Duality and Lack Thereof

 

moon and sun

“When the world knows beauty as beauty, ugliness arises
When it knows good as good, evil arises
Thus being and non-being produce each other
Difficult and easy bring about each other
Long and short reveal each other
High and low support each other
Music and voice harmonize each other
Front and back follow each other…” – Tao Te Ching

The Tao Te Ching was the first text of any spiritual or philosophical significance that I read after going through the books of the faith I was raised in.  It’s stayed with me, and it’s a good place to go back to.

The passage above sang to me when I first read it.  I read it in Jane English’s translation – I’m not sure how that measures up against other ones, to be honest, but it’s still my favorite – but every version of it calls back to me.  I feel it.

It comes to mind when people speak of duality.  Actually, the whole Tao Te Ching does, with the one perfect yin and one perfect yang forming the Tao.  It’s beautiful and profound and I just can’t buy it anymore.

Recently, there was an article being shared on Facebook about dealing with “Dark” deities.  While I appreciate much of what the author has to say, and even moreso I appreciate the fact that they open with how problematic it is to label a deity as “dark”, I was left with a deep frustration (which really had nothing to do with the article itself).  The fact that we are still labeling deities as “light” or “dark” gets under my skin the way any unthinking duality that we embrace does.

I’m not sure, but I think that it was in discussions regarding gender that the system of duality started to unravel for me.  There are lots of people who identify as men or women.  I identify as a woman, for instance; that’s what I am.  There are also a lot of people who identify as neither or both.  Third-gender, genderqueer, agender, genderfluid, there are different terms for different nonbinary identities in our society.  As soon as I was exposed to the idea it made perfect sense to me, even though as far as trans people go, I’m very binary.

I think that we get taught this binary thinking as children.  I also think that it takes a while to sink in, and before it does entirely there’s a golden period where kids just accept things as they are on whatever scale.  A friend of mine (who is nonbinary) likes to tell a story about how kids get it.  He was on a bus and a bunch of younger kids that were clustered together turned to him and asked,

“Are you a boy or a girl?”

Him: “I’m genderqueer.”

Them: “What’s that?”

Him: “It means I’m neither a boy or a girl.”

Them: “Oh.  Did those piercings hurt?”

I’m not a specialist in child development, so I really don’t know.  I don’t know if there is a point in time where it is helpful to explain things in painfully black and white terms to kids.  I have the suspicion that it’s more for the ease of the parents explaining than the ease of the childrens’ understanding, which strikes me as intellectually lazy, but I also understand that saying that raising children is difficult and a minefield of compromise.

To me, it feels like a deep-rooted damage in human perception of the world.  The idea that things fit into these neat digital on/off, black/white, good/bad, boy/girl, dark/light boxes being drilled into your head because it’s easier to explain the world that way seems like a massive disservice to everyone involved.  It’s also the root of a lot of bigoted, prejudiced, and simply wrong-headed thinking.  Boy and girl aren’t absolute boxes, they do exist, but they’re cluster points that a lot of people seem to fall close to or in.  Dark and light are guidelines and suggestions that we use, but even things that are perceived as “dark” tend to have “light” qualities as well, otherwise in their absoluteness they would be impossible for us to truly engage.

When I encounter and interact with a person, one of the things that I’ve come to do is try to gauge the degree to which they have overcome the painful dualism stamped into their mind in their youth.  Honestly, I consider that to be one of the first major signs of intellectual maturity, and it pains me that so many people are stuck in that mindset about so many things for so much if not all of their lives.  There are just boys and girls.  Things are either good or bad.  There are light Gods, and there are Dark Gods (and sometimes, charitably, the person mentions that there are “grey” Gods, which kind of still casts an emphasis on the whole duality.)  “Nothing is just anything.” is a mantra that has saved my life and sanity many times over.

I don’t think that binaries don’t exist; I just know from my experience that they are reference points between and around which exist larger spectrums, and once we break out of the binary style of thinking about a particular subject, we might notice a whole host of other meaningful reference points that we can use as well.  It frustrates me that so many people make these things into absolute oppositional polarities, and spiritual systems that insist that an oppositional polarity is the basis for the existence of the cosmos and all meaningful or powerful interaction therein make me deeply uncomfortable (I’m lookin’ at you, Kybalion.)  I see it in the insistence on calling on “Male Ancestors” and “Female Ancestors” (and I’m the wet blanket who stands up and offers to “Those Who Are Both or Neither” and makes everyone uncomfortable).  I see it in the insistence that I still see in some ADF rites that there needs to be a Goddess and a God called to “create balance” (even though in theory our organization holds no special favor for any concept of gendered polarity).  I see it in the idea that some Gods are just Dark, and some are just Light, and that you can bottle them up and divide them so very easily.

Maybe some people need to hear things that way at whatever stage in their intellectual or spiritual development they happen to be at, but it still makes me sad and frustrated, because I know that it’s not that simple, and that we’re doing a disservice to the range of wonder and beauty in our creation and existence by categorizing everything into two easy-to-divide but highly inaccurate columns.

I know a couple who raised their child without gender.  They let their kid grow, used neutral pronouns for them, bought them neutral clothes and all manner of different toys.  The kid decided pretty early on that she was a girl, which given that’s what the doctor assigned them at birth, makes them cisgender.  The fact that they (who are actually a fairly conservative Heathenish couple) did this gave me a lot of hope: they weren’t wanting their child to grow up without gender or trying to make them nonbinary, they just wanted them to make their own decisions about who and what they were, leaving their options open, which they did pretty early on.  Watching this process made me really happy.

I like to hope more people can be like that, with their children, with their other family members, with their friends, with the strangers that they meet, and yes, with their Gods.  Some Gods might end up seeming fierce and kind of dark – honestly, the way that Freyja interacts with me most of the time seems to fall into the set of qualities that people seem to attribute to “Dark” Gods, despite the fact that I can think of few who would classify Her that way.  Let them be what they are rather than trying to categorize them; if they fall into a recognizable box, great, if not, don’t try and shove them into one.  It does your own intellect and their identity and complexity a disservice to do otherwise. It also robs them of a bit of their agency (as doing so with humans does) by refusing to acknowledge how they manifest if it falls outside of the neat categories that you’ve formed in your mind.

Let all wights decide what they are for themselves.

nonbinary flag

(Image: A common nonbinary Pride flag.)

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For Shame? For Shame!

The recent wash of transphobia through the Pagan community has made my bubble of safety even smaller.  I have a few things to say about it, as you might imagine.

People discounting this as “just a complex social issue” aren’t taking into account the words that are being used.  The petition that prominent Pagan Elders (and their supporters) have signed calls out trans women as dangerous and deluded.  It feeds directly into the second-wave feminist viewpoint of transgender women being men who medically alter their bodies to sneak into womens’ spaces and rape them.

The language used in that petition is as much a legitimization for violence as it is a call for separation.  It paints myself and people like me as dangerous, delusional, violent lunatics.  This is not just “someones’ opinion” – this is an attack.  I am not a rapist, I am only dangerous in that I like challenging peoples’ ideas (and not even really about gender) and if I’m delusional, it’s never harmed anymore, much less myself.  Making these generalizations about trans women includes me.

If you are willing to use the authority and respect gained by being an acknowledged Elder in the Pagan community to spread this message, then you are encouraging an extant culture in which actual physical violence against me and people like me is overlooked, ignored, and encouraged.  You are using your weight as an Elder to encourage people to think of me and people like me as dangerous, delusional, violent molesters.  You are using the power granted you by virtue of the fact that people trust your words and look up to legitimize violence against people like me.

And then you have the nerve to complain when people like me speak out against your words.

I have no problem speaking out against and even shaming people who use their authority to encourage people to spread lies that will make the world less safe for me and my kin.  I think people should be ashamed of spreading lies that encourage violence and separation against a group that already faces enough problems with violence.  Far too often we die by someones’ hand, either our own because we’re told we have no place in this world, or others’ because they’re told that we’re acceptable targets.

Trans people, and especially trans women, are acceptable targets still.  If this had been a petition that used the same language against people of color or gay folks then no one would be calling them out for shaming them.  Instead we have members of our own community rallying to their side, speaking out against those of us who are crying out in pain and fear, telling us that we should keep quiet, keep our heads down, and listen to the Elders that encourage violence against us, apparently out of love and  compassion.  We are still acceptable targets, and those very same lies that are being told about us have (and in some cases still are) been used against the other (sometimes overlapping) minorities mentioned above.

Call me out on shaming people who use the trust that others have in them to add public support to a campaign that legitimizes violence against me, and I’ll call you out as well.  You should be ashamed, whether you’re supporting this petition or those who sign it without thought of consequence to real, living human beings like me who I guarantee you aren’t lying, insane, violent rapists and monsters.  You should be ashamed, you who preach tolerance of human variety, in making one of the few cultural spaces that are even somewhat safe for us less so.

That is making war on (like, as in, actual violent war) myself and my people, and that is not something that I’m going to meekly bow and turn the other cheek to.

So You Want to Honor The Trans Dead?

This is an important practice – I’m not sure how to reconcile it with the fact that I won’t be at home on the 20th or in my home town, but I’m going to work to find a way to do it anyway.

I love the signature also, Love and Rage. When people have asked me how I survive as a trans person I often reply with something equivalent to “a careful balance of love and rage.”

GODS & RADICALS

The Transgender Rite of Ancestor Elevation: An Open Letter to the Curious

By Alder Night

Hello, friends! I’m so excited that you’re interested in the Elevation! It’s coming up really soon, and we’d love for you to be involved.

Essentially, the Transgender Rite of Ancestor Elevation (or Trans Rite of Elevation – TRoE for short) is a collaborative nine-day ancestor elevation ritual, styled after rituals in the Espiritismo Cruzada (Blended Spiritism) tradition, which is open. It originated as the brainchild of a small group of trans spirit-workers, myself included, at the Polytheist Leadership Conference in the summer of 2014. The thought was, the trans dead, trans women of color in particular, are a “uniquely traumatized group of spirits who often” die in awful and painful ways after dealing with a lifetime of people trying to deny their humanity. That kind of pain and rage and shame and trauma

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Announcement and Request for Submissions!

I am working on a compilation of queer and trans people regarding experiences with Freyja in regards to their sexuality and/or gender identities (Current working title: Freyja Over the Rainbow – I’m taking suggestions for that too).  There is a lot of emphasis on the Lady with regards to heterosexuality and cisgender perspectives, and I know from both personal experience and many, many discussions that I’ve had that I’m not the only one that the Lady has encouraged in exploration and sovereignty over their own sexuality and gender.

The submissions may be of any length, need to be professionally written (I can do minor editing to clean up any spelling or grammatical errors, but I will confirm with you before publishing), and have no requirements of knowledge of Lore or particular background.  The only requirements are that they be genuine and come from the heart.

So please, reblog or signal boost if you can.  Also, please contribute to what may be an empowering and affirming project for many queer and trans folks!  Email me at laine delaney 919 at gmail if you want to discuss privately or have a submission that you’d like to send in!  I’m currently looking at a six month deadline of May 19th, 2016!

Another Shameless Patheos Cross-Post Plug

My Patheos article on trans and queer identity in Pagan mythology.  I wish that I would have been able to use all of the information I’ve collected from folks for it, I appreciate those who responded to my questions and aided with their own contributions!

I promise I’ll have some original PCL content coming soon, too.  Life has been wild since I’ve dropped anchor in San Diego, I’ll get there soon enough.

What Are We Really Afraid Of?

“Three rules I try to live by:

Always assume the best of other people.

Always plan for the worst in any situation.

Always keep your spirituality untamed.” – Morgan Daimler

The Nokean Bingo and Godspouse Bingo and similar conversations (as well as things going on in my own spiritual life) have had the wheels in my brain a-turning.  People all around me in the flesh as well as online are having personal experiences with their deities and spirits (something that Real Heathens say Never Ever Happens Except To Heroes Which No One Today Is Because Not Enough Swords and Slaughter or something like that).  People I know are awakening to all sorts of things as we open our minds both through study and technique, crack our skulls and barriers against things that we’re told aren’t possible and real, and (perhaps most significantly) have experiences that we’ve never asked for thrust upon us.

Reading about and witnessing how people react to Godspousery (I’m using this as a specific and pertinent example; apply broadly to other spiritual experiences that people who have’t had them label as fads or psychoses) I’ve come to witness a familiar pattern.  It often starts with a small voice inside someone saying “I thought I was the only one.”.  It is often followed by euphoria at feeling a connection to other people that you find that share similar experiences (which is followed by confusion and sometimes disillusionment when you realize that outside of your common experiences you’re probably very different from the folks that you encounter).

It continues with people who haven’t had the same experiences insulting you and trying to invalidate you (whether or not you needed validation).  It comes ripe full of blatant misogyny if you’re a woman, or reactive misogyny if you’re a man (you’re whipped by a Goddess?) and probably something similar for nonbinary folks.

People who have shared a similar experience will often stand up for each other and shake their fists at the accusers.  Sometimes they will turn on each other: having received qualifications for validation from respected outside sources, they feel it necessary to police others to help them maintain their own identity and credentials.

People are afraid of talking about it.  It’s either because they still think that they are the only one, or they don’t want to be associated with “those” people.  Even when those people are people just like them.

I suspect  you’ve heard some of this from me recently.  The question that is bedeviling me is “What are we really afraid of?”

Are we afraid that our experiences aren’t real?  In Clive Barker’s epic Imajica novels, one of the greatest curses that can be leveled by one magician to another is “May everything be as it seems.” (I wish I had the book handy to share the eloquent explanation given as to why, but I don’t have a copy with me).  The short of it is; because if everything were always as it seemed the world would be mud and your lives dust, meaningless, pointless, empty.  If we’re afraid that all of these voices are just in our heads, and all that we are is a bunch of chemicals artfully pushing around other bunches of chemicals (I agree that that is part of what we are, though I disagree with it being the whole) then we have nothing to fear, because we have no way to change that.  If all we are is nothing and all that is comes to nothing, then embrace the richness of your experiences.  Sure, make sure that they have some value and positive effect on your life, but if they don’t, simply ignore them.  After all, if they aren’t real they’ll fade like mist in the morning sun.  If you are misleading people, then what?   Humanity will end without truly affecting anything, either through planetary trauma, self-harm, or whatever end the physicists by and large agree on nowadays.  No harm, no foul, right?

Most of us know that that isn’t the case, though.

Are we afraid of being hurt?  Of being insulted?  These are real fears.  Words tear at our sense of self, they flay our egos.  Despite what Stephen Fry and every other bully on the planet thinks, there are words than can hurt any human being.  If I knew you well enough I could find words that would make you doubt yourself, that would make you harm yourself, that would make you weep and feel empty, that could remove your ability to keep trying.  I was raised in a family that used words as weapons and know that no matter your armor, there are holes and flaws.  I can be a cold, sharp, jagged, hurtful bitch when I need to be and anyone who knows me well has seen that side of me (though few who know me well have had to be on the receiving end).

Those insults come from people who either aren’t sure themselves, and thus need to put you in your place, or who are sure. and you can tell those from how they argue themselves in circles trying to disprove something that they can’t even experience.  They come to get you to stop saying things that tear at their own egos. To them, saying that a God loves you in a special way is saying that a God talks to you (which they know could never happen because you’re not them… I mean, a hero) or that that God doesn’t love them.  These assumptions hurt their self-images, and as I learned from Laverne Cox, “Hurt people hurt people.”  The places where they strike from indicate where their weaknesses are, for knowing or not you’ve landed a blow against them.

Are we afraid of being seen like other people that we may have an unknowing prejudice against?  I know that I am.  I’ve had some experiences recently that tread close to the ground of Godspousery.  My first reaction was, “I can’t be a Godspouse… I can’t be one of THOSE people.”  Then I thought about it and realized that some of the people I identify as Godspouses are people that I respect and admire.  I’d love to be like them in some ways.  I was reacting to the ridicule hurled at them by folks so insecure in their own beliefs that they can’t handle someone else claiming an experience that they have not had.

Are we afraid of being right?  I think we are.  I think we’re terrified of that.  I think that we’re afraid that the experiences that we’ve had are real because we’ve been raised to believe that they aren’t and we don’t have any guidebooks or manuals to help us with them (yet … I predict Llewellyn 2017 will be the Year of the Godspouse or something… or not, it might be too Polytheist or something even for them).  I think a lot of people are afraid that what they have going on is real and that they’ll have no way to prove it, and no way to *gasp* make money off of it (because when you get down to it, that is still the way the majority of people in our society gauge the worth of any sort of practice, knowledge or experience).  I think we’re afraid of screwing it up and having angry whatevers messing with us.  I think were afraid of being right but being unable to stop society from throwing us into straightjackets and padded rooms (or refusing us employment and help and treating us to old school exile/shunning) for something that they can’t see and thus don’t care about.

What do you have to lose?  I’m not saying that you have nothing to lose, but is what you might lose worth keeping things bottled up?  Is it worth feeling like you’re living a lie?  Is it worth that terrible weight upon your chest and the heart-rending anxiety?

It isn’t.  Trust me, it isn’t.  As someone who has kept a secret from everyone that she knew for close to thirty-five years for many of the reasons provided above, it isn’t worth it.  It’s important to pick your battles, surely, but it’s worth it.

You know what I’ve seen from people who speak up and live their truth (when they’re ready)?  I’ve seen them lose friends and relatives, jobs and livelihood, careers and children.  You know what else I’ve seen?  I’ve seen them gain respect from those who value honesty.  I’ve seen people who were their friends before becoming allies as well, and I’ve seen people who weren’t their friends before flock to them because of their inspirational example.  I’ve seen them being stronger, happier, and more honest.  I’ve seen them become better people.

So what is my advice for when Odhinn pops the question and wants you to share it with others?  For when you’ve had a journey to Vanaheim that gave you great insight into what most might consider minor mythological figure?  For when some kind of crazy woo happens to you and you don’t know if you should share it or not?

Consider it.  Consider who you’re presenting it too, but more importantly, consider your words.  Don’t overthink it, though, just be careful to say what you honestly mean.  Prepare yourself.  Also, consider Morgan’s rules and my corollaries:

Corollary to Morgan’s first rule: People will surprise you more often than not; you *will* be surprised by who will take it well and embrace you.  They will inevitably get it wrong and misunderstand, so be prepared to find other ways of explaining it and correct them with a will, but know that more often than not it comes from a position of ignorance, not malice.

Corollary to Morgan’s second rule: Try and have a support network.  At best, find real-life people who will be supportive; this can be hard, though, because coming out to them can be more difficult than folks online.  Find folks online.  You’re not alone.  I don’t care if you’ve discovered you’re the spawn of a Pleidian Dolphin Princess, trust me, you are not alone.

Corollary to Morgan’s third rule: Don’t pussyfoot around it when it comes to dealing with yourself.  Qualify it all you want to.  Take care and be as skeptical as you like with your own experiences, but when you know something is going on don’t lie to yourself about it.  Embrace your spirituality, live it, let it ring in your bones, set your heart aflame, and pour from your mouth like molten gold.  Holding it back will stunt you, and you don’t need a bonsai spirit, you need to grow and have your spirit be like a swaying willow, a mighty oak, a Yggdrasil-like yew.  You will only regret it if you try to tame your spirituality.

Lest anyone think that I’m speaking against spiritual discipline or discernment, let me correct you: discipline is needed for healthy growth, and discernment is needed for protection both internal and external.  Your tree won’t grow unless it’s put in a healthy place and kept safe from the prying teeth of the hungry harts until it’s big enough to handle it.

If you need to keep it quiet while it grows, then do so.  There will almost certainly come a time, though, when it will need to burst forth from its former confines and keeping it it hidden will only weaken and sicken it.  Seeing another person be confident and public or at least up front about their spirituality will help yours to grow; be sure to return the favor if you can afford to.  If you do, all of these trees that we’re growing will some day be the best kind of forest: full of wildlife, unrestrained, untamed, beautiful, powerful, dangerous, terrible, sublime, and a cradle of new life.

As I said earlier, I’m not a Godspouse, but if I’m going to be honest about it it’s only by a matter of degree.  I haven’t discussed it publicly because it involves experiences that I’m working hard to process and find the right words for.  If that’s a title that my circumstance and spirituality end up putting me into I will proudly claim it and happily discuss it – with people who genuinely want to discuss it or are dealing with it themselves (as opposed to Utgart.net-Trolls).  I am a seeress and have been wandering between worlds and talking to beings that aren’t visible to the eye (usually) all of my life, and the only reason I haven’t shared more of what I’ve seen is context and need.  You’d better believe that if there’s a good reason I will be up front about it.

You are not alone.  You are not crazy.  You should not be ashamed to live your truth, whether you do so quietly or with loudspeakers and a parade.  The more of us who do, the more the voices of the insecure fools that lash out at us will be drowned out, if not by our voices then by the thunder and the earthquake of our many feet.

What do you really have to be afraid of?

Buffalo Pride 2015: We Are Legion

I saw us out there, in the crowd and in the parade, and for each of us that I saw there were probably two or three others unseen because we value our invisibility because our visibility often comes at so high a price. But we were there, watching, cheering, and marching. While other people were celebrating their freedom many of us were there to remind people that the fight isn’t over, that despite the carnival atmosphere there are still folks who have to take a stand and tell the world, “We are here, and we’re not going away.”

We are legion and we walk among you. We are emerging, and every passing day we grow less afraid and less willing to be silent, to knuckle under, to compromise our rights and identities away.

We are legion, and if that makes you uncomfortable it pleases me and makes me even more proud and defiant. If that makes you afraid it makes me ecstatic. If it makes you violent then we and our allies will walk over you and never look back.

Nothing that you do will make us stop being born into this world. If you hate us because of your faith then hate the God(s) that made us too. If you hate us because of your culture then your culture will be changed. If you hate us because part of you sees something of yourself in us, then drop the hate and march with us until there’s no reason to march anymore.

We are legion, for we are many.

transfem symbol

Wellspring 2015

I was hoping to start this post with something like, “Pagan Church Lady, reporting on location at Brushwood Folklore Center for Wellspring 2015!”  Sadly, I could find no wifi and neither my lovely Fraulein (that’s my laptop) nor my Kindle (I don’t have a name for her yet) were up to the task of connecting to the Grand Interwebs.  It was probably for the best – I wasn’t allowed to hide behind a screen or avoid the notice of others.

Too much went on for me to record how I felt about all of it, so I’m going to give you the highlights of what I witnessed and participated in.  I know that I won’t be able to include everything worthy of note and I’m sorry for what I missed (most notably the Warrior games and Bardic stuff). I didn’t realize how insanely busy I’d be if I decided to participate in everything that I wanted to, but I slept solidly every night (except the night where it dropped below freezing) as a result.

Getting to meet everyone was wonderful.  I often had to tell people that I was “glad to put a voice to the words” since I know so many fellow ADFers through Facebook and their writing.  It was an honor and a privilege to be in good company like that.

So, highlights:

Opening Ritual:

We processed from the crossroads to the ADF Nemeton, and singing, filed in.  The rite was warm and welcoming.  It kind of felt like it was the “Initiating the Rite” “Purification”, “Establishing Group Mind”, and “Statement of Purpose” for the whole festival (for those of you familiar with the ADF Core Order of Ritual).  With the rite’s focus on the Earth Mother and the spirits of the land at Brushwood (which was a theme in many of the rites I attended, which made my happy) it also felt like the “Honoring the Earth Mother” – again, appropriate for an opening since it’s one of the things we do first in ritual.

I got to stand in a circle and sing the portal song with maybe thirty or forty other people while folks whose names and works I’d only read before honored the Sacred Center and helped to open the gates between the worlds.  Although I’ve attended three Groves’ rites now (and numerous large-scale public Pagan rites), there was a power in it that I’ve never experienced elsewhere, and it set a tone for the whole festival.

Stone Creed Grove’s tent

On the coldest night of the festival we were lead by the siren call of voices raised in song (yeah, Druids sing a lot apparently – fortunately there are usually enough of them that they can’t tell that I can’t sing when I join in).  On a frigid night it lead us across the campgrounds to the tent of Stone Creed Grove, where we were welcomed and waved in and joined in as a completely packed tent (I counted over twenty folks at one point) drummed, played guitar, messed with noisemakers, and sang Pagan campfire songs/ritual chants.  The faces were red with enthusiasm and joy and voices were raised in fellowship.

Some of the songs were familiar, and some were new (one of the ones that stood out in my mind out was a song about Isaac Bonewitz’ wake).  The tent was tightly packed – at one point I was sitting between a pair of swinging hips on one side and the violently jerking elbow of a drummer on the other and worried that my head might be pulped if ever the two met (there wasn’t much room to move without being even more awkward), but I came out of the tent later unscathed and refreshed.  The brief time I had in Stone Creed’s tent that night did as much to make me feel at home and part of the fellowship as much as any of the grand rites did.

Hecate Rite

We went to the crossroads, because that’s where we assumed that a rite for Hecate would begin processing.  We were wrong, but one of the clergy came and found us and lead us to where it was beginning.  We trailed through the assembled Druids, picking people up and waving them in for a spectacular twilight rite to Hecate Soteira.  It was interesting timing, as I had just completed a term of devotional service to her, and I felt far more comfortable at the rite than I would have before this past year.

I’ve never been to an Hellenic rite before, and while I don’t feel a pull in that direction it had a beauty and power that I appreciated.  I have a deep respect for Hecate and for the clergy who performed the rite and I’ll never forget the depths and clarity of the sky as we called to Ouranous nor the fading/lingering daylight as it slowly slipped away through the rite.

Norse Kin Meeting

It was wonderful to meet other members of the Norse Hearth Kin and discuss updates and future plans with them.  We discussed the dearth of information available on mainland Germanic mythology (as opposed to Norse, something that we’re still working to track down more sources for), increasing discussion of trance/seidh, magic, runework, and other esoteric practices, Rodney Cox’s Order of the Raven and Falcon (a magical order within ADF dedicated to Odhinn and Freyja) and other things that are slipping my mind (but I’m sure we’ll catch up on).

We also did a blot and trance right after the Unity rite.  It involved working with the places that ADF imagery and Norse imagery overlap particularly well (Flame, Well, and Tree, the Hallows).  I’m used to using Yggdrasil for journey work, but this was the first time for some folks.  It was a private journey for each of us that bore some surprising fruit for me (those who were there will understand).  It was also good to just be doing esoteric work with other Norsey people, Heathen or otherwise.

Seidh Lecture

I had mentioned that I was excited that Patricia Lafayllve was going to be there, and she surely didn’t dissapoint.  She did a presentation on the aspects of seidh that are rarely discussed nowadays (including all of the cursey and negative stuff) – a lot of it read like a list of things that witches and shamans the world over claim to be able to do, which I appreciated.

Another interesting aspect of the lecture was the connection between the Finns/Saami people and seidh.  She discussed places where the Saami were mentioned in Sagas and how their practices, appearance, and how the Northmen felt about them may have influenced both modern and old Northern Pagan faiths.  I can’t wait to read and hear more about it – my roomate Jim and I geeked out about references to the Finns in the Sagas once I returned to Buffalo and I’m sure that there will be more discussions and inquiry sparked by it.

Oracular Seidh

Patty also did an oracular seidh rite.  I always appreciate seeing different styles of trance and variations within traditions.  It was certainly different from the seidh/oracular work that I’ve witnessed, participated in, and trained in myself.  There was no bringing the entire group with her to where she went (she actually asked us very specifically not to follow her), nor were there lots of songs (other than when she called to Freyja at the beginning of the rite).

The answers that I received from my own questions were heavy and have left me pondering and “puzzling ’till my puzzler was sore”, and I’m grateful for them.  I appreciate being able to be there for what I consider an important form of “magical community service” and to witness a skilled seeress in action.

I did walk away with serious amber envy.  I thought I was all Freyja-blinged out with my amber earrings and ring and sunstone bracelet… nope.  Patty had enough amber strung on her apron dress (there we go again with the apron dresses!  One of these days…) to practically form armor, and every other woman with an association with the Lady came with ropes of the stuff (or so it seemed).  I felt very small when the observation was made that amber was a sign of a woman’s wealth in the old days – but then again, most of what I find of it goes to Freyja’s horde anyway (and given my current financial situation, it wasn’t entirely inappropriate).  Maybe I should let myself keep some occasionally, too.

Freyja’s Ve

It’s always threes, or at least it should be – Patricia also brought her travelling ve (basically a shrine) to Freyja.  While I’ve been aware of Freyja since my childhood the serious devotional relationship and dedication to her that I’ve developed lately started the first summer that I encountered that ve (which I believe was 2009(.  It was also involved in many other important wheels turning in my and others’ lives, so I have a history with it and it was good to see it and use it again.

Within the tent is a godpost for Freyja, bedecked with ropes of amber and other bright jewels.  Spread out on a cloth around the post are a wide variety of treasures that people have dedicated to her – jewelry, bottles of liquor, artwork, shiny things, and of course, amber everywhere. Soft rugs and shawls lined the corners of the tent.  I made some private offerings and had some time to commune with her in a place where she is closer than normal.  I also brought charcoal and a cauldron to light it in and offered her some small pieces of amber through the coals. That’s a scent I will never forget – the scent of a sap of a tree millions of years old, sweet and piney and pure, sacrificed to the Giver.  I could never bear to made burnt offering with it before, but like they say, if it hurts, it’s a good sacrifice.

People of the Purple Feather Ritual

The People of the Purple Feather is the LGBT special interest group within ADF.  We had a meeting where we got to introduce ourselves and discuss plans and hopes for the future, and the idea of doing a ritual for our SIG came up.  While it was too late to do something official, a few of us wanted to do something anyway, so Chris from Wild Onion Grove and I spent the next couple of days discussing and planning it and spreading the word.

We were given the stone circle right by Druid Heights to perform the rite, a very public and open place.  As a result we had people join who had just wandered in, unsure of what was going on.  Each of them ended up having something important to contribute, however.

The rite was dedicated to the LGBT dead, and was done in Norse Hearth Culture (calling to and honoring Norse deities for certain parts of the rite, specifically Bragi for inspiration and Heimdall as our gatekeeper).  The rainbow-based invocation of Heimdall was especially beautiful, and we also called to Oscar Wilde as a queer ancestor for inspiration.  When it was time to call the Beings of the Occasion, we each named LGBT Ancestors of blood, of heart (chosen family) and of spirit (those who have inspired us) and called them to join this rite in their honor.  We called to people who have been outcast and confused and hurt, to those whose lives were publicized and to those whose names we’ve never heard, to those who died of violence, of suicide, or of other causes, to those who shouldn’t have had to be alone and might have spent their entire lives feeling that way.  We called to the homosexual people, the bi and pan people, the trans people, the agendered and asexual people, and every color of the rainbow that we could think of, and we each offered water into the great offering bowl for them as part of the Key Offering.  Afterwards we made individual toasts to those who had passed.

For the return flow (the blessings that we receive when we make offering) we stuck our fingers in the Well, the Gate to the Underworld, and asked for inspiration and blessings from the LGBT Dead and sat in meditation to listen and hear if any of them bore messages for us.  It was an especially powerful experience for me as an Ancestor that I’ve been working with for a little while came forward in a big way and made herself heard to me (I’ll talk more about her at another point).

Not an eye was dry, and for an impromptu rite I think we did some powerful mojo.  It felt good to get together with another tribe that I am a part of and celebrate and honor the Dead that we share.  I’ve often wanted for queer pagan space and rites.  I pray that their inspiration and blessings pour out through us into the rest of our communities.

I’ve said it before, but I’ll emphasize it now – especially for our folk, reach out to your Ancestors.  They are grateful to be known, to be celebrated, to be heard, to be honored to be acknowledged at all, and they have so much to give us.  They want to, and they will, and all we need to do is open the way and ask.  You don’t even need to know any of them by name.

Unity Rite

The main rite on the last night was a powerful experience.  Gifts were brought from the various regions that ADFers occupy to honor the land spirits in those places, and many varieties of Ancestors and Shining Ones were called to and honored.  I was excited to see Kirk Thomas (the Archdruid)’s Gate Opening and Closing – I’ve heard that they do it differently on the west coast and that he is the origin of that style, and it was wonderful and powerful to witness in person.  The ecstatic spinning with the robe and staff was very reminiscent of Sufi dances that I’ve seen.

Drawing that connection between earth and sky, Cosmos and Chaos, between us and each other, between all of our groves and solitaries (who were mentioned first in the roll call!) was immenseley powerful, and I felt the web that we worked to reinforce radiating outward from its burning center across the world.  I’ve participating in long-distance linking rites before during my time with the Fellowship of Isis and it’s one of my favorite types of large-scale workings – I like the feeling of drawing our disparate wyrds more tightly together.

I was happy to see the Nemeton in full use.  I’ve been going to Brushwood since ’99 and before this Wellspring only saw it used once before (by Whispering Lakes Grove for Beltaine of 2010).  It’s a beautiful space, but one that is made even more so by putting it to the use that it was intended.

Chenille Canopy

So, I didn’t go. (Long term readers will know that this is something that I’ve been agonizing over).

I am a genuinely (as in diagnosed) bipolar person and those dizzying (and sometimes dangerous) heights are often accompanied with soul-crushing lows, and I was experiencing one of the latter while the Chenile Canopy meeting (ADF’s unofficial womens’ group) was happening.  I was fighting my inner demons of dypshoria and low self-esteem, coping with bad brain chemicals, and couldn’t make myself go to a space where I was afraid that I would have to justify my presence – it happens a lot for trans women in womens’ space.  When we’re not specifically made welcome we assume that we are not welcome at all, because it’s often easier than having to fight for it and be turned away because someone uses an aspect of our anatomy to define our identities.

I do, however, regret not going.

I know that others who I’ve met online have told me that it would be accepting, but it was different to hear it in person.  When I expressed my concerns later I was taken aside by one of the organizers and vigorously encouraged to attend whenever I had the chance.  She explained to me that it is open to anyone who identifies as a woman, and that trans women are never a problem there.  Having someone talk to me about it and convey it in person made all of the difference for me.

I miss womens’ space, and I especially miss Pagan/spiritual womens’ space.  It’s a wonderful and powerful thing and I’ve had far too little of it over my life.   If I ever get a chance again to go to a Chenille event I’ll be there in a heartbeat.  If you’re a trans woman and a member of ADF and have the inclination, please do so also – not only are we very specifically welcome, but our voices are needed there too.  All women, regardless of anatomy, are welcome to be a part of it.

Other notes:

Doing multiple big trance rites in a day means you should be grounding hardcore and all the time.  I thought, “It’s okay, I can take it.  I’ll be fine and it’ll be cool and trippy.”  It was indeed cool and trippy, but I had to be physically guided back to the tent when my limbs stopped listening well and just kind of wobbled in place; I could barely walk.  It was embarrassing and uncomfortable and hope to prepare better next time.

I made a small offering at Isaac Bonewitz’ memorial and felt deeply frustrated that we had been at the same camp at the same time numerous times and I never met or spoke to him.  I’m grateful to him for getting the ball rolling on this, and for a lot of his other work as well.

Sometimes doing loads of spiritual stuff makes me crave the touch of the mundane just a bit.  I found myself thinking at one point, “I need to do something left-brained.  I need to do math or something.”  It probably would have been helpful.

I don’t know if it was just the space and people used to dealing with trans people but I didn’t get misgendered once the entire weekend and I didn’t need to tell anyone what pronouns to use for me; they figured it out on their own.  I had long stretches of time where I was relaxed enough that I didn’t need to think about gender stuff at all.  May it someday be that way for everyone who wishes it so, all the time.  It certainly made me feel comfortable, at home, and not awkward in a way that I’m rarely not awkward outside of queer space (I had ninety-nine other social awkwardness factors but gender wasn’t one!)

Wellspring had so many powerful events and moments that no matter how much I write I’m going to feel like I’ve left things out.  The brewers’ competition, Emerald’s fantastic class on ritual crafting, Kirk’s impressive class on sacrifice and offerings, the fire at Druid heights, the late night, drunken, nerdy conversations, the piquancy of the closing rite and wrapup all deserve honorable mention but even so I feel like I’m not doing it justice.  I’m in love with the land at Brushwood and have been for a long time, and I feel at home with the other members of Ár nDraíocht Féin (even when we don’t agree, and even when we don’t agree very loudly and in each others’ faces) and that’s a new but welcome feeling.  It felt like an unexpected homecoming, a Wellspring of frith and community love and stories (oh so many new stories!) and new friends and family.

I also would like to give a special thanks to the readers who came up to me to chat.  Being recognized like that gave me the warm and fuzzies in a huge way, and I hope that someday soon someone does something that nice for you.

Ghosti!

Praying the Gay Away

I recently read a copy of Raven Kaldera’s open letter to transgender spirit workers ) to a good friend of mine.  (Warning: the language is dated, and some may find it offensive, he apologizes for it but refuses to change it because it is an artifact of another time and he thinks it should stand as a record and I honor that decision.  It’s still very much worth reading if you’re transgender, a spirit worker, an ally of either or some combination thereof.) We both wept, and both knew what he was talking about, as we’d both felt it.  We’ve felt the Kindreds tear at us until we acknowledged who we are.  We’ve heard the howls of rage and fear and sorrow of the transgender dead, the demand of “Let me be the last one!”.  We’ve felt alone, and we’ve told other people that they’re not alone.  In light of Equality and Justice Day in New York and the recent efforts being made against conversion therapy nationally and worldwide, along with Raven’s letter, I wrote this:

I believe that you can pray the gay away.  Wait, hold on, don’t make any assumptions and listen to what I have to say.

I believe it because it happened to me.  No, seriously, please hear me out.  This is not what you may think it sounds like.

Well, it wasn’t “the Gay”, it was “the Trans” but I was so poorly educated on the subject back in the early 2000’s I didn’t know the difference.  I hadn’t been exposed to the idea that gender identity and sexual orientation were separate things.  Indeed, everyone that I knew conflated the two things (too many still do).  So I thought that I was a gay (or maybe bisexual) man who had some kind of confusion about their gender.  I was desperately wrong and painfully confused and I didn’t know any safe or healthy ways to manifest my nature and identity.

So I did something that I’ve been good at over my life.  I prayed.

I prayed and prayed to my Goddess, begging Her to take this from me.  Despite the fact that I had felt her be supportive of the part of me that knew that I was a woman, I asked her to strip me of it, to cut me off from it, to let it go.  I felt Her asking if I was sure that I wanted this, and I, in pain and miserable, assured Her that I did.

So she did.

I don’t know how it happened.  I’m not sure what exactly happened, other than that when I woke up the next morning, I had no issue reconciling with my body.  I went about life as a man with absolutely no conflict or issue with my body.  For a few hours it felt all right, even good.  It was a relief.  A relief to not have to think or worry about it.

Over time I started to notice a flatness to my perceptions.  A creeping emptiness started to invade my heart.  Over time it felt like color and with it meaning and value were being leeched from the world.  It crushed me like a slow vise.  At first I thought that it was something that I just had to tough through, but I discovered that there was nothing that I could “tough” with.  I was missing the essence that held me firm, the djed  of my soul.  I suppose if there was any turning point it was when I realized that I was missing an essential part of myself – that the part of myself that I was cut off from was truly essential.  I was dying inside.

I finally broke and begged Her to give it back to me.  I apologized for my foolishness and plead ignorance.  My Lady is a forgiving one and let me feel myself and live again.  I felt an ineffable, irreplaceable part of my Self flood back into contact with the rest of me and I collapsed in tears and gratitude.  I knew from that moment on that I couldn’t get rid of it without getting rid of myself, something that I was not willing to do.

This is much gentler than experiences that other trans spirit-workers have reported when they try to keep their gender locked into a box and deny it.  I have faced depression, loss, self-destructive urges and even potential suicide in my journey.  Living and overcoming those things did not have as much of an effect on me as this experience did.  That deep-rooted knowledge that my gender identity was an inseparable part of who I am was something that helped carry me through the darkest of times.  There had to be a way to reconcile with it.

That’s why Raven’s letter resonates so very strongly with me.  I’ve heard the Gods and Spirits for as long as I can remember, some times better than others.  I’ve learned to work with them through childhood trial and error and adult study and practice.  I know that my community needs people like me to help us through some of the most difficult periods of their lives.  It’s not to say that I won’t help anyone who asks if I have the spoons and know that that’s what you need.  I will help anyone that I can if they need it.

It does mean that I will go out of my way to help other trans and gender-variant people if given the opportunity.  Like with other professions, so many of us are turned away by those who reject our identities and our selves.  Many of us also encounter those who are willing to help but in the end are unhelpful because they simply can’t understand our experiences, not having lived them themselves.  I have been a trans person all my life (though my coming out was more recent) and have heard from the Kindreds all my life as well.  If you feel that you need someone that fits those qualifications I will do whatever I can.  If I feel that I can’t help you, I will do my best to find someone who can.  As my Matron is my witness, I promise this to you; may She help me remember and fulfill my promise should I ever forget or slack off.  I will be there for you.  You are not alone.

– For Asteysa.

Substantial

The Blood of Kvasir can often be found in places where pain dwells.  Is it a joke or test of the All-Father?  Is it because of Kvasir’s own pain and betrayal?  Is it because the depths of agony are a place that most are loath to look?  Perhaps it’s a reward or compensation.  Whatever the case, I’ve often tasted drops of that mead in the darkest and harshest of places.

Here is a poem that I submitted to Image Out‘s ImageOutWrite publication.  (Image Out is an TBLG arts festival in Rochester, NY).  In recent days I’ve been trying to find more ways to turn my pain into gold and my tears into amber (thank you, Freyja).

Substantial

Illuminated S

Golden thick mead rolls over my tongue,

mingles with the green rivulets of estrogen dissolving underneath

like the margins of an illuminated text.

It’s better to absorb it through the mouth, they say

(It doesn’t matter either way, they say).

Sublingual

Grey shadows lurk beneath my skin.

The searing burn of coherent light

and the stings of a thousand electric bees

have failed to fully lighten.

It takes time, they say.

(It never really goes away, they say).

Subdermal

Knuckles dragging, suspended by shoulders

well-hung from broad backs.

Pale and cold, shrieking with fear-tinged laughter.

Referring to me as “it”.

That’s not a “miss”! They say.

(That’s a man, baby, they say).

Subhuman

Mass-produced McAmericanDreams

Houses stamped out in a single mold, splashed with a single palette.

Green grass violated by spreading crocuses.

Broad sidewalks, not broad enough as they yank their children away.

“Get back here.” they say.

(That’s a stranger, they say).

Suburban

Winter is my friend,

The chill forces me to cloak.

To hide my contradictions that mandate madness.

To block my eye-crossing form from sight.

It gets better, they say.

(But only if you’re pretty, they say).

Subarctic

They’ve known me for years.

Old epithets fly from their lips.

“Man, I mean, dude, I mean bro, I mean… I’m sorry”

“I’ve known you forever.”

It’s just a word, they say.

(Why is he… I mean she… I mean whatever so sensitive, they say.)

Subvocal

The plates slide beneath each other.

Whole landscapes buried and swallowed.

Little bubbles of magma flowing up from below.

Some cool before reaching the surface, and some explode.

You’ve changed so much, they say.

(I never would have known, they say.)

Subduction

Like a passing flame lighting dry branches

like whispers of discontent among starving workers,

like a child, flipping tables as they pass.

I walk among them, and change follows me.

You’re so brave, they say.

(What a freak, they say.)

Subversion