Hex The System, Bind The Perpetrator

Regarding the hexing of the perpetrator of the Stanford rape case. I am not sure why the Steubenville rape case didn’t provoke a similar response, but maybe it did and we just didn’t hear about it. I am saddened that many articles failed to report that the people doing the hexing also sent healing to the victim.

My preferred method in such cases is to bind the person not to cause harm again, by placing a mirror around a poppet of them. If they cause harm it will rebound on them; if they do good, it will bless them. So the binding acts as a way of reinforcing good behaviour. I guess it is still a hex in some ways, but it is about limiting the harm that the person can cause.

The rapist is a complete arsehole and so is his father, and they both need to realise the consequences of their behaviour and attitudes, but they are the end result of a system of white privilege and male privilege and rape culture and failing to teach kids what consent culture looks like. We need to start work on tearing down that system. Fine, so you have hexed a rapist. Are you working to help transform the culture that created his apparent lack of awareness that what he was doing was wrong?

Others have pointed out that claiming that the Goddess, or the gods, endorse your actions is somewhat hubristic, and arrogates the vision and judgement of the gods to your own finite perspective.  Your actions, the consequences of your actions, and your views, are your responsibility.

Erin Lund Johnson’s comment on Erick Dupree’s article is an excellent suggestion:

I read the letter written by the rape victim. She was appalled at the light sentence, but even more so by her attacker’s continued defiance, even in the face of his guilty verdict. She mostly wished for him to “get it.” I would hex him with that–the burden of fully understanding what he’d done, and the impact he’d had, of experiencing her inner experience. That would enlighten him more than anything, and change his attitude and behavior. For those who haven’t read this letter yet, please do. Her voice, above all else in this, needs to be heard and honored.

http://www.independent.co.uk/n…

In this particular case, the moving testimony of the victim has shocked many people into thinking about what it is like to be raped, perhaps for the first time. Many of my male friends have said that they cried while reading her testimony. Thank you for your compassion, my friends. Personally, I have read too many such accounts to shed tears any more. I feel a huge and sickened void inside me, numb and paralysed. I suspect that my female friends have also read, or heard, too many such accounts already.

The one bright spot in all of this is the two Swedish guys who stopped to help the victim and bring the perpetrator to justice. Their names are Carl-Fredrik Arndt and Peter Jonsson. It is very good to know that they were paying attention and that they intervened. It’s possible that they actually saved her life.

If you don’t think that white privilege is involved in this case, read what happened to Brian Banks, who also had a promising sporting career, but is Black, so was sentenced to six years in prison – despite being innocent.

If you think that “nice” people don’t commit rape and sexual assault, think again.

photo by Sundaram Ramaswamy, CC-BY-SA

The shadow. [photo by Sundaram Ramaswamy, CC-BY-SA]

A system that still tries to blame a woman for being sexually assaulted is deeply flawed. That is rape culture, right there. The fact that a judge who went to the same university as the perpetrator can judge the case without it occurring to anyone that there is a conflict of interest there, and then give the rapist only six months in jail – words fail me. The fact that his “promising sporting career” was taken into account: ugh. He ruined his prospects: no-one else did that. A system that sends a Black guy to prison for six years, but sends a white guy to prison for six months: deeply flawed. A system that encourages young men to think they are entitled to sex, that’s it’s OK, or that it’s not rape, to put your penis or your fingers into an unconscious woman: deeply flawed. As Emlyn Pearce has pointed out, there is a culture of toxic masculinity that needs to be challenged:

You can’t fix this situation, but you are young, and you can fix yourself. You NEED to fix yourself, Brock: those around you still seem to claim that your conviction has damaged you, but you were already damaged when you took a valuable, much-loved human being behind a trash can and raped her in the dirt. What you are seeing now is the consequences of your damage, not its cause.

That is why we need to hex rape culture, and white privilege, and male entitlement. We need to bring about the realisation, once and for all, that rape and sexual assault are the end result of a failure to teach people about consent, a failure to create a culture of consent, and respect, and sovereignty. Sure, we need to make this rapist feel and understand the consequences of his actions – but we need to get all men to understand that women are not property.

It’s not enough to hex a rapist. There are conversations to be had about how women are blamed for being raped while drunk, and men are excused for perpetrating rape while drunk. There are many difficult conversations to be had where we explore together what a consent culture looks like – because we are currently living in a rape culture, and we have to work out how to create a consent culture.

The other day, I fended a man off who wanted to kiss me on the cheek and got snitty when I said no. Another man asked me for a hug (good that he asked). Then he asked my husband if that was OK. GRRR!!! A hug is not sexual, and it is up to me who I hug, not my husband. I am not his property.  This kind of incident happens too frequently for me to dismiss it as merely one person being an idiot. I see examples of male assumptions of entitlement being discussed very frequently on social media. That’s why I think rape culture is deeply ingrained, and we need to do some serious work to uproot it. And the same applies to deeply ingrained racism. It’s not enough to be not openly sexist and not openly racist: you actually have to actively work to uproot internalised misogyny, internalised homophobia, and internalised racism, as well as working to uproot systemic racism, systemic misogyny, and systemic homophobia and transphobia. Yes, it is hard work. Anything worthwhile is hard work.

If a man assumes he is entitled to physical contact (sexual or otherwise) with a woman, do you challenge this assumption? If another man treats your partner as your property, do you challenge that behaviour? If you saw a woman (unconscious or otherwise) being raped, would you intervene? If you saw a woman in a hijab being vilified and attacked, would you intervene?

 

You’ll Never Walk Alone

I am not a football fan, personally, but I have always believed that the fans in the Hillsborough disaster were innocent.

For those who are not familiar with what happened, on 15 April 1989, there was a huge crush at the football stadium where Liverpool fans had gathered to watch their team in the semi-finals of the FA Cup. Due to fears of football hooligans, the spectator areas were arranged in pens. In part because of the poor way that these had been constructed, and in part because of overcrowding, one of these pens collapsed and 96 people were killed.

I will never forget the time I was at Paddington Station in London, trying to get back to Bristol, and there had been a football match. Barriers were set up all along the platform, and the fans (and me) were herded along the platform, and had to queue for ages to get on the train. They were apparently used to this sort of treatment and responded with good humoured banter to the whole thing. I had not experienced this corralling before, and found it extremely frustrating, claustrophobic, and potentially panic-inducing. I was only calmed down by the good-natured chat of the football fans.

At the time of the Hillsborough disaster, police and politicians tried to pin the blame on the fans – but now, after the third judicial inquiry into what happened, it has been ruled that the fans were unlawfully killed.

As Jeremy Corbyn said in his statement,

Today, after 27 long years, the 96 victims of the Hillsborough tragedy – and their families – have finally received justice.

The youngest victim was just 10, Jon-Paul Gilhooley, and the oldest was 67 years old, Gerard Bernard Patrick Baron. These were fans that went to a football match, as so many of us do, on the 15th April 1989, but never returned to their loved ones.

I pay tribute to the families and friends of all the victims of the tragedy – as well as many others from the city of Liverpool – for the passionate and dignified campaign they have fought for almost three decades.

Today they received total vindication for their fight for the truth and for justice.

But what does all this tell us about the state of British society? In my opinion, it tells us that the ruling classes want to create a caricature of working class people as an unruly mob of workshy slobs who eat terrible food and behave badly at football matches. The authorities also made efforts to conceal the truth about what actually happened. The ruling classes fear the solidarity and organisation of the working classes, and have done their best to destroy it by undermining or destroying the power of the unions, and removing every social measure that creates an even playing-field for the less-well-off. Council houses were sold off, utilities privatised, and now they are trying to destroy the NHS. However, perhaps this victory for the Hillsborough families means that the tide is turning. I hope so.

It also tells us that you don’t get justice without struggling for it, campaigning for it, and organising together in solidarity to get it. It tells us that the families of the victims of the Hillsborough disaster pulled together, through thick and thin, for 27 years to get their victory. As the Liverpool football anthem has it, “You’ll never walk alone”.

By Linksfuss - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7337412

Liverpool fans unfurl a banner displaying the names of the deceased on the twentieth anniversary of the disaster. Photo by LinksfussOwn work, CC BY-SA 3.0.

I congratulate the Hillsborough families for their victory. Justice at last. The names of the victims are no longer besmirched – may they rest in peace. As The Hávamál puts it:

Cattle die, kindred die,
Every man is mortal:
But the good name never dies
Of one who has done well.

That is why posthumous reputation is so important. Now that the Hillsborough victims’ good names are restored, perhaps they can rest a little easier.

These victories (small or great) for social justice are won by real people getting together in solidarity, setting aside their differences, to campaign for truth and justice. Yes, we must change ourselves, but we can and will change the world by working together. We cannot sit idly by, arguing about how many gods can dance on the head of a pin, in the face of climate change and social injustice and environmental destruction. My theological musings tend to be of a mostly practical nature: how to put our values into practice, and how our theology underpins the struggle for social justice. I chose my values (of democracy, fairness, justice, equality for all, environmentalism) on the basis that all life is sacred. The gods I am in relationship with also seem to share these values – otherwise I wouldn’t be in relationship with them.

PAGAN CONSENT CULTURE Anthology Is Available!

Pagan Consent Culture - cover by Shauna Aura Knight

cover by Shauna Aura Knight

Christine Hoff Kraemer and Yvonne Aburrow are pleased to announce the release of Pagan Consent Culture: Building Communities of Empathy and Autonomy, a new collection from Asphodel Press.

How might a Druid understand consent? How about a Wiccan, a Thelemite, a Heathen, or a Polytheist? In this collection, Pagans of many traditions show how to ground good consent practices in Pagan stories, liturgies, and values.

Although many Pagans see the body and sexuality as sacred, Pagan communities still struggle with the reality of assault and abuse. To build consent culture, good consent practices must be embraced by communities, not just by individuals—and consent is about much more than sexuality. Consent culture begins with the idea of autonomy, with recognizing our right to control our bodies and selves in all areas of life; and it is sustained by empathy, the ability to understand and share the emotional states of others.

In Part One of Pagan Consent Culture, writers develop specifically Pagan philosophies of consent, tackling complex issues such as power differentials, sexual initiation, rape culture in traditional myths, and relationships with the gods. Part Two presents personal narratives of abuse and healing, as well as policies to help prevent sexual abuse and assault and to effectively respond to it when it occurs. Finally, Part Three provides resources for teaching and practicing consent culture, including curricula and exercises for children and adults.

Pagan Consent Culture is available from Asphodel Press (via Lulu.com) in paperback and electronic formats.

Check out the Pagan Consent Culture website for further resources, as well as a free study guide!

www.paganconsentculture.com

 

Table of Contents

Part I: Developing Pagan Philosophies of Consent

  • Culture of Consent, Culture of Sovereignty: A Recipe from a Druid’s Perspective, by John Beckett
  • Thelema and Consent, by Brandy Williams
  • Consent within Heathenry, by Sophia Sheree Martinez
  • Matriarchy and Consent Culture in a Feminist Pagan Community, by Yeshe Rabbit
  • Wicca and Consent, by Yvonne Aburrow
  • The Anderson Faery Tradition and Sexual Initiation: An Interview with Traci, by Helix
  • Consent. Contact. An Animist Approach to Consent, by Theo Wildcroft
  • Seeking a Morality of Difference: A Polytheological Approach to Consent, by Julian Betkowski
  • The Charge of the Goddess: Teachings about Desire and Its End, and Their Limitations, by Grove Harris
  • Walking the Underworld Paths: BDSM, Power Exchange, and Consent in a Sacred Context, by Raven Kaldera
  • Saving Iphigenia: Escaping Ancient Rape Culture through Creating Modern Myths, by Thenea Pantera
  • Is “Tam Lin” a Rape Story? Yes, Maybe, and No, by A. Acland
  • Godspousery and Consent, by Sebastian Lokason

Part II: Responding to Abuse and Assault

  • The Third Degree: Exploitation and Initiation, by Jason Thomas Pitzl
  • From Fear into Power: Transforming Survivorship Sarah Twichell Rosehill
  • In the Midst of Avalon: Casualties of the Sexual Revolution, by Katessa S. Harkey
  • Responding to Abuse in the Pagan Community, by Cat Chapin-Bishop
  • Sexual Assault and Abuse Prevention: Safeguarding Policies for Pagan Communities, by Kim and Tracey Dent-Brown, with the Triple Horse Coven
  • The Rite and Right of Refusal: Sexual Assault Prevention and Response in Communities and at Festivals, by Diana Rajchel
  • Sex-Positive, Not Sex-Pressuring: Consent, Boundaries, and Ethics in Pagan Communities, by Shauna Aura Knight
  • Living in Community with Trauma Survivors, by Lydia M. N. Crabtree
  • Consent in Intergenerational Community, by Lasara Firefox Allen

Part III: Building Communities of Autonomy and Empathy

  • Mindful Touch as a Religious Practice, by Christine Hoff Kraemer
  • Consent Culture: Radical Love and Radical Accessibility, by Stasa Morgan-Appel
  • Wild Naked Pagans and How to Host Them, by Tom Swiss
  • Respect, Relationship and Responsibility: UU Resources for Pagan Consent Education, by Zebrine Gray
  • Self-Possession as a Pillar of Parenting, by Nadirah Adeye
  • Paganism, Children, and Consent Culture: An Interview with Sierra Black, by Sarah Whedon
  • Teaching Consent Culture: Tips and Games for Kids, Teens, and Adults, by Christine Hoff Kraemer
  • Asperger’s Syndrome and Consent Culture: An Interview with Vinnie West, Joshua Tenpenny, and Maya Kurentz, by Raven Kaldera
  • Consent in Gardnerian Wiccan Practice, by Jo Anderson, with the Triple Horse Coven
  • Teaching Sex Magick, by Sable Aradia
  • Healing the Hungry Heart, by B. B. Blank

Appendices

  • Additional Resources
  • Sample Handout: Tradition-Specific Consent Culture Class
  • The Earth Religion Anti-Abuse Resolution (1988)
  • A Pagan Community Statement on Religious Sexual Abuse (2009)

 

Making Meaning at the Movies

The Patheos Public Square question for this month is:

Has Hollywood Become Our National Conscience? Many 21st-century movies—both animated children’s films and big production feature films—have tackled moral and cultural questions in ways that have shaped the public conversation. Is this good and helpful or dangerous? In what ways has Hollywood asked the right questions and shaped the discourse? Can the art of movie-making be an act of social justice?

My answer is, I suppose, “it depends”. If the agenda of the film is generally progressive and inclusive, that’s great — but there are also some harmful tropes in Hollywood movies, and some disappointing things.

Superheroes

Honestly – if I never see another uncritical superhero movie, that’ll be just fine. I am fed up of lone vigilantes and their superpowers. Give me the complex and multifaceted heroes of the Marvel universe, like the X-Men (and women), and that’s much more interesting and diverse. The notion that we will all be saved by Superman or Batman is deeply flawed and annoying. My favourite superhero movie is of course The Incredibles. I also really liked Megamind, because it was ultra-critical of the squeaky-clean superhero. The problem with the whole notion of superheroes like Superman is that they promote the notion that problems can only be solved by a single individual with superpowers, and that there is some evolutionary arc that points towards the appearance of superheroes.

Revenge

One of the worst things about Hollywood movies is the idea that a man who has been wronged can and should go out like a lone vigilante and take revenge. This is found in film after film and seems to be regarded as mostly unproblematic. Vengeful people end up hurting innocent bystanders and they don’t actually benefit the person they are trying to take vengeance for. It is also part of the rugged individualism that is often claimed to be part of the American psyche. Really, you should all be slightly grumpy and moany like the English. It’s much more fun.

White saviour complex

Another really bad trope is “white people solve racism”, because according to this trope, obviously Black people couldn’t have been resisting and organising on their own, they clearly need a “white saviour” to come and rescue them. Hence we have films about white anti-slavery and anti-racism activists, but not so many about Black activists. The situation is improving here – but the dire example of the film The Help tells you everything you need to know about this phenomenon.

Everyone in the movies is white, male, and straight

A related phenomenon is the notion that everyone in the future is white. Obviously Gene Roddenberry (Star Trek) did his very best to kick this notion into the long grass, with the wonderful Ahura (played by Nichelle Nichols), and other great characters. Firefly and Babylon 5 also get honourable mentions here for having more than one excellent black character (the doctor in Babylon 5, and Zoe and Shepherd Book in Firefly).   But other films and TV shows quite frequently have an overwhelming number of white characters. But where are the LGBT characters?

I was very excited by the new Star Wars movie, The Force Awakens, from the perspective of equality. There’s a film that passes the Bechdel Test.

For those who are unfamiliar with it, the Bechdel Test

asks whether a work of fiction features at least two women who talk to each other about something other than a man. The requirement that the two women must be named is sometimes added.

Another measure of representation is the DuVernay Test:

… named after critically-acclaimed director Ava DuVernay behind 2014’s Martin Luther King, Jr. biopic Selma.

Newly coined by the New York Times writer Manohla Dargis, the DuVernay test passes if a film portrays “fully realized” African Americans and other minorities who have their own plotlines, motivations, desires, and actions that are not informed by white characters.

However, the fact that we needed a Bechdel Test and a DuVernay Test in the first place, because there are so few films that have well-rounded female characters or people of colour in them, is sad.

A Tumblr blog, Every Single Word, has highlighted the lack of representation of people of colour in Hollywood films. Buzzfeed’s Fiona Rutherford explains:

The project’s founder, Dylan Marron, cuts and edits movies to remove all lines spoken by Caucasians – and the resulting clips are pretty depressing.

In the Biblical epic Noah, for example, there are no speaking roles at all for people of colour.

Films like Selma have been redressing the balance a little bit, as did Steven Spielberg’s film Amistad, which mainly focused on the black characters liberating themselves.

But then we get absolute face-palm moments like the fact that the film Suffragette completely failed to include any women of colour in it, despite the fact that there have been Black and Asian people in Britain for centuries (though not as many as there are now), and ignoring the fact that Sophia Duleep Singh was the next President of the Committee of the Suffragette Fellowship after Mrs Pankhurst’s death, and was active as a suffragette around the time depicted by the film.

There is an equivalent test for LGBT inclusion in films, called the Russo Test:

  • The film contains a character that is identifiably lesbian, gay, bisexual and/or transgender.
  • That character must not be solely or predominantly defined by their sexual orientation or gender identity (i.e. the character is made up of the same sort of unique character traits commonly used to differentiate straight characters).
  • The LGBT character must be tied into the plot in such a way that their removal would have a significant effect.

The obvious film that would pass this test would be the recent film Pride, which was totally awesome and most of the characters were gay and lesbian (though there were no bisexuals or transgender people). It wasn’t a Hollywood film though, it was a British film.

Apparently the film Stonewall (about the Stonewall Riots) was really disappointing, in that it made all the trans people (who were most of the main instigators of the riot) into gay characters instead. And reviews of Dallas Buyers’ Club (in which the main character was trans) were mixed, but it was widely agreed that the trans character should have been played by a trans person.

However, things are looking up: back in the day, LGBT, Black, and women’s films were considered niche and special interest. Now they are making big bucks at the box office, that notion is being gradually overturned. But the fact that Suffragette, Stonewall, and similar films were made at all – even with the massive flaws that they had – is encouraging. They could still have been a lot better, though. On balance, I would say that Hollywood these days is generally progressive, but could try harder.

The under-represented, the misrepresented, and the invisible

What about making a decent film about Native Americans (and no, Dances with Wolves does not qualify). Films about trans characters seem woefully thin on the ground, and I can’t remember ever seeing a film about a bisexual character. And some films about Pagans that represent us as something other than teen witches whose spells go horribly wrong (like in The Craft) or witches who never actually do any rituals (like Practical Magic) or witches who summon a demon Jack Nicholson (is there any other kind?) or sex-mad Pagans desperate for a sacrifice (The Wicker Man).

What about the environment?

I would also like to see more films that deal seriously with climate change and the environment. Avatar was alright, but we need more films that inspire people to care for the Earth and the environment. I can’t even think of any recent films about our relationship with Nature right now. Though I really liked The Emerald Forest (1985), and the screenplay was by Rob Holdstock.

Feelgood factor

I don’t like zombie films, horror films, war films, films about the inner workings of  capitalism and the law. The kind of films I like are the ones that are quirky and funny and show unexpected solidarity and community between people. Most of the films that I have loved over the last decade or so were made by the excellent Working Title, not Hollywood. I like films where the underdog wins the day, and the powerful are brought low. I like science fiction where interesting characters struggle against dystopias. I like films that question the notion of superheroes, and show solidarity being the key to overcoming oppression.

The great thing about science fiction is that it can show us alternative worlds, both good and bad. Science fiction holds up a mirror to our contemporary dilemmas and mores, and asks “but why does it have to be this way?” Science fiction isn’t about the future, it is about the present. It says, “Don’t dream it – be it.”

By George Grinsted - http://www.flickr.com/photos/44042276@N00/537737038, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=31844988

Oakley Court, the house in The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Photo by George Grinsted on Flickr.com, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Combinations of Difficult Questions #PinkOut

What if Planned Parenthood is defunded and shut down– where should women and men go for the other 97% of funded services PP currently provides?

What if we notice a dropped stitch? What if we don’t?

What if Persephone eats that pomegranate on purpose?

What if we’re all more genderfluid than we admit?

What if sexuality isn’t a wound?

What if the nuclear family is not the only available model? What if it isn’t the best?

What if Black lives matter?

What if a question mark is a fish hook?

What if abortion is allowed to be an ambivalent and uneasy act, safe and legal?

What if women live into their sexualities as a source of power with, not power over?

What if men do that too?

What if you could say how unhappy you are?

What if a woman’s voice is the tree falling in the forest?

 

What if women’s voices weave another forest?

 

Epistemology of Mother, A Cloud of Permeable or #PinkOut

Wendy Vardaman and Sarah Sadie

 

Few topics have stirred as much passionate response

now there is a plank in the platform of the Republican party denying any place

in the short time I’ve belonged to this listserv as the one that exploded over the seemingly innocuous color pink, and

for abortion even in cases of rape or incest. This feels like the final thundering chord (although I know

although I didn’t join the discussion, I, too, feel strongly about the subject. Reading the posts on the color

it’s not—there is so much more they could try to do, try to take from us) of their grand crescendo,

and its associations—Cinderella, Barbies, stickers,

building for a year now. A year when

I was surprised by the emotional and political

terms such as “birth control”

connotations it carries

“sluts” “vaginal ultrasounds” “vaginas” have been bandied about

for so many of us and disturbed by the way

we debate the difference between “legitimate” and “forcible” as applied to

pink got tossed back and forth as if it were some uniform monolith

the act of rape.

when a moment’s reflection serves to demonstrate this obvious fact: pink is not one color.

What other qualifiers shall we hear?

My pinks are mostly dark, vivid, intense, like the other hues that fill the house of a recovering depressive

At last now we have it out: all abortion, any abortion, is never to be condoned, never to be pardoned,

avoiding medication. Color like exercise gives me a lift, so I have it everywhere and in unlikely combinations

never to be considered and never to be allowed. All of this has me walking in a cloud of permeable

that would probably overwhelm many people. Pink in multiple manifestations happens to be a favorite,

sadness, like a mist. It plunges me back to a time a few years ago

although I don’t like the pale variety by  itself, any more than large doses of other pastels. I do feel nostalgic

when these questions were live for me on a very personal level. One summer evening, blue sky endless,

looking at 1960s’ hot pink—my mother wouldn’t paint my bedroom that color decades ago,

my husband and I were out for a neighborhood walk. It was

attempting to satisfy me with a bright pink velvet pillow for my orange bedspread. Years later I painted

the sort of weather, the sort of evening, that draws people out of their homes and out into their yards

my dining room an intense sockeye-salmon swirled with orange, a nod to the years my husband and I lived

and the streets and sidewalks. I don’t remember what we were talking about, but

in Seattle, and saved my favorite deep pink for the kitchen,

for a number of days I had been wrestling with

patterning walls and cabinets with combinations of

difficult questions. Finally, I turned to him in the middle of the

fuchsia, yellow, lavender and deep red-violet. Dabbling in textiles I’ve paired pink with navy and turquoise, and

sidewalk, stopped for a moment, and said “I have come to a decision. If I ever were to get

lavender, blue, and red in hand-woven table-runners. I’ve sewn curtains, pillow covers, and clothes that include its different shades and echo those

pregnant again, I would abort the baby.” And then I broke down crying, there on the street.

in my great-grandmothers’ quilts hanging on the living room walls.

 

This piece was written in collaboration with my colleague and friend, Wendy Vardaman. I am so grateful for her ideas, her example and her friendship.Busse and Vardaman 2012 - 1

 

 

 

Why is Hate More Newsworthy Than Love?

Recently, Icelandmag reported that Hilmar Örn Hilmarsson and the members of the Ásatrúarfélag (Icelandic Pagan Association) had received hate mail from a few vocal homophobic and racist bigots for their intention to conduct same-sex marriages in their new Heathen temple, and their view that a person of any ethnicity can be a Heathen.

“Þingblót 2009” by Photograph by Lenka Kovářová. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons. -

Þingblót 2009” by Photograph by Lenka Kovářová. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons. –

So I decided to launch a page where people could sign to show their support. A petition site seemed wrong, as we were thanking them for being inclusive, rather than asking them to do anything, so initially I launched a page on 38 degrees – but quickly discovered that only people in the UK could sign it. So I launched a change.org page as well: Thank you for supporting same-sex marriage and inclusiveness. At the same time, Haimo Grebenstein created a Facebook event in solidarity: “Ásatrúarfélagið – we are at your side!” The event is sponsored by Asatru-EU, an informal group of people of Germanic Heathen background, most of them members of associations from many European countries. They have been active since 2006 and are hosting the International Asatru Summer Camp (IASC), which starts on 25 July in Sweden.

The Facebook event has 2400 people supporting it, from many different Pagan and polytheist religions; the change.org petition has 640 signatories, and the 38 degrees petition has 124 signatories.

Meanwhile, if you can see the Facebook social plugin on the Icelandmag article (I can’t see it on a PC or an iPhone, and only intermittently on my iPad, but I am getting notifications of who has replied to my comment on there), then you will see that the haters appear to be in a tiny minority compared to the people who support inclusivity towards both LGBT people and people of other ethnic backgrounds.

Icelandmag ran a follow-up story about the messages of support, but again focused on the original hate-mail rather than on the messages of support:

Over the weekend we will be publishing an exclusive interview with Hilmar Örn, about the honourable and respectful nature of Ásatrú as it is practiced in Iceland, his interaction with foreign pagans and the disturbing messages he has received from foreign pagans.

The Wild Hunt also did an article, Ásatrúarfélagið Threatened with Vandalism over LGBTQ Support– also focusing somewhat more on the hate-mail than the outpouring of support, though kindly linking to Haimo’s Facebook event and my petitions. I am glad that the issue has been covered, but concerned that what I believe to be a small minority of haters is getting more coverage than the overwhelming number of people who support inclusivity. Maybe it is because hate and bigotry (despite what you might think from reading the newspapers) are actually the exception rather than the norm? Or is it because the mainstream media wants to make us feel small and isolated and powerless in the face of all this bad news?

The same thing happens with Christian bigotry against LGBT people. Granted that there are some loud voices of hate, but there are also many Christians who support same-sex marriage and regard same-sex love as natural, and are welcoming towards LGBT people. In the UK, Stonewall, the LGBT pressure group, did a survey of attitudes of religious people, and found that 58% were in support of same-sex marriage (as compared to 68% of the general population). So the difference in support between the religious population and the general population is 10%. There could be a variety of reasons why this is, but given the focus on religious bigotry by the media, most people would probably be surprised by how small the difference is. It is also noticeable that church leadership (who are often the ones making the bigoted pronouncements) are seriously out of step with the laity on this. Not only that, but the list of religious groups where leaders and laity alike support LGBT equality is quite long and impressive, and some groups (Quakers, Unitarians, Liberal Jews, and Pagans) have supported and campaigned for LGBT equality for decades.

It is also noticeable that Heathens, Polytheists, Wiccans, Druids, Kemetics, and Pagans from all over the world have signed the change.org petition. There are so many awesome comments, I urge you to go and read all of them – it is very heart-warming.

So here are a few of the signatories of the thank you petition, and why they signed:

Kurt Hoogstraat ELK GROVE VILLAGE, IL

I’m gay and a heathen. My husband and I have been together 25 years, raised a daughter and have two grandchildren. Family is very important to us, and I live the practices of my religion every day with my family. Besides, the Gods communicate with me and protect my family every day — they don’t seem to mind I’m gay!

 

Dale Overman WEST VALLEY CITY, UT

Our ancestors were far more open minded than many modern heathen in some parts of the world. The world and its religions and deeply divided as it is. We modern heathen and Asatruar need a bit of common unity and respect. Inclusiveness and hospitality is part of a decent human community.

 

Wendell Christenson CLOVIS, CA

I know in the news reports when they said that “foreign practitioners” of Asatru are sending hate mail, that “foreign practitioners” really means “American Heathens.” It is embarrassing! Not all American Heathens are simply Protestant Christians who grew up to drink mead and “play Viking” on the weekends! Thank you, Ásatrúarfélagið, for building a modern-day temple and providing services to all.

 

Dieter Tussing GERMANY

Celtoi and Gaulish Polytheists say thanks. We are in complete agreement with you.

 

Carl Guldbrand LINDESBERG, SWEDEN

Bröder och Systar, jag står med er.

 

Reverend Janet Farrar CLOGHRAN, IRELAND

They truly represent the old Gods of their land.

 

Elma O’Callaghan BELFAST, UNITED KINGDOM

Basically, some people are so full of hate when they see others being happy. They need to know that Paganism is all encompassing and inclusive of equality and human rights. Well done Iceland and Hilmar for showing the true face of humanity.

 

Heather Demarest WANCHESE, NC

I honor these same deities and know that deep wisdom is its truth, that our souls are equal and even Odin supposedly dressed as a woman. Once you get past all the chest-thumping, Heathenry has deep and profound and beautiful wisdom that can empower all of us, regardless of gender, sexual preference or race.

 

Mike Stygal LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM

There should indeed be no room for racism or homophobia or transphobia in Heathenry, Druidry, Wicca, witchcraft, Paganism, polytheism, and kindred traditions.

 

Alexander ter Haar ZOETERMEER, NETHERLANDS

The Asatruarfelagid give an example of how heathenism can be: tolerant and open-minded, hospitable and respectful. It is saddening to hear that they receive hate-mails because of that. And at the same time it is wonderful to see how many people stand with them. I am proud to count myself amongst them.

 

Rev. Selena Fox BARNEVELD, WI

Appreciation, Well-Wishes, Support to You for your support of same sex marriage.

 

Jay Friedlander ANDOVER, ENGLAND

As British Heathen I support equal rights for same-sex marriage. Homophobia and transphobia has no place in modern heathenry or modern society either! I support inclusivity of all regardless of race, faith, sexual orientation, social class or any other ‘difference’ and believe tolerance of all is the only way forwards in a modern multi-cultural world.

 

Freya Aswynn CóMPETA

I am Asatru.

 

Wayne Sievers

The Icelandic Asatru Association conducted my marriage last year.

Navigating the ethical minefield

Normative Ethics: a guest post by Woods Wizard

As we go through life, most of us find our ethics are guided by the field of Applied Ethics. That is, we use concepts of duty and legal/contractual obligations to guide our behavior. Witchcraft requires a different approach: one of normative ethics. Normative Ethics attempt to define, in general terms, what actions are morally right. In this discussion, I have divided normative ethics into five categories: Nihilism, Ethical Altruism, Utilitarianism, Ethical Egoism and Consequentialism.

With the exception of nihilism, all of the different ethical approaches have their place, and must be considered together. Of course the approach we use is dependent on our situation. A starving man is more interested in doing what he can do obtain food, without consideration of the general welfare of others, for example.

 

Nihilism

Ethical nihilism is the view that morality does not exist, therefore no action is preferable to any other. This is an extreme position of situational morality wherein a person refuses to judge any action or ethical code as morally right or wrong. Alternately, a nihilist might argue that all meaning is relative depending on the outcome. This point of view is actually a form of Consequentialism, discussed later. Ultimately, nihilism can be self-destructive. The nihilist argues therefore that actions are random, based on whatever emotion or motivation dominates the individual at the time. This can easily lead to the conclusion that one is not responsible for one’s actions, as no one action is preferable to another, or that the consequences of an action cannot be foreseen.

 

"Daienin Kannon". Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Daienin_Kannon.JPG#/media/File:Daienin_Kannon.JPG

Daienin Kannon: Kannon statue in Daien’i, Mount Kōya, Japan”. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Ethical Altruism

Ethical altruism holds that individuals have a moral obligation to help, serve, or benefit others, if necessary, at the sacrifice of self-interest. Practical altruism sacrifices one’s own interests to help others’ interests, so long as one’s own interests are equivalent to the others’ interests and well-being.

While there have been many good examples of altruism (Quan Yin is a popular one), it is a most difficult ethic to maintain. Not everyone can “belong to the world” as Mother Teresa described herself. Yet, at times all of us exhibit altruistic traits. We all have the desire to help those in need.

Yet, altruism can have a negative side. A suicide bomber, sacrificing his life for his cause, is still sacrificing self-interest for the “benefit” of others.  Any soldier sacrificing his life for the greater good can be considered an altruist, at least at the moment of sacrifice. In both these cases however, duty-based ethics dictate this altruistic behavior.

 

Utilitarian Ethics

In its simplest form, Utilitarianism is an ethical theory that argues the rightness or wrongness of an action is determined solely on the outcomes (consequences) of choosing one action/policy over other actions/policies. Many utilitarian philosophers judge an action by its usefulness in bringing about the most happiness (or good) of all those affected by it. As such, it moves beyond the scope of one’s own interests and takes into account the interests of others. Something is ethical if the total “good” it generates, to include intangible forms of “good,” outweigh the negatives. Statements like “An (if) it harm none, do as ye will.” in the Rede are utilitarian. It prevents us from harming a large number of people to benefit what we may perceive as the greater good, or for our own benefit.

Two influential contributors to this theory are Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill.  Bentham treats all forms of happiness as equal, with goodness measured in terms of intensity, duration, certainty, propinquity, fecundity, purity, and extent.

Mill’s famous formulation of utilitarianism is known as the “greatest-happiness principle”. It holds that one must always act so as to produce the greatest aggregate happiness among all sentient beings, within reason. Mill’s major contribution to Utilitarianism is his argument for the qualitative separation of pleasures. Mill argued that intellectual and moral pleasures (higher pleasures) are superior to more physical forms of pleasure (lower pleasures).  Mill distinguishes between happiness and contentment, claiming that the former is of higher value than the latter, a belief wittily encapsulated in the statement that “it is better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied; better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied.”

Classical utilitarianism as espoused by Bentham can be hedonistic, but values other than, or in addition to, pleasure can be employed. G. E. Moore, in his Principia Ethica (1903), presented a version of utilitarianism in which he rejected the traditional equating of good with pleasure. The test whether something is good can be applied to moral assessments and rules of conduct. According to utilitarianism, the moral worth of an action is determined only by its resulting outcome, although there is debate over how much consideration should be given to actual consequences, foreseen consequences and intended consequences. Witches face these same issues.

One of the biggest problems with utilitarian reasoning is that the reasoning itself is nothing more than a problem solving tool like mathematics or computer programming. If, as in computer programming, you put garbage in, you will get garbage out.  When we set the right objectives and incorporate valid assumptions, utilitarian reasoning can be a very powerful and necessary tool to help us reach our goals.

Utilitarian reasoning is by no means a philosophy where everyone can reach the same logical conclusion. Over the ages, people have had different ideas about what constitutes the highest good, and how to get there. For example, John Locke put a heavy emphasis on the preservation of an individual’s right to private property, whereas Karl Marx wanted to collectivize as much property as possible. Who is right? We would likely argue the concept that promoted the greatest freedom results in the greatest good, but both Marx and Locke would have arguments that their philosophies do that also.

Utilitarian ethics strive to avoid I win – you lose scenarios, but must also consider the three other possible win-lose combinations.

  • In a win-win situation, the utilitarian has many ways to act “good,” all of which create “good” out-comes. The most “ethical” choice is the one that yields the greatest overall good.
  • In lose-lose situations, one must select the lessor of evils. Either choice will cause harm (loss of a breast or loss of a life to cancer is a good example), and the Utilitarian choses the least harmful option.
  • In a short term lose, long term win situation, the Utilitarian makes a short term sacrifice in hope of achieving a greater long term gain. In this instance, the utilitarian must be very careful to ensure that his goal is beneficial for all, not just for himself.

A primary advantage of utilitarian reasoning is that it challenges us to think more broadly about the impact of our actions on the world around us, and encourages us to make ethical decisions on our own rather than rely on government or our social circle to think for us. This ties into Kant’s belief that true morality (ethics) came solely from reason. Kant stated: “I ought never to act in such a way that I could also will that my maxim become universal law.” In other words, whatever one decides, one must be willing to accept that decision is true for others, as well as oneself. Kant’s belief is critical for utilitarianists, for it helps to avoid the pitfalls of ethical egoism and consequentialism.

Another advantage of utilitarian thinking is that it gives us some flexibility. We can examine alternatives and decide on the most ethical course of action. The utilitarian viewpoint encourages us to think ahead and avoid the pitfalls the unethical people of the world lay for us.

 

Ethical Egoism

Ethical egoism is the position that one ought to do what is in one’s own self-interest. Egoism elevates self-interests and “the self” to a status not granted to others. It is focused on the Self (or clan) while utilitarianism does not treat the Self’s own interests as being more or less important than the interests, desires, or well-being of others.

Ethical egoism does not, however, require harm to the interests and well-being of others when making an ethical decision. Egoism allows for others’ interest and well-being to be disregarded or not, as long as what is decided and acted upon satisfies Self-interest. Nor does ethical egoism necessarily purport that one ought always to do what one wants to do. It endorses selfishness, not necessarily foolishness.

American philosopher James Rachels, arguing the pros and cons of egoism over utilitarianism stated that

“each of us is intimately familiar with our own individual wants and needs. Moreover, each of us is uniquely placed to pursue those wants and needs effectively. At the same time, we know the desires and needs of others only imperfectly, and we are not well situated to pursue them. Therefore, it is reasonable to believe that if we set out to be ‘our brother’s keeper,’ we would often bungle the job and end up doing more mischief than good.”

He also argued that

“All of our commonly accepted moral duties, from doing no harm unto others to speaking always the truth to keeping promises, are rooted in the one fundamental principle of self-interest.”

While Rachels was a proponent of ethical egoism, he also noted that the best objection to the theory is that it divides people into two types: themselves and others, and then discriminates against one type on the basis of some arbitrary disparity. This, to Rachels’ mind, provides the soundest reason why the interests of others ought to concern the interests of the self. He asks:

“What is the difference between myself and others that justifies placing myself in this special category? Am I more intelligent? Do I enjoy my life more? Are my accomplishments greater? Do I have needs or abilities that are so different from the needs and abilities of others? What is it that makes me so special? Failing an answer, it turns out that Ethical Egoism is an arbitrary doctrine…. We should care about the interests of other people for the very same reason we care about our own interests; for their needs and desires are comparable to our own.”

In his best known work, “The Moral Point of View,” Austrian philosopher Kurt Baier opines that ethical egoism provides no moral basis for the resolution of conflicts of interest, which form the only vindication for a moral code. Far from resolving conflicts of interest, claimed Baier, ethical egoism all too often spawns them. Baier also argues that egoism is paradoxical: that to do what is in one’s best interests can be both wrong and right at the same time, depending on one’s point of view. Although a successful pursuit of self-interest may be viewed as a moral victory, it could also be dubbed immoral if it prevents another person from executing what is in his best interests.

 

Consequentialism

Consequentialism is the class of ethical theories holding that the consequences of one’s conduct are the ultimate basis for any judgment about the rightness of that conduct. Thus, from a consequentialist standpoint, a morally right act (or omission) is one that will produce a good outcome, or consequence. This is the dark side to Normative ethics best expressed in the statement “the ends justify the means.”

A completely ruthless Consequentialist acts only for himself and has no feelings for others or society. He does not hesitate to rob, cheat, and steal whenever he feels he can get away with it.  Many people not considered criminals in today’s society employ consequential reasoning that only factors in their own gain and do not take into account the needs of other people. These people employ a short term win, long term lose situation: they are greedy, enriching themselves in the near term while inflicting greater overall costs to society. Short term win, long term lose situations are often created by people who lack the character to delay gratification who are motivated by personal power or who do not, for whatever reason understand the full consequences of their behavior.

 

So Which System is Right?

With the possible exception of Consequentialism and nihilism, the answer is all of them, dependent on the situation. Most of us think of what works best for ourselves (or our group) first (Ethical Egoism) and then (hopefully!) secondly consider what our friends will think or whether our actions are illegal (Applied Ethics).

From the perspective of many pagan paths where Deity-imposed Commandments are not part of our moral code, one more step is required: once an action is examined from egoism and applied ethics perspectives, consider it from a utilitarian point of view. Is the action going to provide the greatest good (or least harm) to all affected? Is there a short-term loss that will produce a longer term gain for all involved? For a Pagan, the action, once it passes egoism and applied ethical tests, ought to pass utilitarian reasoning as well.


 

About Woods Wizard

Woods Wizard always had a close spiritual connection with the earth, but didn’t identify as a pagan until about 10 years ago when a certain Celtic Deity came knocking.  Self-taught, he has spent the last five years organizing the Shadows of Nature: Guardian Steading (because coven implies agreement as to theology) and writing educational material for that group. Material in this guest blog is condensed from the ethics chapters of the Seeker book he wrote for the Steading.   He lives on eight acres of woodland and meadow outside of Spokane Washington and maintains a web page, Spokane Pagan Village Commons, for local pagan groups: www.spokanepagans.com  Woods loves trying to tie together mythology, history, archeology and science into an internally consistent theology – and sometimes it actually works!  He makes a living as a geologist.

 

What colour is your witchcraft?

In my previous article “7 things I wish people knew about Wicca“, I wrote a section about “black witchcraft” versus “white witchcraft”. It is one of those topics that is not easily dealt with in a quick soundbite, and this quickly became apparent from the comments.

I also realise that the headline of that section (There is no such thing as ‘black witchcraft’ or ‘white witchcraft’) was ambivalent. What I meant was that there isn’t a whole movement of people who consider themselves to be “black witches” or “white witches“, not that there is no such thing as “black magic” or “white magic“, although I do consider those terms to be very very unhelpful for a number of reasons.

Besides, as everyone knows, the colour of magic is octarine.

“It was octarine, the colour of magic. It was alive and glowing and vibrant and it was the undisputed pigment of the imagination, because wherever it appeared it was a sign that mere matter was a servant of the powers of the magical mind. It was enchantment itself.
But Rincewind always thought it looked a sort of greenish-purple.”

Terry Pratchett, The Color of Magic

There are of course Black people who are witches and/or Wiccans, and that is one of the reasons I object to the use of the term “black” to mean maleficent. If you say “there are no black witches” (meaning “there are no 100% maleficent witches”) it sounds like you are saying “there are no Black witches” (meaning “there are no Black people who are witches”, which is obviously not true). Furthermore, associating black with evil is unhelpful, as it may reinforce racist assumptions about Black people.

I am not denying that magic can be used for bad or selfish purposes, or even that it can be used to call upon entities with a less than benevolent agenda. I would deny that the entities called upon are the source of the magic, however. The universe is the source of the magic. However, people cannot be divided up neatly into “black witches” and “white witches”, and there is no cosmic force of evil or cosmic force of good in the Pagan worldview.  There are no personifications of good and evil in Wicca, but there are personifications of destruction, disorder, etc. (Loki, Kali, Eris, etc.), but these are regarded as part of the natural cycle: agents of chaos or destruction, bringing change so that renewal may take place. There are also personifications of growth, life, and light to balance the agents of chaos and destruction. And Wiccans are strongly discouraged from using magic for bad purposes. Therefore the question “are you a black witch or a white witch?” is redundant.

I believe that the same energy underlies all magic, and that energy is a natural property of the universe – or perhaps preternatural. In my view (which as far as I know is agreed upon by a large number of Wiccans and other magical folk), magic exists independently of those who wield it, whether they are human or spirit. Magic is a bit like the Force in Star Wars – which was actually based on the concept of the Tao, or possibly on ch’i (which are of course not equivalent to each other).

Magic, and spiritual beings, are agreed upon by most Pagans to be immanent in the universe, intertwined with matter – not outside and beyond the universe. if there is an Otherworld or spirit realm, it is usually seen as very close to, or intertwined with, the physical realm. As Michael York writes:

The supernatural as we know it is largely a Christian-derived expression from the idea that its ‘God’ is over and ‘above’ nature – material/empirical reality. It is this notion that is the target of secular and naturalistic animosity alike. Instead, rather than ‘supernatural’, I turn instead to the ‘preternatural’ that expresses the non-causal otherness of nature – one that comprehends the magical, miraculous, numinous, mysterious yet non-empirical quality of the sublime. Most important, however, the preternatural does not demand belief or faith but instead encounter and experience – whether through contemplation, metaphor, spontaneous insight, ecstasy, trance, synchronicity or ritual or any combination of these. As Margot Adler expressed it, paganism is not about belief but what we do.

Yes, magic can be used to call upon entities such as gods and spirits (who may be preternatural or supernatural depending on your theological perspective), but why would you call upon an entity that you consider to have a negative or maleficent agenda? Of course, there are people who work with entities who are labelled as demons, but I’m pretty sure those people would defend their magical work and the entities as benevolent or at the very least, just misunderstood.

As to the possibly malevolent or beneficent agenda of magical entities: surely that depends on your perspective? Some entities may be hostile to humans, because we are busy despoiling the planet and making other species extinct. From the perspective of those other species, humans are evil (even those of us who are not actively going out and killing endangered species are complicit in the habitat loss and pollution that is making many species extinct). Some entities may be entirely indifferent to humans, and not notice that they are trampling on us. The hurricane and the volcano and the venomous spider don’t intend to kill people; they just do.

I am aware that there are people who use magic for selfish or even maleficent purposes; but Wiccans are taught that this is a bad idea, because there are negative consequences. A person who consistently acts only in their own interest will hurt other people, and eventually hurt themselves.

I believe that morality and ethics are much more complex and contextual than a simple black/white dichotomy. For example, if someone was to curse a dictator such as Stalin or a mass murderer like Pol Pot, would that be “black magic” or “white magic”? Or if I give healing (normally considered “white magic”) to someone who then goes on to commit a very evil act, was my healing “white magic” or “black magic”?

Magic is a bit like a tool: it can be wielded for good or bad purposes. As Lori Ann James commented on my previous post:

Magick is a tool. A hammer can smash a window, or it can build the cabinet.

The intent of the magic-wielder, and the consequences of the magic, and the intentions of any magical allies who helped with the work, all contribute to the benevolence or malevolence of the magic. So, until all the consequences have played themselves out, and until all the motives have been weighed and analysed, it is a bit difficult to tell whether it was good magic or bad magic. As in the story of the Taoist farmer, the consequences of many actions or events are hard to classify as wholly good or wholly bad.

The problem is, when someone asks “are you a black witch or a white witch”, they are not looking for a long explanation of the Pagan worldview, or Wiccan morality and ethics. They are looking for a quick soundbite; they probably want you to say “a white witch, of course”. But it is an ignorant question in so many ways, and one to which there is no simple and straightforward answer. That’s why I tend to reply with “I am a green witch” or “your question makes no sense in my paradigm” because otherwise one ends up reinforcing a simple binary view of morality and people as neatly divided up into “good people” and “bad people”, or “good actions” and “bad actions”.

Starry Night, VVincent van Gogh [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Starry night, Vincent van Gogh [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Both magic and reality are swirly and complex. We do ourselves, our Craft, and the gods a disservice if we allow them to be reduced to a simple binary dichotomy of “black” and “white”; and if we allow darkness to be used as a metaphor for evil, we also do the night a disservice.

In Wicca, darkness does not symbolise evil. The darkness is necessary for rest, growth, and regeneration. Death is not evil, but a necessary adjunct to life. If there was no death and dissolution, there could be no change or growth. The cycle of birth, life, death, and rebirth is part of the interaction of the polarities. Suffering is also part of the process of growth; just as a tree is shaped by the wind, we are shaped by our experiences. It is only by experiencing suffering that we acquire sufficient depth to know the fullness of joy. It is then that the full light of consciousness dawns in us, and we achieve mystical communion with the divine/deities.

So, if someone asks you “are you a white witch or a black witch?” how do you answer the question?

Pagans and Money

Contemporary Paganism – like much of the rest of the world – has a deeply conflicted attitude to money. Money is probably even harder to talk about than sex and death. People tend to think it is a deeply unspiritual topic. It probably is – but we still need to talk about it.

Whenever the subject of Pagans and money comes up, there arises the vexed question of what spiritual services to charge for. The ethics of charging money for spirituality-related events is always tricky. On the one hand, there are those who argue that if they expend energy, they should be paid for it, and on the other hand, there are those who argue that money is the kiss of death to spirituality.

"CoinsOfTheParisii" by PHGCOM - self-made, photographed at the MET. Licensed under GFDL via Wikimedia Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:CoinsOfTheParisii.jpg#/media/File:CoinsOfTheParisii.jpg

Coins Of The Parisii” by PHGCOM – self-made, photographed at the MET. Licensed under GFDL via Wikimedia Commons.

In order to think about this issue a little more clearly, let’s go back to a time before money, and look at how money was probably invented.

The tribe – a communal effort

Let’s imagine that I am the village spirit-worker. It’s my job to find herds for the tribe to hunt, and to talk with the ancestors and the spirits to find out useful knowledge, and to heal ailments suffered by the tribe. I contribute my knowledge and skills to the tribe in order that the people may survive and flourish. The hunters contribute their hunting skills, and bring back food. Various other members of the tribe cure leather, sew it together to make clothes, make tools and weapons and cooking pots, knap flint, and gather herbs. Everyone contributes, and everyone gets their share. And everyone knows that “what goes around comes around”. No-one keeps count of who owes what to whom, because everyone pulls together for the survival of the whole group.

The village – barter

In later centuries, a hierarchical view develops, and some people are considered more worthy of food and resources. Now, the tribe has settled in one place, and owns separate houses and separate cooking pots and separate hearths. A barter system develops, in which I exchange my work for food, clothes, and medicine.

The city – and money

After a while, people start to think that it is a bit inconvenient to exchange work for things. What if you need me to help out with your harvest, but you can only offer me a couple of chickens in exchange, but I don’t actually want any more chickens right now? Then it is easier to say, well I will give you this lump of gold, and you can exchange it for whatever you want later on. In addition, villages have got larger and become cities, in which the inhabitants don’t know everyone else in the town. Tribal links are weakened, perhaps dissolved. Family links and alliances become more important – and it is only in family settings that people don’t count the cost. Though perhaps guilds provide a kind of replacement for the tribe.

And that, I would suggest, is how money was invented.

The Celts started to use coins from the 5th to 1st centuries BCE, and minted coins based on Greek designs (they needed money for trade with the Greeks). The ancient Greeks began to use coins in about 700 BCE. The Romans began using coins in the third century BCE.

At various points in our lives, we return to one or other of these means of exchange. During a harvest, or when someone moves house, or at a Pagan camp, we return to communal effort mode. It feels idyllic, partly because we have lost our need to ‘count the cost’ in the knowledge that we are all mucking in together, and that the whole will be greater than the sum of the parts.

Sometimes, when money runs short, we return to barter mode. There are community credit schemes where you can exchange piano lessons for bread-making, or baby-sitting for bicycle repair.

A Pagan camp in communal effort mode

If you go to a Pagan event with a large number of people, and a significant number (say, more than half) of them are offering workshops, helping out with the fire-pit, organising the technical aspects, and generally contributing to the community, then you know that you won’t have to do more than your fair share, and you will get to benefit from other people’s workshops, and at this type of event, you probably don’t expect to get paid for your one- or two-hour long workshop, because you will attend at least ten other really good workshops given by other people, and you know that if you attend the same event in the future, you will benefit from the workshops there too. So this type of event becomes like a mutually supportive tribe – what goes around comes around – no need to pay speakers.

A Pagan camp in city mode

If, on the other hand, you go to a different type of Pagan event, where less than half of the participants are offering workshops, and the workshop leaders are contributing more than a couple of hours of their time each, and are not getting a comparable benefit from attending other people’s workshops (perhaps because the speakers have considerably more knowledge than most of the other attendees, or because it is a day or weekend event, and so there is no time for them to attend other people’s workshops) – then it’s a really good idea to factor in paying the speakers.

And it’s really important to note that in both these examples, the speakers get paid – it’s just that in the first example they are paid ‘in kind’ through receiving the benefit of workshops from other people; and in the second example, they get paid with money.

An exchange of energy

In an earlier post on the Pagan value of reciprocity, I wrote:

The giving of money in exchange for something does not create relationship, it ends it. If I pay in full for a service or a commodity, my obligation is discharged, and that ends the relationship. If I pay for a massage, a Tarot reading, or a workshop, that is because the masseur, Tarot reader, or workshop leader is not going to receive from me (at some unspecified future date) a massage, a Tarot reading, or a workshop. The relationship is ended by the payment. This is, I think, why Wiccans believe strongly that we should not charge trainees for training. Members of a coven are in a relationship, and payment for training would end that relationship. What you gain in return for teaching is an opportunity to formulate, clarify, and refine your own views in the process of transmitting them to others. You can also learn from your trainees. And in due course, you will have a coven to work with who can write rituals for you to take part in.  All members of a coven are expected to contribute food for the feast and candles and incense for rituals, and help with the washing-up, however. 

Note that I am not saying that charging money for services such as Tarot reading, or even rituals like a handfasting, is a bad thing. All services create some obligation. If I invite you to my ritual, you will probably feel obliged to invite me to yours. If someone gives you training in Wicca, you should feel obliged to turn up on time, make an effort to absorb what they try to teach you, and at some point in the future, to reciprocate by creating awesome rituals that they can enjoy, and to “pay it forward” by training others in Wicca.

Paying money for services rendered just ends the obligation. That can help to make things simpler; sometimes we do not want to enter into relationship with a person who has done something for us, because they are not part of our social group, or because – for one reason or another – we won’t see them again, so we discharge the obligation by paying them in full.

However, we do end up having a sort of relationship with people we pay money to – you go to a particular shop because the staff are friendly, or because the shopkeeper is nice; you go to the same hairdresser because you have become one of their clients.

The barter and exchange model, and the communal effort model, both create a web of obligation and relationship. That’s great – but there can be a shadow side to that, just as money has its shadow side. One can end up so obligated to others that they have power over you in some way, for example.

And then there’s capitalism

Of course, all of this gets much more complex and layered by the introduction of capitalism. Once capitalism rears its ugly head, you get third parties who want to make money by brokering the services offered by others, and as Rhyd Wildermuth recently pointed out, it has even infected hitherto communal exchanges like offering acquaintances a bed for the night.

The introduction of capitalism means that people can buy the services of one person, and sell them at an inflated price to someone else, and that a third party can invest in the whole enterprise, and expect to get a profit in return for their investment, despite not having done any actual work.

And then, even paying your workers comes to seem like a bad idea to some capitalists, so they go and kidnap a large population from somewhere else, treat them as property, and make them work for nothing. And that is how colonialism and slavery were invented.

Money is energy

So, whilst the abstract nature of money is partly what made capitalism possible, it is also a really useful marker for indicating that you are owed a certain amount of goods or services from the communal pool.

Of course, it might be wonderful to move towards a tribal model where everyone gets what they need, as Jonathan Woolley has suggested – but that would entail a considerable loss of individuality, and I am willing to bet that even the most ardent advocate of communal living is not quite ready to go there yet. And we do not have the kind of society that makes that kind of community possible for more than a short space of time, though we can pioneer it as a model.

I think it would be very difficult not to reinvent money, even if we succeeded in re-establishing a tribal / communal model, because there would still be a need for long-distance trade with strangers who would be outside the pool of communal effort, which means you need non-perishable tokens of exchange (otherwise known as money).

Nor do I think it is realistic to ask people to offer workshops entirely for nothing – you either get paid in kind, or with money, or you operate on a pay-it-forward model. Yes, I train people in Wicca for the good of the tribe, and I don’t expect money in return, but I do expect commitment and effort on the part of trainees, and one day, I can relax and let them run a ritual for me to participate in. What goes around comes around.

 

Why Pagans don’t proselytise or evangelise

There are various different ways in which religions can try to attract new adherents and/or communicate with others.

Interfaith dialogue means providing other faiths/philosophies with information about your own religion or philosophy, and having a dialogue about how to co-exist peacefully. Some members of some faiths may participate in interfaith dialogue in the hope of making converts: I don’t think that should be our goal. I think it is dishonest and undermines the whole purpose of dialogue if the participants have an aim to convert each other. One can certainly enter dialogue with a willingness to entertain another perspective, but not to persuade others to join your own faith.

Interfaith is a bit of an awkward name for having a dialogue with atheists, humanists, and people who don’t adhere to any faith, but the same rule applies: we are not there to make converts; we are there to communicate with others and provide information about Paganism(s).

A deer in Holland. Photo by Yvonne Aburrow

A deer in Holland – too busy eating to evangelise any local cats. Photo by Yvonne Aburrow (CC-BY-SA 3.0)

Providing information to others who might be interested in Paganism (because they have a gods-shaped receptor, or a Nature-shaped receptor) but don’t know we exist. This type of communication doesn’t have a special name, but is certainly desirable. There are still people out there who have never heard of contemporary Paganism, or if they have heard of it, don’t have a clue about it.

Evangelism is telling other people they will be happier if they adhere to your faith. But we can’t prove that non-Pagans would be happier if they were Pagan – maybe they are perfectly happy as atheists or whatever – different people are wired differently – some people have a gods-shaped receptor, others have a God-shaped receptor, some don’t have a receptor for god(s). So I do not think that evangelism is a good idea. Where religions do evangelise, I suspect that they find that converts made through evangelism are often not very engaged, and fall by the wayside at the first sign of difficulty.

in any case, which Pagan deity would you evangelise  on behalf of? Cernunnos? As this Lolcat meme makes clear, the cats (who obviously worship Bast), would be pretty unimpressed. What about Woden? A well-known UK Heathen once turned up to a party with an amusing T-shirt reading “Woden’s Witnesses”.

Proselytising is (technically) where you tell people that they are doomed in some way if they don’t follow your faith. As Pagans don’t believe that our gods have an unpleasant fate prepared for non-believers, this is not an option open to us, nor would it be a desirable route to take. No-one should be persuaded to join a religion on the basis of some kind of threat, whether the threat is of suffering in this life or a hypothetical next life.

Pagans don’t actively seek converts because we believe that the realisation that you are a Pagan wells up from within, as a response to the beauty of Nature, the call of the Pagan deities, or a growing convergence with Pagan values and a Pagan world-view. We do not believe that it is “cosmically necessary” to be a Pagan – our gods want willing adherents, not forced ones, and they do not punish people who do not believe in them (ancient pagans also did not believe in punishment for non-believers).

Most Pagans feel that you cannot be converted to Paganism, because being a Pagan is not about the acceptance of a set of propositions or a creed, but a sense of connection with Nature, the old gods, the Earth, or the land. Instead, we call the realisation that we are Pagan a feeling of coming home.

In an excellent article for the Theologies of Immanence wiki, Judy Harrow wrote:

I’m a convert, and probably so are you. Very few of us were raised as Pagans. Most of us come to this religion in adulthood, by conscious choice. Some Pagan elders find satisfaction in welcoming newcomers to our community, helping them to find their way around. It’s good for all of us to reflect upon the process of change that most of us have experienced.

Among ourselves, we don’t call new Pagan affiliation “conversion” at all; we call it “homecoming.” The difference is not trivial. Remember, language shapes thought. Most religions expect conversion to be a transformative experience. They expect new adherents to think, behave, even speak differently, utterly renouncing their old ways. In contrast, we say “you don’t become a Pagan; you find out that there’s a name for what you already were, and a community of others who feel the same way.”

All we really expect from a new homecomer is a deep sigh of relief. Certainly we have our community mores and customs. However, instead of indoctrinating or re-socializing newcomers, we like to believe that they come to us because they find us already feeling and doing the very things that made them misfits in their previous faith communities. They find the home they never thought existed for them. That’s what it felt like for me, how about you?

It’s not that simple of course. Whoever comes home as an adult has left a previous home. Although it was less satisfactory, still there are aspects they’ll miss, and baggage they’ll carry along. And anybody who has ever moved house, even to a much better location, knows how disorienting, and how much work, it can be.

In the article, Judy goes on to point out that all processes of conversion (whether they are called that or not) involve a shift of perspective, a leaving-behind of a previous paradigm, a search for a new paradigm and a new community, and settling in to the new community.