International Pagan Coming Out Day

Today is the official date for the International Pagan Coming Out Day. “IPCOD is a not-for-profit organization working to achieve greater acceptance and equity for Pagans at home, at work, and in every community.” I think it’s vitally important that we support groups like this that work for acceptance within our community. I’m lucky enough to live somewhere where being openly Pagan is not usually an issue, but even here in New Orleans, things happen.

Last summer I was in the midst of cleaning my house. Wearing a pair of short shorts, rubber gloves and with my hair a crazy, frizzy mess, I hauled the trash out. As I was opening my trash can up, I heard someone walking down the street. A huge man decked out in all sorts of gang paraphernalia had just turned around the corner. At that point we lived in a pretty bad neighborhood. Just down the block, a gang regularly hung out and probably did a good bit of business. They left me alone, they knew that I belonged in the neighborhood.  I left them alone in turn. We even, on occasion, gave each other a friendly, neighborly nod and acknowledgment. Apparently, some of this might have been because I am a witch.

This huge man, who I had never seen before and who I would not have wanted to have met in a dark ally late at night, took one look at me and crossed the street. Keeping me in his sight the whole time, he threw hex signs at me and hissed. All I could do at that point was smile and wave.

While this particular anecdote is simply amusing and nothing bad happened, I think it illustrates the type of fear that still persists in our overall society about Pagans and Witches. I made the decision a long time ago that I would be openly who I am. If a job doesn’t want me because I am openly Pagan, that is not a job for me. But other people aren’t so lucky.

So what are things that you can do to help those who aren’t out?

Just be yourself! Be open and approachable. Talk about your gatherings and holidays. Don’t hide being Pagan. Many of my coworkers have asked me a lot of questions about what I do and what Paganism is about. They know me, I’m not scary or intimidating. Be an advocate, as the IPCOD organization calls it.

You can also support your local Pagan community. Whether or not you have your own group or coven, there are usually groups that bring the entire local Pagan community together. In New Orleans, we have a meetup group. Don’t have a group like this? Start one!

Many cities also put together Pagan Pride Days through The Pagan Pride Project, which work to introduce the Pagan community to the larger community and promote acceptance and education. The New Orlean’s Pagan community is doing one this fall. Get involved and help out!

If you’re out, take a moment today to remind people that it is OK, that we can be openly Pagan and not be afraid. There is still a lot hate and intolerance in the world. It is only through standing up and saying “Yes, I am different and that’s OK” that we can start to change this and make it better. Some of us aren’t lucky enough to be safely out as a Pagan, use today as an opportunity to help change that. You never know when telling someone that you’re Pagan will make a difference.

My name is Lauren. I am a Pagan. I am proud to be so!

*If you want to help us raise money for the Greater New Orleans Pagan Pride Day 2013, check out our Indiegogo campaign found here!

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Boundaries and Hospitality

“Hospitality is making your guests feel at home, even though you wish they were.” – Proverb

We don’t have doors in our house. We have doorways, but no actual doors. So, my Significant Other put up old sarongs to at least give us some privacy in the bedroom.

We have a black cat named Bansidhe. She sings to us all the time (I haven’t noticed anyone dying whenever she cries, but who knows, right? She is a cat after all. I also haven’t noticed her herding fairy cattle, but I’m pretty sure she does that at night while we’re sleeping. At least it sounds that way…). She also has trouble crossing over our threshold at the curtains. At first I just assumed that my cat might be a little…well, you know, special. But then I started watching her when we did ritual. She never crosses our Circle. She is also an excellent companion on guided group meditations, and in my own astral temple work. She is very good about digging her claws into my knee at just the right moment to bring me all the way back. So I started watching her when she was going in and out of our bedroom.

She works her way up to it and then seems to force her way through. If I open the curtain for her and invite her in or out, she has no problems at all. But when she’s doing it herself, she does that adorable cat hunter butt wiggle thing and gets this look of extreme focus on her face as if to say, “I’m GOING to do it, NOW”.

So I started thinking that maybe my personal shields on the bedroom were a little much…

But what can I say? The bedroom is my Sanctuary, it is where I go to retreat from the world and from people and from all of those grating social activities that drive me nuts. When I’m at work, I’m forced to be polite and nice to people who do not always give me the same courtesy. I see it as a part of my professional demeanor to be as polite in all situations as I can be. Having a bad day? No excuse to take it out on other people.

So when I get home from work, I need a place away from the stresses of the outside world. I also don’t particularly like having people living in my space. I work my ass off and sacrifice a pretty big part of the actual me to work the job that I do. And while there are things about the job that I love, there are also things, most notably a lot of coworkers, that make this job an absolute misery for me. But, at the end of the day, I like having a steady paycheck with benefits. I like knowing that I can pay the rent to ensure that my sanctuary is always there. So working a nine to five job is a sacrifice that I’m willing to make. Having that Sanctuary is essential.

We live in a shotgun apartment. (Shotgun Apartment Layout) Our bedroom is not only our shelter, it is in the heart of our house. It is the most protected room physically in the whole place, which I’m sure adds to the shielding me and my Significant Other have created.

I’ve had more than one person tell me that the shields on my bedroom were particularly strong, but until my poor familiar started having trouble dealing with them, I had never noticed this myself.

In this house, it’s not just me, but my Significant Other as well. While he is a much more social person than I am, like me he appreciates his space. So I’m sure that between  him and I, the shields on our bedroom (which is where we spend a majority of the time in this apartment), are pretty spectacular.

Last year, I had someone that I respected tell me that I’m an “aggressive, territorial bitch”. I had told her son, who was going to be our landlord, that I didn’t want a strange girl living with us. He had hired a girl to watch the house while they were doing repairs on it and she was living in the rooms that we were moving into. I had told him that I didn’t mind if she stayed until she found a new place, but that I wasn’t comfortable with her living with us for very long. She was someone that I didn’t know, who wasn’t going to be contributing to the household expenses, and who was not someone that I had personally invited. I saw her as his employee and therefore his responsibility. I didn’t think this was being unreasonable. But I was told that I was a bad Pagan and that I lacked “hospitality” for not wanting to house this stranger. I think, that out of that entire horrible conversation, as I was torn to shreds and generally sat there with my mouth hanging open in shock through all of it, that it was this accusation that hurt the most.

My S.O. and I went on to house people continually from October of 2011 to March of 2012 without respite (in the shotgun apartment with no privacy). It wasn’t a knee-jerk reaction to this accusation either, it was because of promises that my S.O. and I had made to various people months prior. It wasn’t until after that whole long period was over that I looked back on my supposed “territorial aggressive bitchiness of no hospitality” that it occurred to me how absurd the whole thing was.

But that accusation has nagged at me for months now. Where does our responsibility to be “hospitable” end? Especially for people like me who need privacy from the outer world for our physical well being. I can’t emotionally handle being around people for very long. I have to like you a lot and trust you even more to be O.K with you in my space for long periods of time. When I’m around people constantly, it wears me down, first mentally and then physically. Again, I have a stressful job, and the stress of those people adds onto my stress with regular social situations. I’m O.K with the fact that I have some social anxiety and maybe a slight case of agoraphobia; I know how to deal with those things and live a relatively normal social life. But I also know that there are times when I have to seclude myself in order to shore myself up for when I am around people.

If nothing else, I think the shields on my bedroom, which aren’t particularly intentional, are a good example of how willing I am to keep people OUT of my personal space when I am home.

I never before saw that as meaning I lacked hospitality. How can I give hospitality if I am too sick and worn down to give the type of shelter to a guest that is essential to  hospitality?

I think that hospitality can be a troublesome issue for modern Pagans. We can’t quite just allow every person who wanders by into our homes anymore. The dangers of inviting strangers in are much different than those of the past. Our lives are also not ruled by the social obligations that ancient lives were. We don’t give service to a ruler who then has obligations to us, and our lives are not intertwined with the rest of society in the same way either. And while we do still have obligations to the Gods (otherwise, what’s the point of being a Pagan?), we have much less of a connection to our neighbors and communities than ever before. Community has been the subject of a lot of Pagan blogging lately. People have been asking why it’s so important or why they should be as invested in the Pagan community when its generally quite a mess. I’m sure that this was never a concern to our ancestors. Community was their whole lives. Of course, we also don’t have to worry about breaking social obligations and becoming  outcasts, deprived of the resources of greater society. We can happily live outside of social boundaries if we choose to, and other than alienation from the rest of the herd, we can do our own thing mostly in peace.

I would say that my Significant Other practices some of the purest forms of hospitality that I’ve ever seen in a modern Pagan. If he meets you and you need a place to stay, he invites you home with him. But these interactions are still within the personal sphere. He has also traveled the road pretty extensively for over thirty years and appreciates hospitality in ways that I’m sure most “landed” people don’t. It’s not uncommon for me to come home and find another musician crashing on the couch for a night or two.

I think this also comes down to a debate between the hardcore reconstructionists and those who are more on the Neo-Pagan side of things. To be someone who is actually reconstructing whatever Pagan religion that you’re practicing, the act of hospitality takes on a much greater significance than it does for someone with a more current frame of mind. Xenia was an extremely important aspect of the ancient Greek practices and some form of this is found in most other Indo-European cultures.

I had never seen myself as being inhospitable before. I have more house guests than most people that I know other than the pirates. And one of the things I love so much about my pirate crew is their ability to ensure that everyone in our group has the things they need. Lost your job? Don’t worry, we’ll keep you fed and put a roof over your head until you find something new. The pirates are the best example of a working community that I’ve ever seen. I see hospitality as giving someone a place to stay who needs it until they move on or have gotten back on their feet from whatever, not indefinitely housing someone who doesn’t have any reason to need it. I think that the point you have no extra energy to give a “guest” is the point where the guest is no longer acting in that particular role. It’s just like any relationship, there should be an energy exchange, not an unhealthy energy drain.

I think, as with so many other things, it comes down to doing the best you can. Sometimes we set boundaries because we need them, and it isn’t always the best choice to open your home up indiscriminately. There is a reason we set a circle and only invite certain beings into our rituals. Our homes are the same way. If we aren’t inviting every spirit or deity that wanders past in ritual, why are we supposed to do the same with strangers? We shield for a reason, we cast circles for a reason. Our homes have many sacred elements, and shelter our religious and ritualistic lives as well. We are not the ancient societies that first came up with these ideas, and while I still expect to help people where I can, I have to watch out for myself too, since I no longer live in a community that will.

Gender Respect in the Pagan Community

For this post, I’ll be referring back to my last blog “Pagans and the Modesty Issue”, so if you’re confused or want to see the actual comments that I’m talking about, please go back to it.

I wanted to expand a little on my last post, because one thing became clear to me from all of the responses that I received was that what we should be talking about in the Pagan community, instead of “modesty”,  is respect.

One of the comments that I received was from a woman that said that she dressed modestly because of how Pagan men approached her. She said essentially that a lot of Pagan men assumed that because she was Pagan, she was “easy” and she was made extremely uncomfortable by this sort of attention. This is not uncommon. I too have had similar experiences. Whether you cover fully or wear nothing at all, you should never be made to feel uncomfortable at our gatherings.

My S.O. has a story about a man in the Pagan community who would go to Pagan festivals and single out the young women who were new to the Pagan community, essentially saying something to the effect of, “Hey! You’re Pagan now. You’re expected to sleep around! Why not start with me?”. Apparently, he was well known for doing this in the community. This man was actually shot and killed later on. He was staying with friends and someone walked into the house and murdered him. They never discovered who did it, but everyone assumed that he had gone after the wrong woman and a person in her life had decided to violently retaliate for the harm he caused. My question to this story is this: why didn’t we, as a community, see what this man was doing and take him aside and tell him that what he was doing was inappropriate and harmful to the community? That somewhere there would be consequences to him, as well as the emotional upset to the women he going after?

PaganDad was incensed that he took his children to a Pagan event and they had to witness BDSM when he, as their parent, didn’t think that that was something his children should witness and that it was not age appropriate. Most festivals will cordon off areas where adult behavior is appropriate and set these apart from where the children are or allowed. I still think this isn’t a “modesty” issue. It was disrespectful of the festival to blatantly disregard what parents would consider to be age appropriate. The festival didn’t take “respect” into consideration. And PaganDad is right to point out that we need to think about how newcomers and outsiders are going to react to these situations. If we don’t take respect into consideration, we are going to lose people who might otherwise join our community.

When PaganSoccerMom tells me that I’m missing the point because  “clothing made for little boys aren’t generally created to make them look sexual beyond their years”, I strongly disagree. I think that little boys get it just as much as little girls do. When little girls are being given Brittany Spearsesque clothing, little boys are getting pants that sit down well below their waist lines to show off their underwear and wife beater shirts to emulate rockers and gangsters. Doesn’t anyone see that this is clearly having the same effect on them? The boys who robbed my Significant Other and I (who are around the ages of fifteen and sixteen) have grown up in this culture, and they are expected to become like the men in their lives. They have been in and out of juvie, they have been under house arrest and the cops all know them. This behavior didn’t start last night, it started with behaviors they were taught that would gain them acceptance in their community. These boys already have blatant disrespect for the women in our neighborhood. How we teach our little boys and young men to act in regards to nudity and modesty is just as vitally important as how we teach to the girls.

PaganSoccerMom also commented that:

“As for my deliberately”not getting it” on the point that dressing our girls in an age-appropriate way is telling them that “teaching them that other people can’t control themselves in reaction to their bodies”, I think we do that every day. We teach them to not walk down dark alleys. Not to leave their drinks unattended. To walk in groups. All these are, at least to me, part and parcel (along with wearing age-appropriate clothing) ways to help keep them safe. There are bad people out there that will do bad things and we have to do things to help keep ourselves safe.”

What she is still missing is that we live in a rape culture. While we tell little girls not to get raped, we don’t tell our boys not to rape, and this is what needs to change. And instead of reacting to it in the Pagan community with the old monotheistic notion of “modesty” (look at the example of the Middle East to see how that’s worked out for everyone involved), we need to address the larger issue of respect, and how both sexes need to deal with each other. I, as a woman, should be able to walk down a dark alley completely naked and not have to worry about a predator jumping out and violating me. Now, I know that we don’t live in a perfect world and while this is the ideal, as a woman, I do avoid dark alleys and I don’t leave my drinks unattended, but if we ever want to make it to this ideal, we need to start by teaching our children that you need to respect women.

I’ve heard a lot of people say that we ignore the men in our community. That the Pagan community is not always masculine friendly. There’s the old joke that our priests are just altar boys that are there to assist the priestess. My S.O. has a book out called “The Flowering Rod“, which is about men’s roles in spirituality. His contract with his original publisher is up and he is shopping it around to some of the bigger Pagan publishers, who all keep telling him that no one wants to read about men’s issues in Paganism and that they are only publishing things marketed to women. How can we be a healthy community when we ignore half of our community?

One of the things that initially drew me to Paganism was that I saw it being a balanced approach to masculinity and feminism. The Christian church became abhorrent to me because of how they told me that as a woman, my health and my issues weren’t important enough to address outside of the patriarchal context. I’ve always considered myself to be a feminist, but one of the things that makes me angry in feminism is when we go so far as to want to exclude men entirely. If we want to have a healthy community, we have to treat men and women equally, and I think that in the Pagan community, we have the unique opportunity to actually do that.

We should not be telling our women to dress more “modestly”, we should be telling everyone that the people of both sexes have the right to be treated with respect on all issues. We need to acknowledge the role that our men play and more fully integrate them into our practices so that they aren’t left standing on the outside of our community. Until we do this, we are going to continue to have problems with the ways men and women interact. And yes, I’m sure we’ll always have bad apples, but women are often just as guilty in their behavior as men are, and until we address the wider issue of gender equality, our community won’t be able to move forward on any of these issues.

Nothing to Regret

I came across Star Foster’s blog Choosing Paganism and Processing Regret tonight. I occasionally read Star Foster when she pops up through other blogs (like The Wild Hunt). I have mixed feelings on her writings and have heard mixed reviews of some of her approaches to discussion.

This particular blog really disappointed me. Star Foster is a pretty widely read voice in the pagan community and thus, has a far reaching audience. The blog addresses having regret about her path to paganism. She points out that many good things have come into her life because of it, but she also looks back on all the easy things in life that she’s missing out on. She says, “For all the benefits of being Pagan, I can’t help but be aware that it has limited my life, made it more difficult and left me more isolated than I would have been otherwise.”

She comes to the conclusion “I think I should be able to have my dreams and my religion as well. I don’t know how to do that today, but I’m thinking hard about it. I don’t want the next decade to be full of the same compromises and sacrifices that filled the last decade of my life”. She ends with a request that others use her forum to speak about what they have given up by choosing to be pagan.

When I first read this, I expected her to end with the line of thought that for all that she’s given up, the things she’s gained outweigh what she has sacrificed. There are certainly difficult things about being pagan: we all deal with closed-minded people who are afraid of what they think pagans are, with bigoted co-workers, and with legal issues. But overall, I found the tone of this particular blog to be very defeatist.

Being a pagan is extremely empowering for me. I don’t see any limitations on being a “pagan woman”. Having faith in what I believe in allows me to have a much more confidence in myself, which is probably a goal of any religious path. Being pagan allows me to follow my dreams even more actively than I did before I found this path. I don’t allow my paganism to be a limitation. I don’t let those closed-minded people dictate how I’m going to live my life. I honor my Gods and my path by the way I live my life. My paganism is my strength.

I found a large community and many close friends through paganism. For all that I like to complain about the coven, part of being in a coven is having a family. This particular coven hasn’t quite coalesced yet, but we’re working on it. And my first Pagan contact, my pirates, are definitely my family and always will be. They picked me up during a hard time in my life and got me through it.

I’m upset that a widely-read voice in our community is expressing such open regret about this path. These are the sort of people we expect to help the rest of us stand up to the bigots and to those that would deny us the individual rights we enjoy in our religious practice.

Earlier, I was thinking that I would write some of my thoughts on the current women’s rights issues that are under discussion and how conservative Christian America is doing it’s best to ignore alternate view-points of non-conservatives in this country. But Foster’s rant sidetracked me. In the face of conservative pressure, we need our community leaders to be even more outspoken than before. We need them to be loud and clear about how they are proud to be different and to be accepted in America. We need them to be willing to fight and counteract the voices of those who would stand against us.

“Oh Common’! You’re being too hard on someone who’s clearly said that they’re having a rough night!”

Yeah, yeah, I hear ya…but when you’re someone like Star Foster, you don’t always get the luxury of having that weak public moment. Star Foster has a platform that can reach a wide audience. Is there some pagan teenager out there who’s struggling with being pagan who’s going to read this and give up? She talks about turning 30 and being depressed about it. Maybe that’s all it is. I don’t read enough of Star Foster’s blog to know if this is a re-occuring theme or not. But after reading this, I have to wonder why she’s been so actively involved in paganism. When I went to look her up, it says that she’s even founded her own tradition. Does she regret that? Was that a mistake? Did it mean anything to her in the long run?

I didn’t mean to have this blog be so critical of someone else, but I think it demonstrates the great need that our community has for positive, strong voices. We already have enough people out there who are willing to stand against us and take away our right to our community. We’ve already suffered through hundreds of years of hatred. We finally live in an age where we can openly be witches and magic users and have different religions than that of the majority. We need to take advantage of our ability to speak out publicly on behalf of the amazing community that ours is. We should use our community to tackle the hard path and defeat it. And we should allow our community to lift us up so that we can do great things.

I have no regrets about being pagan. Being pagan is not for everyone, and I’m sure that most people come to a point in their life where they question their major life decisions. But I sincerely hope that I’m never at that point where I second guess something that I’ve so actively sought and cherished. I’m sorry that Star Foster is regretting her life choices, but if you don’t want to be here, why are you staying?