Archives For P. Sufenas Virius Lupus

In a recent blog post, T. Thorn Coyle asked, “What kind of world do you want to live in? What values do you strive to uphold?” This New Year’s Day, we highlight a few of the many Pagan Voices out there, who have shared what they see as they look toward the future, and what they hope to do in the coming year.

[Public Domain]

[Public Domain]

“After the sharing of the story, the Yule-feast begins. Like Freyr, we all wait through the long, dark nights for the coming of the sun. The communion of companionship in celebration of our lives together makes the wait a joyous one, and the Norse myths – like the myths of any faith – give us a shared tradition that shapes the cycle of the year. That is a wonderful gift from the past that continues into the future.” – Dr. Karl E. H. Seigfried, From Norse Mythology’s Endless Appeal

“When I began honoring the cycles of the moon and the Wheel of the Year, I was free to realize that opportunities for ‘resolutions’ were all the time. They weren’t limited to one day of the year. They were constantly evolving and changing, always in motion just as I was and the world around me. As a practicing Witch I became aware of the boundless opportunities for me to make firm decisions and act upon them to create change. My mental and spiritual commitment to bring change into my life did not cause me to judge myself or get angry at my failures. Instead of self-induced emotional trauma, my mistakes became learning experiences, and opportunities for spiritual growth […] I began to see resolutions for what they were; simply intentions that had yet to be acted upon. I no longer referred to the opportunities for change as “resolutions” (mostly because of the negativity I had attached to the word) but as Statements of Intent.” – The Zen Witch, From Statements of Intent in Lieu of Resolutions

“It’s an odd time of year, the period between the solstice and the end of the calendar year. In some Pagan traditions, and for some Pagan individuals, the year begins at the solstice but to the world at large there are a further nine or ten days remaining of the old year before the beginning again is celebrated. To me these few days feel old and weary at the same time as feeling youthful and energetic. As I said, it’s an odd time of year. […] And so the new year creeps towards me, and weary as I am I can only feel optimistic. This year has been the year of light forcing its way through the tiny cracks – next year, I think, I will truly embrace it. That’s the plan,” – Lily, From New Year

“When I look back on 2015, I’ll look back on it as not a year of failures (though it was), not as a year of great changes (though it was certainly that, too), or “the year it all went south for me” (though it most certainly did in several ways), it will be the year that everything turned around and that real hope for our future emerged out of what could have been a disaster had any other group of people been gathered under our banner, and had any other God and all of His Divine Friends not been guiding us at every step of the way. For me, there is a scaling back, a culling, a stripping away, and an active retreat from certain things in the wider world; for everyone else in the group, and for Antinous Himself, I dare say there is an opening up, a stretching outward, and what I expect will be a new flowering of activity in the years to come.” – P. Sufenas Virius Lupus, From The Year in Antinous 2015

“With such a diverse community, there is inevitably disagreement over what justice looks like, the ideal political landscape, and how our individual identities fit into the picture of larger society. So while we planted many flags of identity this year, we also engaged in profound internal dialogue about how we interact as Pagans within the larger world. We challenged each other spiritually and politically. There was friction, but friction leads to fire, and fire burns away the deadwood, giving us a new vitality. Friction, as the sign of free thinking and free expression, is healthy. ” – Tim Titus, From The Top 10 Pagan Quotes of 2015

We Refuse to Become Like Our Enemies. And we will refuse. We will not become like them. We will hold to our values that sing of the worth and value of all of humankind. We will dance for our Goddesses and Gods and we will create religions and relationships of love and compassion, of joy and freedom. We will choose not to hate or to acquiesce. We will choose to oppose. […] We will grow stronger day by day as the shock of the malice that is being perpetuated shakes us out of complacency and makes us realize that we cannot take for granted all those freedoms and choices that enable us to live as Pagans in an often hostile world.” – Vivianne Crowley, From Staying Strong

“The beginning of the New Year is a perfect time to make choices. It is a time to look at the previous year and recognize what did not serve our best interests in life. It is a chance to be better than we were. In 2016 may we choose caring over harming, kindness over cruelty, tolerance over judgment, love over hate, and compassion over indifference. May we will the best for others without imposing our own upon them. May we be united by what makes us the same instead of being alienated by what makes us different.” – Raven Grimassi, on Facebook

Happy New Year from The Wild Hunt! 

Healing Hearts at Wounded Knee (HHAWK), an organization comprised of First Nation leaders, has put out a call for religious groups and individuals to join them in a Global Ceremony to end massacre. And, Pagans are answering that call. The event is being held on the 125th anniversary of the Massacre at Wounded Knee on Dec. 29.

Healing Hearts Wounded Knee
Organizers explain that they are using the power of religious ceremony to break the cycle of hatred and conflict, and to heal multi-generational wounds. On their website they write,

Indigenous peoples around the world are bringing back ceremony, bringing back healing practices, bringing back the sacred into our lives. It is with the sacred that we can end massacre. It is with the sacred that we can heal. It is with the sacred that we can make this Great Turning to save our relations with one another, with our sacred planetary home, and with the Divine.

HHAWK is inviting both indigenous and non-indigenous persons to join in from wherever they are located around the globe.

Matt Whealton, a member of the Temple of Ra in San Francisco, was asked to record an Egyptian morning hymn for the the Healing Hearts at Wounded Knee Global Ceremony website. He first heard of the project at the Parliament of World Religions this past October in Salt Lake City. While there he met and had lunch with, Jean Fleury, the Tribal Peace Ambassador of the Crow Creek Sioux Tribe in South Dakota and also one of the organizers of HHAWK.

Whealton said, “As is often the case at the Parliament, people ask about one’s religious practice, especially if it is out of the mainstream. Over lunch with Jean, I described a bit about Kemetic Reconstruction, and my particular passion of working with the sounds of the ancient language in ritual contexts. I described the Morning Hymn from Egypt, how it might have been sung, etc, and she said ‘Well now, you have to sing it for me’. So I did, and then and there she asked if I could record it for the HHAWK website.”

Whealton said that after he finished singing, Fleury asked him a question that had a profound impact on him. She asked him if he knew that he was singing for the Ancestors out of Egypt. Whealton said, “To me that question meant something powerful. It meant and means that our own rituals and ceremonies as Kemetics, and Reconstructions in general, entail a kind of obligation to the ancient people who can no longer speak directly for themselves or through their own descendants. It meant that I have an obligation to speak justly for those Ancestors, and speak justly for their descendants too, even if they no longer recognize the ancient Gods and Goddesses. It meant that an indigenous person recognizes that song as meaningful in the context of reciprocal relations and obligations of family, land, tradition, and sacredness of Indigenous Culture even though the line of the tradition was broken for 1500 years and even though I was not born to direct descendants of those Ancestors.”

In addition to recording the Egyptian morning hymn, Whealton is hosting a small ritual at his home in San Francisco on Dec 29 to correspond with the Wounded Knee Ceremony. In addition, P. Sufenas Virius Lupus, founder of a Graeco-Roman-Egyptian syncretist reconstructionist polytheist group dedicated to Antinous, is organizing a ceremony in Washington State.

From Opening Ceremonies of the Parliament of the World's Religions 2015 [Photo Credit: H. Greene]

From Opening Ceremonies of the Parliament of the World’s Religions 2015 [Photo Credit: H. Greene]

Whealton said that he was drawn to participating in the ceremony to help support the, “growing Indigenous movements that use ceremony and education to work towards a healthier environment, equality for minorities, and ending wars and their causes.” He says he spent time during the Parliament of the Worlds Religions at various ceremonies conducted at the Native American Sacred Fire just outside the convention center. This fire was maintained 24 hours a day throughout the conference, with Fire-keepers and ritualists from Ute, Shoshone, Maya, Maori, Mohawk, NaDene, Sioux, Leni Lenape, and Ojibwe tribes.

HHWAK says you don’t need to be part of a group to join in the Global Ceremony. Individuals can spend a time of quiet contemplation at noon on Dec. 29, or they can go to the website, or Facebook group and join in a ceremony at a location near them.

[Crystal Blanton is one of our talented monthly columnists. She writes the Culture and Community column, focusing on a number of very vital community topics, like the one below. If you like reading her work, please consider donating to our fall funding campaign and sharing our IndieGoGo link. There are only 9 days left! It is your wonderful and dedicated support that makes it possible for Crystal to be part of our writing team. Donate today! Thank you so very much.]

The Parliament of World’s Religion was held on American soil for the first time in 22 years. Held in Salt Lake City, Utah, thousands descended on the mountain filled desert in search of interfaith dialogue, multi-faith exploration and the opportunity to teach others about their religion.

[Photo Credit: C. Blanton]

One of the major themes this year was violence, hate speech and other issues that specifically impact women; all of which are important and need to be addressed around the world. It is also customary for the Parliament to host forums addressing some of the current issues that plague the local land of that year’s host country. To the surprise of many guests, the issues of the brutality and militarization of police, systemic racism and the killing of Black and brown peoples at disproportionate rates were not given focus as one of the prominent issues within the United States today. As one of the leading causes of violence and hate perpetuated in this country, it appeared to be treated as a minor issue or not an issue at all in the landscape of this year’s Parliament.

Of the many workshops held over the 5 days, only two workshops clearly focused on the plight of Black people in this country. One of those workshops was a “Moral Monday” sermon, and another that was a panel held on Sunday night at 5:15 pm. 

This panel had three Christian ministers who have been involved in the movement for Black lives and racial justice. The three included: Rev. Michael McBride, Rev. Jim Wallis and Rev. Francis Davis. They referenced the horrible statistics of Black people killed by some form of law enforcement, and the rise in Black liberation protests that have awoken young Black people to the fight for justice.

The audience appeared to have about 200 to 250 people present with over 20 Pagans and Polytheists in the crowd. Several Pagans in the audience submitted questions to the panel to address the murders of Black Trans women in 2015, and to highlight the other marginalized faiths that are also involved in the justice movement for Black people. There was a short video shown of recent incidents and protests that left many audience members visibly emotional. This can be viewed below in the linked recording of the event, occurring about 23 minutes into the video.

I reached out to several Pagans and Polytheists, who were present in the audience, to gather their reflections on the panel and to seek clarity on what might have brought so many of them to this one single event on the program. I asked three questions:

Do you feel having a BLM discussion at the Parliament was important and why? What were you hoping to get out of the panel? Why do you feel it is important to have space for this topic to be explored in faith communities?

Lee Gilmore

“The Black Lives Matter panel was one of the most important conversations at the Parliament. On a basic level, it is critical to keep pushing these truths because without doing so black lives will only continue to be disregarded, targeted, and vulnerable. And the more these concerns get out to diverse religious communities, and the more that we put justice at the center of our conversations…  

“On a fundamental level, I attended simply to show up and put my white body in that room, and to continue to listen to voices that help me “stay woke.” I was also grateful to Pagan leaders like Thorn Coyle and Elena Rose for pushing the speakers to give voice to trans lives and non-Christian activists, as well as to the organizers somewhere back along the line who clearly laid the groundwork with the ministers on stage that lead them to publicly and clearly acknowledge that queer & trans lives matter.

“One of the key themes I heard being raised by indigenous leaders at the Parliament was the importance of listening to our ancestors, as well as the importance of thinking about how our actions affect the future. As a Pagan, these are concerns that I share, and for me this means making reparation for the violence committed against black and brown bodies by some of my ancestors by working for a more just and equitable future for all of our descendants. That means supporting Black Lives Matter.”

T. Thorn Coyle

“I have so much to say on the topic of Black Lives Matter at the Parliament. I’m very glad the panel happened, because this discussion is important to all communities, and now is the time that the energy of this movement is poised toward making change. That said, we needed much more than what was offered. We needed multiple panels, teach-ins, sit-downs, and presentations. We needed systemic, personal, and community racism denounced at every plenary because it weaves through all topics: climate change, women’s lives, indigenous rights, and spiritual service.

“That didn’t happen. The “Pagans in the #BlackLivesMatter” movement panel I put forth was rejected. I therefore figured that there would be more programming on the topic than there was. The panel that ended up happening – with three Christian men on the stage – felt almost like an afterthought. Good things were said there, though two Pagans – myself and Elena Rose – had to challenge the speakers. We weren’t the only ones. I’m not disrespecting the three men who showed up to lead this panel. They are committed activists and do great work. What I am critical of is the entire lens through which the topic is viewed by those holding relative power: Clergy means Christian; Two Black and one white cis men is diverse enough; Scheduling the one thing specifically dealing with Black Lives Matter on the final full day of the conference, overlapping the gala music and dance performance, was acceptable …. I’m not OK with any of those things.

“I’m glad that #BlackLivesMatter was present at the Parliament. But I wish that I hadn’t felt the need to stand up and shout those words at the closing plenary, because they had been left out. And I wish that my words hadn’t been swallowed up by the vastness of the hall.”

All we had was our bodies and

P. Sufenas Virius Lupus

“Given the ostensible world stage of the Parliament, it was important to have the event as an option. I am disappointed that there were as many empty seats there as there were, and that from what I could tell, most of the attendees were Americans from mainstream religious traditions, but I’m also glad that there was a definite Pagan and polytheist faction there as well, and that not only did the efforts of some of our people in terms of activism get recognized (even if it was because of well-timed and well-asked questions from those very people), but also that the contributions of trans* People of Color in #BlackLivesMatter got named in front of everyone, and that Rev. McBride specifically stated that he and other Christian leaders have had to “sit at the feet” of these trans* activists to learn from them about the struggles of queer people of all stripes.

“I was hoping for two things. First, just to hear more about this movement, the stories and voices that have been made prominent by it, and to learn more about it. To my knowledge, there is no visible presence of the movement in my locality, and I’d have to go to Seattle to participate in it, which I can’t do without major difficulties at present. I feel this was certainly something that I came away with as a result of attending the panel. Second, I was hoping to get some further ideas on how I might be able to support the movement from a distance. I think I also gained that as a result of the panel.

“I also think, as a polytheist, that our traditions have a great deal to teach and share in terms of how our basic theological ethics–dealing with individual Deities on a reciprocal relational basis–also extends to how one can best deal with the diverse humans with whom one comes into contact, and the basic ideals of hospitality, respect, and celebration of diversity and inclusiveness which polytheism requires are good things for all people of all religions to value and hold both dear and to the utmost in their dealings with others.  While those of us who are polytheists or Pagans of various types do not suffer now as much as People of Color and indigenous peoples still do as a result of these things, especially if we are white, nonetheless the continued marginalization of, ignorance about, and disrespect towards our religions that is alive and well–even at the Parliament–is based in these same notions, which have not been properly acknowledged by the leaders of major hegemonic monotheistic religions of the world, nor by the political leaders of diverse world governments, including that of the United States, as being the basis for this continued license to dehumanize and commit violence and other atrocities toward People of Color.

Black Lives Matter panel

Black Lives Matter panel [Photo Credit: C. Blanton]

Dr. Gwendolyn Reece

“I think it was absolutely important and was disappointed that it was not in a more prominent time slot. The reason that I think it is so important is that this is an international gathering and although racism is a larger and more universal topic, this session addressed the more focused topic of state-sponsored violence against Black people who are a vulnerable minority in the United States and this issue needs international attention. Part of what we know from the work of groups like Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and so forth is that in addition to citizens trying to hold their society and their governments accountable, there is an important and powerful role that can be played by international communities demanding accountability from a sovereign state. So, we need to combat racism in all of its guises, but in the very immediate we need to stop the state-sponsored violence and mass incarceration of Black people in the United States and we need increased international pressure to hold our governments (local, state, and federal) responsible.

“I honestly went in with open expectations and a willingness to be moved and changed rather than with specific expectations.  I can tell you that what I found most powerful in the panel were two different things. First, although I have been really striving to be informed about and engaged in BLM and have participated in demonstrations and have heard some of the leaders, in those contexts they are putting forth a platform, which is the appropriate strategic action and I support it. What I had not heard before, though, were the kinds of descriptive stories about the specifics of the backlash and the film that they showed was more graphic, upsetting, and powerful than I had seen in the media.   

“Although what was shown in the film was shocking, painful and upsetting to watch, I needed to see it. I needed to see it in its horror. You know, they rarely actually show the moment someone actually dies on the news. I think it was spiritually important to watch and bear witness.

“From my particular perspective as an Hellenic Pagan and a citizen of the United States (and as a priestess of Athena and Apollon, the duties of a citizen are sacred to me), I have a moral responsibility to act. Aristotle talks about the virtue of gentleness as being in right relationship with anger. If you have too much anger, then you are irascible. But in situations of injustice and atrocities, situations like the horrific violence perpetrated against our citizens of color by the people who are supposed to be the sacred guardians (the correct role of the police) if you are NOT angry, there is something morally wrong in your character. Sometimes to be gentle is to be filled with rage. In a society that mistakes placidity for gentleness, I think that we need spaces to explore, develop and harness holy anger.”

Elena Rose

Ivo Dominguez Jr.

“I expected black lives matter to be a fairly prominent topic at the Parliament, and was surprised to find that it was barely present. The Parliament of the World’s Religions potentially has the power to bring people together to work on mending the world. At the Parliament, we were encouraged to look at the pain, injustice, and tragedy in the world directly with an eye to taking action informed by our spirituality. Given this goal, I wonder at the virtual absence of BLM at the Parliament.

“I was there to hear stories of those on the front lines. I was there to hear voices that bolster the will to continue the work. I was hoping for more than was offered, and I worked to be grateful for the work of those on the panel despite their sometimes flawed representations.

“As soon as I got home and reconnected with the news stream, I discovered that Black churches were being burned again. Religious people aren’t the only ones that work to change the world, but they often have infrastructure that is needed for taking action. Faith communities are often a place to regenerate and to heal before re-entering the fray. Without a place of solace, activists can lose heart and clarity of thought. Dialogue leads to relationships that lead to solidarity. Faith communities need to join efforts to rebuild what hatred destroys.”

Elena Rose

“Black Lives Matter is the biggest theological debate happening on this continent right now, in the sense of an argument about meaning and the implications of meaning. Literally, we’re arguing over whether or not the lives and bodies and stories of Black people are worth the same as, matter as much as, are as precious as the lives and bodies and stories of other people. We’re having a national–and to some degree international–debate about what a Black body means and what that meaning demands of us as people in community. This isn’t a legal or scientific argument; it’s a matter of theology, of symbol and metaphor and value and most especially of who is worthy of love, worthy of protection, worthy of grace, worthy of justice. Where better to wrestle with the issue than in religious communities– especially considering how many religious communities have been at the frontline of the struggle?

“Black Lives Matter, as a movement, is a lot of things, but one of the things it is–even in the most secular sense you can dig up–is a question of morality, faith, theology. Do we, or do we not, listen to and have faith in Black people?  Do we, or do we not, have moral obligations to our Black neighbors? These questions are written in enormous letters all over our public discourse right now.  Any religious movement that wants to be relevant to our civic life has to at least address those questions, to acknowledge them and offer an answer.  If a religious movement is claiming to speak to the state of community, it has to answer to the call Black Lives Matter has put forth.  If a religious movement is claiming to say something about what matters about a human life, it has to answer the exposure here of massive, systematic dehumanization of millions of people. If a religious movement is in the business of caring for the people who come to it, of proclaiming compassion, it has to reckon with the terrible damage done to so many by white supremacy, unequal treatment under the law, murder with impunity, police misconduct. It’s not just vital, it’s simply not optional any more; pretending away this cultural moment, pretending away the call it represents, is the worst kind of abdication of responsibility.

“So, for all that, I was eager to see a discussion of Black Lives Matter at the Parliament of the World’s Religions–a whole international host of people who claim to be moral authorities, to be leaders of communities, to be seekers for the answers of what matters in the world, people you could expect to have fruitful conversations about big moral and theological questions. I wanted to see, if we put our Pagan, Christian, Muslim, Sikh, Jewish, Hindu, Indigenous heads together–if we got the Jains and the Heathens and the Unitarian Universalists in a room and lit the spark–if we could come up with better answers, or at least an agreement to act together in the name of justice and restoration. The US faith communities needed to see that the eyes of our colleagues around the world were on us in this place of crisis; the international leaders needed to see us grappling. The Parliament was an opportunity for us to have the conversation with survivors of the fight against Apartheid and with people who had no idea any of this was happening, to get outside perspectives and inside perspectives working together, and my hope was that it would happen in front of the many thousands of people attending the summit. This year’s theme was about reclaiming the heart of our humanity–what better way to do it? “

jim Wallis

Matt Whealton

“Hearing the direct witness of the speakers was a key aspect here. As we know, media messages are a cacophony that in some (or many) cases actively attempt to distract people from understanding the events and issues around BLM. Pastor McBride was brilliant in his descriptions of what happened at Ferguson and his personal growth through working with the young leaders of BLM there. I wish more could have heard his words. His and the panel’s personal transformation in confronting the violence against black bodies is inspiring, and the Parliament could have provided an even louder amplifier for them.

“The Parliament’s sessions can educate those from other parts of the world who may not be exposed to the issue. The Parliament’s purpose is to spark discussion and cooperation on the important matters that affect us across our traditions. BLM is surely a topic important enough for major programming. More could have been provided here, I believe.

“I feel it was necessary to show up and be counted in support of BLM, even though it was clear that the issue was not a mainstream one for the Parliament (an aspect that I believe was a miss of a great opportunity on the Parliament’s part).

“Another was the chance to hear about the current state of the movement. This was covered well, both by the speakers on the local (Utah) and national levels and also by some of the commenters during the Q&A at the end – some great stuff there. It was heartening to hear the audience going beyond just listening to share useful information, which in itself demonstrates just how non-centralized the movement is.

“On a personal level, it is a sacred act for me to “do Maat and speak Maat” (that is, live and act according to the principals Maat embodies – Truth, Justice, Order, Compassion, etc). Every faith community has a version of these ideals to guide individuals in or very near its core beliefs and obligations. So it is only natural that we should be working both within and between our traditions to effect changes. Maybe not every person will be inspired for this particular issue, but by opening spaces for BLM, those people who are inspired can join and not only build bridges but provide a ‘wall of bricolage’ – a wall stronger and more resilient than one built of just one material.”

Rowan Fairgrove

“I think it is especially important to have Black Lives Matter at the Parliament. If people of good faith trying to make the world a better place aren’t mobilized around this issue, then I would despair. I was interested to hear the story of Rev. Francis Davis, pastor of an historically black Baptist church in Salt Lake City. He noted that the African American population is about 2% in Utah – if he wants to get allies he has to reach out to the interfaith community to have a voice. And he has been successful in getting interfaith allies.

“I was hoping for a bit more analysis and more suggestions for follow-ons. “Black Lives Matter. Black Lives have been discounted. Here is the work that must be done.” People at the Parliament are supposed to make an ongoing commitment to make a difference in the world, fighting for #BLM could have been offered as a focus. [And not to be snarky, but I was hoping for a younger, more diverse panel. And that it take place earlier in the Parliament instead of being shoved to Sunday night.]

“The majority of people in the world look to a faith or spiritual community in their life. The core of most such traditions holds that people should be treated with dignity and respect; that fairness and truth are prime values. When there is so much structural imbalance and white supremacy present in our country, people of faith need to speak out, do the work, and dismantle the historic injustices. We need to work to make our vision a reality — of a world where all people, but especially those oppressed by the current system, can have prosperous, dignified lives as a welcome part of the community.

“I would also have liked more programming on the topic! We could share best practices and create a network of groups working within their communities. In San Jose, for instance, we are having Beloved Community meetings between the Police Department and community members (facilitated by clergy) … I would have loved to had a chance to hear what other communities are doing!”

  *   *   *

Although the room was more than half empty on this Sunday night timeslot, the impact of this one panel brought some much needed dialog about the responsibility and intersections of our faith communities in the demand for justice.

I sat in that room, not as a journalist or columnist for The Wild Hunt, but as a Black, Pagan woman looking for more ways to understand the impact of spirituality in the equity movement. It felt rewarding and supportive to know that so many Pagans and Polytheists were also motivated to attend this isolated offering at the Parliament. There were parts of the video shown in the panel that were emotionally evoking. Hearing the passion in the voices of the speakers on the panel, and in the audience, was truly an indicator that we are pushing beyond disbelief and into action.

It was also heartening to see people building coalition together, asking the hard questions, and acknowledging the work that has yet to be done. Among the many concerns we have become more comfortable fighting against, issues of systemic racism seem to still challenge many in greater society and within the modern Pagan and Polytheist communities. Yet so many people came to listen and participate in this workshop despite challenging planning on the Parliament’s part; there is still so much to discuss and so much to do within this time and space.

P. Sufenas Virius Lupus added a profound thought in eir interview that I would like to close with it here because it leaves us to think about the role of interfaith work in the justice movement, and why it is important to work together to challenge the status quo of our intersecting communities. E said,  “That #BlackLivesMatter even has to be said, and that religious leaders of mainstream religions even have to be reminded of this, demonstrates how very far from actualizing this recognition both religions and the general public are at during this moment in history. While making this more visible in a religious context is good and important, I am not certain that doing so will properly filter out into the general populace, either.”

Our communities have to continue to think on the importance of dialogue, and what is missing when Pagan, Polytheist, and voices of color are not included; And what is gained when we are at the table aiding in conversations that open up possibilities.

Below is the recorded livestream of the Black Lives Matter session at the Parliament of the World’s Religions

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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.

*   *   *

Macha

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 heathenchinese.wordpress.com.]

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.”

Responses
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.