Gender, like opinions, needs to be a little fluid

People like great things – cars, rivers, cities – like they’re female. That’s OK. Lots of people blindly think mothers are the absolute best, plus we live in a culture of female objectification, ergo object plus motherhood = presumed female gender of an ostensibly inanimate object. Works great on cars, all bodies of water, and even cities.

That’s fine if that’s how you see the world. But for people like me – people who experienced “mother” as an untrustworthy, vicious being to duck at every opportunity – are unlikely to apply the female gender to inanimate things we like or love. It’s not about partriachy, or if it is,  it’s not conscious. It’s jus that some things often referred to as female just seem… I dunno, male, to me.

Most Pagans: the Mother Mississippi

Me: Old Man River, the Mississippi.  (on the same page with Mark Twain)

Most Pagans and former San Franciscans: She’s a harsh mistress

Me: Handsy motherfuckin’ priest

Most Chicagoans: City of broad shoulders, an old workman

Me: That is one raging, PMS-ridden city

Most People: Oh, my car, she’s a good ol’ jalopy

Me: Who you callin’ she? All my cars are boys. Except the Ford Escort. Ford Escorts always thought of themselves as mares.

cats and dogs image

This could rapidly devolve:

“Well I think it’s female and there’s no point arguing…” Who was arguing? I wasn’t arguing, but clearly someone thinks something as arbitrary as gender – and yes, gender is arbitrary, a set of social choices and assignments unfairly extrapolated from genitals without any legitimate corroboration – needs defense. Because if we don’t know what inanimate objects are male and female, cats and dogs sleeping together! Chaos!

“But why do we need labels???” Often, we don’t, but we need time to reset our styles of communication since our brains get wrinkled in specific patterns by all that gendered acculturation.

“You hate trans people!” One or two, possibly, but I assure you it has less to do with their transitive state and more to do with actual urine in my Fiber One.

-pic by Diana Rajchel Theo investigates my work
-pic by Diana Rajchel
Theo investigates my work

Gender began as a metaphor among magical people for projective and receptive polarities. Somehow certain groups ((*cough* old-school Wicca *cough*)) somehow began interpreting this as everything having to be boy-girl-boy-girl. If you’re only intent involves a satisfyingly sex-driven fertility cult with lots and lots of babies as the product, this makes sense. However, if you are less literal minded  – or say, want to make stuff besides babies and gigantic crops – a non-gendered or variety gendered way works better. Everyone can take a turn being a vessel or being what fills the vessel (and thus you end up feeling a bit like a vessel at the end of it – sort of like passing fluid back and forth, which may explain why some people are kind of stuck on the mechanical sexual imagery, come to think of it…) Like being right or left handed, some people may be better at one than the other – but most people really do have capacity for both. ((Don’t you dare relate this to bisexuality. Not. the. same. godsdamned. thing.))

Now, for people who were like me at the beginning, let’s answer this:

OK, so gender fluidity is just a metaphor to explain being projective or receptive when working with magical energies. Great, so what do I do with it?

Mostly you look at your personal practices and figure out which you’re doing – are you projecting an energy into the universe – or are you receiving an energy from the universe? Your genitalia has little relevance in these operations unless the working involves factual physical fertility.

For example, a protection spell,  a glamor, and an attraction spell all act as projectors. They would be classed as “male” energy even though the last two often fall into what culture assigns to the female identified.

On the other hand, an abundance spell, divination, meditation, and at least self-healing all quality as “receiving” practices. You must be in a passive/receptive state for these things to arrive.

Gender… it’s fluid. It also sometimes referred to as fluid. But really it’s all just a metaphor.

Gentrification is Coming: a backpost #throwbackthursday

Note: this post was drafted while I still lived in Northeast Minneapolis. At the time I was embroiled in my move to the Bay and in the completion of the Mabon and Samhain Sabbat essentials books, so consequently this post got tabled. I post it now as a base of comparison – I now live in San Francisco, at the furthest edge, and I watch and wait for the spread of gentrification to reach me, or what I suspect is really a second wave of gentrification.

photo Minneapolis 2013 - taken by Diana Rajchel
photo Minneapolis 2013 – taken by Diana Rajchel

A freshly opened cafe somehow managed to wrest a liquor license away from the halal meats powerhouse of the Twin Cities metro. Two shops in direct view of this new, liquor-serving cafe’s plate glass windows feature a soon-to-be florist/candy shop and a Tae Kwon Do school that will replace the Mercado where I used to buy entire bags of avocados. In between remain faded store fronts of still functioning businesses, most geared toward the non-English speakers that bus or drive down Central Ave on their way to and from Brooklyn Park. Brooklyn Park is the poor suburb, the one people go to to get started or to take a step up from what looks to outsiders like relentless violence in North.

We all knew it was coming. The gentrification began in 2002, the year I moved into the Creamette Lofts under Section 42, fresh from divorce and abandoned graduate school. It wasn’t the renovated warehouse, but the new construction, aimed at young professionals like myself, barely affordable to me and not at all affordable to the original residents. At the time I could see artist homes at the edge of parking lots and near basements, weird hangers on from days of rent control or out of some sort of landlord kindness or absenteeism.I was part of the second push, the one that drove out the artists.

Before the artists it was warehouses, derelict, neglected in a wave of suburban popularity from the 1970s. When the flour mills burned down, a fire likely started by a homeless person unaware of the explosive power of residual flour, no one had worked in the building for decades. There was no dent to be made on the economy. Some boy going through some nihilist punk rock phase took me on a date to see the ruins when I moved to the state around 1996. I remember, vaguely, steel girders and blackened ruins.

Then people moved back – first the punks, then the artists, then me.

I have been here about a decade – a decade since real estate developers and the housing bubble drove all the artists from the Warehouse district to Nordeast, and then to Near North, and now a little bit to the dreaded and spoken of if in hushed tones North Minneapolis. It’s been a  decade since I have been handed flyers for funky gallery openings and showings above the Imperial Room by mussy-haired boys, many of whom also carried a guitar for no clear reason.

They took over the buildings in Northeast. Studios, unsuitable for living conditions, sprouted up in ramshackle railway stations, in buildings once used to make coffins; sturdy widgets all outsourced to China have given way to paints and clay, acrylics and jewelry – supplies,all too often, still ordered from China.

The Korean restaurant on the corner of Central and 22nd got a make over and now nestles almost primly next to a Mayan Cuisine place and an Indian grocery store. On a corner, in direct view of the 2nd precinct station, sits Central Bath and Sauna. The windows are dirty, the shades pulled and yellowed. Today a big sign reads “Open.” Supposedly, it’s a house of ill repute aimed at men of very specific orientations and tastes. A combination of police corruption and outright homophobia is what keeps it open. No one is harmed, really – and no one really wants to know. I have thought of walking in, all 300 pound woman of me, just to see what they do. What if I just want to install a spa? What if I just want a massage, the only happy ending being a paycheck for the masseuse? I don’t care for the business but I don’t object to it either – it’s all adults, and what gives people a way to keep roofs over their heads is okay as long as no one gets physically hurt. The sensibilities or those offended by prostitution for the most part need some injury, or humbling, or a sharp experience with how they themselves have made prostitution necessary.

This is Minneapolis. There will be no moral argument.

I am watching for them to go. When this naughty little bathhouse goes, it’s all over. Gentrification will be here. It will mean something for the Islamic cultural center and the liquor store right next to it, perhaps a cease-fire as they both fight for their fates. I doubt it, though. The Muslims are pretty offended by liquor. The liquor store owner is pretty offended by Muslims.

Eventually that light rail, friendly to the suit-wearing expensive-phone flashers will speed down Central, displacing the bus and connecting the people of Brooklyn Park to the Mall of America with at most minimal time spent in the city itself. The loss of flavor is inevitable, the temptation of convenience, one more piece of life eased, irresistible.

Is this a bad thing? A good thing? Right now Northeast Minneapolis teeters on that very delicate balance of mostly good. The rents are manageable. Families can actually buy property there. People of color mix – although the racist police of Minneapolis are just as much of a problem as are the kids that steal mail looking for gift cards and social security checks. Do I want to lose the affordability and great food? No. Do I want to keep the damn Edison students that start fights in front of the library, circuiting riotously out into the street and oncoming traffic, thinking of their lives as the only show worth watching, their obstacles as the only trials worth removing? No. Do I love the teenagers that litter in front of my townhouse? Hell no. But gentrifying generally doesn’t change the teenager problems – it just brings in more asshole teenagers, but might bring in parents that are Hummer-driver level assholes themselves.

Should I move back to Minneapolis anytime soon, I wonder what I’ll find. Will the mosque still be there, forever interlocked in the mutual struggle of self-importance it dances with the aggressively Christian liquor store owner next door? Will the expanded East Side Coop put some many wealthy hippies on so many damn lawns it’s impossible to sort them out from their chickens? Lowrey is already something of a dividing line, and as  the progress continues, how much more will it divide?

And where do I fall in this, as a white member of the gentry, married well but also an artist who pretty much had to?

I love my neighborhood. I love my happy little townhouse, new, but shared with old-timers, tech workers, hippies, artists, the elderly. I laugh at the chicken coops that spill out in the street, at the weird art pieces that crop up on lawns after every Art-a-Whirl, and god help me, I love the reasons snow gives us to complain even as I am secretly relieved of the burden of seeing anyone as long as it litters the ground. I am what drives out flavor and character, I am what makes it harder for others to have homes, because it’s all about market value and the economic game rather than simple recognition of a need to live. It’s hopelessly complicated, even as I run into cultural conflicts that are less than friendly, less than welcoming, less than safe to me. There is no simple conclusion here – just love for my home and love for those who love it.


You don’t need everyone for everything

Here’s the thing about community: for it to function, you don’t need everyone. This is especially true in the case of organizing functions.All you need are the right people to work with you – and by right that means willing, able, and from a cooperative mindset.

Especially among Pagans, that’s not everyone. That’s just the right ones, for the right things, at the right times. And that is totally okay.

There’s a whole bunch of values around participation across Pagan religious groupings – just as there are a bunch around, say, voting and active citizenship. But the US carries (or limps, depending your views of the day) on with its mere 40 – 60% of voter participation. The same is true of the Pagan community, along with the carry on/limp on perspective. Because it’s still small-ish – but not that small, or we wouldn’t be able to depersonalize our celebrities to the degree that we do – we also see more burnout and breakdowns than we might if we did have full participation and more people that continuously embraced new organizational methods and checked their goal alignment on a regular basis.

Right now there’s a division mentality – polytheists versus Wiccans (who are mono, duo, and poly sometimes when you ask the same one), solitaries versus group members, LGBTQ versus the straight, cisgender, etc.  As you set your filters to progressively more narrow types, you also can develop some tunnel vision about what is really possible – and who you actually need to do it. People are very busy looking

For example, a few years ago I pointed out that more Pagans are around who have completely dissociated with the counter-culture aspect of the movement. The natural consequence of this is a desire for infrastructure. While its growth has slowed in recent decades, Pagan paths remain a strong choice, so much so that there is some sort of representation in any major city, best assessed by the presence of an occult shop. Occult shops either stick around for decades or are unstable, delicate things – and the Pagan community, as it grows, has more situations where a real infrastructure is necessary.

By infrastructure, I don’t mean churches. Pagans don’t do churches and don’t need to start – sure, temples here and there are fine, as long as they’re honest with themselves about the unavoidable cult aspects of the whole thing. When I say infrastructure I mean other, larger, more stabilizing entities – such as colleges (Cherry Hill Seminary is a good start), nursing homes, hospitals, cemeteries, crisis shelters – and in order to make these things happen, charitable foundations. Yes, those ridiculous muffy fundraisers where someone auctions off a buttcheek for charity actually have a societal purpose. I have, more than once, advocated the start of a charitable foundation – and someone else clearly had the same idea, since San Francisco Bay Area has the Pantheon Foundation, a collective of Pagan traditions that actually collects funds for all-Pagan interests such as protecting people from religious bullying in school (via the Tara Webster Foundation) and the Diotima Prize, a scholarship for one Pagan student to pursue a degree related to studies of benefit to Pagan causes (usually history/folklore these days.)

When I have proposed this idea, however, I generally recieved near-panic, followed by “it will never happen! All people will do is shoot their mouths off!” when I mentioned the idea to Pagans who at the time garnered a lot of attention and even made partial livelihoods from bemoaning the state of Paganism.  I understood in that moment that all the person who said that would do is shoot her mouth of, telling me not to invite her into any such projects in the future.  She also tried to frame such a concept according to the idea that absolutely all Pagans, everywhere, had to be in support of such an idea or it would never work.

Now that is a load of crap. I can’t think of any one project or activity that all Pagans everywhere fully support – and yet stuff still happens. Universal approval isn’t necessary to make things work. The idea that you need permission, especially when you are NOT part of a coven or group that might have a say in what you do, is a manipulation, a form of group oppression.

That’s fine. I can mark – and ignore – the people that think I need their permission.

You don’t need everyone to make things happen.

You just need the right ones.

Holes in the Pagan Tapestry: Errata in our interweavings

*note: I swear a lot. Some of this will be hard for some readers not to take personally, and some will think I have a lower IQ than I actually do because honesty tends to give me a foul mouth.


Most of you don’t know me. It’s not that I haven’t been part of the Pagan community – I have, very much so. I have done it strictly on my own terms, and my terms have involved flying under the collective radar until very recently. I don’t do the campouts. Until recent years I haven’t had the funds for workshops and cons. I will go to roughly one public ritual a year, and often I choose going to a movie or any other social event possible instead. Why? Public ritual of late feels a little too much like hookup culture – a lot of you want me to get spiritually naked with you before we’re on a middle-name basis. You demand to know who trained me, as though dropping names makes a difference. You insist that nothing I learned on my own can have merit.

I can’t imagine dating in a Tinder world, and yet I often feel like that’s what I’m doing in the Pagan world every time I venture into community.

OK, you think, so why are you claiming to be a part of the community when you do zero things I personally define as community? You don’t participate. You haven’t dropped any names of people that have trained you. *I* don’t know who you are.

To this, I smile politely, but you can see the Go fuck yourself  in my eyes.

We are at odds now, because I consider YOU to be what’s wrong with the Pagan community these days.

I generally don’t present my spiritual biography to people because it comes out pretty fast over a short time anyway. I tell stories. I reference myself. I am US-American, it’s what we do. This time I need to show all the goods up front so you understand why I’m saying what I’m saying, where it comes from, and exactly why I not only think the “drop a name and vouch for me” system is bullshit, it is actually a means of endangering the Pagan community. If I’m going to write a series on resolving the smaller and larger leadership problems in the Pagan community, it’s best you know what experiences prompt me to see and sense these things.

Who am I, how dare I, and why?

Who I am

My name only means something to a few of you, those that have worked with me, for the most part. Since at least one of 3rd degree initiations was from an oath bound group – and oath bound usually eliminates the ritual of ultimately meaningless name-dropping – I’ll throw this up: I am a 3rd degree Wiccan priestess in the Shadowmoon tradition. For some of you, that just means “Wiccan, and could run a coven if so desired.” To the more self-important of you that have confused your religious experience with Vatican-level authority, at this point you’re too busy having a tantrum because I am not Gardnerian or Alexandrian, will flip you the bird if you use the insulting “NeoWicca” on me, and then will return to a tantrum questioning my character and legitimacy because apparently my actions mean far less to you than the names available to me to drop. If it will shut you up enough to actually think, I now have a lineage to Janet Farrar through equally unpopular means.

My personal philosophy of interaction

  1. The one is not the all. No one person or one experience represents the whole of anything else.
  2. Courtesy and sincere curiosity matter.
  3. The Pagan tendency towards celebrity worship is a disease that’s only getting worse.
  4. Do not expend energy on useless debates. Save it for debates that actually serve a purpose and are constructed so that people are bringing out information others need to know. Such debates are rare, and really only happen for the greater good in small, personal groups rather than in larger communities.
  5. What you do matters far more than what you write. Bloggers aren’t the great deciders of what Paganism is and isn’t, no matter how many followers invest in them.

My resume

This is the real meat of sussing a person out. The smart among us don’t give a shit what initiations you have or what famous person conferred it. We care what you actually do. That adage about past behavior being the best indicator of future actions – it’s very true. So we watch for it.

Here are a few highlights of my past behaviors/interactions with the Pagan community that should speak for themselves as to why I’m writing this series:

The Authorial Angle

Since publishing is, unfortunately, the standard of “importance” in Paganism, over and above actual hands on contribution:

  • I have written for Llewellyn Annuals since 1999. While many are with reason critical of Llewellyn, the annuals have held up pretty well and changed alongside the community. Also there is a reform movement afoot at that publisher, which is good since they’re still the main publisher of topics for occult practice in the world.
  • I have published one book on Paganism and divorce – that was met with suspicion and scrutiny during the research phase by the collective Pagan public, revealing that a)we have some messed up taboos around divorce and b)people are right to be cautious but are using all the wrong measures to enact caution.
  • I have two books coming out with Llewellyn in 2015 or 2016, on Mabon and Samhain respectively. There will be people that read them, and people that are unable to recognize that publishers change with more ease than people.
  • I’ve been a book reviewer for fellow Pagan author Lisa McSherry’s site FacingNorth for many years. Before that I reviewed for the Beltane Papers. She and I have a friendship going back almost two decades now. Look – a name drop!

The Direct Involvement Angle

  • In 1997 I co-founded the MSUPagan society. Except for a brief period in 1999 when I graduated/married my first husband I ran it continuously until 2002. For that time we were often the only consistent welcoming source to area Pagans of all ages and experiences. There are festival movement folks that live or lived around Mankato, Minnesota who can attest to my involvement.
    • This included running one of the first Pagan Pride events, and yes, going on television. It also involved giving the TV producers at the Mankato station hell when they cut pieces of the Craft into the report.
    • Over the years, I granted interviews, developed intro FAQ material for reporters (my journalism degree helped me to know what they were really looking for and to take a non-combative approach to the media) and acted as a source of welcome to those who wanted to investigate Paganism.
    • Yes, I taught some classes, usually at a tiny metaphysical shop in Mankato downtown. Alas, divorce swept that away fast.
  • I had my first third degree conferred in 2000. I was 25.
    • I am aware these days that is considered a “very young age,” for a third degree and my high priestess at the time said she decided elevate me solely because I was already doing the community work. Others since have pointed out that Gardner and Alexander both elevated young women in their 20s. I was perhaps at that age less nubile, but just as capable if not as poetic as the likes of Valiente and Crowther.
  • In 2002, divorce led me to a relocation, and that led me to working with the University Pagan Society at the University of Minnesota. I was not a student and did not assume a leadership role, though I frequently stepped in as a presenter and advisor when stuff might have otherwise fallen apart. As happens in non-ritual Pagan groups, it ended up being a de facto service for the entire Pagan community since the only other choices required direct ritual commitment. I worked with them until 2006; at that point not enough students were involved to allow for group continuity and it died. (I am told that the president at the time of its demise blames me for its death. No one credible seems to support her contention.)
  • From 2004-2006 I served as the Twin Cities Pagan Pride Volunteer Coordinator. At that time, the festival was the largest of its kind in the world. In the first year, the board members were shocked that I got people to show up. I was shocked that was all it took to appear impressive. The second year, I got 100 Pagans to show up for their volunteer posts. I quit in 2006 because the ambition and scope for what the organization wanted to do exceeded what my health could handle, and because an ugly subtext of “bringing me under control” had started appearing with a few of the people I worked with.
  • In 2010, after a few years away from much community madness, I began working with the Pagan Newswire Collective, Minnesota. It gave me an opportunity to work with someone who understood the tenets of good journalism (Cara Schulz) and to blow some dust off my mass communications degree. In 2011, I was named Executive Editor to the international Pagan Newswire Collective, before Jason Pitzl dissolved the central grouping last year. The project was ambitious in scope and some independent PNC bureaus still exist. I did not have the time I wanted to to commit to training people in citizen journalism. I hope that I might again someday.
  • I have taught workshops at Paganicon (Minneapolis/Saint Paul) on the Artist’s Way for Pagans, managing the Inner Critic, and using the Cult Danger Evaluation Frame. There are many other workshops I’ve taught at Pagan Prides and at UPS and MSUPagan on so many things that I only remember them when I flip through old notebooks and find the original outlines.

What I haven’t done? Run a coven. Run a circle. Created one ritual event after another. Whatever I’m doing, it’s about connecting spiritual people in concrete ways.

The Overculture Experience

My Pagan life is not separate from the rest of my life. When I say I am urban and integrated, I mean just that. These experiences that I list here are not my entire resume – they are the ones that have most informed and still most inform what I am doing in the Pagan community.

In 1994, working on the campus newspaper at a tiny private college was a condition of a writer’s scholarship. It was a total revamp. Not only did I have to learn old-school journalistic tenets (something that previous editions of that paper had none of), I had to learn how to integrate old styles of thinking with new modes of expression as computers became more and more important. My understanding of what the media has to deal with has long since come in handy when dealing with both the Pagan and the media sides of reporting. I can say from knowing both sides that Pagans shoot themselves in the foot a lot more than they realize, all because they mentally create an adversarial system far more often than they are greeted by one.

In 1996, I rooted myself out from the original school, one of the more heartbreaking things I have ever had to do, and transplanted to Minnesota with bright-eyed thoughts of finding the other Pagans. Instead I found people my own age who were just as confused as I was. I also found myself confronted by a rather cold, difficult culture: I’d been unwelcome before, but Minnesota Unwelcome is what Minnesota Nice actually is. As I became part of the campus and did find friends, I also encountered people that felt Pagan but didn’t know Pagan, despite Mankato State having the most impressive occult collection of any library I’ve seen, including where I am in San Francisco. During that time I worked for a campus radio station, learned the ins and outs of research and rhetoric, and came to know what was available in Mankato better than most of the natives.

In 1998 I also began working as an advocate in a battered women’s shelter. It gave me an up-front understanding of how violence starts (not with hitting, or even with yelling, but in a much more insidious way that looks like opinion but isn’t), and it made me unavoidably aware of things I’d been living with in my own family. Again, I learned more about resources, the system, and where destructive ideologies begin and how they replicate. The ability to recognize abuse has been a skill that has stayed with me.

In 2001 I took on a graduate assistantship where I served international students at my graduate school. My charges were mainly Muslim and Hindu. Take a look at the year – you know what happened. Everything. I took away from this job a unique understanding of how universal ethnocentrism actually is, and an ability to recognize it among Pagans. I also came to understand how divisive and untrue our beliefs about Islam actually are – and how much absolute, hateful, untrue crap Muslim and Hindu people believe about the States (a lot.)

In late 2002, I took a job with a nonprofit that centered on training volunteer managers. One of the perks of my job was that I got to attend all their workshops and see all their research for free. I came away filled to the brim with best practices that combined well with my multi-cultural knowledge. The first place I tried this information out was on Twin Cities Pagan Pride, and holy shit…it worked.

In 2005, I became a floor manager. I learned how to get people to work for me and work for themselves. This carried over into my last corporate job right after this, which was a company that focused on “improving” the employees of other companies. It was just as insane and obstructive as you might think. It also gave me a good way of knowing how unethical things come to be normalized, over and above what I learned about abuse and abuse tactics when I worked as a battered women’ advocate.

In 2007 I started the Twin Cities Doctor Who meetup. Before you dismiss it as a little science fiction club, let me give you a few highlights: we started at 30 members, 3 active. By the time I left in August 2014, we had grown to 959 members, roughly 400 of whom were active at any given time. This included a 50th anniversary party with around 500 attendees. I was the main organizer and decision maker for this entire period of time – organization is now in the hands of my board members. This group met monthly. That’s a lot of hands-on work for a volunteer gig. When I left, it had 50% women members, and an age range from late teens to late eighties. To my knowledge it was also the only woman-run science fiction meetup in the Twin Cities.

So what’s going on now?

I’ve been forcibly relocated to San Francisco, thanks to my partner.  It is not the place it used to be, and not the place many of my friends remember. Too many goat sacrifices on the altar of NIMBY have led to this mess. The San Francisco Bay area also happens to have the largest Pagan population in the United States. Since I am through no doing of my own once again new in town, I am again trying to appreciate the big picture – at least they’re active – with the small holes I suffer from directly as the new witch in town.

This series is triggered by my experiences with the SF Bay area. But what I’m learning – and what I recommend as remedies – all comes from my experiences elsewhere. So now you know who I am and who I think I am to be talking about such things.

So how dare I?

Pretty easily. I’ve had some practice figuring out how to make groups small and large sustainable – and practice doing it wrong and right.

Fine, then why?

Because I do favor a stronger Pagan infrastructure. There are tenets of counter-culture Paganism that aren’t working, either because the culture no longer supports them or because those ideas have been proven by time to be less than effective. In maturity I’ve learned to trust my personal sense of ethics and not confuse refusal to adapt with morality; that right there a far more insidious problem than many people realize and it is key factor in why more Pagans haven’t learned or adapted leadership skills in their community-creation efforts.

Also, the reason anyone does what I’m doing: for myself. I’m in the place US Paganism took the deepest root, and I am seeing massive disconnects between what’s available, what needs to be done, and above all to who has access to it. It runs deeper than social justice issues although that’s a significant part of it, too. Everyone Pagan should have a place to go for simple fellowship – and not only is ritual is not “simple” even in cases where it does offer fellowship, often it’s far less welcoming than its hosts actually realize.

This is why I’m here – to point out what’s right, to mention what I felt was wrong, and to suggest small changes that will make Pagan life easier for everyone. Most of these changes are indeed small, even if the change they make don’t feel that insignificant.

Paganism without Winter

It’s impossible not to compare – go from the #2 largest Pagan population in the country to the #1 largest, and you notice a few things. Especially as your context for a place builds, and your understanding deepens.

photo by Diana Rajchel
photo by Diana Rajchel

I think that the mild climate makes Pagans in the Bay area more organizationally permissive than the Pagans in Minnesota. This is a change for Minnesota: we were sort of a colony sent from California; Isaac Bonewits moved out to the Twin Cities with his wives in the 70s, and Llewellyn in the 80s tried to make Minneapolis a mecca for occultists including a convention on par with Pantheacon. I only know this happened because people who were young Pagans during that time told me about it. Once Llewellyn moved out to Woodbury (a far suburb, past Saint Paul) and Utne Reader pulled up stakes, all that really remained of that California-seeded Pagan front were the Pagans with roots to Minnesota, and the people who drifted west in the 90s looking for a place more welcoming to witches than the Bible belt… like me.

The Midwest grows a different breed of Pagans from the Bay Area folks, and from sitting on the sidelines of both communities, I think I see the difference. The magic ingredient is winter. The second magic ingredient is smaller. The third is that Minnesota Pagans are more politically diverse…but far less culturally/racially diverse.

pella in winter

It’s much easier to understand the merits of a more conservative world view when resource abundance expands and contracts from year to year; it’s also easier to understand why liberals act as they do when too much stinginess results in a spate of exposure deaths. Also, because the community is enough smaller enough of us have to see each other face to face that it’s easier to simply focus on the good food and beverage than it is on whether or not your candidate of choice is OK with vibrators. (We all sort of know not a damned one is qualified on the issue.) Harsher winters mean more intense spring and summer festivals, often in harsher circumstances as well. It also means that Midwestern Pagans have a time, assigned by nature itself, to take stock of what worked in years prior and to look to what may be in the year to come. It’s easier to organize tasks when your decision making tree includes a pin for “too cold to do that right now.” Midwesterners know they will get extra breaks, miraculous pockets of time to think more deeply, look more critically, and sometimes even crochet (or something else like it.) They have less resistance to technology – no tech giants are bringing in workers that are prompting landlords to throw their longtime tenants out on their asses – and so sometimes things like vendor forms and credit card readers are a bit better handled.

The west coast – the Bay area – can’t rely on weather disruption to catch a break. If a weather disruption seriously happens, we’re talking best case scenario a six month clusterfuck since earthquakes count as weather. Even though the new moon is ostensibly the time folks here stop to reflect, most of it is still a relentless onward hurtle. In a way that constant sense of forward explains the progressive politics, and the way those politics can consume everything a person is out here. No one here is just a person. If you are a Pagan, it is implied you must be a Tradition. If you are a magician, you must come from a School or Lodge. If you are Pagan, you must have a Political Position. Your Political Position must in all ways filter into your family life, choose your friends for you, and organize your social calendar. This isn’t always bad – I’m perfectly happy to route out the racists and misogynists from my social media streams, echo chambers be damned.

This identity politics in excess is starting to manifest a great deal more among the Midwestern Pagans I know. Except for those of us with one foot in or out of one closet or the other, it’s all out on any side.

The Bay is certainly bringing things out in my partner and I – despite the constant rush here, I am looking for a way to Be, rather than to Do, remembering both wisdom from my partner and from someone I had a great deal of affection for in my mid-20s. It’s hard to just Be in it here the way you can in Minnesota, where you bond by complaining about the bitter cold and also, as you stand still in the ice, turn your attention inward. That inward attention is hell for a lot of people – but it also prompts changes come spring. Here if you want to turn inward you have to just take it.

I will add the caveat that my experience is colored by the drought. There has barely been rainfall for years now. Since there is a turn towards colder temperatures – perhaps not cold as I typically knew it, but cold all the same, there is the hint that slowdowns are possible. They all require precipitation. Rain is the signal to go inside, to go within. That has only fallen about four times since I moved here a year ago.

Tarot Readings! From Moi!

If you have been thinking, “Gee, I really wish Di did tarot readings again,” you’re in luck. You don’t even need to live close by to be in the kind of luck you want to be in.

tarot cards

I am one of the new readers over at The Mystic Dream in Walnut Creek, California. ((Disclosure: I am a student with their Modern Conjure school there.))

The especially good news? I also do readings by phone, and it is possible for the right people – say clients from previous years – I can do readings by Skype. I’m in every Friday. You can get the phone number from the Mystic Dream website – book me in increments of 15 minutes, half an hour, or a full hour. It’s always a good idea to call in Wed or Thurs to make an appointment for me on Friday, but when possible I do take walk-ins.

My style is fast and skeptic friendly. While I do believe in psychic things and all things woo, when I work with someone with the cards, it is mainly about working with the beliefs of the person asking the questions. I see my practice as less “tall dark handsome stranger” and more “cosmic to-do list.”  I consider tarot a means of pattern recognition – based on your own behaviors that you may subconsciously recognize, where is your life headed? What pieces can you turn around for the best possible outcome? Where are you slamming your head into a wall?

I like to make sure my clients walk out with an action plan. Sometimes the plan involves magic, and using ritual practices to open new pathways or heal damaged ones. Sometimes it involves library visits, calling a career counselor, or having a heart to heart with a loved one.

Also, if you’re in the East Bay, this shop is a must visit. It’s artfully selected material for any magic worker of any path, and the other employs are diverse and incredibly fun, down-to-earth people.

Coming soon: details on my creativity coaching practice.


#Pantheacon follow-up on race and cultural assimmilation

Thanks to the glaring injustices hitting an all-time high in 2014, a good chunk of this year’s Pantheacon went to deeper discussions of race and cultural assimilation. The tracks proved necessary, because something about “hey, there are people in our group having a different experience from the rest of us because of surface and not-surface physical differences,” is entirely too difficult for some members of the Pagan community to wrap their head around.

I have the frustrating experience of encountering people telling me what kind of experience I’m having instead of asking; it frequently bounces me out of Pagan/magical circles almost as much as my need for a sense of genuine stability ((especially right now)). I am not all good with the God/ess; I am barely on speaking terms with my patron. This active faith, not blind faith, and what I practice is not the fuzzy love of blind submission that others call religion. I will be back eventually but right now we all need to work some s*** out. This is just me, as one of the inclusive white “in” group. I don’t have some idiot looking at my skin and saying “Oh, so you’re like into the Egyptian stuff, right?” My microaggressions are of the fat and female variety – adding microaggressions of the color-flavor on top of that might drive me completely batshit insane.

To me, treating Pagans of all colors as though they are the members of the movement/tribe that they actually are should not pose a difficult concept. Recognizing that while our ancestors suffered – my Polish ancestors did not fare well through World War II, my WASP ancestors were pretty much authors every problem we have now and yes, the women suffered as part of that culture – but for the most part, we are not suffering as our ancestors did. Whites as whites are not living out a legacy of injustice now, the sort of injustice where the people around you make for damn sure you don’t have choices about the ways in which you are othered. People of color are experiencing these problems right now.

Understanding the immediacy of that problem is all that you really need to get. Most people don’t, their minds jumping ahead to defending whatever cultural practices they may have appropriated. An added layer to this? People born in the United States – especially the whites – are a jambalaya of cultural appropriation. Our entire culture is composed of practices borrowed from somewhere else. Yankee Doodle Dandy was a British song mocking the Americans. Farming traditions all came from somewhere else. As far as anyone can tell, the only three things we know of for sure as American cultural inventions are jazz music, denim, and McDonald’s. Jazz music actually comes from black culture – and that’s a complicated conversation about when music transcends and when it doesn’t.

Let me put it a less global way:
It’s well-accepted that if you have not initiated as a Gardnerian, you should not claim to be Gardnerian. (Some Gardnerians might argue you should not claim to be Wiccan, but they are just ignoring some pointed memos from the God/ess.) Gardnerian Wicca is to be approached on its own terms. You can’t just go running off with it and make it your own.

The same absolutely applies to indigenous religions. People may get called to practice those rituals, or to come to those cultures. If you practice those traditions from a place of sincere devotion, you won’t just throw them into a Wiccan circle format and do an invocation at a UU picnic.

What you do in private – without making any authoritative claims, and without bothering anyone – is between you and your gods.

I only went to one of the racism/cultural assimilation tracks. I have posted my pull quotes here:

Workshop Ideas for Pantheacon 2016: Stepping Outside the Ego

Ecstatic dance is awesome. Done well, you tune out your chatter and start a conversation with your body: how do you feel? Where do you need to move, to stretch, to play? The music keeps your brain busy while you keep that conversation going with your body.

I’ve been involved with and interested in ecstatic dance since 2012. It’s been profoundly beneficial for me: first, I can practice spiritual work in a safe, sober, space and second, because it’s a no-talking medium, I don’t have to worry about entangling with any egos while trying to get to my own spiritual center. Since I have a very hard time bringing perfect trust to any circle, this is preferable because I don’t have to.

The problem comes in when newbies come in, and Pantheacon is a mix of newbies and old-schoolers when it comes to dance and movement. Often it’s a place for the spiritually curious to explore even as those of us who are past curiosity and well into development look for techniques to take us deeper into our personal work. The problem of this in ecstatic dance – at least that I discovered – is that because it is relatively non-directive, an important skill got left out: conscious ego loss. Perhaps “ego parking” is a better term.

In order to do any real work in ritual or ecstatic dance, you have to park your ego. Most people experience this as a forgetting of the outer world. That voice mail doesn’t matter for those moments. That bad day at work gets further and further away. Suddenly you aren’t concerned with whether or not you look like a spaz – you just keep moving, and moving, as your body dances you into deep connection with your inner mind.

Most of the people I interacted with already knew how to do this.

But I encountered a couple incidents where that was not the case. One was at the end of a rather fantastic ritual, and the second happened during an ecstatic dance practice.

The ritual, one of catharsis and transformation, deserved a dance. My body and inner mind had something to say to the Goddess invoked. As I danced, a woman I had noticed practicing choreographed steps earlier planted herself in front of me and it was clear that she wanted to dance in that weird, boundary-violating grind that some women think is always OK to do with other women. (Based on the false assumption that all women dance for the attention – I do not.) I bounced away from her, repelled as much by her energy as by her demeanor. Even if she couldn’t achieve trance state, the intention of the ritual was originally quite clear – and so it was equally clear her behavior in that context was inappropriate.

The next night, during an ecstatic dance, another person (possibly the same one?) decided to start somersaulting across the floor, disrupting the trance states as people around her had to scramble out of her way to avoid falling on her. While it’s hard to say what goes on in another person’s head, it seems that whatever this was, it wasn’t about stepping outside the ego. If the body needs to somersault, it still gives you time to go to a safe place to somersault. Doing so in the middle of the floor without consideration to others looked like the behavior of one who fundamentally misunderstands hypnosis and trance states.

It also means that she took her ego with her into the dance.

In ecstatic dance, you are offering your higher self a chance to turn to your ego, always dancing with your subconscious and say, “May I cut in?” Often in a group, even if the trance state brings up difficult feelings and emotional outbursts, a person authentically in tune with that state will have the conscious ability to move to a safe place, and the energy – no matter how vitriolic – will manifest in a way in tune with the dance going on.

Learning to set aside your ego, however, is a skill that does not come easily. Meditation and alpha states offer some of the basics, as we learn to observe thoughts and if exceptionally skilled, silence them. Getting the ego to take a time out, however, is a complex process that takes practice – you must use combined abilities of focus and distraction. You must sometimes hold specific questions in mind, both as a means of giving your ego something to do and as a means of getting away from it. You must learn how ego loss feels on a kinesthetic level.

I’m going to think about this quite a bit before the next Pantheacon. I feel vastly unqualified to teach – I’m not part of some tradition and I’m not sure I have the willingness and time to commit to one right now. But I know what I do, and I see things other people don’t sometimes. Ego parking seems to me like a beneficial skill to have – and not just among magical people.

Loss, close and far

Between the ages of 14 and 33, every single year at least one person close/connected to me died. That’s not entirely unusual in most of the world, but for an American from a small, nuclear, insular family of birth it is a little bit rare.

At 24 or 25 I listed people fallen off the mortal coil. I sometimes wonder at a few relationships I pushed away; was it fear that connection to me would call up their number that much faster?

At 39 that list runs too long. Teachers, friends, the one or two family members that treated me like family…surprisingly (or not, given my risk aversion) no lovers, yet unless you count that first one, the kind-of-sort-of boyfriend when I was 14. 2007 became so exhaustive with my own near-death incidents and yet another tragedy playing out near me that I begged for one thing on December 31st:

please, no deaths this year.

My wish was granted – no deaths in my life in 2008. I dare not ask again.

My father died in 2009. I don’t think one has any relationship with the other. My father decided he was done with life, and he was going to go no matter what anybody did. If it wasn’t leukemia he would have found a way to give himself to something else. It’s a Polish thing, and not something that translates because it’s a way of thinking thing rather than a language thing. All the things his death set in motion were inevitable, deferred only by his presence.

At the age I am now, the circle of death is inevitably widening. People I was close to once that I released from my life have passed away, in addition to those close to me. I got word of one today. The circumstances of the contact and the circumstances of the death trouble me. This was a group of people I walked away from for some pretty solid reasons. That they’re keeping tabs on me is creepy and inappropriate, but pretty much in their behavioral spectrum. As to this person – the way she went was lousy. She’d had a hard life, she was much too young, and my prayers really do go out to her family. I had told her not to contact me about two years ago and I stand by that. That road does not lead to my good, and so I closed it. But I did not wish her ill. I just wanted her and hers to leave me be.

I do not believe that one should not speak ill of the dead. I do not believe that one should speak well of the dead. I believe one should only speak truth of the dead.  My truth about this is that I have very little to say – her death may not be protected by the laws of privacy, but her life was interconnected with those still living whom I am honor bound to remain silent about. This is not a situation that calls for discernment above silence.

I have a habit of doing two ancestral remembrances: one at Samhain, and one on New Year’s Eve. She will be honored at the New Year, and I will speak her name at Samhain. That will be the last I speak of it. Rest in peace, as long as you’re willing to rest. I might suggest, former friend, that you stick around on the astral as long as it’s truly good for your children.