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  • Editorial: Watching Teo be the Bishop in San Jose

    Editor’s Note:  PNC-Minnesota reprinted this editorial from PNC-Bay Area as Teo Bishop is a featured guest for 2013′s Sacred Harvest Festival.

    I enjoyed several rituals and workshops this year at Pantheacon and felt very happy to be a part of such a magical event. This year I had the privilege of going to a workshop in the Ár nDraiocht Fein (ADF) suite that actually turned out to be one of my all-time favorite experiences at Pantheacon. Teo Bishop did a talk called “Being the Bishop”; where he openly reflected on his life, career as Matt Morris, spiritual transition into Teo Bishop, and the merging of both sides of himself today. As the writer of the blog, Bishop in the Grove, I have been reading his blog for some time, yet did not know what to expect. I was not disappointed.

    Not only was Teo engaging and transparent in his sharing of his life but he showed a very intimate side of himself through his stories and his music. It was the first time I got to hear Teo sing in person, I had only heard one or two songs online after finding out about his career as Matt Morris. I sat with my husband and a hand full of close friends as if I were at a concert in someone’s living room. He sang and I cried. He talked and I listened. He smiled and I smiled; it was a truly transformative experience to see someone talk about the introspective transition between fame and spirituality.

    teo presentations pconThere was no special stage, no lighting crew and no back-up band. There was only Teo and a bunch of people immersed in the world of his magic inside of a small hospitality suite on the second floor of the Double Tree Hotel.

    Teo sung several songs from his 2010 album When Everything Breaks Open. He played his acoustic guitar and pulled from a place deep within his spirit. While he mentioned that his songs were not Pagan, I still heard the internal struggle of where he was spirituality, at the time, in his lyrics.

    teo bishop

    Picture courtesy of David Salisbury

    As one of the upcoming 2013 national guest for the Sacred Harvest Festival in Minnesota, Teo Bishop is transcending beyond his blog and moving into an arena of Pagan artists that comes from behind the screen.  If this presentation at Pantheacon is a small portion of what I can expect from his spot on the upcoming Sacred Harvest Festival ticket, I am even more excited to share Pagandom with him. This version of spiritual transformation went beyond the typical talk about an author or a singer, and went into the intimate and authentic life of a true artist.

     

    Crystal Blanton, Pagan Newswire Collective Bay Area

    Pagans and Privilege panel packs them in at PantheaCon

    One of the most talked about educational sessions at Pantheacon, a conference for Pagans, Heathens, Indigenous Non-European religions hosted in San Jose, California each President’s Day weekend, wasn’t part of the official programming.  It was the Pagans and Privilege panel which explored the layers and effects of privilege within our religious community.  Panel members included  Elena Rose, Xochiquetzal Duti Odinsdottir, River Higginbotham and past Sacred Harvest Festival guest of honor Crystal Blanton.  Ms. Blanton and her family continued to attend  Sacred Harvest Festival since her first introduction to the festival even though they live in California.  The panel was moderated by T. Thorn Coyle, who has held workshops in the Twin Cities and across the USA.

    Snapseed_8

    Panelists from left to right: Elena Rose, Xochiquetzal Duti Odinsdottir, Crystal Blanton, River Higginbotham

    The panel would spend an hour exploring how to recognize privilege and entitlement and open up dialogue around what can be a very divisive and contentious issue. Ms. Coyle had the original idea to create the panel and she recruited the four panelists.  Ms. Blanton said being part of the panel was a great opportunity because, “Being a Pagan of Color has it’s unique challenges and slowly we are finding different mediums to share our experiences to others so that we can grow and heal collectively. Yet, I do not think privilege begins or ends with race, I think it is a very layered concept that is often dismissed as a race thing only.”

    The Pagans and Privilege proposal was originally submitted to Pantheacon to be part of the official programming, but like many other proposals, didn’t make the cut.  Covenant of the Goddess, New Wiccan Church and  the New Reformed Order of the Golden Dawn shared the Presidential Suite, a large multi room con suite, and they offered the group space for the workshop.  News of the panel spread through social media.  And spread.

    “I didn’t know we would draw as many people as we did,” says Ms. Blanton.  “When the facebook invite started to circulate, I saw the people saying yes and thought maybe half would show. I was very wrong and yet very pleased that  people wanted to come to participate in such a complex discussion.”

    Minnesota Pagan and author Lisa Spiral Besnett wanted to attend the panel because of the respect she has for the panelists, but also because she has an interest in the topic, “I have a broad exposure to people and cultures and I am very much aware of the privilege I hold as a white woman, even when I’m Pagan identified.  I also experience global discrimination due to my weight and my wheelchair dependent son, and occasionally because of my religion.  Having spoken with Pagans with non-white/Eurocentric racial identities I also am aware that I am not always conscious of how I contribute to furthering my own privilege, even within the pagan community, sometimes at the expense of others.”

    Ms. Besnett, like an estimated 25 others, wasn’t able to attend the panel because the room was already packed.  “When people started sitting on the floor to make room, I got the idea that this might be a heavily attended program,’ said Blanton, “then I started wishing we had more  space and  more time.”  Forty two people wedged into the single room.

    The panel opened with Coyle talking about what is meant by privilege.  “If you have clean drinking water coming out of your faucet,  that is privilege.”  She emphasized the discussion about privilege would not be about placing blame, guilt, or victimization but about gaining a deeper understanding of one another and exploring differences and common ground.  Privilege is often defined as the advantages a person or group has that are so normal to them they are usually unaware of them.

    Panel moderator T Thorn Coyle

    Panel moderator T Thorn Coyle

    The panelists, who spoke from varied minority perspectives, then shared how each of them were privileged.  Ms. Rose, a transgender woman who was disowned by her family, discussed how her high quality of education gained her advantages not shared by most others.  Not only did she have a stronger academic background, she knew how to find information, which is a skill that confers privilege,  “I would say just look it up.  Just google it.  And they wouldn’t know what I meant.  They didn’t know how to find the information they needed.”

    Heather Biedermann, a Mankato Heathen, said she enjoyed how each of the panelists admitted to what privilege they had and how they were lucky to have various kinds of support.  ” These privileges were seen as blessings that made it possible for them to be there speaking to the group. Those who didn’t have the same privilege talked about how they had to deal without having that benefit, and it really opened my eyes to not take anything for granted. After hearing the stories of each on the panel, I felt like I identified even more with each person, even though all of us come from different backgrounds.”

    Ms. Odinsdottir had advice for those who sit at the pinnacle of privilege in the United States, “Don’t apologize for things you didn’t do, don’t say you’re sorry for what others have done.”  She told attendees that misplaced guilt is not helpful, but being aware we live in a white supremacist culture is. Some of the attendees leaned back or looked confused or unhappy at her statement.  She explained a white supremacist culture has nothing to do with being a skinhead, it is simply a culture where white culture is supreme and in a position of power.

    Mr. Higginbotham joked about his position of privilege saying he’s a white male with a good income.  Like the other panelists he echoed times in his life where he has unthinkingly enjoyed the benefits of privilege and how difficult it is when that privilege is yanked away from him.  He spoke about how, due to his religion, he’s had a deep concern he could lose his job.

    One of the most tweeted quotes from the panel came from Blanton, “We are all oppressed and we are all oppressors.”  This drew nods from many of the attendees and panelists as the words sunk in.  Later, Blanton spoke about this moment, “One moment that sticks out to me was the emotion that was evoked within me when speaking about my own privilege, a privilege that the kids I work with do not have. I think people automatically assume that those who talk about privilege are standing in a “victim” mentality role. I recognize that I am often the oppressed and the oppressor. I am humbled by a society that puts people in a position to be on both sides of the fence and awareness becomes the most important tool we can harness.”

    Ms. Biedermann said she thought the panel would focus on problems that were prevalent in the community and ways we can work to fix them. “Instead,” she said, “the focus was on the privileges that each of us may have in our lives and how those things may make life easier for ourselves compared to another person.”  She went on to say the panel “really opened my eyes to how all of these things can stack up and make a person have more opportunities than another. The idea here wasn’t that you should feel bad or guilty about these privileges, but instead to understand where other people are coming from, and to be more sensitive to what is going on in the world around you.”

    The hour long discussion was paced by Coyle who asked the audience and panel to stop and take a deep, slow breath.  These breath breaks were designed to allow participants and attendees to maintain control over powerful emotions and to let meaning sink in.  Towards the end of the discussion, Coyle invited attendees to continue the discussion at the Pagans Of Color hospitality suite, as their allotted time was almost up.

    Blanton says she plans to do more Pagans of Color programming next year at Pantheacon and said a second Shades of Faith book may be released by then.  That news is welcome to both Besnett and Beidermann.  “I would absolutely be interested in continuing this discussion in a larger venue,” said Ms. Besnett, “It’s not the kind of issue that can be resolved by a single event.”  Ms. Biedermann concurs, “As the panel talked, I knew that there was so much to say, and an hour or two wasn’t even enough time to touch the tip of the iceberg. Next year, I hope to see more sessions talking about privilege and diversity in Paganism. It’s so important that we explore these topics even more.”

    Restorative Justice II at Sacred Harvest Festival – Editorial

    Thursday, August 9th, the second community Restorative Justice (RJ)  circle was held at Sacred Harvest Festival,  a year after the first. The festival was a lot different place this year, it was observable that an immense amount of grief resolution and healing had taken place over a year. A focus on the festival theme of the sacred in our lives, and the power of love, had seemed to replace a sense of anxiety, hurt, grief, and fear that many had felt a year ago.

    The Circle was much smaller this year, down to 15 participants, with 6 having their first experience with RJ at this circle. The feelings of the nine who returned were softened,  and reflected a feeling of a return to normalcy, which in this case is defined by the tribal sense of family this festival has generated based on the feedback of thousands of individuals over fifteen years.

    Crystal Blanton had offered to facilitate this RJ circle again.  Crystal began with establishing a talking stick. This year she used a personal Phoenix tradition piece because:

    “What we are doing in this community. We are rising from circumstances, regardless of what those circumstances have been, and where everybody falls in that. Taking where we are at, and using it as a catalyst to grow into something beautiful and bigger, and in some ways unimaginable.”

    Crystal solicited;  “Any questions before we begin?   None were asked.

    Crystal Blanton

    Crystal:

    “We open with two pieces to set the tone for where we have been, and where we are going :”

    “The most precious gift we can offer others is our presence, when mindfulness embraces those we love they will bloom like flowers. “

    And from an article: “Contact beyond the Gods”

    Crystal read a quote about the spiritual importance of connection, and the connection we all have with each other. Acknowledging the importance of the process we are in, how we integrate the lessons we have learned into our spiritual being, and into the path before us. Not only learning how to work in community, but teaching how to work in community, for our children. Preserving what we have worked so hard for here.

    Crystal begins the RJ circle offering two values she brings, asking each participant to state a value they bring to the circle.

    Continue reading

    Harmony Tribe Restorative Justice Circle Update – Editorial

    A Restorative Justice circle took place facilitated by Crystal Blanton,  guest at last summers  Sacred Harvest Festival (SHF) in August.  This Restorative Justice (RJ)  Circle was specifically to aid Harmony Tribe(HT) and its festivant community to move beyond the real ‘hurt and harm’ the individuals, organization, and festival had felt over the past year. When I wrote about it, I also committed to  updates  as the Harmony Tribe (RJ)  process evolved. I wrote then as a Harmony Tribe member, and as of this editorial, am now a member of the 2012 Harmony Tribe Council, as one of 15 Council Members at Large.

    Please read that August editorial for a more complete back ground of RJ and this particular RJ Circle.

    The purpose of this RJ Circle was:

    “… to restore; to restore a sense of safety in a loving and empathetic community. We are not here to blame, or to cast judgment on who was right or wrong. It is a about how we can support our community together and heal the hurt and harm that has been caused by a series of events. “

    And Crystal summarized the RJ Circle with:

    “ What happens, Where do we go from here? We can not fix everything that has happened. We can not restore relationships without everyone present. We can restore what is here. We have not lost our community… what I have seen is that with time ,work, and a commitment to values, and the mirroring of those to each other, a community can be healed. “

    The RJ Circle came forth with several Collective Agreements, promises each person present made to the Harmony Tribe community. These were jointly arrived at by consensus, and individually affirmed by those present as their own commitments. These were to facilitate this community to “move forward in the healing process with safety and trust”.

    The agreements are:

    1. We will aid the process of developing commonly defined principles and values, and the primary purpose for our community (HT) so that the HT council can work for the whole of our community.
    2. Define how Harmony Tribe (and its community) can participate in the processes of community, beyond HT the organization.
    3. The HT Community commits to participate as they can – to show up.
    4. Find ways to solicit community support and input.
    5. Commit to developing a means for mentoring or transferring knowledge or roles within the organization.

    How has Harmony Tribe and its community progressed toward meeting these commitments?

    Continue reading

    GOP Presidential candidate impresses with pro-Pagan stance

    If you are a fiscal liberal and wish for more governmental intervention in your daily life, then GOP Presidential hopeful Johnson is not the candidate for you.  If, however, you are like most Americans and are looking for a President who leans more socially liberal/fiscally conservative you may want to give Johnson a further look.  Couple this view with an unabashed pro-Pagan, pro-human rights outlook and clear openness to alternative views on a whole host of issues and you may have as close to an ideal candidate for President as the Pagan community has yet seen.

    Last night’s video conference between Gov. Johnson and Pagan and Hindu media was unusual and groundbreaking.  Unlike most every other candidate for political office at any level, Johnson not only agreed to speak publicly with Pagans, he promoted the event openly on his official Google+ page.   In talking with other Pagan media after the conference, many of us related personal experiences with politicians, even those sympathetic to us in private, who refuse to be seen speaking with us in public.   They don’t want an association with ‘people like us’ to damage their credibility and truth to tell, they don’t care enough about our concerns to address them.  This was not the case with Johnson.  During the interview he showed no discomfort addressing issues specific to our community and never flinched from saying the word Pagan.  An example of how supportive Gov. Johnson is to Pagan rights, and basic human rights, can be summed up in a message he had for Pagans and Wiccans serving in the US military,“It should be about equality, it’s not, and I appreciate their service  even though you are not being treated equally.”

    It could be easy to dismiss Johnson’s decision in speaking with Pagans while seeking election as the actions of an unknown candidate low in the polls, but that would miss the mark.  Johnson is a successful two-term Governor of New Mexico and is the only GOP candidate who scores positive approval ratings in his home state.  He is not a ‘nothing’ candidate, but a qualified candidate with executive level experience.  What has hampered his candidacy is the mainstream medias’ inexplicable exclusion of Johnson from televised debates.  They have set up criteria that bars Johnson’s inclusion in the debates, a candidate must reach 2% in their polls, but ensures he can never meet that bar by excluding him as an option in their polls.  This sets up a scenario where Johnson is a longshot for the GOP nomination, unless people vote for him in the GOP primaries.  So while we finally have a Presidential candidate who is willing to listen to Pagans and supports us on many issues important to our community, we may never have the opportunity to vote for him.  What makes it even more bittersweet for some Pagans is that such an outspoken candidate for Pagan rights is running on the Republican ticket, not Democratic.

    Click HERE to watch the video conference with Gov. Johnson courtesy of KeithBarrett.tv.

    A full transcript is available at the Staff of Asclepius blog.

    The hour and a half interview covered a wide range of questions about GLBT rights, Pagan military chaplains, raw milk, teaching yoga in schools, TSA and the Patriot Act, economic, and environmental concerns.  Many of the questions were submitted by Pagan community leaders like Rev. Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary and by your average Pagan on the street.    Below are just a few of the highlights from the hour and half Q&A with Gov. Johnson, but I strongly encourage everyone to view the entire interview.

    Cara Schulz, PMC-MN:  It is commonly thought in the Pagan community that Republican candidates are hostile to minority religions such as ours.  What message would you like to get across to Pagan voters about how you would represent them if elected president?

    Johnson:  There should be a separation of church and state.  I happen to think the world looks down on Republicans for their social conservative views which include religion in government.

    Continue reading

    Restorative Justice, Restoring Communities – Editorial

    We live in tumultuous times as a society and as a Pagan community. Conflict has caused many divisions, often accompanied with the drawing of lines. These can easily become permanent fractures, solidifying within what might be a unified and joyous community of similar beliefs. Often these conflicts are personal, or begin as personal disputes, or emerge in community settings. Just as often a community gets drawn into them. I participated in a restorative justice circle at Sacred Harvest Festival (SHF), facilitated by Crystal Blanton, and will refer to that experience.

    Restorative Justice (RJ) is an idea and method to repair some of the damage these conflicts cause in community. It was developed and used in criminal victim-offender mediations in the 1970′s and has been adapted and applied to a broad range of conflicts, from within our schools to whole societies as in the The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), a court-like restorative justice body assembled in South Africa after the abolition of apartheid . It can be used in a community setting through ‘restorative group conferencing’ or ‘peace circles’.

    Continue reading

    Sacred Harvest Festival survives The Tower

    The Tower card from the Rider-Waite deck

    When the Tower card appears in a spread it is not greeted with cheers and smiles. Although Pagans recognize the cycle of destruction must happen in order for new growth to thrive, it isn’t an enjoyable process. It’s painful. At times it can be downright ugly. While a group or organization is in the midst of conflict and tearing down of the old, it can be difficult to manage the process in a way that achieves a positive outcome.

    Local festival in crises
    For the last year Harmony Tribe, the group that produces the Sacred Harvest Festival, has been dealing with the aftermath of the Tower. Shortly after last year’s festival the board, Tribe members, and festival attendees became embroiled in a serious conflict. Tensions came to a head after a controversial move was initiated by Harmony Tribe to ban two Tribe members and the walls came crumbling down as the entire board of Harmony Tribe resigned en masse early last fall. A rift formed and community members began to choose sides. To make a painful situation worse for all involved, this played out in public.

    For many in the wider community, the escalating conflict and subsequent rift struck from out of the blue. “This entire episode was so hurtful and angry. It wasn’t anything like the community I had come to love,” said one attendee who asked not to be named. “I was stunned. I shut down. I almost didn’t come this year.”

    Continue reading

    Largest Upper Midwest Pagan Festival opens in 10 days! – Interview

    Sacred Harvest Festival (SHF), located in southern Minnesota near Albert Lea, opens Saturday, August 6th, The last day to register online  and before gate rates is Sunday, July 31st.  I had the chance to interview Bress Nicneven, festival site director and board member of Harmony Tribe , the event’s sponsor.

    Why do people continue to return to Sacred Harvest Festival?

    SHF has gained a national reputation for quality and timely speakers and musicians. Celia’s video for the song ‘ Symbol’ was filmed at SHF, before the Pentacle Quest  became a household Pagan word. It is known for having a defined theme each year, and presenting profound rituals and speakers that all build on that theme for a complete experience. One of the few festivals that does this each year. In stressful financial times, this festival offers the cheapest per day rates of any festival in the country for the quality of the programming and activities.

    It is a really reasonable family vacation for Pagans. It is an upper Midwest tradition, going on 14 years. SHF is really a place for everybody. There is a Kid’s cauldron, operated by parents and volunteers, that keeps kids happy all week. Families get the time and space to worship together as a family. They get time together and also adults have time for individual experiences. It is really strengthening for both families, individuals, and our community relationships. We have a great location in a shady oak grove with easy access from Des Moines, Madison, and the Twin Cities.

    What is this year’s theme about?

    Forest Family, Roots and Branches Intertwined  is our theme this year. It encompasses the roots of the Tribe itself, the thousands of people who have grown this festival over the years. We come each year to celebrate at this magical grove, and this year we specifically want to connect with the marvelous shady and protective trees there. Trees are an appropriate symbol of how we are also all connected, and essentially like the forest that we camp under. Like the burr oaks, we are still growing, and changing, and each season together we reach out within the festival and our home communities to integrate our spiritual experience back into our foundation, our roots. Continue reading

    Crystal Blanton – National Guest at Sacred Harvest Festival – Interview

    Author Crystal Blanton

    I had the opportunity to interview Crystal Blanton about her appearance as featured guest at this years Sacred Harvest Festival presented by Harmony Tribe, inc.  Blanton’s first book, Bridging the Gap, was published in 2010 with Megalithic/ Immanion Press. Her new work, ” Shades of Faith; Minority Voices in Paganism”  is forthcoming. Included at bottom is the content of her main workshop offerings at Sacred Harvest Festival.

    What do you hope to offer our community at SHF?

    The scope of the work that I do is centered around group dynamics and learning how to navigate some of these dynamics in our community. To help with promoting healthier spiritual experiences for people. I take a lot of that material from being a counselor in my day life.  I take the skill I use in my everyday job and bring them over to our spiritual community. Many spiritual communities have already done this, it is just we haven’t gotten to that place yet in the Pagan community.  I will bring a lot of tools and skills around how to navigate certain group dynamics, how to create more communicative communities, how to navigate conflict and disruptions that can happen in any community dynamic. We’ll cover how to learn and pass on these concepts and tools after the workshops. To create a general sense of optimism in adding these tools that can help to enhance our community at large. That is what I hope to bring to the festival. Continue reading

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