Rethinking Sacred Prostitution

Sex workers, like all other workers, ought to be able to work regular hours, have a pension, get time off when they are ill, be safe and healthy at work, and not be exploited. When they want to change careers and do something else, the fact that they have been a sex worker should not be stigmatised, as this will prevent them from choosing a different career.

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A Tale of Two Britains

Others have written more eloquently than I about the political, social, and economic implications of all this. Laurie Penny, George Monbiot, Gary Younge, and others have all written about the social and economic tensions that led up to this, and the ways in which white privilege and colonialist nostalgia fed into the rhetoric around the vote (if you didn’t notice that the Leave campaign was racist, check your white privilege; if you did notice, but voted Leave anyway, check your white privilege). I am so angry and distraught about the way that rampant racism is spreading its vile poison. How did Great Britain become Little England?

It ought to be obvious to anyone that Tory-imposed austerity is responsible for the economic misery that has cut services and reduced jobs and rendered many areas  full of despair. Certainly, the brutal realities of capitalists accumulating wealth at everybody else’s expense also plays into this, causing division between the people they prey upon. Instead, people blame immigration and the EU.

So we have been led to the  brink by a group of irresponsible and out-of-touch upper class twits, as The New Yorker immediately grasped, with their “Silly Walk Off A Cliff” cover art.. And although the 17 million who voted to leave the EU didn’t all vote that way on the basis of anti-immigration, the racists who are currently committing vile acts of hate up and down the land have felt empowered to do so because they are assuming that the rest of the Leave voters agreed with them.

There are at least two Britains, maybe more.

My Britain is diverse and inclusive; my heritage is William Blake, William Cobbett, E M Forster, Goldsworthy Lowes Dickinson, Edward Carpenter, the mass trespass of Kinder Scout, the Cable Street fight against the fascists, the Suffragettes, the Dissenters, the poets, the trades unions, the solidarity of Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners, and the miners who showed up to support LGBT people in the struggle for our rights; the Britain that welcomed Rammohun Roy and Mohandas Gandhi, the Britain that boycotted the products of slavery, a diverse Britain that has always been there, as Deasy Bamford says, from Libyans and Ethiopians on Hadrian’s Wall under the Romans, to Black people in 16th century London, the Jews returning to England in 1650, and always being welcome in Scotland, to the working men’s clubs that welcomed Black jazz and blues musicians during the 1930s: a history of radicalism, solidarity, inclusion, and working together. This is a Britain which recognises the distinctness of the Scots, the Welsh, the English, and the Irish.  And it has wonderful food, enriched by many different cuisines from around the world. This Britain is part of Europe and part of the wider world.

Then there’s another Britain: it’s a grim place, where diversity of all kinds is shunned, where the music is all nationalist, where the kinds of people who are held up as heroes are Horatio Nelson (a slaughterer of revolutionaries) and the Duke of Wellington (a rampant xenophobe). This is the Britain of stiff upper lip, compulsory heterosexuality, football hooliganism, dreams of wall-to-wall whiteness, and eating stodgy and dull food. This is the Britain that put its wellington boot on the face of half the world, and then complained when the people who had been subjugated by the Empire wanted to come to Britain. The Britain that came to the fore in the film V for Vendetta.

Both Britains exist, and have existed side-by-side for centuries – now and again, one or the other has the upper hand. For a few decades, inclusive, vibrant, multicultural Britain has had the upper hand. We emerged from the ghastly uniformity of the 1950s, into the explosion of colour that was the 1960s. The 1970s were pretty grim (especially the overt homophobia, the vile racism, the dreadful food and the tasteless wallpaper), and the 1980s were not much better. Then the effects of the prosperity brought by the EU started to have an effect, and for a short while, it looked as if inclusive Britain would triumph, despite setbacks.

Rhyd Wildermuth writes, in A Storm at the Crossroads:

“Would it not be better if we were to stretch into ourselves like felines?” Peter Grey asks, and is that not also how anything grows? The muscle always tensed becomes useless, the heart defended by castle walls will never dare to love, the soul constantly defending borders will never take flight in travel, and the mind that entrenches will never learn to dance.

You know that story about the two wolves that live in the psyche – the friendly one and the vicious one – and it’s the one that you feed that gets the upper hand? Well, the combination of austerity and cutbacks and racist demagoguery has fed the wolf of nationalism in the British psyche – especially the English and Welsh bits of it (though Scotland is by no means immune). There has been a massive vote in favour of insularity, nationalism, and isolationism (and even if you didn’t mean your vote for Leave in that way, that is how it is being interpreted both by the racist thugs, and by the rest of the world).

I am also reminded of the bit in the stories of Arthur and Merlin, where Vortigern is trying to build a castle on a hill, but it keeps falling down. Merlin sees with his inner eye that this is because two dragons are fighting each other in a lake underneath the hill, and advises Vortigern to drain the lake. We are trying to build a beautiful city of inclusion and welcoming diversity, but the dragon of hate and intolerance is having a fight with the dragon of inclusion and diversity. But King Arthur won’t be coming back to fix things. It is up to us now to build the circle of Camelot, in the realm of Logres, the dream vision of Albion, the land of diversity and inclusion and hospitality.

By William Blake - William Blake Archive, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8310345

Two forms of Los with Enitharmon, Plate 100 of Jerusalem. By William BlakeWilliam Blake Archive, Public Domain.

So what can we do?

  • Build and strengthen your links with your local community – other faith groups, people from other cultural backgrounds. Talk to your neighbours. Hold a local event to bring your community together.
  • If you can facilitate workshops, create a workshop on civil courage and standing up to racism.
  • If you are a Pagan organisation or group or an individual with any sort of platform, make a statement rejecting hate and racism.
  • Sign and share the inclusive Wicca statement rejecting racism, and the Pagan Federation statement against racism.
  • Wear a safety pin to show solidarity with diverse communities – but don’t stop there. Be prepared to intervene if you witness a racist incident or attack.
  • Report it – if you are the witness or the victim of a hate crime, please report it to the police.
  • Join Pagans Against Racism (UK) and work to make Paganisms more inclusive.
  • Do rituals and magic to support a positive outcome. We need all the allies we can get. If my vision of an inclusive and welcoming Albion, with the round table of Camelot at its heart, speaks to you, then you might want to focus on that in your rituals. Imagine the round table being filled with people of different colours, ages, genders., and sexual orientations.
  • Here’s some suggestions from The Guardian on six positive things to do. I especially like number 3: solidarity with immigrants.

After Orlando: “Stay Proud, Stay Visible”

Can love win? Is there any hope?

After a tragedy like the Orlando shooting, it is really hard to believe in love, or hope for a better future. It is all too tempting to despair, to think that after each previous mass shooting, the calls for gun control went unheeded, and to give up on working for change. It is easy to despair when gun sales increase after every mass shooting, and the gun that was used by the shooter is “gun of the week”, and it only takes seven minutes to buy one. It is easy to give up when we know that every shooting done by a person claiming to be a Muslim will result in more anti-Muslim rhetoric, and every shooting done by a person claiming to be a Christian will be regarded as “just a lone nutter”.

We are tired of being vilified, tired of being erased, tired of being targeted, tired of hate preachers. It’s horrible when people who have previously vilified everything about LGBTQ people are suddenly horrified when so many LGBTQ people are murdered – as if their hate-filled rhetoric hadn’t contributed to their deaths.

And we must be clear that this was an attack on Latinx LGBTQ people, and was a product of violent rhetoric, homophobia, and racism. As Black Lives Matter wrote:

Homegrown terror is the product of a long history of colonialism, including state and vigilante violence. It is the product of white supremacy and capitalism, which deforms the spirit and fuels interpersonal violence. We especially hold space for our Latinx family now, knowing that the vast majority of those murdered were Latinx, and many were specifically Puerto Rican. From the forced migration of thousands of young people from the island of Puerto Rico to Orlando, to the deadly forced migration throughout Latin America and the Caribbean — we know this is not the first time in history our families have been mowed down with malice, and we stand with you.

Religious extremism is not new to America and is not unique to Islam. For centuries, religion has been used to subjugate queer people of color and lay the groundwork for our deaths. We live in a society that gasps at mass murder but does little to produce the policies or radical ideological shift needed to keep LGBTQ people and our families alive and safe.

But there is hope. There have been terrible injustices, horrific murders, and all the rest. But when these things happen, there are always people reaching out in love, and trying to help others. In the attack on the World Trade Center, people helped others, went back up the stairs to rescue others, called their loved ones to say goodbye. After the Pulse shooting, when emergency workers went in to retrieve the dead and the wounded, the cell-phones of the victims were ringing as anxious loved ones tried to contact them. The next day, 600 people queued around the block to give blood to help the survivors.

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All around the world, vigils have have taken place in memory of the dead of Orlando. I attended the Oxford (UK) vigil for Orlando last night with two friends. It was beautiful. There were poetry readings, candles, flowers, speeches, and a silence. LGBTQIA people and our allies came together in a shared moment of grieving. Hertford College was flying a rainbow flag at half-mast. The person leading the Oxford vigil for Orlando was Muslim and LGBT. There is a huge number of LGBT Muslims around the world, and they are in mourning too.

It was also noticeable how many of the families of the dead loved them unconditionally, and that the families of one of the couples that were killed – Juan Ramon Guerrero and Christopher “Drew” Leinonen – have arranged a joint funeral for them. They had planned to be married, but now they will be buried side-by-side.

This is in stark contrast to the sad story of the funeral of Tom Bridegroom, which his partner, Shane Bitney Crone, was not allowed by the Bridegroom family to attend – they threatened violence towards him.

In the face of such an appalling tragedy, it is all too easy to assume the world is full of hate. Yet every day, millions of small acts of kindness and love go unnoticed and unreported. People helping refugees, building community, reaching out to each other in friendship and love.

Sadly, as with any social progress, it’s a case of one step forward and two steps backwards. The unsightly rash of ‘bathroom bills’ currently disfiguring the legislatures of America are evidence of that. The horrific murders of 49 people are evidence of that. The fact that demagogues are all too ready to spout anti-Muslim and anti-LGBTQ hate is sadly still with us. And we must not forget that being LGBTQ is still illegal and subject to the death penalty in far too many countries around the world.

There is some good news today – that Democrat Senators held the floor of the Senate for nearly 15 hours in a push to get some gun control bills heard. They have put forward bills that would institute universal background checks and bar suspected terrorists from buying guns. Such legislation might have prevented some of the recent spate of mass shootings.

But what this tragedy has done is to show the love that the LGBTQ community has for one another. The solidarity represented by the many vigils around the world is beautiful. We have survived centuries of persecution and hate, and we are still here. As Owen Jones said:

The terrorist who carried out America’s worst ever shooting in Orlando will fail just as a neo-Nazi terrorist did 17 years ago in London when he detonated a nail bomb outside the Admiral Duncan pub. The LGBT community will mourn, will cry and will rage but ultimately we will win and the love of LGBT people all over this planet will burn even brighter because of what he did.

Earlier this month, my husband and I went to Oxford Pride. On our way there, we met a grandma who was also going. She expressed regret that she couldn’t get a rainbow bandanna for her little dog (she had ordered it online but it hadn’t turned up). She was going to Pride (to meet up with her entire family) to support her lesbian grand-daughter. My husband was going to Pride to do some morris-dancing with Oxford City Morris to entertain Pride-goers. Both of these things would have been extremely surprising twenty years ago.

Below are some photos from the Oxford (UK) vigil. The one that really sums things up for me is the placard that reads “Stay Proud. Stay Visible”.

As Pat Mosley wrote in a blogpost, Pride is the Answer:

Pride is the way attitudes change. Refusing to live in the shame assigned to us defuses the power of that myth for others being raised in it.

I have anger. But I also have Pride. As an atheist, as a fat diabetic Queer, as a sex-positive, socialist, gender resisting, sober/recovering addict, and occultnik weirdo. I refuse to let the dominant paradigm’s shame narrative closet me. And I refuse to do their work for them by hating the others who join me in living our Queer utopian consciousness.

The LGBT+ community is one that is born from pride and resistance, but also from love. It is our love that marginalizes us and yet draws us together. It is our love that informs our politics and challenges the world around us.

My heart hurts for the loss of so many beautiful lives. And yet I am aware that there is still beauty and grace in the world. Hope and despair, love and loss, joy and sorrow, live side-by-side in our hearts. Life is always renewing itself in the face of death. And the beauty of love is always present, even in the midst of fear and terror.

Oxford, UK vigil for Orlando. Photo by Yvonne Aburrow. CC-BY-SA 4.0

Oxford, UK vigil for Orlando. Photo by Yvonne Aburrow. CC-BY-SA 4.0

Oxford, UK vigil for Orlando. Photo by Yvonne Aburrow. CC-BY-SA 4.0

Oxford, UK vigil for Orlando. Photo by Yvonne Aburrow. CC-BY-SA 4.0

Oxford, UK vigil for Orlando. Photo by Yvonne Aburrow. CC-BY-SA 4.0

Oxford, UK vigil for Orlando. Photo by Yvonne Aburrow. CC-BY-SA 4.0

Flowers. Oxford, UK vigil for Orlando. Photo by Yvonne Aburrow. CC-BY-SA 4.0

Flowers. Oxford, UK vigil for Orlando. Photo by Yvonne Aburrow. CC-BY-SA 4.0

Rose petals for the dead. Oxford, UK vigil for Orlando. Photo by Yvonne Aburrow. CC-BY-SA 4.0

Rose petals for the dead. Oxford, UK vigil for Orlando. Photo by Yvonne Aburrow. CC-BY-SA 4.0

Rainbow flag. Oxford, UK vigil for Orlando. Photo by Yvonne Aburrow. CC-BY-SA 4.0

Rainbow flag. Oxford, UK vigil for Orlando. Photo by Yvonne Aburrow. CC-BY-SA 4.0

"Love is not gender, race, or religion: it's just love". Oxford, UK vigil for Orlando. Photo by Yvonne Aburrow. CC-BY-SA 4.0

“Love is not gender, race, or religion: it’s just love”. Oxford, UK vigil for Orlando. Photo by Yvonne Aburrow. CC-BY-SA 4.0

Candles. Oxford, UK vigil for Orlando. Photo by Yvonne Aburrow. CC-BY-SA 4.0

Candles. Oxford, UK vigil for Orlando. Photo by Yvonne Aburrow. CC-BY-SA 4.0

Sign: "Stay proud. Stay visible". Oxford, UK vigil for Orlando. Photo by Yvonne Aburrow. CC-BY-SA 4.0

Sign: “Stay proud. Stay visible”. Oxford, UK vigil for Orlando. Photo by Yvonne Aburrow. CC-BY-SA 4.0

Rest in Power: names of the 49 victims of the Orlando Shooting. A placard at the Oxford vigil for Orlando. Photo by Yvonne Aburrow

Rest in Power: names of the 49 victims of the Orlando Shooting. A placard at the Oxford vigil for Orlando. Photo by Yvonne Aburrow [CC-BY-SA 4.0]

Further reading

These are all the Orlando-related articles that I linked to in the blogpost.

Philly: I bought a semi-automatic rifle in seven minutes – by Helen Ubinas

http://maddisonwood.com/im-tired/

Elle Dowd: Biphobia and the Pulse Massacre (Medium.com)

Daily Life: What it means to ignore the LGBTQ identity of the victims

9NewsThe chilling sound of victims’ phones ringing

http://www.sabinabecker.com/2016/06/the-predictable-outcome-of-god-guns-and-gays.html

http://blacklivesmatter.com/in-honor-of-our-dead-queer-trans-muslim-black-we-will-be-free/

 

Oxford Mail: Orlando Shooting Vigil (photos)

http://thinkprogress.org/lgbt/2016/06/13/3787881/lgbt-muslims-orlando/

Orlando Shooting Victims (Buzzfeed)

http://time.com/4366957/orlando-shooting-juan-guerrero-christopher-drew-leinonen/

https://patmosley.wordpress.com/2016/06/14/pride-is-the-answer/

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.

Indigenous peoples

Friday 9 August was United Nations Indigenous Peoples’ Day.

The rights of indigenous peoples are important for many reasons. They are important first and foremost because they are fellow human beings with a right to live safe and free, but also for other reasons.

Indigenous peoples often understand how to live in harmony with their environment, and have built up unique lifeways and mythology to help them live in harmony with it. Consider the Hopi traditions around the Three Sisters, corn, beans, and squash. They also have unparalleled knowledge of the plants and animals in the places where they live. And they have unique and irreplaceable cultures.

When they are ripped out of their environment, lifeways, and culture, they do not flourish. Look at the problems experienced by First Nations people in North America. Look at the alienation of Europeans who are divorced from our indigenous lifeways both by capitalism and barren forms of religion.

What can we do to help indigenous peoples?

One thing you can do is join Survival International and take part in their campaigns. Without the support of ordinary people who write to governments in support of indigenous people, more massacres will occur.

The destruction of ancient pagan religions in Europe was a tragedy from which the European psyche has never recovered. As members of the contemporary Pagan revival, struggling to recover our ancestral ways from the wreck of history, we owe it to our relations, the indigenous peoples of the world, to help prevent such a tragedy for them.

I first learnt about Survival International from the UK Pagan Federation magazine in the late 1980s. Survival International was founded in 1969 and is a human rights organisation that campaigns for the rights of indigenous and uncontacted peoples, and helps them to determine their own future. Their campaigns usually focus on tribal people’s fight to keep their ancestral lands. Part of their work is to re-educate people about misconceptions that help justify violations of human rights against indigenous people, and the dangers that they face from the advancement of corporations, governments and also good intentions based on ideas of “development” that are forced on them. Survival believes that their alternative ways of living are not deficient, that they represent a model of sustainability in the environment of which they are a part and that they possess a rich culture from which others could learn.

Even as I write, the Yezidi people, who have a unique religion and indigenous culture, are being persecuted by the terrorist organisation calling itself Islamic State. Please sign and share this petition calling on the United Nations to protect them.

See also:
International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples. What It Is & How It Relates To You
August 8, 2014 by 

Update:

And here are some more actions you can take to raise awareness and help indigenous peoples:

Stop uncontacted tribes being annihilated: send an email

A massacre caused a group of uncontacted Amazon Indians to emerge from the rainforest last month. Help Survival International persuade Brazil and Peru to take action.

Download & share a tribal quote

Give tribal peoples a platform to speak to the world. Share this quote with your friends on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.

Set up a monthly $5 gift to Survival

Regular giving is the best way to support Survival. It involves less administration, allows them to plan their work, confident in the knowledge of your regular support.

Watch & share the short film The things they said

The extinction or assimilation of tribal people has been predicted for over 500 years. Wrong then, wrong now.

Distribute Survival flyers in your local area

Display Survival flyers in your local library, museum, at work or anywhere you think they will get noticed.