It was all a mistake: They really ARE the voice of the (post)modern witch hunt

August 31, 2018

Late last week, heads exploded when the online Pagan news journal, The Wild Hunt, posted an article where lesbian feminist Witches were quoted extensively on how they viewed their women-only witchy group, The Pussy Church of Modern Witchcraft. The way it’s usually done at The Wild Hunt is to summarize and round up links to blogs denouncing the priestesses for determining their own boundaries, without interviewing any of the priestesses for their side of the issue, and certainly without fact checking any accusations linked. It’s called “being inclusive.”

Turns out, it was all a mistake. Those who feel entitled to dictate the religious boundaries women may set and how they may describe those boundaries have asserted themselves and The Wild Hunt has apologized. The author, Terence P. Ward, has resigned as staff writer for The Wild Hunt, thus far without a public statement.

Many people on social media condemned The Wild Hunt’s retraction of the article as “cowardice.” I think this is unfair. I used to follow this news site regularly, and I believe the misogynistic attitudes of those at The Wild Hunt are sincerely held. It seems to be editorial policy, in deference to “feelings,” to proscribe the use of any word or phrase (even in a quote) that describes the class of people greeted with the words “It’s a girl!” when they are born. Referring to womyn-born-womyn, biological women, genetic women, etc. is verboten, thus depriving the conversation of any language that could be used to fairly discuss divergent women’s views. This is where Ward apparently came aground.

The international publicity (most of it negative) that the Pussy Church has received over the past few weeks is a matter that deserves reflection. Usually a church that applies for tax-exempt status is not a newsworthy item even in the Pagan communities, except perhaps locally or within a tradition. When the article in Forbes brought attention to the Pussy Church based on the author’s admiration for the thoroughness of the paperwork, the issue immediately became a hot-button one of transgender inclusion. Virtually anyone who goes public with anything conflicting with the dominant transgender ideology can expect some heavy backlash. (See, for example, Terence P. Ward.) It should be noted, however, that there are some women who cannot avoid conflict with transactivists because their words and actions are continually placed under a microscope and evaluated critically against transactivist postitions. These women who are subjected to ongoing political purity tests are radical feminists, women in born-women-only traditions such as Dianic Witchcraft, and lesbians. The Pussy Church of Modern Witchcraft hit the trifecta, thus setting off a wild round of condemnation. In the context of this, an article on a well-read Pagan site allowing leaders of the Pussy Church to express their views in their own words should have been welcome, but apparently this was too “controversial.”

Targeting groups for close scrutiny against purity tests, along with accompanying persecution, is, by the way, the very definition of a witch hunt. In the Middle Ages it was old women who were targeted; in the McCarthy era it was people in the arts. Today, if you have not received reprisals for doing or saying anything conflicting with transactivist beliefs, you are probably not a radical feminist, a Dianic Witch, or a lesbian.

One thing that surprised me in doing research for this article is the number of Pagan blogs still in operation that have scrubbed their sites of posts condemning Dianic Witches. It really does look like the tide is, slowly, beginning to turn. Who knows, maybe in the near future even The Wild Hunt will decide it’s time to change history, scrub their site of their sins, and pretend none of this ever happened.

Oh My Goddess, Not This Again!

July 20, 2018

I was planning to write more this week about the Northern Goshawk, but I’ve been sidetracked once again by the patriarchally-minded Pagans, Witches this time, who no-platform feminists for disagreeing with them. I don’t even blog about this every time it happens, or they would effectively silence my voice by giving me nothing else to write about. But this week the entry in the no-platforming hall of shame is especially egregious: Max Dashu was disinvited from an event in San Francisco entitled “Modern Witches Confluence” per objections by trans activists.

As someone noted in a (still undeleted at the time of this writing) comment, there could be no such confluence without the scholarship of Max Dashu. Amidst many decades of concerted misinformation and specious attacks from the academy on the legacy of Witchcraft, Max has been a persistent voice on the side of truth, with meticulous research backing up her conclusions. She is the best scholarly resource Pagans have had since Robert Graves.

By parsing her work, those with “a shared vision of inclusion” (whatever that means) have revealed Max as having thought crimes, of not believing every part of the trans narrative. Not believing, in current Orwellian parlance, is “non-inclusive,” and the punishment for this heresy is…wait for it…non-inclusion.

Max’s book Witches and Pagans: Women in European Folk Religion 700-1100 can be purchased here. Here is my review of the book. You can also support her work with a donation here.

Ruth Barrett De-Platformed at Goddess Gathering

June 8, 2018

Ruth Barrett reports that after being signed on as the featured speaker at Gaea Goddess Gathering in Kansas, she has been disinvited after at least one person objected. Ruth says she has not been given a reason for being ousted, but that she believes the person objected to an anthology she edited several years ago, Female Erasure, about the effect of trans politics on women’s lives. Ruth says she was open with the board of directors of this Pagan festival about her practice in Women’s Mysteries with natal females, and that her concert and workshop would not be about trans issues.

This is something that happens, somewhere, every year. Last year, at the Fayetteville Goddess Festival in Arkansas, a group of lesbians had the temerity to offer a lesbian focused workshop for lesbians born with a vulva, and some trans women objected to the workshop being offered on the Festival grounds, then objected to the workshop being listed in the program, then objected to the workshop happening at all, then later tried to get the Festival organizer fired from her job for scheduling the workshop in the first place. The year before that, there was campaign to get Ruth fired from her job at Cherry Hill Seminary. Before that, there was a campaign by LGBT organizations to no-platform artists who appeared at The Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival, a music festival attended by many Witches which allowed trans women to attend but refused to center trans women in the program. Pagan Spirit Gathering suspended rituals for bio women in response to trans activist objections. And of course there’s Pantheacon.

Ruth has asked that people contact the Gaea Goddess Gathering to express their disappointment in that organization’s cowardly unethical exclusionary sexist decision to withdraw their invitation. I want to suggest two more things. The first is to buy and read the book Ruth edited, which is well researched and well documented and does not anywhere argue that trans people are not entitled to life, safety, healthcare, or other basic human rights. Just read the damn book, listen to other points of view, and risk having a thought crime!

My second recommendation is to put something in place which makes it difficult for speakers/leaders of Pagan gatherings to be disinvited by a few vocal people. It should be standard in every contract to lead a Pagan conference, workshop, ritual, or gathering, that there be a very large financial penalty for cancellation. By “large” I mean much larger than the paltry sum usually offered to the leader. In order for this to work, it needs to be standard, meaning other people besides Ruth need to make that stipulation. Men and women need to make this demand, which is really in everyone’s interest. I have organized two spirituality conferences, and I understand that it’s a thankless job and a lot of hard work, but it doesn’t have to be so very sexist. Conference organizers have to ask themselves whether, at the end of the day, their hard work is really about catering to religious bigotry and further entrenching systemic sexism.

Witches and Pagans: Women in European Folk Religion, 700-1100 (Review)

May 26, 2017

Witches and Pagans cover Max Dashu has posted significant excerpts of her multi volume project on the history of witchcraft at her Suppressed Histories website for years, and publication of her research in book form has been eagerly anticipated. This first installment (which Dashu refers to as Volume VII) covers the years 700 to 1100 – a good choice, because this period is critical to understanding the peak of the witch craze in late medieval and early modern times. This is also a period in European history where not a lot of information is available to the average Pagan.

Dashu is explicit that she is writing for a lay audience, but this is a thoroughly researched and referenced work, with a large bibliography and over a thousand footnotes. There are some readers who will think she excessively belabors her points, but there is so much misinformation out there, often written by slipshod academics and well-intentioned Pagans who rely on these academics, that a solid scholarly work was sorely needed. The conclusions Dashu reaches will not be startling to better informed researchers inside and outside academia, but the weight of evidence on which she bases her findings is gratifying in this highly contentious field. No doubt there are many who will be surprised.

The book utilizes linguistic analysis, place names, archaeology, folk customs documented by clerics, early theological treatises on demonology and witchcraft, and mythology of pagan origin recorded by Christians. Dashu is well aware of the shortcomings of each of these methodologies and discusses them frankly. Still the amount of evidence, from many types of sources, leads to well grounded conclusions. This book mentions in passing some of the biases which hamper academic research on witchcraft, leading to often repeated yet erroneous beliefs that have seeped into Pagan discourse.

Dashu informs us that Pagan beliefs and shamanic practices not only survived well into the Middle Ages in supposedly Christianized regions, they were widespread and deeply adhered to, particularly by the lower classes. Shamanic practices and worship of goddesses and nature deities were equated with witchcraft and devil worship by clerics and formed the basis for persecution. Though trials for malefic sorcery also existed in pagan Rome, the intensity and tone of the Christian persecution was different and significantly broader, including for example healing and divination. Aristocratic government and church leadership were intricately connected and both used dispossession of pagan culture along with persecution of witches as a way of solidifying power. The healers, diviners, and keepers of tribal history known as witches were overwhelmingly female, and witch persecutions were part of a pervasive Church strategy to further subjugate women, who were already dominated by men within their pagan cultures. Dashu firmly establishes that for centuries the targets of the witch hunts were shamans, usually female, and that the purpose of witch persecutions was to establish Christian hegemony and solidify aristocratic power.

Dashu also attempts to piece together what those pagan belief systems and female shamanic practices that were under attack actually were, and here her findings must be treated as incomplete. She focuses a great deal on Germanic cultures, and practitioners of the various Germanic traditions will find a wealth of information here. She discusses the importance of the distaff in women’s mysteries and the Norse practice of “sitting out” to achieve psychic insight. She explores the little that is known about northern European goddesses. She devotes an entire chapter to the important Icelandic poem The Volupsa. This is not, however, a definitive look at any Norse tradition, and really to have attempted that would have taken this book too far afield. I have noticed a tendency in witches in my acquaintance to devote their reading solely to authors like Dashu who approach witchcraft from a solid feminist perspective. There would be nothing wrong with that if there were more Pagan writers with a true understanding of feminist theory, but there are not enough of us around to be so selective. If the material here sparks some new interest you will need to draw from a variety of sources on the runes and Norse literature. I was particularly dismayed to hear a friend say she was inclined to cut out any reference to the god Odin from her practice after reading this book. I am a Dianic priestess, and it is more than okay with me if a woman only wants to worship goddesses, but I think we must remember that male as well as female archetypes become distorted in support of male dominance. It is important that we recognize patriarchal bias in our Pagan heritage, but it is equally important that we do not stop there.

Witches and Pagans is slow reading and cannot be tackled in one or two sittings. Dashu’s writing style is clear and straightforward, but the nature of the material is that it is dense. An index would be helpful. There is a web address for an index in the book which took me to a 404 error page. There are quite a few line drawings in the book which add a great deal to the text. This is a great resource with a lot of helpful information. I hope we will not have to wait too long for the next volume of “The Secret History of the Witches.”

Resistance

March 17, 2017

Thistle Pettersen is a songwriter from Madison, Wisconsin. This is from her collection Animal Dreams.

Women, We Need Vision

January 27, 2017
At the grave of Inez Milholland. Sign says “Mr. President, how long must women wait for liberty?”

What do we want? Something or other.
When do we want it? Sometime.

The morning of the Women’s March I walked out to my car and discovered my rear driver’s side tire was low. Not flat, but low enough that I had to drive miles out of my way to a convenience store to get air. I had planned to get to the March a bit early, but now I only hoped the tire would hold for the thirty mile drive.

Miraculously, I arrived on time. The tire had lost air, but it held well enough to get me to Lewis, New York, for the march and rally at the gravesite of suffragist Inez Milholland (see last week’s post). I was stunned at the turnout. Over three hundred people were there, mostly women but plenty of men and children too, many wearing pussyhats and carrying great signs. Three hundred sounds like a small number in a protest of millions, and I guess it is, but Lewis is a hamlet in a very rural county — a county that voted for Trump by three percentage points. The signs reflected concerns across the country about reproductive rights, diversity, racial justice, and sexual harrassment.

I thought the March was great right up to the point where the speaking started, and then I wondered why I bothered to come. The leader of the Lewis March spoke about the history of the suffrage movement, offering some quotes from Milholland. So far, so good. Then she spoke about how we had gathered for “truth.” That was all: not even a passing reference to actual struggles of women today, where we need to go, and how we get there. I guess being on the side of truth is a political statement in this post-truth era, but truth about what? There was no focus to this march. All the energy was dissipated on non-offensive, non-directed pablum, and the whole thing became a celebration of tribal identity, not a demand for women’s rights.

In some ways, the well-attended Lewis non-event was a microcosm of issues that spilled out with the national March during the lead-up period. Many women were unclear about the purpose of the March. Organizers expressed a commitment to inclusivity, but that did not appear to include a feminist perspective. For example, organizers headlined a self-admitted rapist and a champion of “sex work,” angering sex industry survivors. The organizers declared this was not a protest any kind and not specifically about women. Despite the timing of the event the day after the inauguration, they insisted this march was not intended to be anti-Trump. So what was this about?

News media defined the March entirely as anti-Trump, sometimes even omitting to say that it was a women’s march. To be fair, most people I talked to were motivated primarily by their horror of Trump, and the demonstrators’ signs bore this out. The pink pussyhats were everywhere (even in Lewis). I have to admit that I originally thought the pussyhats were a bit silly. I didn’t say anything because I was happy to see women excited about a project and pouring their creativity into something, but privately I thought it was dumb. I changed my mind when I saw the pussyhats in action, sending a message that so many women and men who showed up to the March thought sexual harassment and assault worthy of protest at this thing that was not supposed to be a protest. And the signs! So many uteruses, vulvas, and vaginas. They showed that women rightly see their oppression as intricately tied to their biology, and the innocence with which this was displayed showed that apparently many have not gotten the memo that references to female anatomy are oppressive to trans people and must be exorcised from all women’s gatherings. I suspect that when most women have gotten that memo, there will be a huge rebellion, and many things about gender that have been accepted without question will be scrutinized.

These young women understand the legacy of feminism, but will they have the courage to carry it forward?

But that rebellion is years away, and I believe that for now the women’s movement is in a long period of struggle to accept and confront the problem. Our problem is not violence; it is male violence directed at women. Our problem is not gender; it is the use of gender by males to define, redefine, and undefine women. Our problem is not sexual harassment; it is the sexual harassment by males toward females (and children). Our problem is not religion; it is male religions dictating to women what we can and cannot do. Our problem is men, and until a critical mass of women can name the agent of our oppression, I do not see the women’s movement progressing, no matter how many show up for a non-directed protest.

There was an indoor follow-up event ten miles away from the Lewis rally, and I had planned on attending it, but after the rather demoralizing graveside experience I decided to get my tire fixed. I think that the March was a success in that it sent a message to our Democratic lawmakers that large numbers of women all over the country and all over the world are paying attention to Republican efforts to erode human rights, and that these lawmakers need to stand up to Trump. That alone was worth the small investment of showing up. As far as the march for women’s liberty goes — we have a long road in front of us.

Women March Again

January 20, 2017

The big Women’s March in DC is this Saturday January 21st, and I will be attending one the “sister marches” in Lewis, New York. This march will begin at the gravesite of suffragist Inez Milholland with a follow-up rally at a nearby grange hall. Details here.

Inez Milholland was a campaigner with the National Women’s Party who appeared in an iconic photo of the 1913 Woman Suffrage Procession in Washington. She was born in 1886 to a progressive family. Her father, wealthy businessman and newspaper editor John Milholland, was a founding member of the NAACP. Milholland herself championed a number of social causes in addition to suffrage during her short life, chief among them world peace and the rights of workers.

While a student at Vassar, Milholland was disciplined for defying the injunction against participation in organized feminist activities. A few years later she received her law degree from New York University. Though Milholland had a supportive family and was considered a brilliant woman, she was to find continual disappointment in the professional world. Only one firm would hire her, a criminal law firm that only allowed her to argue cases considered unwinnable. Partners in the firm believed a jury might convict a man simply for having female counsel. In frustration Milholland quit law and went to Italy to work as a war correspondent. Despite her efforts to persuade officials that a woman’s perspective on the war was important, she was never allowed to get close to the fighting. She returned to America in defeat.

One influential person who did recognize Milholland’s talents was suffrage leader Alice Paul. Milholland was a persuasive and engaging public speaker and in addition had the big-boned large-featured good looks that were fashionable at the time. Only some who came to see her were interested in the cause of women’s suffrage; others came to see a glimpse of the famous beauty. Paul began to give Milholland a higher profile in the suffrage movement and in 1916 convinced her to embark on a multistate western tour to argue for the passage of an amendment to allow women the right to vote. Milholland was feeling unwell but went anyway understanding the importance of the mission. She attracted huge crowds and a great deal of media coverage.

During the height of the campaign Milholland wrote to Paul saying she was ill and would have to suspend travel, but Paul wrote back urging her to continue. Milholland allowed herself to be persuaded. For her part, Milholland was finally seeing her efforts produce results, and it must have been difficult to contemplate walking away from a successful enterprise after being stymied so much in the past.

Milholland collapsed during a rally in Los Angeles and died there a month later. She asked that her last recorded words be, “Mr. President, how long must women wait for liberty?”