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Posted by on in Paths Blogs

Before I discuss tarot as a form of Jungian Pagan practice, I want, in this post, to give a little background about how I approach tarot.  

b2ap3_thumbnail_f10-0413-tarot-deck-inset.jpgTarot, for anyone who does not know, is a deck of cards that derives from a mid-15th century card game called Triumphs, which is the origin of various modern trump card games like Euchre, Bridge, and Hearts.  The tarot card deck resembles the common 52 playing cards used today, with important differences.  There are four suits: Swords, Batons (or Wands), Cups, and Coins (or Pentacles).  In addition to the King and Queen face cards, there is a Knight (which became the Jack) and a Page.  These constitute the court cards, which are also called the Minor Arcana.  In addition, there are 22 trump cards, also called the Major Arcana, with names like the Fool, the Lovers, Death, and the Hanged Man, numbered 0 to 21.  All of the cards have evocative imagery on them, which accounts for their continued appeal.  The cards are now primarily used for divination, or fortune telling, rather than as a card game.  The deck exists in many versions.  The most well known historical deck is the Tarot de Marseilles and the most well known occult deck is the Rider-Waite Tarot, but there are literally thousands of variations.

I actually discovered tarot before I discovered Paganism or Jung.  After I left the Mormon church, I found myself searching the internet for imagery.  I couldn't have said then what I was looking for, but now I realize that I was looking for symbols to fill the vacuum that had been created by the loss of the symbolic system which Mormonism had previously provided me.  I came across tarot and something about the imagery, especially the Major Arcana, was compelling to me, so I went looking for more information.

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  • Deanna Anderson
    Deanna Anderson says #
    I linked to your article from my Goodreads site (it was shared with me on Facebook). I just wrote a book about Tarot, so linked th
  • Deanna Anderson
    Deanna Anderson says #
    Very interesting! I have never seen the Major Arcana described this way but it makes sense. Great article!
  • Finn McGowan
    Finn McGowan says #
    Very interesting blog. When it comes to the Major Arcana, a study of the BOTA deck can be extremely rewarding. What the difference

Posted by on in SageWoman Blogs

Not to date myself, but I remember when we didn't have answering machines. Now I let almost everything go to voice mail. Before though, I had to stop and decide if I wanted to answer the phone. I can see some of you scratching your heads...what on earth does an answering machine or lack thereof have to do with Tarot? Well, sometimes I do that with my Tarot readings too. I just let my inner answering machine take over.

There are cards in the tarot that, for me, have instant meanings. Those are the ones that are so embedded in my brain that they seem automatic. But that may not be the best answer for my querent. They may require a bit more than a rote Tarot reading. So sometimes I like to turn my brain upside down so I can't do the auto-answer. I yank myself out of that Tarot rut I can sometimes get into when I'm doing endless readings.

It's not fair to my client. They don't know I had three people before them asking similar questions. They aren't to blame for my reaction. But I cannot drop into automatic mode. I have to prevent my inner answering machine from picking up.

Here are just two ways to kick yourself out of the "that always means" rote reading technique. I'd love to hear your own if you have some as well.

1. Odd Fellows

b2ap3_thumbnail_SixSwords_Compare001.jpg

By using a deck I'm not familiar with, I have to back up and take another look. I've been loving two self-published decks lately that really force me to let go of the automatic and search out the intuitive answer.

From the Wild Unknown Tarot, this Six of Swords is not your typical dude rowing a boat. Nor is the image of Scathach as the Six of Air from the Dark Goddess one I can immediately see the "moving from troubled times to calmer places" meaning I have tattooed into my brain.

I have to stop. I have to become more present in my Tarot reading.

When I put the two with the Rider Smith Waite (Radiant) Six of Swords, I see color similarities immediately. In a way, my desire to let go of the old meanings for the new is represented by the meaning of this card.

2. Same Old, Same Old


b2ap3_thumbnail_FourCups_Compare002.jpg
Another trick is to find what is the same. Using the same two decks again, here is the Wild Unknown Tarot's Four of Cups and the Dark Goddess Tarot's Four of water. When you put add the Rider Waite smith Four of Cups, you can find some similarities. But looking for that makes me expand my mind outward to see other meanings.

The rat on the Four of Cups from the Wild Unknown makes me ask, "Who am I letting foul my dreams?" While Lethe's pose has me wondering why I'm trying to swim without water.

Then I can take those two additional questions back to the Rider Waite Smith version as well. They become a part of my reader's arsenal for digging into the cards.

What about you? What are some of the cards that you have one solid meaning for? Are you unshakeable in that definition or is there room for expansion?

All images used with permission by publisher. No further permission to reproduce images given.
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Posted by on in Culture Blogs
Denouncing capitalism

I have a real problem with capitalism.  I get this little twitch whenever I see it in action, an urge to rise up and say, "NO!  This is wrong!"  Each year that passes I see capitalist forces making deeper inroads into our culture, and at times it's simply infuriating.  Of course, given the mind-boggling diversity within the Pagan movement, capitalist forces see opportunity around every corner, and seize every opportunity that presents itself.

I fear that we are losing to the capitalists, and I think it's time to rise up and loudly denounce everything they stand for.

Capitalism was extremely popular among the enlightened thinkers who helped cobble together the United States of America from its colonial progenitors, a fact which is easier to see when reading their original words, rather than the memes which disseminate pithy quotes these days.  English has strong German roots, and German is, hands down, the most capitalist language of them all.

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  • Ted Czukor
    Ted Czukor says #
    Nice one, Terence. You got me!
  • Terence P Ward
    Terence P Ward says #
    Internet and universe are two words I dig in my heels and refuse to capitalize because they're both, well, universal. I think the
  • Greybeard
    Greybeard says #
    When my grandmother learned letters, all nouns had capital letters. I suspect that changed because the invention of typewriters a

Posted by on in SageWoman Blogs
How straight is your wheel?

Our usual solar stories about the turning of the year focus on the birth, maturing and death of a sun god who might fight his rival at midsummer and will probably father himself. Imbolc is all about pregnancy and birth. Beltain is all about impregnating. It’s a very heterosexual narrative, when you get down to it.

Nature is not exclusively about heterosexual reproduction. What we would understand as homosexual behaviour crops up in all creatures. If you’re part of a wolf pack or a bee hive, it’s about the group, not about spreading your own genes directly. Many plants have both male and female sex organs – if you insist on understanding them in those terms! On top of this, plants will also reproduce through suckers, bulbs and other ways of doing it for themselves without any need for pollination. Some creatures change gender. Oysters have all the kit, and effectively change gender every few years. Other life forms – fungi particularly, are asexual, and reproduce without any input from anyone else.

Where, in the traditional wheel story, would you honour the oyster? Or the male seahorse who carries his young in a pouch? Where, in the cycle of the year do we talk about how most of the elm trees in the UK are probably descended from just the one tree, and spread asexually? Where are the stories that place our equally natural gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered, not so gendered and asexual Pagan folk within the wheel of the year?

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  • Erin Lale
    Erin Lale says #
    That's one of the reasons I'm glad I'm a heathen, specifically an Asatruar, because our ritual structure doesn't have heterosexual
  • Nimue Brown
    Nimue Brown says #
    If we have three kinds of ancestors (blood, land and tradition) then we must also have three kinds of descendants. While that cann
  • Anna Belle LaFae
    Anna Belle LaFae says #
    Thank you for this article! After my child was stillborn and then subsequent infertility the reproductive emphasis of so many pag

Posted by on in Studies Blogs
Judy Harrow

Judy Harrow
1945 - 2014

I've just learned of the passing of my old friend Judy Harrow.  Her health had been fragile for some years now, so her passing is not entirely unexpected.  That said, it is a great loss to American Witchcraft and the Pagan movement in general.

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  • Byron Ballard
    Byron Ballard says #
    Thank you, Macha. This is lovely.
  • Aline "Macha" O'Brien
    Aline "Macha" O'Brien says #
    Hi Terence, Thanks for your kind words. Judy's birthday was March 3, 1945.
  • Terence P Ward
    Terence P Ward says #
    Macha, This post brings together a confluence of forces in my life. For one, I knew Judy Harrow, but only for a few short years,

Posted by on in Culture Blogs
Evil Thrives on Secrecy

Many of you will have already read that long-time Pagan leader Kenny Klein was recently arrested for possession of child pornography. If you have not yet read this news, you can do so here. I was already aware of certain allegations against him stemming from a problematic incident in the 1990s, but the information came to me third-hand, and so I was reluctant to credit it. However, the way the information came to me - via someone who said she was breaking a coven oath to impart it - left me thinking about secrecy in the Pagan community for a long time afterward. More recently, Kenny himself posted a blog entry to the PaganSquare community about the issue of secrecy in magical communities that I thought was a good exploration of the topic, and I commented with a link back to my own discussion of secrecy among Pagans when speaking with non-Pagans.

In the coming days and weeks, I expect there will be a great deal of public conversation among us around Kenny's arrest, what the community knew or believed about his character and what the press might make of his faith. And while I am indeed using him as an example to re-introduce the topic of secrecy in the Pagan community, I am not willing to speculate in this entry or in the comments about his guilt or innocence. Rather, I want to have a conversation about silence; the kind we offer one another as Pagans and the kind we visit upon outsiders.

I am a reluctantly graying Pagan who came to the faith in the 1980s and lives in a conservative, Gàidhlig, island community now. So silence about my faith has always been a matter of active negotiation for me. That said, I believe in a certain level of transparency and accountability within the Pagan community, which is another kind of active negotiation, one that involves us all. I wrote about that negotiation some years ago for PanGaia's "Toe-to-Toe" series, and I am reprinting that article below because I think the discussion is timely. I encourage you to seek out PanGaia #46 for commentary on the subject by fellow contributors Alex Bledsoe, Nicholas Graham and David C. Webb.

Evil Thrives on Secrecy

I’ve been Pagan for more than twenty years, and in that time I’ve observed many fellow Pagans engaging in behaviors that were damaging to themselves, to their inner circles of friends and family, and to the Pagan community in general.  Some of these behaviors were egregious in nature, and I’ve often found myself shaking my head in disbelief or shaking with anger at what I’ve witnessed.  On more than one occasion I’ve responded to these behaviors with varying degrees of tact - proportional to my age and wisdom, as you might expect – and on more than one occasion I’ve found myself at loggerheads with various members of my community out of a sense of personal outrage, or duty, or whatever I was calling it at the time.  I’m not very good at the “shut up and sweep it under the rug” thing, you see.

But even though I’ve matured over time and learned to express my righteous indignation more diplomatically, I’ve never regretted the impulse that drove my younger self to right the wrongs I found in my community; to encourage mentally-ill friends to seek professional help, to report fellow Pagans to the proper authorities when I knew they were abusing their children, and to stand up to those leaders who used their influence improperly. I love the Pagan community; it was my refuge from the dark corners of my youth, it taught me almost everything I know about honor, and it brought me to a deep and abiding reverence for life.  I believe in fostering the same refuge for others who need it, and that isn’t always easy.

However, I’ve also observed – and been subject to – what happens to Pagans who speak out against the inappropriate behavior of other Pagans.  Often they are accused of inciting conflict whether their concerns are legitimate or not.  Moreover, those people who are charged with inappropriate behavior often hide behind the pretense of conflict avoidance and thereby escape censure whether they are guilty or not.  This is not appropriate, and over the years it has left me wondering why our community appears to favor conflict avoidance over straightforwardness and accountability.  It’s a hard question, and I think it demands that we look at the reasons why we avoid conflict in the first place.

One possibility is that because we have had to fight hard for a long time to be recognized as a legitimate faith path in the eyes of non-Pagan culture, we want to put on the very best face we have for the public eye. Internal conflict mars that public face and makes it more difficult for us to interact with non-Pagans. Therefore, it is possible that the Pagan community has, in its desire to be seen as positive and life-affirming, sought to quash dissent rather than deal with those problems illuminated by dissenters.

Another possibility is that our desire to foster diversity makes us hesitant to question people whose behavior bespeaks a need for intervention when they insist their activities are integral to their path-working. Many of us know people who use psychotropic substances to facilitate visionary experience; who are we to determine how much is too much? Many of us know people who are nurturing non-traditional romantic and familial relationships; who are we to determine whether or not those relationships are equitable for all parties involved? We exist in a community full of radical and experimental forms of expression, and most of us know that we can’t possibly understand them all. Perhaps we are worried that we might not understand them enough to know when the line between progressive and problematic has been crossed.

A third possibility is that many of us come from broken places and have brought our psychological baggage with us into the Pagan community. Conflict is sometimes personal and painful for people even when they are not directly involved in it. As previously mentioned, a number of us sought refuge here in the hope that we could recover our strength and thereafter make positive contributions in the lives of others.  Therefore, it is certainly possible that some Pagans simply have little tolerance for discord.

But whatever the reasons for this ethic of conflict avoidance, the consequences are the same. We decay from within when sick members of our community do not seek wellness, and we enable their sickness with our silence. We are viewed negatively by the outside world when we do not censure members of our community who have harmed others. And most importantly, we fail to do the spiritual and environmental work the multiverse brought us together to do, since that work can only be done in a spirit of perfect love and perfect trust.

We all fall ill and make mistakes from time to time. I am not suggesting that we punish the imperfections of our fellow Pagans by permanently excluding them from our community. However, I am insisting that we overcome our fear of conflict and demand that our fellow Pagans seek help when they are ill and account for their mistakes. Our community is important and good and holy, and we all need to be healthy and productive together if we are to survive, thrive, and be a place of safety for our members.

"Evil Thrives on Secrecy." PanGaia Apr. 2007: 12. Print.

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  • Deborah Blake
    Deborah Blake says #
    Very well said!

Posted by on in SageWoman Blogs

b2ap3_thumbnail_sprouts.jpg

I've written before about life as an act of faith. Faith usually refers to one's spiritual beliefs, but I've never felt my relationship with Goddess required faith; it's a state of knowing, not believing.

However, Faith has been known to dally about with Trust. You often see the two of them whispering together in a corner, cozy and self-confident, but I'm not always such a fan of Trust. She's led me down the garden path right into nasty brambles or a boggy patch a few too many times, and relying on her just doesn't come easily anymore.

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It's been one of those weeks where it's been a little hard to see my blessings, and all to easy to see my roadblocks. I'm participating in a community on Facebook where we post three things that we are grateful for each day, and it's helping me to stay focused on all the wonderful things in my life -- even when it seems all I can see are the setbacks and the "what ifs." So I chuckled a little when Changing Woman, The Navajo Goddess of the Corn, came dancing into my life tonight.

b2ap3_thumbnail_estsanatlehi-kris-waldherr.jpg

Changing Woman by Kris Waldherr

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Posted by on in SageWoman Blogs

b2ap3_thumbnail_Spring-altar-Goddess-Spiral-2014-a.jpg

Seeds are magical.

For Ostara we planted five seeds.
The soil that held them was mixed with ashes.
Ashes that had once been paper,
that had once held our Imbolc intentions,
and that now nourished the soil.
Our seeds, so small in the dark soil.
Tiny seeds of possibility-- asleep.  
We set them in the sun with water and our blessings.

I planted seeds as a child.
I plant seeds as an adult,
experiencing the anticipation and wonder anew.
I ran to peer at the soil every day,
hoping for growth and new beginnings.
The adult kept the excitement away.
The adult made plans if the seeds did not grow.
The child stayed hopeful and rejoiced when seedlings emerged.

b2ap3_thumbnail_Ostara-seedlings-Goddess-Spiral.jpg

Seedlings are magical.

Our “babies”, our seedlings.
Tiny and delicate,
they persevere every day.
All five have grown.
All five lean towards the sun.
Some are stronger than others.
Some fall with the water.
They won’t all grow into tomato plants.
They won’t all gift us fruit.
Until then, they are tiny little possibilities.
They are tiny little hopes-- awake.

Life is magical.

b2ap3_thumbnail_Ostara-Seedling-5-Goddess-Spiral-Paola-Suarez.jpg

 Hear me reading this poem at "I planted seeds" by Paola Suarez, a reading.

 

 

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  • Paola Suarez
    Paola Suarez says #
    Thank you Courtney for your feedback! It was very powerful to feel the energy of Imbolc combining to give birth to Ostara life.
  • Courtney Weber
    Courtney Weber says #
    I love this--planting seeds mixed with the ashes at Imbolc! Beautiful!
Pagan savings challenge, week thirteen:  lies we tell

One of the gods I regularly worship is Hermes, who among his other associations is god of the marketplace, and god of lies.  If you've ever purchased a car, the link between the two shouldn't come as any surprise; lies are part and parcel of what makes money work.  In fact, it's reasonable to argue that money is itself a lie, or built on one.

That does not erode money's influence or role as a holder of energy (value), although the fact that some people avoid money entirely is understandable.  Rather than resist the lies, I prefer to use them to my advantage.

Savings, at least for people like me who spend money like it's going to buy happiness, is all about lies and self-trickery.  A friend of mine recently told me that he's hesitant to get a second job because his track record was to be less responsible the more he makes.  For him, that meant socializing, likely with alcohol.  Endorphins running high can make spending easier, with or without alcohol, so I counsel a few well-placed lies to stop behaviors before they start.

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  • J'Karrah
    J'Karrah says #
    I always round payments UP to the nearest dollar in my checkbook. Meaning a bill payment of $128.35 gets rounded up to $129 in my

Posted by on in SageWoman Blogs

b2ap3_thumbnail_Erato-pencil-sketch-lowres.jpgI don't always have much to say about my actual artwork as the Muse presents Herself, but this time I feel compelled to explain. This is a very quick pencil sketch on cheap copy paper, the result of this muse's urgent desire to come forth and be recognized, whether or not I was prepared to receive Her.

The result came off looking more like Lady Liberty than any Goddess I recognized. Except for the wings, and She was pretty insistent about those wings.

It turns out that Erato can be identified by the crown of roses wrapped around her head. Well, there is certainly a crown – and roses. Sometimes my envisioning comes through a bit more literal than the Muse might intend.

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Annika Mongan makes a wonderful point in her blog post of March 28, 2014 - namely, that public scandals in Christian communities have a particularly demoralizing impact on their members, because Conversion promised them that Faith and the Holy Spirit would make them spiritually healthier than the rest of the world.  I agree, but I don't think that Christians have a corner on those feelings.  The same expectations, just expressed in different words, have applied to every spiritual community I have ever joined.  

In high school, I was an acolyte and president of my church's Methodist Youth Fellowship.  It was hard for me to understand why my father, who was active on the Board of Trustees, suddenly decided after 8 loyal years to take our family out of the church due to social friction with other Board members and political disagreements with the new Ministerial staff.  I had been taught that we were all members of the Body of Christ, and that we prized agape - divine brotherly love - above all else.  Why was my Dad so out of touch with what our Youth Ministers had been teaching me every week?  Could there be other realities, separate from the rosy picture that had been painted for me in Sunday School? 

It was 20 years before my wife and I were ready to join another spiritual community, and this time we chose a New Thought Church - one of those Course in Miracles, Science of Mind-ey sorts of places.  Far less hierarchical and more New Agey than traditional Christianity, everyone there was kookie and sweet and accepting of differences.  Surely, this time we had found the community that would live up to its stated Spiritual principles.  

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  • Ted Czukor
    Ted Czukor says #
    Good points, Cat lover. I'm sure you're right about that 9 year old. As for challenging a responder's comments, my feeling was t
  • Cat lover
    Cat lover says #
    Ted, you are right. I was responding to the other commenter, and it had little to do with your post. Sorry if I helped derail your
  • Ted Czukor
    Ted Czukor says #
    No problem, CL. Thanks for understanding my position.
New Moon in Aries: Crossing the Threshold

The New Moon in Aries on March 30th, 11:45 am (PDT) is the New Moon for seeding our new intentions. It is the New Moon that kicks off the astrological year, and we can all tap into this outgoing thrust of cross-the-threshold energy. This is the time to plant seeds, till the soil of your imagination, and create! This is Rebirth time. Shed your old skin, and emerge shiny and new. Turn over a new leaf, and arise refreshed and renewed. It's never too late to start, and today marks the place where we can all be innocent again. Be who you truly are, the authentic you. We're all waiting for your debut - we NEED you! Whether you are just beginning to quietly unfold, or preparing your grand entrance, the time is now to step forward. You will be supported.

In Joseph Campbell’s archetypal Hero’s Journey, Aries resonates with "The Call to Adventure". It is the newborn (or re-born) soul at the beginning of the Journey of the spiritual lessons of incarnation. In the Tarot, I liken Aries to The Fool, or “the Innocent”, stepping forward without any sense of fear, and a quality of pure childlike optimism. In order to understand any astrology archetype better, it’s helpful to meditate on the qualities of the season. Aries is the onset of spring: brave, initiating, fresh and sometimes a little foolhardy. It’s rarely talked about in Astrology circles, that Aries is also (like the new growth of spring) vulnerable, sensitive, and trusting. Even when Aries comes on strong, and seems full of characteristic bluster, it’s usually from a place of guileless exuberance.

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Posted by on in SageWoman Blogs
A Cosmic Wink


"I have found being a priestess is not static. My priestessing has changed, and continues to transform over time. I am a priestess once by her call. I am a priestess once for experience. I am a priestess once by recognition...No one need be alone...I have cut a path through uncharted territory. I hope that now, when others hear her call, there will be a path to follow."

--Jade River, Three Times a Priestess in Stepping Into Ourselves by Goddess Ink

Last week a good friend who is also a long-time member of my women's circle, brought me a surprise gift. My friend is not particularly demonstrative, so I was deeply touched by her offering. Shown in the picture above, it is a "riverkeeper" sculpture from Bell Pine Art Farm.

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Posted by on in Culture Blogs

The supermarket, a few days before equinox.

Ringing up my six dozen, the cashier says, “Sure is a lot of eggs.”

“Getting ready for the holiday,” I say.

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Posted by on in Culture Blogs

I think I was 14. I'd just read Anne Frank's diary for the first time, and was sitting in my grandmother's kitchen being self-righteous as only a 14-year old can be.

And she rounded on me.

Not physically, of course: that wasn't her way. But she slapped me down verbally, and she slapped me down good.

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  • Kenaz Filan
    Kenaz Filan says #
    Quick note: I was replying to Greybeard, not Steven Posch. Dunno why my comment threaded like it did, but them's the breaks.
  • Kenaz Filan
    Kenaz Filan says #
    Actually, what Mr. Posch said was "But Grandma was right: Before we do what needs to be done, let us first each one of us look to
  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch says #
    Thanks, Effy, you've stated my own position more clearly than I did myself.

Posted by on in Culture Blogs

witch•sploi•ta•tion n. In literature or cinema, the use of the Craft--or, more broadly, paganism in general--for sensationalistic (usually horror-inducing) ends.

You know the genre. Wicker Man I (“the one without Nicholas Cage,” as a local movie marquee put it during the midnight Samhain run last year), To the Devil a Daughter...so many to choose from. Somewhere off in the sticks there are (bwa-ha-ha) still real, live witches (or left-over pagans) and they still practice...(shudder)...human sacrifice. Whoa, dude, way scary.

A coven-sib recently confessed to me that her bookshelves are filled with trashy novels with the word “witch” in the title. Magenta, you're not alone. I resemble that remark myself, and I'm sure I'm not the only one.

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Posted by on in Paths Blogs

I'm so out of touch with the greater Pagan community--especially the American one--that I might as well have been living under a rock the past few months. Every now and again, however, news seeps down to me, and yesterday I was suddenly confronted with the news of Kenny Klein's arrest on multiple counts of possessing child pornography.

I don't know Klein; I've read some of his posts on PaganSquare, and I've heard others talk about him, but I have never exchanged words with him, not even written ones. I can make no statement to his character beyond his now-tainted image. I don't know anything about Kenny Klein, and yet the news of his arrest and the charges for which he will be brought to court have hit me harder than I would have expected it to.

The Wild Hunt has a relatively complete account of the circumstances, so for anyone wishing to know more about this situation, I would kindly ask you to read up there as I feel no need to repeat Jason's hard work. As of this moment, Klein is not convicted of anything, so I won't comment on his guilt--one way or another--but I do want to comment on the greater ramifications of a Pagan Elder being charged with not only possession of child pornography, but also facing multiple testimonies of people who have felt intimidated and unsafe in his presence during festivals. If you read the article, you will see accounts of many people uncomfortable by his push for physical contact despite being told 'no', and one person even testified to keeping an eye on any kids around Klein long before this turn of events on Wednesday.

This is the part where I warn you about triggers for abuse, rape, rape culture and (male) privilege.

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  • Ted Czukor
    Ted Czukor says #
    Yes, it is a great piece. And it applies to people of all faiths. Years ago I was a member of a New Thought Church in which "hug
  • Courtney Weber
    Courtney Weber says #
    This is a great piece--thank you for sharing this. I really resonate with the "entitlement" aspect that comes in touchy-huggy Circ
  • Tabitha
    Tabitha says #
    Excellently said!!!

Posted by on in Culture Blogs
 
Over the past few months I have been a silent observer of troubling waters within the Pagan community. I was saddened to read many eulogies of Pagan leaders and authors. I watched firestorms of disagreement rage through the community, kindling arguments, sometimes productive, sometimes ugly. I listened as leaders discussed toxic influences of racism, cases of cultural appropriation, and issues of privilege. I met burnt out leaders and frustrated elders and saw dysfunctional group dynamics. And now I am following the blogosphere's reactions to the latest news of Pagan author Kenny Klein

This is a hard time for the Pagan community and I am deeply saddened by all of the losses, conflicts, and problems. But rather than wanting to distance myself from the community I feel more at home in the Pagan community than ever, and here's why. 
 
For over a decade I traveled the US and Europe,  visiting communities as far right as Christian reconstructionism, as far left as radical anarchism, and plenty in between. Conflict, discrimination, in-fighting, leader-bashing, and scandals were found in all of them, no exceptions. Since coming out as a Pagan, several Christians confided in me regarding their "secret lives" and I learned just how deeply communities are plagued by secrets and hypocrisy. 
 
When I was a Christian I responded first with denial, then disgust, despair, and finally bitterness. I struggled through jadedness and finally found renewed hope in humanity. I have seen too much in too many communities to feel shocked by the recent allegations, but my heart aches for all of those whose trust was betrayed, whose voices were not heard, and those now left to sort out conflicting emotions. 
 
While much of this feels familiar, the reaction of the wider community is taking me by surprise. There is the typical denial, flight from the community, the "I-told-you-so" attitude, the "no true Scotsman" argument, etc. But there is also an outpouring of thoughtful responses by Pagan leaders and writers from all over the country. 
 
The openness and courage with which Pagans are facing this news is different from anything I have ever experienced. Likewise, despite heated and sometimes ugly arguments, the overall tone of controversies in the Pagan community is significantly more friendly than what I am used to. I have tried to explain this to some leaders in the Pagan community. I understand their frustration and astonishment at my claim that it could be much worse, so much worse. Despite all of the difficulties, there is so much depth and beauty in how this community deals with it. 
 
I don't know why the Pagan community is so different. My best guess is the different basis for ethics between Paganism and Christianity. In our Christian communities, we expected to be transformed by our faith and through the influence of the Holy Spirit. We expected to be spiritually healthier than the rest of the world. We expected our communities to be more ethical, more "Christ-like". Non-Christians were supposed to be able to tell we were Christians by the sincerity of our love for one another. 
 
In Paganism we don't have this expectation. Several writers have pointed out that as our community grows, we will have the same problems as society. Jason Pitzl-Waters, among others, anticipated we would be faced with a story like the arrest of Kenny Klein sooner or later. This willingness to face reality is incredibly refreshing and valuable to me. Expectations of moral superiority or even perfection leave communities blind to dysfunction and ill equipped for dealing with scandals. Abuse gets covered up, predators are moved around within the community while victims are blamed and cast out.  
 
As Pagans we have no rules handed down to us from a holy book, catechism, or priest. Each Pagan has to wrestle with their own ethical framework. Maybe it is this struggle that causes Pagans to respond with such a level of honesty, integrity and humility.  Our Pagan community is far from perfect and the problems we are facing are real and serious. But after all I have seen in other communities, I can't help but also feel grateful for what we have. We have people speaking out with courage. We have leaders sacrificing much for a community that often shows little gratitude. And we have the freedom to acknowledge the complexity of our problems with honesty, depth, and integrity. 
 
When I first became a Pagan, I was terrified of spiritual communities and took refuge in the option of becoming a solitary practitioner. Shortly afterwards I received a calling to serve the Pagan community. I often felt inadequate and frightened but made the choice to commit. I am glad I did. For someone coming from a culture of victim blaming, cover up, and shame, the responses of the Pagan community have been deeply moving. I thank everyone who found the courage to tell their story and all of the leaders who have offered thoughtful responses on how to make our community safe. 
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Predators, Sacred Space and a Call to Maturity

How do we want to present ourselves to the world? How does the world at large view the Pagan community, and are we happy with the way people see us?

These questions have circulating for years, and often the answer is something like, “Why should we care what they think? All they’re going to do is judge us anyway - and they’ve already made up their minds.”

But not every mind is made up. In fact, there’s more openness toward Paganism and other paths outside the Judeo-Christian framework than ever before. This is why it’s crucial that we step up to the plate and shape the discussion to the extent we can. If we refuse to do so, we can rest assured that those who already have made up their minds will shape it for us … and we won’t like the distorted picture they’re sure to paint.

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