There is a story about Shiva I heard from my philosophy teacher Douglas Brooks. It tells how Shiva comes into being the expressive “dancing” Nataraja seen in the picture. The very abridged story goes, that Shiva from the North of India is broad chested with a spear in one hand and shield in the other. He is king of the warriors, he is ruler of the land. His mission is divide and conquer. He pokes through with his spear and takes what he wants. He is master.
And so it goes, that Lord Shiva, descends in a whirlwind down from the North into Southern provinces of India, to a place where Goddess is revered. Naturally, it would be assumed that Shiva would decimate the land of the south, with his spear large, his chest broad. He is Lord. However, instead Shiva locks eye on the Goddess, Shakti. And together they dance and she fashions him from the warrior who holds a spear that pokes through, divide and conquer, and into a the warrior who dances in a ring of free, extending his hand in abhaya mudra, the gesture of protection, peace, and dispelling of fear. Instead of destroying or assimilating, which is all Shiva knew, he instead fell in love with Shakti. He cast aside patriarchy and ego, and fell involve with the love of God Herself.
A few days ago I wrote about elders, I hoped to write about holding them accountable with compassion, and I wrote about letting women and people of color hold the space to do some work. I leaned in pretty hard on what felt like an overarching “cis-gendered white men’s movement” and what felt to me to be a smear campaign that silenced women on the ground who currently are making progress about this issue. Some men read what I wrote have let me know, “Bro WTF?” Some more discretely, unfriended, blocked, and ‘shunned’ me on social media. There was loss of a beloved friend for writing what I wrote, and that loss is palpable.
There were some really great “rebuttals”: Inanna, the Sacred B and the Sacred T by Sara Amis, and They Are Not My Elders by someone named “Atheopagan”. I moderated him at first from the of the comments of my post, which was unfair. I publicly apologize for censoring him. Both of those writers address needed issues for an audience of our community, where my piece may have only spoken to another. For Shame, For Shame by a Pagan Church Lady hits home for many, myself included. My friend, Courtney Weber also wrote compellingly, Here’s Why You Are Not My Elder, I Hope You Understand.
Many voices, from Shauna Aura Knight to Michael Smith from Assembly of the Sacred Wheel, who wrote Angry In Her Presence, which is by far my favorite. Not only a catchy title, but it speaks volumes. I appreciate his vulnerability and authentic voice. Even in anger, I witness his compassion. Pagans are dialoguing and that is part of the solution. Even is the solution is painful. Anyone who says growth is easy, is a liar.
In writing what I offered on Friday, I choose to stand on the side of compassion. People have asked me where is my compassion for the transgender community? People have asked me where is my compassion for the activists who are also being persecuted for naming what they have witnessed as egregious transgressions? Perhaps I should have limited my writing to Macha Nightmare, whom I know best, my personal elder, and whom in truth was the elder I was most moved to uphold? However I decided to step into the fire and write about three situations that had impacted the Pagan community. I was unaware at the time I wrote my article the full extent of the situation, and I was not privy of previous statements that held a history of promoting transgender exclusivity, specifically that transgender women are violent predators and offenders of sexual assault. In transparency, I knew that things were uncomfortable, but the extent of which that seem to be unfolding, and I apologize for broadly painting calling in compassion where I should have also been calling in the suffering. Things like this are very polarized for me, they only speak to one truth, and that truth is that there is even more suffering than before.
When I am confronted with suffering, I can only feed that with compassion. I have no choice. If I lean into the anger or fear with rage, it become vitriol. Compassion will always be the answer for me when it comes to a lot of things, even restorative justice. We all make mistakes. We all say things and do things that we wish we hadn’t. We also, sometimes have to make hard choices. The reality is, we may not like someone’s actions but that doesn’t give anyone the right to attack them. To assault someone or to retaliate. Slinging mud doesn’t fix things. Harassing doesn’t fix things. Cyber-bulling, stalking, or being complicit in the act of willful cruelty and intimidation only causes harm. I ask again, as I asked before, who wins? Who pays the price? You pay the price.
No one “wins” and fear only begets more fear. That is all patriarchy. When a feminist (male, female, trans, all, or other) picks up the spear of patriarchy, they wounds the hive. Are we not better? To quote Maya Angelou, “History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived, but if faced with courage, need not be lived again.”
So what do we do? I am not 100% sure. I am profoundly disappointed by many things right now. But I do know that restorative justice can look like courageous love. Sometimes, things do fall apart, we need to look deep at ourselves and examine what is best. We need to get quiet. Sometimes we simply give ourselves permission to walk away and seek our circle with those in keeping with our values. Compassion sometimes is to “divorce in the name of love.” The compassionate thing is to say, “no.” But that said, if it wasn’t clear before then let it be clear now, acting with compassion is not giving permission for abuse. It is creating space. When the heat is on, we need more space, not fire on a pressure cooker. Compassion actually puts you in control of how you manifest change.
Macha Nightmare stood tall as a leader, and stated the following: ‘Recently I thoughtlessly signed an online petition at changeDOTorg about removing the T from LGBT. I regret having signed it and I disavow its contents.’ Many people have written about what it means to be an elder. I chose not to define elder when I wrote my article. To me, Macha’s actions is what it means to be elder. To stand with grace under fire, to use discernment, to recognize and see, to speak with dignity and honesty about a mistake, to own it and then to use agency to correct it swiftly with accountability. Then it is up to us as a community lean into compassion, and hopefully are able to make space for forgiveness and courageous love.
Lastly, writing about this issue, a lot of women have reached out to me, some brand new and others, women I have admired for years, each had shared how they felt heard. I am deeply honored. I have struggled for years to find and accept a role along side women as student, teacher, peer, and ally. I made a comment about “being the matriarchy” and someone I loved dearly during all of this said “I will not cower to matriarchy.” I could write volumes about matriachy, what it is and isn’t. How our scholarship have evolved. How being in community that lifts up in the name of Goddess and doesn’t tear down each other is always the matriarchal way. What is important in this moment is the message of Shiva who danced in the ring of fire, with no spear, abhaya mudra.
Men and women are indoctrinated from birth to wear the mantle of patriarchy with it’s spear of divide and conquer: My voice is the only voice. My way is the only way. This is the only opinion. The is the only circle. We don’t have to be that voice!
We can choose compassion.We can choose to be advocates and defenders of justice without being nasty. We can chooise courageous love. When we lean into love, when we lean into the holiness of community, when we lay down the ego, the pride, and the disillusion and surround ourselves with Goddess. Hopefully we surround ourselves with love. Love is STILL the law. Abhaya Mudra!