PSG not immune to gender ritual controversy

Pagan Spirit Gathering, an annual summer camping festival, brings Pagans from across multiple traditions, philosophies, and faiths together since 1980. This diversity, while celebratory, is not immune to controversy. This year, theological disputes about the place of transgendered people in gender-based rituals have traveled to PSG from the Pantheacon conferences of 2011 and 2012.  The source of conflict at Pantheacon, and now at PSG, comes from two different community ethics:  the value of groups to lead rituals according to the guidelines of their specific tradition and the idea that large group ritual shouldn’t exclude attendees.

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 mens Solstice ritual.  It’s goal was to celebrate women and honor the mythic cycle of the Goddess as she transitions from Maiden to fertile Mother.  Another women’s ritual, to be held on Friday night, is open to any who self-idenity as female.

Although some persons contacted PSG prior to the start of the festival to voice their concern about the Dianic ritual, unlike Pantheacon, no protest was held before, during or after the ritual.  PSG leadership says they are in productive discussion with interested parties present at the festival.

At the Thursday morning meeting, while standing with supportive community members, PSG attendee Melissa read a statement to the community.  It read, “Sisters, Brothers, Tribe.  Today I rise as a woman and ask you to bear witness to my pain.  As a tribe any wound is inflicted on all of us.  My pain today is caused by my exclusion from the main women’s ritual.  It flows from an event occuring in the very community where we all expect to find accectance, love and understanding.  Yesterday I stood invisible, excluded and in tears as a result of this exclusion,  Today I do not seek easy answers, there are none.  I do not seek protest or debate, only the acceptance of my community and acknowledgement of my pain.  Today I ask you to understand that as a trans woman I stand within the ocean of love that is PSG.  My only call to my sisters and brothers is to be included in what we all enjoy as a community – acceptance.”

After Melissa read her statement, Rev. Selena Fox thanked her and said she was happy people felt comfortable sharing such emotional feedback with the community during the daily morning meeting.  She then invited Melissa and others in the community who needed healing to stand in the middle of the ritual circle so the community could send them healing and positive energy.  It’s not unusual for attendees to voice concerns or make requests for healing at the daily morning meeting.

PSG leadership and interested festival attendees said they are not on a side nor do they want conflict.   They are participating in a series of open and private discussions taking place through the end of this week.  Rev. Fox said, “PSG is always evolving.”  All parties are withholding further comment until Saturday.

Kari’s Thingtide Travels – Northern Folk Gathering

Kari Tauring is hitting the Heathen summer festivals and gatherings and is  reporting back on her experiences in this series. This festival is the Northern Folk Gathering, former known as the Midwest Thing.  The festival moved to a new location this year, St Croix State Park, and was held June 10-12.

This was the first annual gathering of Heathen kindreds and individuals representing the Northern half of the Midwest. Hosted by Volkshof Kindred (out of Minneapolis) at Norway Point State Park near Hinkley, Minnesota.

Photo credit: Chris Gunnar Miller

This three day event was attended by just over 100 people with about 30 children in tow. Though it was the first annual event by its name it was by no means the first event hosted by Volkshof Kindred and it showed in the organization, food, and fun that everyone enjoyed without a hitch. This mid-sommer festival was an opportunity for the kindred Chieftains (or leader representation) to meet and discuss issues within the Northern states and the region. The Gothis (god-persons or religious officials) of kindreds also met as well as the Valkyries (those women who serve the kindred as horn bearers, connecting the luck of the kindred to the wells of the world tree).

The cabin camping at Norway Point is quite nice. Everyone was settled in a little “village” with the main hall being the center of food and festivity. There is a lovely swimming beach and lots of woods to wander in.

Specific programming for the children was carried out through the event from workshops by Sara Axtel (Minneapolis, Powderhorn Cultural Wellness Center), members of Volkshof kindred and myself. I worked with the older kids teaching the Jim Johnston Norsery Rhyme “This is the world of Midgard” complete with dance steps, pantomimes, masks and a sun-disk parade.

It was different than Trothmoot because the intention of the event was to bring the regional Heathens together to form bonds and friendship. So the emphasis was on festive activity such as a Maypole and flower crowns, hall decorations and a whole lot of dancing. I presented a performance program especially written for the event, “The Transformation of Groa.” Drew Miller (Boiled in Lead) came up for the show to add his magical laptop sounds and there were six staving women who performed a stav dance leading the human Groa into the mound to become a mound-bride.

A special moment
The childrens performance was a moment that the entire hall found exceptional. Here we are, modern humans of Nordic ancestry watching our children re-create the story myth of our deepest root. It is this realization that our ancestors are alive in our children that made this moment of the event a sort of pinnacle. Listening to each person in the hall raise a horn to their parents, grand parents, great grands…by name and by deed really marks a huge difference between general pagan events and heathen events. There is a deep understanding that we are creating the world for our children based on how healthy our relationships with our ancestors are. There is a sense in each raised horn that deep healing is going on in the family of origin issues we all face and that there is a commitment to maintaining a high level of functioning for our children’s sake. I find this compelling whether at a small kindred meeting or a large regional gathering. This path is for our ancestors and our descendants, not just for us here and now.

Also, discussion was had on how this event could open up to individuals who, while not practicing Heathenry in a strict sense, are connected to heathenry through ancestry and interest. In Minnesota, our large Immigrant folksoul is beginning to seek their deeper roots and Heathenry is reaching towards the songs and dances of the Immigrant Era. A natural bridge is beginning to form and Volkshof Kindred is leading the way towards total folksoul healing.

Next year and other events
The site is already booked for the second annual Northern Folk Gathering and attendees said their fare well’s with “we will see you at LATP in September!” There is such a homecoming/family reunion feeling within these Heathen gatherings that growth is the natural outcome. I will be attending Lightning Across the Plains in Kansas this September for my third year. Last year I was recognized at the Midwest Thing held at LATP as volva (staff carrier) for the region. I look forward to reporting on it!


Editor’s note:  Interview  with Brody Derks of the Thule of  Volkshof  Kindred, about Heathenry and the Northern Folk Gatheringcan be found here.

Kari’s report on Trothmoot 2011 can be found here.


Midwest Author to Release Pagan Camping Book

Lori Dake, Chicago author and Independent Record Label owner, is set to release a book on Pagan camping by Ostara 2011.  The book is primarily focused on camping at Pagan festivals and gatherings, but also draws from years of camping at KOA’s and other non-Pagan camping and festivals.  Ms. Dake is seeking one last detail for her book, the cover, and she is willing to pay for the perfect photo.

A dining area set up at Sacred Harvest Festival - Photo credit, Cara Schulz

PNC – Minnesota interviewed Ms. Dake about her up coming book, why she wrote it, and the photo she is looking for as cover art.

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