Feminism and Our Pagan and Nordic Roots

Back in July, I posted a response to #YesAllWomen on our Facebook page. Harassment is a problem in the pagan community. It probably has been since its inception. Harassment has definitely been a problem since I became a pagan back in the 80’s. This week, someone posted a response.

“stupid feminist! you and your feminist screwed ideas have nothing to do wiht our pagan and nordic roots.”

I expect a certain amount of criticism when I put my ideas out into the ether. If you write a blog, you get trolls. It is the style. My reaction to such responses is mixed.

I am not surprised. In my experience, this is very much the attitude of modern Heathenry. There is an unpleasant emphasis on heteronormativity and gender traditional roles in many kindreds. Women get belittled, mansplained and then chastised for being inhospitable when they protest. It’s the most important reason I avoid the community.

However, I am annoyed. I am not only a pagan and a feminist, but a historian and a journalist. I know from my studies of the primary sources that women were a valued part of Norse culture. Not just for their housekeeping (which should never be discounted or downplayed. They kept their families from dying of starvation or exposure) skills, but for their political skills, their social skills, their economic skills, their magical skills, and sometimes their warrior skills.

So, let’s define feminism. The dictionary definition is: the advocacy of women’s rights on the grounds of political, social, and economic equality to men. But I know as a journalist that the definition has shifted in both popular perception and pagan perception.

Feminism has always been part of my experience of paganism. I started out in Gardnerian Wicca, which in the 80’s was very much a reaction to the Abrahamic religion’s emphasis on phallocentric monotheism. The idea that women were equal with men was assumed. The idea that women were neither whores nor Madonna, rather just fallible human beings was assumed.  The idea that there were goddesses with as much power and wonder as the gods was assumed. Now, before this all sounds idyllic, it wasn’t. There was (and is) still systematic misogyny in my experience of Wicca (the difference between the requirements for a priest and priestess is a perfect example), and because it was (and is) a “nature” religion, a horrific amount of heteronormativity and trans-misogyny. But the thought that women and men could and should be equal in a spiritual context was a powerful thing.

As my experience with paganism grew, as well as my studies of history, archeology and mythology, I went Reconstructionist. Many people were going Reconstructionist at the time, a reaction to the fuzzy historicity and the “woo” of Wicca. There was also some blowback reaction to the Goddess-centric emphasis.  My experience with the Reconstructionist community, while valuable, was problematic. The insistence that the “lore” (the Eddas, the sagas, plus a few other historical texts) was the end all, be all of Norse practice was as dogmatic as the Abrahamic religions where we started. I’ve expressed my opinion about the lore.

The most common take away for many people from the lore is that women were not equal to men in ancient or medieval Scandinavia. Women in ancient Scandinavia probably weren’t equal the way we think of equal.

HOWEVER…

My beloved gave me the simplest and most profound definition of feminism. She said, “Feminism is the radical notion that women are people.” (The quote is originally from Marie Shear)

What does that have to do with feminism and our pagan and Nordic roots?

The idea that women are property to be disposed of is not a Northern European idea. You can trace it through  Sumerian, Hebrew and Greco-Roman culture, see enshrined in the Abrahamic religions and document its imposition on women for a thousand years. You can see the attitude shift in the changes in codes of laws across Northern Europe, from Ireland to Scandinavia to Lithuania. Pre-Christianity, women were protected to the same extent as men under the law. Post-Christianity, they were not.

The lore tells us that women in Norse society were respected political, social and economic powerhouses that kept their families and their societies afloat. Both men and women in Norse society believed women were people, to be listened to, consulted and obeyed.

I would also submit, even if we didn’t have several examples in the lore of women as political, social and economic equals with men, that unless you are a total ostrich or have a Tardis in your backyard, we don’t live in 10th century Scandinavia. We literally and practically live in a different world. The plants, animals, earth, sky and sea, our understanding of the universe around us and our relationship to gods, ancestors and place are not the same as they were, even if you actually live in modern Scandinavia. And if you live in America, well, you’re not even in the same ecosystem. We at Weaving Wyrd live in 21st century America.

I am a soft Reconstructionist. Which means I am cognizant of and responsive to the changes that have happened in thought and understanding in the last thousand years. Even if women weren’t people then, and that’s just not true, they are certainly people now. While there are still deep and disturbing inequalities, women have access to political, social and economic power in a way that was not possible for my grandmothers or even my mother.

And it seems modern Heathenry is responding to the world we live in now, rather than the imperfect view of the world our ancestors may have lived in then. Women are redefining their roles in society and faith by their strength and pride, their wisdom and courage. Many prominent women have shaped the conversation about what it means to be a Norse Reconstructionist, writing insightful and educated articles and books about ancient and modern practice. A local kindred is home to a lesbian couple. While these things do not impel me to rejoin the community, they do give me hope that Heathenry is changing.

Both historically and currently, women are people. Trolls, beware.

Your mileage will most certainly vary.

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Boundaries for Your Safety

Happy New Year!

Years ago, I wrote a series of articles about religious abuse. They had been prompted by an overwhelming wave of reports about abusive group leaders in my area.

While I was sifting through the stories, I found that one of the most common forms of abuse in the neo-pagan community is sexual abuse. The reasons we are vulnerable to this kind of manipulation are varied. Many of us are coming out of Abrahamic traditions that are sexually repressive and we want to find a healthy, happy way to express our sexuality. Many of us are coming out of emotionally or physically abusive families or institutions and we are trying to find a healthy way to cope with our trauma. Many of us are trying to make sense of the world from a spiritual place that doesn’t reinforce the dysfunction we are trying to escape. All of these kinds of damage make for problems with boundaries, trust and ultimately, informed, non-coerced consent.

Setting Boundaries

The first step is a self-inventory of the boundaries you have. We all have a series of physical, material, emotional, mental and spiritual boundaries between ourselves and others. There is a good chance your boundaries may not be well defined, or even something you can articulate.  Concentrate on what actions or reactions make you feel comfortable, comforted and safe

Some examples:

Physical: How do I feel about people standing close to me? About people touching me? Hugging me? Kissing me?

Material: How do I feel about loaning people money? Books? Clothes?

Emotional: How do I feel about sharing my feelings about _____?  How do I feel about being questioned? Asked to elaborate or explain?

Mental: How do I feel about sharing my thoughts about _____? How do I feel about being questioned? Argued with?

Spiritual: How do I feel about sharing my spiritual experiences about _____? How do I feel about being questioned? Asked to elaborate or explain?

The Target Exercise

Draw a target and make yourself the bull’s eye. Then think about the people in your life. Who is closest to you? Some examples are your lovers, your spouses, your children, your most intimate friends. These are the people who you would trust with your life, your sanity, your safety. If there is no one in that circle, that’s okay.

Then draw the next circle. These are the people who you like and maybe even love, but you aren’t comfortable sharing certain things with them. Some examples are your non-pagan siblings or parents or mundane friends.  If there is no one in that circle, that’s okay.

Then draw the next circle. These are the people you like and maybe even love, but you aren’t comfortable sharing most personal things with them. Some examples are co-workers, spiritual group members that you don’t know well, acquaintances. If there is no one in that circle, that’s okay.

Then draw the next circle. These are the general public, people you meet in doctor’s offices or the DMV, who you may chat with but are basically strangers. If there is no one in that circle, that’s okay.

Then draw the next circle. These are the people you definitely do not feel comfortable or safe around. If there is no one in that circle, that’s okay.

Once you have your circles drawn, go through your boundaries inventory and think about which boundaries should go in or around which circle. If you don’t have boundaries for a circle, create some.

Keep this exercise available and review it periodically, especially when you feel uncomfortable or unsafe. Did someone violate a boundary? Do you need to add a new boundary based on a person or an event? Did someone change their position based on something trustworthy or untrustworthy that they did?

When you feel anger or resentment, or find yourself whining or complaining, you probably need to set a boundary. Listen to yourself, then determine what you need to do or say. Then communicate your boundary assertively. When you are confident you can set healthy boundaries with others, you will have less need to put up walls.

When need to set a boundary with another person, do it clearly without anger or fear, in as few words as possible. Do not justify, apologize for, or rationalize the boundary you are setting. Boundaries are important for your health and safety. You are not responsible for anyone else’s reaction to your boundaries. If the other person reacts poorly to your boundary setting, walk away. Re-evaluate where that person is on your target.

Maintaining Boundaries

People that are used to controlling you, abusing you, or manipulating you will test your boundaries. Plan on it, expect it. Do not apologize for protecting yourself. Be firm. You are worth protecting.

People who care about you will be willing to respect your boundaries, but if it is a new process, they will overstep through ignorance. Be prepared to be firm about your boundaries when they are not being respected. Boundary setting is often a way to weed out those people who are not healthy for you. If necessary, end the relationship. In extreme cases, you might have to involve the police or judicial system by sending a no-contact letter or obtaining a restraining order.

Learning to set healthy boundaries takes time. It is a process. You won’t do it perfectly every time, all the time. You will set boundaries when you are ready. It’s your growth in your own time frame, not what someone else tells you.

Develop a support system of people who respect your right to set boundaries. People who respect your right to set boundaries will help you learn to trust and understand yourself better. Eliminate toxic persons from your life, anyone who want to manipulate you, abuse you, and control you. If you are willing, find a therapist or join a support group.

Next time, I’ll talk about sex positive behavior and dubious consent.

Your mileage will most certainly vary

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Lessons from Big Horn Sheep: Hiking

Lessons from Big Horn Sheep is a series of articles on working with animal totems in everyday life. 

One foot in front of the other. 

This is the lesson that Big Horn Sheep has tried to teach me, more often than I am apt to listen. It is his constant reminder that every journey that I will ever take will start with one step, and will proceed with the following step. To stop moving is to stop journeying, so one foot in front of the other.

I had asked for help several years ago, back when I had a single animal totem that helped me for many years. Wolverines are great as survival animal totems, and I learned many lessons from him that allowed me to reach where I was that day. My heart, however, yearned for something more – reaching new heights that I could only see in my dreams. One where I was healthy, vibrant – free from any shackles of fear that could hold me back. I needed a totem that could help me with my biggest limiter – my physical health.

On that evening I journeyed with a group – each of us was seeking a totem animal for different purposes. I journeyed beyond Yggdrasil, feeling a tug on my heart that led me to the foothills of the mountains. From here I looked up, and saw what would be my second animal totem.

I was terrified – here were several big horn sheep, of the Rocky Mountain variety, all of which were nestled in the crags of the mountains. One of them was looking at me intently, and nodded as I met his eye. Climb up to me, I heard in my mind. Climb up to me, and we shall start our journey. It was no easy climb that evening, but I did not rest until I sat by his side, gently resting a hand on his fur.

And now, we begin

One foot in front of the other.

I hear his words in my mind as I continue up the beaten path, hiking along a trail in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. I can look ahead of me and see where I will go, and look beyond me and see where I’ve been. It’s entirely unlike my mind at its worst, where I’ve been known to look ahead of me and see my life regress. Up here, it’s only me, the mountain, and Big Horn Sheep, who guides the way.

The mountain does not care what I did an hour before I started walking on his trail, and he does not know what I will do once I have descended from his paths. It matters little what I do for a living, if my bills are paid, or how I’m going to solve the many troubling thoughts inside my head. The only thing that matters right now is what is in the present moment. The feel of the dirt and stone beneath my feet. The mountain air that rushes into my lungs. The birds chirping and insects buzzing. The dull ache from muscles used. The cool, clean taste of water on my lips. I am here, now, connected to the earth. Grounded.

One step forward, I pull past instances of myself that are stuck on troublesome memories of the past. Next step forward, I call back my inner scouts who have been tracking the future far too intently. Another step forward, I feel all those aspects merge into myself, all while letting them know that they are ok – comforting those past selves who weep over mistakes long past, assuring those nervous future selves who strategize for the future. In the end, all will be ok, for all that matters is this present moment, where I am me. Centered.

I have survived up to this moment, therefore I am triumphant. All of me is victorious, and with this focus, I will continue to be so.

Grounded and centered. 

One foot in front of the other.

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Happy Yule from Weaving Wyrd!

Have a blessed and happy Yule!

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Transgender Day of Remembrance, 2012

In Memory.

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Sex, Death and Tranformation: I’ve been Pagan longer than you’ve been alive…

I’ve been pagan for 25 years.I became pagan because I had an epiphany about how I could be responsible for my own happiness.

I was an angry young pagan for a long time. Christians and Judeo-Christian culture were the roots of all evil. But as I made decisions to move toward a healthier me, I stopped being angry.

Tonight, I stopped at McDonald’s on Colfax not far from my house to grab some dinner on my way to pay my rent. I hate trying to eat in my car. I end up wearing more of my food than I eat, so I tend to dine in if I have time.  I was just finishing up when a young woman asked if she could sit with me. I said okay.

Now, while Colfax is described is the most wicked street in America, in my experience there are more religious minded people on that street than any other.  This lovely young woman opened the conversation with, “I’ve never done this before, but I felt drawn to come sit with you. Do you believe in God?”

I had to laugh. Not because I was making fun of her, but out of all the people she could have chosen to ask about God, she asked the polytheist.  I was nice though and told her I was pagan and had been for 25 years, so I believed in many gods. She then exclaimed, “Wow, that’s longer than I am old!”

We talked about her relationship with her deity of choice and how much more she loved the world and all the things in it now that she was a Christian. She assumed I didn’t have a personal connection to the universe. That’s a common assumption and I let it go by.  Then she offered to pray for me and I said okay, because positive energy is positive energy.

I realized while I was talking to this bright, lovely young woman, that our depth of faith was similar. It was only what we had faith in that was different.  And I realized all the vestiges of angry had been transformed.

Your mileage will most certainly vary.

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Sex, Death and Transformation: Cuddle Party

A large part of the sex dynamic is intimacy

One of the sad things about intimacy in most our lives is that we cultivate intimacy only when we are having sex or with people we want to have sex with. This transition seems to occur in puberty, when simple hugs and kisses become fraught with sexual tension. This transformation is an important part of growing up in the world but it also has the disadvantage of isolating us from non-sexual affection.

For many of us, it creates a hunger for touch which is not often met in modern society.  We all find ways to deal with that hunger. Those methods can be useful or destructive. To be honest, I don’t usually see the useful methods; I am called into help when someone’s methods are or have become destructive. So I spend much time mending, but not much time preventing.

Some friends of mine in the polyamory community have introduced me to  the “Cuddle Party” .  I’ve been to two of them now and I’m impressed.

I’m impressed because this activity fosters so many positive intimacy skills.

But the most important one, the one that would cut down on my work so much, is the promotion of self-understanding, specifically understanding what kind or level of intimacy I, you, he, she want or need. That piece of self-knowledge goes a long way to creating  a useful method to deal with touch hunger.

Your mileage will most certainly vary.

 

 

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Sex, Death and Transformation: Working with your Ancestors

Questions and answers about ancestor work have been at the forefront this month.

Working with your ancestors can be problematic. The irony of my practice is that while I help other people work with their ancestors to gain insight or help with health issues, I work with a very select few of my own ancestors. I rely on my paternal grandmother most often, with occasional contact with my paternal grandfather.

As I have written before, my family tree  is full of mentally ill, very abusive, rabidly Christian petty criminals. Living or dead, they are people that I would avoid if I met them on the bus. However, sometimes I have to work with ancestors other than my paternal grandparents. Because they know things I don’t. They have answers to questions that I need. But it’s like a wrestling match with a squid covered in radioactive slime.  It’s always a contentious, painful process that exhausts me for days afterward.

I presented at Denver Pagan Pride Day this year. I also attended some other workshops. The best one I attended was “Working with Ancestors with Strider”.  A Celtic Reconstructionist, he also works with his ancestors, but his relationship with them, while occasionally painful, is warm and friendly. From his stories, he believes that they are the most responsive to his mundane needs and most supportive of  his spiritual journey.

And I had an envy moment. It sounded so…nice.

So I am resolved to work with my ancestors to make the relationships less painful.

Your mileage will most certainly vary.

 

 

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Sex, Death and Transformation: Komen Denver Race for the Cure

For the month of October, I’m going to write about topics dealing with sex, death and transformation.

One of my “people”  was diagnosed with breast cancer in August. My people are my heart family, the people that have become part of my community. The company we work for sponsored a team for the Komen 5K walk. I joined to be supportive of my people.

I heard amazing and profound stories from survivors and their families on the train back and forth to the walk. One woman was transforming her body image after a double mastectomy. One man was just happy that his daughter was going to live. Several women were glad they were seeing another day. Some people were in tears in remembrance of their loved ones that had passed. Thousands of people, either running, walking, or waving from the sidelines, had the same intent for 4 hours, to eradicate breast cancer.

It was a powerful example of transformation, personal and societal. This is not an event I would have normally attended. I am very uncomfortable in large crowds of people and there were thousands of people out walking this morning. However, despite the huge waves of painful emotion and the physical protests of my arthritic hips and lower back, I am glad I did.

Your mileage will most certainly vary.

 

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Mixing Religion and Politics

As is the style in our United States, conversations about religion, religious values and how that qualifies or disqualifies a candidate for political office is part of the election season.

The People for The American Way has gone to a great deal of trouble to write a coherent informational guide to discussing religion in politics rationally. It’s called  12 Rules for Mixing Religion and Politics.  Please read the entire document, it’s amazing.

The points that apply to me in this season  are 8, 9, 11 and 12.

8. Political discourse should respect religious pluralism

9. Political figures and the media should not treat religious constituencies as monolithic; political and religious leaders should not claim to speak for an entire religious community on public policy issues. 

As pagans, neo-pagans, energy workers, spirit workers, diviners, magicians, counselors, healers, etc., we have diverse religious communities . Despite those human interest pieces around Halloween, most of us are very careful about not using our definition of faith, deity or practice to imply that we speak for every pagan out there. There is always room for improvement, but  we usually maintain that all other religions, and the right to practice those religions, is worthy of respect.

The opposition to anti-bullying legislation for GLBTQ children, teens and adults based in conservative Christian belief bothers me. The opposition to a woman’s right to choose whether or not to have a child based in conservative Christian belief bothers me. But I don’t assume that every conservative, Christian, or conservative Christian holds the same view.

11. Religious and political leaders should not “cry wolf” about religious persecution. 

12. Religion should not be used as a political club.

It is unfortunately too common during the election season when I  have a religious/political discussion and I  disagree with something the other person said, the default reaction is to either cry religious persecution or suggest that his/her religion or lack thereof is “better” than mine.

We are very often given pre-packaged “parties” with “party lines” and asked to choose. One of my colleagues noted recently that while she believed in the rights of GLBTQ and women, she felt as though that same party wanted to tax her to death.

While my worldview is based in a certain set of beliefs, it is what I do that matters. That is a key component.  If I don’t agree with the practices of a particular politician, I vote against him/her. If I don’t agree with the practices of a particular religious organization, I don’t go there or donate money there.

But I have to research those politicians and religious organizations. It is my responsibility as a citizen to do the homework.

 

Your mileage will most certainly vary.

 

 

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