Sunday, September 29, 2013

Some Foods For Today

Yesterday while I was at my local independent bookstore's 25 year anniversary (I go there when I can because in addition to just being a local bookstore they donated to my school's queer scholarship fund) I found a book called 500 Paleo Recipes by Dana Carpender.  I don't normally like paper cookbooks.  I Google my recipes when I need them.  So this is actually only the third cookbook I've owned ever and the first that wasn't vegetarian (FYI, for those of you who are vegetarians, Isa Chanda Moskowitz's Vegan with a Vengeance is freaking sweet).

Today I made two of the recipes and am preparing for some more.  So for starters:

I'm not going to put actual recipes here because... well... that's a little rude (maybe if I had modified them but I didn't).  This is a poached egg on top of a blob of homemade guacamole on top of a portobello mushroom.  Transparency: I don't like portobello mushrooms very much.  I know, I went through the motions as a vegan, as they make convenient burger substitutes, but I have to be in a very specific mood to eat portobellos.

It was still pretty good.  I made three of them and for the second two I didn't actually eat the mushrooms.  It was a good attempt.  If I made it again I'd just stick it all on a plate and forget the mushroom.

 Later I made steak tartare.  Raw beef dishes are common at holiday parties here.  Last time I saw it it was literally just like... regular ground beef with onion and salt on rye crackers (considering the stuff that goes in commercial ground beef it was very unsettling).  I made it from good ingredients and minced it myself, so there's less risk.  Not no risk, but less.  It's surrounded by onion and capers, topped with an egg yolk, and the parsley is there because my plates are very non-pretty:

One thing I've learned about this cookbook: It has a recipe for almost every cut of meat in my freezer (the only two exceptions being mourning dove and all venison except ground).  And I'm the kind of person who literally buys random meat parts just because I've never had them before.  So soon I'll be making her recipe for pigs' feet, because yeah I have those.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Curly Dock Seed Flour

I've been sick for the past week and so I'm just starting to bounce back and get back into things I enjoy getting into.  One of those is traditional practical skills; things that people generally don't learn but that will make me extremely valuable after the rapture or zombie apocalypse or whatever other catastrophe.  Also they're just fun.

My last major experiment making staples from scratch was making granulated sugar.  Today's experiment was making flour out of curly dock seed.  This is a plant that is relatively common in lawns, it's an invasive plant brought from Europe in the same family as buckwheat, and as I am totally averse to mowing of any kind I have basically three acres of random wild plants sprouting all the way to maturity outside my house and that includes a lot of these dark brown stalks.

I took a picture of me collecting the dock seeds, but unfortunately my phone decided to eat that picture so instead you get the picture of the utterly awful cookbook I saw at the bookstore today:
So I got several stalks of curly dock and deseeded them into a basket.  I put them in the oven for a while to dry them and ran them through the food processor for a long time.  This is the result:
As you can see this is some pretty hardcore, dark flour.  I've been trying to find a recipe to use it in, but none of them so far involve just dock flour without some other kind of flour to cut it... because it's so hardcore.  I have corn flour but I'd rather try making something with just homemade flour.  I did find some that involve "nettle flour" which is just dehydrated and ground stinging nettles, or lambsquarter flour which is the same concept but with lambsquarters (I have a huge patch of lambsquarters but it's right where the dogs hang out so... no thanks).  They also look adorably rustic.

Friday, September 27, 2013

On Paganism's Diversity Problem 2: On Hetero-Cis-Sexist Norms

In my last post on this topic I talked about the friendly-racism within the Pagan community compelling people to believe that if we just stopped pointing out race racism would go away.  It's an important topic, but it's also one that doesn't directly affect me, being a white guy.  This next topic does affect me.  That doesn't make it more important, but it does mean I have lived experience.

That same workshop also delved into queer Pagan issues.  First, a story.  It'll set the stage, don't worry.

Here is a run-down of my very first public ritual.  I'd been a Pagan already for a full decade and had had serious coven-envy... I'd tried (and failed) to form covens as a teen, succeeding only in finding a few kind-of friendships that mostly fizzled away over the years.  I was excited to finally meet a large number of other Pagans all in one place.

The event started with a woman dressed as Glinda from the Wizard of Oz who proceeded to give a hilariously inaccurate Paganism 101 presentation before we all went to do an Ostara ritual.  There were maybe forty or fifty people in this ritual, mostly non-Pagans there to get class credit.  And one of the first things the caller did was tell us to "step forward" according to our gender as she called the God and Goddess.

This ritual not only forced me to choose between being accurate and outing myself in front of a large general-population group, it was also woefully heterosexist despite the (really neat) primary activity absolutely not needing it to be.

And you know, things haven't really improved much since then.  I've been to rituals where the organizers have actively attempted to make things inclusive to non-binary and non-hetero people, but they're usually either done from a place of misunderstanding or thrown in in a half-hearted attempt to appease people who have complained about it in the past.  There are still more attempts to rationalize why hetero symbolism in ritual is necessary even for queer people ("we all have a mother and a faaaather!" or similarly inaccurate tales).

This is an environment I'm actually quite used to, as disturbing as that may sound.  When I go to public Pagan events, it is with the full understanding that I will feel like an outsider.  I do not usually bring this up to organizers because experience has shown that it usually will not help and I'll feel like even more of an outsider.  This is an important thing to mention because the first thing I hear from people is that they had no idea that people were uncomfortable with the way they were doing things... most of us have pretty much learned that people don't listen to these concerns, so we stop bringing them up.

So the workshop I mentioned in my last post happened and the first topic was queer inclusion in Pagan spaces, to which multiple people immediately got angrily defensive and proclaimed that "this was not their experience."  So I said what I said above... I've never, ever been to a public ritual that actually made me feel included because all of them have been steeped in gendered terminology or heterosexual symbolism that I do not identify with.  Which of course also resulted in lots of questions and statements for which I have answers and, well, you might not like all of them.

1. The symbolism you're using at public Pagan rituals is hetero- and cissexist.

"What?!" as the response I usually get to this goes, "this isn't my experience!"  Well, no, it wouldn't be... if these symbols apply to you there's a good chance you won't notice that they're not universal.

Remember first when I say these are "heterosexist" or "cissexist," it's with the same spirit that I point out movies set at prom are usually heterosexist and pro-choice ads referring to people who require abortions as "women" are cissexist.  They aren't "wrong" so much as they leave out a big chunk of the human experience and are blissfully unaware of the fact that they do so.

Garden-variety Pagan rituals tend to use symbols that are very much geared toward heterosexual, binary-gender-privileged people... the dualism of the God and the Goddess, fertility symbolism, psychosexual symbolism with the dagger and chalice, the marriage-and-birth symbolism of the Wheel of the Year.  People think these are universal symbolism, but they aren't... they're only relevant to people who are able to conceptualize things from a hetero- binary-gender perspective and be comfortable with that.

I say "able to conceptualize..." rather than "queer Pagans" because the fact is there are queer Pagans who are fine with these symbols.  There are even people who actively justify it (Christopher Penczak justifies it in his book "Gay Witchcraft," for instance) and go to great lengths to rationalize why queering Paganism is unnecessary.  It's also worth mentioning that a large chunk of Pagans identify as bisexual, but that this doesn't make them above scrutiny for their treatment of queer issues (I wrote this before, but bisexuals can be pretty privilege-blind).  In fact, being bi--especially if you have kids or have primarily been in opposite-sex relationships--might make you more receptive to this kind of symbolism than if you are childfree, marriagefree, gay or lesbian, or non-binary-gendered.

2. Any rationalization you do to explain why queer Pagans need to identify with hetero- and cis- symbolism is through a privileged lens.

Before I go any further, I should explain that this has nothing to do with your personal practices or your coven practices.  If you identify with this symbolism, go ahead and use it.  There's nothing wrong with the symbolism itself.

What's wrong is the assumption that queer Pagans--or any other group of Pagans--should just inherently identify with it just because you do.  That's what's happening here.  People rationalize why these symbols are universal rather than accept that they aren't.

I'll give you an example.  There's talk of "The God" and "The Goddess."  This concept is actually not only alienating to queer Pagans.   It's sharply alienating to hard polytheists and therefore most Reconstructionists.  But as this essay is about queers, I'll just let you mull that over on your own time.  Even among soft polytheistic queer Eclectic Pagans this concept might be alienating as fuck, but people still try rationalizing why it shouldn't be by making some statement that says--in a nutshell--that all creation comes through "symbolic" hetero sex.  Any creation that doesn't look like it on the surface is chalked up to "mixing of male and female energies" of which we all allegedly possess both to some degree.

This is horrendously heterosexist thinking.  It only makes sense if you already identify with it.  Because no, not all creation comes from heterosexual sex.  There are plenty of lifeforms--including animals--that do not reproduce sexually or who have only one or more than two sexed forms.  In fact, conversations surrounding animal and plant reproduction should always be regarded as seen through a heterosexist and cissexist lens... animals and plants do not identify their sex to us, they are assigned a sex by humans!  (I once named my assigned-male Betta "Bella" and had a great time bringing up this fact).  Another favorite?  "We all have a mother and a father!"  Well, no, that's not true... in fact, it's increasingly untrue as more trans people decide to keep our right to reproduce (there are gay and bi trans men who gave birth as men with male partners... their children do not have a father and a mother, and any twisting you may try to do to rationalize why they do is transphobic to the point where, well, you can kind of fuck right off to be honest).

In other words, it just isn't as simple as people are making it out to be.  This symbolism might be just fine and dandy for you--and I invite you to continue using it--but don't assume the rest of us have to identify with it.  There are loads of ways to perform ritual without referencing gender, without referencing sex, while using a queer framework, and so on... and these are fine!

3. As a group we aren't nearly as feminist and queer friendly as we think we are.

Alright, roll-eye-worthy-memory time:  Sitting in this workshop listening to some straight white dude talking about how he's a "minority" in the Pagan world because everything is so focused on queer people and women.

This is a numeric bias.  If you're a straight cis white dude--oppressed in that you have a minority religion but otherwise pretty damn privileged--seeing a higher-than-usual regard for the feelings of women and queers can feel as though you are being disadvantaged.

You're not.  Seriously.

In fact, Pagan men are in many ways a heavily catered-to group.  There are more books dedicated to Pagan men than there are to Pagan women.  Pagan women's traditions are heavily influenced by second-wave feminism which has a less-than-stellar reputation as far as queer, trans, and race issues.  Pagan communities have been remarkably shitty at curtailing men's feeling of entitlement toward women's attention/touch/sexual behavior/nudity.  Pagan men are basically on a pedestal but we don't even realize it because the community pays somewhat more attention to women's issues than society at large.  We aren't even that much of a numeric minority.

And queer people... well, I don't need to go into that in this section, because I'm going over it in the rest of the essay.

The point is, the only reason we even have the ability to think we have a stellar record on these issues is because the bar is set ridiculously low.

4. People need to stop rationalizing trans exclusion in public Pagan space like yesterday.

If you are organizing any sort of event anywhere: NO PUBLIC RITUALS THAT EXCLUDE TRANS PEOPLE.  Fuck.  Why do I even need to say this?  People who are that dedicated to rituals that exist solely in relation to their genitals have the opportunity to do those rituals somewhere that isn't the general Pagan population.  I can't define peoples' traditions for them.  If people have all-cis covens, that's their business.  But public events are not covens.  They can't be selective about the type of energy they'll be inviting into their ritual anyway.  Why single trans people out as undeserving?  The only answer there is transphobia.  Don't be that person.

"But... but... this group insists on doing a trans exclusive ritual!  Can't trans people just have their own ritual?"

Whenever this comes up there's the suggestion that there be a women's ritual, a men's ritual, and either a "trans ritual" or a combined-gender ritual to appease the rest of us.  This is a big problem.

When trans people go to single-gender rituals... women's mysteries, men's mysteries, etc... it is because we are interested in affirming and celebrating that gender.  As a trans man, I took a different path to manhood and I value my transness, but when I celebrate gender mysteries I want to celebrate that manhood and not my transness.  Saying I should swap a men's ritual for a trans ritual is entirely missing the point.  Saying trans women should swap a women's ritual for a trans ritual is also entirely missing the point for the exact same reason.  Trans men and trans women could come together to create such a ritual, but it would only be in addition to and not as a substitute for men's and women's rituals.  Believing it's an appropriate substitute degenders us--makes our genders into "trans"--and that's to be frank really disgusting.  "Trans" isn't my gender, it's a descriptor of my gender... which is male.

I mention my own value of men's mysteries because it's important to me and I try to speak mostly from my own experiences, but the fact is that's an unfair characterization.  In reality men's Pagan groups and rituals are highly unlikely to exclude trans men.  All of the ones I've been involved with have gone out of their way to be supportive of trans men (one got rid of people who believed trans men should be excluded with enthusiastic abandon).  It's trans women who experience this problem, but that's another big reason this is such a problem:  This is a very crisp and clear case of transmisogyny rather than transphobia.  There is no rhyme or reason to it.

"What about non-binary gender people?"  There's a great idea here, but it's also a different issue.  Non-binary folk don't usually want access to "binary" gender rituals.  So a trans or non-binary ritual would be absolutely fantastic for these folk and I would totally support that... just not as a consolation prize for trans women (and less often trans men) who are shoved out of rituals dedicated to celebrating our genders. 

5. Queer practitioners of Paganism aren't shoehorning the Deities into our lifestyles any more than you are.

Alright, now that I've gotten past my trans exclusion tantrum (for now), I'd like to get back on track here... up in points one and two I talked about how hetero and cis symbolism isn't actually universal, it only looks that way if you're hetero and cis (or aren't but have spent a great deal of time rationalizing).  Along with this comes the accusation that people who queer Paganism are "shoehorning the God and Goddess" and making them into something they aren't.  "The God and Goddess don't need to be like you, so why would you make them queer?"  And other such tales.

I actually want to laugh really hard when I read this.

The reason is that many--not all, but many--Neopagans are viewing this Goddess as the culmination of all Goddesses throughout history, and the God similarly a combination of all Gods.  You're taking thousands of deities and packing them all into two... and then you say we're doing the shoehorning?

Were you not aware that there have been queer Deities throughout history that you've been shoehorning into this hetero couple God and Goddess?   The great bisexual Deities like Pan and Set and Zeus and Leto... and modern interpretations of Diana and Bast, not to mention figures and Deities that changed gender or have androgynous qualities like Aphroditus/Hermaphrodite, Loki, and Hapy.

Worshiping two Gods or two Goddesses as a couple or a genderqueer Godde or anything like that is no more shoehorning than deciding Bast, Hathor, and Sekhmet are an aspect of the Triple Goddess.

Alright, now for the practical stuff.

What can we do about it?  These are a few of my own ideas.  Keep in mind that these are not meant to trump your personal coven/circle/solitary practice (unless you want them to).  These are some ideas I've brainstormed to consider for public events where you're dealing with people from multiple traditions.

1. Just flat out admit that your rituals are not "universal" or "general Pagan." Ideally, allow people to view the ritual beforehand if they choose.
When people say "general Pagan" like 99% of the time they mean "Wiccan" or at least "Heavily Wiccan Inspired."  There's nothing wrong with just putting on a Wiccan ritual... but call it that.  There is literally no way to really create a Pagan ritual that's going to represent everybody.

2. Create rituals honoring specific Gods instead of soft-polytheistic Godheads.
This is my preference, being a hard polytheist navigating a soft polytheist community.  The first thing that alienates me from a ritual is having "The Lord and Lady" being called... not just because they're a hetero couple, but because people think these are nice and generic and universal when they absolutely aren't.  I don't actively worship Hekate, but if I were to go to a ritual honoring Hekate--even if most of the organizers and people going to the ritual view her as an aspect of the Goddess--it would be a lot more comfortable than going to one that presumed soft polytheism.  In addition, this will give people more context so they can duck out or observe from the sidelines rather than participate if it's something they're not comfortable with.  Speaking of which...

3. Don't say ridiculous shit like "Paganism isn't a spectator religion!"
My task for my first Pagan ritual was to hand ribbons out to people.  I was supposed to give them to everybody even if they didn't want to participate in the actual ritual, and that was their excuse.  "Paganism isn't a spectator religion!"  They kept pressuring me to force ribbons on people who had refused them (mostly Christian students who were there for class credit), but that's just the thing... not everybody is going to be comfortable engaging in your ritual, and you have to accept that that is OK.  If you're doing something for a Pagan Pride event or some other event that's in theory supposed to advocate, you need to respect peoples' boundaries.

4. If you are having a recurring ritual event, like a monthly esbat ritual, rotate who writes the ritual and from what lens.
Maybe one month you have a queer mysteries practitioner write a same-sex ritual and another you have somebody write one around a Divine Androgyne figure.  Maybe you might have a Kemetic practitioner do a Wep Ronpet ritual.  Note: Although it should always be an option to not attend a ritual, if people claim these are nonrelateable remind them that queer mysteries practitioners/Recons/etc. may feel that way at every ritual.

5. Allow people to call their own Deities.
This can get cumbersome if people want to say lengthy invocations, and Recons might not be comfortable mixing pantheons in a ritual, but this is an option if you're an eclectic group.

6. Do an Ancestor or Nature Spirit ritual.
These bypass the entire concept of Deities which is where a lot of this angst comes from.

7. Don't require people to disclose a gender.
Unless you're in a tight-knit coven or circle environment, don't split people off into gendered groups or force people to disclose.  This can force people to choose between lying or outing themselves (like my story above) and can alienate nonbinary-gender people.

8. Recognize that you can hold an event without a ritual.
A lot of this stress stems from rituals.  Rituals are great.  I'm not saying that you shouldn't do them.  But if you're tumbling with a lot of this stuff, realize that having a get-together or a sabbat celebration or whatnot doesn't inherently require a ritual... I mean, how many people celebrate Christmas but don't go to church?

It's getting late and although I feel like I'm forgetting something I guess I'll just write an addendum if I did.  Probably because it's a heavily expansive topic that's been a thorn in my side for a long time.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

On Paganism's Diversity Problem I: Self-Describedly Colorblind Pagans

A while ago I went to a Pagan Pride Day event, and while like most Pagan events I certainly had a good time, there was also should I call it an "awkward" workshop.  Although I tried to speak up as much as I could, there are a lot of things preventing me from being articulate in an environment like that (empathy in an environment filled with anger and defensiveness makes me stutter incoherently) and so I'm supplementing it with some essays because it's an important subject.

Let me start by saying that, Pagans, we have a diversity problem.  And yes, at the risk of sounding antagonistic, I have some fucking problems with that problem.

This is something that almost immediately results in defensiveness whenever I bring it up, especially from the "Pagan-but-otherwise-super-privileged" (white, heterosexual Pagan men) who in true-to-privilege form believe that their maleness in a mostly-female and more-queer-people-than-usual environment makes them oppressed there.  I'll talk more about the numeric biases we have regarding this when I talk about gender and sexuality.  First I'm going to talk about race.

There were a lot of things said on Saturday that blow my mind more and more whenever I think about them.  I'm going to address a few of these statements before talking about a few things that can be done to begin remedying this situation.

"Pagans in general are of European descent and practicing European traditions, that's why there's mostly Europeans here."

It baffles me how few Pagans--at least Eclectic Pagans and Neo-Wiccans--in the United States really understand just how much the traditions of people of color have influenced our beliefs.  Black people here have had full-fledged magical traditions since long before Gerald Gardner came on the scene in Britain.  And if you look, there aren't that many major Pagan vendors that don't also stock supplies developed in predominantly black spiritual traditions... often without mentioning where they even came from.  A huge number of Pagans worship ancient Egyptian deities, especially Bast and Isis.  Belly dance--a Middle Eastern art form--is super-common.  And when it comes to Asian traditions?  Holy shit.  Unless you're attending the Supreme Rally of Hardcore Reconstructionists (fuck... even if you are) you're very likely to encounter some form of Asian spiritual influence, often presented as though it's totally universal and generic.  I had a woman during a workshop on ancient Egyptian religion ask me in all seriousness how chakras work into the Egyptian concept of the soul, and that's not to mention all the yoga, meditation types clearly inspired by Buddhism and Hinduism, auras, et. al.

In addition, there are practitioners of for example African Diasporic traditions that identify as Pagan.  Plenty don't, and that should certainly be validated, but when you come from a mashup of traditions like we do, why are there people who just assume that a practitioner of Vodou can't identify as Pagan?  Or an Aztec Reconstructionist?

The idea that Pagans are as a whole basically practicing European religions is laughable at this point.  You know what else is laughable?  That white Pagans can basically grab, grab, grab from whatever culture they want to while people largely say nothing about it (that's listened to), but Pagans of color are expected to stick with faiths developed by their own race.  Yes, there are Asian Celtic Reconstructionists.  Yes, there are black Norse Reconstructionists.  There are Middle Eastern Wiccans.  So even mentioning that most of us at least think we're practicing European traditions is a moot point... so are people of color.

(Going to mention on an aside that if you decide to say something like this and add your personal ancestry to the question as if it's totes the only reason you practice the way you do, get the fuck away from me because I don't want to talk to you.)

"The reason there are no people of color here is because we're in central Wisconsin which is like really white anyway."

Oh dear.  People really have it in their heads that a metropolitan area in Wisconsin is so super white that there couldn't possibly be Pagans of color there.  This is a pretty standard problem... white people tend to cloister ourselves with other white people through our residential choices as well as historical institutional racism affecting access to living spaces.  It's easy to think that any city is "super white" if you never venture out of predominantly white communities, which most white people never do.

I actually was a door-to-door canvasser in this very city.  There absolutely are plenty of people of color living there.

How many of them are Pagan-identified?  I don't know.  I have met black and Asian Pagans in this area.  So they exist, the problem is understanding why they don't show up.  The answer to that is often--although certainly not always--discomfort caused by the ignorant shit white people tend to say about the subject.

"I know a ____ who is OK with appropriation."

One of the issues we talked about was cultural appropriation.  Talking about this is a really difficult thing in the Pagan community because there is virtually no way to practice Paganism without appropriating something, and like all general population folk it's hard to get the idea of "white people appropriating and people of color appropriating are exactly equal and anyone who says otherwise is a meanie reverse racist" out of their heads... not to mention this variation on the "minority friend" argument actually does have something of value to it:  No.  Not all people of color have the same beliefs about cultural appropriation.  Some even wind up valuing depictions usually considered offensive (like team mascots based on Native Americans) because they're so underrepresented in mainstream society that they consider less-than-ideal depictions to be better than no representation at all.

If I were to give you My Own OpinionTM?  It's OK to validate feelings like that.  It's also OK to participate (by invitation) in things like this when they're put on by community members (for instance, a pow-wow that invites all attendees to participate in a dance).  What isn't OK is assuming that this means there's a consensus among members of that community, and what really isn't OK is assuming that the person of color who says what you want to hear is automatically the right one.

"If we just stop talking about this, racism is solved."

If I had to bring up one thing that appalled me most about this entire dreadful experience, it's the number of white people who went into broken-record mode to explain why talking about racism is making racism worse (and then proceeded to derail the conversation into something about news stations pointing out that the killer was black, I kind of hazed out at this point).

Alright, white people, seriously.  I know what you're trying to get at.  What passes for racial tolerance education among whites trains you into thinking pointing out race is inherently racist and everything would be solved if we just ignored everyone's race.

Here's the problem, though:  Refusing to acknowledge race altogether is also refusal to acknowledge racism.  White people love saying things like "Saying black people are more likely to be poor is racist stereotyping!"  We love saying such things because it releases us from the obligation of understanding reasons why black people may be more likely to be poor (spoiler alert: white people).  The activists of the Civil Rights Movement would have gotten absolutely nowhere if they hadn't talked about race.  Neither will we.  So seriously.  Stop saying this.  There's no validity to it.  None.

News flash: Racism already exists.  "Being the change you wish to see in the world" is a cute saying that works a lot of the time but not when "being the change you wish to see" means not talking about important issues.  If every anti-racist (or pretend anti-racist) just stopped talking about it, all that would happen is open racists would have the floor.

"I can't be held responsible for what my ancestors did!"

I already wrote about this.  You actually do benefit from what your ancestors did, so you do have a responsibility.

In addition I think it's important to understand that we aren't just talking about what our ancestors did... we're talking about common things said and done by current Pagans at Pagan gatherings that drive away Pagans of color.  If you read the articles I linked below (which you should) you'll find that Pagans of color experience everything from assumptions about what Pagan faith they practice to harassment by white nationalists and folkish "I'm racialist not racist but no I'm really quite racist" white-exclusive-practitioner types.

Speaking of which, there were more of those in attendance than there were people of color.  I'm not shitting you.  There were at least four people who I have personally experienced saying what are essentially white nationalist Pagan beliefs or posting it on the Internet.  We're excruciatingly tolerant of racism when it's not called racism.

So what do we do about that?  There are quite a few things.

First, it should be mentioned that actively recruiting Pagans of color isn't necessarily a good answer.  The reason is that people of color who don't go to such events often do so because they're really uncomfortable with the way they are treated.  If you recruit--especially without doing anything else--you wind up intentionally throwing people into oppressive and uncomfortable situations and calling that "diversity."  It's more important long-term to deal with the racism among white Pagans than it is to try encouraging people of color to attend.

One of the first things you can do as a white Pagan?  Educate yourself on the subject.  You don't need to be mining Pagans of color in your life for information (educating you is not their responsibility, although be receptive when they do bring up concerns!), but luckily for you this has been written about on several occasions by several different people.  Focus on things written by actual people of color and not things written by white people (for an example, you should put more stock in the links I have below than in this blog entry).  There is an anthology called "Shades of Faith" that's a good start.  A couple other articles I found that you don't need to buy to read:
Being Black and Pagan
Being An Ally Versus Being A Nice Person
Social Unrest and the Reflections of People of Color
Things I Wish White Pagans Realized
My Observations And Experiences as a Pagan Woman of Color

Daughters of Eve (which hosts some of those essays) has a lot of blog posts by Pagan women of color.
For one that lists things that can be (have been) done to support this, there's Ways that Pantheacon 2013 Supported Change for Pagans of Color

Have anti-harassment policies at your events and in your groups... and enforce them.  Realize that people of color practicing European traditions regularly get shit from white practitioners for not being white (one of the examples linked includes a person who was spit on for practicing Norse Recon).  Realize that people of color practicing traditions from their own ancestry also regularly get shit from white practitioners for making a big deal about race (race is a big deal) or preferring to practice out of the gaze of white people.  Don't tolerate it.  Don't act as though harassment is worthwhile free speech.  Boot harassers the hell out the door.  If it causes a bunch of racialists to leave in protest, consider it a win.

Pay attention to what your advertising is like.  Is it diverse?  Is your idea of "diversity" appropriative?  I mean, don't take this as an endorsement of the book, but the original cover of Teen Witch: Wicca for a New Generation by Silver Ravenwolf is edging closer to what a diverse advertisement for a Pagan something could look like (Not that it's perfect by any means.  Also I believe in later editions they decided to switch out the rambunctious multi-racial crew with a single white woman. Sigh.).  For instance, putting an image of a Native American in full pow-wow garb on an advertisement is just not the same thing as a picture of a Wiccan or other Pagan of color or a group of Pagans that includes Pagans of color.  Are you using white-washed pictures of Deities or only European deities?  Although it's a mistake to assume a person of color also worships Deities of color, it's important that Deities are represented as diverse, too.  Where are you advertising?  Not all publications reach people of color, so you may want to look into advertising in more than just mainstream local publications.

This is just the tip of the iceberg of an everpresent problem, and not all of the things-to-do I've pointed out will apply at all times.  What's really important though is to point out that this really is a problem... and yes, it really is a problem here.

Rendezvous and some Animal Magick Stuff

I just got back from Rendezvous, something I haven't gone to since I was a child (well, I went to a different Rendezvous, just not in the same city).  There's really only one reason I go to Rendezvous (besides birch beer and buffalo meat) which is to get dead animal parts.

(That said, content warning: Post contains dead animal parts.  Also comes from a Pagan/Therioshaman background so if you are unfamiliar with that it may look... well, silly.)

I have a mental wishlist of animal parts I'm trying to acquire for my animal magick/therioshaman/neoshaman practice and so today I did a nice run-around of Rendezvous.  There was a lot of cool stuff I couldn't afford but somehow appreciate having seen, and I saw lots of cool ideas for bags, rattles, purses, and other stuff that I also didn't buy because too expensive or I don't need it.

So when I began using animal parts again after years of veganism I made an effort to spiritually "ask" everything I already had what it wanted to be used for.  I'd acquired a shell that was at one point spraypainted gold (I don't know what it was used for) that I had been using for incense.  It wanted to be retired and replaced as soon as I found an abalone shell because it did not like the way it had been treated prior to me having it.  I found an abalone, so I'll be finding a way to retire it respectfully as soon as possible.

I've been experimenting with queer-sacred-masculine ritual and wanted a replacement for my chalice, so I got a horn for that.  It'll need to be modified a bit as it is just flat out an animal horn.

I got a fox face and some teeth and a bunch of beeswax candles because it irritates me to use paraffin candles in ritual.  Um... what else?  I don't even remember.  I got birch beer and fry bread.  I forgot to ask for it without onions so it had onions and I didn't itch afterward.  So it was all in all a good day.

I noticed one stand was selling deer tails.  I am planning on--if I get a deer--tanning a whole cape this  next hunting season, but I'll be honest and say I haven't shot a deer in like ten years and tails are inexpensive so I bought one.  Later I passed the same stand and found a set of antlers which were also inexpensive, so I bought those, too.  The reason?  Most of my therioshamanic work is done with Whitetail Deer, but my garb for it includes faux fur (not a bad thing but not my thing personally) and antlers from an undetermined variety of deer.

The plan was to modify the tail to be beltlooped (like the tails you would buy at a furry con) and somehow fix the antlers to my head.  I decided I'd figure out that latter point later.

I actually still haven't.  I just flat out tied the whole rack to my head with a bandana, which worked out marginally better than I expected and is relatively comfortable.  The only problem is that from behind you can see the inside of the skull, which is... weird.  I'll have to modify it at some point.
 Beltlooping the tail was actually really easy.  I just cut two slits in it and wove it through my belt.

This should add interesting levels to my animal workings.  It's also really weird to stand like that.  I feel for female superheroes.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Whole Foods and Ignoring the Ailments of the Poor

I accidentally stumbled on an article called Surviving Whole Foods on Huffington Post.  It overall gave me a chuckle: I've been to Whole Foods maybe once or twice in my life, when I was canvassing for what many have described as a "liberal sweatshop" (hyperbolic but they're well known for labor rights violations) that shall not be named but may or may not be recognized by other people who worked there.  I would pretty solidly agree that Whole Foods is kind of a hellhole, and that said, I identify with most of what this author is trying to express.

There is a bothersome thing within it, though, that I'd like to talk about.  It comes from this statement here:
Ever notice that you don't meet poor people with special diet needs? A gluten intolerant house cleaner? A cab driver with Candida? Candida is what I call a rich, white person problem. You know you've really made it in this world when you get Candida.  
Now, the point here is (if I'm interpreting right) that niche foods (like wheat-free breads, dairy-free cheese, and so forth) are... well, fucking expensive.  Since marketing basically makes it seem as though restricted diets basically involve removing one shitty thing and replacing it with something meant to kind of look and maybe taste vaguely like that shitty thing, the overall perception is that these diets are inherently expensive.

Does this mean poor people don't have dietary intolerances or "candida" (which as far as I can tell is just a neo-hippie alternative-health way of saying "yeast infection")?  No.  It means that they're less likely to be diagnosed with them due to lack of reliable healthcare, less likely to have the income to experiment with diet if they aren't in dire need to, more likely to have a different baseline for what "feels" healthy than a wealthier person, more likely to play the acute-medical-expenses-versus-long-term-maintenance gamble, and perhaps most importantly, less likely to rely on foods specifically marketed for their particular dietary needs.

I mean, there are lots of gluten-free or mostly-gluten-free foods in the cheap section of the supermarket.  It's a huge mistake to assume "gluten-free" means "I spend a small fortune on Udi's products every week."  When I started my own dietary experiments I had zero income other than food stamps and gifts... it's possible to do these things poor, but you're not going to do them in the stereotypical Whole Foods way.  The same can be said for any so-called "premium" diet.  The wealthy way of handling it gets the marketing attention, so people assume it's automatically expensive.  The people who get by without eating bread at all don't get the media attention because it's not marketable to wealthy people.  So we don't hear about it and we assume these conditions are manufactured by wealthy hypochondriacs.  In some ways they are.  But it's not nearly that simple.

Are dietary restrictions such as these particularly common in the poor?  Not as far as I can tell, in part because of the other points I've brought up.  That gamble between long-term raised expenses and acute medical bills makes perfect sense, especially when we're talking about something like yeast infections, the expense it takes to go on one of those neo-hippie candida vitamin and diet regimens might not outweigh the benefit of not having the option of grabbing a relatively inexpensive over-the-counter drug if you do happen to get it... or you just pray it doesn't happen.  And hell, you might not even know.  My first trip to a doctor after years of being poor and uninsured revealed that I had a raging infection that I was entirely unaware of because that was my baseline and I was under the impression it was "normal" to feel that way.  The gut pain I get from whole wheat was also something I thought was just "normal."

So I can sympathize with the sentiments expressed toward the people of Whole Foods and establishments like it, but that doesn't change the fact that there's a major assumption about the supposed robustness of the poor with regard to dietary intolerances and illnesses in contrast to the so-called-manufactured diseases of the wealthy.

And this is a problem, because it's a symptom of a wider acceptance of the lack of healthcare and dietary choices available to the poor more than it is a sign of wealthy arrogance and health stress (although the latter two may certainly be true).  That's where we need to be careful when we talk about subjects like this.  It's much too easy (and ableist) to just dismiss things experienced by a lot of people just because we only hear about them in the media through the mouths of the wealthy.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Every Pagan Book I Own Part III

Decided since I've been neglecting this project a bit I'd better step it up:  Here are four Pagan books I won and my feelings about each of them.

Skin Spirits: The Spiritual and Magical Uses of Animal Parts by Lupa
This book is great for crafty people who are comfortable using animal parts.  It gives very good step-by-step instructions on how to make things from bones, leather, feathers, etc. as well as sourcing such things and caring for the spirits within them.  If you use animal parts regularly I strongly suggest this book.

So many books are squeamish about using animal parts in ritual because they're afraid of the response from the animal rights contingent of Paganism.  Because of this, books like this one are important.  The resources section is wonderful.  She gives a good run-down of the legal and ethical considerations we need to take.  And her instructions are very good.  Implies that furry-type garb can be used as skin spirits, which is cool.

If you believe using animal parts is unethical, this book will infuriate you and you should skip it.  Has a couple inconsistencies... one moment she suggests keeping skins entirely intact, but her instructions involve cutting them.  But honestly I'm kind of fighting for "cons" here.

Appropriation Level
I would characterize Lupa's work as "appropriation-aware" rather than lacking appropriation, which is honestly my own style of doing Paganism anyway.  There are practices in this book that are clearly inspired by other cultures, and if you are 100% against all appropriation at all times, it'll bug you.
History Level
There really isn't any history in this book aside from laws, and I don't have the experience to judge that.

Relativism Level
I didn't see any major problems.

Wicca Spellcraft for Men by A.J. Drew
I believe this is actually a grimoire-based sequel to Wicca for Men.  I do not own that book so I can't comment on that, but this is a shortish book that is pretty much dedicated to masculine mysteries within Wicca... specifically spellcraft.

This book is dedicated to the murdered trans man known as "Brandon."  Although I am seriously uncomfortable with Brandon being elevated in the trans male community (this is a complicated issue that I don't have time to address here), there is a very clear message that trans men are welcome in male mysteries, which is significant.  I use the oil recipes... a lot.  They're good.
Implies that feminism and outright states that a focus on Goddess worship are disempowering to men.  Implied MRA crap going on here.  Pulls the "you need a mother and a father" bullshit (but oh gays and lesbians are fine it's just symbolism yeah right).  Although I said I use the oil recipes a lot... there are so fucking many of them.  Why would you need this many oils in a general Wiccan spellcraft book?  Yikes.  Very snarky about other authors he feels are fluffy.  Justifies coercive love spells (although these are traditional and casting them doesn't make you "not a Witch" like some Witches would proclaim, casting them is indicative of an overall lack of concern for consent).
Relativism Level
Although I dislike the justification of coercive love spells, the fact that this is a popular Wiccan book that doesn't have too many hangups in the manipulative magick department is kind of revolutionary.
Appropriation Level
Has lotta-God syndrome (mentions lots of Gods without context).

History Level
I would ignore the history in this book merely because the author is kind of snarky about it.

Gay Witchcraft: Empowering the Tribe by Christopher Penczak
Oh.  Oh dear.  This is one of those books that I "reluctantly recommend."  It has good information in it and as far as I know is one of the first books to really delve into queer Witchcraft, but because of its age and other factors it has some really serious problems going for it.  Gay Witchcraft is meant to be a kind-of-inclusive book and doesn't exclusively refer to gay men... but more about that appears in the "cons" section of this review, unfortunately.
There are diverse pictures in this book, including people I am reading as transgender.  Has a good sex magick section for beginners.  If you're interested in queer-centered seasonal celebrations, this book has a good conception of that (although Penczak simultaneously pulls the same "hetero symbolism is like totally fine and queers shouldn't be bothered by it" bull everyone else seems to).  My favorite part of this book?  It has a ritual for exploring heterosexual sex.  This is significant to me because there are so many people who view homosexuality in terms of a hardline sexual-orientation-never-changes rubric that having something like this (especially back when this book was written!) is just wonderful to me.  It's especially important to me because I went through exactly that, having come out as a gay trans man who later learned he was not so gay after all.  I really appreciate that.
This book attempts to be inclusive of women, but it really isn't.  I wish Penczak had written a book just for gay men because that's clearly his comfort zone and what he should be focusing on.  There are a lot of other cons to this book.  But they are best detailed in the next sections.

Relativism Level
Bad.  Bad, bad, bad, bad.  Says "Witches don't curse."  Writes "Anyone who uses the world [sic] 'warlock' today is probably ignorant about Wicca as a religion" (laughably, one of his resources is Storm Faerywolf, who very openly identifies as a Warlock).
History Level
Bad.  He makes some really bizarre-as-fuck statements about Gods and Goddesses who allegedly preside over queer concerns.  While these statements might be fine on a personal level (I don't care, for instance, if you want to view Odin or Bast as queer deities), when you're writing a book like this it makes you an attempted authority on the subject, and I loathe that so many Witches are basically being tricked into believing bad history.  Don't trust the history.  Seriously.

Appropriation Level
Higher than average.  Uses stuff like chakras, but these are so genericized at this point it's almost not worth mentioning.  Calls The One/The All "The Great Spirit."

365 Goddess: A Daily Guide to the Magic and Inspiration of the Goddess by Patricia Telesco
This is one of those books I never would have sought out.  I found it at a thrift shop years ago, when I was still interested in The Goddess as a concept.  This book is basically a calendar that declares a special day for each of 365 cross-cultural Goddesses, (sometimes quite loosely) associated with cross-cultural holidays that are celebrated on those dates.  For instance, December 25th associates Christmas with Hertha, a Teutonic Goddess.
If you're looking for Goddesses or are the type who is into the lotta-God thing, this book might be a useful starting off point for you.  Has some interesting practices to try out.

Some of the "Goddesses" are not Goddesses.  Another one that is better explained in the appropriation category.
History Level
I can't comment on the whole book, but the Fourth of July entry is fucking weird and suggests to me that the rest of the Goddesses featured probably are peddled with inaccuracies.  She dedicates Independence Day to "Thmei," who she calls an "Egyptian goddess of law and mother of virtue."  This is clearly Ma'at, but for some reason she's using a ridiculously obscure Greek(?) name to describe her.  She doesn't really explain why in hell Ma'at has anything to do with Independence Day.  So I don't know that I'd trust the rest of the book.

Relativism Level
Not really applicable.
Appropriation Level
Oh dear.  Seriously.  This is a book basically dedicated to ripping off holidays and incorporating them into Paganism.  Many of the activities suggested are suggested without any real context ("Hey, try drumming while sprinkling corn kernels, that's what Native Americas would do on this day!!! No, you don't need a citation on whether or not that's true or to know why or anything.")  Most of the Goddesses are picked based on location and mythology, which is fine, but then you get weird ones like the aforementioned Fourth of July that she's somehow associated with Ma'at. It's actually really disturbing to think of the kind of person who would use this book in all seriousness.  Are there really people out there who get a lot from this?  I don't even know.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Every Pagan Book I Own Part II

Wow, haven't done this in a while!  I have loads of books so I better get cracking.  For part two I'll be going through three books: Sacred Paths for Modern Men, Urban Primitive, and Wicca in the Kitchen.

Sacred Paths for Modern Men: A Wake Up Call From Your 12 Archetypes by Dagonet Dewr
This was my first male-centered Pagan book.  It's not a bad book, although there are some pretty big problems with it.  It contains some stories that I absolutely love, and there are a lot of useful exercises.  This book is very group-centered and would be a good addition to a men's group.  It is broken up into 12 male archetypes (Divine Child, Lover, Warrior, Trickster, Green Man, Guide, Craftsman, Magician, Destroyer, King, Healer, Sacrificed One) and after each has an activity that is meant to be done solitary and another that is a group-oriented activity.  Each archetype has a couple stories of Gods or other figures (Gandalf and Merlin are featured) to illustrate.
One of the absolute best Set-oriented stories I've ever read is in this book.  I use it in a lot of my personal workings.  If you're a Set worshiper, you will probably like the Destroyer section for that reason.  This book will probably appeal to most Pagan men who are interested in masculine energies and archetypes.
Archetyping Gods and Goddesses is problematic as it pigeonholes multicultural figures into largely Western categories.  If you aren't interested in this guy's ManKind Project it's going to really-fucking-annoy you by the end of the book.  Falls into heterosexist norms, doesn't address trans issues (so-called "binary" trans people are often interested in gender mysteries which is why it's important to address them if you're affirming).
Not a lot of history to speak of.

Appropriation Level
Relatively high but not infuriatingly high.  Presents stories of a lot of Gods without really presenting the context.  Has Jesus in it.
Relativism Level
This is based on a specific tradition therefore this is mostly irrelevant.

The Urban Primitive: Paganism in the Concrete Jungle by Raven Kaldera and Tannin Schwarzstein
This is one of my favorite books.  I bought it at the airport in Milwaukee when I was going through a crisis; I have been rural for most of my life, but I was expecting to move to the city and I was having a hard time dealing with that.  I actually still live in the country several years later, but this book is useful to more than just urban Pagans.
Most Pagans are urban-dwellers, but culturally we assume regular access to natural spaces.  This book is great for people who don't have that kind of access... magick and religion involving  the ebb and flow of the city, the spirit of the city, and things you tend to find in an urban environment.  It's also very creative and contains things you will not find in any other book.  It even describes modern deities.  I like that it has information on "darker" subjects (including blood sacrifice and use of animal parts).
A personal pet peeve of mine is encouraging litter among Pagans.  Although it's not a central theme, this book does do that (tying condoms to chain link fences?).  A lot of people seem to have a problem with their newer Gods and Goddesses.  I don't, but if you have a difficult time with the idea of modern deities it's going to grate on you.
There isn't that much history in this book.  I found it odd that it claims Sekhmet considers tame lions offensive as her temples had captive lions in them.

Appropriation Level
It's there, but this book tends to create things from scratch rather than mindlessly take them.
Relativism Level
Some preachiness about cursing, but tends to be relativist about other aspects.

Cunningham's Encyclopedia of Wicca in the Kitchen by Scott Cunningham
This is, as the title would imply, a book about magickal cooking.  It's an older book and so there's a lot of out-of-date stuff in it, but it's certainly usable.  I honestly would have liked for it to be... better?  But hey, that's what the "cons" section is for.
I like this book because the very concepts of kitchen witchery and magickal cooking are incredibly appealing to me as a home foodie.  There are solid recipes and a lot of entries for different ingredients, so since I bought it I've been looking up practically every food I use.
Alright, I'll just say it... "Where's the beef?"  He has sections for all sorts of obscure ingredients and then doesn't put any meat in the damn thing.  Well, that's not entirely true... he does feature seafood, and there is red meat in his recipes, but animal flesh has such potential with regard to magick and he basically treats it like an outlier.  It would be one thing if he were vegetarian, but like many authors he actually dedicates space rationalizing meat eating so there's no moral reason for him to omit it.  The alcohol section on absinthe is out-of-date and makes it seem like an inherently dangerous and mortifyingly illegal beverage.  It hasn't been illegal for quite a while now, not in the United States anyway, and it's just not the demon people made it out to be.  He also implies that tea---yes, tea--is dangerously addictive if you don't watch it.  Again, this is an older book so take things like this with a grain of salt.  I also find it unsettling that he seems to consider fast food a huge, horrible evil and then he has a section on it anyway.
Pretty standard for this book's time, really with regard to history the big problem is that it's out of date.

Appropriation Level
Each entry has cross-cultural associations that aren't always adequately explained.  I remember one entry he basically said that Native Americans had all these stories about the food item... and then he doesn't give any synopses of these stories or even what individual Nation told them.  So Google things before you assume them.

Relativism Level
This book concerns a specific tradition and so this is mostly irrelevant. 

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

NALT and Re-Centralizing Christianity in Queer Discourse (Part II?)

I lovingly consider this a part II because I already wrote about Christian privilege in queer spaces back in January when I talked about the annoying number of God and Bible related workshops at the queer events I was going to.  Workshops and groups pleading with people to understand that (Christian) God doesn't really hate us are absolutely nothing new, yet time and time again some queer Christian [or group of queer Christians (or, even worse, ally Christians)] decides more of us need a good education on the finer points of the Bible.

So now we have "NALT," or "Not All Like That," a "new" project by Dan Savage and some less-famous people which is pretty much the "It Gets Better" campaign but with Christians.  The point, as Laura Bradley decided I didn't already know for some reason, is to "counter the myth that one can't be LGBT and Christian."
What if a queer is Christian?  Then that queer is Christian.  You'd think this question had never been posed before the way people involved in NALT talk about it, but seriously.  This is not a new and original topic.  If I had a nickel for every time I heard a queer Christian say something like "I'm a gay Christian which is NOT an oxymoron!" I would have enough to at least buy a nice sushi meal or something (if I had a nickel for every time I heard somebody say "holy shit you mean that's NOT an oxymoron?" I'd be broke).

Even then, those "blah blah not an oxymoron" comments are up there with "I'm like the only gay man looking for a monogamous relationship and not just hookups!!!1" where people make bizarre assumptions that something incredibly mundane and common about them is unique.

As an intermission, you can watch this commercial for the United Church of Christ that came out years ago that is ridiculously unsubtle.

NALT didn't start this.  It's been a common conversation for years.  It's been common because Christianity is a majority faith that is already talked about ad nauseum in minority communities.  This is one of those times when I just want to yell out "You are a member of an oppressive majority.  We don't need more discussions about your needs."

Is there a place for Bible-based discourse among queer people?  Sure.  Queer Christians need affirming places and discourse.  The problem is, that sort of thing already exists in great abundance because Christianity is already such an overrepresented topic.  Queer people put on workshops, build websites and blogs, and tweet about this all the time.  Although regionally there are issues finding local people, there are plenty of resources out there if you want them without staging a huge resource-sucking campaign (and this wouldn't solve the problem of local antagonism anyway).

But it's not just because this isn't a new and original topic that this grates on me so much.  It's that it centralizes Christianity's self-identified universality, sucks up resources specifically to aid privilege, and shames people who do choose to convert because Christianity or Christians have hurt them.

There are lots of people who left due to emotional pain.  Ironically perhaps, I wasn't one of them.  I converted from Christianity to Paganism for no reason other than Paganism resonated with me.  But having been a Pagan over half my life I have certainly met many who converted because they were seriously hurt by Christians who wouldn't accept them for being bisexual, lesbian, trans, or gay; as well as people who have been denied faith services by their former churches or important social services.

There's nothing wrong with that.  Nothing.

You know what the gist of this campaign is to me?  It strikes me as a bunch of Christians who are more upset about the fact that queer people leave Christianity than they are that Christians hurt queer people.  If this weren't the case, why are they targeting their audience the way they are?  Why is the entire focus of their campaign on proving that not all Christians are dicks and not calling out straight Christian bigots who give that impression?  Is there any other reason other than some creepy queer Christian missionary project stressing out that maybe their religion isn't hot shit?

I'll let you in on a secret that's not a secret:  Converting religions because the one you were raised in made you feel like shit is a perfectly reasonable thing to do.  It doesn't matter that they're "not all like that."  You are not obligated to be Christian.  If you are uncomfortable with Christianity because you have had really bad experience with it, then leave.  Leave for a different religion, leave for a different Christian denomination, it's your choice.  That is your right and something that should be affirmed, not treated like it's something so very, very sad and regrettable that we have to create a campaign to end it.