Thursday, March 27, 2014

Skyclad and the law

Everyone in the pagan blogosphere is talking about the recent arrest of pagan writer, musician and personality Kenny Klein.  For those who do not know, Klein was arrested in New Orleans for possession of sexually charged images of children under 13 years of age and admitted to sending and receiving such images via computer.  The story can be found in a number of locations, but the news story is available here:

In the debate happening at on the subject of Klein's arrest there was a difference of opinion about a side issue: the wisdom of minor children to be allowed at functions or public festivals where nudity may be present.  From a legal standpoint, I am in no position to make a definitive judgement.  I have read that if the function is private and it happens on private property that there is nothing illegal about children attending such events.  I would imagine that this would be the case for a family function or something like that where the participating family or families may be naturists. Defenders of people's right to raise their children in their spiritual traditions may argue that they have the right to raise their children around nudity as they see nudity as natural and in many cases even sacred.  Opponents of children's attendance at such events are uncomfortable with the idea because, while ritual nudity is one thing, they draw the line at the legal age of consent.  I happen to believe that children should not be made to feel ashamed of their bodies, and that parents have the right to raise their children with ethics and morals which are consistent with their own.  That said, I am not sure a public festival is the appropriate place to make that statement.  Let me elaborate....

One person posted in the comments section of the blog in question that if one opposed to nudity of adults around children, or children participating in that nudity, that they are not practicing a "nature religion" because children are born naked.  This is patently absurd in my opinion.  Nudity doesn't define a nature religion last I checked, and just as parents have the right to take their children to pagan festivals where nudity is present, pagan parents who prefer to keep their skyclad practice between adults have the right to decide such for their families without being seen as lesser.  In addition, are pagans who prefer not expose their children to nudity to be made to feel unwelcome at festivals?  Are we to assume that every pagan who attends a public festival practices ritual nudity?  Regardless of the rules in our individual traditions, families and communities, we MUST take into account that there are folks out there who will see sexual connotations where there are none, and the addition of minors to that can make for a very sticky situation.  Also, children are not able to offer legal consent.  When you are nude, all the rules change.  A simple hug can be seen as something else to a disapproving onlooker.

We have a duty to ourselves and to the pagan community at large to act with discernment when we are out in public situations.  Like it or not, we are representing one group or another.  As a traditional initiate, I cannot assume that my entire trad is not being judged based on my behavior or statements when I identify as an initiate of that trad.  Right or wrong, this is the way of our society.  Mr. Klein's arrest reflects poorly on the whole pagan community, just as pedophili priests reflect poorly on all Catholics.  While intellectually unfair, it is a simple fact.  It is the opinion of this witch that children and ritual nudity should only exist in private events (truly private, in a family home) if it exists at all.  If I knew that an event or rite would be skyclad and include minors I would decline to attend. 

Another issue here which has come up in private conversation is the subject of photos taken at pagan events.  This is a serious subject since pagan people often have varying levels of "out-ness" with different levels of society.  Maybe with family they are completely public about their religion or practice, with friends it might depend, and at work no one may know that they are pagan.  A photo can change all that with or without their permission.  The use of the internet and social media can make a pic spread like wildfire - especially when every modern cell phone is equipped with a camera.  Please be considerate with your camera usage when out at pagan events.  Now, add naked minors into equation and we have a potentially litigious situation.  

In other words, behave like someone is watching you because someone probably is.   

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Wiccanate... what the hell is that?

I was alerted to a blog by Jason Mankey by a post from a friend on Facebook in which he talks about a new word that seems to have gained a bit of recognition.  That word is "Wiccanate".  If I understand correctly, it describes the sort of practice which is derived from Traditional Wica (ie. Gardnerian, Alexandrian etc) but is available in published works and does not include traditional initiatory practices.  I am aware that a debate over a moniker to describe such practice which is palatable to all concerned has been going on for rather a long time.  After reading the blog, I noticed that there was another subject which Mankey raises which also seems equally unwieldy; that of "Wiccan Privilege", the debate and conversations about which have apparently given rise to the use of the term Wiccanate.  I have a couple thoughts on both these topics.

I have to agree with Mankey that the term Wiccanate is ridiculous.  As he says, "Initiatory or Traditional are pretty good words for describing a particular branch of the Wiccan tree, terms like General, Eclectic, and perhaps even Non-Denominational also get the point across. I haven’t even gotten to the most descriptive terms yet; words like Gardnerian, Dianic, Alexandrian, and Odyssean. All of those terms say plenty. I don’t see why anyone needs to use the term “Wiccanate” as a descriptor."- See more at:  

I am in agreement with Mankey that words like eclectic suit just fine, but those to whom the term would refer have often raised objection on the basis that "eclectic" seems to hint at inferiority.  I will simply say that there will never be a term which satisfies all involved.  Many of those in the Traditional Wiccan communities feel that the term Wicca has been co opted to describe any number of practices which were derived from Wicca but do not include coven initiation and teaching in covens run by lineaged leaders.  There are also a good number of "beliefs of one" who scream out for the right to call themselves Wiccan because they have read several books and have the right to make Wicca what they want it to be.  Mankey suggests that if we don't like the use of the term Wicca as it is used today that perhaps we should take it up with Llewellyn Publications who has applied the term to so many and various practices in their books.  While the point that Llewellyn has been somewhat responsible for the redefinition of Wicca while turning a profit is well taken, the co opting of the word Wicca began long ago before Llewellyn was the force that it is today.  Not only did the word get taken and used to mean something that it did not initially describe, many of the ritual forms went along for the ride and got integrated into many practices which don't even refer to themselves as Wicca.  Wiccanate just seems to be a somewhat derogatory word.  To those it describes it implies "not the real deal" and to Wicca it implies "the hydra which never had a definition and never will".

On the subject of Wiccan privilege, I have to say that this annoys me.  The idea is that much of public Pagan life seems to be Wicca-centric.  Pagan Pride Day events are often coordinated by nominally Wiccan groups, the venders and seminars seem to cater to Wiccan practice and much of the public seems to have conflated Pagan and Wicca as being synonymous.  Pagan is a term which should be able to encompass a large and diverse community of which Wicca is a small (but popularly identified) part. The blame for this "Wiccan privilege" seems to be being leveled at Wicca as a whole, as if it is some plot to keep out other practices.  Perhaps the Wicca-man is trying to keep someone down?  Let me just go on record and say that a large number of Traditional Wica that I know wish that Wica/Wicca had not been so popularized that it lost its original context.  Most of us were happy to not have shows like Charmed, and to have booths at craft faires slinging "Blessed Be" bumperstickers. My point is, if such privilege exists, it was circumstantially created and was not asked for or deliberately done by the Wiccan community at large.

I had a brief conversation with Macha Nightmare at Pantheacon and she told me about a panel in which she took part which centered around a similar beef relating to interfaith work.  The idea that groups felt deliberately excluded seems common to both.  To both of these conversations, if in fact they really are two conversations and not one, I say, "Get over it".  It takes tremendous amounts of work to be involved with things like PPD and interfaith oganizations.  Public presence of a large oganization which might deserve the word "privilege" is the effort of many.  The sort of time required to be a true public force is significant, and must be balanced with the rest of one's life.  It is not the job of event organizers to seek you out and cajole you into participation.  If you see an imbalance in perspective, for gods' sake get out there and get involved.  If they say you cannot participate I will then entertain your objections.  Until then, it's just whining.  

Further, just because the term Wicca has been hijacked and used widely, and maybe even by the large number of groups which seem to dominate the public Pagan scene, does not mean that Wicca derives much "priviledge" from it.  As a matter of fact, I would argue that being told that your practices are good enough to steal, but the lore and reasons for doing them are not, is a poor example of privilege.  Most of the Traditional Wiccan covens which I know personally have limited public presence for a couple of reasons.  First, many have retired from public life following the "witch wars" of the 80s and 90s and don't wish to be officially involved with a commuity which offers further potential for drama.  Second, they feel that their presence in the public pagan scene may align them with groups which are flighty, nutty or (worse) unethical.  Further, to be told that you do not have the right to define your own communities and filter out those who you do not find suitable is often at the center of discussion between traditionalists and eclectics and an argument is seen as helpful to no one.  To be told that you have something that we want and we are entitled to have it does not speak of privilege.  It sounds like what some Southwest Native Americans have described as the way that they feel about white people with turquoise jewelry and dreamcatchers in their car windows.  Would we call them privileged?

I would never suggest that there are not Wiccans, traditional or otherwise, which look down their crooked and warty noses at other Pagans.  I would argue that their numbers are no larger than those in other practices who do the same.  Ceremonial Magicians often look down their noses at Wicca as being a fad, some Traditional Initiatory Witches look down on Wicca as a New Age "white light" religion for masses of ethically over simplified non-risk-takers, and on and on and on.  People will always find a way to make themselves feel imporant by professing the enlightened nature of their beliefs even if  they betray their own prejudices by qualifying their statements with "except those people."  As Paganism moves toward a seat at the table of world religions, we will become more and more pressed to create clear definitions between this practice and that.  If this is undesirable, perhaps proponents of movement toward world religion status might wish to "slow their roll".  Looking at Christianity, we can see that one denomination is never satisfied with the doing, thinking and recognition received by another.  The infighting within world religions over belief, practice and doctrine are ours to inherit.  Lucky lucky us.  For those who feel that they are not as well represented in the Pagan community at large, I hope that you will come forward and join the conversation.  Without your participation, and maybe even your dissenting voice, nothing will change.  There are those who will be eager to listen.