Should There Be Freedom Of Religion Within Paganism?

I was really freaking angry yesterday. I’m still processing my feelings of betrayal and being used over this issue, and angry to see so many people putting their agenda ahead of logic, reason, facts, and other people’s rights.

In trying to cool down and start seriously thinking about this whole brouhaha over Z. Budapest’s ritual at PantheaCon, I realized it boiled down to a single issue: freedom of religion.

If you deeply believe in menses magic, in celebrating and honoring the womb, and in the healing power of woman only space; if you aren’t harming other people or breaking the laws of the land, can the greater Pagan community shut you down?

Because that is what is being asked of PantheaCon here. They are asked to define a Pagan morality and theology, to declare what is acceptable and what is heresy. CIS-woman-only space is being declared a heresy.

The issue isn’t that there isn’t space for transgender people at PantheaCon. There most certainly is. One of the most incredible rituals I’ve ever participated in was a straight-welcoming genderqueer ritual put on by Ekklesia Antinouu at PantheaCon. There is no ban on creating more inclusive women’s rituals. Anyone is free to do so.

The issue is that PantheaCon is being told they will be boycotted (amusingly by people who by and large have never attended the event) if they give cis-women-only rituals the same treatment as Vodou rituals, or any other ritual that has requirements and exclusions.

If I were to say I felt discriminated against and insisted PantheaCon allow me to invoke Loki or Gandalf in the Troth’s blot, everyone would realize that is ridiculous. If that’s important to me there are plenty of rituals where I can do that, and I’m free to create a facilitate just such a ritual without declaring the Troth’s ritual a heresy.

Another example would be a trad Craft ritual that isn’t open to self-initiates. People feel strongly about the issue of initiation, so should PantheaCon insist anyone who declares themselves Wiccan be allowed to attend?

You don’t get your rights by taking them from other people. You certainly don’t get them by disparaging GLBTQI rituals as “other” and implying they are less worthy. You don’t get them by going after another minority. Trying to take people’s religious rights away from them is what we generally experience from monotheistic traditions, and it’s disheartening to see it in our own community.

It would have been heartening to see a women’s ritual on the program this year where cis-women and trans women discuss and celebrate the cycles and seasons of their bodies. It’s not something I would attend, but it would be uplifting to find that as the response to last year’s ruckus.

Instead I’m seeing people tell women, some of which have suffered abuse, that they are not allowed to practice their faith. Instead of recognizing that diversity isn’t always pretty, everyone is feeding their energy to Z. Budapest and criticizing an event that facilitates wonderful transgender-welcoming programming.

I don’t believe in gender-exclusive rituals, but I also don’t believe in some grand Pagan orthodoxy in which those who believe differently are ostracized and declared heretics. I really find Z’s brand of Dianic Witchcraft distasteful, but I will fight for the right of those Dianics to have a place at the table just as hard as I will fight for the right for transgender people to have a seat at the table.

Tolerance isn’t narcissism. It doesn’t mean everyone agrees with you, accepts you and let’s you do what you want. Tolerance is allowing other people to do what they do as long as it’s not harming anyone. Tolerance isn’t comfortable. Tolerance is making a seat at the table for people you don’t like. If your tolerance is about the world conforming to your views and all of Paganism revolving around your worldview, then you’re doing it wrong.

Despite my vocal support of transgender rights, men’s issues and a whole host of other “progressive” views I’ve already been “unfriended” over my views on this issue. That’s ok.

When it comes to men and trans women, Z. Budapest is a bigot. She’s pretty open about it. Everyone knows where she stands, and have for 40 years. Z. Budapest also happens to be profoundly talented when it comes to women’s spirituality and women’s mysteries. It’s a shame that she doesn’t include trans women, because she has a lot to offer them. But no one is required to attend her rituals or listen to her speak. Last year I spent 5 days at the conference and only saw her once, passing in a hallway.

Banishing Z. or insisting she go against her beliefs is simply wrong. It sets a precedent that if you go against the “Pagan orthodoxy” you’re out. And that’s a hideous thought.

There is a new generation of Dianics who are transgender welcoming, who are progressive and who are moving beyond the baggage of the past. They are doing good work and should be supported. They do some of this work at PantheaCon, because it’s a fantastic supporter of Paganism in all it’s wondrous diversity.

I have no doubt that PantheaCon was a wonderful drama-free event for most people this year. I’m glad they made space for Z. Budapest, because there are women who truly find great spiritual value and healing in her work. I’m glad they make space for Ekklesia Antinouu, the Troth, Traditional Witchcraft and Vodou. I’m glad they make space for dry academics and smarmy popular authors. It’s a great event, and I sincerely hope they don’t become the arbiters of what is appropriately Pagan, and what is heresy.

Because this issue is about freedom of religion, and I for one refuse to support the concept of Pagan heresy, and punishments for those who don’t conform to the tyranny of the masses.

Here are two contemporary takes from people who actually attended PantheaCon this year (not the armchair quarterbacks like myself who’ve been dominating the online conversation):

Letter to the Editor at PNC-Minnesota:

This is why I was at Pantheacon.  I am alone where I live.  I do not have a coven, I do not have pagan sisters where I live.  I go to festivals and I was at Pantheacon 2 years ago so I can be with my community and gain strength from my sisters.  All my sisters.  But I need these rituals of healing and of reclaiming my body as sacred.  I’m ashamed to say I need to have them without seeing a penis.  I hope this changes soon as I long for the day when a safe space includes everyone.  But I need this.  Can you sisters, all my sisters, find it in your heart to understand this?  To forgive me?

I did not go to the ritual at Pantheacon this year.  I wasn’t aware there would be protesters until I was at the hotel.  People at the convention have been talking about the ritual and emotions are high.  My friend that I’m attending the convention with was called a bigot and hateful because she planned to attend the ritual.  I am not hateful.  I am not a bigot.  I could not walk walk past those silent people sitting and standing in the hall in front of the doors to the ritual.  I am not defiant or strong enough to walk past the reproachful looks.

Lupa’s LiveJournal:

Z spoke in her spoken statement about how she starts with the concept that every minute a (cisgender) woman dies in childbirth and that’s what informs her work. Well, transgender people are at a much higher than average risk for being murdered specifically for being trans. And they’re more likely to commit suicide directly because of issues related to being trans. There is a higher ratio of trans people who work in the sex industry because of discrimination in other forms of work, and so they face the disproportionate risks of sex work as well. And so on.

And yet so many cis women ignore these issues that face trans women (and men). And it’s that ignorance that I saw perpetuated tonight in the statements, and in every statement that “only cis women are real women” and “trans issues are separate issues”. I feel so much that the point was missed entirely tonight.

I expect this post will likely make people angry. Review the comment policy and take a deep breath before commenting.

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About Star Foster

Polytheistic Wiccan initiated into the Ravenwood tradition, she has many opinions. Some of them are actually useful.


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