Letter to the Editor – When Religious Discrimination Hits Home

by Dr. Todd Berntson

The past 24 hours have been almost surreal. I was sitting at the dinner table with some  friends at an Indian restaurant when I received a call from my father that my cousin Brad was dead. Brad was four years older than me and had been my superhero while I was growing up.

As a kid I used to tell my friends incredible tales about the amazing feats that my cousin could do, as though he was some mythical figure with superhuman powers. Truth be told, in a lot of ways he kind of lived up to that. He was very good looking, smart, funny, incredibly strong, and was one of those guys that everybody liked. So, when I was told that Brad was dead, I was in shock. Unfortunately, that was only the beginning of the bad news.

A short time later, I received another call informing me that my father and I would not be allowed to attend Brad’s funeral because I was Wiccan and Brad’s wife didn’t want me to “pollute their church” with my evil presence. I was dumbfounded by this. Even as I write this, I still have a hard time believing that this really happened. Does being Catholic mean that you cannot be accepting of other spiritual paths? What makes Wicca, which is one of the most gentle and forgiving spiritual paths, so “evil”? Would Jesus have barred me from saying goodbye to a deceased family member because I wasn’t Catholic?

Unfortunately, this is not the first time that this kind of thing had happened. Only four months prior, Brad’s father, Bruce, was found dead in a hotel room. When I attended his funeral at the church, most of the family would not even look at me or say hello. During the luncheon that followed the funeral service, I stood up to say a few kind words about my recently deceased uncle. As I looked out at the faces in the crowd, I could see several people looking at me as though I was some kind of leper. There was an almost palpable look of disgust on many of their faces. As we left, both my father and I commented on how unwelcome we felt.

This whole situation is very disturbing on so many levels. How can any spiritual tradition, be it Christian, Hindu, Shinto, Pagan, or Jewish, justify denying someone the fundamental human need to say goodbye to a deceased family member? How can the Wiccan spiritual path, which is founded on the reverence for all living things and celebrating the diversity of life, be considered so disturbing, so evil, that followers of the Catholic faith can feel justified in shunning members of their own family?

Although I am not a Christian, I often reflect a famous prayer attributed to St. Francis where he speaks: “Lord, grant that I may seek rather to comfort than to be comforted; to understand, than to be understood; to love, than to be loved.” Perhaps if those who so vocally profess their piety would simply follow their own prayers, the world would be a place with much more comfort, understanding, and love. And I would have had the opportunity to say goodbye to my superhero.

Goodbye Brad, I love you.

_____________________________________________________________________

Todd Berntson is a doctor of chiropractic and a doctoral candidate in clinical psychology. He
has been actively involved in the Neopagan community both locally and nationally, and is the
Vice President of Summerland Spirit Festival, which is a spiritual retreat for followers of Earth-
centered spiritual traditions.

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Letter to the Editor: CisWomen only ritual at PantheaCon

Instead of taking part in a ritual which I needed I’m sitting in a hotel room writing this letter.  I didn’t attend the Sacred Body ritual hosted by Z Budapest because I couldn’t face the protest.  A protest sparked by pain.  I know pain.  I was sexually abused in my marriage for 17 years.  Then I was abused for 5 more years by different men.  I hated my womanhood and my body.  Rituals like the one offered by Zsuzsanna have helped me begin to heal and I need them.  I’m not a bigot.  I don’t hate you.  Please, sisters, hear my words.

My marriage was a nightmare I wouldn’t have thought would happen to me.  I didn’t start out feeling like dirt.  Despising myself so much that I would agree with my husband this was what I deserved.  He would abuse me himself and with objects in place of his penis.  A wooden spoon from the kitchen.  A tool from the garage.  Dear sisters, my body is hurt and scarred.  When I undress I can see the damage.
After years of my family and friends pleading with me to leave him, and then abandoning me when I couldn’t, I found the Goddess.  I found community.  And that helped me to leave my husband and move to another state.  I circled with a small group of women.  I wasn’t free, though, not yet.  I was ashamed and didn’t own my body.  I sought out men who were as bad as my ex-husband.  They hurt me and the small coven tried to understand and help.  If a man wanted me, I couldn’t say no.  I let him and hated myself.  I had not yet reclaimed my body, sisters.  I didn’t deserve the love of my coven and I hurt them when I moved away.  I ran.
I was alone in the small town I moved to.  Alone and sick at heart.  I worked with a therapist and no longer slept with any man who demanded it.  I could no longer stand the thought of being naked with a man. After a few years I attended Heartland festival and there was a women only ritual for healing and for reclaiming our bodies.  I was sick and shaking when I went to circle with them.  I didn’t know if I could be naked in front of strangers.  They would see what a miserable bad person I was because these women would read it in the marks on my body.  I underestimated their wisdom and that night they saved me.  That ritual was my first step in no longer hating myself.  Hating my weak, ugly female body.

I am sorry if these next words hurt any of my transgender sisters, for you are my sisters.  When we disrobed, if I had seen a penis I would not have been able to stay.  Even today I can’t contemplate being naked with a male.  I am sorry, sisters, for my weakness.  I know you are not a man, but when I see a penis, I feel fear and pain.  This is my work that I need to do and I’m sorry my work hurts you.  I’m trying.

This is why I was at Pantheacon.  I am alone where I live.  I do not have a coven, I do not have pagan sisters where I live.  I go to festivals and I was at Pantheacon 2 years ago so I can be with my community and gain strength from my sisters.  All my sisters.  But I need these rituals of healing and of reclaiming my body as sacred.  I’m ashamed to say I need to have them without seeing a penis.  I hope this changes soon as I long for the day when a safe space includes everyone.  But I need this.  Can you sisters, all my sisters, find it in your heart to understand this?  To forgive me?

I did not go to the ritual at Pantheacon this year.  I wasn’t aware there would be protesters until I was at the hotel.  People at the convention have been talking about the ritual and emotions are high.  My friend that I’m attending the convention with was called a bigot and hateful because she planned to attend the ritual.  I am not hateful.  I am not a bigot.  I could not walk walk past those silent people sitting and standing in the hall in front of the doors to the ritual.  I am not defiant or strong enough to walk past the reproachful looks.
I thought there was a place for us all.  A place where we can all come together and a place where we can be apart working on what we need.  A place for celebration and a place for healing.  Yes, this ritual excluded all men and some women.  It excluded my transgender sisters so people like me can find healing.  So I can have a safe space in which to do this deep work.  To look at this body and have others look at this body and see something sacred.  I’m sorry this has hurt you.

The community has spoken and rituals like this will go away.  Or the women who attend them will be shamed.  There are fewer of these rituals now then there used to be at the festivals but even one is too many and too hurtful now.  There is no place for women like me in our community.  Our views and feelings are judged bad and wrong and outdated.    Please, sisters, accept my most profound apology.

Blessed Be,
A
.
Addendum: A asked me to add her answer to a question a few readers have asked.  The question is:   If there was a ritual with a post op transgendered M to F and she did NOT have a penis, would you still be upset?  The answer is:  No, I would not be upset.
Editor’s Note:   As with all such letters, the views held are solely those of the author and do not represent the views of PNC.  The issue of inclusion and exclusion in rituals at PantheaCon and other Pagan festivals has been a very contentious one over the past year.  PNC-Bay Area and the Wild Hunt are covering the developing story at PantheaCon.  We welcome comments, but please respect our comment policy. 
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6th Century Temple to Aphrodite to be buried to make way for Apartment Building

Editor’s note:  It is not often that PNC publishes a press release, instead of using the press release for background information to write our own article.  Press releases are, by their nature, written from a biased point of view.  However, we felt the information presented and the point of view represented would be of interest to our readers and are publishing it as a Letter to the Editor.

In an ancient part, of the modern city of Thessaloniki, now a part of the municipality of Thermaikos lays the Square of Antigonidon. Once part of a sacred district of Temples, today if one were to drive by the square you would never realize that under the areas urban sprawl and sandwiched in-between modern buildings lays a treasure of enormous significance, a beautiful 6th century Temple to the Goddess Aphrodite.
First excavated in 1936, the temple, which is 200 years older than the Parthenon was all but forgotten during the Nazi occupation of Greece in World War II. It was not until 2000, that fate of this lost treasure resurfaced due to the demolition of a two story building, which rested above the Temple. This allowed archaeologists once again to excavate the location. This time having the opportunity to uncover one-third of this forgotten piece of Thessaloniki’s history and thanks to the efforts of those involved, a small fraction of the treasures from this site is now on display in the Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki.

At present, the Greek Government is attempting to entomb and conceal the Temple, rather than fully excavating the site. Originally upon its discovery, an initial decision was made to continue its excavation; however, this decision was later overturned. Since then the fate of this important part of Hellenic history has been ‘frozen’ and was rescheduled to be discussed in April of 2011, but has since been postponed to be reopened early this year. If the Greek Government and the property owner get their way, the temple will remain buried, and an irreplaceable national treasure will be lost.

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Letter to the Editor: SPC’s Ciaran Benson

First, I want to thank you for your excellent write-up on what is happening at the Center.

Awesome work.

The PNC is really setting the bar for reporting on Pagan issues really high, and I appreciate that.

I do want to respond to this statement:

“The source says it unclear if the alleged possible problems with the bookkeeping are  from sloppy record keeping, mismanagement, or rise to an actionable item under Minnesota law”

Speaking as a board member for the Sacred Paths Center who has been closely involved with these issues, I want to completely confirm and agree with this statement.  We don’t know the answer either.  That’s the reason we’ve arranged for this audit.

We’ve talked with our attorneys and described what we’ve found to the Minnesota Council for Non-Profits and the MAP for Non-Profits center resources, and what we’re hearing from them is that our failings are very typical of non-profits of our age and size.

I was surprised to find that they weren’t surprised by what we were telling them.  In one case the person I was working with reached into a pile of Frequently Asked Questions From Board Members and handed me a sheet that basically listed everything I’d just told her.  Apparently, we’re very mainstream in our failures.

That’s not to belittle our failings – we really missed some obvious things that we should have been doing.  For example, we failed to file federal tax returns.  The IRS isn’t hot on our heals because we don’t owe them any money, but not having at least filed a return saying that we didn’t owe them money was dumb.  Not realizing that we hadn’t done it was dumb again.  Not checking to make sure that it had been taken care of and logging it in our corporate books was dumb a third time.

We apparently have dumb down.  We’ve shown we’re pretty darned good at it.

If we could bottle dumb, and people would buy it from us, then we would be where you would go to get it.

It’s important to note that as a non-profit in Minnesota, these failings are for the most part already public information.  Where it isn’t public information – that in and of itself is where we’ve failed.  The federal and state governments know exactly what our failings are, and anyone who wishes to review our Form 990 will see that we haven’t filed one.  All levels of government have been very helpful in pointing out to us exactly what forms and reports we failed to file, and they have been very encouraging in asking us to get our act together.

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Letter to the Editor – Wisconsin Protests

About the protest in Madison: The network news stations are not telling the whole story. I get my info from WI public television and radio where they let both sides argue it out, and from the University Deans, Chancellors, Presidents and from independent sources. Also from some of my local politicians. I, nor has anybody else that questions the bill has been able to talk to my state senator even though appointments were made ahead of time. A few representatives have talked on radio programs.

This is mainly about Governor Walker wanting to get rid of collective bargaining (CB), forever. There is no end date to these changes. He claims that this is crucial to balance WI’s budget. Yet the WI Employees (WE) have already said they would pay more into their pension fund and more for their health insurance. WE already pay into those programs. WE have given Walker all the money he is asking for the Budget Repair Bill (BRB) and for the fiscal budget that starts in July. But he still insist on breaking the unions so he can do whatever he wants to do; more pay cuts, cut benefits, work more hours without compensation, make WE pay more-for whatever he wants.

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