Archive

Archive for the ‘Paganism’ Category

On “Solidarity” and Privilege.

July 22, 2012 3 comments

I know this blog has been awfully quiet, and I’m extremely sporadic about updates. Generally speaking, something has to really move me to get me to write a post. Fortunately (or not), I found yet another one.

I’ve been lurking around the edges of the recent debates regarding Pagan women who choose to wear some form of head covering, largely because a) despite being prodded back into service by one of the deities commonly cited by veilers, I have not heard a single peep about adopting this practice for myself from him and thus, b) it’s none of my fucking business. I have deep reservations about the practice, and side-eye the hell out of a lot of the rationales of it that I’ve read on various veiler blogs, but it’s not my place to tell other women that they shouldn’t do it. That’s between y’all and y’all’s gods.

What finally prompted me to speak up about this practice, however, was a post someone linked me to, from the most “prominent” group of women engaging in this practice, about a “Wear a Veil in Solidarity Day”.

I’m not going into people’s space with this because I don’t especially feel like being dogpiled by a bunch of butthurt white women. I know damn well what happens when white privilege is called out in majority white spaces. So I’m going to say it here, instead:

Hold the entire fuck up, madams.

The debate I’m seeing, even in the comments of that post, is less about the idea of a solidarity day and going back to the debate of whether or not wearing head coverings is oppressive. I am not even getting into that particular shit here. I do not believe any woman of any faith background wearing any head covering by choice is inherently oppressive. I believe in a woman’s right to choose when it comes to covering or not, for whatever reason–modesty, spiritual power, whatever. Again, what you do in your private spiritual practice is between you and your gods.

This post is not about that, even though I have my own deeply held and well-considered views on the topic. This post is about questioning how largely middle class USian white women wearing veils as a gesture of “solidarity” without examining and deconstructing the white privilege inherent to veiling on a white body accomplishes anything more than feel-good self-aggrandizement for the largely middle class USian white women engaging in this action. (Spoilers: it doesn’t.)

It brings to mind the “solidarity” actions where throngs of socially conscious liberal white people of all ages posted photos of themselves on social media outlets wearing hoodies for Trayvon Martin, in another well-meaning and equally clueless attempt by white people to express support for marginalized people. Completely fucking ignoring the fact that no white person in the history of ever has ever been or ever will be shot merely for wearing a hoodie.

“But Zaratha!” they might say. “Why must you bring race into this?! Their hearts are in the right place!”

I would say their hearts are up their asses, along with their heads (covered or otherwise).

The fact of the matter is that head coverings are deeply racialized in the US and most of the western world. It is not (white) Orthodox Jewish women or quiverfull women or any of the other small minority of white women being beaten and harassed in the street for covering their heads. It is brown and black Muslim women. The hijab is a potent symbol of the Other–brown, foreign, un-American, ignorant, backwards, “terrorist”. The French ban on hijab for instance, like so many other Islamophobic actions in European colonial powers, was as much about forced assimilation of brown immigrants into a mainstream white society as it was about the “oppression of women” (and arguably more). A white woman wearing a veil may be perceived as a threat on some level (most likely thought of as “brainwashed”–by some brown man at home, natch), but at the end of the day she can hang that bad boy up and everything’s fine. Brown and black Muslim women cannot hang up their skin.

“But white women are Muslim too!” Indeed, they are–and enjoy as much white privilege in that area as they do everywhere else. I have read enough and talked to enough black and brown Muslimah to know about the colorism they experience, the preference for white converts over black ones, the preference of any convert over a Muslim-born (brown) woman. As in every other area of life, White is Right.

A veil on a white woman, regardless of what you want to call it or how you wear it, will never have the same impact as a Woman of Color wearing one. It will never have as much effect on your life. The entire narrative changes. And it is damn near irresponsible for white women to grandstand and make a show of being in “solidarity” with women whose consequences for their choice to veil are 10000% higher than some white Hellenic blogger who was moved by Hestia or somebody. The stakes are not nearly as high for you. And lest you think I’m trying to say all Pagan women who veil are white–the stakes are also different for Pagan women of color who might choose to veil. Any physical gesture that sets a woman of color apart, marks us as Other, has harsher consequences for us because our race marks as Other from jump before we even make the choice. And we are far, far more likely to be perceived as Muslim for doing so, with everything that entails.

Pagan women who veil, let me ask you this one thing: if you want real solidarity with hijabi and aren’t just grandstanding to make yourselves look important, why don’t you enter into dialogue with them and ask what you can do to help? More importantly, listen. I follow a lot of Muslimah blogs, and not once have I ever seen a single hijabi call for women of other faiths to start wearing veils in solidarity with them, or even wear them at all. Ask yourself what your motivation is here. Pray about it if you have to. But don’t sit here and act like this foolishness is constructive. If you think it is, you have some unexamined privilege.

Advertisements
Categories: Paganism, Privilege, Race

Going Home

September 10, 2011 3 comments

A view of Crete from Navigator of the Seas, 08/26/11

Last week, I got back from a seven day cruise in the eastern Mediterranean which was followed by several more days in Rome (and a day trip to Florence). We traveled to Sicily, Athens, Kusadasi in Turkey, then to Chania in Crete before returning to Rome. To be honest, I wasn’t sure what to expect as I’d never been on a cruise before, but I jumped at the chance admittedly because I’d always wanted to go to Greece. My roots as a teenage Hellenist were screaming at me that I needed to go. This was pretty much my dream vacation, and despite the fact that I went with my family (born again Christians of the most obnoxious sort, to a one), I had an amazing time.

I have Many Thoughts about this trip, and I’m still processing, while getting over a cold bug to boot, but in a lot of ways it felt like a pilgrimage of sorts, that I was coming full circle back to the place I started. Because when I first started learning about Paganism as a young teen, I identified as a Hellenic Wiccan. Nowadays, my path is more…eclectic, and even though I sometimes loathe calling it that because of the various flakes and lack of scholarship that sometimes go hand-in-hand with it, it’s really the best way to describe it. I haven’t actively identified as a Hellenist in some time, even though I would so totally wear a “Hermes is my homeboy” shirt. He looks out for me a lot, even though we don’t really have any kind of formal arrangement. (Though at this point, I really ought to make it official.)

Even with the eclecticism, and the ever-changing nature of my path, I always seem to gravitate back to the deities of the eastern Mediterranean region. It’s my spiritual “home” for lack of a better term. So physically going to those places was really profound for me, in a way I wasn’t really expecting since it’s been so long since I actively identified as a Hellene.

A Herm at the Athenian Agora, carrying the infant DionysosGreek symbolism and mythos have always been hugely important to me, even before I knew there were actual Pagans still in the world in modern times. I always say that the single most influential book in my spiritual development was D’Aulaire’s Book of Greek Myths, which I read for school in the fourth grade. Even though the myths were sanitized for the most part, because it was a children’s book, the illustrations were really what hooked me. They’re ginormous and colorful and have a way of drawing the reader in, making the stories come alive. Those stories and characters were real, and relatable to me in a way the Bible stories I was fed in Sunday School never were. And one thing that struck me about the Bible stories is that God was just so very angry all the time. By contrast the Greek gods in that book weren’t distant and vengeful, though they certainly had their share of fits. They were actively involved in mortal lives (for good or for ill), and they were delightfully human in their foibles. They bickered, fell in love, played pranks, and mourned people they cared about. As a kid, it really resonated with me. It made sense to me. And one of the last pages of the book had a bleak image of broken statues, explaining how the gods were forgotten, and it made me cry harder than anything I’d ever read as a kid. How could anyone just forget them like that? It was baffling to me, and so sad.

Fast forward to my first explorations of Wicca, and when the time came to “pick a pantheon” as it were, it was a no-brainer for me. The first deities I ever worked with as a fresh newb were Apollo and Athena. They were always the two that jumped out at me as a kid, particularly Apollo, since I was always brainy and musically inclined. And they spoke to me. I sang, I played violin and keyboard, and I was a burgeoning writer; Apollo was poking me before I even knew what that was. And as a girl that was always a “brain” and into nerdy male-dominated pursuits, I could relate a lot to Athena. She was instrumental in what I like to call my “Bathroom Floor Epiphany” when I was sixteen, and for that I’ll always be grateful to Her. My first Craft name was Morboriel Parthenos. This is generally what I went by online, and is the name I was published under in New Generation Witches. The “Parthenos” there was deliberate, it was an identification with Athena. And even after I got sort of disillusioned with Wicca, I still called myself a Hellenist. But then I fell away from active practice, and, well, things got a bit complicated and I was disconnected from that for a long time.

When I moved in with Nancy, my abusive roommate, she claimed Hera as one of the house deities, since she worked with Her. Even when I was still identifying as Hellenist, I hadn’t really done any work with Hera, but I respected the rules of the house. One of Nancy’s favorite tactics for emotional manipulation was “channeling” the various deities she worked with, claiming to speak for Them (and, conveniently, Their wishes always seemed to neatly be in line with hers). I had a lot of unresolved guilt issues and a sense that I’d abandoned Apollo and Athena. I’d long since given up music (the violin because of a bitter and racist teacher I had, singing…because I don’t really know, to be honest), and I felt like I failed Apollo and was a bad Pagan. Nancy knew this. And like every clever abuser ever smelled blood in the water and went in for the kill. During one particularly ugly talking board session (one I wasn’t even participating in, just on the outside of), she claimed to speak for Athena and flat out told me She was furious with me for not working with Her anymore, and Apollo was furious with me for giving up my music. I was berated about how I was a terrible priestess and the Gods hated me and that I was never even to think about Them again. That I was utterly alone in the spiritual world. Afterwards, when we were talking about this “message”, Nancy said I just shouldn’t work with any deities at all since I’m broken and a failure and do nothing but piss Them off. And being a former Catholic and someone who still believed in Christian cosmology to some extent, she told me I should work with angels instead because they were “safer and more forgiving of screw-ups”.

Yeah, I got nothing.

Now, I’ve worked with Athena, as I said. I know how blunt She is at times. But that? That wasn’t Her. I recognize that now that it was Nancy playing games, trying to control people again like she always did. But at the time, I was so beaten down by her emotional abuse, feeling like I was a prisoner in my own house, that I was willing to accept her as an authority figure because I was so terrified of her. I was willing to believe any bullshit she claimed as a “mouthpiece for the Gods”, because if I didn’t…then what? I would be cast out, thousands of miles away from my home, with no friends. I had Stockholm Syndrome in a bad way. Just the memory of this is enough to make me cry. For as much as she bloviated and laughed off the allegations that she was running a cult (mostly because the grudgewanker with the website was even crazier and more abusive than she was), that’s really what it felt like sometimes.

Statue of Hermes at the Vatican MuseumI can’t emphasize enough the damage this one incident did to me. I was terrified even of thinking about Hellenic traditions after that. Nancy, in her infinite wisdom, decreed that I should work with Hermes because I’m a Gemini and He’s in charge of Geminis. Completely contradicting her previous statement about angels, but, well, that was Nancy for you. The hilarious bit is Hermes, being the /b/ troll he is, promptly turned up and said hi to me. Mind you, even when I was a Hellenist, I never worked with him. I mean, I always liked Him, but He was never really on my radar, which is kind of bizarre when I look back on it. He wasn’t high pressure at all, He didn’t try to put any claims on me or anything. He was just this quiet presence saying, “hey, it’s okay. If you need me for anything, just ask. Also, that chick is dumb, don’t listen to her.”

Have I mentioned I really, really like Hermes?

Anyway, I’ve since gotten actual confirmation that it was indeed bullshit, via my partner who works with Hades, but it did have a really bad effect on me. So much so that when the issue of this trip came up, I was still kind of scared to go to Athens even though the Parthenon was someplace I’d always wanted to go. What if I wasn’t welcome in Her space? I didn’t want to offend.

When we went to the Acropolis, all that just went by the wayside. Climbing the hill–and it is massive–is itself a kind of spiritual experience. It was terribly hot, being August after all, and dusty, and crowded with other tourists. But it felt like I was walking in the footsteps of the ancients, there’s really no other way I can describe it. And when I actually saw the Parthenon itself at the top, cranes and all, I was speechless.

The Parthenon, taken 8/24/11A funny thing happened then. I felt Athena. It struck me in such a profound way that despite all the tourists and the way that site has been not terribly well taken care of, that She was still there, after all this time. Her presence was, well, a little overwhelming. It was a beautiful feeling.

I didn’t know what else to do, really, so I knelt by the main plaque, kissed my fingers, touched my head and my heart and then touched the ground. I said a little prayer, I won’t even begin to pretend it was at all eloquent. I was awed and sort of wibbly and didn’t really know what to say.

I didn’t feel anger from Her, or like I wasn’t welcome on Her turf. I felt welcome. I felt peace. Mi casa es su casa, if you will. She didn’t say anything, but She didn’t need to. And it was like a massive weight was lifted from my shoulders. She didn’t call to me or ping me or anything–that time’s passed, and I understand and accept that I’m not Hers–but I did understand once and for all that Nancy lied to me, about basically everything. That my path is my own, that my relationship to the Gods is my own, and not for anyone to dictate. It’s something the Dark Lady has told me several times, over and over, but Athena confirmed it for me, and I felt really good about it.

The Library of Celsus, EphesusThat was probably the biggest Moment I had on this trip, but there were others. It’s one thing to read about these things in books, watch TV documentaries about them, and have intellectual knowledge of them, but it’s quite another to actually be there in the presence of history. I know that probably sounds incredibly cheesy, but it’s true. Walking in those ancient places, where people lived and died and worshipped every day was profound. In Turkey, we went on a private tour of Ephesus that I’d booked online in advance through Ephesus Shuttle, and our guide was incredibly well-educated and made a huge difference in the experience. The way she painted a picture of ancient life there made the ruins come alive. We saw the Terrace Houses, which were incredible. The energy there was still palpable. And one big thing that I took away from this stop, and from visiting the big Roman sites, was that syncretism was hugely prevalent in ancient times in the region, even more than I knew it was. It was deeply affirming for me, too.

As an aside, I don’t begrudge Recons at all, even though they admittedly frighten me. I understand that they find value in that particular approach, and I deeply respect the vigorous scholarship that goes into it. I also don’t pretend to have huge ~scholarly knowledge~ of these things–I took like one Classics 101 course in college. But I find the sneering at syncretic approaches sort of…baffling, to be honest. I see a place like Ephesus that was extremely cosmopolitan and diverse in population, where you see monuments and temples for all sorts of deities, and it only confirms to me that there’s nothing wrong with me for being eclectic. It was sort of the thing back then!

And it felt totally different than going to Rome and being in so many places that were once sacred Pagan spaces and deliberately turned to Christianity. I hate to sound like some dumbass fluffbunny crying about “The Burning Times” and flailing about ~teh ebol Chrischuns~ but the spiritual violence inherent in that sort of act was blatantly palpable basically everywhere I went in Rome, and it made me incredibly sad and angry by turns. The Pantheon was probably the worst, though the Temple of Romulus on Palatine Hill was just as bad. It’s what I can only describe as “Fuck You” energy. It’s no good at all.

What all this means for my path, I don’t know. I don’t think I could ever strictly work in one particular paradigm again; my worldview just isn’t like that anymore, if it ever really was. But visiting Greece awakened something dormant in me, and I’m feeling the pull again. Apollo in particular, I feel like I’m being drawn back to, which is sort of baffling to me since I’m a priestess of the Dark now. I don’t know how the Dark Lady would feel about me working with Him again, and given that I’m bound to Her, that’s sort of important. In my head, I know that She doesn’t make dualistic judgment calls about the Light, that She’s really very Taoist in that regard. But She’s also very Dionysian in Her approach to things and has a different kind of energy than He does. I don’t know if they’re necessarily compatible. It’s something I’m going to have to meditate on and seek guidance about.

There’s also some trepidation on my part because of the recon issue, and how I know I could never do that if I incorporated Hellenic ideas into my practice again. I look at the kind of wank that goes on in Heathen communities regarding people who rely heavily on UPG in their practice and wonder if Hellenists are any better (spoilers: not really). My chaote leanings don’t really help me much in this regard (hi, my patron Goddess is from a video game!). But I don’t think ignoring these stirrings is really an option, either, and maybe it’s time my paradigm shifted a little again. I don’t know, I’m still trying to figure this all out. In that sense, this trip was massively helpful to me. Anything that gets me thinking is something meaningful.

Context matters. History matters.

April 26, 2011 1 comment

As seen on tumblr: more erasure of non-Wiccan Pagans (though at least zie makes room for Recons), and more equating of Paganism with polytheism(s). Sigh. There’s not any more that I can say on this topic that hasn’t been written about–in reams, even!–but suffice it to say, despite what the New Age shelf at the local Buns n Noodles would have you believe, Paganism encompasses a great deal many more paths than Ravenwolfian Neo-Wicca. It certainly encompasses a great deal more than just “polytheism”. But this cuts to the heart of the age old argument over just what exactly “Paganism” means, and that’s not really what I want to talk about in this post. I want to talk about the racial angle to this, and why it frequently bothers me.

Something that always sticks in my craw, and the reason why I was giving that answer the side eye, is the mention of Hindus and practitioners of Shinto in the same breath as Pagans. This is not to say that I don’t believe we have common ground or interests, particularly as minority faiths in a culturally Christian society, or that it’s not worthwhile to explore the commonalities between our beliefs and practices. I’m especially not trying to say that intersectionality is absent as a factor. It’s just…well, (once again) I believe that a heaping helping of white privilege prevents western Pagans from understanding how problematic it is for us to start “claiming” folks from other traditions.

First of all, a legion of various people’s bullshit Grandmother Stories from Alex Sanders down to Ed Hubbard to the contrary, Paganism in the sense(s) that we define and practice it (more correctly, Neo-Paganism according to Bonewits) isn’t even that old. Hinduism is thousands of years old. The practices of indigenous folks and First Nations tribes are similarly ancient. Even in the case of faiths that aren’t as old, such as the family of syncretic Afro-Caribbean faiths, there is still some distinct history. But with all due respect to the Recons among us (who, in fairness, I almost never see saying this shit), Paganism as practiced in the west is a relatively new phenomenon, without that kind of history. To me, this is really no different from the Mormons and their ridiculous baptisms for the dead, except it’s arguably worse because the people in question are still alive and kicking and practicing their faiths. And given the racial and class demographics of the western Pagan community, it’s problematic as hell from where I’m sitting. Sometimes I feel as though this driving need from some white Pagans to claim folks stems from the same place as the need some Wiccans still have to insist theirs is an “ancient” religion passed down from prehistory. That is, some deep-seated insecurity that practicing a newer religion somehow isn’t as legitimate as having an unbroken connection to the past. It’s the eternal search for spiritual street cred. The thing is, as odious as I find appropriation and commodification of cultures, appropriation of peoples is even grosser and gets talked about even less.

Folks, there is very good reason that many (most?) of the people who practice old non-Abrahamic religions don’t flock to the Pagan banner. Just as a simple matter of practicality, it’s not a community or a history they have any real need for–again, many of these faiths have been practiced unbroken, they have their own communities, their own histories, their own languages, traditions and ways of relating with one another. They don’t particularly need to be stuck under a foreign umbrella term defined by folks outside their communities. Hell, this even applies to religious paths that really aren’t that much older than Neo-Paganism (such as black nationalist Kemeticism). Secondly, much like the word “witch” before it, even though many folks have been trying to reclaim it with varying degrees of success, “Pagan” still has really negative connotations for a lot of people. “Pagan” was what a lot of folks were (and still are) called, “Pagan” was a weapon used to justify slavery and genocide, the destruction of art and culture, and on and on. Reclaiming the term is all well and good, but let’s not get it twisted.

Of course, this is where some skeptical white readers might resort to what the Unapologetic Mexican calls the fallacious flip. “Our ancestors were also persecuted and slaughtered by Christendom!” “It wasn’t just brown people oppressed and slaughtered by the church!” Of course, and they were–I’m not trying to minimize or downplay those atrocities at all. What I’m saying is that the brown folks of the world experienced this differently than the white folks of Europe, and this is a point that really needs to be made. For the brown folks of the world, Christianization went hand-in-fist with physical, psychological, economic and political colonization, and in many (most!) of the places where these faiths are practices, the effects are still being felt in the modern day. “Pagan” was (and still occasionally is) used as a weapon against brown folks in a specifically racialized way, and the way we engage with the term has a different history. It’s tied up in a specifically racialized clown orgy of Fail and Wrong with notions like Orientalism, and the White Man’s Burden. What I’m saying is the way it played out with brown folks was different. Racist doctrines such as the so-called “Curse of Ham” and similarly, the “Mark/Curse of Cain” were used to justify all manner of atrocities from the Transatlantic Slave Trade to the conquest of Southeast Asia and other places. Civilizing the unwashed brown hordes was seen as the good white Christian’s duty. It was racialized, y’all. It still is, it just takes the form of things like the Project for a New American Century’s “War on Terra”, wholesale abduction of brown children by white, Christian American evangelicals in the wake of natural disasters in developing countries (ie: Haitian earthquake). Religious imperialism was a huge impetus behind the Stolen Generations in Australia and “Indian Schools” in the US and Canada. Context matters. History matters.

Further still–and this is especially true of the indigenous folks of North America, who have much more experience with Neo-Paganism–sometimes Pagans simply aren’t trusted. With the prevalence of Wiccans appropriating Native imagery, using Lakota chants in their circles and outright stealing plains tribal practices in general (often under the erroneous guise of “Native American Spirituality”, as if there were such a thing), not to mention a long shameful history of white “medicine men” and plastic shamans ripping off and misrepresenting indigenous practices to gullible white folks to make a quick buck, ad nauseum, is it any wonder some Native folks in NA might think twice about allowing themselves to be assimilated into the umbrella of Paganism? It’s one thing for someone to claim a label because the feel it resonates with them or they identify with it; that’s cool. It’s an entirely different story to start slapping it on people just because their practices and beliefs kinda sorta if you squint resemble yours. To me, it goes back to the right to self-determination, which I fundamentally believe is a basic human right. You don’t get to define other people’s identities. And you especially have no fucking business doing it when there’s been a very gross history of people doing that. Many of them had intentions they believed were just as “pure” as yours, by the way (google White Man’s Burden).

Understand that when you try to “claim” folks who have been practicing their religions for hundreds or thousands of years, some of whom are struggling to reclaim or rebuild traditions after centuries of racist, imperialist oppression, it’s problematic as hell. Understand that when you appropriate the suffering and persecution of sub-Saharan African “witches” by linking it to your ridiculous martyr complexes (replete with wailing about “Teh Burning Tiemz!!!11”), often with a rotten side order of White Savior Syndrome*? It’s neo-colonialism, guys. Pure and simple. Context matters. History matters. Before you try to speak on these issues, familiarizing yourself with both is necessary. Legit dialogue and understanding cannot be had, bridges of solidarity and kinship cannot be built when one half of the equation is unwilling or unable to do their homework.

Context matters. History matters.

*Bonus lulz when this comes from people who otherwise bash Afro-Caribbean/syncretic faiths as being “barbaric” and “unevolved” for practicing animal sacrifices. Have often seen comments to this effect within five minutes of each other, from the exact same commenters.

On the signal boosting front

March 2, 2011 4 comments

Firstly: thanks to the Wild Hunt for linking my crappy little blog yesterday, and welcome to the folks that found their way here. Now I might actually have to update more than once a When a Gemini Feels Like It.

One positive development that’s come out of this hot mess is that there’s been a lot of awesome discussion going on about the role of gender in Pagan paths, and trans Pagan spirituality, and I wanted to do a little signal boosting for a couple of posts that were linked in comments yesterday that deserve some attention.

foxfetch has a pretty bad ass manifesto demanding an expansion of our sacred images beyond the gender binary. Really, go read it, it’s amazing. (Though I do find it interesting that one commenter over there perceived the post as an “attack” on gender essentialism in Paganism. Funny how that seems to happen whenever marginalized people assert themselves!)

femmeguy has some interesting thoughts on the Sacred Masculine, that pretty neatly dovetail what I was talking about regarding the Feminine. Synchronicity FTW!

And finally, in the interest of fairness: CAYA, the coven at the center of the PCon controversy, has issued a statement explaining their position on gender and ritual space. I’m linking without comment, mainly because I’ve said my peace, and “OMGLOL” isn’t really constructive.  I will echo what a friend said though, which is that maybe all this attention is a sign that Lilith is working through these folks in ways they didn’t necessarily expect. Ultimately, it’s my sincere hope that people learn from all this and don’t just dismiss it as another dumbass internet flame war, though I wish those lessons didn’t have come at the expense of transfolks.

Categories: Gender, Paganism Tags: ,

Truly Inclusive Gender-Based Mysteries

March 1, 2011 16 comments

This started as a comment on a friend’s blog post on the recent Pantheacon transfail, and it started frolicking into teal deer territory, so I decided to just make it a post here. Beware, this is going to be ranty.

To summarize: a Dianic group advertised a public ritual in honor of Lilith at Pantheacon, which is a pretty big and well-known Pagan con, except they neglected to mention in their announcement that the ritual was meant for ciswomen only. So they ended up turning away trans women and men at the door, after they’d waited in line for ages. Yeah. Cue the usual sort of cissplaining garbage and transphobia from the straw RadFem bigots and their apologists. Wild Hunt has it covered, but as usual, you probably don’t want to read the comments unless you’ve got about a gallon of your favorite adult beverage handy. This response to the issue from a priestess of Lilith is pretty rad, though.

Personally, I’ve done enough hulkraging about this bullshit that I don’t want to rehash it, only to say, again, this is a) why I can’t stand 90% of Dianics and b) why I am solitary, too many privileged assed Pagans out there, and not enough wanting to check their privilege going on. What I wanted to talk about was a comment someone made that mentioned they don’t understand gender-exclusive ritual and don’t agree with it, making comparisons with Odinist white power groups.

Here’s the thing: I don’t think you can put a truly inclusive women-only or queer only ritual in the same box as the white Odinist stuff. Context matters, and history matters. It’s the same reason why it’s not “racist” for college campuses to have affinity groups for black or Asian-American students. Marginalized groups frequently experience life in much different ways than the privileged majority, and having a safe space to deal with those issues and challenges amongst ourselves is helpful and critical for our own well being and for the work we do in anti-oppression. I don’t think spirituality is any different in that regard, but I’m also not one of the people who puts “religion” in one box away from the rest of my life.

Being queer, female, and black in a racist and heterosexist society (much less a frequently racist and heterosexist Pagan community) informs my spiritual experience as much as anything else in my life does. So does my social justice work. I grok that not everyone approaches things that way, and I respect that, but that’s just my deal. I don’t have a choice to ignore my race, gender, or orientation when it comes to my spiritual practice, because the minute I try to, without fail I’ll get reminded of it.

I get reminded of my race when being stared because mine is the only brown face in the circle, or getting accosted in a New Age store by some over-enthused white lady dressed in the entire Pyramid Collection catalog about this or that orisha or how she was an “African shaman” in her past life. Or asking me what the colors on some kente cloth mean. That is when I’m not being followed in the store because they think I’m going to shoplift. (Mentioning that I used to work in an occult shop, as well as loss prevention in mundane retail and telling them that following the brown patrons around just means the white teenagers have a license to steal? Usually does the trick.)

I was sure as hell reminded of my orientation every time I participated in a Wiccan circle where heterosexuality was pretty much celebrated as the central mystery of the ritual, via the Great Rite, even when it was in token. I’m reminded of it every time the discussion turns to sacred polyamory and nothing but heterocentrist models are used. Hell, this could be an entire other post right here.

My gender? Well, that’s a trickier can of worms, but no less relevant. While women may not be as marginalized in Pagan communities as in the larger society, per se, Pagans are still raised in the some kyriarchal mess everyone else is and will bring that to the table as well. And as women, we’re raised and socially conditioned with a very different set of expectations than people who are perceived as male, and we face different challenges and issues to unravel as a result. That’s what Women’s Mysteries mean to me, it’s not about dancing skyclad around a giant paper mache vagina singing about how awesome periods are. It’s not just about biology, or even mostly about biology. Yes, it’s important to reclaim the sacredness of female bodies because they’ve been so denigrated for so long, but that’s not all there is to it, and even on the biological tip, female bodies don’t all look the same. FFS, if we can understand and celebrate that women’s bodies are beautiful and sacred no matter if they’re fat, thin, or disabled, white or brown, hairy or scarred or anything else, why is it such a fucking stretch to include that female bodies that came with different or ambiguous genitalia are also beautiful and should be celebrated? Why is the set of chromosomes we got in the cosmic genetic lottery even relevant to our sacredness as women? It’s why most Dianics make me hulkrage, because I feel they’re missing the forest for the trees.

It’s also why I seriously don’t understand this incessant need to exclude trans people from these rituals, if anything their own unique experiences of transgressing gender expectations only add to the understanding taking place. That’s not to say Magical Trans Women Are Here for Cis Lady Enlightenment, merely that their experiences are every bit as important to what constitutes Being a Woman in every possible sense, and that all women can learn from that. Goddammit, Women’s Mysteries means exploring all the mysteries of womanhood, be it cis or trans, butch or femme, queer or het, white or PoC, young or old, working lady or SAHM, childfree or mama of 5 bad assed kids, and all the awesome gray areas in between all of these labels. Because women are all these things, you assgoblins! Fuck, this is not rocket science. Trans women’s experiences are important to me as a cis woman because even though I don’t live them, they’re just as much a part of the mystery of womanhood as my own experiences. By denying my trans sisters, I’d be denying a piece of myself. By acknowledging their pain and their triumphs, I’m getting new insight to my own, and what it means to be a woman in a world that constantly denigrates that. Trans women represent the full gamut of Goddess archetypes and were acknowledged in our ancestral mythologies and belief systems. This is not new, people. So why act like it is, and shun it? You’re only contributing to your own ignorance in the end, much less the pain and hardships of women who have it rougher than almost any other group of women on the planet. How can you purport to work toward ending violence against women and dismiss our trans sisters, when they suffer violence at a disproportionate rate, particularly trans women of color? How can you pretend to celebrate female strength when it takes a special kind of strength just waking up everyday living your life in a world that sees you as sick, deviant, and broken? Who are you trying to fool here, really?

FWIW, I think Men’s Mysteries are important for similar, albeit slightly different reasons. Kyriarchy damages men too, just in different ways, and I think men can and should be allowed to explore what masculinity means to them in a spiritual context if they feel the need. But that doesn’t mean excluding trans men from that either, because (say it with me now), trans men’s experience is part and parcel of Men’s Mysteries. Because, you know, they’re men. And hell, we should make some Genderqueer Mysteries too, while we’re at it. Do we even have those? Why the hell not, if not?

If you take absolutely nothing else from this post, take this: if you truly hold a worldview that the Divine is immanent, and that everything is sacred because of this, then you must strive to make that worldview reflected in every aspect of your life or else you have entirely missed the point of the path you purport to walk. It does not demand perfection, merely the deepest yearnings for it, and the strenuous working toward making it a reality. If your life does not reflect your practice, perhaps you need to seriously examine both.