Monday, February 28, 2011

Dianic Rites, Gender Identification and Gender Essentialism

At a recent womyn's ritual to Lilith at Pantheacon, several transgender MtFs were turned away at the door and told that the ceremony was only for "women born women."  While the organizers and the event sponsors work toward a mutually agreeable compromise and consensus, the blogosphere continues to hum with the questions of what happens when the right to gender identity and freedom of association and religious expression run headlong into each other. And though there has been a great deal of heat, we have also seen a fair amount of enlightening discourse.

Anya Kless, a priestess of Lilith, offered commentary on Fruit of Pain, and received a rather heated response from legendary witch and elder Z Budapest.  Budapest's post follows, as does my response.  There is a great deal more discussion on Anya's blog regarding this and many other topics: if you haven't bookmarked Fruit of Pain yet, you really should.

Z Budapest in italics.


This struggle has been going since the Women’s Mysteries first appeared. These individuals selfishly never think about the following: if women allow men to be incorporated into Dianic Mysteries,What will women own on their own? Nothing! Again! Transies who attack us only care about themselves.
We women need our own culture, our own resourcing, our own traditions.

You can tell these are men, They don’t care if women loose the Only tradition reclaimed after much research and practice ,the Dianic Tradition. Men simply want in. its their will. How dare us women not let them in and give away the ONLY spiritual home we have!

Men want to worship the Goddess? Why not put in the WORK and create your own trads. The order of ATTIS for example,(dormant since the 4rth century) used to be for trans gendered people, also the castrata, men who castrated themselves to be more like the Goddess.

Why are we the ONLY tradition they want? Go Gardnerian!Go Druid! Go Ecclectic!

Filled with women, and men. They would fit fine.

But if you claim to be one of us, you have to have sometimes in your life a womb, and overies and MOON bleed and not die.

Women are born not made by men on operating tables.

This comment ill suits your status as an Elder, a Witch, and one of the most important philosophers and thinkers in contemporary Feminism and Neopaganism. I urge you to consider the importance of your words, and to remember that there are sons and daughters, mothers and fathers, lovers and allies on both sides of this argument. If we must disagree, let us do so in a spirit of love. If there must be boundaries between us, let them be drawn in a spirit of cooperation.

I do not dispute the right of CAYA, or any other Dianic group, to define “Womyn” as they see fit. I accept your right to exclude me. Since I identify as third-gendered rather than female, I would never seek entry into your Mysteries. I also accept your right to exclude my transgendered sisters or anyone else whom I might identify as a woman. They are your Mysteries, and you are welcome to share them as you will. I respect your rights to association, belief and expression.

However, I also respect the right of my transgendered sisters to their identity – an identity for which they have suffered and for which they continue to suffer. I will speak out against discrimination and hatred when it is aimed at them, and I will encourage others to do so. If Dianic Wiccans wish to shut out transgendered women from public events held by Pantheacon (particularly if they do so with hateful remarks about “being made on operating tables” and the like), I would encourage the organizers of Pantheacon to withdraw their public support for those workshops and those rituals.

This would not stop Dianics from holding private ceremonies and rituals in their own suites, as many groups do. And just as the OTO or other lodges and orders can restrict events to members only, the Dianic groups would be free to open their doors to whomever they saw fit. This would strike me as an appropriate compromise which would at least go some way toward acknowledging everyone’s rights and feelings. (Granted, it’s sure to dissatisfy just about everyone on one level or another, but that’s the nature of compromise).

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Catholicism, Paganism, Interfaith Dialogue and the Wild Hunt

In a recent Wild Hunt posting, Jason Pitzl-Waters discussed Elizabeth "Liz" Dodd, a onetime Witch whose spiritual quest led her to Roman Catholicism.  As always, Jason presented the case fairly and clearly.  His criticisms of "conversion narratives" and his questions about Dodd's motivations and research skills were trenchant without being strident or hysterical.  Still, I wonder if we might not approach the phenomenon of Liz Dodd in a slightly different manner.   Any interfaith dialogue must begin with people who do not understand each other's spiritual motivations.  And I wonder if Jason was unfairly dismissive when he wrote:
Dodd wants it both ways, she wants to be seen as the “real deal” when she talks about her time as a Witch, but her own biography is that of a seeker, a dabbler, who simply rebelled for a time against her childhood faith (later in the article she talks of a post-Pagan period where she was a “vegan Buddhist”).
If Pagan cyberspace is any indication, there are many Witches who are indeed seekers and dabblers rebelling against their childhood faith.  And Dodd is hardly the first Witch who was introduced to the faith by Silver Ravenwolf: neither do her motivations distinguish her from many another young Witch:
... As a teenager, with only a limited amount of say in what I'd have for dinner, for example, the idea of unmitigated supernatural power, coupled with such a self-governed morality, was very appealing.  My interest in Wicca increased, even in the face of frequent magickal failure. In the booklet I suggest that Wicca can be an important stage in spiritual growth for a young person. Like many of my generation, I was looking for a religious home. Wicca is far removed from mainstream western religion; it has no hierarchy or clergy, no central texts or commandments. It is a framework upon which young, spiritually hungry people can construct a religious identity independent of their parents.
Neopaganism/Goddess Spirituality in America is still largely a religion of converts.  We can expect to see a large number of "seekers and dabblers" passing through: many, like Dodd, will move on to other spiritual pursuits.  We can benefit from exploring both the reasons why they were attracted to the movement and the reasons why they ultimately found it unfulfilling. 

Dodd complains of a lack of depth and scholarship within modern Neopaganism and Occultism. I think it is fair to say that we have not yet produced a MaimonidesAvicenna or St. John of the Cross  and equally fair to say that there's a whole lot of sloppy scholarship and embarrassingly bad Neopagan material on the market and on the web.  That is not to say that there is no depth or breadth to be found in Neopaganism - but it certainly isn't as large, visible or accessible as in traditions with a longer history and greater social capital. 

Interfaith dialogue gives us the opportunity to rectify mutual misunderstandings.  It also gives us a chance to compare and contrast our approaches and to discover areas where we might be doing better.  We need not win Liz Dodd back: if she has found satisfaction in her Catholic faith, then why would we wish to take that away from her? But we should recognize her sincere if flawed attempt to engage with our faith and give her the same courtesy.

And before I go, two more minor nits.  I'd say that the "religion" Dodd was describing - Solitary Witchcraft/Solo Neopaganism - is indeed around 20 years old, having begun about the time Scott Cunningham released Wicca: A Guide for the Solitary Practitioner.  I would also note that struggling with one's faith has a long and honored tradition within Catholicism and most other religious traditions.  If Dodd's struggles with her faith are a sign of "spiritual immaturity," then what are we to make of that poor bastard Job?

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

On My Recent Hiatus

Since my father died I have been dealing with a lot of personal stuff.  While I didn't feel comfortable discussing some of these issues in a public forum,  I have been making a number of friends-locked entries to my old Livejournal account.   I hope to be posting here more frequently in the near future: for now I will happily provide access to these posts to just about anyone who sends a friend request.  

I am sorry for the absence and hope I have not missed too much while I have been away.  I've really missed the conversations here and look forward to rejoining this corner of the blogosphere soon!