Hijab at Gay Pride – My Covering Story

I’m a Pagan woman that covers, which is less of an anomaly than you might imagine.  There are a lot of us who do it for various reasons – reconstruction of traditonal practices, psychic protection, and more.  I wrote a piece about it earlier last year for another, now largely defunct blog, and wanted to share it here.  Covering has been a topic being discussed in many online communities lately, and I thought that it might be beneficial to share it here.

Hijab at Gay Pride – My Covering Story

I come to the practice of covering as a transgender woman, having been raised in a Muslim country by Sunni Orthodox (others would call them Wahabi) Muslims.  My mother was Episcopalian until she found Islam some time in my early childhood; I believe I was in first grade when she started going to a mosque and then started covering.  I had never been raised in her prior tradition, just given general ideas, and her excitement about her new path was contagious.  I read the books and learned the strange and magickal words in other languages and accepted wholeheartedly that this was good and the way that it was taught to me.  My mother married an Egyptian man who worked in Saudi Arabia and so we moved there with him when I was in fourth grade.

I struggled with my identity for a long time, who I knew I was being in conflict with who I was being told that I was.  My religion did not lead me to any satisfactory solution in regards to me gender.  Because of this and other things, I fought with my mother when I graduated High School to be allowed to move back to the States and live with my grandparents.

I found Pagan paths a few years after I moved back, and realized that Pagans weren’t evil or bad people and that there was a lot of value in Pagan practice.  I started to identify as Pagan and had a massive internal struggle as I cast off parts of my old faith a bit at a time.  I remember distinctly a phase where it felt like I was pulling hooks out of my spine, hooks attached to tense, invisible lines or cords.  It was painful and liberating.

I was afflicted with early-onset male pattern baldness.  I had always had my hair long as a teenager and young adult; it was the only feminine expression that I could get away with and losing my beautiful hair tore me apart inside.  I felt disempowered and that my only connection to my womanhood, to who I really was, was being torn from me one hair at a time.  I eventually just shaved my head and kept it short because it was easier to deal with it that way and keep it neat but it jarred and scarred me internally.

I eventually got to the point where I was ready to deal with my gender identity and began to live as I knew myself to be and transition medically.  At this point I began covering because of my hair loss.  I wore colorful scarves tied simply bandana-style, and over time my scarf collection grew and expanded thanks to friends (thanks, Deb!) and hippy stores in the area that I lived.  I have many colorful scarves that I use

My hormonal changes started allowing some of my hair to grow back.  As it started filling back in I realized that at some point I might be able to go uncovered and enjoy my stolen birthright.  At the same time, though, I had been reading about how ancient Isians would go covered, and was exposed to women of other Pagan traditions who covered.

Then, when going to the DMV to get my driver’s license changed to reflect my new name and proper gender identity, they asked me to take off my scarf for the picture.  I nervously invoked New York State’s religious exemption regarding covering in pictures and encountered no resistance to it.  However, walking out of the DMV with my new license made me wonder if making that statement and using my faith as an excuse to cover for the picture meant that I should be walking the walk and embrace it as a regular practice, even though my hair was beginning to fill back in.

Little things happened, too.  When my partner’s ex-husband was on his way over and almost came into the apartment one day I panicked, thinking, “But he’s not muhrim, I need to cover!”  I wasn’t raised as a woman in Islam, and still the concept of muhrim (people who are muhrim are “pure”, people who are allowed to see you unveiled) leaked in to my psyche and I began applying it unconsciously.  I began tucking hair in to try and keep it from showing rather than just covering most of my hair, as well.  I didn’t want to be a “hojabi”.

Today was Pride in Rochester, the city I live in.  I’m a leader in the trans community of Rochester and posed like a figurehead at the front of the float, proudly waving the rainbow flag and greeting those I passed with what I hoped was a good balance between lively enthusiasm and royal aplomb.  I kept seeing my own reflection in the back of the truck pulling the float, and at one point I let little wisps of hair on the sides of my head free and immediately felt bad about it.

We have a large festival after the parade, and while in a bathroom there I was looking in the mirror and saw myself and my scarf.  I took it off to fix and adjust it for the first time since I had left the house, and had a moment of pause.  On a whim, I tied it under my chin (rather than behind my head, tichel-like, as I’ve been doing) and folded it over on my cheeks.  My face was framed as my mother’s had been, as countless women I’d been raised with had been.

I didn’t know how to feel about it.  It felt much more complete and comfortable.  It felt more of a whole thing, and less awkward.  At the same time, I had short sleeves and shorts – I wasn’t covering “properly” for a Muslim woman – and I’m not a Muslim woman.

I put it back into the tichel style and went back to our booth at the festival.  Without taking the scarf off I showed the others there what it looked like as hijab.  I got some compliments, and one person remarked on how easily I had done it for not having done it before.

I don’t feel one hundred percent right doing it.  Part of it is identification – I’m not Muslim, and it’s a style associated with Islam.  At the same time, it covers all of my hair, and is something that provides the comfort of familiarity and a sense of continuity.  It feels “safer” than my standard style.

I like it but I don’t know if I like wearing it.  Part of me really wants to experiment with it, and part of me is afraid.  A lot of the fears are unidentified, but I know there’s a fear of being mistaken for Muslim (which is unfair to Muslims and could potentially be unpleasant for me, especially if I have an encounter with someone who actually is Muslim), there’s a fear of being like my mother or walking too close to the road that she walks on… I don’t know what all of them are.

It’s both comfortable and unsettling.  I don’t know what to do or how to feel about it.  I’m sharing it on this blog, but also with the facebook groups that I belong to for covered women.  I am still trying to digest how I feel about this.

The one thing that does put a smile on my face about the situation is the fact that I first wore hijab for Gay Pride.

I’m a Racist

This bears reading and repeating. I fully support this message.

Pagan Activist

iStock_000001291278XSmall–Shauna Aura Knight

Hi, I’m Shauna, and I’m a racist. No, not one of the ones clearly defined by the pointy hats and white robes. And not one of the racists clearly identified by hateful invective.

In fact, I’m in some ways the more dangerous kind of racist; or at least, I was. Once upon a time, I was the kind of racist who didn’t realize how bigoted I was. I still struggle with my own blind spots and how much this impacts my thoughts and actions on a daily basis.

How did I come to be this way? This kind of racism is systemic. It’s ambient. If you’re raised in it, you can’t see it any more than you can see the air you breathe. But just because you can’t see the air doesn’t mean you aren’t breathing it in.

I used to believe I lived in a post-racial society…

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Druitch? Wuid? Heathgan? Pitch? Part 2

I’m going to allow myself a moment of snobbery: I’m really happy for ADF and all of the groups attached to that organization. Also, for polytheist space online in general.

I joined a group that promised to be a group for socialization for “witches, pagans, and druids”. The amount of fluff there is painful. I think I get out of it the sort of thing that other people get out of reality TV “Whoa, people are actually like this?” Every painful stereotype, overflowing with lack of knowledge or research or lore. Every few days there are requests for love spells and weight loss spells, insane misattributions for deities, and flipflopping between the “I have a 6000 year old lineage. My Book of Shadows was written in Atlantis.” and “Don’t worry about it, just go with what’s inside you, how you do things don’t matter, just make it up as you go along.”

I used to occasionally frequent online groups like that and feel despair and think that, well, that was it for pagans, obviously. I’m proud to be part of an organization that is proud of its research and commitment to excellence.  Look, ADF isn’t perfect, and we as individuals are just as fallible as anyone else, but for everything’s sake we’re trying to get some things right!  The polytheist community in general has been good about being grounded in lore and building on it – carefully – with our lore.

As per my last post, I love Wiccan practice and magickal style.  However, with other polytheists and especially ADFers I have the feeling that we’re doing a whole lot less casting around in the dark.  Maybe over time a beneficial synthesis will come into being, or Wiccan and Wiccan-style Pagans (because for as much as they will deny that they’re Wiccan, there’s usually a Goddess and a God, circles, and quarters being called at very least, and gratuitous pentacle imagery) will start incorporating better research and more powerful streams of past practice into their work.  I kind of hope so.

Druitch? Wuid? Heathgan? Pitch?

I’ve got a mixed past, to say the least. I was raised by a convert to a monotheistic faith (Islam).  I grew up being told that polytheists and Pagans were evil because any God but the big one was really a devil in disguise, misleading people and giving them really kickass powers.  I kind of wanted those kickass powers; I’m not going to lie.  I tried interacting with the jinn while I was growing up in the Middle East, with interesting and varied results.  Not all jinn are devils, they’re viewed as being much like humans in that they have free will and choose their own paths.  I figured that if I dealt with goodly, God-fearing jinn I could get cool powerzzz and not have to worry about my immortal soul. Well, when I dealt with them stuff happened.

That could be a whole series of posts in and of itself – I might relay some of my experiences later.  It’s a shame that I didn’t have better occult training and discipline in my early teens, or I might have developed a very powerful practice.  Of course, the spirits there are far more active than they are here, largely because they’re used to being interacted with while the ones in the States are by and large used to being ignored (and often skeptical bordering on hostile to attempts at contact).  People there haven’t forgotten the jinn, they’re part of every day life in many places in the Middle East, so they still mess with people fairly regularly. Fast forward to me returning to the States for college.  I was supposed to experience a faith that wasn’t my own for an anthropology assignment so I went to a Pagan Coffee night.  I had this fantastic revelation that these totally weren’t evil people and in fact, some of them were super-nice and super-cool and with it.  I ended up taking a year-long 101 class by a very serious teacher, and then training for a year with a British Traditional coven.

I was a little too queer and weird for them (it’s been the story of my life).  So since I wasn’t officially invited to join, I started doing my own rites with others in the area.  I attracted a group and usually ended up leading rites.  My good friend Rose became an unofficial High Priestess and I was an unofficial High Priest who really, really wished people would label her a High Priestess and let her wear the silver moon crown. I loved Wiccan practice.  I loved the feel of power in casting a circle and the energy and presences I felt when calling the spirits of the quarters.  I loved the deep, resonant communion that I had with the Goddess when Drawing Down the Moon.  I developed a relationship with Isis early on for a lot of reasons – I was drawn to her and she had been worshiped as an All-Goddess since the days of her Hellenic and Roman followers like Lucius Apuleius, or perhaps even before that in Egypt.  I integrated some Kemetic things into my rites and felt the ringing, powerful and ancient might of those practices.

There were things that were missing, though, and it took me a while to work out what they were.  Every High Day seemed to revolve around us working some kind of magick and coming away with some new goody or spell, but it didn’t feel like we were giving back at all.  So myself and some other members of our group started instituting the practice of offerings.  We didn’t do physical offerings at first, but we would make an oath to whichever Goddess and/or God was presiding over a particular rite to do something appropriate in their name before the next Sabbat.  This immediately caught on, and the results were tangible and powerful – our relationships with those deities deepened and became more manifest.  We gave small amounts of our cakes and ale to the Gods and Spirits as well.

Something else that was missing was a genuine involvement with spirits and the dead.  There is no specific framework for that within standard Wiccan and Wiccanate practice.  I’ll admit that that confounded me.  I kept trying to approach High Ceremonial Magick for evocation, but I couldn’t stand the Judeo-Christian language; it wasn’t me.  I couldn’t reach back and incorporate the work I had done with the jinn; they lived elsewhere.  I was too afraid to work with the dead, to be honest, so I never reached out to them other than asking deities that worked with them to intercede and aid them.

Well, Rose died.  Other than completely shattering my world (she and I had a relationship that was not easily quantifiable or labelled but suffice it to say was unique and deeper than our bones and hearts) it ended up shattering our group and we all fell out of practice with one another.  Other than the monumental task of hand-copying her extensive Book of Shadows for her husband, I didn’t do a lot of work but the occasional Sabbat with a tiny crowd of friends or very private Moon rites. I started reading more on Isian practice and it filled the void for me.  Not all of it was Kemetic; some was Hellenic, some Roman, and some modern.  I joined the Fellowship of Isis, the work and spirit of which I appreciate, but I became very frustrated with the lack of organization.  It was difficult to find a functional Lyceum or Iseum that would provide the training that FoI advertises as free for all members.  It was a frustrating time spiritually for me.

I ended up moving to Rochester, New York to be with my partner, Maur, who was a member of ADF.  I knew nothing about ADF or Druidry, and just kind of listened to him talk about it and absorbed bits and pieces.  I was so frustrated with the lack of community, though, that I didn’t know what to do. So, when I went to the Sirius Rising festival in 2012, I went with a purpose.  I had done a week-long oracular intensive with Diana Paxson the year before, and I knew that she usually did oracular work as part of the festival.  When she does her oracular seidh she goes between answering questions through raw psychic ability and consulting with entities, often at the request of the querents.  The last querent had received a message about Greco-Egyptian practices, so I asked her if she could speak to Isis for me while she was “in that area”. Isis spoke through her.  There were a lot of manifestations that wowed the crowd – the sunlight got brighter and a nearby radio blared, “Let the sunshine in!” and then stopped.  I asked Her about community, and she told me to find take a journey to find the pieces of Her husband myself, and recreate him.  I’ll spare some of the details because, but later when I asked for clarification on how to find them, She told me to go to “the Groves of the North, the mountains of the East, the deserts of the South and the forests of the West, and wherever you go, you will find Me.”  She then reiterated that the first place that I should go was to the Groves of the North and the “Gods of my Childhood and Ancestors”.

Now, Norse mythology had fascinated me more than any other as a child and I greedily acquired books on the subject in those pre-internet days (before I moved to the Middle East, that is).  When consulting Maur about the “Groves” that he was most familiar with (ADF) I discovered that it wasn’t specifically Celtic – there were individuals and even whole Groves committed to various Indo-European cultures – Norse, Gaulish, Hellenic, Roman, Baltic, even Vedic. So at the behest of a Kemetic Goddess worshiped across many cultures in the ancient world I joined an organization that uses a Celtic word to describe its members (Druid) so that I could worship Norse deities in a structured environment and walk the path to finding and creating a good spiritual community.  Sorry not sorry, traditionalists.

I find myself still casting circles and using quarter calls when working magick.  I incorporate offering and the Druidic Hallows into my magickal rites and spells as well.  I still draw down the moon on occasion, but practice my High Days and much of my daily devotional in ADF’s style.  I still primarily am devoted to and honor a (at least originally) African Goddess while performing modern rites descended on the one hand from High Ceremonial Magick and on the other of modern scholarly interpretation of common themes in Indo-European religious practice.  I can just feel people (including my first teachers) twitching at this.

You know what?  It works for me.  For me, religion has always been about structured practices meant to bring about spiritual experiences and magickal connections.  People who gasp and pearl-clutch about mixing traditions and how no one can ever discover anything or “advance” without following some specific, structured, and ultimately man-made dictum simply haven’t had the experiences I have.  I try to be disciplined and regular and consistent in my practice, and I find that that has a whole lot more to do with successful God-talking and doing of hoodoo (as opposed to Hoodoo) and wondrous, magical, awe-inspiring, world-shaking experiences than following an initiatory ladder created by someone who has never met me.  Most of those systems were created by people who weren’t as multicultural as I am – I was raised Irish Protestant/WASP/(Modern) Egyptian Sunni/American Hippy Feminist who spent days with her Scottish/Egyptian best friend and practically became family to her Indian and Pakistani friends.  Most of those systems weren’t created by people in a world whose secret practices have been blown open by the internet and the marvelous sharing of consciousness altering, reality manipulating techniques from all corners of the globe. I truly feel that in this modern age, cultural context of practice is not as important as it once was mainly because it doesn’t exist anymore.

Culture and identity are changing so rapidly and wildly that what may have worked wonderfully for Upper-Middle class English people in the middle of the last century probably won’t work so well for us.  That doesn’t mean to leap around wildly between traditions – take some time and dedicate yourself to things.  Learn them inside and out.  Grow in them.  For your own sake, though, move on when you’re ready.  Don’t let that fancy ritual robe be a straightjacket.  The most successful witches, sorcerers, Pagans, and mystics and the ones that I admire most have that in common – dedication to practice, and practical open-mindedness. So what am I?  A Witch, a Wiccan, a Druid, a Pagan, a Heathen?  Any one of those fits; it depends on the rite I’m attending, who is going to be there, and what I need to accomplish.  I have grown to be unashamed of my eclecticism because over time it truly has strengthened my magick and connection to the Powers and helped me to refine and find mastery over myself, and that’s what matters to me.

Back from the Plaguelands. Also, Meditation.

My but it’s been a while since I’ve posted!  This is largely due to the prevalence of the flu (I’ve been through two strains of it), wrenching my back (which I’m still recovering from), and the loss of our car (there was an accident – Maur is okay but the car is gone.  Soon to be replaced, we’re working on it).  So this has been a disappointing and rough holidays.  I’ll take a moment to express gratitude that we’re alive, mostly whole, and recovering.

So, on to only slightly related topics – Meditation.  I started studying it intensely when I was working on a writing project and chose it somewhat randomly as the subject I would use.

The benefits of meditation are so well-documented that it hard for even the most staunch skeptic to discount them at this point.  There are many, many meditative practices, but the one that I keep finding myself drawn back to is Zen Meditation, also called “mindfullness” or “sitting”.  It is the one that has repeatedly shown the most widespread benefits, is one of the easiest forms of meditation to do, and has helped me through some of the more difficult periods of my life recently.

As I said, it’s simple.  You sit in a comfortable position, spine erect (if possible) with your tailbone elevated above your feet (this helps to keep them from falling asleep).  Relax your eyes and let them have a lazy focus on the tip of your nose, and pick a portion of your body and focus on it as you breathe (I use my solar plexus/diaphragm).  You will be distracted – that’s part of the process, because when you become aware that you are distracted, you draw your attention back to the point of your focus and keep going.

You can’t fail at it, although you can certainly have more and less intense sessions.  I’ve known a lot of people who claim that they can’t meditate, and I honestly think that that’s because expectations that have been built up by media and people’s assumptions.  When they sit and try to meditate and their mind doesn’t stay purely blank or they aren’t whisked away to the Seventh Heaven they think that they’re doing it wrong.  That’s not the case, though.  All it takes is leaving aside the distraction and going back to breathing.

There are a few different kinds of distractions that occur.  Physical ones can be the toughest to deal with.  I’ve always had an itchy nose, and when my nose starts twitching I have to scratch it.  When I do, I scratch, put my hand back down and go back to my point of focus.  Sometimes I’ve been able to ignore the itch and breathe through it – that always feels like a small victory for me.

The thoughts that rise unbidden in your mind are by and large going to be the biggest distraction that you encounter.  Sometimes your session will consist of little but your inner babble and occasional attempts to steer back towards your focus point.  If that’s the case, as long as you notice it and draw your attention back to your focus, you’re doing the work and you’re doing fine.

The most interesting distractions are what I like to call “dreamlets”.  I’ve heard that Zen practitioners call them makia.  Instead of your mind just chattering at you, you’re thrown into a dreamscape where you are taken far from where you are, just as though you were in REM sleep.  No matter what you see, hear, or feel in them the important part is to follow the refrain – disengage and go back to your focal point and breathe.  These are mind-conjured illusions, and doing the work consists of rejected them, backing off, and going back to the quiet place.

I try to engage this practice for twenty minutes a day.  I’ve tried other meditative practices, including mantra meditation (repeating words of significance and power and focusing on them) and metta meditation (opening the love in your heart and sending it to people) with varying degrees of success, and I still do sometimes, but my regular practice always goes back to mindfulness.  It feels like I’m doing housecleaning for my consciousness, and all the little toxic bubbles rise up and are washed away in the stream of my mind.

Why am I bringing this up now?  Because while I was sick and laid up with the flu and back injury, it was about the only practice I could engage in.  Mindfulness has shown to help with inflammation, and my poor, wrenched back always felt more limber and less painful afterwards.  I credit it to some degree for my quick recovery from a stomach flu that had my lovey and his son laid out for several days (I went through the cycle of it in about twenty four hours) and to my back recovery.

I don’t know any serious practitioner that doesn’t recommend regular meditation practice.  I don’t know what it is about meditation, but it helps you be more of yourself and clean out the confusion and dross.  It improves your senses, and your ability to distinguish internal dialogue from external communication, which is invaluable to someone who works with deities and spirits regularly.

I take a shower almost every day.  I brush my teeth daily.  Meditation is part of that routine of basic human maintenance, too and I live the positive results.  It doesn’t make me a superwoman (that comes naturally) but it does help me through.

Here is a link to an excellent article by Ram Dass on meditation, one that helped me to pick my practice back up back when I wasn’t sure what I was doing.  Try it out – you won’t be disappointed once you put some time and effort into it.