Right and Wrong in the Pagan Community

My partner just wrote a blog for Pagan Square (which you can find here) about the history of the phrase “in perfect love and perfect trust”.

On Facebook, when Witches and Pagans posted the article, someone commented:

I found this comment to be more than a little ridiculous because the whole article is explaining the context of  how the phrase “in perfect love and perfect trust” was originally used and why it might be inappropriate when taken out of its original context. There was no militant Wiccan laws or judgements…just a “hey, this phrase isn’t talking about what you think its talking about, you might want to think about what you’re really asking about when you use it”, especially when you are interacting with people of many different Pagan backgrounds who will take it in many different ways.

But it also brought up a few things that I’ve been thinking about lately.

In the Pagan community, there is a blanket understanding that no one’s particular beliefs are “wrong”. And this in and of itself is great.

But this idea of no belief is wrong tends to lead to the idea that you can’t be wrong about anything. That if you tell someone that they are “wrong”, you become a negative and hateful person. People ask you why can’t you just live and let live? When you tell someone they’re wrong you become a rigid fundamentalist who is trying to force your way on everyone around you. I’ve seen this thrown at a great many respected priests and priestesses over the last few weeks.

I am baffled by this idea. Would you stand up in your college physics class and tell your professor that he knows nothing and how dare he try to tell you that for every action, there is not an equal and opposite reaction? Or argue with a math teacher that 2 + 2 does not = 4? Or would you go out, get your degree, go and find some practical experience and then come up with valid and logical theory that you then continue to experiment with for why these things are not actually the case?

I know, I know…religion is not science or math. Religious practice does not usually have the same straightforward sort of answers.

Or does it...?

Or does it…?

But sometimes there are some pretty straightforward answers. Not everything in the Craft is a great mystery of the Goddess or God that everyone needs to find a different path to. The example of what a Pentacle is from my last blog is a good example of this.

There are a great many people in the Pagan community who are trained and experienced priests and priestesses in all the many and varied traditions and groups that make up the Pagan umbrella. There are basic ideas and practices that have a “right” and “wrong” way of being done that these people usually spend countless amounts of time learning and then perfecting. It might vary by group or tradition, but you can actually be a Pagan and do something the wrong way!

I know, take a minute, sit down, deep breath…process that idea. I know, I know…it’s upsetting.

While you’re “refusing to be restricted by some rigid doctrine”, you’re also refusing to take the time to sit down and learn the history and background of what you’re doing. In my tradition, while you’re being taught and guided through the various initiatory levels, we talk a lot about how certain things are done within the tradition. When you get your initiation and hive off (3rd degree for hiving in my tradition), you then have the choice to change things, because it’s understood that in gaining that degree you have the proper background, instruction and understanding of how things have been done, to change them if you choose. Essentially, your learning is recognized as being enough to help these practices evolve into something new and possibly better. You’ve been given a diploma and told to go do your own experiments.

Just because your beliefs are personal, does not mean that everything else gets to be a free for all.

I’ve seen this a lot lately in comments on my own blog…the “Oh, don’t judge, live and let live, we’re all different and special“. Ummmm….actually, sometimes you are wrong. And it’s one thing to just be wrong about one thing or idea, but it becomes a whole ‘nother ball of wax when your lack of background, history and experience shoves you over into being unethical with overall ideas. In my last blog I wrote about a group who is claiming to teach Wicca and who are charging for their teaching. This is a pretty standard taboo across the board. I know of a few Wiccan groups who charge, but they will sit you down and explain to you why. While I don’t agree with them, they are upfront about what they are doing. This is the sort of area where “live and let live” gets people into trouble and sets up the possibility of abuse. I see charging students over a thousand dollars for initiation as a scam. These people are not learning Wicca, they are being fleeced.

I also think this gets to the heart of the current polytheist and humanist Pagan debate that has been raging through the Pagan blogosphere lately. As soon as someone with initiations and real training starts talking about why things have been done a certain way, people have started throwing around the term “fundamentalist”. When you start calling a group “rigid” and start throwing around the word “fundamentalist” at people who have gone through many long hours, days, and years of study on mythology, ritual, practice and interacting with a gods because they tell you that you’re doing something incorrectly, there’s a much larger issue going on. It’s one thing to say, “hey, I disagree with you, here’s why” and to start a discussion, it’s something completely different to instead say “you’re a fundamentalist and everything that is wrong with the world today” instead. This is not constructive debate.

For those who are all about the Paganism that is learned from a book…think of it like this. When you read a book and the author makes a claim, you check that the author has cited a source for why this claim is valid. These sources are the previous arguments that the current argument is built around. When you’re writing a book or paper, you, as the author, have the responsibility to prove that your ideas have a basis in other, proven, ideas. (And trust me, as someone who is currently publishing a book, editors are sticklers for these sorts of details even if you forget them!) Our trained priests and priestesses are our sources. Think about it, when you come across someone who is claiming they are a priest and priestess, but can’t give you any reasons why they are a priest and priestess other than that they decided to claim that title, do you respect their “wisdom” in teaching you what they don’t know?

Just because Paganism becomes an umbrella term and you may say, “well…I’m not Wiccan” or “I’m not a polytheist”, it doesn’t negate Craft teaching by people who are and have a great deal more training and experience in all areas of the Craft. Paganism does not mean whatever we want it to mean; there are actually some definitions out there that are relevant and important to anyone who is using them. If you want to go out and find real training and then debate the merit of these terms and ideas, have at, but quit reverting to name calling when someone points out the fact that you’re incorrect. While you may not like it, name calling only proves that you’ve already lost the argument.

Inclusion and Selectivity in the Pagan Community

Alright, I’m about to express an extremely un-popular opinion.

Last night I was reading through old posts. I had gotten a new comment on my blog “Pagans and the Modesty Issue“. Between that and my blog “Gender Respect in the Pagan Community“, there was a lot of controversy and I still attract a lot of readers to my blog with these two posts. Between the Pagan Soccer Mom and Star Foster posting about it on their FB pages (and where has Star Foster gone to these days? She seems to have disappeared off the face of the planet), people either loved what I had to say or hated me and called me the worst person ever (I’m paraphrasing here, but you can imagine some of the things that were said).

I occasionally go back to these posts myself to remind myself that I did actually say what I wanted to say and didn’t sound completely irrational (at least from my own point of view). Blogging, and really, any sort of public writing or speaking, takes a certain degree of courage, especially in today’s Internet world of instant access. Anything you say and do can be taken a thousand different ways by a thousand different people, especially when what you express goes against the popular opinion.

This is something that our younger generations, unlike ours, are faced with. When I was in high school, if I got myself into something that I shouldn’t, we didn’t have Facebook to broadcast it all over the world and to ruin our lives forever. We had MySpace, and we were in the beginnings of this world of social networking on the internet and on cell phones. But we were nowhere close to what we’ve got today. While our children deal with this and feel its affects us in every aspect of their lives, it is also a reality that impacts the Pagan community.

One of the comments that I had gotten on my blog “Pagans and the Modesty Issue” was, “Modern Paganism needs to be inclusive, so this needs to be a non-issue, separate from the dialog about sex and patriarchy”. This is a sentiment that I’ve seen a lot of lately.

I disagree.

Most Pagan traditions, if you’re following an actual tradition, are mystery traditions. (And yes, this has been a kick that I’ve been on a lot lately, but it’s something that I’ve been thinking about a lot as I’m beginning to approach my own initiation). Mystery traditions are inherently not “inclusive”. That’s sort of the whole point.

Modern Neo-Pagan Eclecticism has changed the face of Paganism. That’s not a good or bad thing, it’s more of an inevitable thing. I started out as an Eclectic and I’ve found my way to Wicca (the exact opposite of what most people that I know have done), so maybe I’ve had to approach thinking about it a little differently than most.

Inclusion is a politically correct term these days. And in most ways, I think it’s a good one. Theoretically, having rules about inclusion mean that employers can’t discriminate because of race and sexuality, that witches can’t be burnt at the stake because the Muggles freaked out over something ridiculous, and so on and so forth. And in the larger overall community, Hel’s yes we should be inclusive!

But I think it takes on a different character in the Pagan community. Rather than the idea of inclusion, Paganism has one of selectivity.

In the Pagan community, we’ve seen a lot of upset lately at Pantheacon over the whole Z Budapest controversy and once again, we, as a community are having to redefine the idea of inclusion. Apparently twenty years ago the controversy was over homosexuality and it’s place in ritual. We got the Minoan Brotherhood and Sisterhood out of this controversy.  Now we’re having to redefine our old-fashioned ideas of gender and the potentials that define people in an era where technology can actually create the you you wish to be. Some of the outcome of this is simply a dialogue addressing old ideas that don’t fit with the modern worldview, and this is healthy and good.

But when it comes to our mystery traditions, inclusion is slightly different. I don’t care about your race or sexuality or anything like that, but I am practicing a particular religion that moves along its own realities. If you don’t want to put in the hard work of living and learning these realities, this is not the path for you. This is a path that requires hard work. If you aren’t going to put your nose to the grindstone and do the work, I’m not going to include you. Traditions have a set way of approaching the Gods; if you don’t want to follow that particular path, that codified way, you’re asking not to be included. This is of course one of the huge differences between Eclecticism and an initiatory path.

I know, I know, this makes me a hateful, terrible person.

But really, this is true in most religion. God A says I need this, this and this for my particular worship and in return I’ll ensure that, that and that. God B says, well you need to do it this way to approach me and so on and so forth. One of the things we do in practicing a particular religion is learning how our Gods wished to be worshiped and then how to take it to the next level in our personal relationships to them.

My S.O. wrote a blog called Talking the Christo-Pagan Blues where he addresses this idea. His point is that people aren’t letting go of their old religions when they become Pagan and this is hurtful to our community. (And if I thought I was hated for my modesty posts, he was completely vilified for his viewpoints in this particular blog). His main point was that it’s disrespectful to completely ignore the way a particular God has asked to be approached and worshiped. Christ is a good example of this; people want to make Christ into something he isn’t. He was not a Shaman, he was a Rabbi. Want to worship Christ? Go to a Christian Church and do so in the proscribed way. This also goes back to the idea that words do have actual definitions and we can’t make them simply mean what we want them to mean, just because it isn’t convenient. Doesn’t work? Fine, there’s probably another word out there that does work, go find it and use it. Otherwise, why have language at all? To refer to the Bible, you just have babble.

And this isn’t about making our community more insular; it’s about getting people to understand that guidelines exist within our community: if you wish to enter our community, do so because these guidelines are meaningful to you. It is simply disrespectful to enter an existing community, and then attempt to tear it down because its tenets are not meaningful to you!

The Pagan community today really likes this idea of inclusion, and to a certain extent that’s fine, as long as you’re extremely respectful about what you’re doing. But that’s the problem, most people don’t take respect into consideration, and when they say they’re going to worship Kali and Aphrodite together, they don’t seem to want to take into consideration the cultural contexts they might be addressing; the fact that Kali and Aphrodite might have no interest in being worshiped together. (Maybe they do, did you take the time to actually ask? What are you going to do if you suddenly have two extremely angry Goddesses in your Circle?)

Just because we are a modern take on an old religion, doesn’t mean that we can toss all of the rules out the window. And yes, rules do exist.

So when you say that you’re a Buddhist Wiccan Voudon with Hindi leanings, are you actually thinking about what you’re doing? Are you actually taking the time to learn the rules before you break them? What’s the point of following a path when you don’t take the time to actually learn about the path you think you’re on? Isn’t there a certain level of hubris inherent in that way of thinking? Or do we, as a community, no longer care about the Gods we’re worshiping?

If we, as a community, don’t start thinking about what we’re doing, there will be major consequences down the road. Sort of that old saying that my mama always like to throw at me, “you made your bed and now you get to lie in it”.

Paganism really isn’t a path for lazy people. It’s a proactive religion. We don’t just go to church on Sunday and listen to someone preach at us. We go and participate in rituals and we practice magic. This is not the course for the faint of heart. Our actions have consequences in the real world. We are putting energy out in hopes of changing the universe. Shouldn’t we take the time to learn about what we’re doing before we actually attempt to do it? Why aren’t we thinking beyond what is “easy” for us to do?

Paganism is not the catch-all path that so many want to make it; perhaps we don’t include everyone, and perhaps this is not a terrible thing.

I am not Kenny Klein

I would like to take a minute to clear something up. I am not Kenny Klein.

I state this in the “About Me” portion of this blog, but some people are still confused. So I wanted to clear things up once and for all and talk a little bit about my more creative half.

I don’t talk all that much about my  personal life on this forum, I bring up New Orleans; I bring up personal moments that relate to entries; but mostly I use this blog to discuss things in Paganism that I find interesting or issues that fire me up. Paganism is a burning passion in my life, after all. And be warned, if you don’t want to read about my personal life and don’t have patience for a long rambling piece, this is not the blog for you.

This is the story of how Kenny and I met and came to be a couple.

My name is Lauren and I work for a library (and if you don’t think that isn’t very much like admitting that you’re an alcoholic, well, that simply shows that you’ve never worked in a library before).

I grew up in Newark, a blue collar town right outside of Columbus Ohio. I moved to Cincinnati to go to college and ended up living there for a long time. For the record, Cincinnati is another awesome river town with a lot of great art and music.

It was in Cincinnati that I met the Pirates; with that meeting, my life changed forever. While I had always known that I wasn’t Christian (my family is solidly Methodist), I didn’t realize until my late teens that there were other options out there. Of course I had heard of Wicca before, but it didn’t really occur to me that it was possible to seek it out, or that there was a larger Pagan community to explore. In central Ohio, it’s hard not get swallowed up by the overall Abrahamic religious vibe. But when I met the Eclectic bunch of Pagans who call themselves The Pirates, a whole new world opened up for me.

When the economic downturn hit Southwestern Ohio pretty hard, I knew that my job was no longer stable. It turned out that as they were downsizing my department, another job turned up in Columbus. I was sad to leave my friends in Cincinnati, but I reasoned that Columbus couldn’t be too bad. My parents were nearby, I had grown up there; and it was only two hours away from my friends, so I could still go back and visit everyone regularly.

There were certain flaws in my reasoning. Namely, I was miserable in Columbus. There were a few pirates that dotted the Columbus landscape, and I was lucky enough to spend some time getting to know them better. Between them and my Cinci family, I was generally kept on the desirable side of sanity. One of the Columbus Pagans runs a small festival that brings the Columbus, Dayton and Cincinnati Pagans together in Central Southern Ohio: it was there that I met Kenny.

I did not like Kenny the first time I met him. Little did I know at the time, he was in the process of going through a frustrating break-up and was moving his life from Los Angeles to New Orleans. He had lived in New Orleans before Katrina, but had moved to L. A. to be near family afterwards. At the time, all I saw was an old curmudgeon who was quite content to mope in a corner of the kitchen and yell at the pirates for being too loud at his concert. (The pirates ran the kitchen and we had to put up with him all weekend; we were excessively loud at his concert).

Kenny did however connect with my best friend at that festival, and ended up staying with her and several of my other friends while he performed at the Ohio Renaissance Festival. He endeared himself to her, but I was still convinced of his overall curmudgeonliness. While he stayed with my friends, he gave them an open invitation to come down and stay with him in New Orleans whenever they wanted.

Now, at one point, the older generation of the pirates lived in New Orleans for several years. For various reasons, they ended back in Cincinnati, but we of the middle generation had been fueled with many stories of the “good ol’ New Orleans days” and of course we all wanted to visit. I had been trying to get to New Orleans for years and every time I tried, plans fell through.

In early December of 2010, my friend called me up and asked me if I wanted to go to New Orleans. The conversation went something like this:

Friend: “Hey! We were thinking about taking a vacation to New Orleans over Yule, want to go with us?”
Me: “Of course!”                                                                                                                                                                                                   Friend: “One small thing…”                                                                                                                                                                                       Me: “What?”                                                                                                                                                                                                          Friend: “We’re going to stay with Kenny Klein…”                                                                                                                                               Me: “*Sigh” I suppose New Orleans is worth putting up with HIM, fine.”

And so, on December 16th, 2010, we set out on the thousand mile road trip from Columbus to New Orleans for an extended weekend.

We drove all night to get there. I remember stumbling out of the car, sleep deprived and rumpled in my sweats, simply wanting to sleep for a few hours. I was even beyond caring that we were staying at Kenny Klein’s house or that I was actually in New Orleans.

Kenny will tell you that he opened the door in time to see me come stumbling out and that he was struck with how cute I was and with the fact that he didn’t remember me at all from the festival. (Not surprising; at the festival, I avoided him like the plague). My friend had warned him that I shared no love for him at all, but that I had promised to be polite. Great start, right?

Over that long weekend, I was struck by the huge difference between the man I had met at the festival and the man that I met in New Orleans. In New Orleans, he welcomed us with open arms into his home, spent the entire weekend showing us around the city and was just, in general, a warm and lovely host.

We returned to Columbus and I didn’t really expect anything to happen with the connection that he and I had made. I was a thousand miles away, there is a thirty year age difference between us, and how in the world would something like that work anyway? But…he started writing me and I wrote back and soon I found myself driving to New Orleans again; this time, by myself.

The first time I came to New Orleans, I knew that it was the city where I wanted to live. So with Kenny writing me, I took a chance and started applying for jobs. I figured, if nothing else, I’d have a friend in New Orleans to help get me through the move and I wouldn’t be entirely alone when I moved a thousand miles away from home by myself. Kenny graciously offered to allow me to move in with him, thinking that I could watch his apartment for him while he was away on his annual summer tour, and then when he returned,I could get my own place. (Kenny says his evil plan was to convince me to stay with him all along, but he and I were both too realistic to think that we would work out in this fairly impossible scenario). Fortunately (unfortunately?) in the midst of all this, I found him to be the love of my life. Needless to say, I never did get my own place when he returned from that tour…

For those of you who don’t know who Kenny Klein is, Kenny has been in the Pagan community for over thirty years. He and his  first wife Tzipora are responsible for spreading the Blue Star tradition of Wicca across the U.S. and Kenny was one of the very first Pagan musicians of the modern era. Moon Hooves in the Sand, Kenny and Tzipora’s first recording, which Kenny generally shudders over now, was pretty groundbreaking at the time. It is one of the first recordings of Pagan liturgical music (if you want to hear really bad recordings of the music that makes up Blue Star ritual, go listen to it). And they did something that no one else had done before. Pagan music was not readily available to the public when they started out. While Kenny and Tzipora didn’t work out in the long run, and their break-up is the stuff of legends now, their music and the tradition they spread has had a lasting effect on the overall Pagan community.

Kenny will tell you even now that he never foresaw himself being a Pagan musician. He grew up in New York in the 80’s punk scene and hung out with bands like the Beastie Boys and the Bad Brains and played at the infamous CBGB’s. As a teen, he struggled with Judaism and searched for something greater. He went to his first Wiccan ritual at The Magical Childe in New York City and as they say, the rest is history. He has been a Wiccan Priest for nearly thirty five years now. Kenny is one of the figures from that second generation of Paganism that took what Gardner and the first generation had started and really spread it around the U.S. for the first time. He was and is close with figures like Oberon Zell, the late Issac Bonewits, the Farrars and many other influential Pagans of his era.

Kenny with Hair in the 80's Punk scene

Kenny with Hair in the 80’s Punk scene

Kenny is a pretty polarizing figure, both in Blue Star, the tradition he helped found, and in the larger Pagan community. A lot of people in the Blue Star tradition itself don’t like Kenny at all and get upset with what they see as being his old fashioned viewpoints. A lot of them will tell you that he has left the tradition and doesn’t know what he’s talking about. A lot of other people find him to be loud and obnoxious. He is pretty open with his viewpoints, whether you like them or not.

A lot of other people sneer at us and question our age difference. They see me as the little girl he’s been able to seduce. Anyone who thinks this has probably never met me.

So here’s the deal: When people mistake my writing for Kenny (who has four books in print), it’s pretty frustrating. While he and I are a couple, and I agree with many of his ideas, my thoughts and especially my writing are my own. And while I’m lucky that my infamous boyfriend is willing to promote my writing, it doesn’t mean that he’s secretly the one actually writing it. Whenever I see someone congratulate him on a blog of mine, I get this image of Kenny in a bad wig, hunched over my laptop, looking around sneakily.

Through Kenny, I have gotten to travel all over the U.S. and I’ve been able to go to Pagan festivals and gatherings of all kinds. I have gotten to meet many fabulous Pagan figures, and I get to be privy to a lot of the secrets and the politics that make up the Pagan community. Despite being brought to Wicca by my relationship with Kenny, I am forging my own presence in this greater community.

I also get judged by Kenny’s past decisions (which weren’t always great) and his past wives (which for the most part have been a tableau of mental disorders). I guess that can’t be helped. I have been told I am a welcome relief by some who have gotten to know me.

It frustrates me that often people can’t simply be happy for two people who finally found a happy relationship together.

At the end of the day, controversial, infamous, annoying, outlandish or anything else, Kenny Klein is my S.O. I chose him and kept him, no matter what he wants to tell you. Accept that we are an unconventional couple or don’t accept us at all. Neither of us are exactly what you would call everyone’s cup of tea.

Either way, when you read my blogs, be aware: I am not Kenny Klein. I just happen to live with him.

Kenny and I in Salt Lake City 2011

Kenny and I in Salt Lake City 2011

Modesty and Amanda Palmer

The whole “modesty” issue just can’t seem to leave me alone. Here’s a for-instance.

Anybody who knows me knows that I’m mad about singer/performer/wife of author God Amanda Palmer. One of the things that I love about her so much is how open she is with her body. From photographs, to tweets, to her blog, Amanda doesn’t care if she has clothes on or not when she has something to tell her fans. Sometimes the point is exactly that she’s at home and in bed and comfortable.

When it comes to nudity, suggestive clothing or simply dressing as she sees fit Amanda Palmer does not believe in shame. She didn’t allow her original record label to tell her that her body wasn’t beautiful and she protested vocally when they censored photographs of her. This is the sort of thing that we need to teach our daughters and sons about. “Modesty” is not the answer, but things like this most certainly are…

Amanda Palmer says about the video “I’m so comfortable being naked at this point that I almost forget … I’m also proud that that video has nudity, but it isn’t sexual or erotic … it’s using the body as a raw canvas, which I love.”

This is the sort of feeling I want to embody and hope that I can teach to my daughters. Women have a potential to be powerful creatures in ways that men do not. The Goddess encompasses all of these ideas, and when I go into ritual, with my hair uncovered and my body skyclad, this is the sort of feminine power I want to exhibit. I can use my body for many things, most of which have nothing to do with sexuality. But that’s exactly the point; my body is mine. I shouldn’t have to be afraid of what others think. I should not have to cover it up modestly to be free and comfortable in my community. If you want to cover yourself, that’s your respected choice. But covering yourself should never have anything to do with the fear of being hurt or attacked.

Give Freely What Was Freely Given

I was reading an article that’s being thrown all over Facebook as proof of how mainstream and accepted that Wicca/Witchcraft is these days. The article is “Spelling Lessons: Wiccan Studies Is on the Rise” from the Village Voice. It talks about the Wiccan Family Temple Academy of Pagan Studies in New York and how it’s openly teaching the community about Paganism.

One of the main themes of the article is money; how the students of the Academy have been hit hard by the financial times, and about how the Academy has had to raise their tuition.

I have a lot of issues with this. This is supposed to be a Wiccan school. In every Wiccan tradition that I know of, one takes an oath at initiation not to charge students for being taught the craft.

No one that I’ve known personally who teaches Wicca charges for the learning process towards initiation. In all the learning circles I’ve been a part of, students have helped pay for supplies and chipped in money if needed to rent a space. But they have never paid the priest or priestess who is teaching them.

When I posed this question of paying to learn the Craft on another forum, I was blown away by all the responses I got that all agreed that one should have to pay to learn the craft. You pay for your education in an academic setting, don’t you? Why would learning Wicca be any different? You buy books, don’t you? Obviously people don’t appreciate something unless they have to pay for it.


One woman said “We do realize that this is a profound taboo that we are violating, but it’s worked for us and we’re glad we did it, although we do understand and accept that most people in the Craft cannot and will not violate this taboo, and we don’t expect or want their choices and decisions to be the same as ours.” She also went on to explain why they had made the decision and explained that she asked for fifteen dollars a lesson. Fifteen dollars is not unreasonable and she was very upfront about why she was doing it. She also said that as soon as a student got past the dedicant stage (or the Wicca 101 stage), the fee was dropped. This I can respect.

Someone else said, “My current course I am doing via correspondence, and it is on the high end $50 per lesson, but it comes with over 25 pages of written text, and a long distance phone call. I really don’t think she is making much on me at all, and the little she might be im glad to give.[Sic]” While she may be glad to give this money, whoever this teacher is, is definitely making a lot of money off of her and whoever else is enrolled in these classes. This is an ethical issue to me. I have a great job and make a decent living, I don’t know that I could afford to pay fifty extra dollars a week to pay for learning about my spiritual path. And no one should have to.

I think Jason Mankey summed it up pretty well (and if you’re not familiar with Jason Mankey, check out his blog Panmankey) in his response: “When teaching a specific tradition, it’s much easier, ‘this is a part of our tradition, I’m not charging for it’. Honestly, the idea of anyone charging for information specific to a tradition is rather revolting, and in my mind it instantly screams ‘unlegit trad’. However, getting paid to teach ‘Newbie 101’ doesn’t bother me so much, and even with the great amount of books out there it certainly doesn’t hurt to have a teacher around to ask questions. The moment you bring that student into the circle though . . . then the questions start.”

Jason Mankey

Jason Mankey

This Academy is clearly making people pay for the privilege of being initiated. And it certainly doesn’t sound like they’re teaching responsibly either. The article states, “Wicca is an open religion that prides itself on acceptance, drawing inspiration from Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, Native Americans—any and all spiritual practices may be included in Wiccan worship. Thus, religious tenets are widely interpreted, with each high priest and priestess changing spells to fit their needs”, which is patently untrue. Wicca is extremely codified, while different Wiccans may worship different Gods and Goddess, and traditions do handle those things differently, within the Wiccan traditions (Gardnerian, Alexandrian, Georgian, Feri, Blue Star), ritual is very specific. The article continues to say, “Although Ravenhawk doesn’t say it outright, her students might also be leaving to get their educations elsewhere”.

And maybe that is also a part of this issue. I don’t see how you can really teach the Craft to more than a few people at a time. So much of it requires intense focus and hands-on learning. Most of the teachers I know refuse to take just anyone who wanders in off the street. Most students have to prove their willingness to learn, that they want to be there…and maybe paying for lessons is one way to do that. But I have a whole body twinge when I hear of someone charging students this way. Wicca 101 is one thing, you can get that from any Llewellyn book you care to pick up, from the internet or from other less than scholarly sources. Initiation though? That’s a whole ‘nother can of worms right there.

In Blue Star, drawing down is literally invoking a god or goddess into your body. Do you really want someone who doesn’t actually know what they’re doing trying that? When you’re initiated into a tradition, you’re usually working with powerful magic and with the Gods themselves. This is not Wicca 101. Everyone I know that’s tried this stuff before they were ready had terrible things happen to them…in one case a house burned down. The teachers I know work very closely and very personally with their students. It’s the only good way to teach this stuff. Most of the teachers I know also refuse to teach over the phone, realizing that there are some things that just have to be shown. Some schools are very responsible in what they teach…others, not so much. But when you have a school that has questionable teachings and they are charging large sums of money for the privilege of being initiated, and that is what the media is focusing on to bring a positive view of the Wiccan community, we have a problem. Is this really how we want our community represented? Even if it is with a positive attitude?

In addendum: To clarify the quote above, “My current course…i’m glad to give.” the author added: .”Let me clarify. It is $50 per lesson, not per week. 25+ pages per lesson for 12 lessons, 3 cds, and a OVERSEAS long distance phone call and postage from the UK………Just thought you might want to amend your blog so it is accurate. Sorry for not being more clear.”

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?