Women and Spirituality Conference Mankato – Lisa Spiral Besnett

UofMN Mankato Student Union

UofMN Mankato Student Union

October 12-13, the weekend of the 32nd Annual Women and Spirituality Conference in Mankato, Minnesota.  We walk into a typical registration table, sign in and collect our name tags and conference materials.  The schedule, changes and cancellations, a copy of the October edition of the Minnesota Women’s Press magazine and maps – lots of maps.

Entering the Auditorium

Entering the Auditorium

The doors to the auditorium open and everything changes.  We walk in through banners that read: “I Enter In Perfect Love And Perfect Trust.”  The air is charged as people find seats.  There is much waving and greeting as women find friends they haven’t seen since the year before.  Business announcements are made, the staff and University thanked and then we are told “Welcome to our ritual led by Treewommon and an assortment of witches to honor the Goddess and the Sacred Elements.”  The opening ceremony is begun.

The directions are called, East and Air, South and Fire, West and Water, North and Earth, and Center.  Puppets representing the directions are paraded in and presented in turn, each carried by a woman who is also a representative of woman aging through the stages of life.  The maidens, the mother, the crone, and the hag.  The Goddess Herself, named as Bridget and carrying a banner with symbols of many Goddesses representing Center, Spirit, and Community.  The audience joins in the familiar chant and the Conference is off and running.

Creating Sacred Space

Creating Sacred Space

This conference is sponsored by the Gender and Women’s Studies Department at the University of Minnesota, Mankato.   Cindy Veldhuisen, the Business Manager for the Conference, told me that there were about 540 attendees this year.  This is up from last year.

Some of the reason for the increase in attendance can likely be attributed to this year’s keynote speaker, Starhawk.  This is Starhawk’s third appearance as keynote speaker for the Woman & Spirituality conference.  She draws attendees from across the five state area as well as from the east coast, Colorado and Canada.  Many of the women I spoke with who were familiar with Starhawk were also alumni of the Diana’s Grove Witch Camp.

Starhawk is often mistaken as the public face of Reclaiming, and indeed she was one of the co-founders of the original collective in San Francisco.  But her focus, especially in recent years, has been on Earth Activist Training .  She is teaching permaculture techniques to small communities throughout the world.  She’s just returned from an training in Palestine.

One of the things Starhawk talked about in her keynote address was “frame”.  How we choose to frame things affects how we see them, how we interpret the information.  She told about her first visit to the region as part of a Hebrew Class trip in her teens.  They pointed out that the Israeli side of the Jordan was green and lush and the Palistinian side was all brown and dry.

Starhawk and Spiral

Starhawk and Spiral

Since then Starhawk has come to realize that the Israeli’s control 80-90% of the ground water in the region.  She also knows that the Palestinians have been practicing sustainable agriculture in the area for thousands of years.  They feed their people without using much water at all.  Yes, it’s not as lush or green.  The base systems are fig trees, almonds and olives.  It’s a style of agriculture that sustains the soil and the ecosystem.

Permaculture respects those systems and uses modern tools with historically successful techniques to rejuvenate the soils and sustain the crops.  It is this concept of rejuvenation that Starhawk feels is at the core of the Pagan spirituality.  She suspects it is this philosophy that the consumer culture finds threatening.

There was a slide show about the devolution of the Bird Goddess.  There is strength in those postures of resistance, the stances of the neolithic and paleolithic statues.  Starhawk suggested that the Harpies, the Crones, the Witches as well as the guardian Angels all come to our collective consciousness from those early Bird Goddesses.  She reminded us that Harpies harp.  They point out the things that need fixing, and keep at it until those things get fixed.  She encouraged the conference goers, when they’re in the mood pick a fight, to get on the phone and call their congressmen.  Starhawk blogs about this connection between Paganism and politics at www.starhawksblog.org.

Of course the keynote speaker is not the whole of the conference.  Over the course of the two days there are also four sessions of  hour and a half workshops offered.  With 30-35 workshops offered in any given session there was a lot of variety to chose from.  Many of the presenters actually offered repeats of their workshops in a second session to make it a little easier for attendees to choose.

The conference spreads over 5 of the campus buildings using classrooms, conference rooms and dance and exercise spaces.  One of these buildings houses the vendor room.  An ample space for several rows of vendors to show their wares.  There were services offered, Reiki and tarot readings, along side the books, jewelry, drums, pottery and garb we often expect.

Red Tent movie

Red Tent movie

Many of the vendors are also presenters, either closing their booths for a workshop session or partnering with a friend.  The filmmaker and distributor of the movie “Things We Don’t Talk About: Women’s Stories from the Red Tent” was one of the women doing double duty.  She actually left her booth to be attended by a neighboring vendor while she screened the movie for conference goers.  This quick and deep friendship, the commonality and trust among women is probably the most common and profound product of this conference.  It’s the reason many women come back year after year.

The closing ritual again presented by Treewommon and friends is bittersweet.  We are introduced to the players.  The maidens have been “attending” this conference all their lives.  Their mother’s met here and have been close kindred for the ten years since.  (“Let that be a warning to you about the friends you make here!” the Priestess teases.)
We sing a powerful chant looking into each others eyes and falling into the arms of friends and strangers around us.  Tears, laughter and hugs are shared.  A spontaneous circle forms so that we can all see and rejoice in the power and beauty of women gathered in harmony and purpose.

The directions thanked and dismissed we are charged to carry this energy, the spirit of the conference home with us.  We are charged to remember what is possible when Women come together.

Dates for next year’s conference have not yet been announced.  To stay up to date on developments or to get on the mailing list go to: http://sbs.mnsu.edu/women/conference or contact the Gender and Women’s Studies Department directly at: 507-389-2077

Lisa Spiral Besnett

Lisa Spiral Besnett is an occasional contributor to PNC.  Her book, Manifest Divinity, is published by Immanion Press and available in paperback or as an ebook at Amazon.com.  Spiral writes a weekly blog where you can read more about her personal experiences living a spiritually aware life.

Proposed Bill possible threat to Pagan news

In a proposed amendment to a media shield law being considered by the Senate,  Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and  Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Il)  appear to define journalists in a way which excludes non-traditional journalists including most Pagan media and journalists. The Senate Judiciary Committee approved the amendment, which was written in coordination with traditional news organizations, by a 13-5 vote. It was then sent to the Senate floor where it is expected to pass. It’s fate in the House is less certain.

The Bill, S. 987: Free Flow of Information Act of 2013, seeks to provide reporters with a limited right to refuse to testify on information gathered or to be forced to reveal sources. The House Bill defines a journalist as someone who “for financial gain or livelihood, is engaged in journalism” while originally the Senate version had a looser definition.  The proposed amendment by Sen. Feinstein and Sen. Durbin requires journalists to meet at least one of these three additional criteria:

  1. working as a “salaried employee, independent contractor, or agent of an entity that disseminates news or information;”
  2. either (a) meeting the prior definition “for any continuous three-month period within the two years prior to the relevant date” or (b) having “substantially contributed, as an author, editor, photographer, or producer, to a significant number of articles, stories, programs, or publications by an entity . . . within two years prior to the relevant date;” or
  3. working as a student journalist “participating in a journalistic publication at an institution of higher education.”

Requiring that an individual is “salaried”or under a financial contract is problematic for Pagan news organizations as most reporters and contributors are volunteers or are not employed in journalism as their primary source of income. All PNC-News reporters, editors, and contributors are not paid. The Wild Hunt pays its contributors, but it’s a modest amount that could not be considered earning a “livelihood.”

The second criteria is also a difficult hurdle for Pagan journalists.  The amendment is vague on what comprises an “entity” that reporters need to send their work in to and what a “significant number of articles” within a two year time table means. It’s not clear if Pagan news outlets would be considered an “entity” under this amendment.

PNC-Minnesota Webmaster and Researcher Heather Biedermann said, “Even if we paid our staff, who in the government decides what is an approved media outlet? To me, this seems like a thinly-veiled attempt to put in place a “government-friendly” group of approved news reporters who are handpicked by some unknown agency to spread their own spin on the news. It also is a backhanded way of discrediting the growing grass-roots news media that we are seeing all around the world. Not only does it discredit, but it also endangers news sites like PNC. Who is to say that this isn’t the beginning of finding ways to limit free speech in general?”

The effects of the proposed Bill could strip away protections independent news organizations have been slowly gaining on the state level. In November of 2010, PNC-Minnesota published an article relating a rape survivors experience while undergoing an enhanced search by TSA agents.  The article quickly went viral and was republished or linked to by traditional news sources. PNC-Minnesota received a request from the TSA to reveal our source for the article. We refused, citing Minnesota’s shield law and the traditional protections afforded members of the press and backed by the First Amendment of the United States. There was no response from the TSA.

Supporters of the Bill say it is a good compromise between protecting national security against leaks and protecting the rights of a free press, “I can’t support it if everyone who has a blog has a special privilege … or if Edward Snowden were to sit down and write this stuff, he would have a privilege. I’m not going to go there,” said  Sen. Feinstein.

Bloggers, alternative media, and civil liberties groups such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) have criticized the Bill as creating two classes of reporters, the traditional media licensed by the government, and everyone else.  In an article on the proposed Bill, Morgan Weiland of EFF wrote, “The requirement of doing journalism for money and on a consistent basis, coupled with the suggestion that such activities happen within a larger journalistic organization, paints a picture of a New York Times correspondent—and arguably excludes bloggers, freelancers, and other non-salaried individuals who practice the craft of journalism and need the most protection.”

PNC-News Editor in Chief and Founder and Editor of the Wild Hunt Jason Pitzl-Waters had this to say about the legislation, “Author and journalism professor Jeff Jarvis has said that ‘there are no journalists, there is only the service of journalism,’ a sentiment that I would broadly agree with. There are those who make their living reporting and investigating the news, but our history is full of individuals who, in key moments, rose up to document important events, to give voices to voiceless communities, or to expose hidden wrongs. Any protections for journalists that do no protect grass-roots manifestations of the service of journalism are not only flawed, but chilling. Would Dorothy Day’s Catholic Worker be covered under these provisions? Would Gandhi’s newsletters advocating for an independent India? The farther down the road we travel into creating hurdles to legal protections, the more we damage the service, in essence dictating who is a ‘real’ journalist. The heart of journalism is a radical heart, because it creates an informed community, these guidelines can only hinder journalism’s purpose.”

Twin Cities Pagan Pride 2013

A good crowd attended Twin Cities Pagan Pride (TCPP,) at Minnehaha Park this year. Many stayed the majority of, or the whole day. You were in public, as a self declared Pagans, talking to anyone who found you interesting that walked by,  I know I talked to at least a few non-Pagan people who left knowing more and feeling better about a world where Pagans exist next to them. For those of us who like the idea of similar people getting one last chance to hug and appreciate each other despite our differences before winter sets in,, it was a perfect day.

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Why spend a day of your valuable life, heck, your Saturday, at Twin Cities Pagan Pride (TCPP) ?  If you believe Pagans need to be supported in their desire for public acceptance, you were there.  What if you are a Pagan, what did you get out of attending ?  There was a full schedule of many different types of ritual to experience, Music, dance, and many booths selling items, promoting ideas, or experiences were on hand to entertain you, If you are a Pagan you did get to see, talk to, and connect with many old friends and make some new ones.  Saturday at TCPP it was also hot.  I guess that was a bonus for Minnesotans, You got to spend one of the last days of hot weather you might get this year, outdoors with friends.

Nels Linde

Minnesota Oil Pipelines Seek Capacity Increase

In the energy and environmental news, and of concern to Minnesota residents are the impacts of energy development from the fracking process for securing oil and gas and the mining of sand for use in this process. What many citizens don’t know is that oil pipelines already cross northern Minnesota, and producers are currently requesting increased pressure limits to push more oil through them. Minnesota’s own tar sands pipeline has been online since October 2010, with volume increases in the works larger than the Keystone XL proposed capacity.
Enbridge, the largest Canadian oil transport corporation, has a 285-mile tar sands pipeline across northern Minnesota crossing the Mississippi headwaters, also crossing water flowing north to Hudson Bay and east out the Great Lakes/St. Lawrence Seaway. Enbridge requested an increase of 27 percent to 570,000 barrels per day in a pipeline operating since 2010. The majority of this oil is for export.

Local Pagan environmental activist Susu Jeffrey has published this article detailing the ongoing health and leakage concerns regarding these pipelines that cross our state and Native American lands.   Working with the Friends of Coldwater Spring in Minneapolis they have established a petition to urge President Obama to reject the capacity increase with copies sent to state and local officials.

Susu, an advocate for our preserving our states water as our most precious resource says,”What happens to the water happens to the people.”

Solstice Storm over Paganistan Knocks out Power for 616,000

How you can help:

Want to help with storm cleanup? Check on your elderly neighbors and call 311 about any storm damage causing road blocks, say City of Minneapolis officials.

A series of storms over the Twin Cities metro and Western Wisconsin led to a weekend-long blackout for most of Minneapolis. According to Xcel’s public website and reports on KARE 11, full service may not be restored to the total area before Wednesday, June 26. While the full casualties are at present unknown, this storm, nicknamed #mnstorm on social media, has already led to the loss of home for a few unlucky area residents.

In addition to a blackout that affects more than half a million area residents, locals also faced disruptions of Internet service (not as serious) and travel (very serious.)

yaris in flash flood

photo use granted by permission of John Moses

Residents posting to social media via Twitter and Facebook report the blackout beginning at around 8 pm on June 21st, followed immediately by flash floods that blocked traffic in areas of north and Northeast Minneapolis. By 6 am on Monday, June 24th, Xcel reported a total area of 616,500 customers with service disrupted by the storm. Xcel practiced transparency with their restoration efforts, stating on their website that, “Repairs are then prioritized based on what will restore power to the largest number of customers most quickly.” They also prioritized by safety – areas where the most people risked electrocution, followed by hospitals and emergency services.

Areas affected included the East and West Metro and parts of western Wisconsin. According to reports on social media, Saint Paul went unaffected. As of the June 24th Xcel update, Xcel hopes to restore power to all customers by noon on Wednesday. The majority of the remaining customers are located in the west metro.  The Twin Cities remains under flood watch.

Flash flood warnings on Solstice came paired with wind speeds up to 41 mph (66 km) and wind gusts up to 69 mph (112 km.) Total precipitation for that month came to 6.41 inches, with the average maximum in June normally coming to 2.98 inches average. ** (reporter note: I suspect I am seriously misreading this weather chart. Any more clear interpretations are very welcome.) In Northeast Minneapolis, a flash flood blocked off Central Avenue Northeast around 8:15 pm. Later rising water from overflowing storm drains caused a water main to burst on Stinson Ave NE, forcing a 20 hour blockade of the street where it crosses Lowry.

Thousands of homes, businesses and services were disrupted over the weekend with thousands still awaiting restoration of power.

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photos in slideshow taken by Diana Rajchel

While some members of the Pagan community celebrated at Pagan Spirit Gathering in Illinois, others remained in city for summer solstice to experience the floods and blackouts firsthand.

Samantha Bitner was attending a ritual at Uptown Metaphysical shop Eye of Horus when the storm came down. “I was at circle with a group I’ve never circled with before. They asked a Goddess and a Dragon to “let the sky open up” or something to that effect. Not too long after….” Both Bitner and Northeast neighborhood resident Michael Janssen report the power failure as starting at 8 pm.

Lisa Spiral Besnett, a resident of Plymouth and hostess of the Priestess Show on Blogtalk radio had a tree split in half blocking her driveway and a near miss in front of her house. She counts herself as more fortunate than other area locals who face significant property loss from fallen trees.  In her case, HearthStone coven and her neighbors helped her clean up the property and hook up diesel generators. She posted to her Facebook page that her power came back on on 8:00 pm Monday the 24th.

Jane Hansen, partner in Eye of Horus, posted to her own Facebook page that power for the shop returned on Sunday afternoon. While Hansen noted lost sales over the weekend, she says that she and Thraicie Hawkner took the blackout as an opportunity to rearrange their shop. “We were dark from approximately Friday 8:00pm to Sunday 4:30pm. The front half of the store shifted a lot. We had planned on creating more of an oils service counter with storage space for our Spiritual Oils line, so we did that, but we also expanded our main service counter all they way down to the front of the store. Basically, smoothing out the energy flow, wherever we can.” The new layout, according to Hansen, is subtle but allows for a counter for oil sales and an improved display for local artists Paul Rucker, Beth Hansen-Buth and others.

Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak commented to Minnesota Public Radio that this recent blackout and two recent tornadoes raise some concerns for him. “Certainly one is where and when or how we could bury more of these wires, so we don’t have this erratic situation that the climate may be putting us into.”

The city of Minneapolis has posted instructions for removal of tree debris  and published a list of tree service contractors.  The city also urges its citizens to check on their neighbors, especially those in their 80s and 90s, as well as to practice food safety with the high number of non-functioning refrigerators over the weekend.