The season of Halloween is fast approaching, and with it, the opening of several different silly seasons. It’s the season for racists to dress as caricatures of other ethnic groups. It’s the season for journalists to find the gothiest witches they can, and write dramatic articles about them. And it’s the season for spooky films on TV, and (gods help us all) pumpkin spice latte.
A totalising system is one that seeks to subsume all other paradigms within its paradigm, rather than accepting that other paradigms exist alongside it. It regards itself as a complete and universal system which can explain all experience and needs no supplemental systems.
A non-totalising or pluralist system recognises its particularity to its local culture and sees that different philosophies emerge out of different cultural contexts and local histories. A totalising system ignores local contexts or seeks to explain them through its paradigm.
It is often assumed that the purpose of religion is to shape its adherents into nicer people. However, a quick look at the number and variety of unpleasant people in every religious tradition gives the lie to this idea. If religion doesn’t make people nicer, what is it actually for?
Spiritual and religious experiences can vary, as William James described more than a century ago. He described how different types of people get spiritual nourishment from different styles of religious practice, and in the process probably contributed to an increase in tolerance of religious diversity.
When examining our own spiritual experiences, or seeking out spiritual experiences, I find it helpful to identify experiences that are nourishing in the long-term, rather than just providing a temporary high.
The concept of being an ally has become increasingly contested as everyone who is white, straight, and cisgender wants to opt out of the responsibility of complicity with oppression.
So here are a few rules for when you want to talk about working to end oppression.
Just before the referendum on whether Britain should leave the European Union, Jo Cox, a Yorkshire Member of Parliament was murdered by a right-wing extremist with a gun that he had constructed himself. Shootings are rare here because we have strict gun laws.
That murder did not happen in a vacuum; the shooter was part of a wider discourse of rising racial hatred and bigotry. The campaign to Leave the EU was particularly virulent in its racism, with posters of refugees labelled as a “swarm”, and claims that Turkey would soon be joining the EU, together with maps showing that it is next door to Syria, Iraq, and Iran. Many people voted to leave the EU because they thought it meant that we would be ejecting all the immigrants – not just people from the rest of the EU, but people from India, Pakistan, Africa, and the Middle East. The Remain campaign also mentioned the ability to ‘control our borders’ but said that we would be better able to do that if we remained in the EU.
It is hardly surprising then, that in the immediate aftermath of the vote, there was a wave of racist hate crimes. Hate crime increased by 57% in the first month, and 42% over the next three months. People started collecting incidents in a Facebook group and Twitter feed called Worrying Signs, and on a Tumblr site called Brexit, this is what you have done. The people who voted to leave the EU didn’t all do so because they are out-and-out racists; the main reason given was the desire to ‘take back control’ (also deeply problematic) and the second biggest reason was wanting to decrease the number of immigrants.
In response to this rise in racist and xenophobic attacks, Allison, an American woman living in London, suggested people wear safety pins to show solidarity towards EU citizens and other communities who are targets of racist abuse.
The safety pin idea was inspired by the “I’ll Ride with You” campaign in Sydney in 2014, which was to protect Muslims from a wave of bigotry aimed at them on public transport.
The safety pin campaign in the UK was criticised by people who have been on the receiving end of racist abuse, because no-one would listen to them before, and they were accused of exaggerating the amount of racism that exists, and they were understandably sceptical that it would make any difference. They felt that it was just there to make the safety-pin wearers feel they had done something. It was also labelled ‘the visual symbol of #notallwhitepeople’.
My immediate response was to think that the safety pin is not there, as it was originally described, just to say ‘I am a safe space, you can sit next to me, you can talk to me, you can ask me for a help.’ That’s not enough.
What the safety pin should be for is a reminder to the wearer to do something if they hear or see racist, misogynist, homophobic, or transphobic attacks.
As Twitter user Hev (@SpareMeMary) wrote:
If you’re gonna wear a pin, make sure you’re ready to step in when you witness racism in public. Don’t you DARE wear it and stay silent.
If you don’t feel safe to challenge the perpetrator, at least move to be with the victim. Get them away from the perpetrator and to a place of safety.
The safety pin in the USA
In the wake of the election of Trump to the presidency, there was a huge wave of racist, transphobic, misogynist, and homophobic incidents. In response, people in the USA have started wearing safety pins too. The #safetypinUSA campaign comes with a pledge:
If you wear a hijab, I’ll sit with you on the train.
If you’re trans, I’ll go to the bathroom with you.
If you’re a person of color, I’ll stand with you if the cops stop you and/or whenever you need me.
If you’re a person with disabilities, I’ll hand you my megaphone.
If you’re LGBTQ, I won’t let anybody tell you you’re broken.
If you’re a woman, I’ll fight by your side for all your rights.
If you’re an immigrant, I’ll help you find resources.
If you’re a survivor, I’ll believe you.
If you’re a Native American, I’ll stand with you to protect our water, your burial grounds, and your people.
If you’re a refugee, I’ll make sure you’re welcome.
If you’re a union member, fighting for one, or fighting for $15/hour, I’ll be there.
If you’re a veteran, a college student, a member of the working or middle class, I’ll fight against austerity measures and for more publically funded assistance for all.
If you’re sick or just human, I’ll take up the fight for universal healthcare.
If you’re tired, me too.
If you need a hug, I’ve got an infinite supply.
If you need me, I’ll be with you. All I ask is that you be with me too.
People who are already wearing safety pins as part of the U.S. campaign have said that people of colour have thanked them for their solidarity.
Some other people have expressed concern that the safety pin may be worn by violent bigots to lure people into thinking they are safe.
The safety pin is just the beginning
Things have already been terrible for Black people, indigenous people, and other minorities in the US. Racism is far from over. For the next four years at least, the USA is going to be an even worse place to live for women, LGBT people, Black people, Muslims, Native Americans, Latino/a/x people, and other minorities.
When members of these groups tell you that they are terrified by Trump’s election, don’t just say that they are exaggerating or over-reacting. Don’t tell them to ‘just get over it’. Ask them what you can do to help.
When one of your relatives makes a racist, homophobic, transphobic, anti-disabled, or misogynist comment over Thanksgiving dinner, don’t just roll your eyes and sigh inwardly. Challenge it, and make it clear that their attitude is not acceptable. Yes, I know that they will lapse back into their bigoted views the next day, once they start hanging out with their Trump-voting friends. But the failure to consistently challenge that kind of bigotry is one of the factors that got us where we are now.
If you hear a bigoted remark whilst out in public, challenge it. If you see someone being attacked (whether physically or verbally), don’t stay silent. If the perpetrator is too scary to tackle, try to get the victim away to safety, and make sure they know that you don’t agree with the perpetrator. In these situations, silence from bystanders is assumed by the perpetrator and the victim to be approval of the perpetrator’s actions.
It would be a good idea to set up a Facebook group, Tumblr, and/or Twitter hashtag where post-election bigoted violence can be collated.
Someone has already set up a website where post-election resistance actions can be collated: it’s called “And Then They Came For Us”.
ICAAD (International Center for Advocates Against Discrimination) reports that under the current Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program led by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), only 3% percent of all hate crimes are documented. The FBI has a victim assistance program, but I cannot find a simple way to report a hate crime to any central body, as there is in the UK.
If things get even more unpleasant, as I suspect they will, more organised resistance will be needed. Safe houses for Muslims and LGBT people, for instance, and maybe for women who have had abortions, and the doctors who carried them out, as well. Civil disobedience campaigns will be needed. Solidarity networks are being created (see Rhyd Wildermuth’s article on forming solidarity networks at Gods and Radicals).
Civil courage can be learned
Some people have commented that they don’t know how to respond in cases of racial harassment and violence. Fortunately, there are resources for those who find this difficult.
There is an excellent cartoon guide to what to do if you witness an Islamophobic incident (which would work well for any form of bigotry).
There is also an excellent workshop outline for developing civil courage available from Unite Against Fascism (and I have made a copy of it on the inclusive Wicca website, and added a new section called Resisting fascism, where I will add more links as they become available). I would strongly suggest holding this workshop in UU churches, Pagan camps, and wherever there is space available.
First they came …
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
They (in the form of vicious thugs who believe that the vote for Trump has given them licence to attack minorities) are already coming for Muslims, LGBT people, Native Americans, women, Black people, and other visible minorities.
We know how this goes. Let’s speak out against hatred and bigotry and violence now. Consider it a practice-run for if/when Trump sends in the highly militarised police and starts rounding up Muslims and undocumented immigrants; or if/when they begin to implement Pence’s horrible anti-LGBT ideas.
Further reading / resources
If I had a dollar for every bad ritual I have ever attended, I would have a lot of dollars. And I tend to spend a couple of hours after every bad ritual going over the reasons that it was bad. So all in all, that could be three or four hours of my life that I won’t get back.
We have all been to rituals that fell flat, or didn’t work as intended. We have all facilitated such rituals, and hopefully learnt from them.
John Halstead wrote that the aim of a good ritual is
to put us in connection with something bigger than ourselves — whether that be the Earth itself, the wider Cosmos, the community of more-than-human beings, our deeper Selves, or even just one another. Good ritual takes us out of our little isolated egos and expands our souls.
I agree with John H that half-assed elements in your ritual will make it bad – but often it is because the facilitators haven’t thought through what those ritual elements mean, or don’t know how to make the energetic connection necessary to make them work, not because those ritual elements are inherently bad in themselves.
Jason Mankey replied that sometimes the aim of a large public ritual is just to create community, and might not be focused on putting us in contact with something bigger than ourselves.
Well, even connecting with community is putting us in touch with something bigger than ourselves, so the ritual really ought to get that right.
Pagan ritual facilitates the incarnation, consecration, and integration [of] the daemonic or shadow elements of our individual or collective psyche. And finally, on [a] “mystical” level, Pagan ritual can be used to effect a (controlled) dis-integration of the ego. This is the ego-death and the oceanic sense of oneness that the mystics describe.
And I agree with John that all Pagan ritual should have this effect, not just rituals for initiated Wiccans.
One difference that I have observed between a small group of Wiccans who are experienced with focusing energy and a large group of people who are not so experienced is that the less experienced group will create fuzzier energy, but that’s not a massive problem.
Both authors are right that the techniques used in small-group Wiccan ritual don’t translate well to a larger group.
So here are some techniques that I have developed for getting everyone involved in the ritual, not just standing around feeling bored and watching a small group of people do the ritual (which will probably be inaudible anyway). Note that none of my suggestions include drumming, because I hate drumming.
I stole this idea from the UUs. Go round the circle and everyone says their name and one word to describe how they are feeling.
Creating sacred space
Get everyone to join hands and pass energy around the circle. For added effect, they could also stomp around in a clockwise direction (don’t let it get too fast though, as slower movers will find it uncomfortable).
Ask all the participants to go to the North if they feel Earthy; East if they feel Airy; South if they feel Fiery; West if they feel Watery (or to the appropriate quarter if you have assigned different elements to the directions). The people in each quarter then meditate on that element, and when they have finished, open their eyes. Then everyone moves round to the next quarter (moving clockwise) until they have meditated on all four elements.
The main ritual
Various different techniques can be used here. Keep things like visualization very simple and short. One visualization that I use is to close your eyes and visualize your aura changing color from red, to orange, to yellow, to green, to blue, to violet. I also use grounding and centering.
Raising energy: There are many different ways of doing this, including synergy (the energy of everyone in the group forming a whole), resonance (the coming-together of similar energies), and polarity (the interaction of two opposing energies). If you are using polarity, it is more inclusive to divide the group into groups other than male and female (e.g. morning people and evening people, tea-drinkers and coffee drinkers, etc) and ask them to focus on the idea of the thing they like, merge their energy together, and then bringing the energy of the two groups together.
Mime: I once facilitated a Lammas ritual where I divided a group of thirty up into five groups of six, and asked them to come up with a mime describing an aspect of the John Barleycorn story. One group mimed the death of the Corn King; another group mimed the wheat being cut down by reapers; and so on. It was very moving. You could also do this for Autumn Equinox, perhaps with the story of Hades and Persephone.
Games: Another Lammas ritual idea is to divide the group into reapers, wheat, and a hare. (I did this by putting a lot of twigs into a bag. Twigs with bark on them were reapers; twigs without bark were wheat; the hare was a twig wrapped in silver foil. Parts were allocated by people pulling twigs out of the bag.) The game is that the reapers must try to catch the hare, and the wheat must try to hide him (it’s a bit like the game of Tag, or “It” as it was called in my childhood). This is based on the idea that the hare is the vegetation-spirit who hides in the last sheaf of wheat, and the reapers would always treat the last sheaf of wheat with special ritual. When the hare has been caught, all the reapers throw darts of grass at him, and he falls over, and is carried off with great lamentation.
Extemporized contributions: invite people to contribute their thoughts on the meaning of the festival, or a short devotional call to a deity.
Shared food: have the whole group bless the shared food, whether it is cakes and wine, or something else. Make sure the blessed food and drink can be distributed quickly so that there isn’t a lot of standing around. The easiest way to do this is to have four people and get them to serve a quarter of the circle each. Another way is just to pass the food and drink from one person to the next, perhaps with some kind of blessing.
Farewell to the quarters: gather again in the quarter where you started, face outwards, and say “Hail and Farewell” (or something similar). Then move around to the next quarter, until you have said goodbye to all of them.
Closing the sacred space: Have people hold hands again and say some kind of closing words (either all together, or the facilitator can say them).
Public ritual doesn’t have to be dull and lacking in transcendence, and it needn’t involve a lot of standing around being bored. And it absolutely should be a transformative and meaningful experience that makes us feel more connected to the numinous, to Nature, to the gods, and to our community.
THE ALLERGIC PAGAN: Lowered Expectations Is Not the Answer to Bad Pagan Rituals
Why cultural appropriation doesn’t work
A culture, and a religion, is a massively complex system of interlocking ideas, philosophies, symbols, and practices.
If you take one of these ideas out of context and try to shoehorn it into another tradition, it’s like taking a complex part out of a clock, and trying to put it in a completely different clock, or even a completely different machine.
Or it’s like an organ transplant – the new organ may be rejected and you need to take lots of drugs to get your body to accept it.
The New Age, which has lots of different parts cobbled together, is basically Frankenstein’s monster.
Or it’s like looking at a completed jigsaw puzzle and taking one beautiful rose from the middle of the picture and trying to put it in a completely different jigsaw. No two pieces are exactly the same, and it doesn’t fit the picture in the other jigsaw anyway, and so you have to hit it with a hammer and file off the edges to get it to fit in the other jigsaw.
Thanks to Bob for the ideas of the jigsaw and the organ transplant.
What does your faith perspective teach you about refugees? How do your politics and your religious convictions come together to inform policy and shape your attitude?
Every ancient pagan culture had very strong traditions of hospitality. These were often reinforced by telling stories of gods, goddesses, and angels disguised as mortals visiting people.
The Greeks had a strong tradition of xenia care for the stranger. This carried its own obligations and traditions. When Nausica found Odysseus washed up on the shore, her care for him was very much in the tradition of xenia.
The Hávamál, which means ‘the speech of the High One’ (Odinn) also contains stanzas about hospitality, and the duties of both host and guest.
Ultimately, the two words, host and guest, are derived from the same Indo-European root word, and so imply that they were viewed as inseparable parts of the same relationship. I like to think of them as the two halves of a hinge. The relationship of guest and host is reciprocal, with sacred obligations on both sides.
The concept and practice of hospitality are very important in India too, which suggests that the practice is very ancient indeed. Both Pakistan and Germany (and other places too) have the tradition of the guest-gift, where a guest will give you a gift the first time they visit your home. People from Latvia have a tradition of giving bead and salt as a gift when you have a new house. The sharing of bread and salt are considered sacred in many cultures. Once they have been shared, the relationship of guest and host is established and sacred.
If we think back to the times when small villages were scattered among great forests, the arrival of a stranger with news from other places, new stories, new songs, and new jokes, maybe even new farming or weaving or metalworking techniques, must have been very welcome.
There were also great movements of people in ancient times: Goths, Visigoths, Vandals, and Alans; settlers from the rest of Europe and North Africa who came with the Romans; Angles, Saxons, and Jutes who fled the rising waters of the North Sea and settled in Britain. More recently, there were silver miners from Germany who settled in the Mendips; many African and Middle Eastern people; the Huguenots fleeing persecution in France; Sephardic Jews from Amsterdam, Ashkenazi Jews from Eastern Europe, who began to arrive after the interdict against Jews was lifted in 1654 (it was put in place by King John in 1290 because he didn’t want to repay loans from Jewish bankers – who were forced to enter banking as other professions were closed to them).
Everyone in Britain probably has a refugee or an economic migrant in their ancestry somewhere, if you go back far enough. Even Kate Middleton is related to a prominent Huguenot family. And both refugees and economic migrants have contributed hugely to the UK by creating jobs and boosting the economy with their spending power and tax contributions (and if they are not from the EU, they have “no recourse to public funds” stamped in their visa – so they receive no benefits and no free NHS).
And in the US and Canada of course, unless you are 100% Native, you are an immigrant or descended from immigrants.
I feel instinctively that openness to other cultures, and welcoming the stranger and the refugee, are good things. What kind of civilisation would we be if we were not open and hospitable? One that was both ethically and culturally impoverished, would be my answer.
But I think that the gods and goddesses of Paganism – who frequently come to Earth to test the hospitality of mortals, and reward those who are hospitable, and punish those who are not – would agree that hospitality is a sacred practice and should be held in high honour.
Of course, in the case of migration to other lands, there is the point of transition from guest to resident. Here again, we see the process of reciprocity at work. The migrant has paid their tax, contributed work and money to the system, and in many cases their food style and folk customs to the culture, and so after a time they become a member of the community. In societies that welcome immigrants, such as Canada, this is expected and encouraged; and education has been geared towards welcoming diversity for the last 25 years. More xenophobic countries (such as the UK) go to extraordinary lengths to prevent the transition from guest to resident.
Both hospitality and reciprocity are Pagan virtues and have been since ancient times. Honour is also important in many Pagan traditions, and I think the honourable thing to do is to welcome the stranger. Hoarding wealth was frowned upon in ancient societies; wealth was displayed by the generosity of the ‘ring-giving lord’ who gave gold arm rings to his thegns, and the loaf-giver (hlaf-diga, the origin of the word lady). The social fabric was woven through the sacred practices of hospitality, fosterage, gift exchange, and reciprocity. We would do well to cultivate these virtues instead of xenophobia and suspicion. So I would definitely say that Pagan religions encourage us to show hospitality towards migrants and compassion for refugees.
A lot of people seem to think that inclusive means “I’ve got some gay people in my coven”. That is certainly welcoming – but is it really inclusive? I think there’s a spectrum of inclusivity – so one coven might score 100% and another might score 80% – but I think we have to accept that different people will have different ideas and priorities. However, it would avoid a lot of heartbreak all round if people stated upfront how inclusive their coven actually is.
An inclusive coven ticks some or all of the following boxes:
- Understands that diversity has a place in celebration, theology and cosmology.
- Understands that gender identity, gender expression, sex/gender assigned at birth, and biological characteristics are distinct (when I say distinct, I mean noticeably different, but interpermeable and with fuzzy boundaries).
- Understands that you can make energy through polarity (tension of opposites), resonance (two similar people), or synergy (joining the energies of the whole group).
- Understands that polarity can be made by two or more people of any gender and sexual orientation, and by two or more people of the same gender, and that polarity exists on a spectrum where Person A may be yang in relation to Person B, but yin in relation to Person C.
- Understands that you can make polarity with any pair of opposite qualities (e.g. morning people and evening people, cat lovers and dog lovers, tea drinkers and coffee drinkers, air signs and earth signs, fire signs and water signs).
- Understands that fertility is not strictly biological and may refer to creativity (and that you don’t need a male body & a female body to produce fertility on a symbolic level – e.g. when blessing crops).
- Allows invocation of any gender deity onto any gender human.
- Allows gender fluidity in ritual roles & doesn’t make people stand boy/girl/boy/girl in circle.
- Does cakes & wine with reference to lover & beloved, or using two cups, or on the understanding that we all contain both ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ energies, or some other inclusive variation, and can be done by two people of any gender.
- Accommodates difference (e.g. neurodivergence, dyslexia, left-handedness, aphantasia) and disability. Bonus points for embracing the social model of disability.
- Is open to other cultures and ethnicities and does not insist on a genetic basis for culture (e.g. anyone can worship gods from any culture). Bonus points for being aware of the concept of systemic racism.
- Tries to avoid cultural appropriation.
- Is accepting of kink, polyamory, and monogamy.
- Promotes consent culture.
- Welcomes members of all ages (over 18) and accommodates older members’ needs.
- Does not automatically exclude people with mental health issues.
- Accommodates different theological perspectives (animism, atheism, pantheism, polytheism, duotheism etc).
- Body-positive: does not allow fat-shaming or body-shaming.
- Is prepared to accommodate coven members who are less well-off (by not organising expensive social activities, or having a massive and expensive reading list, for example).
- Does not insist that its members reach a particular educational level or belong to a particular socio-economic class.
- Listens to the views of all the members.
- Values the contributions and ideas of all the members.
Inclusive Wicca is about being inclusive towards everyone.
There isn’t a competition over who is more oppressed, and there is no queue for liberation. We can work on small issues and large issues at the same time – I am not suggesting that all the categories mentioned in the list receive the same degree of oppression in society – they are included in the list because at some point, they have been excluded from some Wiccan circles for some reason.
Also, please note that inclusive Wicca is not a new or separate tradition; it is a tendency within existing Wiccan traditions. (Though just to confuse matters, in Australia, there actually is a tradition called Inclusive Wicca, which is unconnected to the inclusive tendency – though it may have similar goals.)
Thanks to Alder Lyncurium, Anna Hammarlund, Anya Read, Brian Paisley, Francois Schaut, Lirilin Lee, Susan Harper, for suggestions and comments on the first draft of this.
UPDATE: I have now created an inclusive Wicca website.