Archives For P. Sufenas Virius Lupus

Column: Many Gods West

Heathen Chinese —  August 22, 2015 — 19 Comments

Acknowledgement and thanks to the spirits of the land and the water, to the Nisqually and other Coast Salish-speaking peoples on whose sovereign land we were uninvited guests, to my ancestors, to my gods, and to the ancestors and deities and other allies of the humans at the conference. Thanks to my friend and traveling companion. Thanks to all those who showed me hospitality and friendship, and to the organizers of the conference: Niki Whiting, P. Sufenas Virius Lupus and Rhyd Wildermuth.

The Many Gods West (MGW) gathering was held at the Governor Hotel in Olympia, Washington from July 31st to August 2nd. Over the course of the weekend, 180 humans attended, along with innumerable gods and spirits and crows and other kinds of beings. The conference included twenty presentations, nine public rituals, a keynote address by Morpheus Ravenna, a musical and terpsichorean performance at a local venue, open hours at Skaði’s shrine in one of the hotel rooms, and a communal shrine accessible at most points throughout the day. As at any gathering, many private conversations were held as well, alliances were strengthened, previously separate threads of thought and experience were woven together.

many gods west
Many attendees and presenters have written about their experiences at MGW, or published the texts of their presentations.
These individual accounts are shards in a mosaic-in-progress, strands of wool on a spindle. There are patterns at play here, subterranean and subcutaneous, a fluid and shifting battle formation…if one is trained to notice such things.

The opening ritual was entitled “Many Lands, Many Ancestors, Many Gods, Many People/s.” Similarly to Reclaiming’s practice of mingling the Waters of the World, participants were invited to approach the communal shrine and pour water from a source near their home into a large basin. Soil from the many localities participants had traveled from were similarly mixed in another bowl. Each and every person has some sort of relationship with their local land and water, whether they recognize that relationship or not. This section of the opening ritual was intended to acknowledge and honor those relationships.

Any gathering is likely to be attended by a significant number of people who live in close geographical proximity to the gathering’s location: the logistics of travel dictate this. However, while individuals did travel from the Midwest and the East Coast and other regions to attend, this gathering’s very name reflected a deliberate intention to focus on the West Coast. The concept of “regional cultus” is being discussed in polytheist circles currently. “The West Coast” is a broad term, and certainly contains many smaller regions within it. The entire coast, however, is now united by the shared experience of heatwave and drought and wildfire. As those who live here know, however, from the ashes, new growth springs: a proliferation of new regionalisms, praying for transformation like the knobcone pine, resilient like the manzanita and the madrone.

A fallen madrone (also called madrona or arbutus) provided the wood for the figures which enshrined the ancestors of the conference attendees. Figures carved with faces enshrining Female, Male, Gender-variant, Warrior and Spirit-worker ancestors were passed around the room, allowing each participant who wished to the opportunity to honor their own ancestors in these various categories personally. Meanwhile, the room resounded and reverberated with the song, “Ignis corporis infirmat; ignis sed animae perstat” (“the Fire of the body diminishes; but the fire of the soul endures!”). The Ancestors Of And In The Land and the Dead Who Are Not Yet Ancestors were honored on the communal shrine as well, though their figures were not passed around the room.

Last, but certainly never least in a room full of polytheists, individuals were able to enshrine images of deities and other spirits they have relationships with on the communal shrine. The key word, as ever, is “relationship.” Morpheus Ravenna’s keynote address, entitled “Deep Polytheism: On the Agency and Sovereignty of the Gods,” reiterated this theme with the grace of poetry and the force of a smith’s hammer or a chieftain’s axe. Not just any archetypal “smith,” or any archetypal “chieftain,” however. Morpheus took care to introduce Goibniu and the Dagda—two gods she has devotional relationships with—to her audience, and to tell stories about their individual personalities and pasts, pointing out that “Living beings don’t just exist, they have stories. They have an origin, they come from somewhere in particular, and they experience an arc of change.”

And of course, they exert change upon the world as well. The mark of the Dagda’s axe can be seen in the cleft of every oak in Ireland. Morpheus argued that the gods leave similar marks on the landscapes of our psyches: “Even when we think the Gods are gone, Their marks on us remain. We ourselves are a map shaped and carved by Their memory.” But human beings have our own agency and sovereignty as well, and Morpheus eloquently wove this deeper understanding of reciprocity into her description of what “true relationship” might look like:

In being another of the peoples that have worshiped, fed and sung songs to Them, we become part of Their stories. This is what comes from engaging with the Gods on this level. This is true relationship. […] They become part of our story. We begin seeking to create a story together, a shared future.

One story, one shared future, found its roots deep in the blood-soaked battlefields of ancient Gaul and the beginning of a new chapter in a dimly lit room at Many Gods West. Three members of the Coru Cathubodua, Morpheus and Brennos and Rynn, conducted a ritual in honor of the Gaulish goddess for whom their priesthood is named. After Cathubodua, the Battle Crow, was worshiped through polyphonic song and offering, those individuals who were called received the Warrior’s Mark from her priestesses and priest. A call “aims at those who can hear it.” That is its power. There is another power in standing and bearing witness, as many of those present at the ritual chose to do. As Rhyd Wildermuth said, “meaning is never a solitary act.”

mgw communal shrine

MGW Community Shring [Photo Credit: Finnchuill]

Rhyd’s talk on “meaning” began with a rejection of the concept of absolute Truth, which, Midas-like, fatally corrupts all that it touches: “Looking for the material being-ness of a thing, rather than its tapestry of meaning, is to destroy it.” For example, a body undergoing vivisection—a cruel name, as it quickly turns into the dissection of a corpse: “What are you, really, when we get to your core existence? A dead and dis-membered pile of bloody muscle and gore.” Better to recognize that “There was [and is] no Truth, only potential meaning.”

Heimlich A. Laguz’s lecture, “Dreaming, Death, and Memory: Sketches for a Heathen Cosmology,” based upon his 2010 essay in Hex Magazine, touched upon the concept of “dis-memberment” during the same time slot that Finnchuill spoke about the history of “disenchantment” and the practice of reenchantment. Their presentations were held in adjacent rooms, in fact. Heimlich utilized a pun to highlight the subtle relationship between “dis-memberment” and memory, “When we re-member the essence of this dis-membered world we discover that death and life are one.”

Heimlich began by pointing out that the Germanic cosmological concept of the World Tree does not exist in some sort of independent stasis, but is watered by “the wells of Urd (Past), Mimir (Memory), and Hvergelmir (the ‘bubbling cauldron’ from which the rivers of the world arise and beside which the death-dragon Nidhogg dwells).” As a living system, the newly-created memories of the present necessarily flow “back down into the wells again to create new layers of history.”

Within this dynamic ecological cycle, death is a source of fertility, and it is memory that “has the power to carry the dead back into the world of the living.” Heimlich told the story of the shepherd Hallbjorn, who slept many nights upon the grave mound of the poet Thorleif, with the intention of writing a poem about Thorleif, though his skills in that area were few. Eventually, Thorleif appeared to Hallbjorn in a dream and taught him how to write poetry. Heimlich pointed out that “poetry is a force of unfettered life and excitation, and the idea that it could be sought through necromantic communication is potent and fascinating.” Furthermore, sleep is associated with death, and Hallbjorn learned poetry in a dream. With such connections as these (and many more), Heimlich deftly tied together the three major themes of his lecture.

Death and memory were also powerful forces behind Sean Donahue’s talk on “The Rattling at the Gates: The Dead as Allies in Resistance,” subsequently typed up and titled “Restoring Life to Death.” Sean spoke of two kinds of death: one beautiful and life-nourishing, and the other untimely and traumatic. He spoke of the salmon dying after they spawn: “Like sacred kings, their bodies and their blood nourish the land.” He spoke of the salmon dying this year before they spawn, slain by the drought and the heat. Those killed before their time are restless, denied the beauty of dignified death, prevented from moving on.

Sean quoted his Colombian friend Hector Mondragon: “Hector said “My murdered compañeros were killed twice . . .” once by bullets or machetes or bombs, and once by a world that refused to acknowledge their lives and their deaths.” He spoke of the importance of recognition and memory: “Witnessing and remembering are the beginning of restoring sacredness to the death around us to enable it to feed new life.” Morpheus used similar language during her speech, “the 20th century had already forgotten that the Gods are alive.” But some people never forgot, and others are now waking from amnesia into the dream of remembrance.

Once forgotten, but still alive, still powerful, and newly resurgent, splendid in their beauty: the Matronae, “a collective of indigenous Germanic and Celtic goddesses who were worshipped syncretically in the Roman Empire,” honored in a devotional ritual led by their priestesses River Devora and Rynn Fox. A well was set up in the middle of the room, filled with water from Olympia’s Artesian Well, surrounded by roses and other flowers. Libations of goat’s milk were poured. Singing, dancing: “Mothers of victory, Matronae. Mothers of the tribes, Matronae.” Oracular trance, messages both for the group and for individual petitioners. Wishes made on pennies, tossed into the well. Weaving.

These words you’re reading now? Merely a thin and tiny thread in a vast tapestry.

The various report-backs on MGW delighted in using the word “many” in their titles. But while there are “many” experiences to be remembered, there is also “more,” for relationship is a continual, ongoing process. There is more work to be done, there are more battles to be fought.

shawnus2We were recently informed that Lord Shawnus, High Priest of Pennsylvania’s Coven of the Catta has passed away. Born in 1951, Lord Shawnus, also known as Gary Lee Hoke, was an initiate of Lady Phoebe Athene Nimue. He met her in 1981 and, through her teachings, pursued his degrees within that tradition. After seven years, he earned his third and stayed on with Lady Phoebe. He eventually took over the role of High Priest.

In 2011, Lord Shawnus appeared on Animal Planet’s original show “The Haunted.” The show features a couple who moved into the house previously owned by Coven of the Catta founder Dr. Santee. In his interviews, Lord Shawnus attempts to “set the record straight” about his coven’s founder and the practice of Witchcraft.

In 2012, Lord Shawnus began blogging regularly at both of his own site and the coven’s. He also created two pdf documents detailing the long history of his coven. In early 2014, Lord Shawnus also recorded his own struggle to clarify Pennsylvania’s marriage laws, in terms of a Wiccan clergy’s right to officiate. After contacting several Pagan organizations for advice, including Covenant of the Goddess and Lady Liberty League, Lord Shawnus found a lawyer who helped work through the definitions and restrictions. His effort not only clarified the laws for his own coven and practice, but also for the local county courthouse who had been unclear as well.

Lord Shawnus was a dedicated Wiccan practitioner and Priest of the Craft. He will be missed by his students and fellow clergy. What is remembered, lives.

*   *   *

Bell Book Candle

Another metaphysical store, Bell, Book and Candle, announced that it would be closing its doors. The owners explain, “We have been losing money for quite some time and cannot afford to stay open.”

Located in Dover Delaware, Bell, Book and Candle was first opened in 2001, and was imagined as “an old-style general store in that [they] carry a bit of everything and are willing to order or to track down unusual items.” As the owners note, the store is owned by witches who “know what they are doing.”

However, times have changed, and the store will be closing permanently on June 24. Starting today, the store is offering deep discounts, and after July 11, it will accept only cash purchases. In addition, the owners will be selling the building itself.

However, they were quick to note that the popular Delmarva Pagan Festival will happen as planned. And, the book signing with author Courtney Weber, scheduled for July 25, will also be held, but at a new location.

*   *   *


Aline “Macha” O’Brien

Over the weekend, it was reported that Aline ‘Macha’ O’Brien had a stroke and had been rushed to Marin General Hospital. The stroke occurred Friday night, while O’Brien was home. She was quickly transported to the closest hospital, where she was treated. O’Brien has since been moved to Kaiser Terra Linda in San Rafael for further treatment and therapy.

O’Brien is a longtime witch, Priestess, ritualist and member of the Bay Area Pagan community. She is one of the original members of the Reclaiming Tradition, founded in the 1970s. Currently,O’Brien is an active member of Covenant of the Goddess, a regular presenter at PantheaCon, a representative of Cherry Hill Seminary, and a participant in the Marin Interfaith Council. And, that just scratches the surface of her work. O’Brien is also a speaker and writer. She blogs regularly about her journeys at The Broomstrick Chronicles.

O’Brien’s family is reporting that she is doing well and that the stroke was minor. She is now in recovery and in good spirits. She is thankful for all the healing prayers and has plans to return to her work as soon as possible.

In Other News

  • Another Parliament announcement occurred this week. P. Sufenas Virius Lupus had one of three proposals accepted by the Council and will be presenting “Religion, Youth, and Gender/Sexuality: Towards Collaborative Solutions to a Simple Problem.” In a blog post, Lupus explains, “This program is primarily concerned with one aspect of the “Wars, terrorism, and hate speech” subtheme, since hate speech–often of a religious nature–is frequently employed against people of LGBTQIA+ identities, and is a mainstay of the language used to bully and harass young people.” In addition, e has launched a crowdfunding campaign to help offset the cost of travel to the global October event.
  • On Patheos’ Sermons from the Mound, Yvonne Aburrow offers an overview of the recent debates that have hit or meandered through the collective Pagan, Heathen and Polytheist communities over the past few years. In a post called “Paganism for Beginners: Controversies,” Aburrow writes, “These controversies and discussions raise important questions of who we are, how we relate to each other as a community and individually, what we hold sacred, and how we relate to deities and the world around us.”
  • In a rare event, a group of the Patheos Pagan Channel writers came together to talk about deity on June 17. The long conversation was then edited and published in an article titled, “Atheism, Polytheism and Pagans: A Discussion.” The bloggers included Niki Whiting, Jason Mankey, Molly Khan, John Halstead, Rua Lupa, Shauna Aura Knight, Dana Corby, and Lilith Dorsey. As explained by Mankey, the channel’s managing editor, “In the blogosphere we often talk at each other and never seem to talk with each other enough. This discussion was an attempt to rectify that.

Lifting the Veil

  • Janet Farrar and Gavin Bone’s latest book, Lifting the Veil: a Witches Guide to Trance-Prophesy, Drawing Down the Moon, and Ecstatic Ritual, was originally slated to be published in May. However, that date was pushed back. In a Facebook post, the authors explained, “There has been a lot of tweeking done on it to get it perfect.” They are currently working on “sorting out illustrations and endorsements.” At this time, the book’s Amazon listing displays an August 17 availability date, but Farrar and Bone are saying September. Either way, for those eagerly awaiting the new book, it should be available by early fall.
  • The 12th Conference on Current Pagan Studies has announced its 2016 theme and call for papers. Next year’s subject is “Social Justice.” Organizers say, “We face issues of social justice everywhere we look, from something as overwhelming as #blacklivesmatter to the seeming trivial Wiccanate privilege. Like the innumerable heads of the Lernaean Hydra, it seems that every time we manage to quell an issue involving racism, sexism, or privilege, two more such issues appear.” The 2016 conference will focus on this topic, “encompassing issues concerning racism, feminism, womanism, eco-justice, food security, gender justice, classism, neo-colonialism, etc. seen through the eyes of our scholars/activists.” Abstracts are due by September 20. The Conference itself will be held January 23-24 2016, in Claremont, California.

That’s it for now. Have a great day!

[As climate change and extreme weather are at the forefront of people’s minds, many are asking how and where religion fits into the conversation. Today, we welcome guest writer Heathen Chinese. He is the son of Chinese immigrants and is a diasporic Chinese polytheist living in the San Francisco Bay Area (stolen Ohlone land). He practices ancestor veneration and worships (among others) the warrior god Guan Di, who has had a presence in California since the mid-1800s. He writes at Gods and Radicals and at]

California has been in a State of Emergency due to drought since January 2014. As the map below shows, the U.S. Drought Monitor calculates that as of June 9th, 98.71% of the state is in a condition of “severe drought,” 71.08% is in a condition of “extreme drought,” and 46.73% is in a condition of “exceptional drought.”

[Public Domain]

From U.S. Drought Monitor [Public Domain]

When it comes to definitions of drought, the National Drought Mitigation Center (NDMC) notes that “research in the early 1980s uncovered more than 150 published definitions of drought.” The NDMC draws upon the work of researchers Wilhite and Glantz to categorize “the definitions in terms of four basic approaches to measuring drought: meteorological, hydrological, agricultural, and socioeconomic.”

Though supply-and-demand or “socioeconomic” aspects of drought can be analyzed through economic and political lenses, droughts that are triggered by a lack of precipitation have historically been interpreted through the framework of another powerful and widespread social force: religion. In History in Three Keys: The Boxers as Event, Experience and Myth, historian Paul Cohen writes that in China during the late 1800s and early 1900s, “where it had been widely believed for centuries that there was a link between human behavior and the actions of Heaven, as expressed through nature, it was not at all uncommon to blame droughts and other natural calamities on official misconduct and to seek to alleviate the crisis by changing either the conduct or the official.”

Cohen provides several examples of drought being attributed to the upsetting of cosmic balance by governmental actions:

‘I have heard,’ one censor commented in response to the drought of 1876-1879, ‘that if one woman suffers an injustice, for three years there will be no rain.’ Another censor, citing the precedent of a three-year drought during the Han dynasty following the unjust execution of a filial wife, connected the 1870s drought to the disruption of heavenly harmony caused by excessive judicial torture.”

As these examples show, drought could be linked to widespread policies such as torture, but also to singular harmful acts against individuals like the execution of an innocent. They also show that two different individuals, even if they both share the basic belief that human actions can lead to drought as a divine repercussion, can reach different conclusions as to which particular action is responsible for the current drought.

Cohen rejects the idea that religious interpretations of drought are “supracultural or intrinsically human,” noting that in the modern era many people speak of drought purely in secular terms. He concedes, however, that “supernatural agency is […] a very widely encountered cultural construction.”

Cohen observes that there are two major categories of attempts to mitigate drought through religious behavior: the “correction of human misconduct in order to reestablish cosmic harmony” and “prayer and other rain-inducing ceremonial practices.” These two approaches can, of course, be utilized either in conjunction or independently of one another. A prayer or ceremony for rain does not necessarily imply a belief in human causation of the state of drought, though it certainly could also be perceived as the right course of action to offset whatever offenses may have been committed. No specific narrative regarding the cause of drought, for example, was included in the description (36) for the “Bring on the Rain! Mojo for Parched CA” ritual that was held at Pantheacon 2014 in San Jose, California.

Cohen suggests that prayer or ritual is common as an initial response to lack of rain, but that if results are not forthcoming, the other category of response may become more prominent: “The first recourse for people faced with drought is, as we have seen, to offer up prayers and perform a range of rain-inducing rituals. But when such conventional means fail to produce relief, and the anxiety occasioned by the drought deepens, people often resort to more heroic measures. The generic element here is scapegoatism, the identification of a human agency deemed responsible for the crisis and the punishment of that agency.”

During the severe drought in Northern China in 1899-1900, participants in the Boxer Rebellion circulated notices explicitly blaming Christian missionaries and converts for angering the gods and thereby causing the drought. One notice, for example, contained the doggerel lines:

They proselytize their sect,/And believe in only one God,/The spirits and their own ancestors/Are not even given a nod/ […] No rain comes from Heaven./The earth is parched and dry./And all because the churches/Have bottled up the sky./The god[s] are very angry./The spirits seek revenge./En masse they come from Heaven/To teach the Way to men. – (translation by Joseph Esherick)

One Boxer placard directly addressed Chinese converts to Christianity, saying that they had abandoned the gods and their ancestors, angering the gods to the point that they withheld rain.

China was not the only traditional society to blame Christianization for drought. Nineteenth-century Botswana blamed a prolonged drought on Christianity, especially when a well-known rainmaker was baptized and summarily abandoned his previous practices. When the local missionary left after several years of disaster, the rain did indeed come back.

Cohen argues that the growing presence of foreigners in 1899-1900 was not a common experience to most Chinese living in the North China plain in the same way that drought was. A villager who had never seen a missionary could be convinced to join the Boxer movement in the hopes of propitiating the gods and bringing back the rain. The drought, of course, also caused widespread unemployment among peasants, giving them both the time and additional motivation—either hunger or fear of hunger—to join the Boxers. Cohen concludes that “it was this factor, more than any other, in my judgment, that accounted for the explosive growth both of the Boxer movement and of popular support for it in the spring and summer months of 1900.”

Scapegoating, of course, is a dangerous phenomenon, especially when one is a member of a minority religion. However, it can be secular as well as religious. California has already seen television commercials by a group that believes that “California’s drought could have been prevented” with anti-immigrant policies. In an interview with The Los Angeles Times, William Patzert, a climatologist from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, points out that blaming the drought on immigrants is illogical. It isn’t caused by immigrants drinking too much water or showering too often, he says, but rather it is due to meager snowpack and poor planning.

Though most people are not so quick to attribute causation of the drought itself to any demographic, the drought has highlighted awareness and criticism of individuals and institutions perceived to be using more than their fair share of water. One group that has been criticized is almond farmers, who grow a popular perennial cash crop that requires watering every year and cannot be left fallow. Another group that has been criticized is Southern California residents, who astoundingly “used more water than ever this February,” according to Amy Westervelt of The Guardian.

Public outrage has also been directed at companies bottling water in California to sell elsewhere, such as Walmart and Nestlé. Nestlé’s CEO recently stated that Nestlé would “absolutely not” stop bottling its water in California and added that “if I could increase [the amount being bottled], I would.” An online trend known as “drought-shaming” has also targeted members of the upper class who still maintain their lawns and swimming pools.

Percentage-wise, agriculture accounts for “roughly 80% of all human water use” in California. Bottled water companies and urban residents have been quick to point out this fact, disclaiming the overall significance of their own water usage. Even among farmers, though, “water scarcity and buckling land have neighboring farmers eyeing one another warily,” writes Matt Richtel  in the New York Times. “Buckling land” is a consequence the practice of groundwater pumping, which drains aquifers and can cause the ground to sink, an effect known as subsidence. In areas “where subsidence is the worst, the land can sink as much as a foot each year.”

The heightened awareness around water usage and its consequences has led to an increase in water’s value as a commodity. However, this has not necessarily led to an increased respect for the sacred—certainly not at the level of public policy. The drought has also drawn attention to California’s system of water rights seniority, in which claims “staked more than a century ago” are the last to be subjected to mandatory cuts in water usage. However, this policy ignores the fact that indigenous people have the greatest seniority when it comes to a relationship to the land and watersheds, and instead privileges the heirs of the first colonizers.

One proposed “solution” to water scarcity is a raising of the Shasta Dam. However, this proposal is a reiterated existential threat to the Winnemem Wintu, an indigenous tribe inhabiting “ancestral territory from Mt. Shasta down the McCloud River watershed.” The Winnemem Wintu website states:

The Winnemem not only lost our villages on the McCloud River when the Shasta Dam was erected during World War II, we also lost many of our sacred places beneath Shasta Lake. These are places to which we hold an emotional and religious connection, and their loss remains a void in our lives as Winnemem.

The proposed raising of the dam would have additional disastrous effects. The Winnemem Wintu explain, “A dam raise of about 18-feet, the most likely scenario, would permanently or seasonally flood an estimated 39 sacred sites along the McCloud River, including Puberty Rock, and would essentially end our ability to practice our culture and religion.” The website poses the question as an issue of religious freedom: “If there were only a few hundred people left who practiced Islam or Judaism, would the country support knocking down the last mosque or the last temple? That is what a dam raise would do to the Winnemem.”

Construction of the Shasta Dam. [Public Domain]

Construction of the Shasta Dam. [Public Domain]

The initial construction of the Shasta Dam also “blocked the salmon runs,” and the Winnemem “advocate for all aspects of clean water and the restoration of salmon to their natural spawning grounds.” The Winnemem Wintu website promotes salmon restoration as “a far more sensible, cost-effective economic stimulus that will provide long-term rather than short term benefits,” and points out that the proposed dam raise would ultimately “yield a relatively small amount of very expensive water.”

The Winnemem Wintu clearly know what they are fighting for. What stance will other minority religious traditions, especially those that see water as sacred or honor spirits related to water, take on the drought and issues surrounding water usage?

Paul Cohen states the obvious when he writes that “while the basic premise that natural disasters are to be accounted for by some supernatural agency acting in response to human wrongdoing appears with great frequency, the particularities of a society’s response to such disasters…will be shaped by the special cultural forms and historical experience of that society.” In other words, given religious diversity, such as one finds across the spectrums of Neo-paganism or polytheism, one can only expect a diverse array of religious interpretations of and responses to drought. The previously cited example of government officials attempting to ascertain the cause of drought during the Late Qing Dynasty shows that divergence of interpretation can reach even the individual level. Nonetheless, some general ideas about the relationship between religion and drought in the modern day can be considered and discussed.

The idea of “correction of human misconduct in order to reestablish cosmic harmony” does not inherently require the targeting of a specific demographic for punishment. At its core, this idea relies upon the religious concept that there is such a thing as “cosmic harmony” in the first place. Second, a quick look at current events is likely to lead many to reach the conclusion that if such a thing as “cosmic harmony” exists, it has been disrupted, and that drought is a symptom of that disruption. Finally, though definitions of what constitutes “human misconduct” may vary widely, the essential principle behind the idea is that human actions matter; they have unseen consequences.

Based upon these three principles, a great number of religious interpretations and responses are possible. The “correction of human misconduct” could entail changing one’s own behavior, seeking to convince or coerce others to change theirs, direct action to stop specific acts of “misconduct,” or a combination of any of the above. The Boxer placard addressed to Chinese Christian converts advocated both change of personal behavior and joining the larger social movement: “It is a matter of great urgency that you quickly join the Boxers and sincerely mend your ways.”

One recent interpretation of the California drought can be found in P. Sufenas Virius Lupus’s short story “Robigalia 2015,” which marked the annual sacrifice to the ancient Roman deity Robigo or Robigus. Robigo was once propitiated to avert blights on grain. Lupus notes that grain blight is less of a concern in the modern day than it was in antiquity, but proceeds to explore the possibility that “the water shortages of California–an event as much due to human causes as to the waning portion in the cycles of nature–became the outlet via which Robigo was able to come to the fore again.” In a comment below the story, Lupus writes, “I don’t think by any means this is ‘the answer’ or anything of the sort; but, I think given the state of the world, if we thought more in these terms as polytheists, people might want to do something about these matters (insofar as they can) more than they do otherwise.”

In his essay “Restoring Sovereignty and the Path Forward,” Brennos writes about the ancient Irish concept of divinely-granted sovereignty:

The failure of a King to meet their obligations either by breaking their agreements with the Otherworld or their people, resulted in withdrawal of Sovereignty which had disastrous effects such as crop failures and famine, the death of livestock, disease and hardship. In a situation like this, the failed King would step down, die in battle, or be sacrificed to allow a more suitable King to take their place.

The quotes by Qing government officials are related to similar ideas in China about the link between political legitimacy and cosmic harmony. Even more explicitly, in Transcendence & Divine Passion: The Queen Mother of the West in Medieval China, Suzanne Cahill writes that drought and rebellions and heterodox religious movements were all seen equally as signs “of the imminent fall of the Han rulers.” Or in other words, these events were seen as symptoms of the ruling dynasty’s loss of the Mandate of Heaven.

What does any of this have to do with people who don’t live in California? As Brennos writes, “At the heart of this type of Sovereignty of the Land is interconnectedness.” This interconnectedness is both natural and divine. It has a social aspect as well.

Everything is Connected

In Late Victorian Holocausts, Mike Davis links the worldwide droughts of 1876-79, 1888-91 and 1896-1902 to the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) weather pattern, the rise of the global capitalist economy, and the expansionist land-grabs of the New Imperialism.

El Nino 2015 [Public Domain]

El Nino 2015 [Public Domain]

According to the NDMC, El Niño is a phenomenon involving increased water temperatures off the western coast of South America, while the Southern Oscillation is a “seesaw of atmospheric pressure between the eastern equatorial Pacific and Indo–Australian areas.” The acronym ENSO is used to describe the two phenomena in conjunction. “Atmospheric interactions between widely separated regions,” such as those seen during ENSO events, are termed “teleconnections.” Though not all variations in weather patterns during ENSO years are attributable to ENSO, the NDMC reports that “researchers have found the strongest connections between ENSO and intense drought in Australia, India, Indonesia, the Philippines, Brazil, parts of east and south Africa, the western Pacific basin islands (including Hawaii), Central America, and various parts of the United States.”

Davis notes that all of these areas, plus China, were severely affected by worldwide droughts during the late Victorian era, though “the instrumental record before 1957 is generally too poor to support” attaching the El Niño label to specific years. He further observes that colonial policy and capitalist economics contributed to many of the resulting famines. During the 1877-78 drought and famine in British-ruled India, for example, “grain merchants […] preferred to export a record 6.4 million cwt. of wheat to Europe in 1877-78 rather than relieve starvation in India.” The British Viceroy, Lytton, further imposed an increase in taxation on salt and on “petty traders (professionals were exempt),” which he claimed would serve the purpose of “insuring this Empire against the worst calamities of a future famine.”

In fact, however, “the whole accumulated fund was used either to reduce cotton goods tariff or for the Afghan war.” Lytton’s increase in taxation demonstrated not merely a policy of laissez-faire, but of deliberate imperial expansion at the direct expense of the starving poor. Thus, Davis concludes, the deaths attributed to the “natural” causes of disease and El Niño-exacerbated drought cannot actually be separated from economics and politics. Davis’s analysis of the Indian famine of the 1877-78 can be applied to the present day as well.

2015 is an El Niño year. American scientists initially described this year’s El Niño as “weak” in March, but Australian scientists disputed this forecast in May. “‘This is a proper El Niño effect, it’s not a weak one,’ David Jones, manager of climate monitoring and prediction at the Bureau of Meteorology, told reporters.” El Niño has been linked to increased rain in California in the past, but Mike Halpert, deputy director of the Climate Prediction Center at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, pointed out in March that “this El Niño is likely too late and too weak to provide much relief for drought-stricken California, as California’s rainy season is winding down.” However, as always, El Niño is predicted “to increase prices of staple foods such as rice, coffee, sugar and cocoa” around the world.

Mike Davis calls famines “wars over the right to existence.” He notes that the Late Victorian era saw explicitly religious revolts in conjunction with droughts in China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Korea, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Brazil. And, as the export of wheat from India in the 1870s and Nestlé’s bottling of California’s spring water both demonstrate, famine and drought are inextricably linked with economics as well as with military campaigns and politics. Any religious interpretation of current events, therefore, must necessarily take a global perspective as well; ENSO’s “teleconnections” are not merely meteorological. From a religious point of view, unseen “teleconnections” can be said to underlie the very fabric of reality. As the drought in California continues to intensify, both Californians and non-Californians will be affected by more and more drastic changes. The need for more prayers and rituals—or a perhaps even a fundamental “correction of human misconduct in order to reestablish cosmic harmony”—will intensify as well.

It was recently announced that writer and teacher Rachel Pollack was diagnosed with Lymphoma. Pollack is one of the world’s leading authorities on the Tarot and has written numerous books on the subject, as well as many fiction novels. In addition, she is a respected comic book writer who, according to one report, gave DC Comics its first transgender character in the Doom Patrol series. Pollack’s next book, a novel titled The Child Eater, is due to be released in July.

In addition, Pollack is a regular and welcome presenter at the annual PantheaCon conference in San Jose. In 2012, she offered a class called “Tarot–Prophecy, Catastrophe, and Rebirth.” In 2013, her talk was titled, “Who are the Gods and Goddesses of Tarot and How Do We Honor Them.”

On May 6, Charles Hale began a GoFundMe campaign to help cover Pollack’s medical bills. He wrote, “Living with cancer can be expensive, even with health insurance. Because Rachel is too sick to work, she needs help paying medical and living expenses. Anyone that has known anyone with cancer knows how expensive even the most basic care and medication can be.” In just five short days, the campaign has raised nearly $16,000 dollars of the $25,000 requested.

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conway PPDIn March, we reported that the Conway Pagan Pride Day (CPPD) had run up against significant problems that threatened its future. The new Arkansas-based organization had just hosted its first Pride Day in October. The event was reportedly very successful. However, in the following months, the town of Conway instituted new ordinances that prohibited vendors from selling on city park property. Because the group does not have the means to rent private, more expensive facilities, CPPD organizers were fearful that they would not be able to host a 2015 event.

This past week, CPPD happily announced that the issues have been resolved, and Pagan Pride Day will be held on October 24. The organization reported that “Conway’s current mayor was an advocate for us and gave us voice in the political arena. We are so fortunate to have the support of the area and beyond the borders of Conway, Arkansas.”

In an email to The Wild Hunt, organizers explained, “Arkansas at times can be difficult to navigate in terms of beliefs and support,” pointing to the perception that the state is inhospitable to Pagans. However, they stressed that they have seen the opposite in this struggle, with interfaith groups, government, law enforcement, food banks and residents, helping them in their cause. CPPD added, “There is a new hope for the community in Arkansas. It takes one brick at a time, but as a family we will lay the foundation for generations to come.”

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10858593_10153030684777552_6867534241222027502_nThis past weekend marked the return of the Pagan Festival in Berkeley, California. Hosted by the Bay Area Pagan Alliance, the event hasn’t been held since 2012. After a three year hiatus, the organization revived it for 2015.

Held in Berkeley’s Civic Center Park, the festival was themed “Spirituality through Service” and featured the 2012 Keeper of the Light, T. Thorn Coyle, ritually passing the staff and lantern to the 2015 Keeper, Crystal Blanton. The Pagan Alliance explains that “The magical intention of the passing of the staff and gifting of the lantern is to lend strength and support to Priestess Crystal Blanton to enable her to continue her work –not only for our Pagan community, but all of the communities she serves throughout the Bay Area– and to do this work in good health, integrity, prosperity, and love.”

Throughout the day, current and past Keepers spoke including Blanton, Coyle, M. Macha Nightmare, and Yeshe Matthews Rabbit. In addition, there were performances, dances, talks, book signings, vendors and more. The event was reported to be a huge success. On her blog, Annika Mongan wrote about her own experiences from the day, saying, “To me the festival was a celebration of the beauty of our community, a call to action, a promise of renewal, and a testimony to our city that we are here, we care, we invoke Justice and in service to this city, the Bay Area, and beyond.

 In Other News:

  • The Pagan Community Statement on the Environment now has 3,630 signatures, hailing from all over the world. In addition, the statement has been translated, to date, into six languages, with more in the works. People of many religions have digitally signed the document, including a variety of Pagans, Heathens, and Polytheists, as well as non-affiliated people and even Christians. Organizers are aiming for 10,000 signatures by mid-summer.
  • Writer and artist Gypsey Teague unexpectedly found her latest book listed as a “top summer pick” for 2015. On May 3, New York Daily News published its buying guide, “Summer cool new books and hot summer looks for a smart summer.”  In the “young adult” section, Teague’s book, titled The Witch’s Guide to Wands: A Complete Botanical, Magical, and Elemental Guide to Making, Choosing, and Using the Right Wand, made runner-up. Ironically, the book that beat it out for first place is a young adult novel titled, The Witch Hunter.
  • In another mainstream news article, Four Quarters Farm was featured for its unique community. The Washington Post wrote about the sanctuary the article, “The 250-acre church nurturing faith and free spirits in the foothills of Pennsylvania.” The Post included a large number of photos depicting daily life and worship at the sanctuary. Readers might remember Four Quarters from its March 30 announcement of the purchase of an additional 110-acres of land.
  • Ian Corrigan’s blog, Into the Mound, has moved to the Patheos Pagan Channel. After eight years of blogging independently, he joins the group of respected bloggers who make up the Patheos forum. In his first post, Corrigan wrote, “There will be a bit of a jar for me, as we move from that comfy burrow to new digs, and I hope many of my long-time readers will find this new setting pleasant. Please bear with me as I  ken the new platform’s formatting, and learn to make pretty posts.”
  • Coru Cathubodua and P. Sufenas Virius Lupus have announced that they will be teaming up to host an online course called, Poetic Ways: Cultivating the Practice of Filidecht. The four month course, starting in July, will include “basic fili poetic practices, history, and arts, including poetry, prophecy, extemporaneous song, and much more.” Information and registration is currently live and online on Coru Cathubodua’s website.

That’s it for now.  Have a great day!

What is PantheaCon?

Heather Greene —  February 18, 2015 — 22 Comments

SAN JOSE – This past weekend, close to 3000 Pagans, Heathens, Polytheists and others of diverse religious beliefs descended on Double Tree Hotel in San Jose, California to attend the annual PantheaCon event. This is the largest indoor conference of its kind in the United States. Held over President’s weekend in mid-February, PantheaCon boasts “more than 200 presentations that range from rituals to workshops and from classes to concerts.”

pantheaconWhile PantheaCon is very popular and attracts an international following, there are far more people who do not know what it is, don’t care to attend, or do not have the time and means to attend. As observed by Jason Mankey in his post “Pagan Festivals and the .25%,” the number of people who actually attend PantheaCon and other community-based large events is relatively small compared to the number of Pagans and Heathens in world. While it is impossible at this point to assess whether his figure of .25% is statistically correct, Mankey’s assessment provides a perspective on the place of large festivals and conferences within the global Pagan movement and within our collective communities.

So for those who wonder “What is this PantheaCon?” Here is look at this year’s event.

PantheaCon is held in a Doubletree Hotel near the airport in San Jose, a city located in California’s Bay Area. For decades, this region has been the birthplace of and provided the nurturing soil for many influential American Pagan works and organizations. It is, therefore, not surprising that the largest such conference has grown up in this area.

Krampus with author and Wild Hunt columnist Crystal Blanton

Krampus with author and Wild Hunt columnist Crystal Blanton

PantheaCon began as a small, local event, but quickly expanded under skilled, experienced management and teamwork. Today, the conference fills nearly the entire hotel, including 48,000 square feet of “function space,” guest rooms and hospitality suites. There are only a few people roaming around the hotel, outside of the staff and personnel, who are not with the conference. And, these people could easily feel overwhelmed by the conference’s crowds, bewildered by the community, or just simply confused when Krampus strolls by their breakfast table.

This year’s theme was Pagan Visions of the Future: Building Pagan Safety & Social Nets. PantheaCon didn’t always have a theme, and the event is so large and diverse in its offerings that it really doesn’t necessarily need one. As organizers will say, this diversity is very calculated and scheduled. They aim to provide a healthy range of representation – a little bit of something for everyone who attends. For example, this year the events ranged from practical application workshops, such as A Witch’s Guide to Wands by Gypsey Teague, to intense panel discussions, such as Honoring or Appropriation? What is the Difference? hosted by T. Thorn Coyle. There were many rituals, such as CAYA Coven’s Wake up to Spirit, Ekklesia Antinoou’s Teenage Gods and Heroes, and Victoria Slind-Flor “Grandmother Ritual.”

There are also a significant number of hospitality suites offering their own workshops, presentations, rituals and parties. Organizations and religious groups, such as Coru Cathubodua, Church of All Worlds, Ár nDraíocht Féin: A Druid Fellowship, Covenant of the Goddess, The New Reformed Orthodox Order of the Golden Dawn, The Order of Bards, Ovates & Druids, The Temple of Witchcraft, provide a comfortable place for their members to relax, connect and greet visitors. In addition, there are non-group affiliated hospitality suites that serve as a safe spaces or learning centers. Such rooms included the Pagans of Color suite, Reiki Explorers, Pagans in Recovery, Pagan Scholars Den and more.

PantheaCon officially opens at noon on Friday with a ritual led by Glenn Turner and friends. After that, attendees make their way from scheduled event to event, through meals, socializing, and shopping in a packed vendor room. The bustle of activity begins at 9 am and doesn’t end until well after midnight. The entire conference comes to a close on Monday at 3:30, when Turner leads the final ritual.

Over the course of the next week, many bloggers will detail their personal experiences from PantheaCon 2015 and share their takeaways from the weekend. Social media is currently flooded with talk of PantheaCon; what happened and what didn’t. Each attendee’s experience is different because there is no way for one single person to absorb the conference as a whole.

Despite the weekend only just having ended, there are a few posts already published. P. Sufenas Virius Lupus has posted several articles written throughout the weekend, all of which detail the ups and downs of eir experience as both a presenter and attendee. On Saturday, John Halstead published an inspirational post from his hotel room at 5 a.m.

Patheos Pagan Channel’s Niki Whiting and Jason Mankey have both shared their accounts of this year’s conference, including highlights from presenting and socializing. Whiting wrote, “But Pantheacon, guys. I’m still high as a kite, giddy, and ready to fall asleep on my feet after five days of friends and travel and provocation and heart-expanding discussion.” Whiting plans to expand her PantheaCon discussion over the next few weeks, as many others will.

In addition, three other writers have published PantheaCon inspired articles, but in all of these cases, the writing is on a single, very focused topic and event. These blog posts include Jonathan Korman’s “open letter” to the “mysterious writers of the PantyCon schedule” and Taylor Ellwood’s “Pantheacon, Bringing Race to the Table, and Racism.” Finally, Shauna Aura Knight also published an article on this topic. For The Pagan Activist blog, she wrote:

This weekend I was proud to be part of a panel discussing Racism within the community. Unfortunately, that panel began on a sour note as I learned that there had been something hurtful and racist written in one of the various newsletters distributed at Pantheacon.

What happened? This discussion panel was called Bringing Race to the Table and inspired by Immanion/Megalithica’s newly published book of the same name. However before the panel began, a PantheaCon volunteer informed the panelists and attendees about a problematic write-up in a satirical newsletter called PantyCon. This flyer, written and published each year by an anonymous group, is a mock-up of the convention schedule and pokes fun at the entire event and the community itself. Although originally created by PantheaCon, PantyCon was abandoned by the organizers years ago. It was, then, picked up by an anonymous group and has no affiliation, sponsorship or association with the organization.

The offending write-up in the satirical PantyCon schedule was titled: Ignoring Racism: A Workshop for White Pagans. As noted by both Korman, Ellwood and Knight, many attendees and the PantheaCon organizers felt the joke was simply not funny and that it had violated the conference’s strict anti-harassment policies. Organizers very quickly attempted to collect and remove all copies, and they also welcomed everyone to an impromptu discussion session on Monday at 11am. Detailed in Knight’s post, the Monday talk allowed for a far deeper discussion of the issues at hand.

Luna Pantera [Courtesy Photo]

Luna Pantera [Courtesy Photo]

After the announcement and apology was made, the schedule panel, “Bringing Race to the Table,” was able to continue successfully. However, it ended with Luna Pantera standing up and delivering an emotionally powerful speech on safe spaces, race and the pain she experienced, specifically caused by PantyCon. When she was finished, the room of attendees rose up in speechless applause and support.

Through his post, Korman is now asking for the anonymous writers to apologize. He has also welcomed others to sign their names to the letter in the comments.

As is seen from the multitude of accounts both in social media and in these blogs, PantheaCon is not always easy and not always fun. Although it can be both of those things as well as many others. While only a small percentage of the population attend the conference, the experiences are carried back into the smaller regional communities, through the travelers, blogs and social media. In this way PantheaCon becomes bigger and more influential than ever would be possible with the limitations of its actual time and space.

For those few who can attend each year, the journey to San Jose is a type of pilgrimage, as noted by Whiting. Through this pilgrimage, one can meet old and new friends; network and share experiences; learn and expand horizons; be put in uncomfortable situations and comfortable ones; find a connection through religious culture; and possibly even build an extended community.

A Fertile Lupercalia to You!

The Wild Hunt —  February 15, 2015 — 7 Comments

Today is the festival of Lupercalia, the ancient Roman observance of fertility and the coming of spring. Not to be confused with a the overly commercial celebration held yesterday, Lupercalia is a holiday sacred to the god Faunus, and the mythical she-wolf who reared Romulus and Remus the semi-mythical founders of Rome. It was considered an important holiday of religious observance and purification.

"Representation of Lupercal" From the portico of the Piazzale dei Corporazioni in Ostia, Antica. (98-117 CE). [Public Domain]

“Representation of Lupercal” From the portico of the Piazzale dei Corporazioni in Ostia, Antica. (98-117 CE). [Public Domain]

There are many lurid accounts of what goes on during Lupercalia, some make it seem like an excuse for copulation and frivolity. One description comes from W. J. Kowalski’s Roman Calendar page.

The rites of this day included the sacrifice of a goat or a dog at the cave-grotto known as the Lupercal. With the sacrificial blood wiped across their foreheads, the youth partaking in this ceremony would then run the circumference of the Palatine hill, perhaps about 5K, tracing the traditional route of the city boundary traced by Romulus the day he founded Rome. In the process, girls who approached the runners would be brushed or splattered with the februa, thongs of sacrificial goatskin, presumably bloody, symbolically blessing them with fertility. Red is the color of the day as it is with Valentine’s Day, the day invented to replace the Lupercalia. Fertility and sexuality were likewise replaced with the puritanical pipedream of sexless Love.

Most (non-Pagan) people wouldn’t even know about Lupercalia if it were not for the constant stream of Valentine’s Day articles in the press. The favorite trend amongst news-writers and editorial columnists seems to be talking about the ancient pagan influences of a particular holiday. While this has increased awareness of Lupercalia, P. Sufenas Virius Lupus, a modern expert on the festival and its celebration, has pointed out that the two holidays actually have little in common.

The fertility here involved is not necessarily sexual fertility in women, though it was often thought to be such when the origins of the festival were eventually forgotten. It was fertility represented by the goat skin itself, a fertility of an agricultural and livestock sort. The young men running the race were symbolically committing themselves to the protection of their communities, thus their race around its boundaries which indicated their area of influence and the “home territory” they were protecting. The young men who were Luperci underwent a part of the ritual earlier in which the blood from the sacrificed goat and dog were mixed together, dabbed on their foreheads with a knife, and then wiped off subsequently with wool dipped in milk, signifying their transition from a lawless, wild state into a settled and civilized mode of life. The founders of Rome, the twin brothers Romulus and Remus, were raised by the Lupa (“she-wolf”) in the cave where this ritual took place, and in their lives after this, they were lawless hunter/raider warriors until their eventual foundation of the city. This ritual commemorates this entire situation. The success by speed and martial prowess that used to come to Romulus and Remus when they were hunter-warriors in taking anyone and everyone’s livestock–including goats!–while in that phase of their existence becomes the success of those same skills and abilities being put toward the protection of their community in their settled state. The fertility of the community’s resources, through this protection, is what is being celebrated, not necessarily (nor exclusively) the fertility of humans in reproduction.

The distinctions between Valentine’s Day and Lupercalia are also touched on by scholar Leonhard Schmitz.

“Modern attempts to relate the Lupercalia to Valentine’s Day because of the mere (approximate) date are at best very suspect. That the two occasionally get equated seems rather to be an indication of late 20c mentality, according to which a lovers’ festival must necessarily derive from the titillations of ancient fertility and flagellation by goats. More to the point, there is not the slightest shred of historical evidence for the connection.”

As for modern celebrations, Ekklesia Antinoou will be holding a public Lupercalia celebration at 3:30 today at PantheaCon in San Jose.

A very blessed and fertile Lupercalia to you all!

Tumblr is an interesting place. In the corner that I occupy, it’s an open and accepting environment, focused on fighting the injustices in the world – with a healthy dose of cute animal pictures. One of the consistent topics to cross my dash is the representation of LGBTQIA in modern entertainment media. Questions regularly appear like “How are LGBTQIA+ portrayed?” and “Is the current portrayal sufficient, positive, and empowering, while challenging stereotypes?” When the answer to the second question is almost invariably no, then the question becomes “How do we make improve it?”

Diana of Versailles". Marble, Roman artwork at Louvre [Public Domain]

Diana of Versailles”. Marble, Roman artwork at Louvre [Public Domain]

Changing the current entertainment industry, and with it public perception, is a difficult and slow process. It is not about wanting to see more token gay male characters or an increase in the number of trans women being used for comedic relief. It’s about improving the diversity of the characters and the depth of their development.

Fortunately, there’s been some progress. Orange is the New Black (a Netflix original) and In the Flesh (a BBC show that was not renewed) are hailed as forerunners in representation.

In addition to pushing for change in modern media, some people, including many Pagans, are looking to mythology for positive representations of LGBTQIA+ personalities. This is a great idea, because mythology is rich, containing a huge variety of Gods, Goddesses, heroes, demigods, and other characters and creatures.

However, there are some pitfalls in doing this, and some misconceptions based on stereotypes about a specific God or Goddess. For example, if I have to hear one more person say that Artemis is asexual/aromantic, I may scream – no matter how ‘clever’ of a pun it is to say she’s an “ace aro [arrow].”

Applying modern concepts of sexuality and gender to myths is an inexact science. Values, perceptions and societies have changed over the years. The Greeks in particular portrayed independent Goddesses as maidens – virgins even – which, in the modern sense would have them abstaining from all sex. However, looking at it in the context of Greek culture, it simply meant not allowing a man to control them or their life. Aphrodite was a maiden Goddess.

In addition, often times there are only a few myths that deal with how a God or Goddess specifically presents gender or sexuality. Thor, for example, doesn’t suddenly become gender-fluid because of one story about him cross-dressing in order to get Mjölnir back. By contract, Loki’s appearance in the same myth, when combined with stories of him magically changing genders, giving birth to a horse at one point, and generally presenting himself as the gender (and species) that’s most convenient, might suggest that he was more gender-fluid.

Despite these pitfalls and contrasting elements, mythology, with its diversity of representation, can offer comfort to young people struggling with their own gender identification.

For many, this is a very touchy subject. I am bi, but cisgendered. I don’t know some of the struggles that others go through – and can’t ever really know. But I do listen, and apply what I’ve learned to what I know about mythology.

As Pagans, many of us take this concept further by working directly with the Gods and Goddesses to see how they feel about this subject. Within our living religions, the Gods can be vocal about their opinions, which evolve our understanding just as much as the rest of our culture. It should follow, then, that how we view the Gods in a modern context should come from a mix of personal experience and the old texts.

Going back to my earlier gripe, mythology tells us that Artemis fell in love with Orion. The story of Zeus and Callisto also implies that she had sex with Her hunting companions – or at least Callisto. After working closely with Her for the 2013 Spring Mysteries Festival, I got the distinct impression Artemis isn’t as asexual as She appears – perhaps demi- or grey- sexual/romantic. On the other hand, my personal work with Athena revealed that She is definitely as asexual as She appears. Similarly, my research into the Egyptian Goddess Bast indicates that She had relations with both Gods and Goddesses.

Apollo, Pan and Dionysus all had both male and female lovers. Dionysus, a male deity, is the patron of trans* people.

Pagan Author P. Sufenas Virius Lupus had some insight on why there is often a disconnect between the gender of the deities and those people that worshiped them. E said:

Something really important to remember about all of the deities and heroes mentioned here (and others who aren’t) is that they were rarely if ever valued or worshiped in the past simply because their sexual partners or gender identities matched those of their worshipers.

Despite any suggested diversity, Classical mythology still has some definitive gaps in representation. While there are several deities that either change gender or have a combination of external genetalia, such as Hermaphroditos, Agdistis and Tiresias, they are not trans*.

P. Sufenas Virius Lupus speaks often of eirs experiences with the Tetrad++ Group. These six divine beings – Panpsyche, Panhyle, Paneros, Pancrates, Paneris and Panprodexia – are relatively new, and specifically address the lack of gender-queer deities in classical mythology. E said:

One of the reasons these deities came about… is because there was a need to have deities that fit more closely to our own understandings and situations of gender diversity in the modern world, and were not the results of potential cultural appropriation or misunderstanding of the gender roles and configurations of earlier cultures 

These deities – and the many others not mentioned here – can play an important role in people’s lives for a variety of reasons. Their stories are not simply ones that follow the cookie-cutter format most modern entertainment often takes. They are strong, powerful main characters of their own stories. They are deities, heroes  and powerful beings and, at the same time, their struggles can be very human. This makes them very relatable. But Lupus added:

It is important to remember that one’s own personal characteristics, identities, interests, or skills don’t have to match up 100%, or even 50%, with a deity one chooses to worship; and furthermore, deities might decide to get involved in one’s life no matter who one is or what one does that correlates to that deity’s attested areas of influence.

Mythology – be it modern or classic – cannot fully stand in place of all representation everywhere. We can and should demand improved representation of LGBTQIA+ within modern entertainment. While the quest for more positive and accurate representation continues, mythology remains a great resource to help those struggling with their own identities and to encourage the celebration of diversity in humanity.

Pagan Voices is a spotlight on recent quotations from figures in and around our collective communities. These voices may appear in Pagan media, personal blogs, or from a mainstream outlet, but all showcase our wisdom, thought processes, and evolution in the public eye. Is there a Pagan voice you’d like to see highlighted? Drop us a line with a link to the story, post, or audio.

Holli S. Emore

Holli S. Emore

“At the winter solstice I can’t help but be aware that the earth is rushing inexorably towards its fatal crossing of the ecliptic on December 21. After that longest night, the sun will rise a tiny bit earlier, set a bit later. Before I know it, the year will have changed again, and life will have moved on as I sleep, whether I am ready for a new year or not … In the warm dark I try to release my busy mind, drift into the shallows of consciousness and hope to sail into the watery channel of dreaming wisdom. Somewhere inside me, I am convinced, waits a door welcoming me back to my full self. Through that door I’ve traveled back and forth countless times in this life. I hope to meet you there.” – Holli Emore, From “Winter Solstice Dreams”

P. Sufenas Virius Lupus

P. Sufenas Virius Lupus

“Saturnalia is a time of reversals. so it is said. Those of us who make our livings at educational institutions usually enjoy a break–however long or short it may be–between our scholastic or collegiate terms at this time of year, when the last thing we might want to be doing is reading and studying. Enjoy the holiday parties and rituals, and hold some of your own, I’d advise those who are in a similar boat. And, for those who are not used to making friends with books and libraries and the spirits that haunt them? Make it a point to take a few moments when you’re indoors (from the dark and cold of winter in the Northern Hemisphere; or, a few moments out of the sun and in the shade in the Southern Hemisphere!) to pick up a book or a trusted and vetted internet source and find out more about the specifics of whatever holiday tradition you celebrate, whether of ancient provenance or of more modern vintage, and understand that holidays and the history of them happen in real time, with real people under real circumstances deciding to commemorate the turning of the seasons and the gods associated with them in particular ways.”- P. Sufenas Virius Lupus, “A Syncretistic Saturnalia”

Erick DuPree

Erick DuPree

“The new year is upon us. This is the time of resolutions and promises to self often forgotten by February. But what if the commitment to self was more empowered, and leaned into the invitation of the wholeness that is holy, rather than being an obligation? For me, holiness and the sacred is found in Daily Practice … Daily Practice helps keep me from going crazy. No, seriously, in a world where so little is in our control, seemingly less filled with compassion and more filled with injustice, my daily practice allows me to sink into the safety of the only thing constant in my life, the breath.” – Erick DuPree, “Just Breathe, The Practice of Permission, Affirmation & Dedication”

robin fennelly

Robin Fennelly

“So it begins as the new year is just hours away and I enter it riding the waves of Saturn’s ordered time and the Dark Mother’s wisdom. This journey will leave me cracked and battered as a ship thrust upon the shores. But in that moment of splitting open and allowing the truth of my being to spill out freely, new flesh, new bone, new heart and new mind will be birthed from a womb that quickens, reshapes and reforms what lays within Her dark waters.” – Robin Fennelly, “Personal Reflection on the New Year”

Rev. Philipp J. Kessler

Rev. Philipp J. Kessler

“Whether you are an activist, a leader, a teacher, or just the average Pagan, taking time for yourself is important. You don’t have to be active on the front lines of a movement to need down time. You don’t have to lead a coven, grove, circle, what-have-you to need personal time. Despite evidence to the contrary, every single one of us needs “me time”, no matter our circumstances. Do what feels good, what helps you to relax, rest and recharge. No only is it healthy, it makes you feel good about yourself … It is Winter time in the North, a time for many of us to look inside ourselves. Unless we live in more temperate climes, we have fewer outdoor activities, fewer picket lines, fewer demonstrations. There is still plenty of work for us to do as activists, but less of it done outdoors and in person. Let’s take some of that time for ourselves and recharge our batteries. Our friend in the South are at the peak of the outdoor activities that may involve them as activists. They, too, need to remember to take some time and rest themselves.” – Rev Kess, “I’m not as Young as I Use to Be”

Sable Aradia

Sable Aradia

“When I was in Winnipeg this fall on the book tour, my friend Dodie Graham McKay, who writes for the Wild Hunt, was speaking about how everyone talks about “creating Pagan community.” She argued that we have community; we have internet communities and tradition communities and communities that come together in pretty much every place that can call itself a city. She said that she thinks it’s time we start building a Pagan culture. We need art; we need music; we need shared songs; we need shared stories and shared experiences.” – Sable Aradia, “Creating Pagan Culture”

Clio Ajana

Clio Ajana

“This is the time of year when many look for new paths, beginnings or a fresh start. Apologies can be brief, with the saying “off with the old, on with the new” being the catch phrase to absolve our own conscience or those of others who might not want to reflect upon the pain or unresolved issues of 2014. Yet, this should be the very time that we consider apologies, those others gave to us, those we made to others, and most of all, those we wish we had made, but did not. Perhaps we ran out of time through the death of a loved one. Others could not turn back the clock due to a move to another locale, hundreds or even thousands of miles away. Some chose the “let sleeping dogs lie” rationale to counter the voice of one’s own conscience that reminds the heart of a needed apology … One lesson that I have learned through my visits to men, incarcerated for years, and sometimes decades, is that an apology is not just a saying or a brief “I’m sorry” hastily given … Instead, these men have reminded me how in Paganism, in the Craft, or in any tradition, self-reflection and self-accountability are key to a strong religious practice.” Clio Ajana – “Memories, Apologies and Veneration”

T. Thorn Coyle

T. Thorn Coyle

“What I hope is that for 2015 – which is already looking to be another challenging yet fruitful year – we spark up our imaginations. That we wheel the creaky machinery out, dust it off, clean it, oil it, re-calibrate it, and set it running again….I want to make art and stories matter. I want to imagine a world of lightness, creativity, and truth. I want visionary dreams arising from the darkness. I want caring to matter. I want kindness to matter. I want fierce righteousness to matter. I want to make love and justice matter.” – T. Thorn Coyle, Imagination Matters: Toward 2015


Happy New Year to everyone! 

The English language is in the midst of a gender revolution – one that began the first time someone questioned why the default state of every noun and pronoun was masculine. Since that point, “humankind” has gradually replaced “mankind,” and the male-centric generic “his” has given way to “hers or his” or (the still grammatically incorrect) “theirs.” Gradually, the language has moved toward treating both genders equitably.

Wordle: Pronouns

However, the preceding statement presumes that there are only two genders, and highlights a very real gender gap remaining in the language: the presumption that gender has only two variants, and thus requires two, or perhaps three, pronouns to reflect reality. Like the generic “he,” the use of these gendered pronouns is so commonplace that it’s all but invisible, except to the people who don’t fit either one and their allies. These people have chosen a more suitable set of pronouns, either based on existing words or new ones that have been invented for the purpose.

Perhaps it makes more sense to call it an evolution than a revolution, since it has been in-progress for decades and isn’t likely to be settled in the near future. To get a sense of what the language might look like once the question of pronoun use is settled, The Wild Hunt asked a number of Pagans and polytheists about their own use of, and attitudes about, pronouns in English. Because the Polytheist and Pagan communities are generally more supportive of transgender people, than what is seen in the overculture, it is possible to speak to a selection of people who have, at least, a passing familiarity with the issues involved.

Generally, it’s considered polite to ask a trans* person what pronoun e prefers. E, em, and eir comprise one set, the old Spivak pronouns, which have the advantage of sounding similar to common English pronouns, unlike zie and hir, which are also deemed too feminine-sounding by some. On the other end of the spectrum is the use of the word “one” to denote a person without referencing gender. While this has been argued as perfectly practical, no one interviewed for this article uses that form. There are those who use “they,” despite the fact that it sounds incorrect to many a grammarian’s ear, and others think “it” is the most appropriate descriptor.

P. Sufenas Virius Lupus

P. Sufenas Virius Lupus

While seemingly inconsequential to the cisgendered, binary-gender pronouns have a very real impact on those who don’t identify as one, or the other. P. Sufenas Virius Lupus, a metagender person, said that the simple act of filling out an online form can be incredibly frustrating. E explained:

[A]ny online form that forces me to choose either male/man or female/woman for a gender, and does not allow me to proceed without making that choice, isn’t something I can fill out … I do not mark them on forms at doctor’s offices and such any longer, either.  Any online forum, survey, or anything else which requires it isn’t something I can participate in. This is what kept me from joining the Polytheism Without Borders project last year when it started; when I raised this point with the creator of the group, I was told, ‘Can’t you just pick one for convenience?’ Nope.

To take this trend to its natural conclusion, the expectation would be that all people have the right to choose the pronouns that are most suitable, and the assumption that the preference is “he” or “she” unless otherwise stated would have to fall away. Is that a realistic or practical outcome?

Melissa ra Karit, a genderqueer priest/ess in CAYA Coven’s Wildflower tradition, said:

Personally, I would love to see preferred pronouns becoming an automatic part of introductions. ‘Hi, I’m Mary, I use she/her pronouns,’ and, ‘I’m John, I use e/eir pronouns’ seem simple enough to add. I don’t actually think remembering someone’s pronouns would be much if a stretch once we got beyond the assumption that someone who appears female uses female pronouns and someone who appears male uses male pronouns. (What do we mean by “appears female/male” anyway?) We routinely remember all sorts of information about people, such as jobs, their families, their food allergies, their birthdays, and so on. For those who tend to forget such details, I imagine they would use the same sorts of memory aids, such a cell phones and calendar reminders, that they do for everything else. (Can you imagine if your phone popped up a message that said ‘John, e/eir, is texting you?’ I can!)

While zir may feel that learning preferred pronouns is simple, not everyone agrees. Autumn Pulstar, who identifies as a cisgender woman, admits, “I find it hard to use the nonstandard pronouns, even when referring to someone who prefers them. Being in my 50s, old habits die hard. I’m not trying to be disrespectful, but it is something that does not come naturally … and the awkward pause is often more unsettling than saying what comes natural. Fortunately, I have very cool friends.”

Shauna Aura Knight

Shauna Aura Knight

Speaker and ritualist Shauna Aura Knight, a ciswoman, also admitted that she finds the various pronouns confusing. She added, “One piece of advice I was given by a genderqueer activist was to just use people’s names.” That advice is helpful, but Knight has other limitations that reduce its usefulness: she’s not terribly good remembering names. And while she didn’t say so, avoiding all pronouns in lieu of a person’s name can lead to speech or writing that feels clunky or contrived.

Lupus recalled a relationship that went south over eir desire to use Spivak pronouns to describe emself. It was a surprising case, e said, involving “a trans*woman, who was also not going to go through with any surgical interventions or procedures, who said that I confused her and that the mental gymnastics required to conceptualize my gender as non-binary were not of enough interest to her to do to make any effort toward, and therefore she’d just consider me however she wanted to despite my asking otherwise.”

Diane Verocchi, a cisgender woman, does make sure she uses pronouns of choice, although some of them feel more awkward to her than others. “I don’t know if ‘hir’ would stand out less to me if it were in common use,” she wrote. “I encounter zie/zir online a lot, so they don’t particularly jump out at me. Hir looks like a typo for either him or her and sounds closer to her, so I find it puzzling that some prefer it, but if I know that is their preference, that is what I’ll use.”

Familiarity breeds comfort to ciswoman and writer Jolene Poseidonae, who acknowledges that she doesn’t have much occasion to become familiar with alternative pronouns. She said:

If they were more widely used, I certainly believe that gender-neutral pronouns would be easier for me to see and use and not feel like I’m making up words. If they were something that were more widely used just in my own life, it would be easier — but again, it’s not a huge issue. I won’t say that most of my friends are cisgendered, but those who are not have expressed the desire to be referred to by one of the two gender specific pronouns. That very well may be because those are what’s available, but I couldn’t say for sure.

Jaina Bee, a metagender priest/ess of the CAYA Wildflower tradition, added, “If we really care about each other, we will pay attention to the things that matter to each individual, whether it be a religious observation, a dietary restriction, a differently-abled physical or mental condition, or a set of pronouns. This is not inconvenience, this is common courtesy.”

Wordle: pronouns

An alternative to personalizing pronoun choice is to adopt a more inclusive set, one that either ignores or more fully embraces gender variation. Given that the spectrum of gender includes metagender, intersex, feminine cismales and masculine cisfemales, androgynes, genderqueers, and gender-fluid people, among others, a theoretical group of pronouns that acknowledged all possible genders may be too large to be manageable. Pronouns that do not acknowledge gender at all can also be used if the gender of the person is not known or is irrelevant, but that doesn’t mean there is anything like a consensus to adopt that particular standard. And which ones should become the norm?

“When I look at myself in the mirror and think of what I’d most like to be, I don’t see ‘he’ or ‘she,'” said Lupus, “nor do I see ‘ze/sie,’ I see ‘e.'” Others, however, “prefer the plural-as-singular, which actually has Victorian precedents. Still others I know prefer to be called ‘it,’ since that is a de facto neutral pronoun.”

Hearthstone, a ciswoman writer, remarked, “You’d think it would be possible to adopt a neutral pronoun since English uses natural gender rather than grammatical gender.” She added that she would be fine with being addressed using a neutral pronoun, “if it was a pronoun understood to mean a human being. I would feel dehumanized if someone called me ‘it,’ but that’s because “it” is so strongly contextualized as non-human.” Pulstar also said she would be offended if someone were to call her “it.”

Poseidonae was mindful that, as part of the cisgendered majority, she has choices others do not. She said:

In theory, I’m not sure that I would care if someone referred to me with a gender-neutral pronoun. As much as I’m cisgendered, it is mostly something I’m not overly attached to — which I understand is part and parcel of the privilege of being cisgendered. I wouldn’t hate for us to be more gender neutral when talking about people we don’t know well, but that’s me wanting more of a clear delineation between the public and private realms in our lives than what society currently tolerates.

Verocchi said that her reaction would “depend entirely on situation and context.”  She said:

If they didn’t know which pronouns I prefer, then it I think it would be no different than correcting the pronunciation of my last name (something I do all the time) to respond to that, if I even felt it was worth doing so.  If they knew that I am a cisgender female who prefers feminine pronouns and were using neutral pronouns with the intent of misgendering me, I’d be annoyed or possibly offended.  In either case, I don’t think I’d be as offended” as transgender people have told her they feel when others misgender them, out of disinterest or malice, “probably because I don’t experience it on a regular basis.

A cisgender woman who identified herself as Juni also didn’t want to be misgendered, saying, “I would be fine with it if someone used [a neutral pronoun] to refer to me, though it would probably feel a little odd; I think the only pronoun that would actually make me uncomfortable would be he/his. I would be perfectly comfortable with gender-free pronouns as a general rule.”

Knight agreed that context is important in accepting someone’s use of a gender-free pronoun for herself. She said:

For instance, when I’ve gone to a store or answered the phone and been referred to as ‘sir,’ I’ve been offended. I don’t think I particularly look male, but I’m pretty tall and I have a deeper voice. In retrospect, I’m aware that that has much more to do with my body image issues around weight/attractiveness to men. It was a hit to my self esteem since it told me, in a nutshell, that I was obviously not attractive (as a woman) to these men.

If I were at a Pagan, spiritual, or activist event and I were referred to by gender-free pronouns, I probably wouldn’t necessarily have any negative feelings around it, since it doesn’t really impact my identity in that context. I grew up in a gender binary environment so using the gender-free pronouns might itch a little. That’s the best word I can use to describe it.  It’s not me being offended so much as me not being used to something.  It’s like moving into a new house and I’m not sure where things are and I have to think about everything more.

Knight also said that she wrestles with how to incorporate gendered language into ritual. “There’s a general axiom that multi-syllable words that come from a Latin root tend to have a more clinical sound than the more onomatopoetic words that come from the Germanic,” she explained. “The problem is that Latin has better gender neutral words.” The Germanic words are more primal, and help participants get out of “thinky headspace” but are less inclusive. She cited examples such as “parent” instead of “mother” or “father,” and “siblings” as a more clinical but also more inclusive substitute for “brothers and sisters.”

CAYA Coven Wildflower initiate Verity Blue said:

I would love to see us collectively move to a inclusive/neutral set of pronouns. I think the hard part would be changing habits, but we aren’t really getting any useful info out of she/he her/him. Gender is not the physical sex of a person, it is not the chromosomal sex of a person, it is a complexly layered part of identity that is often beyond describing. Basically our current system is ones and zeros when what we need is more a robust, elegant language. Personally, I enjoy what I call ‘zednouns.’ Zie walked down the street singing zir favorite song quietly to zirself. In my understanding it is the evolution of creating pronouns that start with xy, like the human sex chromosomes. Zie is the collective of all gender expression.

Others are not so sure that separating gender from pronouns is preferable, much less possible. “As for moving the language toward an all-inclusive, neutral-gender pronoun system, there are many considerations that lead me to think this goal is not only improbable, it is also undesirable for many reasons,” said Bee.  “As we’ve seen in recent public discussions of racial issues … [there has been] essentially a denial of the distinctions between people, their diverse concerns and needs, and tends, in practice, to lead to a default that erases those who don’t fit into the conventional definition.”

Ruadhán J McElroy

Ruadhán J McElroy

Trans*man Ruadhán J McElroy also isn’t sold on divorcing gender from pronouns.

Every language [that] I have some familiarity with acknowledges gender, and most societies pre-Christianity, in some way, recognise more than two genders. Ergo, it really upsets me when I see others, especially my fellow trans people, talk about abolishing gender from society. While different cultures recognise a different range of non-cis genders, and hold different standards for all genders recognised, one thing is clear: human beings are a gendered species …

Furthermore, it strikes me as highly dismissive of the issues faced by people based on gender, and the suggestion to ‘abolish gender’ as little more than a cop-out to justify doing nothing; it’s ridiculous and potentially evidence of deep internalised transphobia coming from other trans and non-binary people, and infuriating coming from cis people — the former people are saying that gender for non-cis people only makes life harder, potentially to the point that giving up on a central aspect of a person seems preferable to the headache it causes, but the latter group is basically saying that the former group’s concerns aren’t worth addressing in any way, much less a productive one.

Like the use of preferred pronouns, adopting a set that does not take gender into consideration would require buy-in from the cisgendered majority to gain traction. Hearthstone pointed out, “There needs first to be willingness on the part of cis-folks to use nongendered pronouns and so forth for ourselves, I think, rather than only using them for non-binary folks. Otherwise, it’s still exclusionary.”

Karit agreed, saying that even zir idea of introductions that include pronoun preference that ze imagines needs a generic option. “I see the second part of such a system as moving to a gender-neutral set of pronouns to describe anyone whose pronouns we don’t know. That, I think, would take a big cultural shift. I think anything like that is a ways off in the future.”

Knight looks to altering the entrenched rules of accepted sentence construction. She said:

I think that one part is doing whatever is necessary to change the rules of grammar that say that his/her is appropriate and ‘their’ is not. Going further, if we’re going to use gender neutral pronouns, I really feel that there needs to be a consensus on which ones.  I see ‘hir’ with some frequency, probably because it’s the most [common], but that doesn’t bear up in speech because hir and her are virtually indistinguishable. I kind of like the old Spivak ones because they sound like ‘their,’ but without the consonant. Speaking as a language nerd, the lack of initial consonant makes it a little more difficult for English speakers, or more specifically, it’ll sound like we’re mispronouncing him/her, etc. However, to my eye they look and sound good.

High-school English teacher and ciswoman Robin Ward resists the idea that “their” can or should be used as a singular pronoun, but pointed out the important role teachers play in any change in the language. “People didn’t start accepting ‘his or her’ in place of ‘his’ until teachers started expecting it,” she said. “I’ve thought about introducing my students to alternative pronouns, but to be honest I’m worried about pushback from the parents.”

Changing language changes how the speakers of that language think. Whether those thoughts are guided by an implicit assumption that individuals get to control what pronouns are associated with em, a widespread agreement to adopt one set of pronouns over all others, or a combination of these approaches, it seems apparent that such change will only occur when the cisgendered majority adopts it with intent. So long as these alternatives are only utilized by transgender people and a few allies when referring to those trans* people, it will not be a movement, but the quirk of a small subculture.

PACO 2014 logoThis past weekend, more than fourscore Pagans attended the first Pagan Activism Conference Online, or PACO. The event was sponsored by the Pantheon Foundation, which also serves as fiscal sponsor for The Wild Hunt, and included a total of nine sessions on how activism fits into Pagan lives. Having been given a press pass to the conference and experiencing some of the sessions firsthand, I’ve elected to depart from my usual style of journalistic third person, and write about what I learned at the conference, as well as pull together reactions from other people.

On a technical level, the conference was a success. The minor hiccups that did occur, such as presenters unable to log in to the software on time, some people being harder to hear than others, were no more distracting than similar challenges faced during any in-person workshops. Yeshe Rabbit, one of two event organizers, worked hard to find the right platform for the job. She said:

PACO exceeded my technical expectations. I have been using the conference software Zoom for over a year for my personal readings, CAYA Coven meetings, and the Tea & Chanting sangha, so I have a pretty decent familiarity with it. I know it’s easy to learn, user-friendly, and generally reliable. I researched 4 different conference software programs before choosing this one for its clean, simple interface and how it had performed in my other projects.

The software was indeed easy to use, and allowed participants to see each other and the presenters, as well as chat with each other individually or as a group — something which Rabbit gently discouraged at the beginning of each session by asking attendees to show restraint until the floor was opened to questions. Zoom also allowed attendance by phone only, or by watching online and listening via phone. That’s the combination I chose during one session, because I could watch the action and move around my kitchen. But the convenience for me paled in comparison to the simple access it granted to others who normally wouldn’t be able to participate in an event like this. Rabbit said:

Online conferences, in my opinion, are one of the best ways to host a really inclusive conversation about ideas, data, and strategy. They are: widely accessible, Earth friendly, economical, and they allow people from all over the nation to connect meaningfully when they might not otherwise be able to. We had attendees at PACO who cannot attend other Pagan events due to disability, financial reasons, and chemical sensitivity. That level of inclusion felt like a big win. While not a replacement for street activism or the connections we create at in-person events, this conference showed me that we can take our online activism a step further. Beyond just sharing posts that outrage us, or commiserating in the comments sections of blogs, PACO showed me that we are able to use this medium to learn, trade tools, connect, plan, and strategize for actual change.

That strategizing for change came through in a number of different panel discussions. Some sessions addressed using existing tools (e.g., the media) or models (e.g., building infrastructure) to amplify the voice of Pagan activists. Another session focused on the nuts and bolts of the “Care and Feeding of Pagan Activists.” In the spirit of keeping our own house in order, one session was entitled “Consenting Adults: Sexual Ethics in the Pagan Community,” while another focused on Pagan religious rights and how to defend them. The opening panel for the conference, called “Earth Activism,” addressed an area of concern near and dear to Pagans of many paths, while two other sessions focused on Pagans who may often feel silenced, those of color and the LGBTQI community, and how to ensure that their voices are heard.  In the keynote address, T. Thorn Coyle spoke to the how that silencing can happen. She pointed out that white people feel that they must contribute to the conversation, and that is usually done by talking and not listening. As a white man who has worked very hard on speaking out rather than giving into shyness, I found that Coyle got more than too close for comfort with that observation.

Organizers Yeshe Rabbit and Xochiquetzal Duti Odinsdottir made sure to take advantage of the online nature of this conference. The hashtags #PACO and #RITEaction were promoted as tools to talk about the event on social media, along with individual hashtags for each session: #PACOECO, #PACOMedia, #PACOPOC, #PACOGender, #PACOCare, #PACOBuild, #PACORights, and #PACOConsent. While these hashtags can reveal of wealth of commentary about the conference, I found that #PACO has many other uses on Twitter, so it’s more difficult to sift through to the good stuff using that hashtag alone.

Each of the sessions was also recorded, and I’m eagerly awaiting the chance to see sessions that I didn’t attend.

One theme that I noticed cropping up, and Rabbit remarked upon as well, was hospitality:

The focus for this year’s PACO was, ‘Human Rights & Relations.’ We were looking primarily in this conference at how humans oppress one another, how we can support one another instead, how we think about the issues on the table, who is at the table for the discussion, and how we can safeguard that everyone has a voice at that table. From there, the biggest theme that emerged, and it emerged brilliantly through our speakers, was that at its foundation, activism for human rights sits most effectively on a commitment to hospitality. Learning the art of welcoming people to the table, making room for those we might otherwise ignore from our positions of privilege, treating one another’s needs and preferences as worthy and sacred, and creating an atmosphere of celebration of our differences rather than competition are all aspects of the hospitality our speakers called for this weekend. “If I had to sum it up briefly, I’d say that I came away from this conference with the clear message: ‘We are all guests on this Earth. Let’s host one another while we are here with great care.’ And then we learned lots of different ways to care for one another well.

Could hospitality be one of those elusive shared values among the many Pagan, Polytheist, and Indigenous religious communities? I won’t say for sure that it is, but as someone who is always seeking to articulate the common thread among our traditions, it certainly appeals. Hospitality is implicit in being able to talk with, and ultimately work with, people of widely different viewpoints by setting those aside long enough to find common goals. While it’s possible to suppress or ignore differences among people working together, it’s a lot harder to vilify someone of a different color, political affiliation, or socioeconomic class if you know them to be a human being, too.

What’s next for Pagan activism? That remains to be seen. Any conference, online or in person, can create more light than heat if the passion felt by participants doesn’t translate into action. I’m hopeful that, in the coming weeks and months, the hashtags used during the conference will be able to track #RITEaction that follows, but only time will tell.

What’s next for PACO? Yeshe Rabbit pronounced it a success, and is already planning for the next one, tentatively scheduled for November of 2015. “One change we are looking to make for next year is to have an American Sign Language interpreter in a separate, high-resolution window so that D/deaf folks can follow along more readily if they don’t have closed captioning for this sort of software on their own computers,” she reported. “We also intend next year to leave the chat windows open for 15 minutes after the sessions have closed, to allow for the kind of mingling and informational exchange that would happen if one attended an in-person event.”

The conference has also inspired two related projects for the Pantheon Foundation. One is a weekly roundup of Pagan activism links (submissions for which can be submitted via email to, and the other is an annual Journal of Pagan Activism Studies to be edited by Rion Roberts.