A Few Quick Notes

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A few news items I wanted to share with you this Saturday morning. We start off with a glowing profile of the Starwood Festival from Mark Mansfield of Stereo Subversion.

“The best festival I’ve ever participated in, I heard about through word of mouth fifteen years ago. Festival has many different meanings depending on the person. The Hippie might be thinking about Rothbury this year, with it’s heavy Deadhead lineup. The Artist might think of Burning Man where contributory art is everywhere and fires abound. Somewhere in that intersection is Starwood.  Billed as the largest Pagan festival in North America, it is that and so much more … Starwood is a festival unlike any other. It is quite literally what you make it. Some people live for the drumming, while others are intent on attending as many workshops as they can. For some it is a hedonistic party while for others it is a deeply spiritual and transformative experience (and in fact is often both at the same time.) Though not exclusively a music festival, between the concerts, the radio station, and the night’s drumming, the music never stops.”

Dare I wonder if Starwood is becoming, well, hip? Will people start talking about Starwood they way they talk about Burning Man? Maybe, but the musical lineup is still heavily weighted towards the folky-pagan and old hippie, with touches of world music, so I think they have awhile before they’re completely inundated with outsiders.

The wonderful Goddess spirituality blog Medusa Coils points to a recent essay by Starhawk at Alive Mind & Spirit that explores the ever-shrinking mainstream market for “women’s spirituality” book titles, and what that has done to their movement.

“…although you may or may not have noticed, major publishers are no longer terribly interested in books on women’s spirituality.  Why?  Back in the ‘eighties, HarperSanFrancisco published not just me but a whole lot of great books—Carol Christ, Marija Gimbutas, Z. Budapest, Luisah Teish, Vicki Noble if I’m remembering it all right.  They were the books we read, discussed, got excited about and inspired by. Then sometime in the nineties they dropped just about everyone except me—not because the books weren’t selling, but because they weren’t selling enough.  They lost interest in publishing for a strong, steady niche, and only really wanted to publish blockbusters for the mass market … it had a debilitating effect on the movement.  Without the books to inspire women, without new books to continue the discussions and debate, we lost ground, especially with younger women.”

Starhawk also seems to partially blame the Internet and blogging on this shift, though she hasn’t been shy in utilizing the web to fuel her own activist concerns and capitalist endeavours (one wonders how many new readers she gets from her lofty perch at the Newsweek/Washington Post-backed On Faith blog). It is true that book publishers are increasingly focused on “blockbusters”, but it’s also true that there has been a slow shift in the “New Age” book market away from Pagan/occult material and towards the Oprah-style self-empowerment/improvement genre(s). The industry is in flux, and the Pagan and Goddess-focused authors and small publishers will have to think of new ways to reach their audiences (just as the book Starhawk mentions, “Women of Wisdom”, seems to be doing).

In a final note, the First Amendment Center reminds Christians who complain about minority-faith accommodation that they are the one’s who wrote the rules that exclusively benefited them, and who now must deal with the changes that come from a truly religiously pluralistic (and free) society.

“When people complain about the growing list of requests for accommodation in public schools from students and parents from minority faiths, I like to remind them that the majority faith wrote the rules. Founded as Protestant-dominated institutions in the 19th century, public schools never open on Sunday, close for Christmas, and in other ways institutionalize accommodations for the majority faith … Students in the majority faith rarely need religious accommodation in public schools because the majority wrote the rules in the first place – and in many places still writes the rules. For students like Adriel whose faith is unfamiliar to many school officials, it’s often difficult to get a fair hearing. For some school officials, rules are rules – no exceptions. But religious liberty, or freedom of conscience, is our nation’s first freedom. Rather than complaining about all those requests for accommodation, we should be celebrating the genius of the First Amendment, which recognizes religious liberty as an inalienable right for people of all faiths and none. It takes work – and accommodation isn’t always possible. But taking claims of conscience seriously should be at the heart of what it means to be an American.”

Religious freedom means freedom for all religions. The Protestants who wrote the rules may never have envisioned a day when Pagan, or Buddhist, or even Muslim students would one day be a part of their societal fabric, but thanks to our (Enlightenment and Deist-influenced) Constitution we have the ability to thrive in that changed world.

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