Pagans and Abortion

For the anniversary of Roe v. Wade I wrote a blog for Witches and Pagans about my own experience with abortion.

T. Thorn Coyle said it much more eloquently than I did. She said, “Death and life are inextricably intertwined. To deny a woman’s power over the workings of her own body is to deny her right to foster life itself.”

I am rabidly pro-choice. If you choose to have an abortion, at any stage, for any reason, that is your right. No ifs or buts.

The Pagan community is full of empowered women. But no woman can be empowered when she doesn’t have the right to choose what happens to her body. Being forced to bring a child into this world against one’s wishes is not something anyone should have to go through.

When I see people’s reactions to that original blog, I am profoundly saddened by the same sense of shame and ignorance from our community that you can find in any middle-American Bible Belt town.

We are a community that embraces all forms of love and intimacy. Why are we scared of discussing the validity of abortion?

It’s so important to tell our stories and experiences when it comes to this topic.

When I went to Planned Parenthood, I had to walk through protestors who called me horrible things. I had to be admitted through a locked entryway. I had to talk to a nurse behind bullet proof glass and I couldn’t take anyone back with me, when it came my turn to talk to the doctor, for the safety of the doctors and nurses in the clinic.

Abortion is one of the safest medical procedures there is and yet I was unable to have my abortion in a safe and comfortable environment with the care and support I deserved in a world of modern medicine.

I am not a Christian who believes that abortion will send me to Hell. I am a Pagan woman who knows that I have sovereignty over my entire self.

How can we empower women and not allow them to make this most basic, fundamental decision? I am worried that the Pagan community is losing sight of one of the most important aspects of what we are, a community of powerful women.

I recently had an experience at a local Pagan campground. I ran into a nineteen year old who was incredulous that I, who am almost thirty, didn’t have any children. She had two children, both of whom had already been taken by the state because she couldn’t support them. If this had been someone not raised in Paganism, I wouldn’t have been shocked. But she had been raised Pagan and she was just like every other uneducated, Christian girl I grew up with. When did we start forgetting to teach our daughters about how to care for themselves and their families? Was it when we asked that modestly be a value in our community?

I’ve seen a lot of arguments that state that abortion is against the Wiccan Rede. This infuriates me. The long term harm on a woman who is forced to carry a child to term that she can’t or doesn’t want to care for is much greater than the choice to rid your body of a clump of cells. The consequences of bringing a baby into the world that isn’t wanted has an effect on more than the mother who is forced to do so as well. Want to see the threefold law in effect? Then force that sort of pain into the world.

Our society already has unwanted babies it can’t care for. If you tell me adoption is a great option, I would ask, when did you last adopt a child? If you feel abortion is wrong, yet you do not help in caring for unwanted children, you are a hypocrite.

My only regret? Not being able to find Pagan resources that helped me deal with my anger and grief at having to make that decision.

I created my own ritual for healing that I did without any guidance.

I know of only one Pagan book that discusses abortion, and it was written by someone I don’t trust.

Where is our discussion of abortion in Paganism? Where are our resources? Why are we willing to ignore yet another part of the possibility of a woman’s reproductive life. We have maiden, mother, crone. We have menstrual rituals, birthing rituals, croning rituals: where are our rituals to deal with this choice?

Reading back through this, I know I sound I angry. Well, I am angry.

Angry that this sort of conservatism is encroaching on a community that treasures women’s lives.

The cycles of life and death are sacred. That cycle is reenacted through women’s wombs every month. Abortion is as much a part of that cycle as either pregnancy or bleeding.

I refuse to keep quiet about this particular topic. I refused to be ashamed of making the choice that was right for me. I refuse to give in to those who continue to try and entrap women by controlling their bodies. This is a choice that other woman out there go through everyday.

Abortion is a choice that everyone deserves to be able to have.

I’ll echo T. Thorn once again, because as always, she says it better.

I honor the cycles of life. I honor the cycles of death. I honor my power, as a priestess, to hold out a hand to both. I clasp those hands, bringing life and death together.

I am a priestess who balances life and death together continuously. I celebrate my ability to do so and to accept the pain and fear of hard choices in all aspects of life. Maybe if I do it, someone else won’t have to. Maybe by suffering and offering up my own pain, I can relieve some else’s.

Women’s rights are a battle we are far from winning, but maybe by speaking up and speaking out against the ignorance of others, we will get just a few inches closer.

And I celebrate other women who have made the same choice in the face of overwhelming fear and shame.

I celebrate those fierce warrior woman who stood up in the past to gain us the rights we currently have. I celebrate those women who continue to fight today to maintain them. I celebrate those who have had the courage to walk through the same protestors that I did.

As a priestess, as an independent woman, as a girl who grew up knowing that my choices defined the very core that makes up “me,” I refuse to give in to fear and hate. To do so goes against everything I believe in and everything I stand for.

You don’t have to approve of my own choice, but I would fight for you to be able to make a different one.

Choice is power. Choice is freedom. Choice is ownership over the self.

Without choice, we are nothing.

Pagans and the Modesty Issue

When I was a child, my parents taught me to respect my body. They explained the changes that my body was going to go through at an appropriate age. They also explained sex and contraception, and told me that they would always be there to help me if I needed them. Most importantly, they told me that if I ever had any questions, no matter how embarrassing, to come to them to ask: they would tell me the truth.

My parents were both teachers and understood the importance of teaching me how to respect my body. Were they trying to encourage me to have sex? Definitely not! In the midst of all of this, they lectured me on the morals and ethics and possible repercussions of a sexual relationship. They gave me a very balanced view of my own body. And while they were at it, my father gave me some good rules for being aware of situations, so that I wouldn’t easily walk into bad ones. This was all wrapped up with a dollop of good common sense.

The term “modest” was never brought into any of it. And remember, I was brought up in a Christian household.

I associate the word “modest” with monotheistic religious values. I know that this is not the only meaning or context of the word, but usually when I hear about women dressing “modestly”, it’s in a religious context rather than anything having to do with age appropriateness or basic common sense. When I hear about women needing to dress “modestly” all my hang-ups about the patriarchal society that we still live in come to the surface. I think of all the Right Wing conservatives who keep hacking away at women’s rights and seem to want to take us back to the Dark Ages.

“Modest” is also not a word that I associate with Paganism.

And yet…this word seems to be cropping up a lot these days in Pagan forums. It started with the issue of women veiling. OK, I may not agree with that, but if your patron/ess is telling you to veil, you veil. It is also the decision that you, as an adult, have made for yourself. I can get behind veiling for religious purposes. There are Pagan groups out there who veil (or robe, or hood)..but not for being “modest”. I see modesty as a way that patriarchal society controls women and tries to control how they regard their bodies. But of course, I’ve already made my thoughts on this subject known. (Read Star Foster’s blog Veiling: A Different Take On Pagan Womanhood for more on Pagan women veiling).

But I’ve also seen the discussion start to branch out elsewhere in the community.

The PaganDad wrote a blog called “Control Yourself”. I go to a lot of festivals, all of which are “family friendly”. And I even think it’s one of the best part of festival to get to see all these little kids running around together and having a good time. The pirates have marshmallow fights with the fairy kids every year. But sex and ecstatic behavior are also a part of a lot of people’s worship/practice in the Pagan community and festivals are places where we Pagans go to let some of these behaviors out. It sounds like, in his situation, that particular festival was probably badly handled, but unfortunately, a lot of Paganism is just not really child friendly. If you take your children to Pagan events, you have to realize that there is the possibility that they are going to be confronted with very adult situations, and I’m not just talking about sex. A lot of what we do in Paganism is very adult subject matter that children just aren’t going to be able to easily understand. There is a reason that most groups won’t accept children.

Another flurry has been going on over the recent blog by Friendly Atheist blogger Amanda on “The Ugly Side of Modesty”. This blog voices her objections to SecretKeeperGirl.com, a Christian website that is trying to teach girls tricks to make sure they’re dressed “modestly” in some really creepy ways. Amanda says: To be clear, this has nothing to do with peer pressure, purity, or an individual’s empowerment: This is about control. There is no sane reason that an eight-year-old should be worrying about whether or not their potential future cleavage is showing when trying on clothing. Advocating this kind of insanity only creates paranoia and concern over the nebulous, constantly changing, unseen forces that dictate “modesty.” And I think this sums the issue up pretty nicely. When you start talking about modesty in these contexts, its all about control and nothing else. So what’s my upset here? The conversation comes to me via the blog Confessions of a Pagan Soccer Mom and her response called “Modesty, a “laughable non-problem” for Pagans?” .

Pagan Soccer Mom makes a very good point that little girls shouldn’t be dressing like adults. We can probably all agree that there is a level of age appropriateness that should occur. I was extremely disturbed by some of the comments that showed up after she posted the blog, like:

We teach our 8 yr old who acts 30 that it is important to show that she deserves respect in how she dresses. We don’t allow belly shirts or shorts that are too short. She hates showing her belly but will walk around the house without any guilt and we have to remind her that daddy doesn’t need to see her body.When she forgets a towel or other piece of clothing.[Sic]”

There’s something about the line that “daddy doesn’t need to see her body” that somehow, just really creeps me out. Is the child’s father a pedophile that she needs to protect her child from? This line is oddly reminiscent of the language in the SecretKeeperGirl ads.

One woman made a very valid point, she said:

I don’t see much of a correlation between modesty and self respect. But that’s just me and those are both dependent on an individuals definition of morality, current social construct, culture, etc. Maybe if humans weren’t consistently being raised to see the human body as a purely sexual object it wouldn’t be an issue? *shrug* my personal opinion is that the modesty=self respect issue just continues to support the “she was asking for it by the way she was dressed” aspect.

Pagan Soccer Mom’s response was:

I don’t think anyone here is saying that an 8 year old girl is “asking for it” when her parents dress her up in something that isn’t age appropriate.

But I think that she’s deliberately missing the point here. When we teach girls to be “modest” in these contexts, we are teaching them that other people can’t control themselves in reaction to their bodies. We are, in effect, creating victims. Why aren’t boys being taught to be “modest” as well? Why are we still encouraging young girls to become victims of society’s double standards? Self respect is acknowledging yourself and all of your own decisions to create a healthy, confident lifestyle. The young Pagan girls that I’ve met, those raised at clothing optional festivals, have had some of the healthiest understanding of and respect for their bodies of any young adults that I’ve encountered. Why are we letting this monotheistic ideal seep into our community?

I think that the Charge of the Goddess sums all of this up pretty succinctly. “And ye shall be free from slavery; and as a sign that ye are truly free, ye shall be naked in your rites; and ye shall dance, sing, feast, make music and love, all in my praise. For mine is the ecstasy of the spirit and mine also is joy on earth; for my Law is Love unto all Beings…Let my worship be within the heart that rejoiceth, for behold: all acts of love and pleasure are my rituals.” I don’t see “modesty” having anything to do with this at all. We need to raise our daughters to be empowered, responsible and self aware, not “modest”.

Pagan Women and the Wishy-Washy

The first time I met a particular friend of my S O, she declared that she liked me immediately because I was a Pagan woman with a job.

This confused me.

While I grew up with a very traditional Christian father and a mother who had converted for my father’s sake, I was extremely lucky that both of my parents also taught me to think for myself; to seek, to question, to form my own opinions and most importantly, to read. I grew up in a solidly middle class white collar family in a medium sized industrial town in central Ohio. There was never any doubt in my mind that I would graduate from high school, go to college and then get a job and support myself. My parents raised me to take care of myself. Through anything else that occurred in my life, I knew I would work and support myself. Becoming Pagan didn’t change any of this. I didn’t know that it was supposed to.

Most of my friends are the same way. Even though some don’t hold the traditional nine-to-five sort of job that I do, they work hard to do what they love and to support themselves and their loved ones. In my group, I am very lucky to be surrounded by extremely strong women who support not only themselves, but often their families. Ohio is not a good place for jobs right now and our women have kept everyone afloat for a long time. Pirate women weather the storms of life with feet firmly planted and shoulders braced against the wind.

One of the things that originally attracted me to Paganism was its characteristic of empowering the female, seeing the feminine in the divine and in most cases, balance between the sexes. I hated how the women in the Christian communities that I grew up around had no influence on their own lives or their families’. And it infuriated me even more that they refused to claim power for themselves. I had several moments in my own family settings where I was expected to be in the kitchen preparing dinner, taking care of the children, and then cleaning up, while the men didn’t feel the need to help at all, just because they were men. Where is the fairness in that? All the women in my family work just as hard as the men, but the kitchen is a woman’s place in the Christian household, and women obviously don’t deserve time to sit down and rest. Almost all of the women that I know in the Pagan community are well aware of their power and have equal decision making roles in their family life. Our men celebrate our power. My S O loves me for the determined woman that I am.

How then, do the women in our community have this reputation for either not working or not being able to take care of themselves?

I won’t argue that as a whole, the Pagan community can be very flaky. But all of the Pagan women I know are extremely capable people and for the most part, much more mentally healthy and stable compared to many of my non-pagan friends. I’ve noticed many more instances of abusive relationships, an inability to stand up for themselves and an inability to live without a boyfriend in my friends who are not pagan. I’ve always felt that making sure that womanhood is sacred in my life has enabled me to embrace my feminine power and all of the authority that comes with being a woman. I don’t need someone else to take care of me, I am a strong individual. I can do whatever I put my mind to.

While I am lucky to have a very supportive partner, I know that if he wasn’t there, I could still make it (not that I would ever want to!).

So again, why do our women have this reputation? Don’t we have an obligation to be all that our goddesses demand of us? If you look at most our sacred myths, the women have to make very hard decisions. When Persephone disappeared, Demeter nearly destroyed the world to get her back. And in the end, Persephone made her own decision in regards to herself (anyone that tells you Persephone ate those seeds without realizing what she was doing, doesn’t understand mythology). Whether you simply worship the God and the Goddess or worship individual deities, I feel that the Goddess, in whatever form she takes, demands that we take responsibility for our lives.”Follow your highest ideal; strive ever toward it.”

The current political trend in regards to women’s rights infuriates me. Our lawmakers have obviously forgotten that this is not a Christian country. How dare they instill their morals on me and mine. My body is mine. The decisions regarding my body are only mine. My sex life is just as valid as any man’s, whether it be for procreation or recreation. If you don’t believe in abortion, don’t get one, but don’t go out of your way to try and shame the women who do make that decision.

Even if abortion and birth control are legally banned, I know exactly what I can get down at the local herb shop, which is another amazing thing about the women of the Pagan community. We have not only the ability to decide for ourselves what to do with our bodies, we have the knowledge to do it without the help of mainstream medicine and without someone we don’t know “giving us permission to do it”. Our wise women, herb wives and hedge witches have carried this knowledge through the generations for centuries.

So where does our reputation for being unempowered come from?

Oh—And the friend who had decided to instantly like me because I was a pagan woman with a job, later ended up hating me because of it. She couldn’t stand that I had boundaries that I was willing to stand up for. If there is a real need, I will give you everything. If you’re being lazy and just don’t want to get off your ass and do something for yourself…well, I have very little patience for that. I don’t see being a Pagan as an excuse to not take care of yourself. In fact, I think that you have an obligation to take care of yourself to the best of your ability, if only to keep your covenant with whatever gods you worship.

I think that more of our women need to stop and say “look at all the amazing things that I do!” and “look at what I do for my family, my community and my gods!”. We need to get rid of this overwhelming blanket belief that Pagan women aren’t capable of and willing to put in the same hard work as the men. Why are we letting the majority, the monotheistic world, spread their misogyny into our community?

Pagan women are amazing people. I would not be the person I am without the Pagan women in my life. Take the time to stop and tell the Pagan women in your life how wonderful they are and thank them for all that they do. Maybe if more of our women know and believe this, it will be easier to undo the self-sabotaging notions that have crept from the outside world into our community.