I’m an old woman. A second wave feminist. A recovering victim of Patriarchy.
THE most healing, most empowering part of my spiritual practice has been Dianic Wicca — a religion focused on the divine feminine. I don’t doubt that there are lots of other forms of Pagan practice. I’m simply talking about what’s been useful to me.
I cannot begin to convey what it meant to me to read, for the first time, in The Politics of Women’s Spirituality, the notion that women, too, might have been created in the image and likeness of the divine. It was as if the sky opened up and meaning poured through, directly into my life. Seeing divine images of women — women giving birth, women nursing children, women sitting astride lions — changed me, forever. The most spiritually important rituals of my life have been skyclad rituals with other women.
I have a lot of experience being “the other” in society. My career — the way that I spend, on average, twelve hours of every work day — is spent being the other. I’ve dealt with clients and colleagues who call me a “lady lawyer,” as if “lawyer,” meant a man and there was a need to identify “lady lawyers” as a special class.
I understand colonization. I have lived my life colonized (and, yet, also, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa, colonizing).
Yet, I will never be able to understand what it is to be born in a body with a penis, but to be a woman. I understand that, for some people who are my sisters, this is what life has dealt to them. I want to reach out in solidarity to them, even as I know that I can never understand, completely, what they have gone through to be women in this world.
But, here, now, this is me sending respect to the path that you’ve had to walk.
I want to respect, as a person with a lot of privilege, the experiences of, for example, people who come from the African disaspora and who may, at times, want to gather to themselves to heal some of those wounds. I have no right to invade those rituals.
I want to honor the experiences of, for example, men who have been wounded by patriarchy (and, pace, Robin Morgan, I understand how all men, even those who do not feel like men, are privileged by patriarchy, but I also see, as a sister, lover, mother, grandmother, how patriarchy wounds men). I have no right to invade those rituals.
I want to stand in solidarity with Heathens who feel the need to pour blots with their own kin. A woman who honors and works with her own ancestors, I want to honor all who want, as well, to work with their own ancestors. I have no right to invade those rituals.
I want, regardless of my own orientation, to stand guard outside the sacred circles of those Paganii who are lesbian, who are gay, who do not recognize any boundaries. I can’t know what their paths have been. But I can honor and respect their paths and hope that they honor and respect mine.
For over a year, I’ve kept mostly silent about the controversy at Pantheacon over who is or isn’t allowed into which rituals. I don’t go to large Pagan rituals. I’m not about to start. I wasn’t at last year’s Pantheacon. I’m not at Panthecon 2012. I may not have a right to speak about this. I am a woman who practices in private and who has almost always circled with other women.
But tonight I will speak.
Zsuzsanna Budapest blazed a trail that I, weaker of ankle than she, have followed for years. Her books sit on the shelves of my library. When I needed light, her lantern reached back to me. Her teachings are ingrained in my practices. I consider her an honored elder. I see many who now want to shame her for standing up for women. It’s fashionable these days to be “more tolerant than thee,” and to criticize women who want — as do many other groups — to spend at least some time circling (in that odd phrase) together, alone.
On the one hand, I am happy to see younger women who no longer feel the need to circle exclusively with other women. That’s what we (I and, I think, Zsuzsanna,) wanted to see happen. On the other hand, I’m worried by the easy attacks on old women, by my memory of how easy it was for other women to win approval from the patriarchy by attacking those of us who stood up for women’s rights.
What I want is a Paganism full of diversity. I want to honor and respect those who draw a circle that includes me and those who draw a circle that says, “We need to be inside here for a time. That means that we need you to stand outside. Can you please stand here and guard our door?” We need rituals that are drawn as tightly as needed to guard the sanctity of those who have been othered and excluded. Of those who need to other and exclude themselves in order to preserve their own sacred and diverse identities. Of those who simply want to draw a circle and stand inside it without being attacked.
And we need to draw big circles, circles that include all of us, that remind all of us that we have more in common than we have separating us. Gaia! We’ve got all the time in the world. We can draw all of the circles that we need to feel safe and we can draw all of the circles that we need to feel included. This is, after all, a v fluid religion. I have grown due to circles that allowed me to be safe and myself within narrow, sacred boundaries. I want to spend my life nurturing Pagans, standing outside and guarding circles when necessary, and being guarded when that’s what I need.
Do I, as a woman who was born with “women’s” genitals and a (sometime all-too-obviously) woman’s body, need to invade a ritual for my sisters who were born trans? No. What I need to do is to respect their rituals. Do I need to exclude those women from every ritual that I do? No. What I need to have is space for everything. And, luckily, that’s just how much space we have.
We contain, in the words of the poet, multitudes.
Tonight, I will light incense for those who want to stand inside a safe circle. Tonight, I will light incense for those who want to be included. Tonight, I will light incense, sit at my altar, ground, center, and simply be present for all Paganii.
Update: I very rarely delete anyone’s comments, but I have deleted two. Both comments made good points, but did so in a manner that I think adds fuel to the fire. These issues invoke a lot of raw emotion and that’s natural. But I think we need to begin to discuss them with an eye towards building bridges rather than shouting each other down. Thanks in advance for your understanding.