I Contain Multitudes

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.

I shan’t be gone long. You come, too.

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.

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15 responses to “I Contain Multitudes

  1. Who am I to question how anyone chooses to practice–whether solitary, or with a group of one’s choosing? Whatever each of us needs is exactly right for each of us. Thank you for your post, as always.

  2. Thank you.

  3. The image of various circles is wonderful. Perhaps what we need is this realization that those outside the circle have as definite a role to fulfill as those inside it, and then we can stop harassing one another about our presence inside or outside any given circle.

    Wonderful, and thank you for sounding a note of unification amidst all the divisive chaos.

  4. “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?”
    You couldn’t do worse than asking this lady for assistance. She’s an old friend of mine.

    • Yes, Peter. Exactly. Whether or not it is good, right, or proper for me to be included in a particular circle, i would stand and Guard the Gate against all comers. For the Right to hold a circle is sacred. Sacred to me.

  5. Z, the trailblazer. SHE who brought me the words.

    She said, “when you think of strength reject the patriarchal notions. We should have the strength of dandelions. That is, be those whose seeds blow and are carried by the wind and the birds everywhere, so that where there was one, now there are many, everywhere”. Then she made the blowing sound. whoosh.

    Although I reject religion, she is important in that she showed women that they were their own god. She said, “WE are the female in nature, connected to everything female, the female birds, and bear, the female deer and cow – everything female is US – that is your power. Stand for that wherever that is oppressed”.

    I am rushing to her, thanks to your information.

  6. Brillant posting — fluid, moving lines and circles of all sizes — worked, crafted, wrought and suited to the need and calling of that time …. after all — even the strongest and best buildings need to be able to work and shift with the very ground beneath them just as sails need to shift with the wind …..

  7. This is an issue I’ve seen dealt with in another context. Our central service considers a group founded to serve a particular sub-population (by gender, age, sexuality, language . . .) to be in keeping with the traditions if, should someone outside the group show up in need of a meeting, at least one person from the group is willing to go out and make a meeting with that other one in need. To be separate, one need not be exclusive.

  8. [Comment deleted by Hecate Demeter]

  9. [Comment deleted by Hecate Demeter]

  10. This is beautifully, kindly, stated.

  11. Again I love your words, and I love your inclusiveness. The issue is that nobody ought to be forced to circle with those whom with they do not share comfort. It is a no-brainer and should not be an issue in the least. This is what has confused me. I also have followed Z the trailblazer since the early years and have read many of the other core feminist (I feel they are core – Mary Daly being the core of the core!) authors who have much to say about the right to preserve our mysteries. I am one who wishes to preserve them and this is not an afront to the men or the trans-folk, it is not prejudice, but reasoned and thoughtful.

    Thanks for shining a light as always.

  12. Beautifully done , and touches in harmony with my own feelings . Our ForeMothers are such treasures , and we need to held them sacred , you are inspired of the GODDESS herself I am certain . . Thank you so much
    Blessings !

  13. Thank you for sharing! I like the circle imagery, the Sacred Private wbw circles for those of us, including us Lesbians who have been Dianic oriented from the early days of that Path, because not only is Z Lesbian, she also catered to Lesbians who had NO WHERE To go, as we claimed our Female Power, worshipping the Goddess energy and each other, and ALL that is Female! Many shamed by the male dominated religions they came from. For me, it’s the Dyke Witches that brought me out!

    I too only circle with women, these two areas of my life are for wbw only: my Sexuality and Spirituality as to the very depths of my soul, I honor the Sacred Female…..and have for 31 years!

    And then there are other types of Gatherings like Pride, park celebrations of ritual, Berkeley Pagan Pride, where all Pagans can come together and worshippers of the Goddess. I for one have no intention of going to Pantheacon. I think one problem with it is it’s in an artificial contained space, whereas even Berkeley Pagan Pride, one can sit outdoors in the elements, in the sun, feel the breeze and be in the park with grass under your feet, and ground if need be.
    -FeistyAmazon

    P.S. The circle imagery reminds me of one of my favorite chants: “We are a circle within a Circle with no beginning and never ending….”

  14. Thank you for your beautiful words and reasoning. I, too, sometimes feel a need to bond with my sisters because of shared exclusive experiences. It is those exclusive experiences that make us the women that we are.

    Circles are a beautiful as an illustration as we can see circles as individual as well as concentric and overlapping. It is in this myriad of possibilities that makes being Pagan such a wonderful thing.

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