Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Sovereignty of Compassion- Pantheacon 2012

It has been a few days since Pantheacon ended and after finding the space to collect my own thoughts and feelings on the subject of this years convention I believe I have a few things to share with you.

First, Pantheacon was absolutely a success. I would love to congratulate the Pantheacon event staff and Glenn Turner for their amazing work! Putting together an event of any magnitude is a task let alone one of Pantheacon’s proportions. Let’s not let controversy drown out the good work these people have done.  I am hereby extending sincere gratitude from myself and The Living Temple of Diana. Tim Titus put it wonderfully in his post on the Juggler where he cites his own experiences seeing unity amongst the attendees of the convention.

Secondly I wish to address the happenings before and during the Rite of the Bear Mother.

My “partner in crime” Yeshe Rabbit has also posted about this. You can read her thoughts here.

Shortly after Pantheacon 2011 a scandal broke out within our community surrounding the inclusion of transgender women in cis-female only space. We have all seen the details to this so I won’t retell a tired story but I would like to share with everyone what has been going on behind the scenes for the past year in preparation for this year’s event.

After the Z made her statement concerning trans individuals my community came crashing down. I myself was outraged, saddened, and fearful of what it all meant. Our spiritual community is suppose to be our sanctuary, a place where we as individuals can go to find acceptance, understanding, and through shared space and find ways to process the stimuli of the external world. When she made her statement I believe we all felt that our sanctuary was threatened. We had the right to call for explanation, we had the right to point out the wrong, and we as a community had the right to create dialogue that would allow the sanctuary to once again become a place of security.

As the community’s awareness grew about the statement I saw friends, colleagues, contemporaries, and leaders being attacked. Members of our community saw fit to threaten the physical safety of other members, responses from CAYA were not “good enough” for those who felt threatened by the statement, and an all out flame war was launched. Deep seated emotions and wounding that so many of us carry from the outside world soon would swell up and it is my belief that before we knew it we had a monster on our hands, a monster that a year later we are still trying to fight.

In response to the community’s outrage I wrote a blog post condemning the language and terminology used within her statement. I too felt threatened, scared, and as if my sanctuary was under attack. In my own search for understanding and need for clarity I contacted Yeshe Rabbit of CAYA coven . She was not only quick to set the record straight for me but expressed a sincere concern for the wounding that had been caused. I learned that indeed no-one kicked any trans women out of the ritual, indeed there had been no mention from her or the Amazon Priestesses attacking trans women, and I also learned that the CAYA Coven has an open door policy for anyone who is willing to dedicate to the work- regardless of orientation. After all it is appropriately named Come As You Are Coven.

Within the series of phone calls and e-mail exchanges that proceeded I grew to develop a friendship with members of CAYA and Yeshe Rabbit, I listened to their own concerns about what this could all mean, and I heard the fear in their own voices about any pain that may have been caused. They were more concerned about how to help our community than they were in defending any statement that had been made. These were good people who were trying to do right by our community.

By Pagan Pride last spring Rabbit and I decided to create a ritual of healing for the community, and thus the Rite of the Bear Mother was born. In my own lineage we have women who we affectionately refer to as “Bear Women” or “Bear Mothers” and these women are women who have gone through the worst life has to offer and still found a way not only to empower themselves but to share their stories with the rest of us, offer counsel when issues arise, and to be moderators for intense dialogue. We felt that this form of sacred work would be a stepping stone for us as a community to find healing via a Dianic lens as such an overwhelming hatred began to brew which was being directed towards our traditions. We thought that by offering this ritual we could be the voice of change and progression, healing and compassion, love and collaboration.

For the next several months I created an open dialogue with members and clergy from my own temple about what to do next. Would this serve my temple or place it’s members under scrutiny by the public as I had just seen happen to CAYA? Is there a higher purpose for this work or would we just be feeding the beast that we as a greater pagan community had created? In the end all of the temple members had responded with, “ This is our work, this is our cause, this is the spirit of our teachings.”

As Pantheacon drew closer we held rehearsals, sometimes multiple times a week to prepare. We had no intention of showing up to Pantheacon half-heartedly. We are priests and priestesses within our tradition and we knew that we had work to do. I am so proud of our temple. They were dedicated to showing the world that it could be different and not only did we do that but we did it in collaboration with another group of Dianic’s! I cannot stress the importance of this. In the LTD we do not generally hold exclusionary space, we circle together as one tribe, one people. We do not recognize our souls to have gender, though we honor the need for gender mysteries we tend not to focus on them as other groups might. The Amazon Priestesses are however a women’s mysteries line.

At the very core of the two groups were large fundamental differences that at times were hard to see beyond. As the collaboration continued we had our share of head-bumping and discomfort that forced me as a priest to take a step back and question my own motives with this work. Even through all of the discomfort and fundamental differences we found a way not only as spiritual people to move beyond them but as adults who chose respectful dialogue over finger pointing and door slamming. It was not easy but as you could imagine the experience was eye-opening. We found ways to honor the sacredness of each group’s perspective and to find commonality not discourse.

Fast forward to last Sunday night. Shortly before our 9:00 pm ritual start time we received notice that Z was going to be making a statement before going into her own ritual in regards to her statement from last year. We had known that people would be holding silent protest outside of her ritual space, we knew that it was going to be an intense atmosphere, and we knew that we had an opportunity. The Rite of the Bear Mother was designed to bring healing to our community in response to the pain brought by her statement and for us to not be there when she would make this one would be anathema to the rituals purpose.

As we filtered down the hall dressed in our own ritual clothing ( both Z’s and our ritual were scheduled at the same time, on different sides of the hotel) we saw close to a hundred individuals sitting in silent protest outside of the room which would soon host Z Budapest’s The Sacred Body of Woman ritual. I saw members of the trans community holding signs that said “ All women are real women.” and “ All bodies are sacred.” I began to cry.

Doing my best to keep it together I took my place with the rest of those who would be leading The Rite of the Bear Mother. We sang both Z’s We all come from the Goddess and Thorn Coyle’s Divine Twins, weaving them together- singing first one, then the other, then back to the first. “We ALL come from the Goddess... We are light and we ARE CHANGE...” We stood with our backs to no-one, our voices to everyone, and our hearts on our sleeves for all to see. We chose to be love and understanding not towards one side or the other, but for all sides of this. We were not there in protest, not there in protection, we were there as fellow children of the Goddess who had been hurt by all this, empowered by all this, and healed because of it.

Z then came out to make her statement. She was clearly frustrated by all of this. People were sitting with their eyes closed facing her door in silent meditative protest, members of other traditions at one end of the hall there to help facilitate a positive exchange, all the way down on the other side of the hall we were singing a song that she wrote and then alternating to a song that Thorn had written. It was all so much to have going on at once. As she began to speak I found myself yet again almost in tears. Not because I felt what she was saying was particularly moving but that the guts it had to have taken to come out at all and say what she did in the midst of all the controversy. Before speaking she seemed to look around and ask “Who was there to hurt me?” and “Who was here to protect me?” I will admit, hearing a 72 year old woman concerned for her safety was not at all comforting nor what I had expected to find.

As she spoke she swallowed the discomfort the best any of us could and apologized for hurting people’s feelings, not retracting her previous statement. It did not feel ‘good enough’ to me. All those people who had been hurt, all those people who had been wounded, hell even I felt I needed a better apology than that. And then it hit me. She is an elder now who helped create and shape modern paganism to what we know it to be today. She has opinions that though I don’t agree with are her own. The simple fact that for every nine people there that were protesting there was one attendee to her ritual made it all clear! She does not represent the majority of us, we represent the majority. She is not a leader that can be voted out of office, she is not a politician who lobbies for the exclusion of trans individuals, she is a woman who comes from a particular world view that we as a greater community no longer feel to be valid in our modern times. She is the past and we are the future.

I find myself always saying in workshops that we must stand on the shoulders of those who helped create our community for what it is today. We need to not regurgitate their teachings but to make them our own and give our own take on them. Ladies and gentlemen the truth is Z is not the future but that her body of work did a lot of good for a lot of people. We don’t have to take the exclusionary separatist practices but we can draw on her experiences to create our own rites and practices. We need to figure out our own way of working these mysteries.

As she finished her statement we quickly made procession to the ritual space for Rite of the Bear Mother. As we entered the room we were surrounded by nearly 300 people, all there to celebrate their uniqueness as a whole being in the arms of the primal Goddess. The clergy from both groups did an outstanding job at facilitating and as the ritual unfolded I saw people crying, worshiping, holding hands, dancing, singing, and surrendering their pain to the Bear Mother, then soaking it back in as empowerment. Together all 300 of us lifted the pain we felt inside caused by sexual violence, discrimination, and abuse. It did not matter who had what bodies at birth but only that we were there, in that moment, and that we all decided it was time for change.

After the ritual we came out to find several people who were not only upset with us for showing up at Z’s space before her statement but condemning us for doing so- shouting, “Liars” and “Biggots” at myself and temple members. One trans woman even felt the need to cuss me out as I tried to explain that we were not there in support of Z or anyone else but to be there in support of change. “ I was there!” she shouted “ So was I!” I responded, “ You can’t lie to me I saw what happened!” she shouted again this time as she flipped us the bird and walked the other way. I couldn’t even soak up all the great work we had just done 20 minutes prior because our actions were already being misconstrued and clearly were not good enough for people on one side or the other.

Though I had had the rough experience just after ritual, on the way back to my room I was stopped by several people thanking me for the ritual, expressing their gratitude for helping them find peace and strength from the past year’s drama. Just from talking to those people I felt that we had succeeded in our mission! That night I stood with Rabbit as we decompressed and soaked it all in. The work was over for now and all of the months of planning, dialogue building, and dedication had culminated in a beautiful ritual.

Like clock-work I woke up the next morning to several posts about what we did not do right, I found that I had been booted from several networking groups, that I had lost a dozen or so FB friends, and that even though we had worked our butts off to help create and facilitate a positive change that we were being scrutinized.

This brings me to my final point; I don’t care if our actions have been misinterpreted, I don’t care that people are upset with us for showing up to hear a statement that had everything to do with the work that we had been doing, I don’t even care that now there are members of the community who don’t see fit to look at me in the eyes. I just don’t care.

I care about the fact that the Living Temple of Diana and the CAYA Grove of Artemis and Amazons found it in our own hearts to act like adults and work out our differences. I care about the fact that we were able to create a space for healing and empowerment for so many who felt pain. I care that at the end of the day I can sleep with myself knowing that we chose dialogue, discussion, and growth over middle-fingers, close minds, and hate-speech. I care that 90 people would choose to sit in silent protest sending love not hate.

The community seems to be throwing the word bigot around like it’s a hash-tag. The definition of bigot, which I think some people need to be educated on is: someone who is utterly intolerant of differing creed, belief, or opinion. I pose this question, aren’t we all guilty of being a little bigoted in all this? I have seen community leaders choose to feed the pain with hate speech. People we need to realize that hate speech against hate speech is just hate speech. There is no honor in my eyes in attacking Z with hate speech, each other with hate speech, or declaring holy war on this. We all have an opportunity right now to choose the higher road. I don’t condone what she said, I don’t agree with what she said as it is obviously wrong. We all know what she said is wrong right? We can all see that right? So why are we giving her so much attention? Let us call it like it is and move on because we all know that the way we have been handling this is not yielding results, so we need to discover a way that will.

I can not speak for the trans community as I am not trans but I can remain to be an ally to that community. I cannot speak for women as I am not a woman but I can remain an ally to that community. I am glad for my trans and cisgender sisters and trans and cisgender hetero brothers who are allies to me as a gay man.

I have said it a thousand times this year- Everyone is welcome in our temple. I wish that I could somehow take away the pain but we all know that that is deeply personal work. We have the option as sentient beings to continue to feed life force to the beast that is all this pain and discontent and allow our fires to burn with destruction or we can choose to let the fire be a forge, the forge that creates the future.

I have found healing in this work. I have been changed for the better. No one was trying to take my rights away as a victim, merely just showing me that there was a different way. I am dedicated to a better and stronger future for the pagan community where discussion replaces hate, where love replaces fear, and acceptance replaces intolerance. We all come from the Goddess and to her we shall return, we are beauty and we are darkness, we are light and we are change.

To quote Vietnamese Buddhist monk, teacher, and author Thich Nhat Hanh:

A human being is like a television set with millions of channels. If we turn the Buddha on, we are the Buddha. If we turn on sorrow, we are sorrow. If we turn a smile on, we really are the smile. We cannot let just one channel dominate us. We have the seed of everything in us and we have to seize the situation in our hand, to recover our own sovereignty.

In love,

Devin Hunter

Head Priest of The Living Temple of Diana
Host of The Modern Witch