I’ve been thinking a lot lately about power and authority. Not only because of the classes where I’ve been taking where we’ve been examining how power and authority is used in our society, but because of my own relationship to these concepts. And especially because I am being ordained next weekend as a Christian priest, and being installed as the pastor of my new church.
There comes a certain authority and power when one takes on the mantle of a priest. What I mean by that comes from the dictionary definition of “priest” as one who performs the rites, rituals, and other sacred duties ascribed to a particular tradition. I’ve known, especially in the last year and a half, that people see me differently than they used to. There is a certain expectation of the work that I do in a religious context, and a certain respect for my training and education.
What’s been difficult is really accepting that I am worthy of actually claiming that authority. I’ve been comparing myself to much more experienced priests and pastors, especially since I’ve started the church. It’s hard to think of myself as a peer to those that I have learned from and respect. Part of that is still being in seminary, but part of that is my own internal Adversary telling me “Who the hell are you to be doing this work?” I’ve recently realized that comparing myself to them is almost an apples and oranges thing: I am different, and that’s ok. My ways of priesting don’t have to match their ways of priesting. It doesn’t make my priesting less than or ineffective, just different.
There’s also the part of me that is scared of this power, too. I’ve lived (literally) under the example of a corrupt leader. His example makes me scared sometimes because I know there can be a thin line between the correct use of power and authority and going over to the Dark Side. I don’t think anyone can deny that priesting can be a heady experience sometimes, and the spiritual power can be just as addictive as earthly power. I’m adamant about making sure I do have the support in place so that I don’t go down the bad road, and that if I’m heading in that direction, I have people who will tell me.
Going into my ordination, all of these things keep running through my head. It’s a humbling process, and there was a part of me that thought, before I wrote out my ordination ritual, that maybe I should just not have one. I’m doing the work anyway, so…? My wife reminded me that the ritual isn’t just for me, it’s for the community, too. In witchcraft, we say that to name a thing is to make it real. This goes for things at a personal level, and at a community level, too. When I say the vows I’ll write next Saturday, I am creating a reality where I will state how I will serve my community, and accepting the power and responsibility that comes with that service from the people I will serve.
It’s awesome in scope. And when I remember to think about Jesus’ ministry, I find comfort in the fact that Jesus faced these questions and doubts, too…
I’ve seen many posts over the last few weeks (especially after Pantheacon) complaining about various things such as: Wiccanate Privilege, building institutions, labels, polytheism v. monism v. panentheism, etc etc etc. It’s brought up a lot of good discussion about privilege and all the -isms which, I think, is badly needed in our community. But it’s also brought up a lot of tired old complaints of “I didn’t become a Pagan for this!” or “I don’t want us to become like THEM!” (“Them” being Christians usually.)
When I started on my witchy journey 15 years ago, we were just starting to become visible and creating things like Pagan Pride Day. The Witches’ Voice was the hub of much of the neo-Pagan news and internets (at least, it seemed that way to me). Most of the discussion was focused on getting official recognition through the military and fighting for first amendment rights in public places, schools, and other places. We complained about Hollywood’s portrayal in TV and movies. In other words, we were still looking to be considered a legitimate spiritual path.
But we’re in a very different place in 2014. We’ve gotten to the place where arguing about theology, labels, privilege, and -isms are the big topics. Not that these topics shouldn’t be discussed, but if you think about it, it shows just how far we’ve come. We have the luxury of talking about them now. Even the the American Academy of Religion has included a pagan track in their proceedings!
We’re not in the shadows anymore, no matter how much people would like to think we are. This is where we wished we were 20, 30, 40 years ago!
The other thing we’re learning now as a movement is that, just like all of those other religions, we have all of the same crap to deal with. We have our fundamentalists, our bigots, our fringe elements, our mainstream paths, and our own issues with race, gender, sexuality, and class. We’re seeing that, while we like to think otherwise, we’re no better than any other religion on the planet and that we’re just as human as the rest of them.
The truth is, we have always been like them, we just haven’t had the time to really look at it until now. We still have plenty of work to do, but it’s the same work that every other religion is working on.
So congratulations, my fellow Pagans (or whatever you’d like to call yourselves)! We’ve become what we wanted: just like everyone else!
It’s funny, the last few years I was itching to get home and post on my blog about everything that happened at Pantheacon. Most of the last few years consisted of me and Sarah doing a lot of very public things (which you can dive into the archives for).
This year seemed to be just as busy, but really focused on other people’s work. Not that I didn’t have my own work to do, since I did have two of my own presentations to do, but a good deal of the weekend seemed to be spent watching our other coven members do awesome things. I had so many moments of pride watching the people I’ve initiated (or helped to initiate) doing their work and then having random people come up to me later saying how much they enjoyed it or how much it helped them.
The other thing was seeing how much of the work we started in 2011, by our willingness to speak up and say something about gender issues, has continued through others. Even better, it has inspired others to speak on issues of race, privilege, and other important topics in the Pagan Community. It’s even inspired others to create ritual and mythology (which started last year and deepened this year).
There were also the people who hung out in our suite who were new and some people who come by last year who came back to see us again this year. So many stories of transformation, ritual done, and people fed. People who thanked us for having a drug and alcohol-free suite. People who asked us questions and people who just came in for ribbons (of which we had many). Just a lot of really awesome folks from all over.
So, this year, I’m just acknowledging how awesome people were and how much awesome work my coven did. There were some people I didn’t get a chance to see this year, and if one of them was you, just know that even if I didn’t get to your thing or see you in your suite, or whatever, that I know you must have been doing awesome stuff, too. Because, well, Pantheacon was just awesome!
And now, it’s time to get some more sleep (because sleep dep…).
In case you missed it on Facebook, here’s our Pantheacon 2014 presentation and suite schedule. PLEASE NOTE: Out of respect to those in recovery, the Circle of Cerridwen suite is a DRY suite. In other words, no alcohol or other substances of that nature are allowed.
Friday at 9 pm in Riesling: Denise Cicuto is priesting the Spirit Babies Ritual in the Riesling room.
Saturday at 1:30 in the Boardroom: Calyxa will be doing another Oracle Deck Co-Creation Ritual (like we did in the suite last year).
Sunday at 1:30 in the Boardroom: I (Gina Pond) will be giving a workshop entitled: Re-thinking the Language of Health for Clergy about creating safe space in ritual for all bodies.
And 3:30 on Sunday in the Boardroom: Lee Whittaker will be giving a workshop called Dismantling Gender.
And, of course, we’ll also be doing stuff in the suite (Room 966):
Film night for anyone showing up early. We’ll be showing various films including the final cut of The Wicker Man and other weird and wacky stuff. Please call the suite for admission (elevator will be locked until Friday). This has been cancelled.
Friday: Open to the public around 4pm. In the evening, there will be an informal concert at some point by Mage of Machines (Sarah Thompson ‘s musical alter-ego).
9pm – 10.30pm: Spirit Babies ritual by our member Denise Cicuito. The suite will most likely be closed during this time.
11pm – midnight-ish: Socializing in the suite (will probably close by 1 am at the latest)
4pm: Suite open to the public.
7pm: Open 4=7 initiation ritual by the Witches Order of the Golden Dawn (which is comprised of several of our coven members). We intend to do a full Golden Dawn 4=7 Philosophus working, open to anyone who wants to show up and take part.
8pm – Midnight-ish: Socializing in the suite. Possibly some more Mage of Machines live music. (close by 1 am)
4pm: Suite open to the public.
7pm: Between the Worlds Wiccan-Christian Church Ritual on the Book of Revelation: The Seven Seals by Rev. Gina Pond.
8pm – midnight: Socializing in the suite. (Close by 1 am)
Hope to see you there!
I’ve been back from my week with the sisters for a couple of days now. They are an amazing group of women, and I learned a great deal from them. I feel like I have tons and tons I want to write and tons and tons to think about. It’s a bit weird not doing the prayers, although, I think I might start scheduling them for myself. So many new ideas and clarifications about myself. My brain is very full right now.
I know being with them has changed me in ways I don’t even know about yet.
I’ll be writing more about my experience later, once my brain has had a bit of time to digest it all.
And get through the first week of my very last term in seminary.
Tomorrow I will be heading to San Francisco to spend a week with the sisters of the Community of St. Francis. After several weeks of searching and emails, I was able to work out this immersion course with the sisters and PSR. I’m so grateful for their hospitality in this, and I”m excited to meet, work, and pray with them! (And, admittedly a little bit nervous!)
I won’t be completely out of touch while I’m with them (I’ll have my phone with me), but do know that I probably won’t be responding to emails right away while I’m there since I’ll be pretty busy.
I’ll have more to post when I get back, and more information about church and coven activities for Pantheacon, too.
I want to talk about something that will poke a lot of my fellow seminary students, and maybe even quite a few people in the various social media outlets I’m on. There are a lot of posts about privilege and oppression out there. I agree, quite strongly, that these are important subjects and that people should learn about their various areas of privilege or lack of privilege in their own lives. But some of the ways that liberal/progressive (and primarily academic) culture makes me wonder if we’re doing more harm than good for those who are actually trying to learn.
Here’s something from a blogger names Hannah Wilder (emphasis mine):
“So, here are the contradictions as I see them. As an ally, my job is to not impose my own beliefs of what’s ‘right’, but instead amplify the voices of the oppressed people that I’m trying to be an ally for. Except that I shouldn’t bug them about educating me, because that’s not what they’re there for. And it’s my duty to talk about the issue of oppression in question, because it’s the job of all of us, rather than the oppressed people, to fix it. Except that when I talk, I shouldn’t be using my privilege to drown out the voices of the oppressed people. Also, I should get everything right, 100% of the time. Including the terminology that the oppressed people in question themselves disagree on. This is what I consider The Unicorn Ally phenomenon. [...] The effect of these demands, for me at least, is to make me less likely to say, well, much of anything, except a) to correct other people who are clearly even more wrong than me, or b) on issues where I have direct experience of oppression.”
This is something I see all the time. It’s happened to me on many occasions where I’ve said something that wasn’t correct or unintentionally stupid, and the reaction from the Activist was basically: “Sit down and shut up you vile oppressive idiot!” Usually followed by being ignored or even physically shunned. I’ve seen female instructors do this in subtle and not-so-subtle ways to the white males in their classes, cis or trans. Basically not “bothering” to call on them in class, even if they have powerful stories to tell. Most of these are men who are actively trying to learn about their role in patriarchy and how to change it. I’ve seen it happen in many groups where there’s the attitude of “Well, you’re not a Real Activist for X because you’re not Y.”
But there’s a difference between someone making an honest mistake and someone being intentionally hurtful or ignorant. For example, in the years since I’ve met and married my wife, who is transgender, I have made plenty of mistakes. Some that were hurtful to her, even though I didn’t realize it until she pointed it out to me. These were difficult conversations for us, but I learned. She didn’t yell at me, or shout “check your privilege!” at me, but she also didn’t hold back on the realities of the harm that what I said (or done) had caused. This also made me want to read more about the realities of the lives of transgender people on my own, which I have done. It has led me to do activism around gender in the Pagan community so that the Pagan community is a better place for my wife and others like her.
I have learned to be better because I have had people in my life who have been willing to educate me on this, and racism, and other forms of oppression and marginality. Do I always get it right? Do I always say the right things? That would be impossible: I’m a fallible human. But I didn’t learn anything from anyone who has immediately shut me down and told me to shut up.
And yes, there are those who are intentionally malicious and hurtful, or those who continue to hold bigoted beliefs even though they have been shown much evidence that their beliefs are wrong and harmful. Some people just can’t be talked to, and some people are just idiots (liked comment trolls…yikes…). I think, for these folks, it depends on whether you want to waste your time and energy beating your head against a brick wall.
Someone who is asking why something is hurtful and trying to understand a group that they just don’t have any experience in, however, is taking the leap to be better than who they are. They want to do the right thing and are trying to navigate a terminology and language they don’t understand that well. Their brains are being broken because they are seeing, sometimes for the first time, the system as it really IS and how they’ve perpetuated a broken and evil system. It’s new, internally icky, and hard. Being told to Google it or go read bell hooks when one’s brain is broken is like being told to knit a sweater in 5 days when you can’t even cast the yarn onto the needles. The average person is more likely to give up rather than learn how to knit and purl.
This doesn’t mean that the anger of being asked questions all the time, and about being the “token” marginalized person in groups isn’t a real thing. Hell, I get tired of it being one of the few Wiccans at a Christian seminary. Some days I just want to say “Oh, just go read the Witches’ Bible and go away!” But, I’m willing to be a person someone can ask questions of and get an honest answer from. It is something I have the will and energy to do.
The biggest thing to remember, I think, is that not everyone has the will or the energy to be all things to all people. An Ally may only have the will and energy to educate themselves and not be a jerk to other people in a particular community. The Activist may be in a place where they just don’t want to answer one more damn question about their marginality. And some people just want to live their lives in peace. Respect goes both ways here. Respect from the Seeker that the person they ask the questions of may not want to answer them, and may possibly refer them to other people and sources. Respect from the Activist to recognize that the Seeker is not being malicious and hurtful, but is honestly trying to understand. There’s a difference for the Seeker between being told “I’m sorry, but I can’t answer that for you now.” and “Go read a fucking book!” The first can be understood, the second drives people away. And for some people, it’s a matter of saying “Hey! What you said is not ok, and here’s why.” Sometimes, that’s all it takes for someone to get it.
And this leads me to community. We are not alone on this planet, and while some people may not have the will and energy to answer a Seeker’s questions, there are others out there who will. There are certain topics I just can’t talk about in a way that will do it justice, but I do know people who are willing and able to talk to people about their marginality in order to educate people. I will refer Seekers to the appropriate people who I know will be honest with them and not sugarcoat their answers, but also show compassion to the Seeker.
As a wise pastor once told me, “even the margins have margins…” and sometimes all we know how to do is to act like the oppressor because we don’t know anything else. We all know that this is a model that doesn’t work, so why, when we know about our privileges and oppressions, do we think that emulating a broken system will change it? I’d rather assume a more compassionate system and pray that it’ll work, even if I make mistakes.