Archives For GLBT

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.

Pioneering gay activist and writer Arthur Evans died on Sunday, September 11th, from a massive heart-attack. In addition to being one of the first openly gay men to appear on national television, heavy involvement in the gay liberation movement, and early AIDS-related activism, Evans was also a pioneering figure in the development of gay Pagan spirituality, publishing “Witchcraft and the Gay Counterculture” in 1978 and “The God of Ecstasy: Sex-Roles and the Madness of Dionysos” in 1988. The latter featured his translation of Euripides’ play “The Bacchae” along with commentary on Dionysus as patron of homosexuality.

Arthur Evans picketing against anti-gay policies at the NYC Board of Education.

Diagnosed with aortic aneurysm in 2010, Evans knew he didn’t have long to live and penned his own obituary. Here are excerpts describing his spiritual/religious work.

“In the fall of the 1975, Evans formed a new pagan-inspired spiritual group in San Francisco, the Faery Circle. It combined countercultural consciousness, gay sensibility, and ceremonial playfulness. In 1976 he gave a series of public lectures at 32 Page St., an early San Francisco gay community center, entitled “Faeries”, on his research on the historical origins of the gay counterculture. In 1978 he published this material in his ground-breaking book Witchcraft and the Gay Counterculture. It demonstrated that many of the people accused of “witchcraft” and “heresy” in the Middle Ages and Renaissance were actually persecuted because of their sexuality and adherence to ancient pagan practices.

In 1984 Evans directed a production at the Valencia Rose Cabaret in San Francisco of his own new translation, from the ancient Greek, of Euripides’ play Bakkhai. The hero of Euripides’ play is the Greek god Dionysos, the patron of homosexuality. In 1988, this translation, together with Evans’ commentary on the historical significance of the play, was published by St. Martin’s Press in New York under the name of The God of Ecstasy.

In 1988, Evans began work on a nine-year project on philosophy. Thanks to a grant from the San Francisco Arts Commission, it was published in 1997 as Critique of Patriarchal Reason and included artwork by San Francisco artist Frank Pietronigro. The book is a monumental overview of Western philosophy from antiquity to the present. It shows how misogyny and homophobia have influenced the supposedly objective fields of formal logic, higher mathematics, and physical science. Evans’ former doctoral advisor at Columbia University, Paul Oskar Kristeller, called the work “a major contribution to the study of philosophy and its history.”

Evans work, especially “Witchcraft and the Gay Counterculture,” would end up being influential in the formation of the Radical Faeries.

“Arthur Evans was asserting the role of queer spirituality in his book Witchcraft and the Gay Counterculture, 1978. His book was a strong initiative in the Radical Faerie movement, influencing gay men to examine their relationship between gay spirituality and the old Pagan Nature religions. In his chapter entitled “Magic and Revolution,” Evans writes that it is the role of gay men to look forward to re-establishing our communication with nature and the Great Mother, to feeling the essential link between sex and the forces that hold the universe together…We look forward to regaining our ancient historical roles as medicine people, healers, prophets, shamans, and sorcerers. We look forward to an endless and fathomless process as coming out — as Gay people, as animals, as humans, as mysterious and powerful spirits that move through the life cycle of the cosmos. (154-5).”

Today, as we talk about gay/queer Paganism’s second wave, with groups like the Brotherhood of the PhoenixCircle of Dionysos, and  Ekklesia Antinuou flourishing, it’s important to remember those who paved the way. Figures like Evans not only laid the groundwork for gay Pagan spirituality, they also anticipated the battles over gay marriage back in the 1970s. May he rest in the arms of his gods, and may his spirit be remembered.

[The following is a guest post by David Salisbury and Iris Firemoon. They are both clergy with The Firefly House, a nature-based church that works to build community through environmental awareness, education, spirituality, and service. In addition, David heads up the Pagan Newswire Collective's Washington D.C. bureau (aka Capital Witch) of which Iris is a contributor.]

This piece is presented as two narratives, the first from David Salisbury, the second from Iris Firemoon.

David Salisbury:

On Sunday through Tuesday, Iris Firemoon and myself had the pleasure of attending Clergy Call for Justice and Equality, a biennial conference sponsored by the Human Rights Campaign. This year, nearly 300 faith leaders from every state in the country gathered to discuss the state of LGBT issues in America. The main message of Clergy Call is that religion is no longer a means to hinder the growth of civil rights issues. Instead, it is a way to advance the concept that equality is for all people born of the divine. This was shown in the representation of more than twenty faith traditions. Clergy Call is likely the largest gathering of clergy to discuss and advocate for LGBT issues, in the world. This year’s conference is of interest to our community as it was the first time that Pagans were there and joined with leaders of the more mainstream faith traditions to advocate for these issues.

Many of us would agree that it can be difficult for Pagans to get an equal seat at the table of any interfaith effort. Upon meeting with these faith leaders (most of whom were from some Christian denomination), I found it hard to think of why this might be the case. Throughout the conference there were several instances where we were asked to split up by state groups. Iris and I attended breakout session with residents of both DC and Maryland. In these settings, it became clear that not only were we the only Pagans there, but we were the only non-Christians as well. And you know what? It didn’t matter in the slightest. When the opportunity came for us all to discuss our religious backgrounds, no one seemed to bat an eye when we said we represented a Wiccan church and were there to do our best to represent different traditions of Paganism. They had some questions, yet they were all kind and presented with a genuine curiosity and intrigue. Dinner on Monday night landed me in a heavy theological discussion on profound religious experiences with an episcopal pastor. I felt like I was chatting with any other High Priest about the mysteries of the divine. I have always thought that what we call “the mysteries” transcend religious borders and this experiences cemented that belief for me.

David Salisbury with other Maryland-based clergy.

In our conference sessions we viewed presentations on everything from youth homelessness to the legacy of civil rights leader Bayard Rustin. Our pens were busy with activity as we learned new ways to bring the spirit of openness and unity to our various congregations throughout the country. No matter our area or faith, concerns of the safety of youth, employment protections, and marriage equality were shared by all.

Tuesday was the final day of the conference and was set aside to lobby state senators and representatives on various pieces of equality legislation and to share the stories of our congregations. As I marched across capitol hill with a rabbi to my right and a methodist minister to my left, we sang out prayers of blessing and and strength for our meetings ahead. It was quite a sight to see both the senate and house offices filled with people of faith discussing important issues with legislators from every state. I would venture to say its unlikely that Pagans have ever participated in an organized lobbying day with such a religiously diverse crowd.

As the sun set on a ten hour day of lobbying, I was left with two powerful feelings. The first was pride in knowing that I participated in the civic process for issues that are important to me. The second (and one that I’ll never forget) was the satisfaction of having made friends and professional contacts with clergy from more faith traditions than I ever thought possible. Knowing that there are people of faith out there willing to work together to bring about justice brings me feelings of both hope and power. For this reason, I highly recommend that Pagans get more proactive in being involved with interfaith work of any kind. Though it may seem daunting at first, you’re likely to find the experience both pleasant and fulfilling. Though the mill of this work still turns, progress is being made and we should certainly be part of it.

David Salisbury
LGBT Ministry, The Firefly House

Iris Firemoon:

I had the honor to join David Salisbury from CapitalWitch.com at the Clergy Call of the Human Rights Campaign to talk about activism in justice and equality in not only the LGBT community, but for all people. It was an incredible experience to sit in the pews with representatives from all 50 states, including a delegation of four from Hawaii. It struck us that this event was so important that someone came from Alaska and four people came from Hawaii. We just had to get on the Metro, but people crossed oceans and flew through Canada to be here. And, we were the first Pagans to be present at this gathering of faith leaders from all over the country. We were in a room with people who had been fighting for civil rights for all people for decades. Notable civil rights activists, who when spotted in the crowd, the presenters had to stop in the middle of a speech and ask for a round of applause.

Gathered clergy at the HRC Clergy Call.

Rev. Elder Darlene Garner gave the invocation, and in her words rang true a common theme, “We are not truly free until we are all free.” In the speeches and in the conversations with Clergy Call participants, the notion that we were fighting for LGBT rights was a part of this larger issue of total freedom. These rights that transcend sexuality, or that because one’s rights often find themselves based around one’s gender and sexual orientation conformity, we are fighting for the equal rights of all. We weren’t just standing up for LGBT rights, we were standing up for Black rights, Latino rights, worker’s rights, women’s rights, immigration reform, healthcare reform, religious freedom, resources for mental health, resources for folks who find themselves homeless, and so much more. We were standing up for the rights of all of us to be who we are, no matter our religion, our skin color, our sexual orientation, our gender, our gender identity, our age, or our disability. LGBT was the front of this movement, because there was action here, but this wasn’t the only focus. Joe Solemnese, the President of the Human Rights Campaign, stated that a poll taken said 86 percent of people said that their faith made then believe that all people deserve equal rights, including LGBT folks.

So, as a straight Pagan faith leader who is an ally of the LGBT community, I am not just fighting for the rights of my fellow humans, my fellow Americans, my fellow women, and my fellow Pagans, but I am fighting for my own rights. It was mentioned how we often draw the line in the sand and say that we’re only going to help Pagans. Only going to help women. Only going to help Black people. Only going to help those in the LGBT community. Only going to help those like me. But, we’re all in this together. And, we just have to help.

One of the first sessions we attended was a talk about LGBT homelessness in youth. A good majority of homeless youth are homeless because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Right off the bat, I was asking myself what I could do. What can we as Pagan faith communities do for these homeless youth? And, in a lunch presentation about military families, and how LGBT partners of soldiers who die in the line of duty are often cut out of the support provided for the family. In one example, because one family did not recognize the sexual orientation of their child as valid, a partner was not permitted by the family of a deceased service member to see the body or attend the funeral. And, our system is set up to allow that to happen, because the partner was not legally recognized. So, a group of folks got together and started providing support to those LGBT military families who find themselves cut off from support when their loved one dies. I ask myself what the Pagan community can do to help. In a breakout session, I paired up with a Methodist clergy person from Minnesota, and she told me about folks who are legally married in their states, but their partners face deportation, because the federal government doesn’t recognize same sex partners as sponsors. Again, I asked myself what we as a Pagan community could do to help.

David and I spoke with a transgender minister from Seattle who had taken in a transgender community member who had fallen on hard times. The deal had been a place to stay for two weeks, but that two weeks turned into six weeks with no way out. The minister said that after coming to Clergy Call, him and his wife knew that they had given all that they could give, and it would be time to ask their company to leave. And, this vibrated with me, because I kept thinking of ways that the Pagan community could help without putting ourselves in too deep that we loose ourselves.

I found a few ideas that I am going to act on as ways to be active, to engage in work that bring all of us closer to freedom without loosing myself. I will share some of them as I explore options for helping, so that you, too, might feel engaged to lend a hand. To give. To serve. To be a part of healing this bigger human community. Because we were the first Pagans to sit in this delegation of faith leaders, we have a responsibility to bring back to our faith community these mechanisms for change. Yes, we were the first, but that came with much responsibility to act.

Iris Firemoon
High Priestess, The Firefly House

I’d like to thank both Iris and David for participating and reporting on this historic first for the Pagan community. As Pagan academic and author Michael York said, “freedom has to be the highest pagan goal and virtue.” By making our voices heard, by showing up, by becoming a part of the conversation, we further the goals of working towards freedom and equality for all people, and all faiths.

A few quick notes for you on this Thursday morning.

Gay Paganism’s Second Wave: The Circle of Dionysos has posted the audio from a panel discussion at this year’s PantheaCon entitled “Walking it Out: Gay Paganism’s Second Wave,” featuring contributions from DK Cowan (Circle of Dionysos), P Sufenas Virius Lupus (Ekklesia Antinuou), Hayden Reynolds (Circle of Dionysos), Storm Faerywolf (Brotherhood of the Satyr), and Hyperion (The Unnamed Path).

The Unnamed PathThe Amethyst PentacleEkklesia Antinuou, The Circle of Dionysos: in the past several years a flurry of pagan groups and practices specifically geared to the LBGT community have emerged and caught the attention of the larger pagan community. Why is this happening? What are the similarities and differences between the various paths? What value does this work have for not only GLBTQ pagans, but also for the larger pagan community? Join Hyperion, Storm Faerywolf, DK Cowan, and P. Sufenas Virius Lupus for a round table discussion of these and other topics related to second wave gay paganism.”

You can download the panel discussion, here. Gay Pagan organizations like the ones listed above, or the Brotherhood of the Phoenix in Chicago, have really come into their own in the last decade. Gay Pagans have gone from being a somewhat isolated fringe in the 1970s, to a vibrant and integral part of who we are today. I’m heartened to see growing communication and acknowledgement around this phenomenon.

Also, while I’m on the topic of PantheaCon, let me quickly point you to Morpheus Ravenna’s blog, where she discusses her experiences at this year’s Morrigan devotional ritual. I was in attendance at that ritual, and it was one of the most powerful large-group experiences I’ve had the pleasure to be a part of.

Twelve Faiths in Twelve Months: Rothwell Polk at the Huffington Post puts the spotlight on “Project Conversion,” where writer Andrew Bowen immerses himself in a different faith tradition for each month of 2011. In January he “converted” to Hinduism, here’s his video wrap-up of the month.

Currrently, Bowen is studying Baha’i before moving on to Zoroastrianism in March. In October he’s “converting” to Wicca, and will be exploring “fringe” religions in June (whatever that means). He’s noted that he already has a teacher/guide for his Wiccan month (though he doesn’t reveal who it is). Bowen asserts that he’ll always remain “spiritually promiscuous,” but one has to wonder how he’ll feel after he’s immersed himself in both monotheistic and polytheistic faiths. Will it change the way he views the world? The way he views the dominant monotheisms? No doubt he’ll be experiencing the “best face” of each tradition, but there are significant differences.

The Tea Party and Religion: The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life has released a new analysis of Tea Party members which reveals a movement this is not only fiscally conservative, but also overwhelmingly allied with socially conservative (Christian) issues like opposition to gay marriage and access to abortion.

“A new analysis by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life finds that Tea Party supporters tend to have conservative opinions not just about economic matters, but also about social issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage. In addition, they are much more likely than registered voters as a whole to say that their religion is the most important factor in determining their opinions on these social issues. And they draw disproportionate support from the ranks of white evangelical Protestants.”

This significant overlap between the populist Tea Party and socially conservative Christianity has been seen in several nationally elected politicians who received endorsement from Tea Party groups (Rand Paul, for instance). Indeed, some have described the Tea Party phenomenon as a second wind for Christian conservative candidates. The question going forward is will the Tea Party organizations see their fiscal stances become married to a social agenda as well. If so will it create an unhealable rift between factions?  How will this affect fiscally conservative Pagans who have found a home in the Tea Party? Especially when an unspoken position of many social conservatives is an animus towards non-Christian faiths.

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

A few quick news notes to get you through your Friday.

Sacred Tribes Explores Dark Green Religion: Sacred Tribes, an academic Christian journal for the study of new religious movements, has released a special edition devoted to Bron Taylor’s book “Dark Green Religion: Nature Spirituality and the Planetary Future”. Taylor’s work has gained attention for its thesis that the future of religion may be nature religion.

“…traditional religions with their beliefs in non-material divine beings are in decline. The desire for a spiritually meaningful understanding of the cosmos, however, did not wither away, and new forms of spirituality have been filling the cultural niches previously occupied by conventional religions. I argue that the forms I document in Dark Green Religion are much more likely to survive than longstanding religions, which involved beliefs in invisible, non-material beings. This is because most contemporary nature spiritualities are sensory (based on what we perceive with our senses, sometimes enhanced by clever gadgets), and thus sensible. They also tend to promote ecologically adaptive behaviors, which enhances the survival prospects of their carriers, and thus their own long-term survival prospects.”

The bulk of the special edition is a long interview with Taylor [PDF] that travels through his evangelical Christian past, his entrance into the environmentalist movement, and the religious “social phenomena” of “dark green religion.”

“Such nature spirituality is often rooted in an evolutionary understanding that all life shares a common ancestor, and it generally leads to kinship ethics, namely, felt ethical responsibilities toward and empathy for all living things who, like us, evolved through what Darwin aptly called the struggle for existence. Such perceptions generally lead people to see more continuities than differences between their own species and other ones, and this in turn tends to evoke humility about one’s place in the grand scheme of things. I label such religion “dark” not only to emphasize the depth of its valuing of nature (a deep shade of green concern) but also to suggest that such religion may have a shadow side—it might mislead and deceive; it could even precipitate or exacerbate violence. Since there is no religion without dangerous manifestations, I believe, it is important to be alert to the dangers of religion, of whatever sorts they might be.”

The interview is followed by responses from Loren Wilkinson [PDF], editor of “Earthkeeping: Christian Stewardship of Natural Resources,” and Peter Illyn [PDF], founder of the Christian environmental group Restoring Eden. You may also want to read the introduction to this edition of Sacred Tribes [PDF] by editor John W. Morehead. The material is definitely worth an in-depth read. For a Pagan interaction with Taylor and his material, I recommend heading over to Anne Hill’s wide-ranging radio interview concerning “dark green religion.”

Kern County Victims Seeking Recompense: The Bakersfield Californian and the Associated Press are reporting that Grant Self, who was a victim of a giant dragnet that imprisoned dozens of innocent men and women during the height of the Satanic Ritual Abuse panic of the 1980s, is filing suit  against the County of Kern for damages.

“Grant Self was convicted and spent decades in prison before he was granted parole in 2000. Then he was classified as a sexually violent predator and sent to a state mental hospital, said Chief Deputy County Counsel Mark Nations. Nations, who will defend the county in the case, said Self’s conviction was eventually overturned after the Kern County District Attorney’s office refused to produce the one remaining witness who had not recanted his accusations against Self. “The judge would not not consider his lack of recantation without access to him,” Nations said.”

The widespread abuses of the Kern County arrests, led by the infamous Ed Jagels, were documented in the chilling 2008 film “Witch Hunt”. One of the individuals profiled in that film, John Stoll, won a 5.5 million dollar settlement with the county in 2009. As for Jagels, he has remained unrepentant about the lives he ruined, and remained district attorney until his retirement in 2009. It is my personal hope that Kern County is made to account for all the lives ruined, and years lost, due to these false convictions. Hopefully 2011 will also see more overturning of convictions that were based on little more than discriminatory profiling and moral panic.

Being Gay Within Vodou: Theologian and writer Rev. Irene Monroe has contributed an essay to the New England publication Bay Windows discussing how Vodou has created safe spaces for GLBTQ individuals in Haiti.

“But with the ancestral religious belief that behavior is guided by a spirit (loa), gay males in Haitian Vodou are under the divine protection of Erzulie Freda, the spirit of love. And as a feminine sprit, gay males are allowed to imitate and worship her. And lesbians (madivins) are considered to be under the patronage of Erzulie Dantor, a fierce protector of women and children experiencing domestic violence. Erzulie Dantor is bisexual, but she prefers the company of women. [...] poorer classes of LGBTQ Haitians have at least two ways to openly express and celebrate who they are — in Vodou and in Rara festivals. At Rara Festivals, a yearly festival that begins following Carnival belongs to the peasant and urban poor of Haiti. The Rara bands come out of Vodou societies that have gay congregations where gay men are permitted to cross-dress with impunity.”

The issue of sexual orientation and gender identity within Vodou is no doubt a complex one, and I’m sure some of my Vodouisant readers will want to chime in on the issue, but I do think Monroe makes an important point about Vodou creating room within certain societies for the open existence and acceptant of GLBTQ individuals. I also agree that opportunities for this oft-misunderstoond faith to be “lifted up” should be taken.

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

A few quick news notes for you on this Wednesday.

About That Wall of Separation: This election cycle in the United States has brought forward an old argument, is there a “wall of separation” between religion (“church”) and our government (“state”)? While many argue that the 1st Amendment of the United States Constitution decreeing that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion”, and years of subsequent legal precedent, make such a separation very plain, certain factions of Christian conservatives claim that the Establishment Clause was only meant to prevent denominational favoritism among Christians, and that ours is a Christian country. This division in understandings was in full display in a recent debate between Delaware Senate candidates Christine O’Donnell (who has gotten too much coverage from me already) and Chris Coons.

In a debate at the Widener University Law School, Ms. O’Donnell interrupted her Democratic opponent, Chris Coons, as he argued that the Constitution does not allow public schools to teach religious doctrine. “Where in the Constitution is the separation of church and state?” Ms. O’Donnell asked himaccording to audio posted on the Web site of WDEL 1150 AM radio, which co-sponsored the debate. The audience at the law school can be heard breaking out in laughter. But Ms. O’Donnell refuses to be dissuaded and pushes forward. “Let me just clarify,” she says. “You are telling me that the separation of church and state is in the First Amendment?”

O’Donnell has been roundly mocked in the press for this latest gaffe, but it’s very representative of a certain understanding of the US Constitution, and many feel she was sending “dog whistle” signals about her stance on church-state issues. Far more explicit was Minnesota Republican Secretary of State candidate Dan Severson, who spoke plainly what O’Donnell only alluded to.

Quite often you hear people say, ‘What about separation of church and state?’ There is no such thing. I mean it just does not exist, and it does not exist in America for a purpose, because we are a Christian nation. We are a nation based on Christian principles and ideals, and those are the things that guarantee our liberties. It is one of those things that is so fundamental to the freedoms that we have that when you begin to restrict our belief and our attestation to our Christian values you begin to restrict our liberties. You simply cannot continue a nation as America without that Christian base of liberty.

This is the same sort of viewpoint that drives Christian groups like WallBuilders, who claim that modern Pagans have no expectation of Constitutional protection under the religion clauses. Separation of Church and State isn’t just about Christmas displays on public lands, it’s about the very character and nature of our country. If we swing too far into an understanding that would please Severson or O’Donnell, it could jeopardize the free exercise and equal treatment of religious minorities in the United States. We would go beyond sanctioning “moments of silence” and see reinvigorated battles over teaching Christianity in our public schools.

Is James Arthur Ray Hurting Sedona? Chas Clifton links to a New York Times article about a decline in tourism at the New Age hub of Sedona, Arizona. Is it the bad economy, or “negative energy” from the James Arthur Ray sweat-lodge deaths?

“It was a very unfortunate and sad situation that could have happened anywhere,” said Janelle Sparkman, president of the Sedona Metaphysical Spiritual Association, who attributes the woes that New Age practitioners are experiencing to a lack of disposable income for spiritual needs and not what happened that awful afternoon. “It was not indicative of Sedona or Sedona’s practitioners at all.” But sweat lodges are now far less common, with the authorities shutting some down to avoid further trouble. And the spiritual association is pushing the importance of ethics among spiritualists.

Could this controversy, along with the economic downturn, bring some reforms to the New Age movement? Or will it be business as usual once this controversy fades and the economy picks up? As for James Arthur Ray, his trial over the sweat-lodge deaths is scheduled to start in mid-February. You can be sure I’ll be following it here.

Spirit Day: Today is Spirit Day, an effort to show support for those who have taken their lives due to anti-LGBTQ bullying. While much of the Internet is rallying to turn their profiles purple, some LGBTQ Pagans, like author and academic P. Sufenas Virius Lupus, are questioning how useful the day, and the message of “it gets better”, really are.

“Which leads me to the second point: “it” doesn’t get better; you just learn to put up with it more, and as you grow stronger in your own sense of self and identity, it bothers you less that other people think these things, say these things, and could potentially threaten you with physical violence and worse (as happened recently in New Jersey to several people)…but, you push through it and you don’t let them frighten you or bother you or dissuade you from living your life the way you want to live it. Every time I step into an LGBTQI event, or a march, or a gathering, it is possible some homophobe with serious insecurities and some religiously-inspired foolish notions may come in and decide to attack me or my friends. I hope it doesn’t happen, but I prepare for the contingency that it might. And as far as I’m concerned, they can bring it all they want–they will not get me without a damn good fight.

So, yes, one hopes that it does get better, but I cannot assure that it will for everyone or that such is the case everywhere in the world. Giving the message to teenagers that you just have to put up with it and tough it out (and that one is possibly deficient if one doesn’t feel up to it or can’t do it) is not a good thing, in my estimation–it seems like blaming the victim to me, and I am totally against that.”

Lupus suggests finding strength and solace in prayer and spiritual work, and has provided a spell against homophobia, and a prayer against persecution. What do you think? Is Spirit Day a worthwhile endeavor that will change opinions, or is it merely a purple-colored band-aid on a much deeper problem? Feel free to share your opinions in the comments.

ADDENDUM: For another Pagan perspective on Spirit Day, check out T. Thorn Coyle, who is taking up the call from two powerful goddesses to go into battle and teach power and respect.

“I want to see us teaching power and respect. I want to see us supporting each other to stand tall, rather than cutting the tallest person in the room down to a more comfortable size. Many people I know are teaching this to their teens and children, and trying to do this in their communities. This Samhaintide, can we all commit to doing a bit more? Can we examine the ways in which we – personally or communally – are acting out of disrespect, fear, force, or powerlessness?

Last year, some of us made a pledge to the Morrigan to help each other grow strong. For myself, I have done more work getting body and soul to a place of health and fitness than ever before. I have gained muscle and am gaining weight. My core is bigger. I’ve trained. I’m back studying hand-to-hand combat with a teacher who is even more skilled than the one I had before. I know that others have been training, too. This Samhain, my community is honoring our promise by teaching and learning basic self-defense. This starts with physical posture and extends to our energy bodies. The presence of centered pride in our midst immediately ratchets up the presence of self-respect in the room. That is where we will begin. From there, we will learn to move, to defend, to break out of locks and set ourselves free.

My hope is that this workshop, this simple introduction to self-defense, will be able to be taught in multiple places. It feels important enough to my partner and I that we have submitted a proposal to teach it at Pantheacon and I am already planning to take it to Houston. We don’t have any certificates saying we are qualified to do this. All we have is our own training, a push from two powerful Goddesses, a call from community, and this need. This need arises from the images of every youth who committed suicide this year. If parents, children, and friends all carry a sense of internal power and help foster that in each other, everything in the world changes.”

Feel free to share other Pagan perspectives on Spirit Day in the comments!

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

Today is Columbus Day , which marks the arrival of Christopher Columbus in the Americas. While often seen and celebrated as a day for Italian-American or Catholic pride, for several years it has been protested and criticized by indigenous peoples as glorifying a man who triggered genocide, the slave trade, and committed numerous atrocities (which were so horrific that even the Spanish government were moved to arrest him and extradite him for trial).

One of Columbus’ men, Bartolome De Las Casas, was so mortified by Columbus’ brutal atrocities against the native peoples, that he quit working for Columbus and became a Catholic priest. He described how the Spaniards under Columbus’ command cut off the legs of children who ran from them, to test the sharpness of their blades. According to De Las Casas, the men made bets as to who, with one sweep of his sword, could cut a person in half. He says that Columbus’ men poured people full of boiling soap. In a single day, De Las Casas was an eye witness as the Spanish soldiers dismembered, beheaded, or raped 3000 native people. “Such inhumanities and barbarisms were committed in my sight as no age can parallel,” De Las Casas wrote. “My eyes have seen these acts so foreign to human nature that now I tremble as I write.”

There’s a petition circulating to create a national holiday for Native Americans instead of Columbus. Meanwhile, Survival International points out that the exploitation of indigenous peoples continues today largely unabated. Even defenders of Columbus Day find little to dispute about his record, though they try to split this along some imaginary liberal/conservative axis. I don’t think this has to be a partisan issue. I think that, as a Pagan, it is wise to reconsider the legacy of Columbus, and to show solidarity and support for the indigenous peoples of the Americas.

Today is also National Coming Out Day in the United States. For LGBTQ people and their allies, this date is particularly important this year as it comes in the wake of a spate of high-profile bullying-related suicides. A situation that inspired columnist Dan Savage to start the “It Gets Better” project on Youtube.

The culture of suicide and self-hate has to end, and the modern Pagan faiths, who tend towards open and accepting stances regarding sex, gender, and identity, have a special role to play in this. We can make it clear that there is an alternative to theologies that teach sinfulness and shame regarding sexual identity or orientation. We can show solidarity by continuing to stand with them on important issues, and keeping our doors and hearths welcome to all who are persecuted by this poison.

Love and acceptance can be radical acts, and I hope our community will be on the forefront of engaging in the kind of radical and sacred love that breaks barriers and changes culture.

As the increasingly grim and tragic suicide numbers continue to climb, as children suspected of being gay have their arms broken, and upstanding gay college students are bizarrely singled out by city officials, we inevitably have to ask, again, where is all this hate and fear coming from? Why do we have to start a campaign to remind young people that there will come a time when the hell and torments of their youth will end? Why is our culture killing these kids? Baptist minister Cody J. Sanders thinks he has the answer, the root of this hateful and tragic crop.

Anti-gay bullying is a theological issue because it has a theological base. I find it difficult to believe that even those among us with a vibrant imagination can muster the creative energy to picture a reality in which anti-gay violence and bullying exist without the anti-gay religious messages that support them.

These messages come in many forms, degrees of virulence, and volumes of expression. The most insidious forms, however, are not those from groups like Westboro Baptist Church. Most people quickly dismiss this fanaticism as the red-faced ranting of a fringe religious leader and his small band of followers.

More difficult to address are the myriad ways in which everyday churches that do a lot of good in the world also perpetuate theologies that undergird and legitimate instrumental violence. The simplistic, black and white lines that are drawn between conceptions of good and evil make it all-too-easy to apply these dualisms to groups of people. When theologies leave no room for ambiguity, mystery and uncertainty, it becomes very easy to identify an “us” (good, heterosexual) versus a “them” (evil, gay).”

In the end, it comes down to theology. Not, as Sanders points out, the easily defeated cartoon hatred of Westboro, but the more subtle belief systems that make even “accepted” GLBTQ individuals the “other”. A theology that, even if unspoken, privileges a certain kind of person over another.

“Additionally, hierarchical conceptions of value and worth are implicit in many of our theological notions. Needless to say, value and worth are not distributed equally in these hierarchies. God is at the top, (white, heterosexual) men come soon after and all those less valued by the culture (women, children, LGBT people, the poor, racial minorities, etc.) fall somewhere down below. And it all makes perfect sense if you support it with a few appropriately (mis)quoted verses from the Bible.

With dualistic conceptions of good and evil and hierarchical notions of value and worth, it becomes easy to know who it is okay to hate or to bully or, seemingly more benignly, to ignore. And no institutions have done more to create and perpetuate the public disapproval of gay and lesbian people than churches.”

If you create no space in our most primal belief systems for nuance, for difference, for multiple understandings of sacred, you end up creating classes of people who are lesser, who are ripe for torments and persecution. While defenders of these theologies talk of tradition and incremental change, more die, and are harassed, every day. It is for this reason, among many others, that I think we not only have to reassure kids that “it gets better”, but we also have to reject theologies that empower hatreds of this kind and replace them with something else.

“I don’t think it takes Sherlock Holmes to parse out why all of these things are taking place. It is because certain religions not only tolerate these negative opinions of LGBTQ people, they propagate them; they enshrine them in their sacred texts (even though some of those texts can be interpreted in other ways); they preach them from their pulpits.”P. Sufenas Virius Lupus, founder of the Ekklesía Antínoou

My “something else” is the modern Pagan movement, but it isn’t the only “something else” out there. These alternatives to a norm that pushes “others” to the margins, despite how small they are, are seen as a threat to the stability of the dominant faiths. Which is why the fringes of those dominant faiths are so obsessed with the supposed evils we commit.

“While the lukewarm and ignorant think of these customs as “just harmless fun,” the vortexes of hell are releasing new assignments against souls. Witches take pride in laughing at the ignorance of natural men (those who ignore the spirit realm).”

The faiths that are more refined simply mock us, though even they are showing signs of concern at our growth and acceptance. Despite these obstacles, it is more important than ever for us to make it known that our alternatives exist. To be visible and to make common cause with those who are told to hate themselves by the dominant faith lens. For no other reason than, in the word of Harvey Milk, to “give ‘em hope”.

The culture of suicide and self-hate has to end. The culture of violence and oppression towards an imagined other has to end. It must. Those who oppose the dismantling of these theologies, of these understandings, can’t be allowed to enable the bullies, the ostracization, the enshrining of prejudice into law. When Matthew Shephard happened, we all vowed never again, yet here we are, with Matthew’s mother once more calling for the deaths to stop. We, as Pagans, must work harder than ever to change culture, and stop this senseless death in the name of enforcing the boundaries of tradition.

Pagans and Prop. 8

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  August 6, 2010 — 9 Comments

On Wednesday, California District Court judge Vaughn R. Walker issued a ruling that overturned California’s Proposition 8, which prohibited same-sex marriages within the state. Reaction from across the political and religious spectrum was swift, and many are seeing this as just a first step in a battle that’s heading straight for the United States Supreme Court. Modern Pagan faiths, many of which acknowledge and solemnize same-sex marriage rites, have been on the front lines of these battles. Indeed, while mainstream coverage over same-sex marriage has largely focused on various Christian attitudes, Pagan clergy from a number of different faiths and traditions have been performing same-sex rites across the United States, and in the case of Kathryn and Jeani Kyair, were themselves legally married in California before Prop. 8 won passage in 2008.

“We were hand-fasted on September 3, 2005.  Then we were “Domestic Partnered” on February 6, 2006.  Then we were legally married on July 4, 2008 (so the fireworks would always be for US!). When marriage became legal in California, Jeani and I were the 2nd couple issued a Marriage License in the County of Solano, just behind a gay couple who were getting married that day!”

Kathryn Kyair, a Gythja in the Asatru faith, who co-owns the The Red Raven Metaphysical Books and Supplies in Vallejo, CA with her wife Jeani, a Crone Hedge Witch, says that she was spurred into political action on the issue when the same-sex marriages authorized by San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom were annulled by the California Supreme Court in 2004. While the Kyairs applaud the recent court decision, the experience of having their rights and legal status constantly called into question has been an emotional roller-coaster.

“Personally, we believe that Civil Unions, as the legal definition, for everyone in the U.S. is the best solution, while allowing for any couple, straight or gay, to seek spiritual clergy that best fits their beliefs, if they so choose. But, this society places “marriage” as a fundamental right.  We were all born with this right as U.S. citizens, only to have it taken from some of us when we come out of the proverbial closet.  This IS discrimination.  And discrimination is against the Constitution which protects us all!  The Constitution was created to protect everyone’s inalienable rights, especially from a majority.  This country allowed us to be born with these rights, then took some away, then gave them back, then took them away again, and now have given them back, sort of.  This is illegal.  Period.”

Within modern Pagan communities same-sex marriage is almost wholly uncontroversial. Shortly after Walker’s ruling was handed down, several Pagan organizations and noted figures within the movement reaffirmed their commitment to same-sex marriages and praised the decision. Druid group Ar nDriaocht Fein (ADF) said in a statement they “warmly welcome the decision of the court”, and that their organization has “never believed that the institution of marriage could possibly be threatened by the existence of married people of any gender”. T. Thorn Coyle of Solar Cross Temple and Morningstar Mystery School, speaking to those now recoiling from Prop. 8′s overturn, noted that “we are not trying to change your religious beliefs. We are only saying that we have the same civil rights as you do.” Holli Emore of Osireion and the Pagan Round Table said in a message to The Wild Hunt that we are “living in the last days of the kind of bigotry that would presume to dictate such matters, in my opinion.”

While some Christians have issued gloomy prognostications on a future with legalized gay marriage, or theorized as to the possible religious discrimination(s) that may be visited upon them, there has been little examination of the privileges the current status quo affords them, or the hurdles same-sex Pagan couples have to endure to ensure some sort of legal recognition for the rites of union freely performed within their communities. Michael York, author of “Pagan Theology: Paganism as a World Religion”, shared his own experiences with this phenonenon in the comments here.

“As a pleased, same-sex married pagan, I can applaud Judge Walker’s decision as well. Of course, there will be appeals, etc., and the story has yet a long way to play out. After my partner and I had done a civil union in my hometown of New Jersey (my best friend from childhood who was then the town mayor being the officiator), my lawyer said that it “counts for nothing.” Even, he added, if we were to marry in Massachusetts or Connecticut, it would count for nothing – neither the Federal government nor most states would recognise it. But, he added, “if you were to marry in the Netherlands, I would be willing to go to court on your behalf.” The reason, he explained, is that the two countries have reciprocal marriage recognition. And so, that is what we did – married in Amsterdam. It has not come to the test yet – and may be unlikely that it will ever come to that, but every step is a step along the way. Freedom has to be the highest pagan goal and virtue. To advance that sacred cause of liberty, we often need to chip away at whatever obstacles there are. At some point, we will get there.”

P. Sufenas Virius Lupus, founder of the Ekklesía Antínoou, notes in a statement about the ruling, “Congress is not supposed to make any laws which establish any particular religion’s doctrines as the legal norm for the country”, yet this is the current state of things where same-sex unions are concerned in the minds of many Pagans. As T. Thorn Coyle bluntly puts it, “if we are to have nation states, we are to have citizens. If we are to have citizens, we must give each of those citizens rights equal to all other citizens. If that includes marriage, so be it. The right to marry must be had by all.”

As for Kathryn and Jeani Kyair, Pagan clergy and a legally married same-sex couple in California, they look forward to the expected Supreme Court challenge.

“Yes, frankly, we think it needs to go to the Supreme Court.  Just like the laws that changed the ban on inter-racial marriages had to go to the Supreme Court in 1965.  California had allowed inter-racial marriage in, I think, 1947.  It took nearly 20 years to make it to the Supreme Court, while the States fought against it in the trenches. The Supreme Court has the ability to take this passionate argument out of the issue and make it law that will end the fighting in all states.  It won’t stop hatred or peoples adverse opinions, but it will, hopefully, allow people to move on and communicate.”

It seems certain that many of their co-religionists within modern Paganism share that sentiment, and look forward to a day when there are equal rights and equal rites.

Note: Some of the organizations I contacted wanted to make a public statement, but they didn’t make it to me before this article went to press. As they are sent to me, I will update this post with links to their statements below. I’m also including previously-issued statements on gay marriage.

Covenant of the Goddess Supports Gay Marriage (Issued 2008)
Cherry Hill Seminary Responds to Same-Sex Marriage Debate (Issued 2009)
Starhawk: A Sacred Choice and a Civil Right (2008)

In light of today’s groundbreaking ruling from Judge Vaughn Walker overturning California’s Prop. 8, which banned same-sex marriage, I’m putting together a lengthy piece highlighting reactions from Pagan organizations, Pagan clergy, and Pagan same-sex couples living in California. I’m hoping to have that finished and up by Friday.

In the meantime, consider this an open thread on the issue. You may also want to peruse some of The Wild Hunt’s past coverage concerning modern Paganism and the fight over legalizing same-sex marriage.

A Wiccan Couple’s Fight For Recognition, Outside Perspectives (and Gay Marriage), What About Our Faiths?, Update: What About Our Faiths?, (Pagan) News of Note (features COG statement on Gay Marriage), Gay Marriage: The Pagan Difference, Pagans and Gay Marriage.