Pantheacon Fallout and the Seeds of Community 

Witchcraft is a tool against oppressors. It sides with the oppressors at its own peril, for power is ever fickle, and our gifts ever mistrusted by the bullies and abusers who would make our power their own.

Practitioners of a racist Witchcraft, or a homophobic Witchcraft, or a transphobic Witchcraft, or an ableist Witchcraft, do not understand Witchcraft. Witchcraft is a gift to the oppressed, not the comfortable.  – Jason Thomas Pitzl “Witchcraft Today, Witchcraft Tomorrow A Manifesto”

Mural in Oakland, CA

Mural in Oakland, CA

I watched a battle goddess shake the foundations of my community and expose our weak points.  For the sake of honesty I have to say, I did more than watch.  I aided, I assisted, I called Her name,  honored Her, gave Her offerings.  I asked Her to open our eyes to the battlefield that we are all standing on today, the battlefield that we tell ourselves doesn’t exist.  The battle that won’t be won by generals, or scholars, advanced weapons or technologies.  The battle that if we are to survive, we will survive by raising each other up and building strong and open communities together.  For we rise not by political structures or by wise governance, we rise by reaching out and grabbing the hand of our neighbor,  We all rise together.

The dust is starting to settle from Pantheacon and people are assessing the stress fractures in their hearts, minds and belief systems.  In some ways, Pantheacon is a gathering of individuals each searching for their own taste of the sacred, in other ways it is a gathering of tribes, a place for diverse traditions of spirituality to meet as a community.  A place for us to meet face to face rather than on blogs and Facebook posts.  A place to learn and share with each other, common ground on which to build our future….for 5 days a year.

For some, the event is a place to escape their day-to-day lives and immerse themselves in magic, and costumes, and parties.  And there is nothing wrong with this, provided you remember that there are predators as well as fairies in the night, and keep your wits about you, especially during the hours when the hungry ghosts walk the halls.  But there is more to our shared community than parties and costumes, and hopefully more to our spirituality than that too.  Community is not something that happens because people have similar ideas, it is working and living relationships that we have with each other, with the spirits, and with the gods.  Community is work, and it is processing, and it is uncomfortable self-reflection, and it is compromise.  It is an ongoing dialectical process between many different individuals, and many different philosophies, and many different cultures.  And that is a good thing.

Mural in Oakland,CA

Mural in Oakland,CA

The weak spots in our community are a reflection of the weak spots in our larger society.  As our country struggles with the demons of racism, homophobia, and transphobia, among a multitude of others, we Pagans, as a microcosm of the larger society, struggle with those same demons…   and its frustrating for us.   Just like some people come to Pantheacon wanting to get away from the drudgery of their mundane lives, some people come to Pantheacon wanting to get away from these demons as well,  to distance themselves from the debates on racism, or to be in a place where they wont have racist behaviors thrown in their face,  a space where they wont be challenged about their privilege, or a space where they can be safe to be themselves without fear of rejection, or violence against them.  But we can’t get away from these issues, because Pantheacon does not exist in a vacuum, and they exist in our community as well, and it is our duty, as members of the community, and as human beings, and as a collection of religious communities, to face these issues and to confront them and to work together to create a stronger, more just and welcoming community.

People must rule themselves; there’s no other way.  We cannot hope for benevolent dictators or kind benefactors to end our suffering and fractiousness and abuse.  No great ruler will make racism go away, no brilliant queen will re-grow the forests.

We beg the government to give us recognition, to restrain the police they hire to kill us, to protect our sexual preferences and drinking water and children from the very same abusers who bankroll their political campaigns.  The answer isn’t the coin, it’s the fucking soul, the reclaiming of our sovereignty not just as will-to-power but responsibility-to-love.   – Rhyd Wildermuth “Perceval”

When I see that battlefield that we are all on and apprise the situation, I see a path to victory, a path to a better place.  A place of justice and healing of wounds.  A place of abundance, with healthy seas, nature restored, food, shelter and dignity for all.   A world of people in rightful relationship with the land, with the gods and most importantly with each other.  A future of wealth for children, of children well learned, of tales told in poetry, a future of honor.  And I see this path because I see the strength in our community, the people who won’t sit idle and accept things the way they are, the people who tirelessly and ceaselessly hold us accountable for our mistakes, who sometimes gently and sometimes fiercely confront attitudes in our community and in themselves that mindlessly harm others.   Because the first step towards this rewoven future is facing these toxic attitudes within ourselves and learning how to address and overcome them and a large part of that process involves actually listening to marginalized communities.  Straight, white people are not the saviors of marginalized people and we will not be rescuing anyone.  We are all partners in this community and we must allow everyone their voice and listen to their experiences.  Unexamined ego and privilege has no place in the creation of a better society and those who refuse to see past their own, will find themselves rapidly losing credibility and relevance as the community steps past them, seeking a more just and egalitarian future.

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Bread and Roses: The Rising of the Women

Photo courtesy of the Illustrious Katie Rose

An offering to the Crows: Photo courtesy of the Illustrious Katie Rose

“What the woman who labors wants is the right to live, not simply exist — the right to life as the rich woman has the right to life, and the sun and music and art. You have nothing that the humblest worker has not a right to have also. The worker must have bread, but she must have roses, too. Help, you women of privilege, give her the ballot to fight with.”

—Rose Schneiderman, 1912

As we stood circled and gave final thanks to the Gods, spirits, and allies that inspirited the temple, the crows called outside and the sacred space shifted, changing it’s role like a breath held at length finally released.  Where a moment ago stood the Temple of the Morrigan and Her Tribe, was a simple bare hotel room stacked with sacred items and offerings.   We went outside onto the deck with an armful of roses and a loaf of bread and spread them out as an offering to our corvid kin and the Queen we have in common.

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I have taken an unusually long time decompressing all of my experiences at Pantheacon this year.  I have started a number of posts only to stop after a few paragraphs and question if what I was writing was contributing to the discussion or just rehashing things that others have written more adeptly about than I.  I have read and reread other peoples experiences there, tried to piece together complex events that although I knew happened, didn’t personally witness, and I have sat with my experiences and tried to tease a narrative out of deeply personal moments and feelings, moments of fierce camaraderie, moments of joy and laughter, moments of sorrow and anger, times when I was surrounded by my kin and we laughed so hard that our faces hurt and times when I was alone, in the temple, broken open and weeping.  I grappled and struggled with my muse and came up empty handed, dry mouthed and unsatisfied.  This morning I saw a picture of our offering to the crows and our Lady and thought of the slogan “Bread and Roses” and what it means.

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The slogan “Bread and Roses” comes from a speech given by labor union leader, socialist, and feminist Rose Schneiderman during the turn of the century labor and suffragette movements.  The line in her speech (“The worker must have bread, but she must have roses, too.”) inspired the poem “Bread and Roses” by James Oppenheim and songs that inspired demonstrators and young girls carried signs that read “We Want Bread, and Roses Too” out into the streets to face company controlled police armed with rifles with bayonets attached and ready. The slogan means that not only should women be paid fairly and treated well in their work, but they should be treated fairly in society and allowed to experience the beauty of life as well.  It means that workers should be given enough money and leisure time for them to have a fulfilling life and be treated like human beings not machines to enrich the wealthy only to be discarded when used up.

As we come marching, marching in the beauty of the day,
A million darkened kitchens, a thousand mill lofts gray,
Are touched with all the radiance that a sudden sun discloses,
For the people hear us singing: “Bread and roses! Bread and roses!”

As we come marching, marching, we battle too for men,
For they are women’s children, and we mother them again.
Our lives shall not be sweated from birth until life closes;
Hearts starve as well as bodies; give us bread, but give us roses!

As we come marching, marching, unnumbered women dead
Go crying through our singing their ancient cry for bread.
Small art and love and beauty their drudging spirits knew.
Yes, it is bread we fight for—but we fight for roses, too!

As we come marching, marching, we bring the greater days.
The rising of the women means the rising of the race.
No more the drudge and idler—ten that toil where one reposes,
But a sharing of life’s glories: Bread and roses! Bread and roses!

As I read the words of the poem, certain lines stood out.  “As we come marching, marching, unnumbered women dead, Go crying through our singing, their ancient cry for bread”  and the voices of those dead echoed in my ears.  Because we are still fighting the same battles that those women fought, and we are still going through the same struggles that those women did, and the voices of our ancestors cry out for justice and they cry out for equality, and they cry out for bread, and they weep for the scarcity of the roses.  They shed their blood and they gave up their freedom and they risked their lives, all the while working their fingers bloody and raising their families and feeding their children, so that their descendants could live better lives than they did.  And they watch us for across the veil, and they scream in anger and they weep as their children, and grandchildren and their great grandchildren fight the same battles that they fought…..and they reach forward to us and they give us the strength to carry on the struggle.

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“The rising of the women means the rising of the race”

Out in the streets now are women, women carrying on the legacy of these heroic ancestors of ours, our mighty dead..  Women are most often the leaders in the social justice movement.  They are in meetings and out in the street, organizing and inspiring this next generation of activists.  Channeling the love and power of our ancestors, they shine a light and show us a path forward.  They ignite the flame of justice in our hearts and drive us forward into a better future.  Throughout our history, women have played the dominate role in creating a world worth living in and once again we find them leading us to confront injustice and bigotry, lift up our human family, and tear apart the structures that have been designed to marginalize and exploit us.

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So I speak of the women who inspire me today, the activists, freedom fighters, and warriors who are tireless in their efforts to guide and protect our communities.  The women who have taken the torch of justice from the hands of their mothers and grandmothers and use it to set the world aflame.  A flame to bring to light the horror and brutality and ignite the passion of the next generations and inspire them to continue the fight.  For the fight never ends, each generation’s work builds on the last’s

And I can only name a few here, and point you in the direction of their writings.  I encourage you to explore the work of these powerful women and share it with those that you feel might also be inspired by them.  I encourage you to learn about the suffragette movement, and the Black Lives Matter movement, and every social justice movement in between.  I urge you,  if you are a man, to speak up for women’s rights, and listen to women and learn to truly be their allies.  Because, The rising of the women means the rising of the race.

………and here is a woefully brief and incomplete list of strong women activist writers that inspire me.

Crystal Blanton – Daughters of Eve

T. Thorn Coyle – Know Thyself

Morpheus Ravenna – The Shieldmaiden Blog

Alley Valkyrie – blogging on the Wild Hunt

Courtney Weber – Real Magic…for Real People

Mia McKenzie – Black Girl Dangerous

There are more, so many more.  Please seek them out.

On a final note, I would like to leave you with something that gives me hope for our future.  Meet the Radical Brownies

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Hospitality, Ally Support, and Pantheacon Looming

Ally

In two days we head down to San Jose for Pantheacon.  For the Coru, this is one of the biggest and most involved events that we participate in and has been pivotal in the founding of our Priesthood.  Because of its imminence, this weeks post will be brief and focus on what we are going to be offering at the event and some thoughts around it.

First of all, the Coru just released our Hospitality and Safety Statement that applies not only to this convention, but to all events the Coru are part of.  At Patheacon, we will be having a hospitality suite for people to be able to come and meet us and ask us any questions that they might have, and we will also be maintaining a Temple space for the Morrigan and related deities for the public to have access to.  We feel that our Hospitality and Safety statement is necessary to ensure that both the hospitality suite and the Temple remain a safe and welcoming space for all.  As regrettable as the necessity of a statement like this is, after reading the final draft, I am filled with an overwhelming feeling of pride for the members of my priesthood for creating a document such as this and for always taking a stand for justice.

“Everyone should feel and be safe. Creating a welcoming, safe, supportive, inclusive, consent-based space for all peoples is just one of the necessary ways hospitality must manifest in today’s society so that all people everywhere may thrive in safety. It’s our responsibility to leave this world better than we inherited it through mindful, thoughtful, and heart-filled care and stewardship. This is one more way we honor our ancestors while amending and healing the consequences of mistakes in the shared history of our collective pasts. These are the gifts we seek to leave to our descendants – so that they may thrive in love and safety.

The Coru Cathubodua Priesthood respects and welcomes all persons regardless of color, ethnicity, age, ability, religion, size, class, perceived or actual sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression.

We have an individual and shared responsibility to guard against behaviors that demean or otherwise harm individuals. Because these actions not only harm individuals, they impact and harm our community as a whole. We will not tolerate prejudice and discrimination’s legacy of hate. Unsafe behaviors and words, including but not limited to racism, sexism, ageism, classism, transphobia, homophobia, xenophobia, ethnicism, sizeism, ableism and other prejudicial and discriminatory behaviors will not be tolerated. We insist on consent before touching anyone’s person or property in order that our suite and Temple remain safe spaces for all attendees. Violations of this policy will be considered an infringement against our hospitality, and offenders may be asked to leave.

In solidarity.

Coru Cathubodua Priesthood”

Our two biggest undertakings at the Con are going to be the Temple of the Morrigan, which will have open hours every day from Friday night to Sunday night for the public to visit, and our main ritual,  The Morrigan Speaks: Arise to the Battle, is slated for Saturday night at 7 pm in the Oak ballroom.

Last year was the first year that we had the temple at the event and it turned out to be an amazing facet to the whole experience of Pantheacon.  To have a dedicated sacred space in the midst of the chaos of the convention was like finding shelter during a raging storm.  It provided a quiet, contemplative refuge in the energetic whirlwinds that make up the rest of the hotel that weekend.  Others have written about their experiences last year and I’d like to provide links to their impressions of the temple.  First from Morpheus on her blog “The Foundations of the Temple” and next from the Illustrious John Beckett  “Temple of the Morrigan

We will also be having a Coru Meet and Greet party in our hospitality suite on Sunday night at 7 pm with a premiere of the Poems of the Morrigan recording project in the Temple room at 9 pm.  The recording project came about during the funding campaign for Morpheus’s upcoming book on the Morrigan, The Book of the Great Queen.  It consists of the Morrigan’s poetry, in the original Irish and in English, as well as a few chants and a song.  I’ve had the pleasure of hearing these recordings and they are moving and powerful.

Other events that are being put on by Coru members are Poetess and Prophetess: The Morrigan and Poetry, put on by Morpheus and Rynn Fox, and a Woman’s Self Defense class, taught by Scott Rowe and Amelia Hogan Sunday at 9 am in Pine room.  As well as the third year of the Blood Drive that we helped to create.

So it’s gearing up to be a great year at Pantheacon, I hope to get the chance to meet some of you there.

Not THAT Kind of Priest: or why I don’t proselytize for the Morrigan

Putrification - Valerie Herron http://www.valerieherron.com/

Putrification – Valerie Herron
http://www.valerieherron.com/

What causes a particular god or goddess to surge in popularity and how does that affect the community that is already in relationship with that deity?   In many cases of this phenomena the media has a role to play in popularizing the deity, and the public interest in said deity spikes after a particular movie, television show, or book appears on the market. In some cases the particular deity has an aspect that resonates with people because of the political or physical atmosphere that the individual exists in. Sometimes, there is a rare occurrence where it appears that the deity themselves are actively recruiting devotees into their worship. In the case of the Morrigan all of these factors seem to be in play to one degree or another. There have been a number of appearances of the Morrigan in popular media, all of them rather horrible, portraying her in a juvenile light, petty and vengeful and of course sexy. A Google search for images of the Morrigan leads one to a wasteland of video game characters and gothy waifs with ravens, with a few stunning images thrown in. The Morrigan does indeed have aspects of who she is that resonate with people because of the social and political climate that we live in. The concepts of personal sovereignty and fighting for what you believe in speak to people in a world where our sovereignty and integrity are challenged every day. People look to the Morrigan for the strength they need to stand up to a system that marginalizes all but the wealthiest and whitest male members. It is these aspects of the Morrigan that call some people to her. Sometimes though, she calls to people herself.

Being a public priest of the Morrigan has been an interesting journey. One of the benefits of it has been that I have been able to connect with a surprisingly large number of people with very similar experiences. The most common pattern goes along the lines of “I keep having dreams, nightmares or visions of the Morrigan and I don’t know what to do” or “The Morrigan has shown up in my life and my life is chaos now”. The sheer number of and commonalities in these experiences are significant and point to a metaphysical reality that is hard to deny. The Morrigan is active and is calling her people. It leads to the question: as her priests, how can we best serve not only her, but those that she calls as well?

The nature of this dynamic creates a situation where the practice of proselytizing, the active and sometimes aggressive recruitment to one’s religion commonly practiced by some, is unnecessary, presumptive, and potentially harmful to some.  Proselytizing is spiritual arrogance, the self aggrandized mentality that you have found the “true” path that is not only right for you but the proper path for all.   Let be honest, save the tragically lonely, nobody likes having Jehovah’s Witnesses or Mormon’s show up at your door to try to convert you to their particular brand of religion.  As well-mannered and polite as they almost always are, having someone show up at your door to sell you something, be it a product, insurance, or a belief system, is an imposition, often annoying and patently insulting.  The other side of proselytizing, the practice of traveling to other cultures and pushing your religion on tribal communities and the very poor,  is even more harmful and criminally self-serving.  As Pagans, we should strive to avoid this type of imposition on others.  Spirituality is not a one size fits all concept.  Paganism is not for everyone and we shouldn’t act as if it is.  If we want to show the world that our path is a viable one we must do that with our actions, not our arguments.  We must be the type of individuals that people look at and want to emulate, not salespeople and charlatans.

In the case of those of us called by a goddess such as the Morrigan, proselytizing is even less appropriate and potentially harmful to people.  The Morrigan is not the right fit for everyone.  She is a goddess that demands valor and sacrifice from her children.  Working with her can be demanding and disturbing.  She is a goddess that challenges you, mentally, physically, and spiritually. She will almost always drag you kicking and screaming from your comfort zone and destroy the constructs in your life that compromise your personal sovereignty. If you accept her call, the path she sets you on is a path of shadows and terror, and also a path of service and accountability. She asks us to face aspects of existence that are uncomfortable and frightening to most.  She is not for the faint of heart or the weak, for the process of coming to terms with these concepts, death, battle, violence, can be damaging to some, and disastrous to fragile personalities.  And yet, we are often asked by people why we don’t “talk about the more positive aspects of the Morrigan” or “encourage people to follow her”.

The short answer is that we do talk about the positive aspects of having a devotional relationship with the Morrigan, when its appropriate. We also talk about the dangerous aspects of that same relationship, because in our experience the gods are real individuals. To us the gods are not interchangeable and of no consequence. All goddesses are not just aspects of “the Goddess’ and all gods are not just aspects of “the God” but real individual entities that have agency, agendas and the power to affect the world and our lives.

As a priest of the Morrigan, it is not my job to my goddess by emphasizing her gentler aspects and glossing over her fiercer and scarier aspects. As her priest I have an obligation to face and to attempt to understand some of the darker sides of human nature and our existence. War, death, rage, blood, and decay are not only foundational parts of the Morrigan, they are foundational parts of the world. They are not aberrations that we can or should strive to overcome through some sort of “spiritual enlightenment”, but in fact true spiritual enlightenment comes when one starts to be a peace with these aspects of the process of life and to attempt to understand their roles in the natural world. “World Peace” is not a thing. There has never been a time in our history where there was global peace and there isn’t going to be an era of world peace in the future. Nature is not peaceful, therefore we are not peaceful. This isn’t to say that we shouldn’t make efforts in our lives to make our world safe and just, but it means that by turning away from these more undesirable or frightening aspects of the natural world we cripple ourselves. We futilely attempt to distance ourselves from things that will not be denied, and when those undeniable things creep up on us, sidle up to us, or kick down our door, we end up being woefully unprepared to face them. As devotees of a goddess that is intimately tied to battle, terror, and violence, it would be foolish for us to try to avoid facing and understanding these things, and as a public priest of the Morrigan, it would be irresponsible for me to gloss over the more terrifying faces of my goddess’s nature in order to avoid scaring people away from making binding oaths to her before they had a nuanced understanding of her.

This is why I do not proselytize for the Morrigan. My duty as her priest is not to tell people of the “good news” of the Morrigan, it’s not to convert people into starting a devotional relationship with her, and it’s not to make the Morrigan more palatable to the general public by emphasizing her safer aspects and downplaying the more dangerous ones. The Morrigan calls you if she wants you and if and when that call comes, you have the choice of what type of relationship, if any at all, that you would like to pursue with her. As her priest it is my duty to assist people in navigating the chaos and challenges that almost always come with contact with her.  She demands strength and truth from her own along with determination and valor. It is a path I chose for myself and in choosing it, altered the direction of my life drastically. It was absolutely the correct choice for me and the rewards that I have received far outweigh that challenges that I face on it, but I also recognize that it is not the right path for everyone. The charge from my goddess is to walk this path in integrity and provide honest council for others that have also been called by her, to provide a realistic road map to a devotional practice with the Morrigan that honestly marks the dangers, pitfalls, and rewards of this journey so that others can make informed decisions about the steps along their own paths to her.