namely, we cannot support a policy of universal exclusion based upon gender at our Goddess-centered rites, nor can we condone disregard or insensitivity in communications regarding the topic of gender inclusion and Goddess-centered practice. We feel it inappropriate to remain members of a lineage where our views and practices diverge significantly from those of the primary lineage holder.”

Yeshe Rabbit was ordained by Dianic Elder Z. Budapest in 2007, and founded the Amazon Priestess Tribe soon after. Rabbit is also co-founder of CAYA Coven, a popular religious organization that provides public rituals in the Bay Area of California, of which the Amazon Priestess Tribe is a part. This break is quite significant, as it comes after over a year of controversy and dialog over the issue of transgender inclusion within women-only rituals. An issue that was sparked at the 2011 PantheaCon in San Jose after an Amazon Priestess Tribe ritual turned away transwomen and acted as a catalyst for a long-overdue conversation about the role of gender, and transgender individuals, within modern Paganism. That ongoing dialog was complicated, some would say damaged, by events at this year’s PantheaCon.

“Z. Budapest is part of our beloved community. I honor the work she and our foremothers have done to enable the rest of us to worship as we will. Sometimes we need to gently tell members of our beloved community that we feel they are in error. There are many ways to do this. Last year, we tried dialogue. Much was written and discussed on the issue of trans inclusion or exclusion. A whole conference was organized to help further this. An anthology was just published to continue the conversation. Steps were taken by CAYA, around whom much of last year’s controversy centered, to rectify the situation, including the planning of two rituals this year: one for self-identified women and one pan-Dianic rite for all genders.

The only words attributed to Z as part of the conversation of anger, exploration and healing last year felt ugly, hateful, and inflammatory to me, and this year, her one offering to our collective included the words “genetic women only.” After all the work so many put in last year, my heart could not let this stand unmarked. So I decided to engage in another form of dialogue: sitting in silence. Z has the right to perform her ritual. I have a right to sit outside in silence and prayer.”T. Thorn Coyle

Initially, it seemed that Yeshe Rabbit was trying to pursue a middle path between Z. Budapest and those sitting in silent protest, proposing a path of conflict resolution on the issue. Holding sacred space between the two positions. While that desire for conflict resolution may remain, it seems obvious that it was decided it could not happen while they are still formally affiliated with Z’s lineage. In today’s press release, the Amazon Priestess Tribe, along with Lady Rosmarinus Stehlik, and Devin Hunter’s Living Temple of Diana will henceforth refer to themselves as “Pan-Dianic” to differentiate themselves from the Dianic Tradition of Budapest. What does that mean? According to the statement, it means a formal realignment on issues of gender.

“We support, for those who wish it, ritually gathering around specific experiences with appropriately- and respectfully-invited attendees rather than biological determinism as a matter of universal exclusion. For example, we believe it is every 11-year-old Maiden’s right to determine who will be present at her First Moon ceremony. We equally support gatherings that are open to all self-identified women for exploration of the varieties of women’s experiences. We equally support groups of gay men gathering to honor their own Goddess natures. We support the right of trans-women to create rituals specific to their experiences, and to share these with other trans-women and cis-women as they see fit. We support the idea of cis-gender, cissexual, heterosexual men gathering to explore the Goddess as daughter, friend, universal love, mother, queen, self. And so forth, into infinite beautiful variety.

We hold for clarity, compassion, and linguistic sensitivity in delineating intentional sacred space, and mindfulness toward how we communicate around the topics of privilege, healing, and spirituality. Our discourse shapes the universe. Words are breath, power, actualization. We hold our use of language as a significant magical responsibility.

We hold a commitment to elevation of all women’s rights at the center of our vision. We believe that elevation of cis-women’s and trans-women’s rights to a position of honored equality will open humanity as a whole toward a more balanced and healthy approach to life, the planet, and consciousness.”

In addition, the Amazon Priestess Tribe has decided to stop using the term “Amazon,” and have renamed themselves the Bloodroot Honey Priestess Tribe. Part of the rationale for dropping the term was its link “with those whose approach to Goddess worship is predicated upon gender exclusivity.” You can see all the signatories to this statement, here.

One year ago, I said that the emergence of this debate, this dialog, was historic. That it would change us in ways we couldn’t envision within the moment. That our movement, our community, was readily adapted to accept the changes and challenges ahead in ways that other religious communities aren’t.

“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.”

What we are witnessing, in real-time, is change happening. A realignment and reconsideration of gender within a Dianic context that seemed almost unthinkable a decade ago. No doubt there will be debate and analysis of this statement, and what it exactly means in practice, and what its true significance is, but I think that all might agree that this “retirement” can be, and should be, seen as a predictor for future changes in how modern Paganism thinks about, and engages with, gender identity.

ADDENDUM: Lady Rosmarinus Stehlik asked that the following clarifying statement be added to this post.

Please let it be known, to whom it may concern, that I have personally not retired from the Z Budapest Tradition. I Love, Honour and cherish the Dianic Tradition as I stand upon the Precipice of Personal Introspection and Reflection. My Inner Dianic Vision is evolving beyond my present experience. In the unfolding of Pan-Dianic Self Determination, I was present for a decision that engaged a Deep Current yearning to expand, and I agreed to embrace this nomenclature as one part of the Whole that I am. This does not negate my position as Dianic Heritage Keeper; as a matter of fact, it is Deep Devotion to Dianic Witchcraft that has motivated my actions. I Hold the Dianic Tradition as the Sanctum Sanctorum of Personal Autonomy, with a desire to Honour Understanding and Growth in All callings of the Goddess Diana from a point of Relation, moving forward. There is no either/ or in my logic, but a “this and that” thinking. All is One. In this Spirit, I stand as friend of Pan-Dianic Intent as a Dianic Priestess and Witch in search of understanding for All Walks of Life. I envision a Future in which the Dianic Community takes part of Future conciliatory realms of respect within an extended Dianic Reality; where It’s voice remains within Pan-Dianic Dialogue. Where it comes forth to speak of ItsTruth and Radiance. I feel called to facilitate dialogue in this quest; to build bridges of relation and to ensure a fostering of a common ground of Solidarity in the Name of Diana within the Greater Pagan Community.

With Love I support The Bloodroot Honey Priestess Tribe in facilitating possibilities for dialogue in this unfolding. To support the fostering of bridges of Peace, and Conciliation.

I am moving forward as a Dianic Priestess and Witch in the Spirit of bridge-building with the Pan-Dianic Paradigm- in celebrating the Beauty of Our Collective Diversity. I stand as bridge to All Dianic Worlds moving forward in Unity!

In Cosmick Sovereignty.
Lady RO

In a continuing effort to keep my readers up to date on the ongoing conversations centered around the 2012 PantheaCon in San Jose, where debate, protest, and controversy emerged around a scheduled “genetic women only” ritual led by Dianic elder Z. Budapest, I have rounded up another round of statements and meditations on the subject. For those just coming to this discussion, I advise you start with my February 21st post, then move on to my first discussion round-up, before engaging with this latest round of entries.

That’s all I have for now. Let me remind everyone who takes part in conversation here at The Wild Hunt, to keep comments civil, and avoid personal attacks. Let us all bring more light to this process. I want this to be a space where all voices can come to be heard, in hopes of encouraging productive dialog and working towards understandings that collectively enrich us.

In the interests of keeping my readers abreast of the conversations centered around the 2012 PantheaCon in San Jose, where debate, protest, and controversy emerged around a scheduled “genetic women only” ritual led by Dianic elder Z. Budapest, I have rounded up a number of statements and meditations on the subject. I will start by sharing essays and posts by those who were at the 2012 PantheaCon, and then move to opinions and commentary by interested parties who were not in attendance.

  • Jonathan Korman of Solar Cross has penned an open letter to Glenn Turner and the other organizers of PantheaCon. In it he runs through the issue as he understands it, and ends with a call for an apology from PantheaCon, an apology and recantation from Z. Budapest if she wants to continue participating in that convention, and a clearer policy statement regarding what’s appropriate for restricted attendance rituals.
  • David Shorey, who participated in the silent protest led by T. Thorn Coyle, shares his experiences of that evening. His post begins with a quote by Howard Zinn: “You can’t be neutral on a moving train.”
  • Crystal Blanton, writing at Daughters of Eve, offers a mediation on discrimination. Quote: “We judge one another in order to define who is Black enough, spiritual enough, Pagan enough or oppressed enough and we miss the mark on the true gift of our community.  The best gift that we can give is to love more, understand more, empathize more , show more, give more, listen more, connect more and even identify more with those who have experienced this here journey called life.”
  • Sexuality educator Charlie Glickman pens an open letter to Z. Budapest. Quote: “When you told us that you are not the enemy of transgender people, I wanted to take you at your word. But I see your actions and I see a disconnect between the two. If you want me to not see you as the enemy of transgender people, then I invite you to not do the things that their enemies do. I invite you to use language that doesn’t rely on seeing transgender people as abnormal or deviant. I invite you to use language that reflects the genetic diversity that complicates our cultural notions of sex and gender. And I invite you to model that for your communities so that gender equality can flourish.”
  • Devin Hunter, who was part of the inclusive ritual held at the same time as Z’s ritual, and who held space between those sitting in silence, and those attending the ritual, writes about his experience of that evening. Quote: “After the ritual we came out to find several people who were not only upset with us for showing up at Z’s space before her statement but condemning us for doing so- shouting, “Liars” and “Biggots” at myself and temple members. One trans woman even felt the need to cuss me out as I tried to explain that we were not there in support of Z or anyone else but to be there in support of change. “ I was there!” she shouted “ So was I!” I responded.”
  • Tim Titus at The Juggler notes that there was unity in diversity at PantheaCon, and that for many, this debate wasn’t on their radar.
  • Draeden Wren shares her experiences at PantheaCon, including a discussion with Z. Budapest.
  • Storm Faerywolf, who was part of the inclusive ritual, and was also part of the contingent “holding the center,” shares his perspective of that evening, and of the issues surrounding it. Quote: “What is the answer in this? I know only of the first step: listening. It is a theme that has come up for me again, and again. In order to truly heal our wounds we need to be heard, we need to know that our feelings have been truly witnessed. I was there to bear witness… to Z… to the protesters… to those who chose to participate in Z’s ritual. I was there to witness them all… and to them all I send my love. I will not choose the road of hate. While that is an easy road to follow I know all too well where it leads. I choose the road of love.”
  • Teo Bishop from Bishop in the Grove, who sat with the protesters, has written up his experience of the evening. It is matter-of-fact, and essential reading for anyone who is interested in what exactly happened.

For more conversations from con participants, you may want to check out the PantheaCon Facebook Group.

Considering the nature of this discussion, and the prominence of those involved, it’s natural that many other Pagans who weren’t at PantheaCon would have an opinion about the ritual, the protest, and Z. Budapest’s words. Here are some of the more notable instances.

There’s even more out there, but I think this gives a pretty good picture of the conversation that has developed so far. If you have written something and would like me to include it in future roundups, you can either email me, or leave a link in the comments. As I’ve said previously, I want The Wild Hunt to be a space where all voices can come to be heard, in hopes of encouraging productive dialog and working towards understandings that collectively enrich us.

I’d also like to note that I will also have coverage of other events, talks, and panels that have taken place at PantheaCon 2012 coming up, but that this conversation has become so wide-ranging and intense that I felt it irresponsible to not do an update. I will do future updates on this as needed, in addition to working on sharing other important developments that emerged from the past weekend. I’d also like to remind everyone to keep comments here civil, as they have largely been, and to be generous in interpreting someone’s else’s words.

On Monday I returned from the 2012 PantheaCon in San Jose, the largest annual indoor gathering of modern Pagans in North America. This is my third year attending the event, and for me it has become not so much about the panels and presentations, though they are often wonderful, enlightening, and oft-times challenging, but about connecting and reconnecting with the people I write about, network with on social media, or collaborate with in organizations like Cherry Hill Seminary or the Pagan Newswire Collective. PantheaCon is part of the glue that holds “Pagan community” together, that rare occasion when you actually see and experience members of The Sisterhood of Avalon hanging out with Thelemites, Feri initiates sharing drinks with Asatru, and ritual magicians discussing their work with Vodouisants. For that alone, Glenn Turner and the convention staff deserve special praise and recognition.

I think it’s vital to contextualize the uniqueness of PantheaCon, because we can sometimes lose focus on how important this event has become to so many, and just what a hothouse of our movement’s vast diversity and creativity is on display year after year. That PantheaCon succeeds where others fall short in mingling groups that can often have vastly different ideas about practice, theology, politics, and worldview. Because of this success it has become an unofficial annual meeting place of our movement’s leaders, clergy, scholars, and activists. Understandings are built, grudges resolved (and sometimes formed), and new projects hatched from talk over dinner, or in hurried conversations between presentations. If one had the time, and the people-power, a year’s worth of stories could be written from just these four days of intense activity. Due to all this, when controversies do arise, they tend to amplify throughout our movement, our interconnected community.

This year, debate, protest, and controversy emerged around a scheduled “genetic women only” ritual led by Dianic elder Z. Budapest, complicating a dialog begun on the issue of gender and transgender within modern Paganism the year before, re-exposing raw emotions and hurts from both sides that we as a community are still in the process of acknowledging, understanding, and responding to. These events have sparked a lot of comment and reaction by those watching from the outside, and I think it is necessary to begin by listening to the voices that were in attendance, and who directly participated in the events the Pagan community are now discussing.

You can find much more discussion on this across the Pagan blogosphere. As more voices emerge, I will document them and share them with you here. I am committed to giving all involved in this matter an opportunity to share their perspectives, what they think the relevant issues are, and what they think the way forward is from this point. You should also stay tuned to PNC-Bay Area, who are planning several articles and editorials around this issue.

While things unfold, I want The Wild Hunt to be a space where all voices can come to be heard, in hopes of encouraging productive dialog and working towards understandings that collectively enrich us. As someone who sits atop the pyramid of privilege in our society, I hesitate to offer off-the-cuff opinions or solutions, and instead hope to be an advocate for transparency, renewed dialog, and building respect between all parties. Considering the thoughtful responses I’ve seen so far from those involved, I want the emphasis to be on their voices, not mine. In the weeks to come I am committed to listening and documenting, to being a resource for those engaged in the direct work.

In the year leading up to the 2013 PantheaCon, I anticipate that The Wild Hunt will cover this matter extensively. I will also slowly unpack my own thoughts as they develop, and hope that I can offer additional light when it is called for. In addition, you can expect coverage of the many other events, panels, and presentations at PantheaCon, so that their good work is not lost amid this storm.

ADDENDUM: Teo Bishop from Bishop in the Grove, who sat with the protesters, has written up his experience of the evening. Working from notes taken that evening. It is matter-of-fact, and essential reading for anyone who is interested in what exactly happened.

As we reach the close of 2011, it is time to stop for a moment and take stock of the previous year. When you look at (and for) news stories regarding modern Paganism (and related topics) every day of the year, you can sometimes lose focus on the larger picture. So it can be a helpful thing to look at the broad strokes, the bigger themes, the events and developments that will have lasting impact on the modern Pagan movement. What follows are my picks for the top ten stories from this past year involving or affecting modern Pagans.

10. New Christian Missionary Code of Conduct: In June of this year a coalition that claims to represent around 90% of the world’s Christians released joint recommendations for the conduct of Christian missionaries. This document, while toothless in regards to enforcement, it does represent a core shift in fighting “arrogance, condescension and disparagement” among Christian missionaries toward non-Christian faiths and building a new ethos of mutual respect and cooperation between Christians and non-Christians.

“Christians are called to reject all forms of violence, even psychological or social, including the abuse of power in their witness. They also reject violence, unjust discrimination or repression by any religious or secular authority, including the violation or destruction of places of worship, sacred symbols or texts. [...]  Any comment or critical approach should be made in a spirit of mutual respect, making sure not to bear false witness concerning other religions. [...]  Christians should avoid misrepresenting the beliefs and practices of people of different religions.

In addition, the document endorses providing “sufficient time for adequate reflection and preparation” in regards to conversions.  Frowning on quickie conversions and urging Christians to “refrain from offering all forms of allurements.” All of which is encouraging on its face, though the document also has a political purpose, to help missionaries lobby against anti-conversion laws in places like India. Still, despite the document’s flaws, it does represent a vital shift as revelations of coercive conversion tactics in Haiti, and serious accusations that missionaries stirred up anti-Vodou violence, not to mention an emerging theory within evangelical circles that Christian missions may have helped trigger the witch-hunts in Africa are making more and more Christians questions how the “Great Commission” is enacted. The reverberations of these events and Christian response to it will have long-reaching effects on modern Pagans, indigenous religious practitioners, and ultimately all non-Christians.

09. Pagan Fundraising on the Internet Goes Big: Within our interconnected communities there’s often been the notion that we lack the commitment or cohesion to raise significant funds for causes or projects that matter. That a “poverty consciousness” reigns when it comes to anything outside our immediate wants or desires. This criticism lost a lot of weight in 2011 as a growing number of Pagan projects and fund-drives managed to raise impressive figures for a community as demographically small and philosophically diverse as ours. This year we saw Peter Dybing lead an initiative that raised $30,000 dollars for Japan earthquake assistance, while Starhawk, along with producers Paradox Pollack and Philip ‘Mouse’ Wood, raised over $75,000 forplanned movie adaptation of Starhawk’s novel “The Fifth Sacred Thing”.

In addition, a fundraising drive to produce a memorial documentary project in honor Merlin Stone (author of the seminal book “When God Was A Woman”) raised over $10,000. These may not seem like huge numbers to the larger, more institutionalized, religions in the West, but these efforts, and several smaller ones also held this year, are somewhat groundbreaking for us.  It proves that Pagans will support projects they believe in, and that Internet services like Kickstarter have provided an essential tool in tapping that support. As modern Pagans build their own unique infrastructure (more on that next) I predict we’ll continue to see this crowd-funded model evolve into something that can really build (and do) great things.

08. The Growth (and Growing Pains) of Modern Pagan Infrastructure: In addition to fundraising, this has been a year of Community Centers, Temples, and Libraries in the Pagan news. As modern Pagan communities grow as do questions of what, if any, infrastructure we want. Do we want a congregational model? What about temples? This year, more so than I’ve seen for some time, we’ve publicly wrestled with the answers to these questions. This year the Minneapolis-St. Paul community (aka “Paganistan”) saw their Sacred Paths Center go through a number of fiscal problems, though it seems to have weathered its storms, meanwhile The Open Hearth Foundation in Washington DC prepares to launch its own community center . In Delaware, ground was broken for the ambitious New Alexandrian Library project, one that has already gotten some impressive donations to its collection.

“After working through unexpected delays, the Assembly of the Sacred Wheel (ASW) has obtained the building permit to begin construction of the New Alexandrian Library (NAL) and the contractor is preparing to lay the foundation. “We are very excited to finally be able to break ground,” said Jim Dickinson, the NAL Project Manager, “It is ‘a dream whose time has come’!”“This project is about preserving our past and building our future. It is a dream becoming manifest that will inspire scholarship and a deepening of magickal culture. It is proof that our community is maturing,” said Ivo Dominguez, Jr., founding member of the Assembly of the Sacred Wheel and one of the driving forces behind the NAL.”

While there has been forward movement, there have also been setbacks and challenges. Temple of the River in Minnesota closed down, a Pagan temple in the Ukraine was vandalized, and in upper New York the  continues its long and drawn-out tax battle with the Town of Catskill, one that will hopefully be decided in 2012. Still, despite the challenges it seems clear that Pagan infrastructure is a growing issue, and that more groups are looking to plant permanent roots in their communities.

07. The Debate Over Gender in Modern Paganism: One of the most sustained and intense discussions within the modern Pagan community this year was over issues of gender, essentialism, and transgender inclusion. Sparked by a breakdown in communication and resulting transgender exclusion at a 2011 PantheaCon ritual, the conversation soon ballooned to all corners of the modern Pagan community. CAYA’s Amazon Priestess Tribe’s Rite of Lilith ended up acting as a catalyst for a long-overdue conversation about the role of gender and transgender individuals within modern Paganism, one that led to a groundbreaking conference in September centered on the question of gender within our communities.

joi wolfwomyn and Vicki Noble. Photo by Greg Harder.
joi wolfwomyn and Vicki Noble. Photo by Greg Harder.

“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.”

We are at a crossroads now with this discussion, and despite a few sour notes, most of the exchanges have been reasoned, open, empathetic, passionate, and willing to create a dialog that is inclusive and productive. 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. The collective maturity and willingness we’ve displayed so far in these discussions is a credit to our family of faiths, and when future historians look back at this time they will say “this is when transgendered Pagans began to receive the full embrace and respect of their coreligionists.”

06. James Arthur Ray Convicted and Sent to Prison: At the end of 2010 I listed the story of New Age guru and “Secret” peddler James Arthur Ray’s disastrous and deadly sweat lodge ceremony  as one of the most important of the year, noting that “the longterm ramifications of this event will be for Ray, Native Americans, the New Age market, and the modern Pagans who cross-pollinate with these affected communities remains to be seen.” Now, at the end of 2011 we’ve seen the trial, conviction for negligent homicide, and sentencing of Ray. In the end, Ray will only serve two years in prison, though he’s appealing, and has settled the civil lawsuits with the victim’s families for more than 3 million dollars. Shortly after the conviction, I rounded up reactions from Native Americans, the families of the victims, and the Pagan community, many seemed to agree that Ray’s seemingly boundless ego, narcissism, and god-complex led to a pattern of unsafe events.

“I’m aware that this conclusion may seem controversial. Many pagans like to believe that there is no such thing as a universal moral truth, and many recoil at the use of the word ‘should’. James Ray’s sweatlodge puts that kind of relativism to a life-and-death test. As a final remark, my friends, may I say that you do not need to undergo a heat endurance test to the death in order to know that you are strong in spirit.” – Brendan Myers

Ray’s trial and conviction was certainly big news this year, but what, ultimately, does it say to modern Pagans? I think it calls into focus issues of cultural appropriation, of acquiring spiritual technologies outsider your context without proper oversight or training, and is a stark warning about the corrupting influence of power unchecked. James Arthur Ray was part of the “New Age” movement, but many elements he incorporated can be easily found among modern Pagans, and this should be a lasting wake-up call to make sure we don’t fall into the excesses and pitfalls of Ray and his ilk.

Tomorrow I will post the top five Pagan stories for 2011. In the meantime, I invite you to check out the top religion stories from some different perspectives. Here are the BBC’s picks, the Religion Newswriters Association’s picks, Mother Jones’ top ignored religion stories, Religion Dispatches top religion stories that weren’t, top 11 of 2011 from HuffPo Religion, Time’s top religion picksand the Washington Post’s On Faith picks.