Tag Archives: Community

My Polytheism Must Be Political

My polytheism is political, not because I believe the Gods have firm opinions on who my state senators ought to be, but because my polytheism is based on a large web of interdependent relationships. My relationships with the gods and ancestors and spirits are connected intimately with my relationships with other beings–humans, and all the other embodied beings of the world.

I cannot honor Dionysos if I do not stand up for the rights and lives of those whose passions and transformations are oppressed by the mainstream/conservative movements in our culture. I cannot honor my ancestors without acting to fix the damage caused by their misdeeds while living, and thereby make a better world for their descendants. I cannot honor the spirits of the land if I don’t act to protect the land from those humans who would treat it as a thing rather than a being.

To my mind, doing right by the victims of injustice is doing right by the gods, ancestors, and spirits. I live among humans, I worship with humans, I act to maintain the connections between the powers and humanity. This necessitates political involvement, because politics is, at base, how one organizes a body of people who don’t always agree to get things done.

Black and brown people are being gunned down by what passes for the law in this nation. The genocide of native cultures is ongoing. A good chunk of the country wants to elect an orange bully to oversee our collective collapse.

I cannot pray loudly enough to stop myself from hearing this.

I cannot stand before my powers with heart and life divided for the sake of some ideological purity.

I am small, limited, mortal. My influence and understanding only reach so far. So I need the assistance and guidance of my gods. I need to stand firmly on the shoulders of my ancestors. I need to be in some semblance of harmony with the land I live on. And, critically, I need my community to stand with, unified in work for justice for all beings.

So my polytheism is political. Because it will take all of us, the embodied and the invisible, together, to make our collective world what if should be instead of what it is.

A Prayer for the End of Equinox

Over on Kina’ani Tess Dawson has written A Prayer for the End of Equinox, calling for the renewal of the worship of the gods, laying foundations for the future.

John Beckett, over on Patheos, has a similar (if somewhat more pessimistic) sentiment in his essay, Something Bad Isn’t Coming, It’s Here. He speaks of the decline of American empire and the transformation of the “industrialized west” into something very different than what it was in the last century, and the need to lay foundations and traditions for the future.

I can get behind both of these thoughts. I don’t know what the future holds, but I know that what I do now helps shape it. We we owe a debt to the ancestors, and we repay it to posterity.

Wait… Someone’s Leading This Tradition?

What qualities should a leader in your tradition possess?

Sufficient stability and sanity so as to set a good example, but not so much of either that they’ll realize just what the hell they’re getting into.

It’s hard to say, since this tradition is just me, for the most part, and I’m not sure I have complete faith in the current leadership.

That said, I could list the virtues I’d want myself to have, to feel confident in my own leadership of whoever decides to follow me down this path:

A Strong Relationship With Dionysos: While I wouldn’t require proof of Mystic Woo Powers (and I’m not sure how one would prove it, in any case), I think a working relationship with Himself that involves an active ritual life, a deep understanding of the God and His ways of moving in the world, and the ability to reliably do divination so as to get advice and instructions from Him are all necessary things.

Scholarship: I am not a reconstructionist as such; I’m not looking for someone who can do a dissertation on Dionysos worship in the ancient world. However, I am trying to root my practices and my understanding in what ancient sources I can find. This is a modern practice for a modern Dionysos, but without a strong connection to the past, there’s no continuity.

Hospitality: So much of how I understand the relationship between gods and mortals is rooted in mutual hospitality that I don’t see how one could be a leader in this tradition without also knowing how to be a good host and a good guest. My view of what kind of role to take, when varies (I’ll do a post on hospitality soon), but a leader should be able to put themselves in the role of host to the God, host to the congregation in the God’s name, host to the congregation in their own right, and as a good guest who represents the God wherever they go.

Compassion: This is the worship of the God whose train includes the mad, the lost, and the broken. Being able to relate to the person, and not just their loudest (and possibly worst) qualities, is absolutely required of a leader. Leaders must be able to feel another’s pain and rage and fear, without judging it or taking it on themselves.

Boundaries: A complementary quality to both Hospitality and Compassion, a leader must be able to set boundaries for the good of the group and the good of the individuals in that group–including themself! A leader who allows themself to be swept up to such a degree that they can no longer differentiate between their own mood and the needs of the group or its members is helping no one.

This is especially important for a Dionysian. While there is a place for losing onself to passion, someone has to hold the space for others to do this. Someone has to minimize the risk so that others can let themselves go. Hopefully, there will be others who can do this, so no poor soul is stuck being the designated driver every time.

A Sense of Group Dynamics: Of the many bits of advice that Starhawk wrote into her first books, the bits that I think have aged the best are the ones which speak to a leading witch as someone who has to keep an eye on the relationships of the members of a group to each other. It’s easy to get caught up in the passion and the mysticism, but it’s even easier to not pay attention to seemingly mundane aspects of the group dynamic that can be as dangerous to the congregation as any malevolent spirit.

Logistic Fu: Scheduling isn’t easy. Neither is making sure there’s enough food and wine for everyone, making sure people who need rides have them, making sure that the ritual site is accessible to everyone, and the hundred other things that require someone to make a plan and see it carried out. While I’m not saying that a leader has to do all this themself (we’re all mad enough already), they at least have to make sure someone competent is doing it.

There are no doubt other qualities a leader should have. Some of them I probably take for granted, and so haven’t thought to list. Others I may have yet to learn. It’s an ongoing process.

My lover Ember and I have decided to go through Galina Krasskova’s Devotional Polytheist Meme questions together, over the next several months. We encourage our friends to follow along, and welcome links to other people’s answers in our comments, as well as your thoughts on our answers. Ember’s answer can be found at her blog, Embervoices.

many felt unsafe walking alone

I haven’t been talking much about Pantheacon 2015, as I was out sick for most of it. However, I have heard all these stories from folks involved with the Pagans of Color hospitality room, and others. This is a problem in our community that we, collectively, have ignored far too long.

It should be stressed that these are not problems with Pantheacon in specific, but in the greater Pagan community. If it seems like you’re hearing a lot about Pantheacon, it’s because putting 2000 Pagans together in a hotel for a long weekend kind of amplifies the sound. Pagans of color experience these problems at non-Pantheacon gatherings, as well as in everyday life, but there are more witnesses (and more people fond of blogging about such things) in the con environment.

I’ve been asked to clarify: The photo that comes with the article is not of an honor guard outside the PoC Hospitality Suite. They’re outside the PoC Caucus, an event held in regular programming space.

Update on PantyCon Kerfuffle

Well, a few days ago, the PantyCon authors apologized in responses to Jonathan Korman’s open letter. It’s in three responses to the original post, linked above. Go read it, I’ll wait.

So, basically, they hadn’t realized it would be taken the wrong way, they’re sorry they contributed to an ongoing problem, and they’ll be more careful about it in the future. I’m not certain I’m entirely satisfied–to my mind, an apology shouldn’t spend so much time explaining, as that starts to sound like making excuses after a bit–but it isn’t my satisfaction which is of primary concern. Still, it is an apology, and it does show some awareness of what went wrong and why.

That last bit, though, where the authors defend their choice to apologize anonymously and get in a last dig at Pantheacon…

Good form through the routine, but you stumbled on the dismount, there.

Look, I can understand apologizing anonymously. I think it would have been stronger to come forward, but I see their reasons. But that last bit reads like a slap at everyone who made complaints about PantyCon but who has been silent about the ongoing presence of problematic groups like Covenant of the Goddess and The Troth.

Thing is, people haven’t been silent on those issues, either. Many of the same folks who have been loud about PantyCon’s tone-deaf application of satire have also been loud about the weaksauce, color-blind statements from these larger organizations, issued as a PR fig-leaf more than as a commitment to stand against racism.

Racism is an ongoing problem in the Pagan community, really, in the human community. And so resistance to racism must also be an ongoing work. It didn’t start with PantyCon, and it won’t end there. We must each continue to call out what we see, and demand that it be corrected.

Misaimed Satire at Pantheacon

Honestly, I can’t leave the Pagan community alone for a weekend…

So, Pantheacon is an annual Pagan conference held in San Jose, California. This year, a parody of the con newsletter was published by an anonymous satirist which contained a (fake) panel description: “Ignoring Racism: A Panel for White Pagans.”

Now, I get what whoever-that-was was trying to do. Unfortunately, by mishandling context and going too far too soon, the satirist ended up poking the community’s fresh wounds and reminding people of color in the community just how little support they get, too much of the time.

Jonathan Korman has posted an open letter to his blog, Miniver Cheevy, asking the anonymous satirist to come forward and apologize.

I have to agree with Korman, here. Letting this go on is a distraction we don’t need.

An open letter

To the Mysterious Author who writes the PantyCon schedule:

I have an unsolicited word of advice, in this moment when a lot of people are unhappy with you. I’m going to ask that you do something that probably runs counter to your instincts:


That’s a strong suggestion, and both you and the community deserve a clear explanation for why I propose it. That means, I’m afraid, that I must get long-winded in the name of clarity.

Read the rest at Jonathan Korman’s blog, Miniver Cheevy.

Spread the word.

In Support of Theologically Diverse Community

I just finished reading this article by IanC over on Into the Mound. Ian is giving his general take on Atheist Paganism (yes, it is a thing), and I pretty much agree with him. Hop on over and read his article for details on his view; I’m going to talk about mine here.

Also, thanks to Morpheus Ravenna for the link to IanC’s article.

I’m not overly concerned with what you believe in your heart of hearts. What matters to me is whether or not we can find a way to practice together, should we care to do so, without either one of us feeling preached-at or hypocritical. If you want to debate theology, fine, I love that sort of thing. Meet me in the bar after the ritual. From my point of view, it’s disrespectful of our honored guests (you know, the gods) to squabble about unprovables when we’re supposed to be hosting. Your point of view may differ, but I think in practice we can agree that it harshes everyone’s mellow to use ritual as an opportunity to weaponize our theology.

This does bring up the question of why we might want to do so. For me, it’s bout maintaining the diversity of the larger Pagan community. We could swear off dealing with people whose metaphysics are incompatable with our own, and I certainly see many good reasons for having at least some part of our practice be reserved for worshiping with people who do believe as we do. But to circle only with same-minded folks, aside from enhancing any echo chambers, invites a certain social distance, and strengthens the us/them feelings that polarize communities.

A diverse community is a resilient community. A diverse community is capable of coming at the same problem from multiple angles, and is not restricted to a limited tool set when dealing with issues that arise. Many of my personal realizations about my own practice come from comparing it to the practices of others. Not in a “whose is better/more authentic/more theologically correct” way, but using the comparison to understand my own practice from angles I might not have thought of without the contrasting example.

When we can come together in common ritual practice, in a way that leaves no one feeling pushed aside for believing or not believing a certain way, we reinforce the awareness that, while we are not identical with one another, we do have common ground and common interests. We have things to share with each other. Hell, if we can find something useful in historical and religious scholarship by non-Pagan atheists (not to mention scholars writing from within one of the dominant Abrahamic religions), surely we can find something to share with those who are part of our larger Pagan culture, despite our theological disagreements.

There have been atheists, as near as I can tell, since long before the dominance of the Abrahamic religions. So it seems that Athiest Pagans are on good historical ground, at least insofar as the idea that one can have a Pagan practice and yet not honor (or even believe in) any gods. These ancient atheists were part of their communities, just like everyone else. I don’t see why modern Pagans and Polytheists can’t accept Atheist Pagans in the same way.

Home is Where the…

Have you encountered any obstacles as a result of your religion?

If you’re asking whether or not I’ve faced oppression from the mainstream world because of my Paganism, the answer is, “Surprisingly little.” Really, even when I lived in Iowa, I encountered confused looks more often than angry glares. When the police came by because someone had reported suspicious looking people cavorting in the park at night, they were actually pretty relaxed about things, once they saw that we weren’t hiding bodies, doing drugs, or setting fire to the trees.

Sadly, the majority of problems I’ve encountered as a result of my Paganism have come from other Pagans.

There were the “you’re doing it wrong, but we won’t tell you how to do it right” folks, back when I was a baby witch and just starting out. When it was just me, two friends, a couple of books, and the internet, for every one person who was willing and able to help a new kid out, there were six who clearly didn’t know any better than I did (which didn’t keep them from writing volumes on it), and three who would tsk and tut disapprovingly, but refuse to help.

The numbers are better now, with maybe three helful folks, four clueless folks, and one disapproving voice out of every ten.

Then there were the one-true-wayists, the Pagan fundamentalists who would show up at our meetings and argue pointlessly about how we were ignorant because we didn’t already agree with them. The fact that we weren’t doing it the right way was proof that we were posers who had no contact with the gods, because if we did, the gods would have told us to do it the way the one-true-wayists did it. Honestly, I have had fewer problems with Christian fundamentalists than I have had with the Pagan/Polytheist variety.

These people are still around, mind you, and they’re on all sides of the debate. Just read back over the last year’s “debates” over Polytheism, wiccanate privilege, and Humanist Paganism.

The worst are the ones who use their religion (whatever that religion is) as an excuse to justify their bad behavior. In the Pagan community, this is the sex offender who claims that the rules don’t apply to them, because all sex is sacred. This is the wounded veteran who and wraps up in a cloak of Born Warrior Macho Aggression when the flashbacks get too painful. This is the old guard priest/ess who uses a position of trust and authority to spread hate when the next generation goes to follow their own dreams, rather than those of the old guard. I could go on, but you get the idea.

Strangers are relatively far away, and not usually in a place to generate conflict. It’s my neighbors who have the greatest opportunity to rub me the wrong way.

My lover Ember and I have decided to go through Galina Krasskova’s Devotional Polytheist Meme questions together, over the next several months. We encourage our friends to follow along, and welcome links to other people’s answers in our comments, as well as your thoughts on our answers. Ember’s answer can be found at her blog, Embervoices.

We Need a Dionysian Revolution

Let me be clear. There can be no “business as usual” until justice is restored.

Those who rule this land–the few, the obscenely wealthy, the kingmakers whose cash buys elections and appointments–have made clear that they value money and property more than either the quality or the preservation of human lives. Indeed, they are more than willing to use fear and force to make some people hurt and kill other people, in order to prevent windows from being broken.

Windows will be broken. Cars will be burned. Stores will be looted.

These things will happen because the ones who stole justice from us care more about things than about people. They have made the possession and distribution of things the foundation of their house, and so if their house is to fall, it is things that must be attacked.

Dionysos sent the women of Thebes mad because the King repressed the god’s revolution. He broke open a prison by visiting an earthquake on the city. I have no doubt he would smash windows, inspire unrest, and otherwise disrupt “business as usual” to redress injustice and bring liberation.

Whatever revolution there may be cannot succeed by attacking people, it must attack the base of their power. They don’t care about people. People are cheap; they can always buy more. Besides, every time one of the people who serve them is harmed, they turn that person into a martyr for their cause, a distraction from targets they really value.

This is, in fact, why they encourage their people incite violence. It’s why they glorify violence with the media they own. They take advantage of fear of the Other, the one who is different, the one who is not-white, not-straight, not-mainstream in order to keep us fighting each other instead of fighting them. It’s why “anarchist,” “socialist,” and “feminist” are made into insults and defined in ways that have nothing to do with their actual meaning.

We don’t need a Dionysian revolution to get high and get laid; we had that one, it served its purpose.

We need a Dionysian revolution in what we value, what we desire, in what matters to us. We need a Dionysian revolution to burn away the preoccupations with race and class and “acceptable” behavior that they use to keep us too separate to unite against them. We need a Dionysian revolution to bring us to value people more than things, experiences more than commodities, authenticity more than status.

We need a Dionysian revolution to allow us to feel the pain of living under the dominion of those who value property over life, to give us the courage to feel that pain rather than numb it with consumption and petty hatreds. We need a revolution to free in us the joy in living, in being, in doing. A revolution to teach us that breaking windows is better than breaking heads. That losing privilege is better than keeping racism, sexism, and the structures that hold some of us as worth more than others.

We need a Dionysian revolution to undo the habits learned by being forced to grow up living by their rules. Because if we don’t have that revolution, then any other will just replace the names at the top of the list, and change nothing.

More Voices, More Passion

More folks with comments on the events surrounding and highlighted by the Ferguson grand jury decison.

Thorn Coyle writes: “I pray that we remember: We are responsible for one another’s well being,” in An Open Letter to White America

Morpheus Ravenna writes: “The thing is, property is what this society values above all else. Thus, it’s destruction of property that gets heard. This is why looting happens.” in The Violence From Below

Brennos writes: “Peace without justice is oppression and battle for justice is the only route to peace,” in Social Justice and a Goddess of Sovereignty and Battle

This is all much bigger than one cop shooting one kid. Too many people are content to frame each crime as an anomaly, as unconnected crimes by bad individuals. The alternaive is to bear the pain of being aware that they are part of a system of domination, a system that grinds them down, too.

I am not surprised that these protests (and make no mistake, it’s not just happening in Ferguson) include violence. All I am surprised by, is that anyone is surprised.

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