Editorial: Watching Teo be the Bishop in San Jose

Editor’s Note:  PNC-Minnesota reprinted this editorial from PNC-Bay Area as Teo Bishop is a featured guest for 2013’s Sacred Harvest Festival.

I enjoyed several rituals and workshops this year at Pantheacon and felt very happy to be a part of such a magical event. This year I had the privilege of going to a workshop in the Ár nDraiocht Fein (ADF) suite that actually turned out to be one of my all-time favorite experiences at Pantheacon. Teo Bishop did a talk called “Being the Bishop”; where he openly reflected on his life, career as Matt Morris, spiritual transition into Teo Bishop, and the merging of both sides of himself today. As the writer of the blog, Bishop in the Grove, I have been reading his blog for some time, yet did not know what to expect. I was not disappointed.

Not only was Teo engaging and transparent in his sharing of his life but he showed a very intimate side of himself through his stories and his music. It was the first time I got to hear Teo sing in person, I had only heard one or two songs online after finding out about his career as Matt Morris. I sat with my husband and a hand full of close friends as if I were at a concert in someone’s living room. He sang and I cried. He talked and I listened. He smiled and I smiled; it was a truly transformative experience to see someone talk about the introspective transition between fame and spirituality.

teo presentations pconThere was no special stage, no lighting crew and no back-up band. There was only Teo and a bunch of people immersed in the world of his magic inside of a small hospitality suite on the second floor of the Double Tree Hotel.

Teo sung several songs from his 2010 album When Everything Breaks Open. He played his acoustic guitar and pulled from a place deep within his spirit. While he mentioned that his songs were not Pagan, I still heard the internal struggle of where he was spirituality, at the time, in his lyrics.

teo bishop

Picture courtesy of David Salisbury

As one of the upcoming 2013 national guest for the Sacred Harvest Festival in Minnesota, Teo Bishop is transcending beyond his blog and moving into an arena of Pagan artists that comes from behind the screen.  If this presentation at Pantheacon is a small portion of what I can expect from his spot on the upcoming Sacred Harvest Festival ticket, I am even more excited to share Pagandom with him. This version of spiritual transformation went beyond the typical talk about an author or a singer, and went into the intimate and authentic life of a true artist.


Crystal Blanton, Pagan Newswire Collective Bay Area

Pagans and Privilege panel packs them in at PantheaCon

One of the most talked about educational sessions at Pantheacon, a conference for Pagans, Heathens, Indigenous Non-European religions hosted in San Jose, California each President’s Day weekend, wasn’t part of the official programming.  It was the Pagans and Privilege panel which explored the layers and effects of privilege within our religious community.  Panel members included  Elena Rose, Xochiquetzal Duti Odinsdottir, River Higginbotham and past Sacred Harvest Festival guest of honor Crystal Blanton.  Ms. Blanton and her family continued to attend  Sacred Harvest Festival since her first introduction to the festival even though they live in California.  The panel was moderated by T. Thorn Coyle, who has held workshops in the Twin Cities and across the USA.


Panelists from left to right: Elena Rose, Xochiquetzal Duti Odinsdottir, Crystal Blanton, River Higginbotham

The panel would spend an hour exploring how to recognize privilege and entitlement and open up dialogue around what can be a very divisive and contentious issue. Ms. Coyle had the original idea to create the panel and she recruited the four panelists.  Ms. Blanton said being part of the panel was a great opportunity because, “Being a Pagan of Color has it’s unique challenges and slowly we are finding different mediums to share our experiences to others so that we can grow and heal collectively. Yet, I do not think privilege begins or ends with race, I think it is a very layered concept that is often dismissed as a race thing only.”

The Pagans and Privilege proposal was originally submitted to Pantheacon to be part of the official programming, but like many other proposals, didn’t make the cut.  Covenant of the Goddess, New Wiccan Church and  the New Reformed Order of the Golden Dawn shared the Presidential Suite, a large multi room con suite, and they offered the group space for the workshop.  News of the panel spread through social media.  And spread.

“I didn’t know we would draw as many people as we did,” says Ms. Blanton.  “When the facebook invite started to circulate, I saw the people saying yes and thought maybe half would show. I was very wrong and yet very pleased that  people wanted to come to participate in such a complex discussion.”

Minnesota Pagan and author Lisa Spiral Besnett wanted to attend the panel because of the respect she has for the panelists, but also because she has an interest in the topic, “I have a broad exposure to people and cultures and I am very much aware of the privilege I hold as a white woman, even when I’m Pagan identified.  I also experience global discrimination due to my weight and my wheelchair dependent son, and occasionally because of my religion.  Having spoken with Pagans with non-white/Eurocentric racial identities I also am aware that I am not always conscious of how I contribute to furthering my own privilege, even within the pagan community, sometimes at the expense of others.”

Ms. Besnett, like an estimated 25 others, wasn’t able to attend the panel because the room was already packed.  “When people started sitting on the floor to make room, I got the idea that this might be a heavily attended program,’ said Blanton, “then I started wishing we had more  space and  more time.”  Forty two people wedged into the single room.

The panel opened with Coyle talking about what is meant by privilege.  “If you have clean drinking water coming out of your faucet,  that is privilege.”  She emphasized the discussion about privilege would not be about placing blame, guilt, or victimization but about gaining a deeper understanding of one another and exploring differences and common ground.  Privilege is often defined as the advantages a person or group has that are so normal to them they are usually unaware of them.

Panel moderator T Thorn Coyle

Panel moderator T Thorn Coyle

The panelists, who spoke from varied minority perspectives, then shared how each of them were privileged.  Ms. Rose, a transgender woman who was disowned by her family, discussed how her high quality of education gained her advantages not shared by most others.  Not only did she have a stronger academic background, she knew how to find information, which is a skill that confers privilege,  “I would say just look it up.  Just google it.  And they wouldn’t know what I meant.  They didn’t know how to find the information they needed.”

Heather Biedermann, a Mankato Heathen, said she enjoyed how each of the panelists admitted to what privilege they had and how they were lucky to have various kinds of support.  ” These privileges were seen as blessings that made it possible for them to be there speaking to the group. Those who didn’t have the same privilege talked about how they had to deal without having that benefit, and it really opened my eyes to not take anything for granted. After hearing the stories of each on the panel, I felt like I identified even more with each person, even though all of us come from different backgrounds.”

Ms. Odinsdottir had advice for those who sit at the pinnacle of privilege in the United States, “Don’t apologize for things you didn’t do, don’t say you’re sorry for what others have done.”  She told attendees that misplaced guilt is not helpful, but being aware we live in a white supremacist culture is. Some of the attendees leaned back or looked confused or unhappy at her statement.  She explained a white supremacist culture has nothing to do with being a skinhead, it is simply a culture where white culture is supreme and in a position of power.

Mr. Higginbotham joked about his position of privilege saying he’s a white male with a good income.  Like the other panelists he echoed times in his life where he has unthinkingly enjoyed the benefits of privilege and how difficult it is when that privilege is yanked away from him.  He spoke about how, due to his religion, he’s had a deep concern he could lose his job.

One of the most tweeted quotes from the panel came from Blanton, “We are all oppressed and we are all oppressors.”  This drew nods from many of the attendees and panelists as the words sunk in.  Later, Blanton spoke about this moment, “One moment that sticks out to me was the emotion that was evoked within me when speaking about my own privilege, a privilege that the kids I work with do not have. I think people automatically assume that those who talk about privilege are standing in a “victim” mentality role. I recognize that I am often the oppressed and the oppressor. I am humbled by a society that puts people in a position to be on both sides of the fence and awareness becomes the most important tool we can harness.”

Ms. Biedermann said she thought the panel would focus on problems that were prevalent in the community and ways we can work to fix them. “Instead,” she said, “the focus was on the privileges that each of us may have in our lives and how those things may make life easier for ourselves compared to another person.”  She went on to say the panel “really opened my eyes to how all of these things can stack up and make a person have more opportunities than another. The idea here wasn’t that you should feel bad or guilty about these privileges, but instead to understand where other people are coming from, and to be more sensitive to what is going on in the world around you.”

The hour long discussion was paced by Coyle who asked the audience and panel to stop and take a deep, slow breath.  These breath breaks were designed to allow participants and attendees to maintain control over powerful emotions and to let meaning sink in.  Towards the end of the discussion, Coyle invited attendees to continue the discussion at the Pagans Of Color hospitality suite, as their allotted time was almost up.

Blanton says she plans to do more Pagans of Color programming next year at Pantheacon and said a second Shades of Faith book may be released by then.  That news is welcome to both Besnett and Beidermann.  “I would absolutely be interested in continuing this discussion in a larger venue,” said Ms. Besnett, “It’s not the kind of issue that can be resolved by a single event.”  Ms. Biedermann concurs, “As the panel talked, I knew that there was so much to say, and an hour or two wasn’t even enough time to touch the tip of the iceberg. Next year, I hope to see more sessions talking about privilege and diversity in Paganism. It’s so important that we explore these topics even more.”

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,
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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Pantheacon Thoughts: Walking Your Talk

This years Pantheacon, in San Jose, Ca. had a thought provoking theme, “Walking Your Talk”. Rhetorically asked was, “What are we doing individually and as groups to take our vision of Earth Centered Spiritually out into the world?”. As Pagan sub-culture develops in communities like Paganistan, we may find ourselves asking the same question.

I asked nine attendees,  mostly presenters and authors, but also a couple involved partic ipants the same three questions hoping to get at the essence of west coast thought on the matter.  You may find their answers not far from yours!

Victoria Slind-flor (right) dressed for Poma Gira Devotional, Nels and Judith Olson(left)

1) What does ‘Walking your Talk’ (WYT) look like to you?

2) What aspect of WYT is most important for Pagans bring to their relations in the mainstream community?

3) What area of accountability in WYT do Pagans most lack, or is your biggest complaint in Pagans WYT?

Victoria Slind-flor – Victoria is a Dianic crone Witch and Artist. She is a journalist and teaches at Cherry Hill Pagan Seminary, and is a member of The Pagan Alliance.  She is known to many in Paganistan from a 2005  SHF guest appearance. Continue reading

Hoodoo Pilgrimage to Lucky Mojo Curio Company

Lucky Mojo Curio Company

Pantheacon in San Jose, Ca was an intense and spectacular  event, and PNC-MN will have several pieces coming up about that experience.

Most timely to publish is our pilgrimage, which took place after Pantheacon, to the Lucky Mojo Curio Company. The Proprietor, Cat Yronwode, is considered one of the foremost authorities on the one truly American folk magic, HooDoo. Timely because my wife, Mistress Judy (the motivating factor for our pilgrimage), and two upcoming national guests to the Twin Cities are all practitioners of the conjuring art of HooDoo.  Orion Foxwood,  offering his course in Faery Seership this weekend at Eye of Horus , John Michael Greer , honored guest at the upcoming Paganicon, and Judy are all also graduates of Cat’s  HooDoo Rootwork course!

Hoodoo, also known as conjure or rootwork, is a form of predominantly African-American traditional folk magic that developed from the syncretism of a number of separate cultures and magical traditions.

Continue reading