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Another Interview with a Witch Concerning Dealing with Local Officials

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Last week, I interviewed Byron Ballard about her experiences with local officials in Buncome County who use their positions to privilege Christians. This week, I talked to Literata about her experiences with court officials in Arlington, Virginia.

Q: Please tell us about your experience.

A: I had difficulty getting the state to recognize me as clergy in order to perform marriages. Virginia is unusual in requiring marriage officiants to register with the state first, and has tried to clamp down on unqualified officiants, especially people who are “ordained” through online resources such as the Universal Life Church. The laws are somewhat vague about the exact qualifications, so how applications are handled can vary widely in different jurisdictions. My jurisdiction did not want to recognize me and wouldn’t say why, but the problem arose when I told them that my religious organization didn’t have a physical location, such as a church building. I went to Americans United for Separation of Church and State, and they were willing to help me. I can’t say enough good things about AU! After an exchange of letters with AU the county officials allowed me to register as a wedding officiant.

You can see my blog posts about it here and here.

Q: Did you reach out to groups such as ACLU or Americans United and, if so, what was your interaction with them? Do you have suggestions for those who seek the assistance of such groups?

A: I contacted both AU and the ACLU, and AU helped me. AU is much more involved in local issues, and I would strongly encourage anyone with concerns to go to AU. I also urge Pagans to consider supporting AU’s work, whether it’s financially or spreading the word, because AU is responsive to us and to our needs. In a situation like this, you need expert advice, and you need to listen to it. That’s incredibly frustrating, but it’s the truth.

Q: Did you work any magic around the issue and, if so, and if you are willing, please describe.

A: I worked magic in a number of different ways. I grounded into my landbase over and over again, since this was a very local issue, and I called on all the Elements to support me in their particular ways, especially for strength and patience. I called on Columbia, and on Justice, many many times. Before I went in to the courthouse to apply again, I called on these Powers and infused my paperwork with magic of clarity and persuasiveness, as well as the rightness of my claim, and grounded myself with calm.

Q: Did you publicize your issue on social media? Why or why not? Was it helpful? Do you have suggestions for others in similar situations about when/how to use social media?

A: I did, and it gave me what I would refer to as the magic of community support. The personal comments of support helped me greatly. A number of Pagan groups, both regional and national, sent official letters of support. Those helped, especially because showing that I had roots in the community and was not just out there on my own mattered in a legal sense.

On the other hand, anyone in a situation like this needs to be aware that there will also be plenty of people who disagree with you, think you should be handling it differently, or whatever. There will be people who haven’t even read your story who will tell you to do what you’ve already done, or why you should do something that you’ve said is impossible, and oh sweet goddess of Justice there will be instant legal experts who will spew enough manure to keep your garden blooming for a year. If you can take the good and listen to the constructive criticism and leave the deconstructive criticism, then opening yourself up on social media or online can help. If you have trouble with any of that, then consider limiting the ways you are going to engage with the general public. Again, you need expert advice, and you need to consider all wisdom offered, but you are also going to have to discard some things and disagree with some people.

Along the lines of the letters of support, I also had people write individual letters expressing their outrage and naive legal opinions to the Clerk of Court on my behalf, and people talking about a larger letter-writing campaign. That was not helpful; it might have been a strategy to try later on, but the community needs to listen to the people in the situation (and the advice of the experts they’re listening to) to coordinate efforts most successfully. As a supporter, be willing to get on a list to get updates about more action in the future, for example.

Q: Can you share one “Don’t do this” tip and one “Be sure to do this” tip?

A: Do: As I’ve said above, get expert advice and listen to it. I can just about guarantee that it’s going to involve long delays, exchanges of letters, and tremendous frustration. You can’t do this alone; but you need to be strategic about how you mobilize and use expert advice and others’ support.

Don’t: Take any action you might regret later. You are going to be under scrutiny. It’s not fair, it’s not nice, and it’s infuriating, but it’s the reality, and you’ll do more good by recognizing that and making choices that will serve as a means to get you to the end you want most. Before you do anything, think about how it will look when the other side presents it. You may justifiably be angry enough to start yelling about your rights and the Constitution, but if you’re escorted out of the courthouse under guard, that’s going to hurt your situation overall. Don’t get carried away with the rightness of your cause. Be civil, even to people who insult you or denigrate your religion. Play the game, because the greatest satisfaction is playing the game successfully, because then we can start to level out the playing board for others like us.

If I may reiterate a third point: For supporters, you need to let the person in the situation take the lead on deciding on courses of action. I don’t care if you think a change.org petition will solve this, or if you feel divinely moved to write your own letters, or whatever. Don’t take independent action without consulting the person in the situation, who presumably is listening to expert advice. Do stay engaged, prepare for the long haul of months and years, and be ready to do what’s needed when asked.

Picture found here.

May the Goddess Guard Her. May She Find Her Way to the Summerlands. May Her Friends & Family Know Peace.

When Death Comes

~ Mary Oliver

When death comes
like the hungry bear in autumn;
when death comes and takes all the bright coins from his purse
 
to buy me, and snaps the purse shut;
when death comes
like the measle-pox
 
when death comes
like an iceberg between the shoulder blades,
 
I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering:
what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?
 
And therefore I look upon everything
as a brotherhood and a sisterhood,
and I look upon time as no more than an idea,
and I consider eternity as another possibility,
 
and I think of each life as a flower, as common
as a field daisy, and as singular,
 
and each name a comfortable music in the mouth,
tending, as all music does, toward silence,
 
and each body a lion of courage, and something
precious to the earth.
 
When it’s over, I want to say all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.
 
When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
 
I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.
 
I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.

Margot Adler slipped into the Summerlands today and I find that I’m breaking into tears at odd moments, gasping, stopping to try and get my balance. I took Mary Daley‘s death hard, and cried for a few days when Madeline L’Engle died, but I don’t usually take the deaths of my favorite authors quite so badly.

Margot Adler’s book, Drawing Down the Moon, was the second book I ever read about Paganism. The first was The Politics of Women’s Spirituality by Charlene Spretnak. I think that Ms. Spretnak’s bibliography sent me to Drawing Down the Moon — I’m so old that this was pre-internet and pre-Amazon. When I finally got my hands on a copy of Drawing Down the Moon, I read it cover to cover, closed, it, opened it back up, and read it another six or nine times.

The Politics of Women’s Spirituality gave words to what I believed, but Drawing Down the Moon let me see what it could look like to actually live that life somewhere besides in my head. There were real people, with names and geographies, who were actually living Pagan lives and conducting Pagan worship. With. Other. Pagans.

This wasn’t something I was going to have to either construct all on my own or just spend my life imagining. “And that,” as Mr. Frost wrote, “has made all the difference.” I will always be more than grateful to Ms. Adler for that gift.

It may not seem so straight a path to others, but my interior life has been a pretty unbroken line from The Wind in the Willows, to The Secret Garden, to A Wrinkle in Time, to the Crosswicks Journals, to The Word for World is Forest, to Howard’s End, to The Essential Rumi, to The Politics of Women’s Spirituality, to Drawing Down the Moon, to The Fifth Sacred Thing, to The Bramble Bush, to the Baker’s Creek Seed Catalogue. And if you just say “Wind in the Willows to Baker’s Creek Seed Catalogue,” it doesn’t sound so far a trip at all.

Ms. Adler was only ten years older than I am and so, not surprisingly, I guess, it seems to me that she died very young. Which is what sent me looking this evening for one of my favorite Mary Oliver poems. I think that Ms. Adler did more than simply visit this world. She goes forth shining and I will remember her. And what is remembered, lives.

/update: Thanks to Judith Laura for the careful proofing!

Sunday Ballet Blogging

Fields of Gold

I spent time with some meadows today. I highly recommend it.

Bonus Wednesday Night Poetry Blogging

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Praying
~Mary Oliver
 
It doesn’t have to be
the blue iris, it could be
weeds in a vacant lot, or a few
small stones; just
pay attention, then patch

a few words together and don’t try
to make them elaborate, this isn’t
a contest but the doorway

into thanks, and a silence in which
another voice may speak.

Picture found here.

A Song for Lughnasadah

Advice Following Town of Greece from a Witch with Experience

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The Wild Hunt has reported recently on a number of instances in which local officials use the power of their office to discriminate against Pagans. In the wake of Town of Greece, we’re likely to see more of this.

I talked with Byron Ballard, who’s had her share of run-ins with local officials who don’t seem to care much for the First Amendment to see what advice she has for Pagans dealing with these sorts of issues. Thanks to Byron for taking the time to discuss what she’s learned!

Q: Please tell us about your experience.

A: Mine isn’t only one instance. It’s an ongoing war of wills so my answers may be rather general.

The most recent focus in my area has been the inappropriate “Christian default setting” in the public schools. What started it was the delivery of Gideon bibles to a public elementary school and that set up a domino effect that is still playing out here.

Q: Did you reach out to groups such as ACLU or Americans United and, if so, what was your interaction with them? Do you have suggestions for those who seek the assistance of such groups?

A: We called on Lady Liberty League (LLL) and state and national ACLU, and LLL got us in touch with Americans United for Separation of Church and State. ACLU NC, AU, and LLL were all excellent allies with strong responses. There was a sense from them that the behavior was both egregious and illegal, and their legal support was especially helpful in getting two policies passed at the Board of Education level. Because of the intense scrutiny, the school board also put in place the Superintendent’s Faith-Based Leadership Advisory Council, on which I serve.

There are still ongoing violations that have to be brought to the Superintendent’s attention and then acted upon, but we are making baby steps in the right direction. I personally got to live out a fantasy of mine when I sat at a boardroom table across from the superintendent (who is actually a good guy) and the school systems legal department. I slid a fat folder across the table to the lawyer and watched as he opened it to reveal a letter from the lawyer who was letting the system know–in no uncertain terms–that without a policy in place an expensive lawsuit was the next step. The lawyer read the letter, closed the folder and slid it back across the table to me and I smiled.

Q: Did you work any magic around the issue?

A: Yes, we did do magical workings in support of the desired outcome.

Q: Did you publicize your issue on social media? Why or why not? Was it helpful? Do you have suggestions for others in similar situations about when/how to use social media?

A: Media–yes, and ugh. The Pagan woman who brought the initial complaint went to the local media very quickly and it got on the wire services not long after. This was not necessarily helpful, as it solidified opinion on both sides. We set up a support page on Facebook and that was comforting for the family involved and gave their supporters a place to interact. We also worked with the local interfaith council (I was at the time the convener of the group). They were moderately helpful, especially at public meetings.

Q: Can you share some tips with people who find themselves in similar situations?

Suggestions–

Keep a detailed written timeline of suspect events. Detailed. Written. Timeline.

Stay calm, listen, be professional and persistent. Be firm and professional and try to control your temper and your fear.

Don’t be afraid to check on the status of your case and be aware that your is not the only one being dealt with.

Be strategic. Create a multi-pronged approach, especially as regards the media.

Find your allies and be expressive in your gratitude for their assistance. You can’t do this alone.

Go directly to the person or persons who can remedy the situation and go with a willingness to fix the problem, to find solutions, even to–gasp!–compromise, if need be.

Do not charge into a situation demanding heads on pikes.

Be patient and persistent.

Don’t be a drama queen.

Don’t be vague about details.

Listen really hard and read all materials–emails etc–thoroughly.

Try to establish relationships with the people who can make the needed change. It doesn’t hurt you and it can make things a bit smoother. That’s it, I think. Hope some of this helps!

Picture of Byron found here.

A Place Without a Witch — Chapter Forty-One

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“Gem-me!” Susan said, striding uninvited in to Gemmy’s cubicle and using the pronunciation of her name that sounded kind of like a baby, happy to have learned how to make sounds. “You busy? I’m dropping by — part of my ‘managing by walking around’ technique — just to have a friendly chat with you about this request that you sort-of submitted.”

Gemmy grounded, Goddess help her, she did. Thankfully, it had become almost second-nature by now. And she drew in a deep breath before responding to Susan, who, within a period of 48 hours, had managed to alienate nearly everyone at Interior.

“What do you mean, ‘sort-of submitted’?” Gemmy asked. “I did submit a request to use a fraction of my accrued leave. Is that what you mean?”

“Well, Gem,” Susan chirped, “of course I want people to take their legitimate leave. It’s good for morale and that’s good for my departments. Of course, you seem to have failed to really explain the purpose of your leave. You just wrote, ‘Personal Time,’ which doesn’t really tell me what you’re doing. And now that I’m in charge of productivity here, I have to know WHY people want leave before I can sign off on it. So I’m not approving this request. You’ll need to work these days,” Susan said, giving Gemmy a long, slow, direct look.

“Look, Susan,” Gemmy said, “You and I both know that ‘Personal Time’ is what everyone writes to explain their use of accrued leave. You don’t get to decide what is, or isn’t, appropriate. But since you seem to want to know, I’ll tell you. I am going to take those days off to go to Virginia Beach with Paris. He’s going to a conference and he asked me to go with him. We’re looking forward to spending more time together and telling each other our stories. I understand that’s rough for you. I get that you’d hoped that you two could rekindle your high-school flame. But Paris and I are together, we’re going to Virginia Beach, and you’re not going to stop it. Am I clear?”

Susan stood for a long, long time, glaring at Gemmy. “Oh, well, in that case, go ahead,” she finally chirped. “You could have just said so. No one here cares.”

A few days later, Gemmy slid into the front seat of Paris’ truck. He threw her suitcase into the back seat and handed her a steaming latte, bowing and laughing, “Your beverage de travel, Mademoiselle.”

“Merci,” Gemmy laughed, inhaling the scent of roasted coffee beans and grabbing Paris’ hand. “I can’t wait to get to the beach. My neighbors are feeding Peschecat. I have a new bathing suit. My work e-mail is turned off for the next few days and you, my love, are going to tell me all about your childhood in the French city of lights. Go ahead, I’m all ears and we have a long drive ahead of us.”

Paris laughed. “You’re going to be bored. My childhood was boringly, pedestrianly, normal. You see, my hippy parents moved to Paris in the 60’s . . . .”

Picture found here.

Sunday Ballet Blogging

Saturday Night Slow Dancing on the Porch Blogging