Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Because Fandom Is Always Relevant

Issues of transgender identity, spiritual life, and personal perceptions of both? Yeah, there's a Bones episode for that. (Links to transcript of episode 4x07, The He in the She.)

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

PBP: D is for Diversity

(I chose this D-word because I've been reading various blog-responses to the Second Annual Pantheacon Transgender Ritual Exclusion Debate. If you were wondering.)

My thoughts on this subject are all over the map; my brain has an unfortunate tendency to see multiple sides to situations, making it sometimes difficult for me to take a firm and absolute stance. I've never been a huge fan of sex-exclusive rituals, and have in fact been quite strident in my opposition to such exclusion in the past; however, I have, if not exactly mellowed with age, at least had time to develop a perhaps more nuanced view of the subject, and can now see that there can be times when sex-specific rites are appropriate. Should those types of events take place at a public gathering like Pantheacon, where some attendees (who have paid for the privilege of attending) may be denied access to some of the programming because of their physical sex--or would that necessarily lead down a slippery slope to people being denied entry to rituals because of their race, or any other variable?

I don't know. I can't predict with any certainty if one thing must inevitably lead to another. I am, however, all for the right of anyone to determine who or what they want to share sacred space with. If a group is putting on a very specific ritual with very specific requirements, they have the right to expect that those requirements will be honored by those attending, and they have the right to exclude those who cannot or will not meet those requirements. I wouldn't demand entrance to a ritual for women who have given birth, because I am a voluntarily nulliparous woman. I wouldn't demand entrance to a queer male mysteries ritual, because I am not a gay man. I would not attend a Kemetic Orthodox rite if I were not able to meet the physical purity requirement.

I think we need to have it all ways. I think there need to be safe spaces, diverse spaces, inclusive spaces and exclusive spaces. I think there must be mixed groups and separatist groups; in fact, I am quite certain there will be those things, no matter how we may personally feel about any of them. It might be wisest if large public gatherings like Pantheacon do away with exclusionary programming going forward, since it obviously only causes divisiveness and pain for everyone concerned, but in the private sector of the pagan world the need for specific spaces for specific needs is not going to go away. The desire to celebrate/explore/heal/etc. amongst others who share particular experiences is valid and should be honored, even if we don't share or understand the motivation behind it. "Paganism" is such a vast umbrella, and those of us crowding underneath it are so very diverse, that the only way we're going to manage to "coexist" as the bumper stickers say is by making room for a real diversity of expression.

And if that means that there are events from which I am excluded for whatever reason, then so be it. Being exclusive is not necessarily being bigoted or phobic--and if the people doing the excluding are in fact bigoted or phobic, then why the fuck would you want to be a part of their ritual, anyway?

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

PBP: C is for Corruption

For some reason I've yet to quite fathom, the religious and spiritual spheres are extremely attractive to the corrupt. Whether or not they're corrupt from the start or become that way over time is irrelevant. Spiritual and religious seekers are seen by some as easy marks, ripe for the picking--though of course those doing the picking would piously deny it! Oh no, they're fleecing you of your money, exploiting you sexually, draining you dry for your own good!

C is also for Con Artist.

They're out there, and you'll find them in every tradition, every religion, every culture. Maybe it's a plastic shaman like James Arthur Ray, or a commercial yoga guru like the amusingly-named John Friend; or it might just be your local small-time skeezebag trying to lure young tail ripe for exploitation to join his coven or meetup. They're out there, and if you spend any time at all around pagan "community" sooner or later you'll encounter one, or more. (They're in the mainstream faiths as well, of course, but they have better lawyers and more efficient hierarchies covering for them in most cases.) What can you do to protect yourself, aside from staying home as a solitary devotee?

Trust your intuitions, and your own common sense. If something seems off to you, respect that perception and examine it; don't just dismiss it as paranoia. If a group or leader isn't upfront with you from the start about what it expects of you, be very cautious indeed about getting involved; there are likely hidden agendas at work. If at any time you're required or coerced into something that you strongly object to, then that's the point where you leave, full stop. You don't owe them an explanation, or an apology, or anything at all; if you're being manipulated into doing things that are against your principles, your morals, or even your aesthetics, then you're in the presence of someone who does not have your best interests at heart, and you owe them nothing. Trust yourself, know yourself, and be true to yourself above all else; listen to your instincts; and heed this above all else when going in to a new situation:

Perfectly trust no one.

This post was inspired by reading coverage of John Friend's emerging scandal over at the Wild Hunt blog. What kills me (in the sense that it makes me sad and slightly sick) is reading all the apologias for Wicca in both the coverage and the comments. I wish I could say that in my experience, Wiccan priesthood using their positions to exploit others sexually was unknown or very rare. Power corrupts, even small-scale power; Friend there had a taste of much bigger power as a commercial yoga guru, and managed to parlay that into another spiritual format, one that allowed him to exploit seekers in another way. These people will always find a way; awareness and constant vigilance are your best weapons to avoid falling into their traps.

Thursday, 2 February 2012

Dreaming of Imbolc

I awoke this morning in the midst of a dream. In it, we were accosted while out walking by a woman who proceeded to question us as if we were expert witnesses or law enforcement consultants on the occult. She said that a monument at a nearby Catholic college (she called it Trinity something-or-other) had been "defaced," with the remnants of candles and offerings (I have the impression of red candles, though I can't recall if that was specified or not), and wanted to know the possible meaning behind it. I immediately launched into a quite complex lecture on the neo-pagan celebration of Imbolc, explaining the meanings and customs of the holiday and assuring her that there was nothing at all "Satanic" or dangerous about it. I remember being surprised when the woman asked me if the holiday was sometimes also called La Fheile Bride, and my response that it was indeed sometimes called that, in Gaelic, by Druid practitioners. I also assured her that the mysterious offerings might have been left in honor of St. Brigit, who celebrates a feast day at this time. I was awakened before I could finish my lecture.

Appropriately, I had this dream on the day in question, as Imbolc was celebrated on February 2nd in the tradition in which I was trained--despite it's being called "February Eve" in the early writings, which would of course technically require a celebration on January 31st. I celebrated the 31st and the 1st on the road, caravaning my mother-in-law home from Florida, and if I had any deity interactions at all it was with Bast, who sent her small minions to play in the landscaping around the hotel we stayed at in north Georgia. (One of them was the loveliest little thing, snowy white with a large patch of silver and black tabby markings on her back like a draped blanket. Her eyes were a pale luminous green, ringed with black liner that extended slightly out from the corners in a very Egyptian fashion; she gazed at me very seriously, and I gazed right back at her in the same way, having a moment. She would not approach closely, and finally broke the spell to run off chasing under a bush with her solid red tabby sibling. Their mother was prowling the courtyard, which featured what was very nearly a ring of large stones; adjacent to this was a tiny church building, complete with narrow stained glass windows, labeled the "Interfaith Meditation Chapel." Apparently my faith was not included, because I found the building locked.)

In any case, it's Imbolc now--or Oimelc or Candlemas or La Fheile Bride or whatever you'd like to call it. I call it the midpoint of winter, halfway between the Winter Solstice and the Vernal Equinox. It's an odd one, to be sure; the high today should again be in the 60s, which carries on the trend of this being an unusually mild winter. I usually like to celebrate it as a turning point, a time when the days are visibly lengthening, when the first faint hints of growing things can be seen, when we know the worst of winter is generally past us and spring looms on the horizon. This year, there's not much of winter to be seen beyond the still-barren trees, but maybe that's cause for celebration in its own right.