The Ink Well: Exploring the Depths of Communication

An author and editor looks at how we use language to communicate with other Pagans and those outside our community.

  • Home
    Home This is where you can find all the blog posts throughout the site.
  • Tags
    Tags Displays a list of tags that have been used in the blog.
  • Bloggers
    Bloggers Search for your favorite blogger from this site.
  • Login
    Login Login form
Stifyn Emrys

Stifyn Emrys

Stifyn Emrys is an editor and author of eight books. He has worked as a columnist, blogger and educator. He has written both fiction and non-fiction works, including "Identity Break," "Feathercap," "Requiem for a Phantom God" and "The Gospel of the Phoenix."
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.

...
Last modified on
15
Cultural Appropriation or Creative Expession?

I opened up my Facebook account today and was greeted by a long discussion focusing on cultural appropriation, vis-a-vis belly dancing. It appeared to be based on a Salon article titled "Why I can't stand white belly dancers."

The first thing that struck me was the confrontational nature of the headline: It wasn't belly dancing performed by white people that the author couldn't stand, it was the belly dancers themselves. If this doesn't put people on the defensive, I don't know what will. Then again, it's part of the inflammatory nature of online "journalism" these days, which uses hot-button language to increase the number of hits. (Full disclosure: I'm white, but I'm no belly dancer, and belly dancing isn't something I go out of my way to watch.)

The author of the article describes an instance in which "a white woman came out in Arab drag — because that’s what that is, when a person who’s not Arab wears genie pants and a bra and heavy eye makeup and Arabic jewelry, or jewelry that is meant to read as 'Arabic' because it’s metallic and shiny and has squiggles of some kind — and began to belly-dance."

...
Last modified on
14
Recent Comments - Show all comments
  • valkyr dragonborn
    valkyr dragonborn says #
    as an amateur American "bellydancer" this article both astounds and disgusts me- noted professional Middle Eastern artists, musici
  • Literata
    Literata says #
    I appreciate your points about the impossibility of achieving purity. Like Carol Christ, though, I can also see the author's persp
  • Stifyn Emrys
    Stifyn Emrys says #
    I was intentionally careful with my wording on the parody point: I wrote that it was "one" key question rather than "the" key ques

Posted by on in Studies Blogs
Wiccanate Privilege: What Now?

There's been a good deal of conversation online about the term "Wiccanate privilege" the past few days, and I think it illustrates the importance of choosing our words carefully when communicating important issues - especially those that others might find sensitive or take personally.

I have to admit the phrase rubbed me the wrong way to some degree. Whenever this happens, I ask myself why, and my attempt to answer that question usually starts with establishing definitions. When I looked up "Wiccanate" in Merriam-Webster's online dictionary, it told me, "The word you're looking for isn't in the dictionary" and advised me to try another spelling (the top three suggestions were "wagonette," "white and" and, disconcertingly, "witch hunt"). It came as no surprise when the word failed to show up, as it seemed like one of those terms coined for the sake of convenience or because nothing else quite seemed to fit.

Next, I looked around online and found references to it. Among the most helpful definitions was one I found at a blog called Finnchuill's Mast, which described it as "referring to practices either specifically Wiccan, or of traditions like Feri and Reclaiming that share many reasonably similar practices like circle casting and working with four elements." My first reaction is that the term could be seen as artificial and offensive (I know of at least one person who described it as such). What if someone were to label your tradition "Paganesque" or "Reconstructionistic"? You might not take too kindly to that. Shorthand and jargon can be convenient, but it also can come off as flippant, dismissive and/or exclusionary - the last because only certain people will know what it means.

...
Last modified on
9
Recent Comments - Show all comments
  • Nova
    Nova says #
    Woops somehow I doubled post they really need to consider some edit options.
  • Nova
    Nova says #
    I agree that the minority word does need to be heard and I understand that when someone gets offended or a bit tired of one thing
  • John Halstead
    John Halstead says #
    Rather than trying to create a universal Pagan ritual for pan-Pagan events like Pagan Pride Day, how about we celebrate our divers

Posted by on in Studies Blogs
Us vs. Them

Us: “We just want security. We want the right to believe as we see fit.”

Them: “Sorry, those things have been outlawed.”

Us: “Why?”

...
Last modified on
0

Posted by on in Studies Blogs
Interfaith Dialogue in a Polarized World

At PantheaCon, I ran into someone with whom I'd had a disagreement online. This point of contention was a hot-button issue for me, and my reaction to it had been too quick and strident. When I met the person in question, our meeting was cordial, and I don't even think he recognized me. I left things alone, but when we crossed paths a second time, I confronted the situation directly and apologized for being too blunt. Because my "hot button" had been pressed - inadvertently - I had barreled ahead without finding out more about his take on the situation.

After a 10- or 15-minute conversation, we parted ways, having interacted cordially, but not having addressed the issue upon which we disagreed. He mentioned that we should do so at some point, and I agreed. In honesty, I doubt either of us will change the other's mind, but do we really need to? It's fine to be open to learning about another person's perspective without feeling obligated to embrace it as our own.

Polarization

...
Last modified on
3
Recent comment in this post - Show all comments
  • Aline "Macha" O'Brien
    Aline "Macha" O'Brien says #
    Thanks for this helpful piece, Stifyn. Would you had been at the discussion in the CoG suite of "Wiccanate privilege" in interfai
Pagan Culture and Experience: Definitions and Practice

Who gets the right to define you? To label you? Is that right solely your own, or does it belong in some measure to the culture with which you identify? I've considered this question for a long time, and I've concluded that there's no easy answer.

I've long been an advocate for the principle of self-identification: If you choose to identify yourself in specific terms, who are others to challenge it? But things really aren't that simple, are they? What about frauds who have ulterior motives for adopting a label? What about people who don't really understand what the label means?

A Huffington Post article titled "Striking Photos Challenge The Way We See Blackness" recently explored the idea of self-identification in terms of race. The writer interviewed several individuals from diverse backgrounds who identified as black, postulating that "Blackness must be recognized as something other than just skin color and specific physical attributes."

...
Last modified on
3
Recent Comments - Show all comments
  • Samaire Provost
    Samaire Provost says #
    Nope, not at all awkward, Steve
  • Stifyn Emrys
    Stifyn Emrys says #
    Not awkward at all, Samaire. I'm sitting right across the table from you!
  • Samaire Provost
    Samaire Provost says #
    Well isn't this an awkward meeting

Posted by on in Studies Blogs
The Risk of Invocation

Invoke (v.): To petition for support; to cite as authority; to conjure.

What does it mean to invoke?

The word "invoke" derives from the old Latin word vocare, meaning "to call" and is related to the word vox, meaning voice. 

...
Last modified on
3
Recent comment in this post - Show all comments
  • Shawn Bolvi-Singleton
    Shawn Bolvi-Singleton says #
    Something about which to think on a chilly Monday. Thank you for sharing this wisdom.

Posted by on in Studies Blogs

My wife and I just returned from PantheaCon in San Jose. It was our first time attending the event, and we were very impressed. It's easy to find things to complain about, especially at an event this big, but one thing that impressed me is how few complaints I heard - at least about anything substantial.

Complaining can be a natural reaction to disappointment, frustration and other emotions; the lack of it spoke volumes to me in a couple of respects. For one thing, it indicated that the people who put on this convention really got it right. It was well organized, communication was clear (the map, list of events and daily updates from the "town crier" just outside the elevators were extremely well done. There just wasn't that much to complain about.

The lack of complaints also speaks to the tone set for the event in the workshops, rituals, classes, concerts and other activities. There was a sense of unity among a diverse collection of people. We were willing to celebrate our differences and learn from one another, eagerly and without prejudice.

Complaining is all about making one's feelings known - specifically, feelings of dissatisfaction. Sometimes, it's necessary, and some complaints can certainly be legitimate. But listening and learning are all about gathering information, and (barring an emergency), it's best to do as much of this as possible before complaining. Often, complaints turn out to be misplaced simply because we haven't taken the time to learn more about what's causing our dissatisfaction.

...
Last modified on
2
Recent Comments - Show all comments
  • Shauna Aura Knight
    Shauna Aura Knight says #
    It was great to meet you at Pantheacon. Thanks for posting this! I too hope to see more fruitful dialogue.
  • Stifyn Emrys
    Stifyn Emrys says #
    I'm sorry to have missed you, as well. We'll definitely be back next year!
  • John Halstead
    John Halstead says #
    Hey, I'm bummed I missed meeting you! Next time?

Posted by on in Studies Blogs

A video making the rounds on the social media circuit got me thinking. It showed a couple of Christian protesters, armed with signs, who showed up at a gay pride parade in Seattle … where they were confronted by several people involved in the parade.

The confrontation wasn’t pretty. In fact, it turned violent. One woman on the video can be seen pushing a street preacher with a Bible in his hand; later, several other people rip a sign from the second preacher’s hands and proceed to tearmit apart. Then another person barrels into the crowd and proceeds to start punching the man with the sign before police arrive to restore order.

As a supporter of LGBT rights, I was disheartened to see the aggression and violence on the part of the parade-goers. Violence is seldom appropriate, and it certainly wasn’t in this case.

...
Last modified on
8
Recent Comments - Show all comments
  • Ted Czukor
    Ted Czukor says #
    This is an excellent article, Stifyn; thank you for posting it. But the issues are a bit more complicted than even you have deline
  • Candi
    Candi says #
    I would completely condone standing up and shouting at a Catholic Mass. I know a gay fellow who has a rather visceral phobia of br
  • Joseph Bloch
    Joseph Bloch says #
    Bear in mind that pro-gay marriage advocates have a history of staging protests where "their presence - and the message they brou

Posted by on in Studies Blogs

Speech is one of the oldest forms of magic. I’m not just talking about the fact that it’s long been used in incantation or divination (runes being one example); it’s much more fundamental than that. Words are vessels designed to contain thoughts and transfer them across time and space from one mind to another. If that’s not magical, I don’t know what is.

On its surface, the process appears simple. We insert a thought into our chosen vessel and send it on its way. We trust that it will arrive at its destination, dutifully delivering its precious contents to our intended recipient(s).

What actually happens, however, is far from simple. The vessel we’ve chosen may not be the one best suited for the journey. Even if it is, it still may run aground on the rocks of differing perceptions or bias. We may think our words mean something altogether foreign to our hearer’s (or reader’s) understanding. No matter how careful we are, the transfer will never be seamless. We will always be, to some extent, speaking different languages because we come to the conversation from different backgrounds, with different agendas and with different vocabularies.

...
Last modified on
3
Recent Comments - Show all comments
  • Ted Czukor
    Ted Czukor says #
    "It’s not enough just to know how to communicate; we have to know how to communicate with the people to whom we’re speaking." Exc
  • Cat
    Cat says #
    Looking forward to your words, sir!

Additional information