Archives For P. Sufenas Virius Lupus

What is PantheaCon?

Heather Greene —  February 18, 2015 — 22 Comments

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

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

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

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

Krampus with author and Wild Hunt columnist Crystal Blanton

Krampus with author and Wild Hunt columnist Crystal Blanton

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Luna Pantera [Courtesy Photo]

Luna Pantera [Courtesy Photo]

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

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

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

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

A Fertile Lupercalia to You!

The Wild Hunt —  February 15, 2015 — 7 Comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A very blessed and fertile Lupercalia to you all!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Holli S. Emore

Holli S. Emore

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

P. Sufenas Virius Lupus

P. Sufenas Virius Lupus

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

Erick DuPree

Erick DuPree

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

robin fennelly

Robin Fennelly

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

Rev. Philipp J. Kessler

Rev. Philipp J. Kessler

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

Sable Aradia

Sable Aradia

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

Clio Ajana

Clio Ajana

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

T. Thorn Coyle

T. Thorn Coyle

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

 

Happy New Year to everyone! 

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

Wordle: Pronouns

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

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

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

P. Sufenas Virius Lupus

P. Sufenas Virius Lupus

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shauna Aura Knight

Shauna Aura Knight

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wordle: pronouns

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CAYA Coven Wildflower initiate Verity Blue said:

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

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

Ruadhán J McElroy

Ruadhán J McElroy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

“It is clear that Pagan elders need to listen to the young and new, or the young and new will bring change regardless.” – Jeff Mach, Rutgers University alumnus.

In the final article of our series “Pagans on Campus 2014,” we discuss the challenges and hurdles that lay before young Pagans as they reach out beyond campus life and beyond the comforts of the Pagan Student Association. If backlash is not the biggest problem, what is? The students also share their thoughts on the future of Paganism as a whole. What would they like to see as they continue their religious journey over next twenty years?

[Photo Credit: Visha Angelova/ Flickr]

[Photo Credit: Visha Angelova/ Flickr]

What is the biggest obstacle facing young Pagans as they explore their chosen spiritual paths?

Mary Hudson

Mary Hudson

Syracuse University Chaplain Mary Hudson says, “Being young and not finding teachers or mentors that are willing to work with them. Students are hungry for learning and they are full of energy. I have heard many young Pagans talk about being frustrated for not be treated well.”

Hudson’s comment was echoed by other advisers who regularly interact with college Pagans. Jeff Mach, a Rutgers University graduate, says, “It is incredibly hard to get taken seriously while you’re young and everyone in a position of power tends to assume you don’t have enough life experience to know what you’re doing.”

Interestingly, Pagan students did not cite this as an issue at all. The biggest obstacle for most of the them was the attaining of valid religious and spiritual information. Nick Nelson, president of Ball State University’s Society for Earth-based Religions (SER), said, “Young pagans need access to quality and accurate information on Paganism. That means more than just books.” He believes that young Pagans have limited opportunities to experience ritual or interact with other Pagans outside the small campus sphere. He adds, “The leaders of Pagan [organizations] have to be creative in how they are getting information out there for younger members.”

Sarah Morgan, UGA [Photo credit: S. Morgan]

Sarah Morgan, UGA [Photo credit: S. Morgan]

Sarah Morgan, a Druid at the University of Georgia (UGA), wishes there was more available information on non-Wiccan practices. She says, “I think the biggest obstacle for young Pagans is for them to find a Path that truly fits them … You don’t have to follow a specific path word for word. You don’t always have to be Wiccan.” Morgan says that most authors who write specifically for young people are Wiccan. She adds, “We need more options out there.”

It may seem surprising that in a so-called information age it is the information itself that is the biggest obstacle. Several Pagan students specifically said that the Internet is as much of an hurdle as it is an asset. Jackson Elfin, a Heathen studying at BSU, explains “The Internet can breed things that are erroneous and dangerous, and teens have a risk of finding things that are unsafe/untrue … a big need in Pagan education is learning how to sort out the good stuff from the bad.”

Sabine Green, adviser of New Mexico State University (NMSU) Pagan Student Association, notes, “Students are at a pivotal point in their spiritual journey … it is so important to find valid teachers and traditions. It is vital that [elders] help steer the up-and-coming generation to explore and stay safe.” Green feels that guidance is absolutely essential because one of the biggest dangers for young Pagans is exploitation.

Looking at the greater Pagan experience, what would you like to see happen over the next 20 years?

Suretha Thacker [Photo Credit: S. Thacker]

Suretha Thacker [Photo Credit: S. Thacker]

Several of the students would simply like to see global acceptance of the various religious practices that fall under the Pagan umbrella. Wiccan student, Suretha Thacker, says, “I would like to be able to say, ‘I’m off to celebrate Lughnasadh,’ and have no one give me a puzzled look.” Heather Sky Cybele, a recent Purdue graduate, has a similar dream saying, “I would love to see Pagans be open about their religion, just as Christians and Jews are, without being considered crazy.”

Morgan adds, “Many Pagans are becoming a lot more comfortable with coming out … this allows young Pagans to not only feel accepted but also lets them have the resources to grow on their Paths.”

Jackson Elfin [Photo Credit: J. Elfin]

Jackson Elfin [Photo Credit: J. Elfin]

Elfin would also liked to see greater acceptance. He adds, “The establishment of spaces for Pagans is important … I know that gaining land is a way to survival because no matter how much we talk about legislation or representation, the religion game is ultimately landocratic.” Looking into the future, Elfin sees Pagans gaining more prominence by owning more land on which to practice and celebrate.

With land ownership and event sponsorship come structure and organization. Most of the young Pagans interviewed want to see cohesion and community-building in the coming years. Nelson says, “It will be much easier for a united Pagan community to gain public acceptance rather than every denomination working individually.”

UGA student Angela Riverio adds, “I feel that part of the reason that we hide so much is because we are divided and that makes us more vulnerable. Separation of practices is perfectly fine, but when a group is being pressured by an outside force, making allies really helps.”

Nick Nelson [Photo credit: N. Nelson]

Nick Nelson [Photo credit: N. Nelson]

Many of these students, like those at UGA or BSU, are coming from a campus environment that supports a well-structured, supported Pagan association that thrives within a cultural microcosm. Such a level of community organization may be difficult to find or replicate beyond campus life. However, with the growing development and interest in campus Pagan groups, this next generation of Pagans might be “growing up” with an entirely different understanding of community-building, including the benefits and downfalls of such work.

Caity Wallace, president of Drexel University’s Pagan Association (DUPA), says, “Pagans tend to be a decentralized, somewhat religiously anarchist lot, which is great for a lot of things, but it doesn’t lend itself to helping a new cohort enter the community.” She would like to see more strides in community organization that assist new seekers, both young and old.  Wallace adds, “Right now I’m seeing the community splintering a bit … However I’ve also been seeing the community be more aggressive about policing itself … and that gives me hope. So in the next 20 years, I see us becoming a much more diverse group, with more accountability.”

Paul Blessing [Photo Credit: P. Blessing]

Paul Blessing [Photo Credit: P. Blessing]

Paul Blessing, former president of Rutgers University Pagan Association, says:

Honestly Paganism appears to be simmering down … It’s becoming more of an accepted form of religion, and with that comes a sense of mundanity. This could be good or bad. On the good side, it will allow more people to explore Paganism without fear of negative social and familial consequences … On the other hand, I have to admit, I’m kinda afraid of Paganism getting “old and fat” like the rest of mainstream religions.

There were several other wishes for the future, including the embracing of technology and the building of community centers. Two students turned a critical eye on their own generation in expressing the hope that more young Pagans develop an interest in learning. Veloblom Vigjaldrsdottir, an Asatru student at Nazareth College, explains, “The more you understand your faith and beliefs, the more you understand yourself … Sadly younger Pagans that I meet don’t tend to share that ideology.” She finds that trait primarily in “elderly adults” who convert to Paganism. Vigjaldrsdottir hopes to see a strengthening of the bridge between the various generations so that “we can learn collectively.”

As the African proverb goes, “It takes a village to raise a child.” Dr. P. Sufenas Virius Lupus, adviser to the Pagan Student Union at Skagit Valley College, Whidby Island Campus, says:

To anyone who considers advising such a group … never underestimate what might be possible if you simply ask. We have been able to secure funding [from the school] for attendance of some of our students [to] the Polytheist Leadership Conference … It has been an excellent opportunity to … do something of lasting importance and meaning for members of our community.

Chaplain Mary Hudson adds, “The young Pagans are the future and what we teach is what we will harvest. The students are smart, they are informed in ways that we never dreamed and they are eager to be full, productive members of Pagan communities. Accept their enthusiasm and be honest with them (not brutal) and enjoy the ride.”

 

To read the previous two articles:

Pagans on Campus 2014, Part 1: Community and Pagan Student Organizations

Pagans on Campus 2014, Part 2: Practice and Resources 

 

To remember what it was like to be young and questioning and full of excitement. I think that is one of the greatest things we can learn – Chaplain Mary Hudson, Syracuse University.

In Part 1 of “Pagans on Campus 2014,” we looked very generally at the Pagan student experience on American college campuses, as well as the role played by Pagan student associations. While opportunities for positive community building are increasing, students do not attend college to simply engage in religious seeking. Campus life revolves around scholarly pursuits, most of which are very demanding on a student’s time.Today we look at how students balance or integrate their spiritual work into their busy academic careers, and where they find guidance and resources.

[Photo Credit: University of Saskatchewan/Flickr]

[Photo Credit: University of Saskatchewan/Flickr]

Do you feel your chosen spiritual path is an integral part of your academic studies, or is it entirely separate?

The answer to this question varies greatly and is dependent, in part, on a student’s course of study. For example, Caity Wallace, a math major at Drexel University says, “I don’t find [that my major] integrates well with my religious life. That combined with my fear of losing respect for my faith (or having faith – STEM fields tend to favor Atheism in my experience) means I take care to keep those parts of my life distinct.”

On the other hand, Angela Riveiro, a Horticulture major at the University of Georgia (UGA), says, “While I did not intend it, my … major does fit into my focus on Nature. Learning to be a steward of the land and how to grow plants fits nicely with my spiritual beliefs.”

Jackson Elfin [Photo Credit: J. Elfin]

Jackson Elfin [Photo Credit: J. Elfin]

Similarly, fellow UGA student Sarah Morgan sees a definite connection between her education and her Pagan practice. Morgan says, “Psychology is really making strides in the more holistic ways of healing. We are learning a lot about meditation, visualization and… their benefits to mental health.”

Several of the interviewed students acknowledged only “tangential” connections between their spiritual beliefs and their studies. Jackson Elfin, for example, is a creative writing major at Ball State University (BSU). He notes that his Heathen practice is “handy for providing subject matter,” and that he often “prays to Bragi, Lord of the Poets” while writing.

Rachel Tyburski, president of Penn State’s Silver Circle, says, ” I do not try to keep my studies and faith separate, though they often seem to be … I let faith and school fall in place where they decide.”

Finally, for some students the boundaries between religious life and academics don’t exist exist at all. Jessica Dinsmore, a biochemistry and molecular biology major at UGA, says, “I’ve never seen my religion and my studies as two separate entities, because both are an important part of who I am.”

Nick Nelson [Photo credit: N. Nelson]

Nick Nelson [Photo credit: N. Nelson]

Nick Nelson, a double major in Religion and Anthropology at BSU agrees, saying, “Religion is one of my passions.During class, I study religion as a cultural phenomenon; privately I explore religion in a more spiritual sense. It fascinates me from each angle.”

Veloblom Vigjaldrsdottir, a graduate student at Nazareth College says:

I would say faith is incorporated into every way you walk. I may not directly relate each piece of paper I write on or each lecture I sit through as word from the gods. However, I believe that the Asatru path … is one where you are meant to be the best you can in everything you do and honor the ancestors that have fallen before you by continuing the tradition of determination and strength. That is how I carry my faith and that is how I honor my gods and ancestors.

When you do find time to practice or study your religion, what is your focus? To whom or what do you turn?

Dr. P. Sufenas Virius Lupus, a Polytheist, blogger and adjunct history instructor, acts as adviser to the Pagan Student Union at Skagit Valley College, Whidby Island Campus. Lupus observes:

Given the demands of college life, and of community colleges in particular … there is often neither as much time nor opportunity to engage in some of what [students] would like to with Paganism as they might wish. As a result, this creates an intensification of some experiences when they can happen … [It] causes the occasions to be “more special” because of their much-appreciated rarity.

Suretha Thacker [Photo Credit: S. Thacker]

Suretha Thacker [Photo Credit: S. Thacker]

All of the interviewed students did admit to either having limited time to practice or limited access to resources. Suretha Thacker, a Wiccan practitioner at Georgia Gwinnett College, says, “I have an altar and make an effort to celebrate Sabbats. I would like to be more involved, but I don’t have the time yet.” Dinsmore, who is exploring Shamanism, admitted that she often askes “ancestral spirits for guidance and teachings” because she doesn’t have access to relevant books, and has “yet to find a Shaman on a similar path.”

Despite any imposed limitations, most students are, in fact, engaging in some form of religious work. Wallace says, “I’m almost always studying my path. That’s one of my hobbies, … I get most of my teachings from books, the Internet and podcasts. I just downloaded 30 episodes of Selena Fox’ Circle Cast.”

In many cases, the campus-based Pagan student organizations are able to assist with resources and spiritual education. For example, UGA’s Pagan Student Association (PSA) holds weekly workshops that explore different Pagan paths and practices. In the past, subjects have included herbs, crystals, energy healing, shielding, Magick 101 and holiday lore. PSA has also invited practitioners from other religions to promote interfaith education and tolerance.

Paul Blessing [Photo Credit: P. Blessing]

Paul Blessing [Photo Credit: P. Blessing]

In doing this work, a Pagan student organization becomes more than a community center. It can be an informal coven or religious study group. Like UGA, the Rutgers University Pagan Student Association (RUPSA) holds a variety of events to enhance Pagan student practice. Recent graduate Paul Blessing found his path, Omnimancy, through an RUPSA forum event. Blessing is now an active practitioner and attends weekly meetings with a local Omnimancy group in New Jersey.

While Blessing eventually found and chose a structured Pagan tradition, most of the students said that they were more or less self-taught. Elfin, a practicing Heathen, finds his best resources online, saying “[On the Internet] there are people with similar faiths that I can learn a bit from, pick up tips or ideas for liturgy.”

Due to its near universal availability, the Internet is filling gaps when local resources and connectivity are lacking, or when free time is scarce. Students can download podcasts, read blogs or communicate over social media at any time and across space. Heather Sky Cybele, a Purdue University graduate, believes the Internet is “the biggest asset” for young Pagan students today.

What role does the Internet play in your religious education and spiritual growth?

Sarah Morgan, UGA [Photo credit: S. Morgan]

Sarah Morgan, UGA [Photo credit: S. Morgan]

Without a doubt, Facebook is the single biggest player in helping young Pagans stay up-to-date and connected to other students and friends. Morgan says, “Social media … keeps me informed about upcoming meetings, lets me meet new people and also allows me to learn a lot more than I ever could have on my own.”

Outside of Facebook, the most common sites used were Tumblr, Twitter, Yahoo Groups, Meetup.com and YouTube. Blessing says that YouTube “provided a tone of informative videos on practically every topic under the sun.”  Wallace called Meetup.com a “low-investment way to meet local Pagans” when she was visiting Maryland.

Students also look to religion-specific sites for information and connectivity. Vigjaldrsdottir visits Slavorum.com in order to stay in touch with “some of the Slavic faith individuals so that [she] can compare traditions and see the evolution of [her] own.” Similarly, Sky Cybele uses the popular Pagan information site, Witchvox.com, to connect with Pagans around the country, specifically when traveling.

What about traditional media resources? All of the students said that they do not read print magazines, for enrichment or entertainment. Wallace explains, “The cost coupled with the frequency of moving makes reading them difficult.”

Heather Sky Cybele [Photo Credit: H. Sky Cybele]

Heather Sky Cybele [Photo Credit: H. Sky Cybele]

In place of print magazines, young Pagans are turning to blogs and other digital publications for their Pagan or religious reading material. Sky Cybele regularly reads the blogs on the Pagan Channel at Patheos. Elfin says that he also enjoys reading blogs like Raise the Horns, but he doesn’t have as much time as he would like.

Riveira currently follows over 10 different Pagan blogs and websites, adding, “It was through various websites that I found my local groups and information … Young people can learn about their chosen paths without having to put themselves at risk or at a disadvantage of those around them.”

What disadvange? Is it one of age or experience? Do young Pagans feel lost in the greater community or ignored by older generations? In the third and final part of this series, we will examine the relationship between elders and this younger generation. We will also look forward into tomorrow to see how they envision the future.

Pagan Community Notes is a series focused on news originating from within the Pagan community. Reinforcing the idea that what happens to and within our organizations, groups, and events is news, and news-worthy. My hope is that more individuals, especially those working within Pagan organizations, get into the habit of sharing their news with the world. So let’s get started!

Publicity still from "Britain's Wicca Man".

Gerald Gardner

Last year a commemorative blue plaque was erected in England to honor the life and work of Doreen Valiente, considered by many to be the mother of modern religious Witchcraft. Now, this June, Gerald Gardner, who first introduced Wicca to the wider world, will receive the same honor. Quote: “Friday 13 might be considered unlucky for some, but Friday 13 June 2014 promises instead to be an especially auspicious day for Wiccans, because it is when the blue plaque for Gerald Gardner, the Father of Modern Wicca, is being unveiled at his former home in Highcliffe, Dorset. The day was picked because it is the anniversary of his birthday – Gerald Brosseau Gardner was born on June 13, 1884. The Doreen Valiente Foundation and the Centre for Pagan Studies, in collaboration with Children of Artemis, have organised the historic occasion when a commemorative blue plaque for Gerald Gardner will be unveiled at the house in which he lived.” You can find out more about the event, here. You can learn more about the UK’s blue heritage plaques, here.

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10302236_4128042894802_6817282739509919849_nOn May 17th the Lancaster Intelligencer Journal published a fairly general “meet the Pagans” type puff piece. But then, the piece was pulled from their online edition after it came to light that Rev. Kim Cabot Consoli had an arrest record. The paper published a long Mea Culpa that not only listed that arrest record, but also that they “did not put witchcraft into a larger context of the faith and values of our community.” Enter Get Religion, who does a credible dissection of what we know, and what might have happened behind the scenes. Quote: “It’s such an ancient pitch: Step on stories that might offend some readers, and you’ll keep them happy. The trouble is that it ends up offending other readers who don’t like newspapers stepping on stories. In trying to avoid one controversy, you create another. Why not simply report the additional news?” So, lots of important questions are raised here in the realms where journalism and modern Paganism intersect. Does a criminal record mean you shouldn’t be written up for religion at some later point? Was her arrest merely a cover for the fact that they wanted to kill the story? Whatever the case, the Lancaster Intelligencer Journal hasn’t bathed itself in glory here (but good job giving Gawker something to write about).

18799_253556621440675_939061554_nHeathens United Against Racism has raised over $4000 dollars to benefit the victims of the April hate-motived shootings in Kansas City that claimed the lives of three people. The alleged shooter was tied to Norse Pagan beliefs, specifically Odinism, during the initial rush of news reports. The fundraiser was a way of HUAR underlining the fringe nature of the shooter’s racist ideology, and that Asatru, and related faiths, are not based on racial hate or prejudice. Quote: “We are not a religion of hatred and refuse to tolerate the perversion of our faith to justify senseless acts of bigotry. On behalf of the Heathen community, we vehemently denounce Cross and all his ilk. Accordingly, we also extend our deepest condolences to everyone affected by this tragedy. As Heathens we value deeds over words. Please help us to raise funds to give to the families affected and to the communities targeted. We can never undo what has been done or return those who have been lost, but together we can foster unity and denounce the hatred that catalyzed this atrocity.” You can read official announcements regarding this fundraiser at HUAR’s Facebook page.

In Other Pagan Community Notes:

  • P. Sufenas Virius Lupus takes leave of Patheos.com, and discusses the reasons why in a farewell column. Quote: “I would, thus, like to close my words at Patheos by thanking everyone who has made my presence here possible, and who has contributed to the conversations held here in diverse ways. I will end with an echo of how I began this column, as the shadow of where I stood here fades and moves elsewhere: Queer I Stood—by the gods, I can do no other. And by the gods, for I can do no other, I shall still Queerly Stand elsewhere in the future.” More here.
  • The 6th Annual Pagan Values Event, which takes place each June, has begun. Quote: “Each June Bloggers, Podcasters, and other content creators from across the many faiths and philosophies of Contemporary Paganism are encouraged to post, broadcast, tweet, or otherwise speak out on the concept of Pagan Values. By naming and exploring the values, virtues, and ethics, we have found on our many pagan paths we are not trying to claim that they are ours exclusively, we simply wish to let the world know that we have them. Our goal is to inspire, to stir conversation, and to explore what it is that the good man or woman will teach their children of body and spirit.”
  • Neo-Paganism.org is seeking help for its timeline of Neo-Pagan history. Quote: “The timeline runs more or less from through the late 19th century to the present. Your help is needed! Corrections as to dates or details are welcome. As are recommendations for additional entries. The 1990′s and 21st century are especially sparse on entries, I think, so your help there is especially welcome.”
  • Dear lovers of Glycon the snake-puppet-god, writer Alan Moore had heard your cries for more information! Quote: “As people become disillusioned by the returned gods, the noticeably unreturned god Glycon piques curiosity and hope in a few would-be-followers, drawing Moore into their desperate plea for a priest and an encounter with Glycon himself.”

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

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

Rhyd Wildermuth

Rhyd Wildermuth

“Strings and wires and cords bind me and embrace me and restrain me, but they are not mine alone. There are other filaments, unseen but always felt, invisible but ever-present.  Some tie you to me, thoughts and dreams, laughter and hatred, what is shared and what is feared.  I meet you and we are tethered, sometimes anchored, sometimes set aloft like connected balloons slipping from the hands of children into the endlessness of sky.  Some tie me to you, affection or dislike, duty or admiration, care or casualty, love or loss.  Some are like chains which weigh upon the soul, but many others like long stitches which keep us together. Not just in present, either.  There are the threads of fate woven into my form and existence at birth and from even before, the tugging strong rope of destiny unfolding, and all the myriad unfollowed threads of stories and sorrows, possibilities and failures still loose. I’ve heard existence spoken of as a web, but I have never quite felt this true.  Webs are spun to constrict and trap, to bind and kill.  A broken strand does not destroy it.  Its patterns can be predicted, its geometry assured. No. Rather, then, a tapestry, woven from time and the self, of threads countless and coloured, and each strand is you, and you, and you, and some of them are me.” Rhyd Wildermuth, on strings, and the tapestry of existence.

Julian Betkowski

Julian Betkowski

“Part of the process of community building is realizing that community will be composed of others potentially quite unlike ourselves. We must be willing to release our preconceptions and allow others to speak for themselves. Others are not simply mirrors, dully reflecting our own images back to us, they possess a depth and mystery all their own. When we interpret the speech of others as metaphor, we strip them of their depth, of the richness of their experience, and refuse to acknowledge any unique substance in them. Simply, others are reduced to pale imitations of ourselves, and can only be understood as phantom extensions of our own being. This is a subtle form of solipsism. The strategy of reinterpretation becomes even more troublesome when the speech of others becomes so unique, so different from our own expectations, that it naturally resists all attempts to be read as metaphor. We will encounter others with whom we share so little in common that descriptions of their own experiences will find little to no resonance among our own store of memory. In such situations we are forced to either employ extreme hermeneutical maneuvers in order to apologize their speech with our experience or disregard it as nonsense. Alternatively, we could, most simply, just accept it as it is presented to us.” – Julian Betkowski, on resisting the urge towards metaphor in our interactions with others.

Carol Kirk

Carol Kirk

“Even to use the word “community” when speaking of Pagans would seem to be a misnomer.  There is no Pagan community where I live.  There is just a small group of Pagans who get together over coffee every two weeks and then go their own way. They have no interest in working together on community projects or in working with those of non-Pagan religions. They don’t have any interest in creating any sort of Pagan community so why care about reaching out to the rest of the interfaith community at all?  It seems to me we have become as judgmental and as intolerant of each other as those other religions we complain of when they do the same. Perhaps our interfaith work as Pagans needs to begin with ourselves.  If we cannot find tolerance and an ability to work together between the various forms of Paganism, what chance do we have of finding it in the outside world? Something to remember about interfaith work is that it isn’t all about talking about your beliefs and practices with others; although, education to end misinformation is certainly part of what we in interfaith hope to accomplish.  Rather successful interfaith is about gathering those of many faiths who have an interest in programs to benefit their community, to promote social justice, and to work to the good of all.  It is through working side by side on such programs that we come to acknowledge that we are all human and that we can and do care for each other.  Maybe this is where the various Pagan religions need to start.” – Carol Kirk (aka Lark), on interfaith within the Pagan movement.

Ivo Dominguez Jr.

Ivo Dominguez Jr.

“What matters to me is that we leave behind a viable culture and a real infrastructure as Pagans. Infrastructure  is the single most important next step. Things that are tangible and real in the physical world are infrastructure. It could be a building, be land, be a library or a shrine or temple. A large event like Pantheacon is infrastructure too. It takes a large number of individuals, money, time, and energy to create this Brigadoon type of event that lasts only a few days. Three thousand people intersect in a great Pagan crossroads, like a Pagan United Nations session. This is also fragile, it takes very little to destroy an event. It take a lot to maintain, and requires cohesiveness of a group to continue. How we hope to maintain things like this is by this example. We put on an event every few years called Between the Worlds. In 2015 it conflicts with a smaller annual event in the Mid-Atlantic area the Sacred Space conference. We could just go forth and divide the teachers and participants between the two events. The smaller group would probably suffer financially and possibly become less viable. Our two boards met and decided to hold a joint conference. Both events will take place in the same hotel and admission to one gets you admission to the other. We have worked it out to be fair and keep both events, the infrastructure viable.  Cooperation is possible, it is not easy. It is messy, but it can be done.” – Ivo Dominguez Jr., on what Paganism needs to accomplish in the next 20 years. 

Sable Aradia

Sable Aradia

“Here was a great book; a practical step-by-step guide,  with detailed tables and illustrations, that explained magick in a direct, matter-of-fact manner which encouraged scientific thinking and observation of empirical evidence.  Sometimes I am a little obsessive about things, and I threw myself into the Work.  I did the year-long course delineated in Mr. Kraig’s excellent textbook in six months. This is not something I recommend, by the way.  My life went promptly to hell for the next two years, grounded in personal magickal transformation and teenage angst.  But I emerged from that period as a very strong person, with a lifelong appreciation for and love of magick and the Craft. I credit Modern Magick with significantly improving my magickal technique; because the training was excellent, and because I did it at such a young age.  I have seen this book since listed among recommendations for “Advanced” material that long-time Witches, bored with the basic how-to books, could go to in order to take their practice to the next step.” – Sable Aradia, on how Donald Michael Kraig impacted her life and religious practice.

Lon Milo DuQuette. Photo by Charles Elliott.

Lon Milo DuQuette

“I bet you’ve always felt special, haven’t you? Be honest with yourself. I’d wager that even as a child you you were haunted by the uneasy feeling that you were different from everyone else around you. You probably felt (and still feel) profoundly alone with a host of naughty feelings, secret fears, disturbing dreams, curious passions, and desires that are uniquely yours and yours alone. Compared to everyone else, you might consider yourself quietly odd, different, perhaps even defective or incomplete. Nevertheless, even though all of us to one degree or another secretly believe ourselves to be profoundly and fundamentally flawed, we simultaneously believe we are the most special, most interesting, most fascinating person in the universe—the super-star of our own movie, the protagonist of our own novel, the most important actor in the great drama of existence. Am I right? Don’t worry if your answer is “yes.” You’re probably not too crazy. And you’re certainly not alone in your megalomania. Everyone feels that way—and for good reason. Because it’s true!” – Lon Milo DuQuette, on finding the Muse.

David Oliver Kling

David Oliver Kling

“Recently, I found myself feeling like I was running through a gauntlet within a local Facebook group by a few members of the group who had a serious problem with Christopaganism.  Their problem was centered on their understanding of, “the Bible says this…”  What transpired was a litany of Bible passages they felt that condemned Paganism.  I responded that I didn’t feel it necessary to “proof text” with them and volley back with other Bible passages.  I responded that I didn’t feel the Bible was “inerrant” and that I believed it was written by people struggling to make meaning out of their world.  I mentioned that what was important was the hermeneutic one used to interpret the entire text and not taking various texts out of context to use as a “theological weapon” against another. What does it mean for Pagans if we become what we say we are not?  One does not need to embrace Christopaganism to dialogue about it for understanding.  What does it say if we become the type of community that expects tolerance from others without practicing tolerance?  This is the heart of the dilemma I presented. This same treatment I’m advocating towards Christopaganism should be offered towards other forms of Paganism different from one’s own.   As a community, Paganism is starting to mature.  We’re starting to “come of age,” and with that comes responsibility.  In life it is often common to give youth or adolescence a “pass” from time to time with the explanation of, “Well they’re young…” As a community we’re reaching a point where we can no longer be given a pass.  We need to practice the tolerance that we covet for ourselves and when we fall short of this, and we will, we need to acknowledge our shortcomings and keep trying.” – David Oliver Kling, on practicing what you preach.

P. Sufenas Virius Lupus

P. Sufenas Virius Lupus

“Do you know that thing which happens to some performers, who are great in a performance in front of thousands of people, but then they falter when they know that their mother is in the audience? This kind of feels like that: I’ve done rituals halfway across the world, and in many other parts of the U.S. (including not far from here, in Anacortes and Seattle and Bellingham), in front of large groups of people, but this is different. Two people who will be there have only done/been at one other ritual, ever (this one!), and while I’d like it to be good for them, at the same time, I know that pretty much anything will be good as far as they’re concerned…And, I know the main Diva who will be receiving our praises appreciates anything and everything that people are able to do for her, and should be pleased with this (which may be the largest group I’ve ever had for a ritual to her–the next-largest being myself and two others, including Erynn Rowan Laurie, in 2009 at her house, and likewise one in 2005 in Ireland with two others, including Sharynne MacLeod Nic Mhacha at my house there), nonetheless, there’s another audience that we don’t often take as much into account as we ought to, even as scrupulous, self-conscious, and (most importantly!) other-aware polytheists and animists, which is the place of place itself and those places that are particular to us and know us and in which we have lived, but which may not be “used to” certain sorts of activities by us in those locations.” – P. Sufenas Virius Lupus, on a strange form of homecoming.

T. Thorn Coyle

T. Thorn Coyle

“There is nothing in our lives that is not sacred. Our laughter. Our excretions. Our hopes and dreams. Our fear. The way we love. The way we cry. The way we fight. What we eat. How we learn. There is nothing in our lives that is not sacred because life itself is a holy and blessed thing. Every flower, animated. Every rock, an ancient pattern. Each song, an expression of humanity in relationship to all things. We are star stuff, it is said, and this is true. We are made of the same iron that gives off distant, dying light. We are made of the same iron that anchors us to this earth. Sometimes we remember. Sometimes we forget. Every day presents this offering: Try again.” – T. Thorn Coyle, on living sacred

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