Archives For Lady Charissa

Last week I presented the question of Pagan solidarity. Does it exist? Should it exist? What is the impact and evolution of such a concept? Generally speaking, it is widely accepted that Pagan solidarity, in some form, is vital for both the protection and continued growth of the non-traditional religions that fall under the Pagan umbrella. Additionally, solidarity can offer a sense of community and comfort over a host of social networks supporting both Pagan groups and solitary practitioners.

In December of 2011, Lady Liberty League mobilized a Task Force to protect a Southern Pagan family’s religious liberty within a public school system. The Task Force, of which I was a member, was comprised of professional individuals representing different Pagan organizations and Pagan spiritual traditions. Together, in solidarity, we worked for three weeks and, in the end, achieved quite a victory.

After that case was settled, the Task Force itself disbanded. However, Lady Liberty League still operates; watching and waiting. Since 1985, the organization has been ever on the “ready” with the ability to mobilize Pagan resources as needed. When active solidarity becomes a regular occurrence an organization is born.

Let’s turn now to a network of Pagan voices to hear their thoughts on the growth and importance of the Pagan organization.

Chas Clifton

Chas Clifton (center)

Our desire to be seen as a legitimate religion by government entities has forced us to change to fit their definitions, which, in the United States at least, were designed for Protestant Christians…We have been dealing with this issue since the mid-1970s, when the Covenant of the Goddess was created. – Chas Clifton, editor of The Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies and a practitioner of American Eclectic Craft

Jonathon S. Lowe

Jonathon S. Lowe

One of the most basic principles of Paganism is that we are all interconnected to everyone and everything around us. Solidarity helps us to solidify those connections… Organizations are merely facilitators helping to make these connections possible.”  – Rev. Jonathon S. Lowe, Interfaith Minister, Founder Midnight Star School of Witchcraft, Coordinator of The Atlanta Pagan Marketplace of Ideas 

Lady Charissa

Lady Charissa
North Georgia Solitaries

I am a member of several worthy organizations that…have members with diverse beliefs and yet all of these organizations work every day to help build community by concentrating on the task at hand and respecting each other’s differences. Lady Charissa, founder of North Georgia Solitaries, coordinator of the Pagan Assistance Fund, High Priestess of Silver Pine Grove 

Before we go any further, we need to deal in semantics. Most responders made no distinction between an institution and an organization. Are they same thing?  Covenant of the Goddess representatives, Rachael Watcher and Ginger Wood say no.

On the Fears and Dangers of Institutionalization:

Certainly some individuals and small groups might come together for the sake of mutual interest and form an organization, but would that constitute an institution? … Those who are drawn to think outside the box in expressions of spiritual freedom are not generally going to be ready to discard that freedom of thought for yet another set of doctrinal mandates. – Rachael Watcher, National Interfaith Representative for Covenant of the Goddess 

Ginger Wood

Ginger Wood

We do have organizations that have worked hard some for over 30 years, to give Pagans a flag to unite under. [But] I will not accept [institutionalization] as ”must” and I pray to the Goddess that none of us are forced to institutionalize in order to be heard.  – Ginger Wood, National First Officer of Covenant of the Goddess, Priestess of Gryphon Song Clan and Pagan novelist

Both Rachael and Ginger are using the accepted sociological definition of institution which is explained at length in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Very briefly, an organization is less complex or rigid in structure, scope or activity than an institution.   

Christine Hoff Kraemer

Christine Hoff Kraemer

We need to think deeply about what kinds of organizational structures best support our values…guard against rigidity in power structures and in belief systems. – Christine Hoff Kraemer, Managing Editor at Patheos Pagan Channel, Cherry Hill Seminary Instructor

Institutionalization is a big issue for me, always has been. It’s something I’ve resisted…  In more recent years my attitude has softened. Years ago my friend Sam Webster insisted that we needed to establish institutions because institutions are the only thing that lasts.  Individual humans pass on.  M. Macha Nightmare, Priestess, witch, teacher, ritualist and author.

M Macha Nightmare

M Macha Nightmare

Macha makes an excellent point. Humans do pass on. Organizations or institutions can be passed down. Can we create viable Pagan institutions that serve solidarity without sacrificing spiritual freedom and, at the same time, last for decades to come?

On the Building of Pagan Institutions:

Holli S. Emore

Holli S. Emore

“Pagans are perfectly capable of having healthy institutions which serve our needs and goals, indeed, we participate in such institutions every day in our real-world lives…Why wouldn’t we want to enjoy the benefits of stronger infrastructure, better accountability and healthy leadership?” – Holli S. Emore, executive director of Cherry Hill Seminary, Priestess of Temple Osireion 

Peter Dybing

Peter Dybing

A wide diversity of Pagan institutions are necessary as the glue that will bind us in our common effort to defend the rights of all belief systems. Peter Dybing, Pagan Service Advocate, Chief Officer, Federal Incident Management Team, 100% for Haiti Board member

Crystal Blanton

Crystal Blanton

We need some of the power that institutions bring to any community or movement… Togetherness commands attention …The key is finding a way to use the concepts of community solidarity in balance with some of the undesirable things that come with community dynamics – Crystal Blanton, High Priestess with Solitaries of the Second, Pagan author.

So how do we create that balance? How do we create and maintain healthy organizations and fluid institutions that promote solidarity and allow for that community dynamic?

Building trust person-to-person, which tends to spread to friends of those people who begin learning who each other is, how they think, what their concerns are, how they express their spirituality.… I think one of our greatest assets as Pagans is our diversity.  M. Macha Nightmare, Priestess, witch, teacher, ritualist and author. 

I think we should do our best to make strength out of diversity. If you have twelve Pagans together, they normally represent at least thirteen religions. [But] It is natural for people to seek agreement…I recommend we conform to one standard: mutual respect and intolerance only of intolerance. – Freeman Presson, Namen of Temple Zagduku & Fr. Ophis, Church of Hermetic Sciences. 

Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary

Selena Fox

Like a delicious multi-ingredient salad, when Pagans unite, we can bring our individual flavors and textures as we join together — and we can maintain this diversity in our collaboration. Our diversity can enrich our solidarity.Rev. Selena Fox, Senior Minister at Circle Sanctuary 

Our diversity is our strength. Our diversity is our asset. Our diversity is our core.  So, with that essential ingredient, can we venture to build uniquely-structured institutions that respect and serve the expansive Pagan world view for generations to come?  If so, these institutions must conform to the rigid expectations of mainstream society; thereby ensuring our legal protection and promoting social awareness. And, as the wheel turns, this increased awareness will eventually lead to a broader and a healthier social acceptance of the diversity that began it all.

Thank you to all the contributors for their valued opinions and to the readers for opening the doorway to this conversation and continuing the process into the future.

Full Comments: (listed alphabetically)

Crystal Blanton
Chas Clifton
Peter Dybing
Holli S. Emore
Rev. Selena Fox
Christine Hoff Kraemer
Lady Charissa
Rev. Jonathon S. Lowe
M. Macha Nightmare
Freeman Presson
Rachael Watcher

 

Last week, I reported on the Atlanta Pagan community’s wreath project.  As explained, the wreath’s purpose is to build a sense of solidarity for that Pagan community. Following the post, several readers launched into a discussion that probed the very nature and meaning of Pagan solidarity. As one reader asked, “What is the purpose?”

Additionally, readers explored the concept of solitary solidarity. Can such a thing exist?  Or, as one reader put it, is the concept of the solitary group “oxymoronic?”

These are serious sociological questions that, in exploring, could help to define modern Pagan practice as it expands and diversifies. These age-old questions are very difficult to answer for a non-dogmatic, non-centralized religious group. But we may now have reached a point at which it is very necessary to confront them.

I opened the conversation up to the greater Pagan community, asking a variety of people their thoughts on the subject. I will share the responses in two parts. This week, in part one, we will examine the question of Pagan solidarity itself and, subsequently, how it relates to the solitary practitioner. Next week, in part two, we will explore the Pagan institution, its viability and purpose.

On the importance of Pagan solidarity

Ginger Wood

Ginger Wood

Nature-based religions have been in practice for thousands of years.  Nature religions will continue with or without “Pagan solidarity.” However, in a political sense… it is important that Pagans stand together when the need arises.  – Ginger Wood, National First Officer of Covenant of the Goddess, Priestess of Gryphon Song Clan and Pagan novelist

Christine Hoff Kraemer

Christine Hoff Kraemer

Pagan community solidarity is incredibly important. We don’t have to practice together or hold exactly the same beliefs to defend each other’s rights. – Christine Hoff Kraemer, Managing Editor at Patheos Pagan Channel, Cherry Hill Seminary Instructor

Without question, all of those who responded agreed that solidarity within the Pagan community is essential to facilitating growth and acceptance. As Rev. Selena Fox, Senior Minister at Circle Sanctuary, said, “When Pagans unite in Solidarity for a common cause; a synergy emerges that enhances our work together.”

Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary

Selena Fox

However, Chas Clifton, editor of The Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies and a practitioner of American Eclectic Craft, pointed out that we need to better define the terms “community” and “solidarity.”   He writes:

Chas Clifton

Chas Clifton (center)

We often say “community,” but what we really mean is “network” or “association.”  Right now, what we mainly have are networks — or subcultures that you can join or leave, participate in or not, according to your individual desires. We may be moving toward community but I don’t think we are quite there yet.

He continues on to question the definition of solidarity which he labels “tricky.”

Does it simply refer to religious freedom under the broadest umbrella, like you are a Druid, and I am a rootworker, but I respect you as a Pagan practitioner, and you respect me?  Or does it mean that I have to support everything that you do and all your struggles, like union workers not crossing each other’s picket lines? 

Perhaps we can meld the two definitions. Solidarity would then become the outward respect that binds our network, or our community, together with the potential of offering support.  If we omit terms like “have to” and “must” from “solidarity,” we are left with the strength of possibility and freedom. 

On Solitary Solidarity:

Where does that leave solitaries, those that choose to practice alone? If they seek out community, do they jeopardize their solitary status?  To repeat one reader’s words, are solitary community-groups “oxymoronic?” Can there be such a thing as “solitary solidarity?”

Lady Charissa

Lady Charissa

Solitaries are no different than any other Pagan. We all need strength in numbers to help protect our rights. Many solitaries like to come together, every once in a while, to socialize, share knowledge and celebrate our holy days. – Lady Charissa, founder of North Georgia Solitaries, coordinator of the Pagan Assistance Fund, High Priestess of Silver Pine Grove

Holli S. Emore

Holli S. Emore

I don’t see solitary spiritual practice as precluding community solidarity. Solidarity is the practice of supporting and helping each other, not necessarily agreeing with each other. Solitaries benefit from the published teachings and public events put on by those affiliated with groups.  We are interdependent, no matter how we define our practice. – Holli S. Emore, executive director of Cherry Hill Seminary, Priestess of Temple Osireion

Most agree that “solidarity” doesn’t end where “solitary” begins.

M Macha Nightmare

M Macha Nightmare

One need not belong to a formal religious group in order to identify with, and participate in, larger Pagan efforts any more than one needs to belong to a particular political party to vote. – M. Macha Nightmare, Priestess, Witch, teacher, ritualist and author.

Jonathon S. Lowe

Jonathon S. Lowe

Nobody loses their solitary practice or identity in the process of taking part in solidarity… The defining point of being a solitary practitioner isn’t to make yourself a hermit every time you practice. It is so that you can develop your own working spiritual system that is right for you, without having others interfere.  - Rev. Jonathon S. Lowe, Shaman, Coordinator of The Atlanta Pagan Marketplace of Ideas

Most of the people that responded were in some way involved with or directly engaging the Pagan “network.”  In the interest of perspective, I sought out a Pagan who chooses the true solitary experience.  Stevie Diamond has never practiced within a group or been formally initiated, nor does she have the desire.

After hearing the questions, she echoed what Ginger Wood said, “Nature religions will continue with or without Pagan solidarity.” Stevie explained, “I am a quiet, reclusive person. It feels more personal and electric if I do a ritual or spell by myself.  I just can’t imagine chanting in front of someone else.”

Despite this choice, Stevie acknowledges the benefit of having a Pagan network. It was through another witch that she identified her spiritual path.  She has grown her own practice from books written by Pagan authors.  And, if she encounters problems, she stated, “I would feel comfort in a group knowing they believe what I do.”

Next week, in part two, we’ll examine the Pagan institution. Is solidarity the birth-mother of the institution?  And where does that lead?

(Note: I will post links to the full, unedited comments next week)

In this modern, transient, and digitally-driven world, we find ourselves frequently discussing the meaning, development, make-up or even the apparent death of “community.”  For Pagans, this can be a particularly profound discussion due to the incredible diversity in our faith and practice.  How do we develop and nurture a positive and lasting Pagan solidarity across differences in belief and tradition?

Community Wreath

In Atlanta, the answer has come in the form of a wreath. In the spring of 2012, Lady Charissa, senior priestess of North Georgia Solitaries (NGS), began a community wreath project that has now been going for over nine months. She explains:

The idea behind [the wreath] is for people, groups, or covens to add a ribbon to the wreath symbolizing how connected we all are. We are connected to the people we like and work with; connected to the people we’ve never met, connected to the people that we don’t care for. All of these people, friends… make a community. By connecting to this wreath we are bringing …[manifesting] cohesiveness for the Pagan community. (From the NGS Website)

Several years ago, Lady Charissa and a fellow Atlanta Pagan, Kieran Nightstar successfully incorporated a unity wreath into an NGS Samhain ritual. The work proved beneficial and inspirational to all attending. In 2012, Lady Charissa decided to resurrect this idea when she was asked to lead an Ostara ritual at the Atlanta Pagan Marketplace of Ideas, an annual festival celebrating Pagan life. Lady Charissa remarked:

I had not considered making the wreath a long term project.  But, when I was leading the ritual and passing the wreath around, the words just came to me. “We will pass the wreath around the community during the coming year.”

Lady Charissa

Lady Charissa
North Georgia Solitaries

She started getting calls the very next week. Pagans from all over the Atlanta-area wanted to participate in her community wreath project. A few short months later, that simple grapevine circular form was covered with a menagerie of ribbons representing both solitary Pagans and covens throughout the north Georgia community.

Over the past 9 months, the wreath has been passed around the local community attending private sabbat rituals and open festivals. In September, the wreath traveled to Alabama to attend the first annual Auburn Pagan Pride Day.  As leader of the open ritual, Lady Charissa incorporated the wreath project into the evening’s work. Then, late in October, the wreath was displayed at both Atlanta’s and Savannah’s Pagan Pride events.

To date, more than eight covens and organizations, representing different Pagan traditions and faiths, as well as countless solitaries have participated in building Pagan solidarity through this community wreath.

I have been pleasantly surprised at how many people have wanted to bring the wreath into their circles and to be a part of this project. It has grown far past my original idea.

On Yule, my own group had the wreath. We tied our ribbons into its tapestry.  It was indeed transformative as we looked over the rainbow of interwoven ribbons – some from friends and others from strangers, but all a part of the community.  Through our shared experience, we were immediately connected.

In the upcoming months, the community wreath will continue to makes its way through Georgia’s Pagan world. Lady Charissa hasn’t firmly decided on its final destination. She said, “At this point, I will just see where [the project] wants to go, doing my best to facilitate the journey.”  Right now, she plans to circle the project back to its starting place at the 2013 Ostara ritual for Atlanta Pagan Marketplace of Ideas. From there, the wreath will grow in new ways, as Lady Charissa notes, just as “the community energy grows.”

Wreath building is one symbolic way that we can nurture Pagan solidarity within our diverse world. Have your local communities used any methods, magickal or otherwise, to bridge gaps, to build and maintain community in an effort to foster Pagan solidarity?  What ways have you used?

It’s been an oft-repeated assertion that during tough economic times the church pews fill up. In a recent Newsweek article economist Daniel Hungerman suggested this phenomenon is more due to a yearning for “interconnectedness” than with the popular “no atheists in foxholes” theory. Economics writer Ryan Avent thinks it all comes down to cheap entertainment. But does this pervasive truism of increased religious attendance during hard times apply to modern Pagan faiths? What happens when there is no “pew” to casually fill when times are tough? I’ve asked a number of Pagan leaders, clergy, organizers, and adherents about attendance levels, and anecdotal evidence from across the country seems to point towards the rising tide of economic hardship lifting all religious boats.

Near the San Francisco Bay, Pagan priestess Morpheus Ravenna, recently featured in a new documentary, and  co-founder of Stone City Pagan Sanctuary, said that there’s been a steady increase in attendance for the last few years, though she can’t say for certain if the economy has been a driving factor.

“…it’s hard to separate the influence of the economy from other factors. We’re just passing our first half decade in existence, and we’ve been in a rapid growth phase of our development in terms of infrastructure building and also in terms of exposure, so we might have had just as much growth in attendance regardless of the economy. There’s not enough history to know what our ‘baseline’ really is.”

Ravenna’s experiences though are mirrored in Montana, where author and local leader Raven Digitalis has noted an up-tick in attendance, noting that  “people seem to feel a greater need for community support — understandably!” In Georgia, Lady Charissa of the North Georgia Solitaries says that “we’ve gone from an average attendance of 12-15 to an average attendance of 30-35 at small Sabbats.” Others, like the Correllian Nativist Tradition (founders of the popular Witch School) and Aquarian Tabernacle Church-affiliated Covenant of WISE, Church of Wicca note spectacular increases in membership and attendance.

“Our numbers have more than tripled in the past 12 months. We have even had to expand operations to encompass our over seas members. I think there is a reaching out that occurs during a recession. If there is a decline in numbers at Christian Venues, I would attribute it to feeling like you NEED to tithe to attend. Money is tight. We as pagans offer services that accept donations, but we don’t expect them. We honor them, but we don’t demand them. It is more important today, and tomorrow, and into the foreseeable future that we provide a place for people to connect with the Divine then it has been in 90 years.” - Dusty Dionne, Church Summoner, Covenant of WISE, Church of Wicca

But while there’s been a seeming overall trend of increased attendance in recent years, it hasn’t always brought with it increased donations. Aquarian Tabernacle Church’s Archpriest, Pete Pathfinder Davis, noted to me that while attendance at his Washington state congregation has increased, donations this year have fallen sharply. Raven Digitalis remarked that his group “have had to put our feet down” concerning event fees “a bit more than usual”. A respondent from Illinois noted that he feels there’s been a decrease in attendance lately as the cost of  transportation rises. In addition, many of the groups that have experienced success also mentioned that they have worked hard to provide community services while keeping costs low.

North Georgia Solitaries recently held a successful festival drawing nearly 300 people in a fund-raiser for their newly-launched Pagan Assistance Fund to help their community members in times of financial crisis, while Stone City Pagan Sanctuary has worked hard to keep things affordable for the organizations that depend on their land for events.

“One thing we have done is try to keep costs low, both for gatherings that we organize ourselves, and also what we charge to host other groups’ events. For example, we don’t charge anything for kids, ever, because we know even half-price can still make it hard on families. I think that keeping costs low has helped us stay viable as the economy has gotten worse.”Morpheus Ravenna

While there has certainly been challenges for our communities during this ongoing recession, it seems that hard times haven’t equaled diminished numbers or attendance in many groups across the United States. I think this points to Pagan faiths being deeply rooted and mature enough to provide the sense of fellowship and “interconnectedness” that Hungerman describes in the Newsweek article.

“…maybe people’s desire for spiritual guidance is influenced by their perception of how the world’s doing outside of themselves. Church attendance may not reflect our own circumstances but our own idea of how the world is doing beyond us.”

So maybe the booming circles, groves, and events reflect that we are checking in with our own loose-knit communities, finding fellowship so we can weather this storm together.