Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Pagan Consent Culture Reflection 4: Reclaiming Touch and Final Thoughts

In the excerpt, Phyllis K. Davis (1999) discusses the healing potential of physical touch. I have read several articles on the power of touch to bring healing and well-being, particularly emotional, to patients in the hospital. Working in a children's facility, I was exposed to the power of touch through the programs put in place to have volunteers come in and spend time holding the babies. Research shows that babies who are held grow and thrive far more than those who are not. We started to see greatly improved health outcomes for our little ones when we added physical contact with other humans outside of typical treatment protocols in a more holistic approach to healing.

The suggested activities seem useful to someone who is attempting to reclaim touch. As a person without touch trauma, I can see why one would need to practice things like asking for a hug in a group or exchanging back massages. These are the types of things one sees often at pagan gatherings--but what if these things spontaneously arise and trigger a victim of previous abuse? This is why ALL touch needs consent. When we decide we need physical contact, we must remember that our need is only one-half of the equation. True consent requires both parties to have the chance to make an informed choice and respond with enthusiasm or decline with grace without fear of retribution or violation.

As I move on from this work, I look toward fleshing out the final project into a full course designed to teach others what healthy small group dynamics look like, power differentials and how to handle them, and conflict resolution--all framed in an atmosphere of consent. Some of these lessons were easy, and some were difficult to learn, because societal mores tell us that social hierarchy dictates how much say we have (or, rather, do not have) over our own bodies, lives, and choices. Personal sovereignty is not a game. It is not something we should have lost, but it is something we need to work to reclaim. This work won't be easy, but I am in it for the duration. I hope you will join me.

Davis, P.K. (1999). The power of touch. Carlsbad, CA: Hay House, Inc. pp. 192-209

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Pagan Consent Culture Reflection 3: In the Midst of Avalon and ADF

I chose to read, “In the Midst of Avalon, Casualties of the Sexual Revolution,” by Katessa S. Harkey, because I had only recently heard about the Marion Zimmer Bradley (MZB) story of abuse a mere few weeks before the Isaac Bonewits accusations surfaced. Though this may be painful, I wanted to know more. The author writes from a historical perspective, citing many sources and leaving biases and conclusions out of the narrative, for which I am grateful. There are several points she raises that intersect with my current state of mind:

First, Katessa S. Harkey (2008) points out the difficulty in digesting accusations against a prominent individual posthumously (p. 204), because in most cases, there is "insufficient evidence to determine whether the posthumous claims are justified" (p. 205). This, from the commentary I have read, is where most of us lie in terms of Bonewits. Much like MZB, context from other areas of his life have added much fuel to the fire. Individuals have come forward revealing conversations they had with Bonewits directly expressing his views on Greek Love and “intergenerational relationships,” as MZB and Walter Breen called it--a practice that gives modern neopagans pause. This is definitely where many of us have stalled in our processing of the information.

Secondly, she discusses the apparent necessity many folks feel for separating an artist from the works, if this is possible. Do we now throw away all the work Bonewits has done to build this church to which we belong? Do we rebrand? Do we set the whole thing on fire and go our separate ways? These are the typical reactions readers had to MZB's works. It seems ADF members are experiencing a "psycho-spiritual tainting by association," and we are not entirely sure how to handle this (Harkey, 2008, p. 207).

Third, in Harkey's example of the underlying current of MZB's worldview as seen in Mists of Avalon, I am reminded of the underlying content in Bonewits', The Pagan Man, in which Bonewits himself muses on the mistakes he had made in his past regarding sexuality. Knowing a bit more about his personal life outside of ADF definitely informs the interpretation of his words in this title.
Finally, I completely agree with Harkey's (2008) conclusion that "we need to tell our history truthfully so that the mistakes of the past need not be repeated" (p. 212). It is in the spirit of transparency that we will heal from this. He must look at our flaws and the flaws of those who have gone before us, for these, too, hold lessons that will help us to evolve. If we deny or hide the ugly parts of our past, much like the accusations against MZB and Bonewits, they will return to haunt us and discredit us without us having the ability to engage in conversation, to right wrongs where possible, and to move forward with healing and dignity and a plan to keep these types of things from happening again. After all, that's why we're all here right now.

Harkey, K.S. (2008). In the Midst of Avalon, Casualties of the Sexual Revolution. Pagan Consent Culture. Hubbardston, MA: Asphodel Press. pp. 194-212.

Monday, February 5, 2018

Pagan Consent Culture Reflection 2: Consent, Consensus, and Compassion

In her article on Matriarchy and Consent Culture, Yeshe Rabbit discusses the imbalances of power common to patriarchal systems that concentrate power in top of their hierarchy. Traditional models are a pyramid: the largest group being the producers of power at the bottom, followed by the consumers of power in the middle, and topped by the Arbiters of Power (Rabbit, 2008, p.  33). In this model, the producers hold the majority of the power, but a culture of fear cultivated over decades or even generations keeps them from exercising this power. 

In a system like ADF with a consolidation of power in the top tier of the organization, there is little room for the voices of the folk with less power. Even when given opportunity to speak, they are often held back by their own fears of rejection and lack of hope in being heard, leading to silence as the form of consent for status quo. This is common when an organization belongs to a society with a similar structure. As Rabbit (2008) points out, “when pagans enter into spiritual relationships under a patriarchal system of power-over, in the effort to find the power we have been craving in the mundane world, we are susceptible to creating power schemes that replicate the imbalanced power dynamics to which we are accustomed” (p. 36).

The author goes on to describe what she refers to as the “Matriarchal “ model, which is essentially the same as the consensus decision-making model common to nonprofit organizations. In consensus-based groups, everyone’s voice is equally as important, and decisions are not final until buy-in is achieved from all parties involved. This is a helpful tool for maintaining healthy small group dynamics such as those found in a coven or local grove.

One of my classmates remarked that teaching compassion should be a first step: "if we learn to be compassionate, we will learn to be understanding to not only those that we will interact with, but also to ourselves.” Consensus shares its root word with consent, from the Latin, con, together, and sentire, to feel. It literally means, “to feel together.” Compassion, on the other hand, derives from the Latin, com, together, and pati, to suffer, and means, “to suffer together.” At first glance, it may seem these are synonyms, but I offer this: we must strive to maintain relationships through consent, through feeling together. It is only through consent that we will avoid the circumstances that cause the need for us to suffer together. Consent lessens the amount of suffering inherent in our relationships, and as a religion built on right relationship, this makes consent a far greater and more powerful virtue than compassion.  

Rabbit, Y. (2008). Matriarchy & consent culture in a feminist pagan community. Pagan Consent Culture.  Hubbardston, MA: Asphodel Press. pp. 31-42.

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Home and Hearth: A Reflection at Imbolc

When thinking about what the concepts of Home and Hearth mean to me, my thoughts went to the notion of chosen family. As we age, we move away from the mandated family we were given at birth to a more collective, chosen family of individuals to whom we freely give and receive love in the many ways that fulfill our lives.

In ADF, our Indo-European paganism is divided into factions based on our chosen “hearth” culture. This has led to a lot of confusion and feelings of isolation for folks, including me, because much like our chosen family, we, as pagans, get to choose with whom we build relationship as allies among the Kindreds.

If you look around the Prairie Home, you will see shrines to Brighid, Freyja, Hekate, Thor, Persephone, and Sky Father…not to mention the amazing depiction of the Earth Mother above the community shrine. This is what our Hearth Practice looks like.

We each have our chosen allies with whom we walk through the world in reciprocal relationship for the benefit of us all whether they be human, Deity, Ancestor, or Not-God. We have a say in who gets to join us at our Hearth and for how long they will walk with us on this journey through life.

As many of you know, Rev. Sara and I are in the middle of a class at Cherry Hill Seminary entitled, Pagan Consent Culture. The very first article in the book for the course by the same name is a piece by John Beckett on the notion of Personal Sovereignty. In his article, “Culture of Consent, Culture of Sovereignty,” Beckett (2008) discusses our individual “right to rule” ourselves AND the “obligation to rule rightly” (p. 2).

Though I am not typically a fan of Beckett’s work, there is merit in this statement:

We have a right to rule ourselves and the obligation to rule rightly.

We have a right to rule ourselves. Our personal sovereignty gives us the right to make decisions on our own behalf. We get to choose who comes into our homes, we get to decide what we want for dinner, we get to choose what we are going to wear.

We also get to choose whom we date, to whom we lend money, and to whom we offer hospitality. We even get to choose whether or not we will hug someone, regardless of how many times we’ve hugged them before.

We are each the bosses of ourselves which shows the importance of consent. Our society has us in the habit of making decisions for others without their input or permission. Consent is the only way we can truly respect the personal sovereignty of those around us.

Now, we also have an obligation to rule ourselves rightly. What does this mean? It certainly doesn’t mean we will be perfect. I will be the first to admit that I have made mistakes—a LOT of them, but each one holds a lesson that helps me to keep from making that same mistake again, each time, treating myself with self-compassion.

Self-compassion, suffering with the self (Latin com-together, pati-to suffer), builds a practice of learning how to give compassion to others, suffering with others. From there, I can truly build a practice of consent (Latin con-together, sentire-to feel), of learning how to feel with others before suffering takes place.

Seeking consent leads to healthy relationship dynamics. This practice is what will aid me in maintaining my personal sovereignty without diminishing the sovereignty of others.

Being in right relationship with those around us includes being in right relationship with ourselves. Right relationship with ourselves is the “Home” part of the Home and Hearth.

Home is where the heart is, inside of each of us, and at our center burns the living flame around which we build our hearth of chosen family and allies.

In short, Personal Sovereignty is being in right relationship with ourselves that we may build right relationship with those with whom we choose to share our journey. This, for me, is the essence of Home and Hearth.