Tuesday, March 29, 2011


As the Ice Age ended and the Agricultural Revolution commenced, hunters began mastering the arts of animal husbandry.  Sheep, goats and cattle were domesticated for their milk, meat and hides. But the relationship with horses grew especially close thanks to a quirk of equine anatomy - a gap between their front incisors and rear grinding teeth that allowed for placement of a bridle and bit. This meant that horses could be led, directed and even ridden.  Plough horses changed the face of farming, while charioteers and nomads on horseback raised and destroyed empires.

Ehwaz, the horse-rune, often speaks of movement. If Raido is the journey, Ehwaz is the means of transport. This can be as literal (a new vehicle, for example) or metaphorical (i.e. a job which requires extensive travel or even relocation). It can be called upon to move past blockages and to take you away from unpleasant situations or places. But it is a rune which must be directed and controlled, lest you find yourself riding a spooked horse. Ehwaz can provide you the means of escape, but it will be up to you to take the reins.

An equally important aspect of Ehwaz is domestication. Equestrians cannot overpower or outrun their steeds: they must maintain control through the right mixture of firmness and gentleness.  Where Mannaz speaks of partnership between equals, Ehwaz is about the relationship between the tamer and the tamed.  This rune can be used for domination works in the same manner as Hoodoo formulas like Bend Over Oil and Commanding Incense.  (But be careful, lest you find yourself trying to control a bucking bronco).  It can also be used to tame unruly aspects of your own psyche: those suffering from addiction or anger management issues take note.  Meditating on Ehwaz can help us understand the deep mysteries of dominance and submission, concepts often misunderstood in a culture which privileges - in theory if not in practice - "equality" and "freedom."

Odin rode through the Nine Worlds on Sleipner, his eight-legged steed. Ehwaz can also be called upon for spiritual journeying. Combined with Wunjo, Ehwaz can be a powerful tool for inducing ecstatic states: in conjunction with Chalc it can become a steed to carry you on your quest.  Much as horse and rider become one unit, Ehwaz can help you to achieve unity with the Divine. This may be as direct as possession (which is called "horsing" for a reason). It may also be a more subtle but no less profound surrender to the Will of the Gods: Ehwaz can help you to take up Their bit and bridle and allow Them to lead you where you need to go.

If you are overwhelmed and need to call in the cavalry, Ehwaz can be very helpful.  Conjoined with Uruz, it can become a rampaging herd which tramples everything in its path.  With Thurisaz it can strike with the devastating force of a knight's lance: with Ansuz it can send a message and establish communication behind enemy lines.  It can add speed and force to a bind rune, sending your spell galloping toward its goal.  It can also be used in glamour workings to make you appear like a "knight in shining armor" or an unstoppable armored charger.  Like the horse, Ehwaz can offer assistance in many different situations.

While it is important to consider the runes which appear in a reading in total rather than as isolated bits of data, it is especially important to do so with Ehwaz.  Ehwaz is about the joining of two entities into one. The runes which surround it will tell you who is riding the horse, the destination toward which they ride and the obstacles which stand in their way.  Ehwaz often marks an outside force or person coming into play: the surrounding runes will tell you whether the mysterious stranger brings good, ill or some combination thereof. 

Sunday, March 27, 2011

The Voudon Gnostic Workbook

Recently a rather heated discussion ensued on a private Facebook group concerning Michael Bertiaux's notorious Voudon Gnostic Workbook. Many participants were outraged with Bertiaux's free and easy blend of sex magic, Reichean orgone work, Afro-Atlantean Transdimensional Algebra, H.P. Lovecraft and deities only know what else.  I opined that Bertiaux's work was useful for practical magicians, and that it owed more debt to Surrealism than Haitian Vodou.  While it most certainly bears little resemblance to anything I've learned from Haitians or Haitian-Americans, it is effective as a thing in itself.

Adam McGee, a scholar at Harvard University, offered an excellent counterpoint:
I have to offer a dissenting view, insofar as I must question the criteria by which you evaluate the system as "worthwhile." Something can be powerful and yet morally repugnant. And morally repugnant it is. Michael Bertiaux's Vodoun Gnostic Workbook presents a vision of Haiti that is infantilizing, colonialist, and racist. Bertiaux writes of Vodou as something that must be lifted out of the hands of Haitians, who do not and cannot understand its complexities. Bertiaux, by introducing a purposely esotericizing language, seeks to "restore" to the control of (white) magi a Vodou that he proposes has Atlantean origins. This has precise historical parallels in the way that some Europeans, upon first viewing the Ile-Ife bronzes, that they had discovered the lost civilization of Atlantis because surely Africans could not have produced such sophisticated art. Having thus expunged from Vodou its most irreducibly Haitian--i.e. black--elements, Bertiaux then reconstructs it as a libidinal space for the performance of lurid sex rituals. This version of "Vodoun" recycles racist stereotypes of hypersexed black bodies and surely draws on H.P. Lovecraft''s depictions of hypersexual, ultraviolent "black voodoo cults." This cannot be defended by recourse to arguments of religious freedom or laissez-faire liberalism.
I agree that Bertiaux's work contains some uncomfortably racist and colonialist ideas and preconceptions.  (It's still better, in my opinion, than Hyatt and Black's truly odious Urban Voodoo). But I felt that the VGW is so outré that few would mistake it for anything save the product of M. Bertiaux's impressively fevered imagination.  In that, I found it less potentially dangerous to the practice of Haitian Vodou than the ever-popular Vodou Initiation Tours. A bunch of sex magicians holding an "oral-anal Guede orgy" aren't likely to be taken as representatives of the tradition.  A plastic shaman who has put a plane ticket and a ceremony on his credit card might be taken seriously by a lazy journalist or a well-meaning but naive seeker.

My major beef with Bertiaux comes from his efforts to claim Haitian roots where none exist.  His OTOA (Ordo Templi Orientis Antiqua) claims lineage through a Haitian Martinist, Gnostic Christian and Vodou priest Lucien-François Jean-Maine: L-F J-M is repeatedly quoted as the source for Bertaiux's work.  Yet as Thelemic scholar P.R. Koenig notes:
The reader must bear in mind that there is almost no documentary evidence of the History of the O.T.O.A. There is absolutely no trace of either L.-F. Jean-Maine or of his Gnostic Church, his Memphis Misraïm or his OTO-Version (O.T.O.A.) in any of the 'old' French Gnostic magazines. Obviously the History of the O.T.O.A. and its maze of related organisations seems to be developed by Marc Lully, Michael P. Bertiaux and Manuel C. Lamparter, and maybe Kenneth Grant, in the late 1960s. Bertiaux admitted that his History outline was written from notes drafted by Marc Lully; and those notes had been lost meanwhile.
I do not believe that Bertiaux made this stuff up out of whole cloth, but I suspect his "Haitian roots" come from his local library.  In particular, I suspect he read some early 20th century texts like Her-Ma-Ra-El (Arthur C. Holly)'s Les daïmons du culte vodou.   These works attempted to combine Vodou with other esoteric traditions to establish it as a Respectable World Religion rather than a savage negro cult.  (Their goals were certainly laudable, even if their scholarship was at times questionable...).  Combined with what he gleaned from Hurston, Deren, Seabrook and other Anglophone writers, he was able to create a "Vodou heritage" which would have looked reasonably plausible to readers in the late 1960s, when information on the topic was very scarce indeed -especially for monolingual English speakers.

As more information about Haitian culture and Vodou has become available, contemporary OTOA/LCN folks have begun de-emphasizing Martinism and drawing upon a supposed "Sect Rouge/Zobop" heritage.  This is convenient, as there is little or nothing written on Haiti's secret societies: it's also quite in keeping with the evolution of other origin myths.  (In the 18th and early 19th century Masons and Rosicrucians traced their heritage to Egypt: after the deciphering of the Rosetta Stone and growing knowledge of Egyptian mythology, secret societies began claiming roots in "Atlantis," "Lemuria" and other conveniently sunken continents... ).

I think Adam's comments about Bertiaux's motivation and racist preconceptions are worth exploring.  However, I might take them a step further.  How many foreigners practicing "authentic" Haitian Vodou are looking for Noble Savages and Little Brown Holy Men? How many see this tradition as a source of unsullied and primitive power, something which will free them from the taint of civilization and absolve them of their skin color? All too often I've found the loudest critics of "phony Vodou" are unwilling to question their own motivations or acknowledge their own privilege.  Their efforts to "protect the faith" look suspiciously like efforts by one group of outsiders to gain the moral high ground on another.

In the end, Bertiaux's work will stand as a thing in itself.  You can call it racist, you can call it incoherent, you can call it a brilliant piece of surrealism.  (I could make a case for all three).   I'm satisfied so long as you don't call it Haitian.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Chris Brown, Twitter and the Politics of Race

By now Chris Brown's backstage meltdown at Good Morning America has become international news.  While that was bad enough, he then managed to make his situation even worse with a Tweet that he quickly deleted - but not fast enough to stop it from being widely distributed:
I’m so over people bringing this past shit up!!! Yet we praise Charlie sheen and other celebs for there bullshit.
Brown has a point.  The people laughing at Charlie Sheen's drug abuse seem happy to overlook his long and sordid history of domestic abuse.  And while Mike Tyson went to prison for sexual assault, Pittsburgh quarterback and serial rapist Ben Roethlisberger has managed to avoid any serious penalties for his misdeeds. But alas, as Michael Arceneaux pointed out on The Root:
Many, rightly, don't find this fair. It's obvious that Brown is among them. Unfortunately, life isn't fair, and one would think that a millionaire, of all people, would realize that. We can't often control what life hands us, but our real power lies in our reaction to whatever we're dealt. It's time that Brown accepts what he's done and the reality that he'll never fully be able to escape it.
And now a note to Chris from someone who grew up in rural white America, explaining in a bit more detail just how badly you screwed the pooch on this one.

Where I was born, being open-minded meant understanding "there's a difference between black people and n-----s."  Hating someone just because they were black was not cool: hating someone because they acted in accordance with various stereotypes was common sense.   I am not trying to justify this: you will note that I got the hell out of my hometown as soon as I could and never went back. But let's not pretend that this isn't a common belief among white Americans.

You got arrested for beating your girlfriend. When you were called on your actions, you threw a violent temper tantrum.  Then you committed the truly unforgivable sin: you played the race card.  Because that's exactly what you people do, at least according to White Conventional Wisdom.  You beat your women, you commit crimes, and then you whine about racism rather than taking responsibility for your own actions.  (Don't believe me? Ask the folks who comment on news stories at the New York Post and similar websites).

If you had acted properly penitent about the whole situation, you could have been a Good Example and a Credit to your Race.  If you were a little bit more Compton and a little bit less Cosby, you might have been able to capitalize on your violent reputation.  The entertainment industry has plenty of room for ho-slapping gang-bangers. (Surely I'm not the only one who has noticed that "Gangsta Rap" has become a 21st century minstrel show).  As it is you've succeeded in placing yourself squarely on the wrong side of white America's dividing line.  You've become yet another piece of evidence that racism doesn't really exist, that it's just a ruse used by professional agitators and career criminals for their own ends.  

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

An Unsolicited Testimonial

When you're trying to get your life back in order after a crisis - especially one which was largely self-inflicted - it's good to get some guidance.  My therapist has been helpful in providing alternate coping strategies and getting to the root of some of my nastier self-destructive tendencies.  But I really don't feel comfortable discussing my religious beliefs with someone who is likely to analyze them in the language of delusion and madness.  And so I called on my friend Galina Krasskova to cast the Runes and provide me some input on the spiritual ramifications of my descent into hell and how I might claw myself out.

Galina is without a doubt one of the most skilled diviners I've ever consulted.  I'd say the Runes come alive in her hands, but it's more accurate to say that she understands that they are alive, not just tools or symbols but sentient forces of nature.  She got to the heart of my problem quickly: she then provided useful advice on things I could do to rectify some of my imbalances and heal my injuries.  Her advice was on point, clear and precise: she told me what I was doing right and wasn't afraid to let me know where I was going wrong.

If you're looking for a Kinder Gentler Reader, you may wish to look elsewhere.  (You may also want to look for another divinatory tool: the Runes are not concerned with your comfort levels).  Galina's friends call her blunt and brutally honest: her enemies call her names that aren't fit for publication on a family-friendly blog.  But if you want the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth you will find her assistance to be invaluable.

My next tattoo (minus the text)

This began as a Faroe Islands stamp, but it is one of the most powerful and vivid images of Himself that I've ever seen.  I'm hoping to get this on my left breast (over my rune cutting/branding) at this year's Free Spirit Gathering and have dropped a note to Capt. Gordon Staub at Sacred Mark Sanctuary to schedule an appointment.  

A lot of people see Loki as a wacky, fun-loving trickster and that is definitely one aspect of His personality.  But there's a lot more to him than that: it's easy to focus on his joyful mysteries while neglecting His suffering on the rock.  Hopefully this tattoo will remind people of the price He paid to bring us all those humorous stories.  

Monday, March 14, 2011

A Long-Anticipated Followup is Finally Released

In November 2001 I was reviewing CDs for the late and lamented Starvox.  I was also reeling from what I now realize was PTSD in the wake of that little unpleasantness with the Twin Towers. During that time I spent a great deal of time listening to a melancholy folk-rock CD by a band named Charlottesville, The Shark Who Pulled a Mussel.  As I said then:
Every morning I ride the subway past the open wound that used to be the World Trade Center; the stench from the ruins lingers high and acrid as an echoing scream.  Jetliners overhead make me cringe. I start crying at odd moments for no reason at all.  And over and over I've listened to Charlottesville's debut CD, The Shark Who Pulled a Mussel, and found some kind of consolation in Miles Fender and Iris Lapalme's melancholy ruminations on love, life, and loss.

Fender first achieved public notice as the leader of British goth band Earth Calling Angela. With his relocation to San Francisco came a stylistic sea change. Charlottesville has been compared by some to bands like Low and Red House Painters. I'm more reminded of the great AM pop of the 60s, with cheery optimism replaced by a wistful Remembrance of Things Past. If Brian Wilson had picked up an acoustic guitar and recorded Endless Autumn, it might have sounded something like this: at their best, Charlottesville's moody harmonies and penetrating lyrics wouldn't have been out of place on Simon & Garfunkel's Wednesday Morning 3 a.m. or The Sounds of Silence.
Ten years later Miles Fender (the guiding light behind Charlottesville and Goth rockers, Earth Calling Angela), is finally releasing a follow-up, tentatively titled The Heron That Taught Us.  While it may have taken him a while, he certainly seems to have avoided the sophomore slump.  This is a solid melodic effort and a fitting soundtrack to this season's battle with mental illness.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Kierkegaard on the Knight of Infinite Resignation

The wish which would carry him out into reality, but was wrecked upon the impossibility, is now bent inward, but it is not therefore lost, neither is it forgotten.  At one moment it is the obscure emotion of the wish within him which awakens recollections, at another moment he awakens them himself; for he is too proud to be willing that what was the whole content of his life should be the thing of a fleeting moment.  He keeps this love young, and along with him it increases in years and beauty.  On the other hand, he has no need of the intervention of the finite for the further growth of his love.  From the instant he made the movement the princess is lost to him.

In the infinite resignation there is peace and rest; every man who wills it, who has not abased himself by scorning himself (which is still more dreadful than being proud), can train himself to make this movement which in its pain reconciles one with existence.

Fear and Trembling, pp. 54-56.  (Walter Lowrie, translator: 1953).

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Best Wishes for Mardi Gras ... and a little something about throws

In honor of the occasion, here's an excerpt from The New Orleans Voodoo Handbook: this one covers the history of one celebrated party tradition - throws.  I will refrain from asking you to show me anything  before posting it...


After putting all that effort into building a fine float and fancy costume, you want to make sure the audience appreciates your handiwork. And as everyone in the Crescent City knows, a little lagniappe (extra free gift) will always win hearts and minds. To that end, "throws" – gifts tossed into the crowd – are an intrinsic part of Mardi Gras parades. (An earlier custom of throwing flour and pepper into the audience wasn't nearly so endearing).

Some time in the 1920s the members of the Rex Crewe acquired a large number of inexpensive glass beads from Czechoslovakia, strung them into necklaces, and threw them from their floats as mementos. They were warmly received by the crowd and began a trend which has lived on: Mardi Gras beads. After World War II the beads were imported from Japan: later, plastic replaced glass and China replaced Japan as the primary supplier.  According to Fred Berger, owner of Mardi Gras Imports of Slidell, Louisiana, the average Mardi Gras krewe member spends approximately $800 on beads and "[s]ome people won't bat an eye at spending $2,000 or $2,500."

In 1959 New Orleans artist Alvin Sharpe created another famous Mardi Gras tradition: the doubloon. The Rex krewe ordered 83,000 of his intricately detailed aluminum doubloons. Unsure how they would go over, they asked him to leave off the date on all but a few, so that any left over could be used another year. But it turned out that they were a huge hit: between 1960 and 1970 Rex threw 2.75 million doubloons. Others soon followed suit: today collectors strive to acquire complete collections of their favorite krewes at the parade or at various online and offline memorabilia stores.

Other krewes throw plastic toys or cups emblazoned with their logo. But few gifts are as prized as the Zulu krewe's hand-painted coconuts. Originally the Zulu krewe became famous for throwing "golden nuggets," or gold-painted walnuts. Although these were cheaper than glass beads, they were greatly appreciated by the crowd since they could be eaten while watching the parade or at the tavern afterwards. (Bar owners along the route were less thrilled about the walnut shells which inevitably littered their floor). Later they began throwing coconuts that were painted gold and decorated with glitter: most featured the Zulu blackface design and some even featured hair and hats. After a number of lawsuits from people who were hit by thrown coconuts, the club briefly suspended the practice.  But to keep the tradition alive, the Louisiana legislature passed SB188 (the "Coconut Bill"), excluding the krewe from liability for injuries caused by coconuts handed off (as opposed to tossed from) the float. Over 100,000 coconuts are passed out during a typical Zulu parade.

But while the regular coconuts are treasured, those who are especially favored by the Zulus (or who wish to purchase one from their master engraver, Willie Clark) may get one of their special "Mardi Gras Coconuts." These are meticulously decorated and engraved: they may have as many as 37 colors and 68 color mixtures on their surface. As Zulu member Lester Pollard says "Our organization centers around the coconut --- the coconut is everything to us! Man, we've got laws passed concerning our coconuts!"

Monday, March 7, 2011

Power of the Poppy is now available

My fifth book, Power of the Poppy: Harnessing Nature's Most Dangerous Plant Ally, is now available on Amazon and elsewhere.  It's a departure from my usual Vodou-oriented writing, but not so large as one might think.  Because there was little available material on Haitian Vodou by and for serious practitioners, I wrote The Haitian Vodou Handbook.  And when I started doing research on plant shamanism and plant allies, I found that one of our most important plant allies had been almost completely ignored. I also found that nobody was talking about the quid pro quo which is such a part of a shaman's work with allies. They aren't just benevolent green spirits waiting to teach you wisdom - like the lwa, they demand payment for their services.

I really enjoyed writing and researching this book, and hope that my readers will enjoy it as well.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

More Wild Hunting: On the Importance of Framing a Debate

I think you misunderstood my comments or I wasn't clear. I'm not talking about transwomen dominating. I'm talking about a whole ideological worldview dominating, one that requires everyone to "fit" into a particular dominant perspective. Those who are making comments that indicate that some transition or healing is needed in the Dianic community so that Dianics can "come to the light" are in the dominant ideological worldview, whether or not they are Trans. 

My problem is that many posters have tried to frame this debate in terms of whether or not the Dianics should hold "womyn-born-womyn" circles or deny admittance to transwomen. The real question here is much more narrow: what are the ramifications of holding X-only rituals at a public event and how do we deal with controversies over who qualifies as X?

To many transpeople and their allies, the distinction between "transwoman/mutilated man" and "womyn born womyn" is as repellent, stupid and wrong-headed as the distinction between "the White Race" and "Mud Races." We can argue until the cows come home as to whether that is a fair analogy or whether the trans camp is overreacting. But the fact remains that a significant percentage of attendees at PCon or most public events do not like the cisgender-only policies of Dianics and take it as a personal insult when their people are turned away from Dianic events.

Most of us agree that Dianic groups have the right to their theology and to choose their membership: they can invite or disinvite whom they will. I'm not even denying their right to hold rituals and meetings in private space at a convention. What I question is this and only this: is it appropriate for a public convention to provide its imprimatur to a group whose policies of membership are controversial at best? And is it appropriate to ask them to function as security and enforcers when that policy is questioned?

And before you answer, think about the transwoman who is removed from a CAYA event, then decides to sue CAYA and the Pantheacon organizers for gender discrimination. The CAYA Amazons could almost certainly get the suit dismissed on grounds of religious freedom. Could the organizers of Pantheacon get a similar dismissal ... or would the plaintiff's attorney claim that they had knowingly and willfully promoted an event that discriminated based on gender identity -- a protected class in California? And how much would it cost everyone involved to get the whole mess sorted out?

Many would like to turn this into a "Dianics BAAAAD" argument. If Z Budapest and pals can reframe this debate as a case of "the evil patriarchy and its minions are bullying us," they don't have to question their own privilege and their use of hateful language. Trans activists see this as a stepping stone toward inclusion and recognition - first PCon, then Michigan - and a chance to further muddy the reputation of people they view as transphobic and bigoted (in the case of Budapest at least, it would seem they are correct). We might do well to limit the discussion to the specific question at hand rather than getting distracted by tangential issues, no matter how important those tangents might be.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Fiction: Dead Nude Girls (2006)

This is a piece of fiction I wrote in 2006 and which originally appeared in Brett Savory's excellent horror/dark fantasy site Chizine.  I've included a teaser and a link to the full story

Any resemblance between Charley and my ghede, spirit guide and personal advisor Harvey DelCruccio is not at all coincidental. 

Hope you enjoy!


Every time I come she's faded a little bit more.

Amidst the weeds where the Empire Burlesque once stood Vera pirouettes to remembered music. Clouds hang low over the Hudson River. Across the street a LUXURY CO-OPS: 1 AND 2 BR. OFFERING BY PROSPECTUS ONLY sign memorializes the staircase where Vera fell to her death.

"How you doing, Toots?"

Vera flinches. Her head lolls on her broken neck, then comes to rest on her ample bosom. A rat dashes beneath the woodpile that used to be the main stage. Vera reaches up and turns her face toward Charley, then smiles as mist turns to drizzle.

"Hey, Sweetiepie!"

Charley tips his hat, revealing the bullet hole in the center of his forehead. "Sorry, Toots, didn't mean to startle you."

"That's okay. It's been a while, Charley."

"I know. It's been nuts down at Central. If it ain't a new crop of dead to haul in, it's a séance. Everyone in New York is either dying or getting spiritual. I been like a one-legged man at an asskicking contest."

"It's been slow here for a while. Nobody has time for dancers since they shot Kennedy." Vera smiles. "At least I got time to practice my ballet steps." She looks around the weedy lot. "I hope the economy picks up soon. You know how Hugo gets when he's not working."

The stormclouds blow in from the Palisades, heavy and blue-black as the bruise over Vera's right eye. Again with that strutting little bastard Hugo Charley thinks as drizzle turns to rain.

"You worry too much about that bum. He don't treat you right."

Vera's head bobs forward as she nods agreement.

"He needs to control that temper of his. Just yesterday he knocked me down a flight of stairs." She points toward the LUXURY CO-OPS sign. "My neck is still bothering me. I'm lucky I didn't get killed!"

"You're a nice girl. You could do a lot better than him."

"He didn't mean it."

The streetlight flickers on. In the halogen glow Charley can read the fluorescent orange FUCK YOU spraypainted behind Vera.

One of these days there ain't gonna be anything left of her at all. 


Friday, March 4, 2011

Yep, You Guessed It ... Still More on the Lilith Ritual at Pantheacon 2011

What started as a simple misunderstanding and miscommunication turned into an online war with charges and countercharges flying in every direction.  Hurtful words were exchanged and ugly prejudices displayed on both sides.  Yet amidst all the hostility there was also a great deal of honest and frank dialogue on issues which have long been ignored.  When the Mother of Abortions comes out of her shadowy wasteland you can hardly expect her to arrive quietly:  neither can you be surprised to find she brings turmoil with her wisdom.

CAYA Coven has issued a statement concerning this ritual and its aftermath. Some have complained that they should have made a public statement sooner.  Others have complained because they did not come out loudly and clearly in favor of their side on this debate. This suggests they have given the issue due thought and that they are trying to find a solution which is responsive and sensitive to the needs of all concerned.

A couple of people have called me on an analogy I made in one of my first comments on the topic, wherein I suggested holding a ritual which would only be open to people of "Northern European" descent.  That was sloppy writing on my part. I don't want to turn the Civil Rights movement into a convenient metaphor for my cause.  Neither do I wish to draw a moral equation between those seeking "womyn born womyn" space and Nazis or racial separatists.  (And for the love of all that is sacred, there is nothing and nobody in Northern Tradition shamanism advocating racism!)  For my poor choice of words and my own unrecognized privilege, I apologize: I will try to be more careful in the future.

For the record, I support the right to free association and recognize the value of restricted space. There are times when you don't want to educate your well-intentioned allies. You want to air your laundry in private, among others who share your experience.  Like our earliest dinosaur-dodging ancestors we are pack primates: we seek safety, healing and power amongst our own.

But what happens when there is a dispute regarding who may or may not be included? There has been longstanding tensions between transgendered women and some Dianics and second wave feminists.  When this tension flares up at a public convention the organizers gets placed in an uncomfortable position as referees. This gets especially painful when one considers just how quickly this question can explode in everyone's face.  And if you think the current brouhaha was bad, imagine a lawsuit claiming discrimination based on gender identity: that could quickly become much uglier and far, far more costly for all concerned.

For now perhaps the best solution is to keep exclusive events and workshops within private space, and to avoid putting them on public calendars or otherwise giving them anything which could be interpreted as an organizational imprimatur.  This gives groups much greater latitude to pick and choose attendees and members. It also frees the organizers from becoming embroiled in controversies and from even the appearance of tolerating or encouraging prohibited discrimination.

I recognize the rights of Dianics and other cis-women to exclude transwomen from their mysteries.  I would also invite them to consider what they gain from that exclusion - and what they lose.   The policies favoring "women born women" are seen as wrongheaded and hateful by a growing number of women.  Perhaps they might do well to listen to what their critics are saying with open ears and open hearts.  Those who are shrieking the loudest scream in pain: those who speak softly but firmly have much wisdom they might offer you.  Those who disagree with you might return the favor, consider your objections, and meet you in a spirit of respectful disagreement rather than open warfare.

To my transgendered sisters: I understand your outrage at being shut out, and your pain at the hateful behavior shown by some who should have known better. I do not ask you to forgive and forget nor do I ask you to be calm. Your anger is a precious thing that can keep you alive long after hope has faded.  But because it is precious you should save it for appropriate targets.  We can make Lisa Vogel, Z Budapest and their ilk our enemies - or we can treat them like the anachronisms they are, praising them for their past and pitying them for their success in creating a world where their revolutionary ideology grows increasingly irrelevant.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Question for Discussion re Exclusive Rites and Safe Spaces

... Noticing a trend here?

There are good reasons why one might want and even need X-only space at a public event.  Queerspace, People of Color Space,  Parents of Children with Special Needs Space, Womynspace, People in Recovery Space - many of us could benefit from spending time among our peers and talking shop with folks who have shared our struggles.  But in all this I see one major issue: who gets to decide who qualifies for admission to exclusive space?

I have no problem with a workshop/ritual organizer saying "while we thank and cherish our allies, this space is for [x = women/queer people/people of color/sexual assault survivors/people in recovery/etc.]. we ask that you not attend if you do not identify as [x]." But are the organizers at Pantheacon, or any other event, ready to weigh in on questions like "is a transwoman a 'real' woman?" or "is that person who 'looks white' really a person of color?" I see no easy answer to that question and I see it coming up more and more as we become an increasingly multicultural, multiracial and multigendered society.

I might also note that one can question behavior without criticizing identity. The wannabe James O'Keefe who shows up at the People of Color circle to protest racial discrimination against the disempowered and disenfranchised straight white male can be ejected for acting like an asshat without addressing his claims about his black twelve-times-removed great-grandfather. So it is possible to be inclusive without tolerating outright disruption and hostility against the group's original raison d'être.

Clarifications re Pantheacon's Dianic Lilith Rite

I have spoken with people who are close to both CAYA Coven and Pantheacon organizers.  Based on what I have heard so far, it appears that this all started out as a misunderstanding and miscommunication. While there is a lot of public ranting going on, there is a lot of discussion between the parties. Serious efforts are being made on all sides to discuss these issues respectfully and avoid similar incidents. Alas, things have now taken on a life of their own, and outside parties have come in to offer their opinions on the subject.

Z Budapest's opinions are her own and do not reflect those of CAYA or Pantheacon: if I have conflated them, or if I have not made that distinction clear enough in my posts, I apologize.  While I disagree with her opinions and with the language she used, I respect the contributions which Budapest has made to our community. I hope that she rethinks her position, or at least her language. This incident is an ugly blot on a remarkable record of service, dedication and courage: I hope it does not become one of the defining moments of her public career.

Amidst all this brouhaha, I also note that people are talking about gender identity, gender liminality and gender-as-spectrum -- ideas which a few people obviously find threatening and which most rarely consider. Comfort levels are being tested and weaknesses are being exposed. That is about what I would expect after a visit from Lilith, so perhaps the ritual was more successful than anybody hoped.