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


  1. I'm so happy that you found inner peace. I don't know everything that happened as I was not there but reading this brought a tear to my eye. The passion and love you have for yourself and for what you believe in is beautiful. I'm proud to be a fb buddy to you and hope you the best in life and everything you do. Bright Blessings and Love to you.

  2. Devin,
    This was really amazing. The work you, and others, put into the ritual - bless you. We have got to have a drink (or 3) together.

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. Right on, Brother! This is such an important issue for our Beloved Community(s) and I thank you for adding your magic to this working!

    Waes hal | Be well.

  5. Well said brother. I held the sacred middle space along with you and my brothers of the Unnamed Path. If people cannot understand that then I have one statement for them. There are none so blind as those who will not see. I, like you, am not on one side of the other - I am in the middle, holding the healing space of connection and community. I love you brother and Rabbit, and the work you both did. Goddess bless you all.

  6. Astrid (and I may be misspelling her name here. I have only ever heard is spoken) was kicked out. I consider her family. Your awareness that includes the idea 'I learned that indeed no-one kicked any trans women out of the ritual' is flawed.

    1. Perlandia- Perhaps your friend Astrid would be interested in corresponding. Please give them my contact information- If that is all your concerns are regarding this post then I think I am doing well.

    2. That is not all my concerns. It is just the most immediate thing when a pre-pubescent daughter of my group was who Astrid found to be the only safe space in the moments after being turned away, and was soon joined by my housemate who tried to hold space until my best friend, who is a very skilled priestess, got there to basically do a soul retrieval for Astrid. I can anticipate that CAYA did not mean to exclude anyone and it was a terrible mistake, but to say it didn't happen?

      I will not expose Astrid to you more by my hand. But I will ask my best friend if this is a conversation she has time for.

    3. I had an opportunity to speak with my friend today. It is not that they don't have time, or are unwilling, but they are bound by ethics and duty not to talk about this at this time. Ethically, they would need to let Astrid know they were not trying to speak for her, and get the okay to share their personal experience. Duty, they did not have their priestess hat on at the time. They were there in another capacity. At that time, it was not a conflict of duty to act as a priestess. But they would have to get the okay from the perspective of their duty station to talk. Since it has since come out in the Facebook page that convention programming has spoken with Astrid and she is not interested in becoming a symbol, ethical permission is unlikely.

      Astrid was the name used during the gender discussion on 3:30 on Sunday, and Astrid self identified as the person who was turned away. That is why I am using that name here.

  7. You rock. Rabbit rocks. Congrats on working together so powerfully and for creating such an amazing response to all this and if people can't understand the hard work you put into this, then they're just not paying attention. This was pure magic.

  8. I hope this first-hand account of what happened and the intentions behind the actions helps to bring some healing about. This is such a painful subject for so many. What you all did was a wonderful gesture that seems to have been taken very far from it's intention.

  9. As with any community, we ourselves can be our worst enemy. What we do to our own community is far more harmful than any outsider can do. I will not take sides, but I am always sorry when we divide ourselves up. Those divisions can be long lasting. We can disagree, but we must also protect the rights of the person we disagree with.It should not ever be my way or the highway. Isn't that one reason many present day Pagan left Christianity. It will not do to recreate those faults in our own practice. It seems tome that any healing ceremony has to take in account the needs of those that are going to be served. Healing often must be done in stages.In some of those stages we may have to restrict whom we can deal with, then widen that group with every healing. So restricted ceremonies may be necessary early in the healing.we can only get to where we want to be by starting where we actually are. Z was careless in what she said, take her to task if you will, but I have to wonder with all the tension, what was it like to the people who needed to attend her ceremony. Could it have been a bit like going to a women's clinic surrounded by anti-abortion demonstrators. Now I am certain Pagans would be a bit more genteel, but remember we are talking about wounded people going to the ceremony. While the anger was towards Z, we dare not forget innocent bystanders, the wounded going for a healing. If that doe not matter, then I think I would not want to be considered Pagan. Again if Z is in the wrong in what she said, and I think she was, still we must prevent collateral damage, to use a military term.Otherwise how are we better than the mainstream religions.

    1. Did you just SERIOUSLY compare trans people and allies to anti-abortion protesters? SERIOUSLY?

    2. Mr.Blackwell I have to tell you that I think you are misdirected with this. First, lets leave the Christians out of this one, we got ourselves into this mess. Also, to compare the anti-abortion protesters to those who were outside of Z's ritual is absolutely an overshot on your end. Those who were protesting were sitting, eyes closed, mouths shut.

      As I highlighted in the post we seem to have taken pain from other fractions of our lives and are using that pain to feed this situation. I would ask that we come up with a more direct and to-the point approach when dealing with this topic, no innuendo or metaphors- just the facts please, we have enough lies circulating that are making this confusing.

    3. Even a group of protesters sitting still, eyes closed, mouths shut can still be extremely intimidating to those in search of healing at Z's ritual. I wasn't there, but I understood what Mr. Blackwell was getting at.

    4. ditto on what Autumn said. I walked down that hall and of course it could be nothing like raging hateful anti-ab.prtesters. However, as we are Pagans and very sensitive to all energies all around us, you could definitely feel the stress and opposition rising from the windowed side. I can vouch that it did feel like walking a gauntlet. In the end, I could attend no ritual during that hour; my heart was too sad, my own energy sapped, my loyalties torn.

  10. thanks for sharing your perspective, this was beautiful. Be blessed

  11. Devin thank you so much for this blog entry. I've been closely following the renewed controversy ever since I found out about Z. Budapest's rite from David Salisbury. It is hard to believe it has only been a week. Since Friday, February 17th I've been reading every thing I could find to get a more complete understanding of what went on during PantheaCon: first from various Facebook pages, then blog entries by Rowan Pendragon, Storm Faerywolf, Rabbit, The Wild Hunt, David Salisbury, and finally yours, which gives the most complete picture to date. My opinions around this issue continue to evolve (and for once I'm going to keep them - well most of them - to myself. LOL!), but please know that you and your family did something wonderful on Sunday night. Please take care of yourself and Best Wishes Always, Padraig.

  12. I think you and many others are being to damned soft on Z Budapest and her ilk.

    It's 2012 and I'm so damned tired of having these bigoted pieces of garbage around spewing this bigotry and perpetrating their hate. They are nothing less than a stain on the pagan community.

    I don't see the point of a silent protest. We need a day of rage. They'll never get it until they feel the full weight and fury of how angry we are at bigots who think it's perfectly to discriminate in the name of our gods and goddesses. We need to be in their face with our displeasure about this.

    Let's make it clear. Only one person gets to decide what gender you are and that person is you. We need to stop coddling these perpetrators of discrimination.

    I have many MtF and FtM friends. I'm sad to say that the FtM people face much the same bigotry as is inflicted by Z Budapest and her ilk.

    There have been many times where I drove home a car full of MtF people from a BDSM club. I wondered what the headlines would have been if we were to have crashed. Would have been interesting. But I did it because they were people from my community and they needed a safe way to get home. That's what being a member of a community is about.

    People like Z Budapest who degrade and discriminate are our enemies as surely as the Christians and the Muslims are. We need to be as uncompromising with them as we are with the latter. We need to treat them no differently.

    If aware that another is wicked, say so:
    Make no truce or treaty with foes.

    You can't have Nazism without Z.

    Cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war.

    Eric Wolfsbane

    1. I don't think you are understanding. We had our day of rage, about a year ago. Since then hundreds of pagans have gone to work trying to heal the wounds, directly identify the issues, and cultivate a better future. This is no new thing, this has all been going on for a long long time. Suddenly Z makes a statement and BAM the community has someone to hate.

      It has not done any good. At this point we need to either help those who are helping others or we need to step aside. There is work to be done and we the community need to see that. Hate speech just breeds more war and discontent, comparing Z to the Nazi's is absolutely as 'bigoted' as what she said.

      I have a dozen or so trans friends who I couldn't live without, who came to me and said "lets do something about this!" And we did. If you want to fan the flames of war you my friend are barking up the wrong tree. We are over victimization, over wild accusations, and over holding onto pain that in no way serves us.

    2. With respect Devin. You're not getting it.

      It's going to take more than one day of rage or ten or a hundred. The war's not over until Z and her ilk get it, that transfolk get to decide their own gender. If really care about your trans friends you've got to be prepared to be in the battle for the long haul.

      As Mohandas Gandhi said, "First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win."

      As Mao said, "The enemy advances, we retreat; the enemy camps, we harass; the enemy tires, we attack; the enemy retreats, we pursue."

      Comparing Z to the Nazis is a succinct slogan that looks good on a sign. Signs are always useful at a protest.

  13. This comment has been removed by the author.

  14. Devin-- I appreciate the honesty and clarity of everything you posted. Especially this:"... 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." is the message I feel many were hoping would be understood. Particularly the Last Sentence. this has seemed most logical to me from the beginning. No one is asking transfolk to refrain from creating their own beautiful and healing rituals;there are a number of ethical, experienced clergy from all paths who would be honored to co-create and conduct such a thing! I agree with the person who said something like "why would I want to go into something where I am not appreciated?" I would ask transfolk to bring your own energy, your own medicine, your own healing and mysteries which are profound and unique to trans history and experience to make a ritual. The encouragement and love of everyone would support that to the utmost! Can there be any better argument for your own validity than creating in love for the healing of transwomen? have what you like, multiple rituals, maybe some for transmen, some for transwomen, invite cis-folk if you like, or if you don't, just make it yours!

    In the words of poet June Jordan: "WE are the Ones we've been Waiting for." Devin is right; take up the banner and be the kind of leaders you believe should lead. The strange energy which started this whole thing can be transformed, but only by trans and their allies. Be couragous and lead with love instead of remnants of anger or focusing on former mis-deed/understandings,etc. The pain felt last year, the confusion this year, is all real and valid. It has been acknowledged, has brought forward courage from many sources, and will not be forgotten. let's go forward in love, as Glenn likes to sing "Give yourself to Love if love is what you're after". Are we after love? or more pain? This is your chance transfolk, carpe diem. Devin- I think you do "get it.

    1. Nistree, the reason this is a serious issue came to pass at Pagan Spirit Gathering this summer - at PSG there were four main, community-building rites. Two rites for the whole community, regardless of gender, and two single gender rites at the same time. One of the single-gender rites was for all self-identified men. The other was written and performed by Z Budapest's student, Ruth Barrett, designed for and given for cissexual women only. Transsexual women, in case you have not noticed, were pointedly excluded from the gendered rites with no recourse.

      In the words of another poet, Dee Snyder, "We're not gonna take it anymore."