Saturday I was in Berkeley attending the Pagan Alliance Festival, where I was an honored guest. I’d been nominated as grand marshal for the year, a position they call “Keeper of the Light.” It was completely unexpected and I was deeply honored to be recognized by so many in the extended Pagan community of the Bay Area.
It was a beautiful day in the park, as my friend Victoria Slind-Flor covers very well in her blog. The organizers really did a wonderful job putting the whole thing together, from the parade through downtown Berkeley to the all-day festival with vendors and performers. I was asked to say a few words to the crowd, a wonderful opportunity to convey my thanks as well as express some of my observations and suggestions about Paganism as a whole. What follows is an extended version of my speech; the theme of the event was Spirits Evolving, so I focused on issues of leadership and the directions for growth that I would like to see Pagans take in the years to come:
Thank you Shay for the introduction, and thank you to all the members of the Pagan Alliance for bringing me here today. I was very surprised to be given this honor. It’s true that I have been active in the Pagan community for a long time, but I have never been very comfortable in the spotlight and don’t see myself as a leader in that sense. On further reflection though I realized that may have been the point: not all of us are comfortable taking center stage, yet all of us have ways that we exercise leadership in our communities. All of us have ways of bringing the light of our spirituality to bear on the world around us.
I am lucky to have found ways to contribute to Paganism that also feed my own interests. Serpentine Music grew out of my life as a musician and my appreciation for the musical liturgy many of us were creating. I have been able to serve the community by recording this material and by making old, rare recordings available that otherwise would not be.
My involvement in writing Circle Round with Starhawk and Diane Baker grew out of the natural concerns I had raising five children. I was constantly searching for ways to impart the values of a Pagan worldview and help develop their magical skills, while at the same time teaching them how to get along in mainstream society.
Both of these efforts have reached a vast number of people while also encouraging my own growth and feeding my own curiosities and interests. I think this is the key to having a long-term commitment to service work: to find something that feeds you as well as your community.
Even with all the work we do fostering our own traditions, I believe it is essential for us to be active participants in our democracy as well. Pagan culture has come as far as it has in the United States because we live in a tolerant society. Now we are facing the greatest threat to our freedoms that I have seen in my lifetime: the attack on our Constitution and Bill of Rights by religious fundamentalists in this country.
The challenge here for Pagans is that our political work tends to focus on opposing the destructive powers within our government: fighting against habitat destruction sanctioned by the Department of Forestry; working against the INS; protesting the regressive thinking coming out of Washington. We have stood against the government for so long, and have been so hurt by the cynical use of patriotism in support of its destructive policies, that it makes us cynical about the country as a whole and prevents us from leaping to defend it from those who would destroy it from within, in the name of their faith.
If we want to help defend our way of life from this deadly assault by the religious right, we need to allow ourselves to be pro-America in some way. I know this must be about the most radical thing anyone could say standing on a stage in Berkeley, but we must find a way to balance our outspoken criticism of the things that are wrong in this country with outspoken pride in the things that are right. We simply cannot cede the ground of patriotism to those who would destroy our country in order to “save” it.
This is important for Pagans because we understand magic and symbolism. A flag is an important magical symbol. Voting is a transformative act. It is a trap of hubris for Pagans to think that our Gods will protect us from the baneful magic of those in power, and that we need not participate in the national ritual of voting. Particularly as women in this country with our right to safe and legal abortion under attack, there is no excuse for abdicating our power to vote in favor of performing arcane rituals to bind our oppressors. Our feminist foremothers would be rolling over in their graves to see what we have done with the rights they fought so hard to secure for us, in the name of our faith.
Pagan culture in this country is strong and vibrant. We need days like today, where we can celebrate who we are with pride. We need rituals like the one Joi just led, that add energy to our vision of birthing cultures of Beauty, Balance and Delight. We need to vote, to let our voices be heard on every level. And we also need to reach out to our neighbors of different faiths, to search for common ground and create the understanding and compassion that is the bedrock of a tolerant society. Learning to create alliances in spite of religious, cultural, or lifestyle differences is essential to all the good things that our country stands for.
That is why the interfaith work done so tirelessly by my predecessors here — Macha NightMare, Rowan Fairgrove, Don Frew, Patrick McCollum — is so vital for our current and future freedoms. That is why raising our magical children to be conversant in mainstream culture is so important. And that is how each of us, keeping the light of our culture and belief alive in whatever ways we can, will contribute to not only the growth of Pagan traditions but the vitality of this nourishing land we live on, this rich stew of cultures that we call home.