Column: Diversity and Underrepresentation at Pagan Pride Events

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September is often referred to as Pagan Pride month. Official Pagan Pride Day (PPD) events are a part of the Pagan Pride Project’s mission to “foster pride in Pagan identity through education, activism, charity and community.” According to the Pagan Pride Project website, “PPD Inc had 95 events happen across the USA; Canada; Mexico; Brazil; Columbia; Bolivia; Argentina; Chile; Costa Rica; Panama; the Dominican Republic; Rome, Italy; Vienna, Austria; and Plymouth, United Kingdom. Our 2012 attendance was 44,825.”

And while the Pagan Pride Project stakes claim to the PPD brand, many organizations are holding community events in September and marketing them as pride events for the Pagan community. September has become the official and unofficial month of “Pagan Pride” and events are held all over the United States to celebrate Pagan spirituality, educate the community at large, and to be a resource for networking, shopping, and entertainment.

Every year these events happen and some may walk away feeling the enjoyment of a day in the sun with community, while others feel excluded or disenchanted with the outcome of the event. This September alone, we have seen several blogs come out about some people’s experiences at this year’s events, and the conversations of whether everyone is represented at Pagan Pride Day.

What are the objectives or positive attributes of PPD events? And what can be done to encourage diversity among races, alternative lifestyles, and different subsets of Paganism that are often under-represented? With this Pagan Pride season in full swing, I asked some people about their experiences the last few years, why they go, if they felt represented, and what they may want to see in future PPD events.

Yvonne E. Nieves

Yvonne E. Nieves

 “As a Pagan woman of color, I struggle with attending pagan events for two reasons. The first reason is that to my non-Pagan community, it may seem as if I am Wiccan, a religion which has historically been associated with people of Anglo-Saxon and Northern-European heritage. There is a misconception that all Pagans are Wiccans, and conversely, that all Wiccans are white. Secondly, I find that pride events walk a fine line, as Pagans are often compartmentalized as being Wiccans who work mainly within a European construct. Both are simply not true. The way I challenge these notions is by actively attending Pagan pride events in order to educate both the Pagan and non-Pagan community that I am not Wiccan, and that Paganism allows me to honor the spirits of my ethnic heritage, as well as work in other, non-European pantheons.” – Yvonne E. Nieves, Pagan Witch and Reiki Master

Selena Fox, of Circle Sanctuary, has been actively supporting the Pagan Pride Project for the last 15 years, since its inception in 1998. She has continued to facilitate rituals and this year has attended PPD events in Chicago and Madison, Wisconsin. She is also scheduled to attend the Greater New Orleans PPD on September 21st, and for South Jersey PPD on October 5th. Other Circle Sanctuary Ministers and staff are listed at eight Pagan Pride Day events.

Selena Fox at Chicago PPD Opening Rite, courtesy of Manny Hammonds of Center of the Elemental Spirit

Selena Fox at Chicago PPD Opening Rite, courtesy of Manny Hammonds of Center of the Elemental Spirit

“Why support Pagan Pride Day events and the Pagan Pride Day project?  Doing so can help facilitate networking and relationships among Pagans of different paths as well as are opportunities for those who are not Pagan to learn more about Paganism as a whole and its diversity.

There is an on-going need to develop rituals and other activities at these events that acknowledge, honor, and support both Pagan diversity and Pagan unity. Over the years, in doing PPD rites, I have reached out to those of many paths to be part of rites I facilitate with this in mind.

The Pagan People, Pagan Paths Opening Ritual I facilitated at Chicago PPD this year had a large Community Cauldron as its centerpiece. We celebrated Pagan Pride, Diversity, and Unity with those from different places and paths, bringing waters from their home areas & blending them together in the Cauldron. Together, we all blessed these blended waters.   We first gave some of the blessed blended waters as an offering to the land where we held our rite. Then those who wished to do so, collected the Pagan Pride Waters to take to other PPD events. Pagan Pride Community Waters will also be part of the Enchanting New Orleans ritual I am facilitating this coming Saturday, and we also will have a second cauldron in which we will blend soil from different places.

 As the greater Pagan community grows in numbers and diversity, it is important to find ways that we can converge, honor our different paths, and building relationships that can help us work for the common good — for Paganism, and for the planet as a whole.” – Selena Fox, Circle Sanctuary Founder.

Cara Schulz

Cara Schulz

“I want to speak about pan-Pagan events in general. Revived and indigenous religions, for the most part, are not represented at Pagans events. More than that, at many events, there’s very little attempted to include these groups. There’s often quite a bit of lip service paid to being inclusive, but that’s all it is. I’d much rather an organizer understand their event is lacking in diversity and just acknowledge it. I don’t think organizers are being malicious, I think they often don’t understand or don’t want to understand how very different revived and indigenous religions are from mainstream Pagan traditions and from each other in practice and cultural outlook. They don’t understand how even the language they use excludes us. Which results in persons in revived and indigenous religions being told that our religions have been included and there’s plenty geared towards us when that patently isn’t true. Attempts at education on this can be perceived as negative, nitpicking, or just generally being a pain in the ass for overworked volunteers. So many of us don’t attend and we’re attacked for being unsupportive of the community or marginalized as too small to worry about . Other Pagans don’t see the true diversity of our community, or how many of us there really are, so events become even more homogeneous or bland. And there’s your vicious circle.

I’ve presented workshops at events to do my part to add to the diversity of the event and encourage others to do so, too. Not only do attendees enjoy learning about something different, I always benefit from the experience spiritually. However, organizers need to do their part to be more welcoming to minority Pagan religions by being seeking them out and listening to them.

I’d like to see more groups being authentic to who they are and sharing that with the wider community. Instead of trying to have the most non-offensive, inclusive rituals an event can come up with, have several rituals by different groups that show the heart and soul of who they are, how they relate to their God(s), and how they see their place in the universe. Same with art showings and workshops. The best art, the most moving ritual, the most powerful workshops happen when people are revealing their own core truths, not when they are trying to be all things to all people. Showing our differences and celebrating them strengthens our unity, it doesn’t destroy it.” – Cara Schulz. Managing Editor for Pagan Newswire Collective & member of Hellenion.

“Speaking on behalf of Central Illinois Pagan Pride Day we focus on education of our community… both pagan and nonpagan alike. It is a time for us to show our community that we live in that we’re not evil or satanic or green ! We are just people like everyone else who just follow a different religious viewpoint. This year our ritual focus is on Unity and Healing something much needed within both our own pagan community and the nonpagan community.

In the events I’ve been to outside our own I’d love to see more focus on education in general,not just a pagan flea market with a few workshops, ritual, and workshops geared towards pagans, but a real focus on education for the community”. –Jason A. Barna, LC Central Illinois Pagan Pride Day

Yvonne Conway

Yvonne Conway

“I live in Orange County which has four Pagan Pride events within an approximate two hour driving radius: Los Angeles, San Diego, Inland Empire, and Antelope Valley. Having these events brings our community closer together as pagans and residents. It’s a wonderful opportunity for those who are searching for fellow pagans to commune, connect, and network; a way for local residents interested in learning more about what our pagan community represents, as well as what we do not represent; and how we also contribute to the greater community through charity work by including a food drive as part of the event’s purpose.

I feel that many of the elements of my practice are well represented at Pagan Pride events I have been to, but not all. I would love to see a wider variety of paganism at these events.” – Yvonne Conway (MistressPrime), Elder High Priestess of Bran Faol Reannag

William E Ashton, II

William E Ashton, II

“PPD events tend to represent a pretty diverse cross-section of our community; however, the majority of our community are Caucasian folks. By practicing our religions we become minorities, yet there is a deep lack of people-of color American NeoPagans. Having people-of-color practicing these religions, and representing themselves at PPD events can show the larger community that our practices go beyond nationality, and ancestral religiosity… they address true minority religious concerns: liberation and equality.

As an individual, I don’t think I’m represented accurately at PPD events, because there aren’t a lot of activist folk in out-paganism. I’m talkin’ some Rage-Against-The-Machine type stuff… asking HARD questions of our people. I suppose those types attract too much attention (but if we’re proud, then WHY NOT attract attention).

I’d LOVE to see more activism, and takin’-it-to-the-streets action. I can’t say that holding some open rites in a park, having a ‘merchants row’/Diagon Alley, and a few 101 workshops with no secular community marketing makes me ‘proud’ to be a pagan. What about a march on state capitols when religious injustice arises? What about regulating our own egos when working with others in our VERY diverse practice community? I’d like to see representation of more traditional “pagan” religious expressions (Native American practices, Hindu/Vedic folk), as well as people-of-color who were drawn to this practice – hear their stories of WHY this practice? I want to see pagans taking agency in their collective religions, and acting as community, and having a larger, more powerful voice… in spite of our individuality and religious differences.” – Wm. E. Ashton, II

Heather Greene

Heather Greene

“Pride events provide the opportunity to reach out beyond the walls of our own practice in order to discover, first hand, the makeup of our local Pagan community. Who is practicing in our backyards? What traditions and faiths are here and aren’t?

For example, many people are surprised that a southern city, like Atlanta, would even have a vibrant Pagan community. Georgia actually hosts four pride events: Savannah, Augusta, Athens and Atlanta. By attending one of these, people can get a feel for the spirit, flavor and diversity of Pagan practice here in the South.

Additionally, PPD and other similar events give us a chance to experience something very old-fashion and still very essential. It is the opportunity to make real, solid connections with people living in our own area. These type of connections nurture compassion and community-bonding that cannot be achieved over the internet.

My favorite part of Atlanta Pagan Pride is seeing the diversity in our community, hearing the stories, experiencing what others believe and how they practice. I can only hope that APPD coordinators continue to nurture that festive and welcoming environment”. –  Heather Greene, Wild Hunt Columnist and NPIO of Covenant of the Goddess

Clio Ajana

Clio Ajana

“I don’t see my branch of practice represented much because we are Hellenic/Numen/Kemetic as a combination – so I see plenty of Celtic, solitary, Astatru, others but rarely Kemetic (of any type) or Hellenic/Kemetic or Hellenic/Numen/Kemetic combinations.  I would like to see more of events that are for pagans of color and those that are geared at ‘non-Celtic’ traditions. Not everyone practices straight Wicca. I also would like to see more open sexuality (e.g. GLBTQIA) represented. It is spoken about, but not always visible.

I would like to see more diversity in music, rituals and practices represented. When I go to a Pagan Pride or another Pagan event, I would like to see more people who look like me or who at least do not appear to be “stereotypical Pagan” in appearance. There is room for everyone and I would want that emphasized more.

Other than that – it is wonderful to see folks enjoying themselves and celebrating the joys of the earth and all that is pagan.” – Clio Ajana, 3rd Degree High Priestess/Education Coordinator, Our Lady of Celestial Fire

Jenett, the blogger from Thoughts From a Threshold, wrote a piece about her involvement in organizing as a board member for the Twin Cities Pagan Pride Day events in the Minnesota, and why she attends these events: “I go because I believe it’s good for the larger Pagan communities to talk in useful ways. To compare notes on what’s working and what isn’t, and what’s new in town. I go because I like doing workshops as a way to both meet interesting people and share useful stuff. But I go with moderate expectations. I expect to see some people I like, maybe meet a few people I might like, and so on. I don’t expect it to be a Major Point In My Life. And yet – part of why I’ve invested hours and hours in making them happen is because for some people, it is a major turning point in their life.”

Jenett talks about her experiences with the challenge of getting people to volunteer, lending to a very small population of people to meet the vast needs of a diverse Pagan community. This common challenge within volunteer organizations or events, bring about very interesting questions to contemplate. Does the Pagan community at large know how to support inclusivity among the many different levels of diversity that may be present? It is the age-old, what-came-first, question: the chicken or the egg? Does having participation from the different diverse populations and minority sects of Paganism support cultural understanding and fostering of more diversity? Or does planning for the needs of a diverse population bring in more diversity because there is a welcoming and open atmosphere for differences?

These are all questions that the Pagan community appears to have started to ask, and will hopefully continue to ask.

Yvonne Conway’s final statement regarding this topic was one I heard echoed among several of the PPD organizers, “However, if certain segments of the community are not getting representation at their local Pagan Pride, I would highly recommend they get involved with the planning of the events. Participating in planning is the best way to ensure your part of the community is represented at these events.”