Pagan Spirit Gathering (PSG) played host to a press conference on Saturday to detail the progress made in discussions surrounding issues of gender rituals, women’s mystery traditions, and the transgender community. As happened at other recent Pagan events, controversy was sparked by a women’s ritual limited to women who will, have, or had experienced menstruation, thereby excluding transgendered women. Discussions involving Rev. Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary, Dianic High Priestess and women’s Solstice ritual leader Ruth Barrett, and festival presenter and transgendered activist Melissa Murry took place before and during Pagan Spirit Gathering. While the three women said they do not speak for all in their community they took part in what they termed respectful dialogue to search for solutions for next year’s PSG.
On Wednesday night at PSG, a Dianic ritual for “women who bleed, will bleed, or have bled our sacred bloods” was held at the same time as the men’s Solstice ritual, which was open to all who self-identified as male. These events are generally considered the main gender based rituals at PSG. A second women’s ritual, held on Friday night, was open to any who self-identify as female. At the Saturday press conference Rev. Fox said PSG is experimenting with ways that allow diverse groups to hold rituals with exclusionary criteria while still ensuring other rituals are more universal in nature. She went on to say PSG added a workshop and ritual on Transgendered Paganism, presented by Melissa Murry, and a workshop on the Dianic Tradition, presented by Ruth Barrett, to help foster productive conversation about these hot button topics.
Ms. Murry said she contacted Circle Sanctuary, producers of PSG, before the festival began to voice her disappointment at being excluded in the Solstice women’s ritual, “When I attended last year at the women’s ritual it was an amazing experience that was transformational. I also met a young transgender woman at Rainbow Camp who helped me find my voice and take a label that I had not been open about and share with many people, that label being a transgendered woman, and embracing that label here at PSG in the safety of the community.” Ms. Murry went on to say that after finding out about the Dianic Solstice ritual she felt PSG was no longer a place of comfort, acceptance, and safety.
Ms Barrett clarified that the ritual, and the Dianic tradition, are not discriminatory based on gender, which can be fluid, but on embodied experience, specifically the blood mysteries.
Rev. Fox says she spent hours in conversation with Murry, Barrett, and others in response to this issue and all were committed to finding a both/and solution along with not stirring up the firestorm of harsh comments and community division experienced at other Pagan events. While she says she regrets any hurt caused, she says having this particular ‘womb politics’ ritual at PSG this year was an important magical working.
This was not the only emotional time during the press conference. Barrett was clearly overwhelmed when Ms. Murry asked the transgender community to respect women’s mysteries, after firmly asking PSG to change their policy for main rituals to be more inclusive. Ms Barrett, in turn, pledged to “protect you with my life for your mysteries that are specifically about your experience.”
Both women said the transgender community is trying to find their voice, similar to the feminist movement in the 60’s and 70’s. Like the feminist movement, they speak of suffering, pain, and violence. Murry and Barrett also spoke of the value in claiming mysteries and rituals specific to their sacred journey as women. “Within my Tradition, which is about the female body and the journey of being born female and the journey through the bloods and birth and menopause,” said Barrett. “That is a different journey for transgendered women who come to womanhood through a different path.”
Rev. Fox announced that at next year’s PSG they would offer a mystery ritual and rites of passage for transgendered persons if Ms. Murry would lead them. After Murry agreed to do so, she asked Barrett if she would assist her. Barrett was unsure if she would be able to attend PSG next year due to changes in her personal life, but said she would help Murry however she was able.
As for an official policy for rituals at PSG, that is still undecided. The preliminary suggestion put forth by Fox, Murry and Bennett at the conference was to have main rituals be more inclusive, while still holding sacred space for exclusionary rituals and workshops. How this would work in practice is Wednesday night would still feature a men’s ritual and a women’s ritual, but both would be open to anyone who self-identifies as that gender. Rev. Fox says Circle Sanctuary does not make top down decisions so she is soliciting input on the proposal from the community. As of publication time, there is no official procedure or transparency policy in place for this decision making process. As one becomes available, PNC will update.
Barrett said she that while the three of them don’t presume to speak for others, she hopes, “This kind of conversation that Melissa and I have had will be one of many that will continue into the future between the female focused or female centered traditions such as my tradition, the Dianic tradition, and the transgender community that will be respectful conversation and conversation about where can we meet and where can we not. I think through so much talking with Melissa I feel we have found that place and I know that we would like to share what we feel would be some solutions for PSG.”
Please listen to the full audio recording of the press conference here.
Melissa’s statement at the Thursday morning meeting can be found here.
Send feedback to Circle Sanctuary vie email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Ruth Barrett: is a Dianic high priestess, ritualist, educator, author, and award winning recording artist of original Goddess songs. Ruth’s numerous recordings, beginning in 1980 with musical partner Cyntia Smith, have been among the pioneering musical works in the Goddess Spirituality Movement.
Ruth began her formal Goddess studies with founding Goddess Movement muse Shekhinah Mountainwater in 1975. Since inheriting Z Budapest’s Los Angeles ministry in 1980, Ruth has taught magical and ritual arts in the Dianic tradition at festivals and conferences across the United States, in Canada, and Great Britain.
Ruth served the Los Angeles women’s community as co-founder and as the religious director of Circle of Aradia (CoA) for two decades, creating and teaching a Dianic curriculum of classes and providing open seasonal rituals with women of her community. In 1997 Ruth was honored as recipient of the L.A.C.E. award for outstanding contributions in the area of Spirituality from the Gay and Lesbian Center in Los Angeles.
In 2000, Ruth relocated to the Midwest where she founded Temple of Diana with life partner, Falcon River. Ruth is author of Women’s Rites, Women’s Mysteries: Intuitive Ritual Creation (Llewellyn, 2004).
Ruth contributed a chapter on The Power of Ritual which was published in Daughters of the Goddess (ed. Wendy Griffin, Alta Mira Pub, 2000), and a chapter titled Lesbian Rituals and Dianic Tradition in Lesbian Rites: Symbolic Acts and the Power of Community (ed. Ramona Faith Oswald, Harrington Park Press, an imprint of The Haworth Press, Inc. 2003). Excerpts from Ruth’s book, Women’s Rites, Women’s Mysteries will be included in Creating Circles & Ceremonies: Rituals for All Seasons and Reasons by Oberon and Morning Glory Zell-Ravenheart (New Page, summer 2006). Ruth is a featured writer for the holy days sections in the We’Moon 2007 date book.
Selena Fox: is senior minister and high priestess of Circle Sanctuary, a Wiccan church, Pagan resource center, and Nature preserve with a worldwide Ecospirituality ministry that includes networking, publishing, education, environmental preservation, counseling, events sponsoring, and other work.
For more than thirty years, Rev. Fox has served as one of the elders, religious freedom activists, and public media spokespersons for the Wiccan religion and related forms of contemporary Paganism and Nature religion, nationwide and internationally.
In addition to her work as a minister, Rev. Selena Fox is a certified clinical psychotherapist. She graduated cum laude with a BS in Psychology from the College of William and Mary in Virginia, and received a MS in Counseling Psychology from the University of Wisconsin – Madison. She has worked as a staff psychotherapist at Wellspring Clinic and at Parkway Hospital in Madison. Her professional affiliations over the years have included the American Psychological Association, American Counseling Association, American Academy of Religion, and other organizations.
She is the founding editor of CIRCLE Magazine and the Circle Guide to Pagan Groups. She is author of the Goddess Communion handbook and the research study: When Goddess is God. Her audio recordings include Sacred Cave Ritual and Magical Journeys.
Representing the Wiccan religion and contemporary Paganism, Rev. Selena Fox has been a speaker and delegate at a variety of international interreligious conferences, including the World Council of Churches Women’s International Interfaith Dialogue Conference (1988, Toronto, Ontario, Canada); International Environmental Ethics Conference (1990, Iowa); Human Unity Conference (Chicago, 1980); Nature Religion Today (1996, Ambleside, England); Interfaith Women’s Healing Conference (1992, Newfoundland, Canada); Re-enchantment (1997, Winchester, England); and Parliament of the World’s Religions (1993, Chicago; 1999, Cape Town, South Africa; 2004, Barcelona, Spain). Rev. Fox is a member of the 250 member Assembly of Religious and Spiritual Leaders associated with the Parliament of the World’s Religions.
For many years, Rev. Fox has served as a consultant on Wiccan religious accommodation issues to chaplains in the US military, corrections, colleges and universities, hospices, mental health clinics, and hospitals. She is among the religious leaders appointed to and presently serving on the Religious Practices Advisory Committee to the Wisconsin Department of Corrections. She also has served as an adviser on Wiccan, Pagan, and Nature religions religious accommodation issues to the Pentagon and US Department of Justice.
Melissa Murry: is a 34 year old trans woman living in Houston, Texas. Ms. Murry has been active in GLBTQ, Pagan, and feminist activism since she transitioned at age 15. Her service to the community include the Indianapolis Youth Group in Indianapolis, In. In Houston, Ms. Murry is involved in Pagan Prison Ministry, the Huston Transgendered Unity Committee (HTUC), a former president of the community Advisory Board for Huston Area Community Services Transgendered Services Program, and participates in organizing the HTUC Annual Unity Banquet. This event raises money for the Peggy Rudd Transgendered Scholarship.
Melissa is working on a BA in History with a focus in Minority History at the University of Houston – Downtown. She is in training for ordination in the Black Forest Tradition’s Clan Raven of the Black Rose. This tradition is oath bound and blends Shamanic, Celtic, and Germanic mysteries. Melissa is working on Transgendered Mysteries and integrating these Mysteries in the larger Pagan community.