Tackling Domestic Violence and Abuse in Faith Communities Conference

Today your illustrious web team got let out of the back office, and were unshackled from the daily grind of making this ‘ere site, to go and attend a day conference run by Kahrmel Wellness on Tackling Domestic Violence and Abuse in Faith Communities in Derby.  ‘Twas a goodly day with many things to think about; you might have already seen the couple of tweets we sent out whilst there.

Being as it’s an important subject, we thought we’d give you a bit of a rundown on the best bits, as it were.  The conference was free to attend, and least importantly, we got a lunch in the middle.  Before and after that, the speakers were a mix of professionals and faith leaders (such as rabbis and imams) talking about domestic abuse and the additional facets of spiritual abuse, migrant domestic violence experiences and immigration, child sexual abuse in faith communities, behavioural patterns of perpetrators, and female genital mutilation (FGM; which unfortunately included photographs, just before lunch…)

It would be really easy for us to say that cases of domestic abuse don’t happen within the pagan community.  It would be easy to say that we’re all wonderful people who respect each other’s choices and don’t try to control others.  It would be easy to say that it doesn’t happen here.  It only happens to other people.  Somewhere else.  All the paedophiles are Catholic priests, which get reported in the Daily Mail.  All the abusers who use people’s faith and core beliefs against them are in other faiths, and not ours.

It does happen here, though.  It’s a statistical certainty.

In a community the size of ours across the county, it’s most likely happening somewhere.  To someone.  Possibly someone you know.  And being perpetrated by someone else you know.  It could even be you.

Abuse doesn’t just include physical and sexual violence, though that can be and often is part of it.  It can also consist of emotional and psychological factors, financial and economic elements and incorporate forms of spiritual abuse. Continue reading

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Capitalising Pagans: Oberon’s Tipping Point

An article on The Wild Hunt asks:

‘Was Paganism Left Out of the New AP Stylebook Religion Chapter?’

Writer Heather Greene refers to the new edition of the Associated Press style guide, The AP Stylebook. This is the book that instructs Associated Press journalists in presentation, to ensure an organisational consistency in their output. Most organisations with a written output will have some sort of style guidance document: it’ll outline matters of spelling, punctuation, grammar, and so on – for example, does the company approve of split infinitives? Does it use American or British English spelling? Should dialogue be presented in “double quotes” or ‘single quotes’?

And Heather asks:

‘What were the changes and additions? And, more importantly, how will they affect mainstream news reports on stories involving Pagans and Heathens? Will “Pagan” and “Paganism” finally be capitalized?’

She relates the story of one Oberon Zell who, in 2013, having ‘reached the tipping point’, started a campaign group called The Coalition to Capitalize Pagan (the group’s American – hence the ‘z’.  See?  Style guides are important). Oberon wrote a letter to the editors complaining that paganism as a religion deserves the same respect as other religions and should be capitalised, as they are. He collected sixty-one signatures for his letter, including Raymond Buckland, Vivianne Crowley and Starhawk. An accompanying petition on change.org ‘garnered over 450 signatures’. (Just to put that in context, the change.org petition to put Jane Austen on British banknotes collected 36,161 signatures. A petition to nominate Malala Yousafzai for the Nobel Peace Prize collected a quarter of a million.)

Heather quotes Oberon:

‘For the past 45 years I have been giving interviews on Paganism to newspaper journalists, always emphasizing that “Pagan” and “Paganism” are the proper names for our religion, and should thus be capitalized in that context.’

The trouble is, ‘Pagan’ and ‘Paganism’ aren’t the proper names for our religion, because paganism isn’t a religion. As one of the commenters beneath the Wild Hunt article points out, ‘paganism’ is a religious classification – a category of belief, not a religion in its own right. Comparable terms would be, for example, ‘monotheism’, ‘pantheism’ or ‘atheism’. In response, another commenter suggests ‘Abramism’, which is a religious classification and includes the religions descended from Abraham (aka Abram), such as Christianity, Judaism and Islam. But the stylistic inconsistency here is that the words Abramic, Abramist and Abramism are based on a proper noun – the name of a person, Abraham – and thus carry a capital letter anyway.

The truth is that this is something of a complex area. The difference between ‘religion’ and ‘religious classification’ can be subtle. Christianity, for example, is accepted as a single religion even while members of its various denominations insult, assault, and occasionally kill each other over doctrinal differences (does the bread and wine represent the body and blood of Christ, or does it become the body and blood of Christ?). Roman Catholicism, a denomination of Christianity incorporating a single doctrinal tradition, is capitalised, as is Protestantism, which is a sub-classification of traditions including Anglicanism, which is a sub-classification of traditions including the Society of Friends and the Methodists. Yet – and this is very important – the colossal majority of Christians, be they Anglican, Catholic, Baptist, Pentecostal, evangelical, or whatever else, live in relative peace with each other and recognise and celebrate their shared values and identity.

Forcing a comparison, as the Wild Hunt article compels us to do, where does the word ‘paganism’ sit in our version of that tree that, in Christian terms, has its root in ‘monotheism’ and branches out to Methodism?

Paganism can be (but is rarely) monotheistic: one God. It can be polytheistic: many gods. It can be pantheistic – that all is deity and deity is all; or it can be non-theistic: without gods. Paganism can be henotheistic, meaning that many gods are recognised but only one is worshipped. It can even be specific variants on this sort of terminology: duotheistic for those who worship the Goddess and the God; or tritheistic for those who recognise only the Maiden, the Mother and the Crone.

Yet while pagans can be included in all these brackets, these brackets do not in themselves denote paganism. Buddhists and Taoists may similarly believe in God, or gods, or they may be non-theistic and consider divinity to be something more conceptual – neither faith would label itself pagan. That said, some branches of Christianity would declare them such, because in that usage, ‘pagan’ means, essentially, ‘non-Christian’.  Even we have difficulty working out precisely what we mean when we say ‘pagan’, and generally seem to adopt the position that ‘you know it when you see it’.

It makes sense that some pagans would wish to assert their ownership of the word used to describe their several religions. They want to establish a difference between ‘Pagan’, which means… well, whatever it is that they believe; and ‘pagan’, which is so readily used to mean ‘someone who believes in something I don’t’. But the trouble is that ‘pagan’ means so many different things to so many different people, even within the pagan community, that it seems premature to be insisting of others that they treat us as one, single, unified faith. A Wiccan might freely identify themselves as a pagan and be happy to be referred to as such. But ask an Asatruar what paganism means to them and they’ll likely explain that actually they’re not pagans or Pagans – they’re Heathens. Yet to an outsider, the difference might be difficult to grasp. Assume Druidry is the same religion as Wicca and you’ll likewise be put straight soon enough. So on what basis, with all this said, does Oberon say, ‘“Pagan” and “Paganism” are the proper names for our religion’?

For myself, I would say that I’m pagan, but I’m not Pagan. I don’t follow a religion called Paganism.  Though, if you ask me what my actual religion is, I’d find it difficult to answer you just now. So maybe I have a flawed viewpoint. What do you think? Would you have signed the change.org petition? Have I missed an important point and misunderstood the issue completely? Put me right in the comments.


PS: Note from the Wild Hunt article:

On June 24 at 2:30pm, AP religion writer Rachel Zoll, who assisted Stylebook editors in creating the new AP Stylebook chapter, will be hosting a Twitter chat to discuss the changes to the guide, the inclusions and exclusions, and about religion journalism in general. Go to Twitter and follow the #APStyleChat hashtag to hear what she has to say.

Might be interesting.

Military Pagans Redux

How odd.

I realise I come to this a little late, but on the twenty-eighth day of March, in the year 2014, the Metro newspaper published on its website a news story.

Not unusual in itself, I realise. This is what news companies do. It makes them healthy and brings them many nice, shiny moneys.

This article, though, struck me as a bit odd.

Headline! Pow!

“Pagans and witches serving in the British military”

Oka-ay… I’m sure there’s some news here. Maybe in the littler text underneath…?

The article reports that “A total of 770 members of the Navy, Army and RAF declared their faith as ‘other’. It [the 770] includes 120 devotees of paganism…”

And the piece goes on to describe paganism as being based on a reverence for nature and having been “famously explored in the 1973 film The Wicker Man”.

I wonder if the article writer ever actually watched The Wicker Man? While it was an excellent film (opinion piece), and remains a classic, it wasn’t exactly a documentary on modern pagan practices. I’ve been knocking around with pagans for, ooo, a meellion years at least, and never once in my experience has anyone ever stopped a ritual and gone, “You know what this really needs? A virgin police sergeant to burn. Get the Mister Punch masks out.”

Still, reading on, I see that at least sixty pagans serve in the Army, according to a Freedom of Information request, and also twenty who follow Wicca. Apparently these groups don’t overlap. But pagans, says the Metro, “would be the first to dance around a maypole on May Day or gather at Stonehenge to see the sun rise during the summer solstice.”

I’m not sure whether this means pagans in general, or Army pagans specifically.  They have guns; we’d probably let them get in first if they wanted.

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The Daily Mail’s Ire – Again

The Daily Mail, Middle England’s favouritest ‘news’ paper, decided to have another crack at paganism yesterday.

As you may know, the Daily Mail is a publication that seeks to profit through generating fear and outrage amongst its readers. It’s described by a contributor to the Urban Dictionary as, “a racist, sexist, slanderous, homophobic, unprofessional, sensationalist Hitler fanzine”. I’m not saying that myself, of course – but I’m not disputing it either.

The Mail has a stock of standard targets for its hate and mockery. Anyone its writers think they can present as being foreign, different, or just a bit weird is put on the list, and gone over at fairly regular intervals. Muslims are a staple because, in Daily Mail-land, ‘Muslim’ is basically only a fancy foreign word for ‘mad bomber’. Gay, lesbian and bisexual people are marketed in the Mail as, at best, freakish and misguided objects of pity, and, at worst, devious paedophiles hunting your kids. And anyone even thinking of being anywhere near the Mail whilst being transgendered or transsexual had seriously better run for cover. Most foreigners are assumed to be pawns of the evil European empire, working to take over Britain and crush us under the jackboot of liberal lefty dictatorship (no, the Mail doesn’t see it as a contradiction, for some reason).  Women and non-Muslim black people are less frequent targets, but can look forward to just as much uninformed vitriol when they are.

This time, the Mail’s ire is directed not only at pagans, but specifically at pagans working in the police. Paganism has been comically misrepresented in a number of the paper’s articles in recent years, most famously in columnist Melanie Phillips’ ridiculously ill-informed “Stones of Praise” piece from October 2010. But while paganism in general is simply a target for merriment and mockery (“look at the funny weirdoes in their silly robes”), it becomes a whole new kind of outrageous when it’s ‘revealed’ (again) that there are pagans working in the police. Then it’s not funny. Then it’s a conspiracy undermining the very foundation of British justice

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Ethical Banking

Banks. We all love banks, don’t we? They’re an essential part of modern living for most of us. They keep our money nice and safe for us (probably), make it (mostly) easy for us to access it, and generally give us a more favourable interest rate than we’d get stashing our notes under the mattress. Plus they’re less prone to burglars – although they do on occasion suffer from bankers.

Generally speaking, once a bank has got hold of our money, they don’t just stick it under their own mattresses until we ask for it back. They tend to do things with it, like investing it to make more, and that mostly means we have to trust that while they’ve got it, they’re not going to use it to fund anything too warlikedrug-cartelish or environmentally damaging.

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Discussion Time: Forgiveness For Pagans…?

A recent discussion on Viking ethics established that, yes, contrary to popular historical representation, they did have some. Quite a complex arrangement of them, actually: it was considered important not to drink so much at a party that you fell over, and to make sure that a traveller arriving at your home had space near the fire so that he could warm his knees.

Now on the other hand, these were people who had no particular qualms about indulging in the odd spot of looting, pillaging, ravaging and slaughtering when the mood took them; and this was their approach to people they had no particular beef with. One can only speculate – from a safe distance, if you’ll take my advice – on how they treated people they actively didn’t like.

It’s fair to say, then, that the Norse sense of ethics was somewhat different to our own – but this is hardly unreasonable. Morality is one of the big problems for philosophies and religions the world over: where does the human sense of morality come from, and why can it be so strong and inflexible over the scale of a single lifetime, yet have been so bendy and unpredictable over the course of human history?

The question that cropped up during the discussion was a little more specific: did the Vikings (and by extension, should a modern Ásatrú) forgive?

Forgiveness is a concept of critical importance to monotheists, and one of the central foundations of Christianity: Christ is the mechanism through which God forgives human sinfulness. Christians are encouraged, before almost everything else, to be forgiving – and modern British society, having its social and ethical roots firmly embedded in Christian tradition and philosophy, views the ability to forgive as a thing of great merit.

But what actually is forgiveness? And is it relevant to those of us who aren’t Christian – and if so, why?

The simplest definition of forgiveness would be a willingness, after some affront, to behave as though no wrong had been done. To put the offence from your mind and treat the transgressor just as you did before. Most people pair ‘forgive’ and ‘forget’ and treat them as a single process: you do me wrong, but I forgive you, and I’ll do all I can to erase the whole incident from my memory.

But is forgiveness possible if we don’t or can’t forget? Is it still forgiveness if we remember the wrong done to us, even if we can bring ourselves to behave as though it’s ‘water under the bridge’? Is it still forgiveness if it’s offered grudgingly, or if it’s not heartfelt? And can forgiveness be conditional? If I forgive you, but on the understanding that it’d better not happen again? Or should forgiveness be assumed to depend on the true repentance of the forgiven, with further offences undermining the whole thing? What about philosophies that hold to some notion of natural retribution, such as karma or the Threefold Law? Does my forgiveness of your offence affect the retribution that nature would otherwise have brought on you?

As far as I can establish, Viking forgiveness carried just this expectation: I’ll forgive you, even treat you as though it never happened, but I won’t forget, and you won’t find me so merciful if you do it again.

But that’s one path, one philosophy, and one interpretation of that philosophy. The Ásatrúar might still tell me I’ve got it all wrong – and by Harry, they might be right. So what do you think, dear reader? What’re your thoughts on the nature of forgiveness, as it pertains to the different pagan paths?

2012: Internet Doom Classes

This post is an opinion, with which you may disagree.  Please feel free to comment below and say so!

From all over the Internet:

“As foretold by the Mayan calendar, the Universe is one year away from its final destination, where this reality will terminate.

Please prepare to vacate the universe. Return all matter to its pre-atomic state, and place any left over dark matter into the black holes provided. If you require any of your checkout procedure to be recorded as string theory equations, then please collect and retain any dimensions you have beyond the third.

Any remaining Time can be claimed back as Space, if you correctly fill in your Time Return Forms. If you have not yet been issued with a Time Return Form, then this is an illusion caused by your limited dimensionality. Relax, and an authorized Time Collection Agent will have been visiting you.

On behalf of our parent company, The Gods, and our Earth Ground Crew, The Mayans, we hope you enjoyed your stay in this reality, and would choose to participate in an inexplicable and random expression of spontaneously generated space-time in what, for want of a better term, we shall call ‘The Future’.”

Well, this is it. The last year of humanity. Happy New Year (belated, I know). Come December, it’s curtains. Goodnight, Vienna. And Paris, and Rome, and London, and New York, and everywhere else. The End Of The World is Nigh.

And I know this For A Fact™, for I have read it on the Internet. And as we all know, they wouldn’t be allowed to say it if it wasn’t true.

21 December 2012: the fateful Day of Doom, as heralded by a plethora of books, websites and TV shows. The Apocalypse. Armageddon. The final plunge into eternal darkness; or at the most optimistic, a comprehensive rolling-up and restarting of the world which we’ll be lucky indeed to survive.

Oh, woe!

Or possibly – depending on your perspective – hallelujah!

I don’t know: I suppose it depends what you think awaits us all on the Other Side.

Still, I thought it might be an interesting idea to have a closer look at some of these prophecies – to gird our loins; face the music; dree our collective wyrd – to find out exactly what awaits us during these End Times.

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