I talked to Lady Yeshe Rabbit of the Come As You Are (CAYA) coven. We talked about her work in the San Francisco Bay area, her appearance at Sacred Harvest Festival, and her thoughts on gender issues in the Pagan community.
How do you like to be addressed?
For the most part you can call me Rabbit. My title in my coven is Yeshe, it is a word that has a few different meanings. In Tibetan it means “primordial wisdom”, and that is why I took the title, because I wanted to be guided by that primordial wisdom that resides within. It was also a childhood nickname, because I am Polish and my birth name is Jessica.
Tell me about CAYA?
CAYA coven is my coven. There is within CAYA several different layers of membership. Some people have a casual relationship and may just attend our rituals. There is also an inner circle of trained clergy. These are people who have been with the group for a number of years. They would be my ‘closer’ coven you might say.
What is the role of CAYA in the Bay area?
CAYA stands for “Come As You Are”, and it is a coven that is built around the principles of eclecticism, inter-faith, and support for a wide variety of different paths. An individual who maybe has a very strong personal path, or, one who might be just starting out and wants to learn about many different paths to see which one is the right fit, would find themselves very comfortable in CAYA. Each of us in CAYA feels that it is the utmost importance the we determine our own personal relationship with the divine. We then share our own individual practices and spiritual beliefs in the spirit of generosity without presuming that we know the one way that is right for everyone. What that means is that we are a coven “filled with solitaries” (jokingly), because everyone has their own individual practice. When we come together we join around a central core of protocols of how we do rituals in an outlined format, a baseline of ethics that we have all agreed to, and principles of community that we think are essential: Cooperation, conflict resolution, clergy conduct and comportment. When people come into CAYA they feel very welcome, even if a beginner, or if they are extremely experienced and just don’t want to be told what to do because they are confident in their own path.
Our role in the local Pagan community is to provide an inter-faith stage for community ventures and ritual that crosses the boundaries and borders of many different traditions. For Paganism in the USA CAYA’s role is to show that in fact people of many different traditions can, and for the sake of greater learning, should, gather together and share from their heart what they find to be holy and true without worrying that they are going to be expected to conform to a belief system that they can’t support. This is important because there are so many traditions and practices that one might choose from that it can be a little bit dizzying, and at the same time people don’t want to be accused of being a “fluffy bunny” when it fact they just want to be more eclectic and free to experiment with different traditions. I think our role is to provide a space for that. We have approximately 500 members, possibly one of the largest groups in the USA. It certainly makes us a fun group when a whole lot of us get together all at once. We have a manual for coven clergy, but we also have the basic protocols that everyone needs to agree with to participate with CAYA. For those who wish to become a member long-term, we ask for year of service. That is all a part of the coven manual and the requirements for the Wildflower Collective. We hope to publish this a resource someday. We have a few remote members who trained here before moving away, but we do not offer remote teaching. We are locally focused and we support communities like Harmony Tribe that appear to be doing something similar in local communities; to come together and bring diverse individuals into conversations with each other.
Is CAYA an initiatory tradition?
Caya is a membership coven, but the Wildflower Collective is an initiatory tradition that members can apply for if they want to participate as a clergy member. They get training in the Wildflower tradition, which is a very eclectic tradition based on the principles of public service. It is not a core theology, or a set of rituals to complete. It is a year and a day where the initiates spend an immense amount of time in community service doing ritual, public and volunteer initiatives, and raising funds for public service and causes within the community. We recently raised funds for bee research looking into colony collapse as an example of service. We rotate roles as teachers and students so we do not become stagnant in our interpretations. Students become teachers based on their interests, under my guidance and creative questions. I help them bring forward their own knowledge, being respectful to all. This model appeals to me the most because it assumes that you are already intelligent and assumes that you are a spiritual being with a sense of conscience instead of a “tabula rasa” that has to be written upon. I learn so much from our initiates, and aspirants, who are engaged in their process of discernment looking toward initiation. I enjoy this so much I can’t imagine doing my teaching any other way! Just as the name Wildflower connotes that we are like a bunch of flowers growing wild in a field, we have all come into this from our own perspective and path. Each of these are unique and none are less important or beautiful than the other.
You are going off to England shortly?
I am heading off to England to the Glastonbury Goddess Conference with my friend Ava Park , presiding priestess from the Orange County Goddess Temple who is priestessing and presenting there. I will be assisting her. I am very excited, I have never been to England before, and want to meet all the exciting women and presenters there.
Then you fly back direct to Minnesota and Sacred Harvest Festival?
Yes, this is really a pilgrimage. I am so excited at how this all came together, it is such a magical coincidence. I have only been to Minnesota once many years ago for work, and it was very magical. I want to see what Paganistan today holds.
What do you bring to Sacred Harvest Festival?
I am bringing an open mind. I am interested in learning and sampling from you all the regional flavors of your community. I am bringing my own classes and rituals that I will be leading. One is a project that has been dear to my consciousness, called American Sabbats. It is looking at the secular, bank holidays of this country and their history, and the amount of energy that is generated within them. How the energy of those holidays, which many of us celebrate in addition to our Pagan holidays, might be channeled toward the greater good of our country. There are many changes needed in our country in order to be healthy. I am curious to go and sample what the opinions and thoughts are of all of you who have a unique experience of America from your vantage point in the Midwest.
I am also bringing some rituals devoted to Goddesses I have experience with and have devotion for. I am offering a ritual to Aphrodite, a lecture and ritual about the reindeer goddess who is a transcendent and archetypical figure known throughout the world. Also a workshop about Baba Yaga, the old “Bone Mother” of Russian folk-lore. I am excited to bring those offerings, and also a fresh perspective. I have my own approach to Witchcraft that may or may not be like others at the festival. I look forward to finding out, and seeing where my perspective might be of use to you, and where your perspective might help me out. I see this as a mutual exchange of wisdom.
How do you approach ritual?
My approach to ritual is spontaneous, ecstatic, free-flowing, and finally, guided. I tend to work from an outline rather than a script because I have watched many people feel so nervous anguishing over lines, or so over-rehearsed that they drop the magic of the moment. People feel a kind of fear about moving spontaneously within a ritual depending on what they are called to do. My goal, in all rituals that I do, is to establish a nice solid foundation that everyone feels pretty comfortable in, and then to let the magic unfold. Ecstatic singing and chanting is usually involved. Some movement, with adaptations for limited mobility people, and devotion to deity takes place. I never call in deity unless I plan to give them their due honor. I am not someone to call a deity, energy, or a power, if I don’t have something to give to that power. I don’t call them just to ask something of them. Expect that there will be big acts of adoration and reverence. There will be a lot of participation. I get bored with me talking and like to hear from others. I like to structure ritual so we can hear each other share from the heart.
What is your perspective on gender in the Pagan community at this point of time?
It is utterly crucial that the Pagan community be as open, loving , compassionate, and responsive to a wide range of interpretations of gender as we can possibly be. Where we stand as a magical folks who are the creators of culture, is that we have the opportunity to lead the rest of the fold by example in acceptance, in embracing diversity, and embracing change. For my part, the journey has been from being strictly Dianic, to what I am now referring to as Pan-Dianic, meaning Goddess centered, but open to all. I have learned over the past two years, that it is a limitation of the human mind that causes prejudice, not a limitation of divine possibility. I learned that when the human mind wants to clamp down on a particular idea, or ideology, or concept, we sometime lose sight of the divine inspiration that we have been asking for, and that may have been staring us right in the face. At his point in time, so many local laws are being passed that negate women’s autonomy and rights over our own bodies, it is frightening. Yet it is we, who are cisgender women, who choose to stand in opposition to our transgender sisters and their declarations of autonomy. How are we doing anything different? Gender is an area where we can really focus in at analyzing the story we have told ourselves about who we are, and the stories we have been told about who we are. We have the opportunity to re-write those stories and to make those stories more accurate to our heart’s truth. My perspectives have changed for the better over the last two years. I feel more open, whole, and free as a person than when I hold anyone out apart from myself. When I stand face to face with any other human being and look into their eyes and see that we share the same basic wants, needs, and desires; to be loved, to be safe, to be in connection with whatever we hold sacred or dear, I am free. Some of the circumstances surrounding issues of gender have been painful, for me and for others. I don’t regret a minute of it. It has been taking us somewhere very good, a radical evaluation of who we are, and who we get to say we are. The amount of personal autonomy we get to claim over our own personal identity. I think that is always to the greater good.
Lady Yeshe Rabbit will be appearing and offering readings at Sacred Harvest Festival, (SHF) August 6-12th in Geneva, MN. Read details of her SHF guest offerings, and her personal blog ; The Way of the Rabbit. Rabbit owns The Sacred Well in Oakland, CA.
Is Co-editor of PNC-MN and is a Council Member at Large in Harmony Tribe