Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Sith Lord Sean the Sorcerer Gets His Fifteen Minutes

Responding to my earlier post,  Sith Lord Sean the Vampire Sorcerer said:
Oh come on Filan, you can do better than posting silly pictures and juvenile mockeries can't you? 
Oh, I can do a lot better.  Trust me.
Go ahead and engage my lethal mind at any level you like; I think I would enjoy a good sparring match with one whose arrogance is obviously so unmatched by his intellect. 
I know that "I know you are but what am I?" is considered bad form in a flame war. But dude, rarely have I ever seen a situation where it would be more appropriate.  I suppose your mind might be lethal: the ebola virus is lethal and it can only be seen with an electron microscope.  But from everything I'm seeing here you are to intellectual pursuits what Stephen Hawking is to tap dancing.
Not everything I write is meant to be taken seriously 
 That's good. Because very little of it is.

(even if the humor is lost on you), but I was dead serious in my condemnation of your wretched, humorless PC guilt-mongering, which in my experience is a luxury only affluent societies built largely by the innovations of dead white guys can afford. 
OK, I'll bite. Perhaps your lethal and voracious mind can tear itself away from silly cliches like "PC guilt-mongering" and "dead white guys" and answer this question: do you agree or disagree with this statement from yrs. truly?

I think it is worthwhile, when learning about a culture's traditions, to go to representatives of that culture if possible.  This offers a deeper and more direct introduction to the spirits, the theology and the magic than one can get from research using secondary or tertiary sources. 
Feel free to use both sides of the screen explaining your response. And don't hesitate to include links which support your position. 
By the way, I recently saw you listed on a list of influential Satanists and you were somewhere around #25, which I find rather baffling since I see little that is Satanic about your writing, ideology or ethos.
I am a Satanist insofar as I think The Satanic Bible is a very trenchantly funny book that, like all great comedy, raises a lot of serious and thought-provoking points as well. Anton LaVey was one of the last Great American Curmudgeons, sour SOBs kvetching at witty length about the idiocy surrounding them.  I'd compare him to Twain, Bierce and Mencken: I'd even say that Harlan Ellison could be included in that august company as the last miserable survivor.  His Church of Satan is a great gag to those of us who are in on it.  I realize that some morons - by which I mean you - are unable to get the joke.  That only makes it all the funnier to those of us who do.

Besides, I'm sure to move up in the list once Marilyn Manson finds Jesus.  
Anyway, this may be my parting shot since engaging in battle with one who has so little respect for his opponent is not a very rewarding use of my time. Good luck and good fighting, and if you're so inclined, hail Satan.
When you find a place where people respect you send me a post card.  Assuming they have a postal service, that is.

More for Wade Long - and Welcome Back, Sean the Sorcerer!

First, I'd like to welcome back an old fan, Sith Lord Sean the Sorcerer, who came to the aid of Wade Long in a recent debate that has arisen on an earlier post.

Sean has added to his repertoire since our last encounter.  Not only is he a Sith Lord, a sorcerer whose mind "is a lethal weapon to which very people few can withstand prolonged exposure," and a Ninja trained by Bruce Lee and repeated watchings of Kung Fu, he's also a psychic vampire.

In his words:

It seems that my voracious mind, being so powerful yet so lacking in sustenance, is actually starving my body of energy and bringing me to the brink of death. In this drained condition, my immune system is weakened and I am vulnerable to any number of maladies which conventional medicine is at a loss to explain. The witch therefore prescribed some powerful supplements and herbs which are supposed to dramatically increase my energy level and thereby exorcise whatever demons may possess me. I am rather ambivalent about this approach though, because while it would undoubtedly be advantageous to elevate my energy level to something higher than one notch above dead, I fear that in doing so I may lose my connection to the eldritch realms and demonic entities which so inspire me.

In the interest of avoiding prolonged exposure to Sean's mind (such as it is), I shall refrain from commenting on his thoughts. Those who are interested may check out the earlier post, where a healthy debate has commenced.  Since ethical considerations are being given due consideration there, I'm going to concentrate here on some practical issues I see with Wade's statements.

"there are many white Pagans who want to practice spooky, exotic magic from African diaspora, Hispanic and indigenous cultures but who show an active aversion to actually meeting representatives of those cultures. "

Okay ... but again, why is skin color the determining factor for whether or not they can do it? Why do they HAVE to meet those representatives in order to make the magic work right? Also, there are white people in the Congo, born and bred, who would also be considered "representatives of those cultures" for all practical purposes. Not to mention the Christians and Muslims living there who, even though their skin color might match the Paleros and Brujas you mention, would hardly be qualified as teachers based only on their skin color.
The question here isn't skin color, it's culture. You don't have to be Haitian to practice Haitian Vodou Although there are houses which will only initiate natif natal Haitians and spirits which will only work with those who have a particular ancestry, it is certainly possible for a non-Haitian to serve the lwa honored in the asson lineage with or without an initiation.  But unless you know something about Haitian culture and Haitian history, you're going to miss a lot of the nuances of their service.  You're going to learn things by attending a fet thrown by and for Haitians which you probably will not see at a fet thrown by and for a group of Wiccans who want to honor the lwa in their own fashion, based on what they've read in a few books and learned from available websites.

That's not to say that those Wiccans can't hold a perfectly reverent and respectful service which pleases the spirits and which accomplishes the goals they set out to achieve. But it will be something very different than the fet you see in a yard in Port-au-Prince or in a basement in Brooklyn. And I think it is worthwhile, when learning about a culture's traditions, to go to representatives of that culture if possible.  This offers a deeper and more direct introduction to the spirits, the theology and the magic than one can get from research using secondary or tertiary sources.  I would think this self-evident, but apparently Wade disagrees with me.

As far as the Congo goes, a Portuguese person living in Angola who had been initiated into certain mysteries and attended services in honor of those mysteries might well know more about working with those spirits than a black Angolan Muslim who looked upon those ceremonies with horror and disgust.   But again this speaks to culture rather than race or ethnicity.  And since I've never claimed that skin color was nearly so important as culture, I'm not sure what point that serves in this discussion.

Contrary to Victorian and contemporary magical scholars, I don't believe that you can reduce magic down to some lowest common denominator and use various props to control the current and shape it to your own needs. I'm a Hard Polytheist: I believe that the Gods and spirits are not only real but are individual entities that each must be approached and honored in his/her/its own right. And since I also believe that cultures are the reflections of their Gods rather than the other way around, I think one of the best ways of approaching a particular God is to learn as much as possible about the followers He or She inspired and the civilization He or She helped to create.

Yeah, and how about all those silly pagans who dare work in the Feri Tradition, but have no interest in going to Ireland and meeting real life Little People out in the mounds? I really really would like to know *why* the practice of a particular magic-using tradition should be based on a person's skin color at all. Why do they *have* to meet those people?
Feri traces its roots not to Ireland but to the teachings of Victor and Cora Anderson and Gwydion Pendderwen. Which brings us to another question: lineage. Modern American Neopaganism tends to downplay the importance of initiation and lineage, but the question of "from whence did you receive your teachings and initiation, and from whence did they receive theirs?" has been considered vital in traditions as disparate as Hinduism, Ifa and Apostolic Christianity.

This gets back to the question of culture again.  Wade is (or was) a high-ranking member of an initiatory order, the Temple of Set.  There are certain documents (the "Tablets of Set") which are only given to those members who have attained the proper degree.  PDF copies of the 2nd, 3rd and 4th degree Tablets (at least) are available to anybody with an Internet connection.  Could somebody download those tablets, study them diligently, and get the same experience that they would by joining the Temple of Set and interacting with official members? Or would they miss out on subtleties which a higher-ranking member could show them? Would they tend to run into blind alleys that they could avoid if they had the proper guidance.  Would they reinvent wheels that had already been created and were being exchanged through private channels - or not invent those wheels at all?

In re a Power of the Poppy Review: for Del Schlosser

The awesome and talented Del Schlosser (who, tragically, was recently diagnosed with a terminal illness) posted a review of The Power of the Poppy a few weeks ago. Since I wanted to take a break from the Pantheacon discussions (entertaining though they are), I thought this might be a good time to address one of his comments.

Where my disappointment came in, was that as a fellow spirit worker, I had really hoped there would have been more spiritual information about the spirit ally of Poppy. It gets a passing mention now and again, but there isn’t even a chapter dedicated to those who wish to work with Her in any sort of real sense. I know that Kenaz has worked with Her as a real Spirit Ally, and I would have loved to read a little bit about hir experiences in doing so. I’ll admit; I read the book looking for this part, and when it didn’t show up, I was let down a bit. I get that the book is likely more marketable without all that woo-woo shit, but this is Kenaz Filan, author of the Voodou Love Magic book. I don’t think hir fan base would have been disappointed with a little woo.
There were  a couple of reasons I avoided talking about working with Poppy as a spirit ally.  The first is that I didn't want to encourage the people looking for "Real Hardcore Shamanism" to try anything that might get them in serious trouble.  In my opinion, Poppy literally is "the most dangerous ally" (the working title for the manuscript). Datura will chew you up, spit you out and leave you swearing you will never go near an anticholinergic plant ever, ever, EVER again.  Given the opportunity, Poppy will send you down a decades-long path of degradation, despair and ultimate death.

Providing bored Harnerites with instructions on how to meet Poppy via smoking opium, snorting heroin or even drinking poppy tea like it was ayahuasca would be irresponsible, in my opinion.  (That's not to say I wasn't tempted. That's not to say that at all... ). I took the harm reduction approach instead, providing information to people who were already interested in the topic about how they could approach Poppy in the safest possible manner.  If they wanted to construct their own rituals to Poppy, build a Poppy shrine or otherwise honor her, that was up to them.  I haven't found that Poppy was particularly interested in building that sort of relationship with me, nor have I run into many others who deal with her in that manner.

The second was that I felt many of the movements I described - bebop jazz, Seattle grunge, the Romantic fascination with opium ala de Quincey and Coleridge - showed how Poppy was doing spiritual work with us, even when we weren't approaching her in a shamanic fashion. Just because we don't strike shamanic bargains with allies doesn't mean that bargains aren't being struck. Consider the way Corn has left its mark on us even though we don't regularly make offerings to Corn Maiden anymore. (And whaddya know, it turns out that High Fructose Corn Syrup works on some of the same receptor pathways as cocaine and opiates and may be just as addictive).

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

And the Comments Keep Coming In: for Wade Long

Responding on G+ to my earlier post on race in modern Paganism and at Pantheacon, Wade Long (who has also offered his thoughts on the Z Budapest flap) opined:
Well, America's three quarters white, pretty much across the board. When you take into account that paganism in general is most embraced by white liberals, you're going to HAVE to simply deal with the fact that there aren't a whole hell of a lot of blacks in the pagan community. It's not just PantheaCon, either. It's everywhere.
Wade is offering as the answer what I presented as the question. I asked why it is that contemporary American Paganism is overwhelmingly white, middle-class and liberal he notes that "When you take into account that paganism in general is most embraced by white liberals, you're going to HAVE to simply deal with the fact that there aren't a whole hell of a lot of blacks in the pagan community." Which is rather like answering "why is the sky blue?" with "when you take into account that the sky is blue..."

I also note that Wade's response (and those of several other commenters) utterly fails to address the comments I posted from several black Pagans as to why they feel uncomfortable in the greater white Pagan community.   One persistent theme among black Pagans was that they feel ignored and marginalized by white Pagans. Given the way their concerns were ignored by many who responded, I think they just may be onto something. 
Then, when you address the fact that most African Americans who do practice magic don't, for the most part, actually participate much outside their own neighborhoods ... well, you just won't be seeing them going to events like PantheaCon. They're too busy doing stuff.
Again: WHY don't they "participate much outside their own neighborhoods"? You are restating the question and presenting it as an answer.  I'd also add that I have some questions about the statistical sampling you used to determine the preferences of "most African Americans who do practice magic." Especially since you seemed to miss several comments from African American practitioners in the post to which you responded. 

Then there's the inherent racism in your sentiments, by stating outright that whites Just Can't Do Magic, and are apparently unable to make Santeria or Brujeria work without having their very own pocket Mexican right there to give them the thumbs-up on it. 
Magic doesn't come from your skin color, any more than it comes from your naughty bits. Saying "No Honkies Allowed" is just as silly and counterproductive as saying "No Transies Allowed". Unless the ritual involves getting a decent tan, white people can do magic just as well as nonwhites.
Seeing as how I never said whites Just Can't Do Magic - and in fact have written books which teach readers white and otherwise how to practice Haitian and New Orleans magic - I am puzzled as to where you came up with that one. What I said (or meant to say, just in case I was utterly unclear) is that there are many white Pagans who want to practice spooky, exotic magic from African diaspora, Hispanic and indigenous cultures but who show an active aversion to actually meeting representatives of those cultures.  (The term generally used for that is "cultural appropriation," something we've been discussing here in other posts as well).

Obviously white people can do Vodou: I'd look awful damn silly saying they couldn't. But I question the motivations of those who want to learn Haitian Vodou but who have no interest in actually engaging with Haitian people.  I have issues with people who want to call themselves "rootworkers" and "conjure folks" but who are terrified of the poor black people who actually originated this tradition.  I find the white folks who will happily buy dream catchers and practice "Native spirituality" while stepping over the homeless drunk Cherokee in the parking lot distasteful.  That doesn't mean they "Just Can't Do Magic."  It means that I find their behavior to be exploitative and shameful.  I harbor no illusions that I'm going to change it, but that doesn't stop me from calling them on it.

Still more on Pantheacon and Chas Clifton

I haven't been ignoring you, Chas: it's just that between changing diapers and writing about electroconvulsive therapy for my latest book. Both these tasks are arguably more productive and enjoyable than rehashing the now-infamous "Z Budapest Show" -- but I hate to leave things unfinished.

From Chas:
Let's try a thought experiment.

Hypothetically, at P-con, a Cheyenne spiritual leader named Elk Woman holds a ritual only for people who can demonstrate First Nations/Native American ancestry.

"No wannabe Indians," she says, "only genetic Indians. The rest of you have plenty. This is for us. Don't try to take away our spirituality and magic."

Would she be condemned the way that Z Budapest is being condemned? Would there be a demonstration in favor of the non-Natives who felt that they qualified spiritually and emotionally to participate?

What a lot of people do not realize is that this
is a "cultural appropriation" argument. Z and some of the women who influenced her argue that there are women's mysteries that only "woman-born women" can experience.

You may or may not agree, but that is there the issue begins, and it goes back about forty years, at least.

Consequently, transwomen are seen as "male invaders" and wannabe women. They disagree violently. But that is the starting position of Z and people who share her position.

I agree with you that Z & Co. are of the opinion that trans women are "male invaders" and "wannabe women."  I would go further than saying that this is their "starting point" - I'd say it's their final word on the subject and they're not likely to change their minds at any point during this incarnation. I also see your thought experiment and raise you another thought experiment. 

Let's pretend a fair number of black Indians - people whose ancestors escaped slavery and lived among the Indians - were among the attendees at Pantheacon.  A few black Indian tribes (most notably the Lumbee of the Carolinas) have been recognized, but most black Indians lack federal or state recognition and frequently face prejudice and discrimination from Indians without black ancestry. 

Now let's suppose Elk Women had explained that "one drop of black blood is enough to keep you off the red road" and further gone on to explain that black Indians "want to ruin our tribes the way they ruined the inner cites of America."  Do you think the black Indians - or anyone else attending the conference - would feel comfortable having Elk Woman perform her ritual on or off the Pantheacon official calendar?

Let's further suppose that in 2011 a Native group had held a "Natives only" ritual that excluded black Indians and Elk Woman had made her comments in response to that controversy.  Now, in 2012, Pantheacon gave Elk Woman her own room and slot on the calendar to hold a "genetic Indians only" ritual.  Do you suppose the black Indian attendees would see this as a slap in the face? Or should they shut up and take it because if they complain they are guilty of "cultural appropriation?"

Here's another thought experiment: as one of the most well-known Pagan historians, I'm sure that you're aware that many early covens were very much about "gender polarity" and felt that homosexual members would throw off the energy.  Let's say we were able to get someone from that lineage presenting at Pantheacon and they wanted to hold an official ritual open only to heterosexuals.  We both agree this would be a perfectly reasonable request from their point of view and in keeping with their historical mission.  And I suspect we both also realize that said request would go over like the proverbial lead balloon.  (Especially if the person making the request had a record of statements about "pansies," "perverts" and the like).

More from Chas:
Z's alleged bigotry, however, is based on a perception that trans-women are attempting to get something -- the women's mysteries -- that they were not born to. Unfair? Maybe so. But it is just a form of the "cultural appropriation" argument that is so popular with many Pagans: "Why are you people trying to push your way in here and get our magic/spirituality?"

The larger context in which I see this whole dispute, however, is a sort of generational one. Let's cut Mom and Dad off at the knees.

Pagans alternate between saying "Where are the elders?" and disrepecting those elders as clueless relics. "sexist, racist Brits," and so forth.

That inability to look at people in the context of their times while racing to judge them in the context of our time is, I suggest, not healthy for the growth of the movement over time. It is hypocrisy of the most juvenile sort.
We've touched on the cultural appropriation question above. Several commenters on the original post noted the power imbalance between trans and cis women.  Suggesting that a disenfranchised and disempowered minority is "appropriating" a dominant culture by seeking to gain entry thereto is missing the point at best and apologetics for racism at worst.  (This is not to say that Z and her followers don't have the right to accept or reject any supplicants they see fit. But accusing trans people of "cultural appropriation" in this situation is rather like a country club accusing a Jewish applicant of seeking to "appropriate" WASP culture). 

As far as some of our elders being "clueless relics:" I challenge you to read Dion Fortune's lines about "the primitive 'Juju' of the Negroes" without rolling your eyes in embarrassment.  When you're done with that, you can check out Crowley's lines about a "nigger tent revival" in the preface to 777.  As Lupa pointed out, Crowley and Gardner (and Fortune, whom she missed) contributed a great deal to contemporary occultism and contemporary society.  They also had the blind spots you would expect from people growing up in their time and place.

Crowley, Gardner and Fortune had the good fortune to die before their more offensive ideas became entirely unfashionable. We have the luxury today of looking at their failings through the misty lens of history.  Budapest, to her good or bad fortune, has lived to see her ideas about trans women become unpopular.  Had she died 20 years ago, when transgender questions were barely a blip on the radar, she might be admired for her accomplishments and patted on the head for her quaint miunderstandings. As it is today, she gets to own both her achievements and her shortcomings for so long as she remains an active participant in the community. 

Monday, February 27, 2012

Pantheacon Problems, Pantheacon Solutions?

I'd like to start this entry with an honest and sincere question: how do we find common ground between the Dianics and transgender women in this conflict?  Before I begin, I'd like to note the following regarding my choice of words.

First, I realize that many Dianics consider "cisgender women" to be offensive: many transwomen consider "womyn-born-womyn" to be offensive.  I've used "womyn-born-womyn" in an effort to reach out to the Dianics who are by this point feeling overwhelmed by the opposition.   I've also put it in quotes to show that I consider it a problematic term at best.

I've also very deliberately said that many in the Pantheacon community see "womyn-born-womyn" rituals in the same light as "whites only" rituals.  I am not entirely sure that is a helpful comparison.  (I am entirely sure that comparing Z & Co. to Nazis, KKK members or the Westboro Baptist Church is not at all helpful to anyone and would ask people to refrain from it: I will not approve any comment to this post which uses that kind of inflammatory language).  But you gotta deal with what you gotta deal with.  If a significant chunk of the membership at a public event equates your rituals with a White Power gathering, then you have a problem which needs to be addressed.  We do nobody any favors by ignoring those feelings even if we disagree with them.

I have suggested that Dianics refrain from offering "womyn-born-womyn only" rituals as part of Pantheacon's public calendar. But, honestly, I think that would be a temporary and unsatisfactory solution at best.  Right now, for better or for worse and justly or unjustly, a significant percentage of the community sees "womyn-born-womyn only" rituals in the same unfavorable light as "whites only" rituals. And I suspect a Heathen group that wanted to hold a "whites only" blot in their suite would not receive a favorable reception, nor would attendees be mollified because they didn't put it on Pantheacon's public calendar.

After the 2011 brouhaha, the organizers of Pantheacon decided that the problem was that transgender women were not notified ahead of time that the ritual was for "womyn-born-womyn" only.  Their response this year was to ensure that Z Budapest let people know ahead of time that her rite was for "genetic women only."  And we all see how well that worked at quelling this controversy.  Will moving Dianic rites from public to private space fix the problem, or will we just be rehashing these same sad arguments next year?  When the discussion started, I thought the organizers at Pantheacon erred by giving a notorious transphobe their imprimatur for her exclusionary ritual without holding her to account for her earlier hateful words. I still think they screwed the pooch on that one - but I'm no longer sure that removing the PCon organizers from this equation will resolve the issue.

Z Budapest and her followers certainly have the right to share or withhold their Mysteries as they see fit. But those who find their criteria discriminatory and hateful also have the right to make their opinions known. As I've said repeatedly in this argument, free speech and freedom of religion don't include the right to a cheering section.  And right now it looks like each side has dug trenches and is prepared for a long and bloody war.

Telling Z and her followers that they can create their own "womyn-born-womyn" space in a private suite will likely raise the hackles of transgender women and allies who feel that Pantheacon is enabling hatred and discrimination.  And if the comments on various forums are any indication, Dianic detractors are greatly outnumbering Dianic supporters in this conflict. Telling Z she must open her private space to anyone who identifies as female, on the other hand, will be de facto exclusion.  If I didn't have the right to offer my rituals and my parties to whomever I saw fit, I wouldn't expend the time and effort to appear at Pantheacon. I doubt very much the Dianics will either.

Would the transgender community be willing to accept Z & Co's right to hold exclusionary rituals in private space? Would Z & Co be willing to accept being told they had to make their public rituals open to the public - or, at the very least, to everyone who identifies as female? I am aware that both of these "communities" are nebulous at best and there will be hurt feelings no matter what happens at PCon 2013.  But will this be one of those solutions which satisfies nobody? Or are we ready to engage in the kind of mutually compassionate and understanding dialogue which will help us to reach a permanent resolution?

Sunday, February 26, 2012

It's Commentary all the Way Down: for Chas Clifton

Commenting on one of my earlier posts, Chas Clifton says:
Again, the modern Pagan movement decides to eat one of its elders, and the only question is with which sauce. 
I foresee that in some not-too-future year, after Z Budapest has passed on, they will call her name among the Mighty Dead at the Bay Area Spiral Dances, and I wonder if the people trashing her now for being a bigot will pause and recall her decades and decades of priestesshood. 
Right now though, I am seeing all these bloggers saying stuff like, "I'm a Dianic but I no longer consider her an elder." Really, do you get to choose your elders?

Disclaimer: I do not know Z personally, although I have known of her since the 1970s, and we know a lot of the same people. Her vision of the Craft is quite different from mine. But still .... 
As for P-con, people have "private" rituals at "public events" all the time. It happens at virtually every festival that I have attended. But hey, let's throw Z in the dumpster because some folks' feelings were hurt.
Let's not pretend that Z Budapest didn't bring a good bit of this shitstorm down on her own head. She has had a year to apologize for 2011's hateful remarks about "transies" and to acknowledge that transfolk are worthy of respect even if she does not choose to circle with them. She has not done so: instead, she has accused those who have called her on her vile behavior of "threats," "intimidation" and "bullying."  Chas dismisses the whole thing as "some folks' feelings were hurt." I wonder if he would do so had she made an equally offensive rant about Jews, blacks, or some other marginalized group.

The fact that Budapest is a respected elder in the community does not justify her words: rather, it makes them more heinous.  Her history gives her words a weight far greater than the words of some random Internet troll.  Until such time as she apologizes for her hate speech (and yes, that was hate speech, no matter how she or her followers try to justify or minimize it) her history will be forever tainted with an ugly stain that may well outweigh her very real achievements.  There is a whole generation of Pagans out there who weren't even born when Budapest was establishing her branch of Dianic spirituality.  They are going to remember her not as a pioneering leader but as a nutter who said hateful things about transgender women.

Yes, I expect she will be celebrated in Spiral Dances after her passing, until those who remember her glory days firsthand die off as well. Then I expect she will be left by the wayside as a quaint embarrassment.  And no, I don't rejoice in that: I think it's a damned shame. Z's brand of second wave separatist feminism, for all its issues with class and race and all its inability to deal with transfolk, was one of the most interesting things to come out of the movement. The most visible parts of contemporary feminism focus largely on "getting our share of the pie from the patriarchy." Budapest and her peers wanted to remake the culture from the ground up. If their effort was doomed from the start, it's no less heroic and tragic for all that. And to have all that good will squandered over an intemperate posting and a pig-headed refusal to own her prejudice and apologize is a great loss to all of us.

I should also make it clear that I do not seek to encourage Z to circle with transgender women.  I am not a part of her religion and I neither have nor want a say in its thealogy.  Z is free to offer or withhold her Mysteries as she sees fit.  But I question the wisdom of allowing her a public room and a space on the Pantheacon calendar when it is abundantly clear that many people find her trans-exclusion to be as hateful and bigoted as black-exclusion... and when it is abundantly clear that there are still hard feelings about her 2011 rant.  And so yes, in answer to an earlier comment from Rose Weaver, I do hold Pantheacon and its organizers responsible for much of this mess. Had this ritual been held in a private suite as an unofficial event, there would have been far less hurt feelings.  As this was handled, it looked uncomfortably like a slap in the face to trans people and their supporters by Pantheacon.  And the subsequent refusal of PCon to issue an official apology - or at least an official statement - isn't helping matters at all.

Do you choose your elders? I might answer that question with a question: are you within your rights to reject someone because you find their politics and behavior intolerable?   Those who find Z's present behavior revolting are certainly within their rights to shun her until such time as she makes amends: there is definitely historical precedent for declaring somebody "outlaw" or blotting their name from memory.  You may not feel that Z's words rise to the seriousness which would warrant this action: you may not feel the anger caused by her ritual was justified.  (You might want to consider the fact that reports suggest protesters outnumbered attendees by at least 4 to 1 and possibly as much as 10 to 1 ... so it appears many more people find her behavior intolerable than deem it acceptable). But that is each individual's decision to make, not yours.

White Unity in White Diversity: still more on Pantheacon, Paganism and the Politics of Exclusion

As I continued studying the latest Budapest Brouhaha, I came to an uncomfortable realization. Even with Z Budapest's hate speech and anti-trans posturing, Pantheacon (and the Pagan community in general) appears to be more welcoming to white transfolk than to people of color of any gender.

I've spoken about this before: now I'd like to get out of the way and provide a voice to those who have experienced it firsthand.  Here are some words from black Pagans. I invite the organizers of Pantheacon (and other Pagans, wherever they may fall on the gender or color spectra) to consider these comments carefully and to offers ways in which we can do better by our fellow worshippers of color:

In response to Crystal Blanton:
Thank you so much for drawing clear connections between race, class and gender. Pagan community has long discussed gender--and I am happy to see that conversation including all the myriad manifestations of of sexual natures--but topics of class and race areshrouded in silence. We must discuss all the ways in which we dismiss or remain "blind" to exclusion, be it overt, covert or (worse) unnoticed. - Karinabheart
I am not surprised that hardly any of our people attend the various pagan conferences...I am not sure that we are really wanted in attendence. When I search out our people who are practicing various African dieties, I am surprised at the numbes and very surprised at the fantastic practitioners...yogis, herbalists...all very accomplished but practicing in an Afrocentric fashion. So these black practioners would not attend "white" pagan events, and they may not hear about them within their own very close circles. And from what I've been reading about htem, I don't think I"d subject myself to all the ignorance...I've got more important things to do, for myself and my people. It seems to me that there is a dark energy that clouds these pagan gatherings and attracts similar energies. So I just am not drawn to any place or people that will treat me poorly. It isn't always my job to help them see the light. We all eventually have to decide for ourselves to walk out from the shadow. - Meganhenrycht
In response to Pythia Theocritas:
It has been very interesting reading this article, and the ensuing comments. I think about this subject a whole lot, as a biracial pagan woman of both African and European heritage. I remember feeling intense waves of disconnect 20 years ago, when I began to read about Pagan life in America and gazed at the accompanying pictures of what an American Pagan looked like. They didn't look like me, it seemed. I too, had the sad disappointment of not being able to find any depictions of faeries of any variety of hues other than fair-skinned or blue or something like that. - Nici Johnson
In response to Pythia Theocritas's excellent post, "That Angry, Polytheist Black Woman"
Even though white pagans fall mostly on the left side of the spectrum, they are like many other white folks in our culture in that they've grown up unconsciously ingesting the same racial stereotypes as everyone else. The angry black woman is one of those stereotypes.

Maybe it's because our accents are often different than theirs and they just interpret that as sounding angry somehow. Or maybe it's because we don't do that "sounds like we're asking a question when we're really making a statement" upward lilt in pitch at the end of our sentences like many white women do. I dunno. But yeah, having to constantly reign yourself in so white folks don't get intimidated gets old, pretty quick. - Blackpagan
Well said. The walking on eggshells and the culturally insensitive comments or faulty interpretations of what others have said or mean because of the lack of understanding or covert (even to themselves) predjudice is so completely tiring and frustrating. I do agree that more voices will be heard; as we all seek to grow spiritually - it will be about connecting the voices and not adjusting them down. It is hard to want to re-enter into the larger pagan community; the pain and anger are great - but as the term "pagan" becomes too small for what it happening in terms of global growth, the exclusivity of one cultural/socio-economic voice as the yardstick of the "Neo-pagan" community will have to turn into a multi-plumed fan that can bring life and connection to the worldvoice. As a person of a racially mixed background and upbringing, I have found that it also brings its unique challenges and assumptions into a spiritual community. - Simone Bennett
LOL!!! Its about time our folks started speaking up! I, for about the third time have been told that I am judgmental, that I think I am better than others, know. And I've been taking it to heart, re-evaluating myself, and each time, I sort of come up...well confused. At these times, I couldn't seem to figure out how I was being judgmental, and in particular how I was thinking I was better than others. What I did notice was that I was being honest, forward, and understanding. Things that were not expected, nor appreciated from a black woman with the highest education in the room. Hmmmnn interesting. And yes, you are right, a lot of folks are not what they think they are, nor who they say who they are. Many are just playing and fooling themselves and others and they hate being reminded of their own shortcomings. - Meia
 In response to my earlier post:
Ashe, and preach my friend! I struggle between exercising understanding and feeling outrage when I see cultural appropriation and individuals who write about or produce images/goods inspired by African Traditions but have no idea beyond what it's called. Worse yet, are people who establish Pagan lists about ancient Egypt and Kemeticism and then have the gall to say that "there is no evidence that Ancient Egyptian pharoahs were black. All artwork depicting pharoahs show them trampling blacks with their chariots." I called the priestess out on her clearly racist remark. I would like to add this: how much of the lack of diversity in neo-Pagan forums the responsibility of Pagans of Color? There are Black Pagans. Why are they not more prominent? Or is it that we tend to 'fade' into the background of cultural indifference when we do show ourselves. - Seshat Anqet Het Her
Personally I know one of the reasons I refuse to network with local Pagans or in fact make the cross-country trek to P*Con is because I'm tired of the double takes I get when I walk in a room AND the spit takes I get when folks realize I don't practice Vodou or Santeria or any other "ethnic" religion. I'm tired of having to "prove" that I belong. - Vermillion Rush

Saturday, February 25, 2012

We Interrupt this Important Dianic Discussion... for More about PCon

In the ongoing argument about Z Budapest's "genetic women only" ritual, I've seen numerous commenters ask "would it be OK to hold a 'white people only' ritual at Pantheacon?" The implication, of course, is that it would be an abomination. There's no way the Pantheacon organizers would ever allow a group to hold a "whites only" circle and anybody who tried would soon be shunned by every right-thinking person at the festival.

This is comforting news, except for one inconvenient little fact. Most of the rituals and events at Pantheacon already are exclusively white. As I said in the comments of Crystal Blanton's post on "Daughters of Eve:"
Something I noticed when I attended PCon years ago was the ... shortage... of people of color. Not to put too fine a point on it, but every person of color attending PCon could have fit easily into a room party with plenty of space left over for a band and a couple of belly dancers. (I also remember the experience of one Mexican-American woman who was attending a suite party and was repeatedly mistaken for a maid... ).
 And today Pythia Theocritas comments:
It is no surprise that the modern pagan movement is heavily Eurocentric, and very fond of cultural appropriation for the sake of the ‘exotic’ or ‘ancient’. Plastic Shamans hawk ‘ancient native rituals’ about as ancient as the first tablet PC and Hoodoo and Vodun becomes the latest craze amongst those seeking the spirits of the ‘noble savages’ they’d be too frightened to speak to in real life.
As I noted in an earlier blog post, I have taken a hiatus from writing about Vodou because I felt I was enabling the people who wanted a kinder, gentler - and whiter - African Diaspora experience.  They wanted something more "authentic" than the One-Size-Fits-All reductionist monotheism which uses deities like ethnic decor. But they didn't actually want to deal with brown people to get that authenticity. I'm guessing once Hoodoo and Vodou become passé, the next big thing will be Curanderia, Brujeria and the Santa Muerte cult.  And I'm guessing, sadly, that many of these new "curanderos" and "brujas" will never get any closer to a real Mexican than their local Taco Bell.  So I am very, very sympathetic to Pythia's concerns.

How do we fix this issue? How do we make our faiths more welcoming to people of color? Well, a good start would be acknowledging that there is a problem.  Many Pagans have shown a remarkable talent for ignoring this lily-white elephant in our living room.  I think this whole flap over Z Budapest's comments has opened up some important dialogue about gender and inclusivity.  Perhaps now we can also start addressing the pressing issues of racism, classism and cultural appropriation within the community?

Friday, February 24, 2012

Dianics, Discrimination and the Dust of the Dying III: for Rose Weaver and Ocelot

In response to my earlier post, which was in response to my even earlier post, Rose Weaver took umbrage with my comment, "Stop and think about what it's like to choose, at the end of the month, between feeding your cat and feeding yourself. Now stop and think about what it's like to spend your life working toward a dream that never comes true."
Dude, this is harsh. Seriously. I've been watching and reading everything on this issue since it broke. What you fail to realize is that this is about discrimination, pure and simple, no more, no less.
The paragraph I quoted above? Yeah, you just described me and my life to the letter, but I in no way support Z in any form or fashion, and I am most certainly am not a Dianic Wiccan, or Wiccan of any trad at all.
While I support your right to your opinions, I honestly believe you are now stretching a bit too far to grab at straws to support your reasons for bashing Z and what she did at P-Con (even though I agree she needs a bit of bashing). You're starting to categorize a hell of a lot more women into this mess that simply DO NOT belong there and may want to throttle your anger back a couple notches while directing it, constructively and appropriately, towards those to whom it belongs.
If you go to the Wild Hunt you'll see people comparing the Dianics to the Westboro Baptist Church, the KKK and, yes, the followers of a certain failed Austrian painter who caused a bit of an uproar in the early part of the last century.   I was hoping to remind some people that the "enemy" in this battle consists largely of elderly, ailing and impoverished women.  This fight is to "privilege olympics" what Bumfights is to Golden Gloves boxing. It's not a war on masculine infiltrators or on cisgender privilege: it's a scrap between a bunch of people floating around the bottom of the barrel.

No, that doesn't excuse hurtful language used on either side. But let's try to understand that just about everybody in this argument is acting not out of hatred but out of fear. Nobody is a Nazi here. Nobody is a penis-swinging tool of the patriarchy trying to infiltrate Goddess spirituality.  And until we get past that kind of rhetoric this fight is just going to keep escalating until the last members of Z's generation are gone. Because that's part of the reason why they are fighting so hard: they realize that identity politics and gender essentialism are nowhere near so important today as they were to Second Wave feminists.

It was not my intent to demean disabled people, elderly people, lesbians or anyone else. I was hoping to inspire empathy, not scorn, in those who were reading this post.  But I also recognize that intent is not "fucking magic" and so I apologize for any pain I caused you or anyone else by my choice of words.

Meanwhile, Ocelot asked:
"thanks to their hard work, Z and Co. have been rewarded by becoming increasingly irrelevant"
To whom?
From the New York Times, January 30, 2009: "My Sister's Keeper: Lesbian Communities Struggle to Stay Vital to a New Generation" - an article which is well worth reading.
THEY called it a lesbian paradise, the pioneering women who made their way to St. Augustine, Fla., in the 1970s to live together in cottages on the beach. Finding one another in the fever of the gay rights and women’s liberation movements, they built a matriarchal community, where no men were allowed, where even a male infant brought by visitors was cause for debate. 
Emily Greene was one of those pioneers, and at 62 she still chooses to live in a separate lesbian world. She and 19 other women have built homes on 300 rural acres in northeast Alabama, where the founders of the Florida community, the Pagoda, relocated in 1997... “I came here because I wanted to be in nature, and I wanted to have lesbian neighbors,” said Ms. Greene, a retired nurse. She hopes the women, ages 50 to 75, will be able to raise enough money to build assisted-living facilities on the land and set up hospice care.
And from the New Yorker, a fabulous piece on the Van Dykes, which ends with this poignant paragraph from Lamar Van Dyke:
“Your generation wants to fit in,” she told me, for the second time. “Gays in the military and gay marriage? This is what you guys have come up with?” There was no contempt in her voice; it was something else—an almost incredulous maternal disappointment. “We didn’t sit around looking at our phone or looking at our computer or looking at the television—we didn’t sit around looking at screens,” she said. “We didn’t wait for a screen to give us a signal to do something. We were off doing whatever we wanted.”
How many new separatist communities do we see springing up? How many young lesbians and feminists see separatism as a viable option: how many see men as inherently oppressive and incorrigible? I stand by my earlier statement that the movement Z was part of is primarily of historical interest to the Queer community. And may I also add that we as a movement are poorer for that: we could stand to see a lot more questioning of the social order, not to mention outright rejecting it. 
"Contemporary feminism is certainly struggling with issues of its own, but they are nothing like the issues facing the feminists of the Mad Men era. If Z and her followers are still fighting battles they won long ago"
Considering that Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell was trying to pass a law requiring women who wanted and abortion to submit to a vaginal ultrasound as a condition of receiving said abortion, I hardly think the "battle" has been "won" - the tactics and weapons have just changed.
Today a woman's right to a safe, legal abortion is under constant attack.  When Z started her quest that right didn't exist, period.  Please don't put words in my keyboard - and again, if I have been unclear in my writing I apologize.  Only a complete idiot would say that sexism is no longer a problem in our society.  But let's also acknowledge the many ways things have changed for the better.

I just finished writing a chapter on Sylvia Plath, who graduated from Smith College in 1955.  At that time Smith was one of the premier women's colleges in the country. Plath graduated summa cum laude with a Phi Beta Kappa key.  Adlai Stevenson spoke at her commencement: the theme of his speech was "Having a Creative Marriage." Because of course that was what ladies of that day did with their degree from a top school - married a smart, successful husband and raised smart, successful children.  Sexism is still a very real problem in American society - but let's not pretend that a woman in 2012 doesn't have options available to her that a woman in 1952 or 1972 could hardly even dream about.  The war isn't over by a long shot but this time the enemy is trying to claw back territory, not hold on to it.

Dianics, Discrimination, and the Dust of the Dying II: for Miss E and Andrea

My earlier post has inspired several comments: I wanted to discuss two of them at length here.  While the posters appeared to be disagreeing with me, I suspect we're a lot closer on these topics than any of us realized at first.

First, Miss E said:
I realize the majority of your post is not about the post from the Wild Hunt that you share here, but I can’t resist saying “WTF” to that first paragraph! Many representatives of “The Man” would be more than happy to cut safety net benefits to everyone possible. And an awful lot of people in the wider Pagan community may find themselves needing public assistance someday, if not now, and if they are disabled or elderly they’d do well to find their way to advocates that will assist them in being far from helpless. 
I acknowledge that I could have been more diplomatic about the way I put it.  On the other hand, let's call a spade a spade.  Many of Z Budapest's loudest supporters are in fact poor, elderly and dependent on their despised patriarchy for public benefits. They spent their lives working toward a supportive Womyn's Community which would take care of its own - going on 47, I'm old enough to remember vaguely some of the Utopianism in the air in the 1970s. Now, in their twilight years, they see absolutely none of that. Their visions of a separatist paradise appear as quaint as Nehru jackets and Be-ins: they have found that yesterday's womyn get little interest and less financial support from today's womyn.  And the patriarchy they hoped to smash, or at least to escape, is their sole lifeline.

Stop and think about what it's like to choose, at the end of the month, between feeding your cat and feeding yourself.  Now stop and think about what it's like to spend your life working toward a dream that never comes true. I thought at first this was about a bunch of middle-class white lesbians exercising their cisgender privilege over their trans sisters. I realize now it's largely about a bunch of scared, lonely old women fighting battles that (thanks in no small part to their efforts) most of us have long since forgotten. My words may have originally been stated in anger, but they were and are restated in pity.

Meanwhile, Andrea said:
While I really, really do agree with you, which you can see my full response to Z's bigotry at 
I wish you weren't mocking feminists at the same time. What Z and her ilk are, is NOT feminism. It's a fucking joke, and it's bigotry, but just as she does not represent the majority of Pagans, she does not represent even close to the majority of feminists, and I should hope you realize that. 
If you don't want people to judge Paganism by Z. Budapest and people like her, I'd really appreciate if you didn't judge feminism by Z. Budapest and people like her. There are issues feminism has, yes, and there are just as many racist and cissexist issues in feminism as there are in Paganism.
Why Lesbian Separatism seemed
like a good idea at the time... 
Oh, I absolutely realize that Z Budapest's brand of "The Penis is EEEVILLL!!!" feminism is a joke today.  But I also realize that it became a joke because of their successes.  It's hard today to understand the world as it was when Z & Co. stepped up to the plate.  They came up in an era where "a woman's place is in the home," where sexual harassment was fodder for comedy rather than outrage, where a woman running for president was as laughable as the idea of a "Negro" in the Oval Office.  And a lot of the advances we take for granted today came about because women like Z Budapest and the Dianics took to the streets and fought hard to be taken seriously.

To me that is part of what makes this whole situation so unfortunate.  There's a real air of Greek tragedy here: thanks to their hard work, Z and Co. have been rewarded by becoming increasingly irrelevant.  Once marginalized by the patriarchy, they are now marginalized by the people whose lives they changed for the better.

That doesn't excuse Z's hateful words: neither does it change my opinion that Pantheacon is not the place for exclusionary rituals based on criteria that many attendees find offensive and hurtful.  But it helps me to temper my anger with a wee bit of empathy.  Contemporary feminism is certainly struggling with issues of its own, but they are nothing like the issues facing the feminists of the Mad Men era.  If Z and her followers are still fighting battles they won long ago,  how much of their behavior is due to shell shock?

Dianics, Discrimination and the Dust of the Dying

As is not infrequently the case with me, I find a comment that I made in anger actually pointed the way toward a better understanding of the problem at hand.  Responding to a Dianic who has repeatedly posted anti-transgender comments, I said:

So how does it feel to be poor, aging, reliant on government charity to sustain your existence, and rejected as irrelevant by all but a few similarly poor, aging and equally irrelevant bigots?
Your curse, should you choose or not choose to accept it, is to watch the rest of the world pass you by as they take the achievements you and yours gave them into directions which you never anticipated and which you are powerless to control. 
Have a happy walk to the shadowlands.

Oh, wait... you're already there.
Perhaps I could have phrased it a bit more gently, but it's never a good idea to expect tact at 3:00am when I just changed a dirty diaper and have had my fill of early morning excreta.  And as I counted to 50, thought about editing the comment and then decided it was fine the way it was, I realized just how much painful truth there was in those paragraphs.

By her own admission, Eruca is a disabled Dianic lesbian. Should her hated patriarchy decide to stop sending her a monthly check, she would starve in the street.  She is forced to rely on whatever scraps The Man throws in her general direction. The sisters of her generation are as powerless as she, and the sisters of the generations which came after her have left eldercare to the tender mercies of Uncle Sam.  The Great Womyn's Communities the separatists dreamed of in the second wave never came to pass: all that is left are a few lonely old dears remembering better days and buying day-old produce with their food stamps.

Which brings us to Z Budapest.

I said in another comment that I felt it was tragic that Z has chosen to tear down her legacy like this. Instead of being remembered for the 40+ years of work she did for the Womyn's community, she's going to be seen as a foaming-at-the-mouth anti-Transgender bigot. But then I realized that hateful statement on someone else's blog has brought her more attention than she has received in a couple of decades.  Were she not remembered as a bigot, she'd be remembered as a quaint curiosity... if she were remembered at all.

In his blog post on the topic, Devin Hunter hit the nail on the head:
The simple fact that for every nine people there that were protesting there was one attendee to her ritual made it all clear! She does not represent the majority of us, we represent the majority. She is not a leader that can be voted out of office, she is not a politician who lobbies for the exclusion of trans individuals, she is a woman who comes from a particular world view that we as a greater community no longer feel to be valid in our modern times. She is the past and we are the future.
This is the path Z and her followers have chosen to stay in the public eye: this is the way they hope to remain a vital part of the community which has outgrown them.  They stumble about the terrain wondering why the earth no longer shakes for them and why those damn little furry creatures keep eating their eggs.  Instead of hatred, we should treat them with pity. Their time has passed and their appointment with the Devouring Mother draws nearer each day. When they have returned to the dust, those who come after them will bleach the rot from their bones and exhibit them as a display of our continuing evolution.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Pantheacon 2012 mark 2: the comments begin

First things first: Deborah Castellano pointed out that she is a Dianic and follower of a Dianic tradition which does not exclude transwomen.  I apologize for painting this community with an overly broad brush and I am heartened to see that Z Budapest's opinions are not shared by everyone who identifies as Dianic.

That being said: here is a comment from a womyn identifying herself as "Fawn."
No one seems to be mentioning this was a skyclad what would happen when the trans-women took off their clothes in front of the genetic-women? What about the women who were in the ritual and on their periods, would it have grossed them out?
It appears that you missed the point which I've tried to make in several posts about this subject.  Let me repeat it again, writ large for those who have visual impairments.

I am not questioning the rights of Dianic Wiccans to hold "womyn born womyn/genetic women only" rituals.  I question the wisdom of holding them at a public event.

Let me know if you missed any part of this. I can look for a bigger font.
All the hateful language being talked about from all sides makes me ashamed of my community, NOT my body or what I did. I did not hear anything of the sort being said from the Dianics' like this...the gossip surrounding this is nauseating.
 Perhaps you missed this earlier message from Z Budapest:
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.
Do you find this to be an appropriate response to transgender women by a Dianic elder? Many do not - and they are choosing to make their feelings known.  You may not like their opinions, you may not agree with them, but let's not pretend that the trans community and trans allies are the only ones slinging mud here.
What about the Trans-gender ritual that also took place? Or the men's spirituality workshop? There are many dimensions to this, as there are people, and MINE was nothing but empowering. I prayed for these folks, that they receive the grace of peace from the Goddess in their lives.
"They have their own churches, they have their own schools, they have their own water fountains. Why do you need to come in here stirring up trouble?"
Maybe they could have spent that energy protesting the neglect of CHILDREN at this event... I saw kids dragged to restaurants at 1am (under 3 years old), kids throwing up in trash cans whilst their parents continued to be engaged in conversations and were oblivious, babies who were obviously sick with green snot being carted around to listen to very adult conversations. It was extremely embarrassing and disappointing to see so many people who CARED about the transgenders feelings, yet ignored the children's needs.
And you did what to protect these children? Did you complain about it on your blog? Did you go to con staff? Did you get in touch with San Jose Child Protective Services? Forgive me for my bluntness, but methinks you care about "the children" only insofar as you can use them to derail attention from the issue at hand.  Which is, in case you missed it the first time:

I am not questioning the rights of Dianic Wiccans to hold "womyn born womyn/genetic women only" rituals.  I question the wisdom of holding them at a public event.

That being said: as a parent, here's a smack in the head to those parents who didn't take the needs of their young children into account while attending a convention. The behavior Fawn described is repellent and unacceptable: try to do better next time.
I don't personally care about someone's gender identity, sexual orientation, or political affiliation in our community; I leave that up to the Christian fundies. Religion IS exclusive, especially any mysteries. I encourage those who felt 'left out' to re-claim their own mysteries and give empowerment to themselves, instead of trying to take from others.
You really didn't read the original post, did you? Pay close attention to this part, which I've once again writ large for the visually or cluefully impaired:

As for a lack of "safe spaces" - this gets back to what I said earlier. Christians are allowed to welcome or to shut out any potential congregants they see fit. They can rail against homosexuals, race mixers, Jewish bankers, secular humanists, Muslims and the like from their own pulpits. Those who find their teachings to be edifying are free to attend their churches. Last I checked, no one was seriously talking about making the practice of Evangelical Christianity illegal: neither is anyone saying that Dianics should not be allowed to practice their faith as they wish and to open their private events to participants of their choice. But like many others who are unwilling to own their own privilege, Sierra seems to mistake the right to freedom of speech and religion with the right to a cheering section.

You seem to think that asking Dianics to refrain from holding rituals which will divide the community and which exclude certain women based on a standard which many consider discriminatory and hurtful, is the same thing as "trying to take" their mysteries. You're welcome to your mysteries. You just aren't (or shouldn't be) welcome to bludgeon others with them at a public event. And your refusal to recognize that reeks of your middle-class white privilege: you are more interested in your own selfish needs than in the feelings and concerns of others in the community.

Pantheacon 2012: Here we go again...

After last year's controversy over rites which excluded transgender women, the organizers of Pantheacon learned their lesson and put no more "womyn born womyn" rituals on their calendar.  Unfortunately for us, this only happened in Bizarro World. In our dimension they scheduled a ritual which was not only advertised as "for genetic women only" but which was led by Z Budapest, whose hateful comments about  "transies" were among the low points of last year's argument.

As can be expected, the blogosphere is once again abuzz over the controversy. Thorn Coyle organized a silent protest outside Z Budapest's ritual (more from Thorn here). And Yeshe Rabbit, whose CAYA coven organized last year's ritual, chimed in as well.  But what I found most interesting was a comment from a Dianic who attended Z's ritual, a womyn who posted as "Sierra."
What about our right and women and girls to have our own rituals and space? When every other group can have their own rituals and space that is not challenged, why is it that only women are being attacked for seeking to take care of our own needs rather than the wants of others? This agenda by some transfolk to assert their patriarchal "right of privelege" to go where ever they want, whenever they want and yet to portray themselves as the "victims" of genetic females has gone far enough. Its time that people start questioning the assertions being made by the anti-Dianics and make some effort to listen to what is being said by the Dianics who celebrate women's mysteries. We will not give upour rites and our sacred space.
Z Budapest has a right to hold rituals for "genetic women only" and to refer to transwomen as mutilated men attempting to exercise male privilege. And others within the community have the right to call her on her beliefs.  Exclusion cuts both ways. If we are going to support the Dianic right to exclude transwomen as "mutiliated men," then we must also support the right of other groups to exclude those Dianics as "bigots." You may disagree with either or both parties in this controversy, but you can hardly disagree with anyone's right to free association.

I also find it interesting how the Dianics seem so caught up in the idea of "patriarchal privilege" that they are unable or unwilling to recognize their own privilege.  Is there anyone who would deny that transwomen have less cultural clout than cisgender women, or that they are disproportionally subjected to violence and discrimination? Frankly, all this talk by college-educated middle-class white women about the "privilege" of a marginalized class reminds me of the endless rantings about how "white men suffer more discrimination than anyone else in America thanks to Affirmative Action" or how there is a "secular humanist war against Christianity."

This privileged worldview can be seen in the whimpering about "[giving] up our rites and sacred space." Nobody is denying the Dianics the right to worship as they see fit.  But there's a big difference between acknowledging a group's rite to hold exclusionary rituals and giving them a venue to hold those exclusionary rituals at a public event.  Like the fundamentalists who see the separation of church and state as a direct attack on their faith, the Dianics seem bound and determined to declare that anyone who denies them a venue at any event - regardless of the cost in hurt feelings and marginalization to other attendees - is engaging in a war against Dianics.
Transfolk have their own amazing mysteries and rather than constantly trying to destroy and eliminate Dianic Mysteries, should focus their energies on building their own traditions, mysteries and rituals. They can then invite whomever they want to share their experiences with them. Why has this not happened? You might want to ask yourself this because it may clarify what is really going on. Make an effort to look into the history of the last 10 to 15 years of harrassment of women by some in the trans-community that has led to the elimination of nearly all genetic women's space. Anytime we attempt to gather, we are called bigots and it is said that we are somehow victimizing the trans-folk. We have very few safe spaces left. Space that we need to take care of ourselves physically, emotionally, spiritually. I am not anti-trans. I have no issues with an inclusive community. But I will not be bullied and harassed out of participating in my birthright as a female.
Again, nobody is bullying or harassing her out of "participating in [her] birthright." There is a big difference between a silent protest and a pipe bomb left on someone's doorstep. There's a big difference between saying that PCon will not provide official sanction to "womyn-born-womyn" rituals but will not and cannot stop Dianics from holding these events in their own suite and saying that Dianics are unwelcome to attend PCon as teachers, presenters or even guests. I also note that there used to be an official name for the solution Sierra offers.  Do the words "separate but equal" ring bells with anyone? (We can at least be grateful that she didn't tell us that some of her best friends are trans).

As for a lack of "safe spaces" - this gets back to what I said earlier. Christians are allowed to welcome or to shut out any potential congregants they see fit. They can rail against homosexuals, race mixers, Jewish bankers, secular humanists, Muslims and the like from their own pulpits. Those who find their teachings to be edifying are free to attend their churches. Last I checked, no one was seriously talking about making the practice of Evangelical Christianity illegal: neither is anyone saying that Dianics should not be allowed to practice their faith as they wish and to open their private events to participants of their choice. But like many others who are unwilling to own their own privilege, Sierra seems to mistake the right to freedom of speech and religion with the right to a cheering section.

Friday, February 17, 2012

From Melancholia: Sylvia Plath Post-Mortem

[T]he point of anguish at which my mother killed herself was taken over by strangers, possessed and reshaped by them… It was as if the clay from her poetic energy was taken up and versions of my mother made out of it, invented to reflect only the inventors, as if they could possess my real, actual mother, now a woman who has ceased to resemble herself in those other minds. Frieda Hughes
The violence and fury in Plath's later poetry seemed unnerving and unladylike to many of her editors in 1963. Before the decade ended, it would find a ready audience among angry young feminists striving to cast off patriarchal limitations. Plath's suicide became the defining moment of her life: the Ariel poems became incantations written in her blood, verses which simultaneously captured and drove her to self-immolation. Many of her devotees saw Hughes as a male oppressor who had callously driven her to her end: his editing of her poetry and tight control over her journals after her death was seen as a final betrayal by a black-hearted scoundrel.

Her mythology has inspired scholarly attention as much as her poetry. After studying the lives of over 2,000 creative luminaries, psychologist James Kaufman found that female poets had a particularly elevated risk of mental illness, psychiatric hospitalization and suicide attempts: he dubbed this "the Sylvia Plath effect." (Other researchers have pointed to problems with this and similar studies, noting issues with selection bias, controls that are not blinded, reliance on biographies that might play up mental illness, retrospective designs and unclear definitions of creativity). Like Goethe's young Werther and Chateaubriand's René, Plath has become an icon of the brilliant but tormented soul too delicate for this world. But while Werther and René were fictional (or thinly fictionalized) creations, Plath was a flesh-and-blood person whose death left behind a legacy and a family.

It is tempting to see the final Ariel poems as the cause and product of her self-immolation. Perhaps the real tragedy is that Plath died at the height of her creative powers. What might she have created had she been been able to pull herself through that miserable London winter and gone on to write poems not about her self-destruction but about her survival? Instead of romanticizing what her depression gave us, we might do better to mourn what it took away.

Plath had little tolerance for "beats" and alternative lifestyles and strove (however uncomfortably) to fulfill her society's expectations as a wife and mother. Would she have become an icon if she and Hughes had reconciled and she spent the rest of her life writing about family and motherhood from a British suburb? Alas, we will never know the answers to these questions. With his death Otto Plath became a "colossus" to his daughter, a broken statue she could only try fruitlessly to mend. Her suicide has made her a colossus to us, simultaneously unreachable and inescapable.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Why I am Not a Professional White Vodouisant

Once again, my friend and colleague Galina Krasskova has written an excellent and thought-provoking blog post, this one on Cultural (Mis)appropriation.  And once again her work has inspired me to write about things going on in my life.

Now that Inner Traditions has accepted Talking with the Spirits I am back at work on a new project. More precisely, I'm back at work on several new projects.  People always worry about writers stealing ideas. Just about every writer I know has too many ideas, yrs. truly included.  My problem isn't coming up with things to write about, it's deciding which manuscript most needs my attention at any given moment.

The project which is claiming most of my time at present is Melancholia. This is a study of depression and the ways it has been viewed throughout history. (Yesterday I began writing the chapter on Sylvia Plath: I realized later that it was the 49th anniversary of her suicide. I'd say that was appropriate, but given that the chapter in question deals with how a brilliant poet has been reduced to an icon of trendy sadness, I'm not so sure it was...). Melancholia is a workbook which contains exercises for those of us living with depression: among those covered are Marcus Aurelius, Emily Dickinson and Omar Khayyam. I've posted some excerpts from this draft and hope to provide more in the future.

After that I hope to return to Lilith's Children: A History of Abortion. As per the title, this book examines abortion and birth control from ancient times to the present day.  This one touches upon historical forms of family planning (including charming customs like exposing unwanted infants or sacrificing them to various gods) and our contemporary war on/for abortion rights. I suspect my take on the subject will piss off just about everyone who has strong feelings on the issue.

Following up on Power of the Poppy, I have in the works a manuscript with the working title Speed: 4,000 Years of Life in the Fast Lane. This one covers everything from tea to "bath salts," from ephedra to Ritalin. It touches upon things like the influence of amphetamines on the Beat poets, the way that cocaine fueled the swinging 70s, and the ways in which Big Pharma used "ADHD" as a marketing opportunity. I thought about getting a large quantity of some stimulant du jour and writing the whole thing in a ten-day all-nighter ala Robert Louis Stevenson's cocaine-addled production of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. But alas, family responsibilities and self-preservation mean I will be sticking to my usual routine of coffee by the liter.

You may note that none of these books deal with Vodou.  That is not coincidental: I've made a conscious choice to refrain from writing about Vodou for a bit. This doesn't mean that I've given up on Vodou. Haitian Vodou remains the poteau mitan around which my religious life revolves.  Sevis lwa is an integral part of my private spirituality.  But as time has passed I've grown less comfortable with taking a public role as a Vodou leader and educator.

Since I wrote The Haitian Vodou HandbookMambo Chita Tann and Mambo Vye Zo Kommande la Menfo have also written excellent guidebooks for aspiring Vodouisants. We have all made it clear that while it is possible to honor the lwa and ancestors on your own, you will not be able to get to the heart of Vodou practice without actually joining a société and becoming an initiate (or, at the very least, a regular attendee at fets and public ceremonies for the lwa).

I have introduced people to my société and other houses on several occasions. On several occasions I have been asked "are we going to be the only white people there?" I've had to calm these poor souls down and reassure them that nobody was going to beat them up, steal their iPods or hit them up for spare change.  (To date I've been able to resist saying "You should be safe because they ate two Mormons last week. But if you see anyone bringing out a big cauldron and some stewing vegetables run as fast as you can..."). Many white people who are fascinated by African and Afro-Caribbean spirituality are also terrified of black folks. And, sadly, cottage industries have grown up which cater both to their interest and their fear.  Consider this post from Kathy "Mambo Racine Sans Bout" Grey:
My Haitian membership likewise treats the internationals well. Unlike many Haitian peristyles, they don't mock, or deride, or steal from, or disrespect, the international participants, instead they have always received the internationals wholeheartedly, taking them into the djevo as sisters and brothers... I have always made sure that things run right, that there is no stealing or other bad behavior, that ceremonies are correct, that the Haitian initaites are on their best behavior, that the drinking water supply is maintained, that each and every detail is correctly discharged so as to provide the international (and Haitian!) members with a safe, positive experience. 
(Grey has elsewhere claimed "Most Haitian men who have American girlfriends or spouses have women in Haiti too, and it is the Haitian family that counts. Not that they treat Haitian women any better! Beating, cheating, rape, it's all on the agenda" and said of the Puerto Rican students at the school where she teaches "Not only do they not aspire to college, they categorically reject it because "schools are for fools" and they plan to make their money dealing dope and prostituting.")

I've seen a similar phenomenon with the recent rise of interest in Rootwork.  Catherine Yronwode has done a fantastic job of preserving and distributing hoodoo knowledge and making supplies available: she encourages students and customers alike to become involved with African-American communities in their area and to learn from black practitioners. Yet there are many white "rootworkers" who buy all their supplies online, cater to a white clientele and never engage with the community from whence rootwork and hoodoo actually developed. I'm reminded of Harlan Ellison's comment about the executive who suggested "We should remake The Wiz ... white!" I'm also reminded of the New Agers I saw in Tulsa who strolled out of their favorite crystal store carrying armfuls of dreamcatchers, smudge sticks and guides to "Native American Spirituality" as they stepped over the drunk Cherokee sleeping in the parking lot.

There are several Vodou houses in the United States and Canada which are run by Haitians and Haitian-Americans and who welcome non-Haitians as guests and initiates.  Off the top of my head I can think of Mambo Edeline St.-Amand in Brooklyn, Mambo Marie Carmel in Long Island, Société La Deese de la Mer in Montréal, and Mambo Maude Evans in Boston - and there are many others. At this point there is literature available which will provide you with a basic grounding in sevis lwa.  If you want to learn more about Haitian Vodou, here's a novel idea - find a Haitian teacher. If you can't do that for geographical reasons there are books out there, including mine, which will teach you as much as you can learn on your own and provide you with an introduction to the culture and the spirits. If, on the other hand, you'd rather study with me because it spares you the anxiety of dealing with scary brown people, then I'm really not interested. Find someone else to sell you a ticket to the Disneyland version of It's a Small Djevo After All.

Does this mean I'll never write another book on Vodou? "Never" is an awfully long time. I may return to the subject if and when I feel something needs to be said and I need to be the person who says it.  But for now I feel like I've taken my audience as far as they can go through books.  I have no regrets about the Vodou books I've written to date. I feel they accomplished what I set out to do when I started writing about sevis lwa. In fact, I consider myself very fortunate: they did the job so well that my services are no longer required.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

From Melancholia: Acedia, the Noonday Demon

AND when this has taken possession of some unhappy soul, it produces dislike of the place, disgust with the cell, and disdain and contempt of the brethren who dwell with him or at a little distance, as if they were careless or unspiritual. It also makes the man lazy and sluggish about all manner of work which has to be done within the enclosure of his dormitory. It does not suffer him to stay in his cell, or to take any pains about reading, and he often groans because he can do no good while he stays there … a kind of unreasonable confusion of mind takes possession of him like some foul darkness, and makes him idle and useless for every spiritual work, so that he imagines that no cure for so terrible an attack can be found in anything except visiting some one of the brethren, or in the solace of sleep alone. – John Cassian, Institutes
Around 415, Cassian came to Marsilla (modern-day Marseilles, France) to establish a monastery and nunnery there. He came to a region where the old order was fast crumbling: while it remained nominally a Roman province, power in Gaul was largely vested in the hands of local strongmen. Many of the Gallo-Romans residing in Marsilla had been driven there by the collapse of the Empire's northern border and the subsequent confiscation of their estates by invading Visigoths. Faced with social breakdown, many sought solace in religion. They realized their treasures on this earth were transitory and hoped to gain a share in the kingdom of heaven.

Although there was considerable interest in monastic life, there was little in the way of monastic experience. Aspiring Gallic monks and nuns had heard stories of the incredible austerities practiced in Egypt and the miracles wrought on a daily basis by Egyptian holy men. But they had no realistic picture of a contemplative life, nor any idea of the difficulties faced by these ascetic hermits. Cassian provided them with personal guidance as a spiritual leader, as was the Egyptian custom. The Desert Fathers looked with suspicion on written texts, fearing that they might fall into the hands of those not spiritually prepared for advanced knowledge and do them more harm than good. But at the request of several high-ranking Church officials, Cassian agreed to write down some of his experiences. To that end, he wrote two influential tomes, the Institutes and Conferences.

Among those works was a list of the "eight deadly sins" which he had received from the Egyptian Desert Father Evagrius Ponticus. These would later become the famous "Seven Deadly Sins" after "sorrow" and "acedia" were lumped together under the rubric "sloth." But while sloth has come to mean simple laziness, Evagrius and Cassian had a more nuanced view of these shortcomings. As Cassian said:
There are two kinds of sadness. The first is begotten once anger has ceased, or from some hurt that has been suffered or from a desire that has been thwarted and brought to naught. The other comes from unreasonable mental anguish or from despair. There are two kinds of acedia (anxiety or weariness of heart). One makes those who are seething with emotion fall asleep. The other encourages a person to abandon his home and to flee.
Acedia manifests as an inability to concentrate on the tasks at hand alongside a deep dissatisfaction and ennui. Sufferers find no joy even in work which they normally love: the whole process seems unbearably tedious. Acedia might begin early in the day but normally became most troubling at noon, the time when rest seemed far away and the prayers felt like they had gone on forever: as a result, many monks called it "the noonday demon." And while it was first diagnosed in the 4th century, it remains a pressing problem today. Aldous Huxley stated that the modern age had seen "the triumph of the noonday demon" and noted that acedia had progressed
 …from the position of being a deadly sin, deserving of damnation, to the position first of a diseaes and finally of an essentially lyrical emotion, fruitful in the inspiration of much of the most characteristic modern literature. The sense of universal futility, the feelings of boredom and despair, with the complementary desire to be "anywhere, anywhere out of the world," or at least out of the place in which one happens at the moment to be, have been the inspiration of poetry and the novel for a century or more.
Exercise 5-3: Acedia

Almost every goal, every job, every achievement, will require a certain amount of tedious and repetitive activity. An athlete training for a race, a student studying for a test, a programmer trying to finish a project before the deadline – all may find themselves faced with a sudden deep distaste for the work at hand and, by extension, for the circumstances which have brought them to this place. And as the monks realized, acedia is insistent: if you give in to it once, you may soon find yourself in the habit of shirking your duties and blowing off important but unenjoyable tasks.

Acedia was particularly troubling to solitary monks: as a communal monastic lifestyle became more prevalent, it became a less common complaint. In today's post-industrial workplace many of us also spend long hours engaged in unstructured solitary brainwork – and thanks to e-mail and social media we can "desert our cell" without leaving our cubicle!

Although it may seem paradoxical, one of the most effective ways of overcoming acedia is dedicating full concentration to the tedious task at hand. John Cassian told the story of Abbot Paul, who overcame acedia by weaving mats and baskets while he prayed. Because his cell was too remote to carry his wares to market, he burned them at the end of each year and started anew. Jiko Linda Cutts, a Sōtō Zen priest, says "Doing our daily activities of laundry, dishes and grooming is an expression of our connection to life… That is the mystery of the everyday. Everything is included."

Setting definite goals for yourself can be helpful. Something as simple as "I'm not going to look out the window until I've finished X" can make time move faster and help you get through the worst of the bout. Be sure to set realistic goals: if you say "I am not going to stand up until I finish War and Peace," you're setting yourself up for a disappointment that will only provide the noonday demon material for its internal monologues. ("Of course you couldn't follow through. You never can. What's the use? You don't really care about that class or that degree. You'll never get through college anyway…").

It is important that you refrain from making life decisions based on acedia. If you feel like your career is meaningless and your life is empty, it could be that you need to make radical changes and fulfill your dreams at all cost. Or it could be that you're suffering from ennui related to your current project. When in acedia's grip it is common to think that the grass is greener somewhere else, that everything in your life would be better if you were out of this situation and away from this task. Acedia will magnify the faults of your superiors, your co-workers and your assistants: it will try to convince you that you deserve better or that you don't deserve what you have, depending on the moment. The best response is a rational one: consider the evidence for all the accusations the noonday demon is throwing at you. Chances are you'll see that most are baseless and easily refuted. Once you've exposed that disordered thinking you'll find it much easier to return to your duty and finish your work.