Pagan Alliance to Present its “Gender and Earth Based Spiritualities Conference”

September 22, 2011 in Uncategorized by crystalblanton

The Bay Area Pagan Alliance will sponsor its First Annual Conference on Earth based, nature Centered, Polytheistic and indigenous faiths. The 2011 theme is “Gender & Earth-based Spiritualities” and will be held on Saturday, September 24th from 9am to 8pm at the First Unitarian Universalist Society of San Francisco at 1187 Franklin Street.

There has been a great deal of discussion in 2011 around diversity within the Pagan community, especially with the transgender population. The community has carefully watched this conversation among various Pagan factions explode after a recent situation at Pantheacon 2011. It was at this year’s Pantheacon that a women only Lilith ritual was only open to those who were born woman, excluding transgendered women. The Pagan Alliance is one of the organizations that is working to be a part of opening dialog and conversation in an attempt to increase understanding and tolerance within the Pagan community.

In a recent interview with JoHanna White, Board President of the Bay Area Pagan Alliance, she states,

 Due to the major controversy and ensuing dialogue around gender and Paganism that happened after last year’s Pantheacon, the Pagan Alliance decided to put on this conference as a response. The Pagan Alliance is a very diverse organization with several kinds of Pagans, Wiccans and Druids among us. Since we had so many opinions about the great gender controversy of 2011, we decided a Conference or symposium was the right response. Since we couldn’t afford enough chaise lounges and grapes to do a symposium (we have a Hellenic reconstructionist that advises us), we decided to go with a Conference. The Pagan Alliance is committed to education of the general public with the intention of changing public views, opinions and response to the Pagan Community. We present workshops and a speakers representing different traditions. We hope these offerings will lead to the creation of increased acceptance and understanding, and to dispel common misconceptions. We are committed to justice, and eliminating prejudice and ignorance in all communities, including all ethnic backgrounds, sexual orientations, gender identities, age, size, and class affiliations. We hope the Conference will continue the discussion and help everyone to recognize the variety of viewpoints that are available in the Pagan Community.

 As might be expected, the upset that followed this year’s Pantheacon led to varied interpretations of the actual event. People became increasingly more vocal about their stance on the inclusion of transgender participants in “women only” events. Many individuals and organizations, including Pantheacon and Come As You Are Coven, in reaction to the previously mentioned Pantheacon 2011 mishap, released statements on inclusion or exclusion of groups within their community.

While these discussions continue, the Pagan Alliance plans to provide space and programming to approach this from an academic and progressive perspective that hopefully promotes growth.

In a recent interview with Yeshe Rabbit, Presiding HPS of CAYA Coven, she answered questions about the upcoming event, her involvement in this event and reflections on this past year of controversy. Not only is Yeshe Rabbit a presenter at this event and the current keeper of the light for the Pagan Alliance, she has also been working through the community fall out over the controversial issue around inclusion of transgender women in “woman only” rituals since the Pantheacon 2011 upset. In responding to how this has affected the community at large and her personal community, she states laughing a bit, 

How has it NOT affected EVERYONE?  Seriously, I could go on and on…this has been a year of tremendous growth for the entire pagan community. Interestingly, I feel that although the core issue of this debate has been gender, the larger issue that has emerged is actually about the need to establish effective social contracts.  It’s no longer possible for pagans to really remain insular, isolated, and uninvolved with one another. In the past, we were forced or had the choice to remain anonymous and separate. But now, due to this galvanizing issue and also due to the emergence of many pagans savvy with new media, we are being asked by the Powers that be to connect on a deeper level. We can’t just get away with the polite, sterile niceties of “Merry meet” and “Blessed be” in our real –   time or online relationships with other pagans any more. We actually need to learn how to effectively talk with one another and listen to one another, and to establish a common protocol of courtesy and kindness.” She went on to speak about some of the turmoil post the event that she encountered. “ I, personally, received death threats, threats of violence, long letters shaming me and CAYA Coven (often for things that had not actually happened), and a HUGE onslaught of really inappropriate commentary that was vicious, cruel, and unhelpful to the already-escalated situation.

With clarity and words of conviction, she continues,

The issue of gender inequality in the pagan community addresses a problem, to be sure: a problem of education,understanding, privilege, and biological determinism. But the issue that really showed itself to be the disease of which the gender issue is but one symptom was that of a lack of shared set of guidelines with which we can approach challenging topics together safely, compassionately, and mindfully.

Her closing statement was one of hope and excitement,

I hope, personally, that I and everyone who attends the event has a wonderful time, grows and learns a lot, and feels that they have both been heard and have heard others, profoundly. I pray that the existence of this event and others like it that may yet emerge signifies a new dawn of potential understanding and healing for every pagan who has struggled with gender-related violence, mockery, or prejudice. My heart lifts with that hope.

Yeshe Rabbit has published her answers in their entirety on her blog

Many notable Pagans have worked with the Pagan Alliance to produce this event, including Diana Paxson, T. Thorn Coyle, and joi wolfwomyn. joi wolfwomyn is representing the Holy Order of the Epicene at this conference and is connected with the Radical Faerie, Fellowship of the Spiral Path, Pagan Alliance, and is a Covenant of the Goddess affiliate. In a recent interview with Pagan Newswire Collective, joi wolfwomyn referenced the tension that has existed over the years between the Transgender community and various traditions that have held a strong stance that excludes Trans people from gender-specific rituals and events.  Most notably, Z. Budapest has a history of taking a strong position on this issue against the inclusion of Trans women and their participation in the rituals around women’s mysteries.   She states:

There has been a long standing rift over gender and trans-inclusion that has kind of come to a head with these recent events. In discussion her current involvement with the conference, Joi Wolfwomyn states, “I am giving the opening address and teaching a history class.  I have been working with JoHanna to support with the development of the event.

In her account of the effect this past year of controversy has had on the community, joi states,

This has seriously affected the community because it is making us face these issues.  It has affected me in a personal sense because people have come to me to make a statement “for the trans-community” and I cannot speak for the whole trans-community, i can only speak for my own experience.  That kind of unnerved me.  It was interesting to watch how the larger community has been dealing with this.  I have been doing my work in this process since Pantheacon. ultimately, my position is that we don’t have to demonize each other to get through things like this, and this is a thing we all have to deal with. i for one am really glad to see the overall community responding well to this issue, and for the most part acting and speaking with respect to each other. that for me is the crucial point, is in how we engage with each other, especially over issues that can be so volatile.

There has been an unspoken rift in the past, and it is crucial that we start to talk about these things. When neo-paganism first began its building of community, there were no models, and spaces and time were really scarce.  Now that we have such diversity of option in the community we need to talk about some of the language we use to describe what all of this means.  This is a really good opportunity to start these conversations and hear from a wide variety of people where these new ideas are intersecting with some of the earlier ideas; recognizing how many of these things originally started and the foundation that they have been built on.  Things have been unspoken and assumed for so long that as soon as some parts shift people often end up reacting in negative ways.  We need to sit down and talk to each other about what these things mean in respectful ways.

In closing, joi wolfwomyn offered her hope for this type of event:

I would love to see there be more and more discussion and community building within the subset of the Pagan Community that does identify as Trans.  It would be really good to feed this conversation and keep it growing.  We can do, find, and talk about things that help us heal these rifts.  There is no reason why we can’t all come to a place of reasoning and respect.  I want to have everyone come out of this with more understanding and respect for each other.

This event is being cosponsored by Circle of Dionysos, Solar Cross Temple, Institute for Transpersonal Psychology, CAYA coven and the Earth Medicine Alliance.

Presenters for this event include joi wolfwomyn, Lady Yeshe Rabbit, Diana Paxson, T. Thorn Coyle, Dr. Charlie Glickman, MamaKoatl Chantiko,Jason Mankey, Derik Cowan & Dr. Hayden Reynolds of the Circle of Dionysos. Vicki Noble, author of Motherpeace tarot and activist, will be delivering the keynote address.

When asking what next year’s theme for this new annual event will be, JoHanna White answered,

“We have to wait and see what the next big issue is before we decide on next year’s theme. Suggestions are always appreciated. The UU SF is a pretty setting for a conference and we look forward to partnering with them again.”

For more information about programming and associated costs, you can visit the registration website for the event.

Crystal Blanton, PNC Bay Area