Archives For Gender and Transgender in Modern Paganism

The Fleshiness of PantheaCon

Teo Bishop —  February 15, 2013 — 8 Comments

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PantheaCon is a conference for Pagans, Heathens, Indigenous Non-European and many of diverse beliefs that occurs annually over President’s Day weekend in San Jose, California. Well over 2000 people attend more than 200 presentations that range from rituals to workshops and from classes to concerts.

This post is one of a series on the meaning and relevance of PantheaCon to The Wild Hunt’s authors.

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“I’m buzzing. Vibrating. I know that sounds New Age-y, but that’s really what it feels like to be in my body at this moment.

I’m sitting in the lobby of the San Jose DoubleTree Hotel, and PantheaCon is exploding all around me. There are men in skirts, women in top hats, people whose gender is a complete mystery, elders, newbies (like me), and a general spirit of something happening.

This is the place to be, and I’m here.

*grin*

Oh, and did I mention that there is a strong corseted faction? Because there is, and it’s amazing.

I’m overwhelmed, really. I didn’t know it would feel quite so exhilarating to be near this many strange, and delightfully decorated people. It’s as though my books have been made flesh.

For real.”

Photo by Alex Mar

Teo and Jason | Photo by Alex Mar

This was what PantheaCon was for me in 2012. Today marks the beginning of the 2013 PantheaCon extravaganza, the start of my Year 2, and I’m approaching this conference with a very different perspective.

I’m excited, don’t get me wrong. My excitement is just a little more tempered than it was before. After a full year of blogging, writing posts about the questionable act of public circle casting, the need for a liturgical practice for solitary Druids, and the truth about pop stars (or semi-pop stars), I feel like I have a different understanding about who the Pagan community is, and who I am in relationship to it. To write is to be known, and I certainly feel known in a way that I didn’t during my first go around.

I took advantage of that anonymity last year, but I also came away from PantheaCon with a completely new context for my identity. “Teo Bishop” is a name I chose for myself, a name I used to gingerly navigate the unknown territory of Paganism. I wrestled for a good while about what it meant to use this different name, and what reason I might have to bring my two names (and their corresponding parts) into greater alignment with one another. This dialogue continued after PantheaCon 2012, but it was forever changed by the weekend.

I went home from PantheaCon and decided that the person I am — the person who writes these posts, who considers the needs of solitaries, who asks uncomfortable questions, and who has compassion for this community in all of its diversity and complexity — is a person I love to be. It is the person who I have, in some ways, always been. And so, on account of the new awareness prompted by this transformative experience of community, I decided that this name I’d chosen would be the name I took for keeps.

There were other unexpected awarenesses, too. I wrote,

“PantheaCon … affirmed for me a number of things, not the least of which is that I have no qualms about identifying as a Pagan anymore. The discussion about that word, while fascinating for a time, is much less important to me than it was just a few months ago. Not only am I comfortable using the term “Pagan” to broadly identify what I do, I make the distinction that what I do is not all of who I am.”

Click picture to see larger image.

Click picture to see larger image.

Since last year we have witnessed a flurry of posts about the p-word. Each time the discussion resurfaces, tempers flare and new voices emerge to stand in support of or in objection to the Pagan umbrella. Jonathan Korman compiled a list of the most recent articles on the subject, and I’m sure there have been (and will be) more.

Identity politics drives traffic to blogs and makes for a dynamic, sometimes heated conference. It took the fleshiness of PantheaCon, the tactile goodness of being crammed into rooms with other thoughtful, inquisitive people for me to free up space for these new understandings about identity. But it was the fleshiness of Others, and the discordance between that soft fleshiness and the hard rigidity of doctrine and theology that inspired such controversy last year.

I wrote an account of the silent protest, and I watched during the following months as people hashed through their feelings about gender and identity. When my genderqueer kid underwent top-surgery last summer I thought back to the trans activists and allies at PantheaCon 2012. Their witness to the need for greater acceptance and understanding stayed with me during that challenging time. They were a reminder that the flesh is real, and that the flesh is sacred, and that there is no one correct way to be embodied.

One of the challenges I face as a blogger, and that I think we all face when we choose to engage with one another in threaded comments and on forums, is that my embodiment — my own fleshiness — is easily ignored or overlooked. When we write online, we are no longer a complex mush of human parts and emotions, deserving of patience and understanding: we are just text. And as text, you and I can be taken apart, dissected with a quickness. Our fullness is reduced in proportion to our ability to articulate clearly our ideas, and if we fall short of eloquence — watch out. Somebody’s got a red pen, and they are willing to make marks all over your homework.

It’s good to provide ourselves with reminders that we are more than the words we write. We are more than our ideas, and I think we are deserving of more kindness and compassion than we sometimes give to one another. PantheaCon reminded me of that.

Flag me down in the hallways of the DoubleTree, and you could have one of these!

Flag me down in the hallways of the DoubleTree, and you could have one of these!

So I move forward into this conference with a remembrance of the sacred, messy, beautiful nature of the flesh. I will watch for the ways that our ideas become manifest, and I anticipate neither harmony nor discord. There is simply no way to know what will come of this conference, or what will be born from its discussions.

One can hope that the conference will foster, along with the debates and discussions, a new awareness in the hearts of its attendants (and those following blogs like this). Perhaps we might all walk away from the weekend with a new love of the flesh, and a new respect for the fleshiness of Others.

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.

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!

Cherry Hill Seminary Names Two New Department Chairs: Pagan learning institution Cherry Hill Seminary has announced the appointment of chairs for its Community Education and Pastoral Counseling departments.

Rev. Dr. David Oringderff speaks with Lt. Gen. Mike Gould during a dedication ceremony for the Air Force Academy Cadet Chapel Falcon Circle May 3, 2011. Oringderff is the executive director of the Sacred Well Congregation and represented the Earth-Centered Spirituality community during a religious respect conference at the Academy in November 2010. Gould is the Academy superintendent. (U.S. Air Force photo/Mike Kaplan)

Rev. Dr. David Oringderff speaks with Lt. Gen. Mike Gould during a dedication ceremony for the Air Force Academy Cadet Chapel Falcon Circle May 3, 2011. Oringderff is the executive director of the Sacred Well Congregation and represented the Earth-Centered Spirituality community during a religious respect conference at the Academy in November 2010. Gould is the Academy superintendent. (U.S. Air Force photo/Mike Kaplan)

“Cherry Hill Seminary is pleased to announce two new academic appointments.  Valentine McKay-Riddell, Ph.D., is the new chair of Pagan Community Education, and David Oringderff, Ph.D., is the new chair of the Department of Pagan Pastoral Counseling.

A long-time professor for the department, Oringderff is well known for his role in the founding of Sacred Well Congregation, as well as many years of advocacy on behalf of Pagans in the U.S. Armed Forces.  Oringderff is a graduate of Dallas Baptist University, and holds an M.A. in Counseling Psychology from Bowie State University (Maryland) and a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from The Union Institute School of Professional Psychology in Cincinnati, Ohio. [...] The second new appointment is that of Valentine McKay-Riddell, Ph.D., as Chair of Pagan Community Education (PCE).  McKay-Riddell is a graduate of the San Francisco Art Institute and a member of the adjunct faculty at the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology in Palo Alto, CA, where she earned a Masters in Counseling Psychology and a Ph.D. in Transpersonal Psychology.”

Academic Dean Wendy Griffin, Ph.D., noted that Oringderff’s “combination of broad life experience and professional background are what our students need as they prepare to serve in the real world. As more and more individuals serving in the military turn to Cherry Hill Seminary for training for ministry, Dr. Oringderff’s extensive network will be a tremendous asset.” Our congratulations to both Valentine McKay-Riddell and David Oringderff on their new roles within CHS. You can read more about these appointments, and CHS, here.

An Interview With Langley Air Force Base’s New Wiccan Representative: While we’re on the subject of pastoral duties to Pagans in the military, Dead Hour Radio will be featuring an interview with Langley Air Force Base’s new Wiccan representative this Sunday. The host of the show, Carrie Lynn, is an Air Force veteran who started the very first Wicca group at Langley in 2000.

“This Sunday at 10pm EST, on our show we are hosting Langley AFB NEW Wiccan representative to talk about military pagan issues today and the Wiccan faith.”

You can read more about Pagans in the Air Force, here. You can read a piece written by Carrie back in 2000, here. It should be an interesting and enlightening show!

PaganSpace Moving to Member-Owned and Run Model: The Pagan social networking site PaganSpace is moving to a member-owned and run model. In a message to members, outgoing owner Starrfire Price explains the reasons for the change, and how the transition process will work.

“Following a recent announcement regarding the desire to sell PaganSpace I came to the conclusion that the best way to assure the future of PaganSpace is to basically sell it back to the community thus allowing PaganSpace to be placed into the hands of the community who helped bring it to where it is today.

I’ll still be on the site daily and retain admin privileges, I’ll also be training all the new people who step into their positions. I will also be remaining on the board of directors at 10%, under a newly formed corporation (PaganSpace, Inc) that will be formed once the polling ends and board members are elected. I’ll also retain the network site and the domain names for at least the first year (those things will be placed into the corporation name but I know no one will have the means to harm the site with it remaining in my hands). So, I’m not technically going anywhere but I will be freeing up time to complete the many goals and tasks that are in front of me.”

A FAQ has been up for contributors, and those who’d like to have a hand in running the site. PaganSpace is one the few survivors of the DIY social networking boom from a few years ago, a time that saw many Pagan-themed social networking hubs emerge. It will be interesting to see how they progress under this new model, and I wish them luck.

Other Community Notes:

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

Top Story: The planned movie adaptation of Starhawk’s novel “The Fifth Sacred Thing,” has officially launched its Kickstarter fundraising campaign (complete with fundraising pitch video featuring Starhawk). They are looking to raise $60,000 dollars in 60 days. There has been just over $10,000 dollars pledged in the first two days. The money will be used to make a professional pitch video to the major film studios.

“Now we’re asking for your support.  What will we do with the money?  You’ve seen in the video some of the brilliant artists who inspire us, and who want to work with us.  With your help, we’ll be able to create the next phase; designs for sets and costumes, visuals of key scenes, and storyboards for the action.  We can secure the rights to the music and art we need, and do those dull but oh-so-necessary things like finalizing contracts, budgets and financial plans.  To ensure that we are able to continue to develop the strongest possible project, we estimate that we’ll need about double our Kickstarter campaign goal of $60,000, and we’re certain that with your help, along with the tremendous support we’ve been receiving from our entire community, we can do it.”

The official website for the film is here.  They are also encouraging folks to connect with them on Facebook and Twitter. If this succeeds it will be the largest sum of money collectively raised on the Internet for a campaign originating with modern Pagans. Doubling what was raised earlier this year for Japan relief. I’ll have more on this project soon, hopefully including an interview with Starhawk about the proposed film.

Interview with Iceland’s Allsherjargoði: Dr. Karl E. H. Seigfried at The Norse Mythology Blog interviews Hilmar Örn Hilmarsson, chief priest of Iceland’s Ásatrúarfélagið. In the interview they discuss art, mythology, working with Sigur Rós, and the question of pre-Christian survivals (among other things).

KS – Do you see contemporary Ásatrú in Iceland as a continuation of a living tradition that goes back to ancient times, as a recreation and revival of a practice that had ended, as a descendent of 19th century nationalist romantic mysticism, as a post-war rejection of modernity, or as a post-1960s counterculture movement?

HÖH – I think, probably, I would say “yes” to all those things. The influence of this seems to resonate with Icelanders. The poems never really went away, and they’ve been treasured ever since they were handed down orally and written down. I’m pretty certain that the people in the learned places of Oddi and Reykholt and [elsewhere] were reading Ovid and Roman mythology, and they realized, “My god, we have this thinghere which is a living and vibrant thing, and this is what my great-grandfather believed in,” and stuff like that. I think it never really went away.

It was said – after the conversion in 1000 or 999 – that you could not worship the old gods except in secrecy. That was part of the truce. People carried on secret worship for at least two centuries. I don’t think it ever really went away. To illustrate that, I met this old man in the shop yesterday. He came up to me and shook my hand, and he told me that – when he was confirmed in the early 1920s – his grandmother came to him and gave him a book with the Eddic poems and said, “You should read that, because this is what we also believe.” She thought, “Christianity is okay, but you should not forget your roots.” Ha! I think that’s really a telling story.

The whole thing is worth a read, and that’s only part one! Check out the entire blog, which is chock-full of interesting interviews, including one with Jóhanna G. Harðardóttir of the Ásatrúarfélagið.

A Wiccaning at PSG: Cara Schulz from PNC-Minnesota has posted a brief report and pictures of a Wiccaning that took place earlier this week at the 2011 Pagan Spirit Gathering in Illinois.


“Rev. Fox blessed the child with element of earth, air, water, fire, and spirit and gifted Arden with a feather found on site.  Arden enjoyed the first half of the ceremony, especially when Fox played peek-a-boo with him.  But as the sun came out, so did some tears.  Rev. Fox noted that was just what Arden should expect from  life, times of laughter and times of tears.  The parents, Kidril and Twitch, then gave their baby his first drum and gave him their blessings.  The community was then invited to grant Arden blessings such as friendship, comfort, peace, and love.”

I realize that a Wiccaning (or ‘saining’) at a festival isn’t the biggest news, but I don’t feel enough attention is paid to our faiths outside of big events or inadvertent scandals. Depictions of modern Pagans living their faith, going through life’s many transitions, can be an important tool for outreach and understanding. I’d like to thank Selena Fox, Kidril, Twitch, and Arden for agreeing to share this moment with the world.

My Take on Religious Exemptions: My latest panelist response for the Washington Post’s On Faith section is now up. This time I tackled the issue of religious exemptions in New York’s proposed gay marriage bill.

“Often overlooked in this wrangling over exemptions are religious groups that fully support equal rights and protections for all American citizens, even the gay ones. Gay marriage is almost wholly uncontroversial among modern Pagan faiths. Druid group Ar nDraiocht Fein (ADF)has “never believed that the institution of marriage could possibly be threatened by the existence of married people of any gender,” while Pagan scholar Michael York, author of “Pagan Theology: Paganism as a World Religion,”underlines that sentiment by proclaiming that “freedom has to be the highest Pagan goal and virtue.” Gay marriage has been endorsed by notable Pagan leaders like my fellow co-panelist Starhawk, along with leading Pagan organizations like Covenant of the Goddess (COG) and Cherry Hill Seminary. Yet, despite this, few seem unconcerned that one religious moral view concerning marriage is allowed to override another. The simple fact is that certain Christian and Catholic groups are used to getting their way, and it matters little to them if a moral world-view they endorse overrules the world-views of other religious groups. So the more exemptions granted, the more we’re tacitly saying a socially conservative Judeo-Christian approach to these issues is the de facto “religious” perspective.”

You can read my entire response, here. You can responses from the entire panel, here.

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. Oh, and do check out the Witchtalk Conjure podcast/radio show tonight, I’ll be making a special appearance.

I just have a few quick news notes for you this morning.

UUA Japan Relief Fund: Those still looking for locally-focused and Pagan-friendly options in their donations towards aiding Japan in the wake of Friday’s devastating earthquake and tsunami, the Unitarian Universalist Association has set up a fund that sounds very promising.

“Following Friday’s devastating earthquake and resulting tsunamis, the UUA has been in contact with our religious partners in Japan to express our concern and our willingness to partner with them in recovery efforts.  Our partners, including Rissho Kosei-kai, Tsubaki Grand Shrine, the Konko Church of Izuo, the Tokyo Dojin Church, and the Japan Chapter of the International Association for Religious Freedom are all in discernment about the specific efforts they will be taking to support recovery work, and the UUA will walk with them in the directions that are ultimately chosen.  Please join with UUs throughout the United States by contributing to the UUA’s Japan Relief Fund which will support the work that our Japanese partners pursue.”

A partnership of UUA, Buddhist, Shinto, and Japanese religious freedom organizations would seem to help avoid the allegations and scandals that some international aid organizations are encountering, and work towards immediate and locally directed assistance. For more ways to stand with Japan during this time, see my previous post on the subject.

Call For Submissions: Sarah Thompson and Gina Pond from Circle of Cerridwen, who initiated the protest and discussion over the exclusion of transgendered women at a public women-only ritual during this year’s PantheaCon, are hoping to take the ongoing discussions on the issue of gender and transgender within our interlocking communities to the next level with the publication of an open-submission freely available book.

“The recent events surrounding Pantheacon 2011 and the internet-wide debate that followed it have raised awareness publicly of the issues surrounding gender and transgender in the wider Pagan community. This book will comprise a number of chapters, some invited and most by open submission, which will give all sides of the debate an opportunity to clearly state their positions. In a sense, the book will serve as a written equivalent of a talking-stick debate, whilst also making it possible to capture the sense of this historic time, as accurately as possible, in the words of the people involved. Though space is limited in the print version of the book, we hope to make all submitted papers that meet the submission criteria available for download on the web. The publication will be on a not-for-profit basis, with proceeds (if any) donated to a suitable charity/nonprofit (to be determined). Invited chapters are being solicited from as many key people as possible.”

Chapters from all sides in the ongoing discussions and debate are welcome, details can be found at the Circle of Cerridwen’s page devoted to this project. Chapter submissions for “Gender and Transgender in Modern Paganism” are due by June 21st. I’m glad to see attempts to move these discussions forward in a responsible manner, and hope that many of the more vocal contributors to the discussion at The Wild Hunt will look into writing a chapter for this new work.

New Religious Climate Study at Air Force Academy: Word has come that retired Air Force general Patrick K. Gamble will be conducting an “independent, subjective look at the overall climate at USAFA relating to free exercise of religion.” The Air Force Academy has long come under fire for instances of religious intolerance, favortism, and aggressive proslytization from an entrenched culture of conservative evangelical Christianity. Problems that Mikey Weinstein, founder and president of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, says won’t be addressed in this new review.

“The problem at the school is not with any restriction on the free exercise of religion, but with unwanted proselytizing by fundamentalist Christians, a violation of the constitutional concept of the separation of church and state, he said. Gamble said he had not ruled out looking at the separation issue. He said his review team is still getting organized and its scope hasn’t been determined. “We’re going to take a blinders-off look, and nothing’s off the table, but nothing’s on the table, either,” he said.”

In recent years the Air Force Academy has tried to change its image as an aggressively Christian organization, and much was made in the press about their support for the installation of a Pagan worship area, though perhaps even more press was generated at the subsequent vandalism of said site. That circle was a response to a genuine need among Pagan cadets, one that has permeated all aspects of life there, and I can only hope that this nascent support for minority religions by the Air Force Academy can help counteract the larger culture of intolerance that many encounter.

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