One spirit in the dark

There’s a chant out there from the Spiral Rhythm CD I Am – that goes

One spirit in the dark, like a candle wavers.
Many spirits joined as one, burn with the power of the blazing sun.
There is strength in community, the circle empowers you and me.
The circle binds yet sets us free, as we will, so mote it be.

I listened tonight, as I walked home from my evening reference shift at work (random music shuffle is a form of divination and sometimes consolation) while I was thinking about a recent post on the blog Making Light which essentially asks “What happens when new spiritual experience opens up under our feet, and we’re not sure what to do with it?”

My answer is far too long for a comment there – and I knew this before I even started typing – so I figured it would be a fine post here instead. (Look! This blog still exists! Really!)

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Wicca, censorship, and the library

[So, one of my goals this year is to update this blog weekly on average. I did not quite expect to start with this topic, though.]

I’ve just seen a number of news stories come across my professional blog RSS feed about the case of a resident of Salem, Missouri (Anaka Hunter) who (supported by the ACLU) has sued both the library and various other named parties (including the library director) for blocking reasonable access to material – namely information about Wicca and Native American religious practices, among other topics.

 Ars Technica has an excellent overview, and links to the PDF of the complaint.

Reading the stories I’ve seen so far, I have both a few questions – and the thought that a lot of people don’t know how libraries are supposed to handle this sort of thing, or what the common considerations around filtering/etc. are in public libraries and schools.

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Ritual limits: plans that can help

Last post in this three post series on ritual limits and some ways to handle them thoughtfully, caringly, and meaningfully.

Again, I do not claim to have all the answers: just a few things that might be of help. Mostly, this post is about policies and forms.

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Ritual limits: role of the event planner

A comment from a friend about my last post brought up some excellent questions about the role of a larger organisational body in the question of ritual or workshop or whatever limits. (As, in the case in question, when a ritual is taking place at a larger event.)

I didn’t talk about this in the previous post, both for length reasons, and because the event organiser side is a bit more complicated for me to talk about clearly, but my friend made some excellent points that I do want to talk about more.

Background and disclaimer:

This is my personal blog, and here I am speaking only for me, and not for any organization I’ve volunteered with, either currently or in the past. All clear? Good.

That said, my experiences shape my opinions: and you might want to know where that experience comes from.

I’ve thought about many of these issues (and the more general question of how to make public and large scale events more accessible to more people) a great deal in part because of my time on the board of Twin Cities Pagan Pride since 2005, running both the fall Pagan Pride event (a two-day event in 2007, 2008, 2009, and 2010, though we’re planning on going back to one day in 2011 to find a space with better walk-through/casual traffic) and our new project, Paganicon, (taking place later this month), which is a weekend hotel-based conference (albeit much smaller than Pantheacon: we’re likely to have somewhere between 100 and 150 people this year, which is just fine.)

I’ve also attended a small invite only Pagan festival for several years, and ran and helped with some other community focused events in the Society for Creative Anachronism and in science fiction fandom over the years, both places I’ve learned some things I apply to my current Pagan focus. Reasonably varied experience, basically but I haven’t seen and done everything, either.

I’ve got a particular interest for various reasons in overall accessibility of events – not just mobility needs or food allergies or identity limits, but things ranging from choices in accessibility tools (i.e. lipreading seats vs. ASL interpreters vs. real-time transcription options for those with hearing impairment) to looking at things like learning style differences, scheduling, and other details.

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Responsible ritual announcing

I’ve been thinking a lot about conversations around a ritual at last week’s Pantheacon that turned away both transgender women and men at the door without previously making it clear that it was a limited-access ritual. (Two posts with background and links to additional comments can be found here and here.)

[It’s worth noting that other rituals at the event were somewhat more explicit about limitations: my quick count through the program found 4 rituals identified as for women only, 2 identified as for men only, a couple with age limitations, and one ritual with additional limitations: all-white clothing and that participants not be bleeding (either via menstruation or cuts/scrapes)]

My thoughts on this are complex, both because of some of my own deeply held beliefs about ritual, and because I’ve had several years of doing Pagan event organizing. And also because of the knowledge that gender identity, the creation of women-only spaces (and how one defines who can participate in them) are both complex topics, and ones where there’s a lot of history, and many people on various angles of the conversation who have strong feelings, many of whom have felt hurt, left out, or otherwise not listened to at various points in the debates on the topic.

My first belief is that when we are talking about participatory religious ritual, that touches about transformation of the self, vulnerability within community or before the Gods, or anything else of that kind, that a fundamental right of the potential participants is to decide whether or not to participate in that ritual at that time. That means providing sufficient information to make an informed decision.

My second belief is the idea of religious group practice as a haptocracy, a word I coined from the Greek hapto or ‘to work’. In other words, the idea that the people doing the largest work to make something happen get the most say in how it happens. The people doing the work to plan and facilitate the ritual don’t stop being participants because they’re planning the thing: they still get to decide if there are circumstances in which they would not be comfortable participating.

Based on these two principles, I do clearly believe that if a group of people want to put on the effort of a ritual, they get to decide who can come. Those choices have a wide variety of consequences and results – but they still get to choose.

Likewise, people who might be interested in attending get to decide if they want to be in that space in that way, given the stated limits, requirements, or other description.

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