Friday, September 21, 2012

Rebuilding a Pagan Community

I have been a Pagan most of my life.  In the sixties we were just coming into our own as a part of the counter-culture, what is today referred to as the hippy movement but actually was much much broader as the emerging liberation and civil rights movements, the anti-war movement and the beginnings of what would later be called the environmental movement or green revolution.  By the seventies we had a wide spread, loosely connected web of Pagan communities.  Oh, we had our differences, did we ever!  But there was a definite sense of being part of a greater Pagan Community.  Often the local communities sprung up with bookstores or occult shops, sometimes in competition with each other if there were several in an area.  There was an explosion of new traditions around this time.  It was a great time to be a Pagan but also a scary one as we had police "occult squads" all around the country looking for cults with dark motivations and far too many accusations human sacrifice etc. coming from the also emerging mega-church radical religious right.

But most of all, having come largely from the Wiccan roots of Gardner, we gathered and practiced in groups whether we called them covens or something else.  It was a community based movement overall.  There was a lot of individual fear of being outted as Pagan then but many of us were out and proud, myself included.  I taught a course for several years as part of the Ohio State Free University (loosely associated with Ohio State University) and was a consultant on Pagan and occult matters to the Psychology Dept. of OSU and as a result was one of the few "go to" Pagan speakers when the local papers or media needed someone to talk on all matters Pagan in Central Ohio.

I was personally targeted by the local mega church as a result and without going into details, they laid waste to much of my life then.  I retreated into the broom closet as a result for over a decade, mostly practicing solo, occasionally with a small group and retreating into scholarship which eventually led to my founding the Cybeline Revival.  I was not alone in this.  Hundreds of books on witchcraft and Paganism and all things occult were being published, the interest was still there, groups survived and continued but the steady march of the US towards the right made it feel unsafe to be too out especially to those interested but unable to connect with the remaining groups.  Along came Scott Cunningham with a series of books on how to be an eclectic solo practitioner which rapidly became wildly popular and over the next couple of decades the majority of our overall community largely turned away from group practice and towards solo practice, especially away from large urban centres. 

Here's the problem, Paganism, almost all traditions, at it's roots is a community powered path and we lost that and our way as a result.  We need to rebuild that sense of community to survive and thrive.  We need to join together and celebrate once again openly and unafraid.  We must put aside and reject the personal egos that solo practice promotes, build community centres open to all, acquire and share brick and mortar locations with each other and we need to SHARE with others as a community once again.  We have so much in common and we need to focus on that rather than our differences.  This is Pagan Pride season, find the nearest Pride event and join in.  If there is not one close by, get together now with friends and start planning one for next year.  Network with other Pagans, especially from other paths than your own.  If you are part of a group, encourage that group to network with other groups.  If you practice solo, look around, we are everywhere so step out of your shell and join in some group celebration somewhere.

The world is at a major crux right now and we ALL are needed and need to work together.


Saturday, August 11, 2012

New York Court Rules Against Freedom of Religion

The Christian right is fond of spewing "America is a Christian country" disregarding all facts of history and tonnes of statements from the founding fathers to the contrary.  Apparently at least one Judge in Albany did not get the memo that freedom of religion means ALL religions.  In Greene County, New York Pagans may be recognized as a legitimate religious path, but are treated to arbitrary standards no Christian church is held to when the rubber meets the road when it comes to equal treatment under the law.

The Maetreum of Cybele, founded originally in 1998 in Ohio by Cathryn Platine and joined quickly by Susan Davis, incorporated formally in 2005 under New York Religious Incorporation law.  Shortly afterwards the four owners of "Central House" in Palenville, NY deeded their interest to the Maetreum and thus gave up all individual rights to the property in an act of commitment to the vow of charitable works they each had taken as a priestess of Cybele.  That should have reset the clock regarding the property as far as the Town of Catskill was concerned.  The former owners had surrendered any control of the property which was now owned by an IRS registered and recognized church and religious charity under 501 c3 regulations.  The Maetreum of Cybele has only one of the original property owners as an active priestess, myself.  Another bought the interest of one of the original owners two years after the original purchase and the other two no longer have an active role in the the day to day activities of the Maetreum.  This means the six other active priestess besides myself have an equal say in all matters regarding the Maetreum and it's property.  That is important to note because the court regards the former use of the property as a continuation of the current use which makes about as much sense as going back to the family that owned the property from the mid-fifties to 2002 when it was run as a resort for Italian-Swiss people.

As part of the written and long adopted theology of the Cybeline Revival, the day to day name of our religion, charitable works, particularly those for the benefit of women in need is a cornerstone of how we live our religion.  Towards that end, since it's incorporation and indeed before that time, dozens of women in need have been housed at Central House.  Some, by no means all, of those women were transitioned transsexuals and somehow including helping them is not considered a worthy charitable work by the court.  I base this on this it even being part of the consideration rendered by the court.  Given recent Federal rulings on Title VII protections applying to those born transsexed as sex discrimination, a question now arises if the decision is hopeless tainted with sex discrimination as well as being openly hostile to a minority religion.

A prior decision and order given in the case by Judge Pulver noted that it was hard to not see discrimination in the actions of the Town of Catskill and noted that the standards being applied to the Maetreum of Cybele were standards no other local church had to meet and likely could even meet.  Every point in that decision was ignored by the trial judge, every one of them except that no court has the right to rule on the legitimacy of a religion but can only rule on the apparent sincerity of belief.  That is a matter of settled law.  Regardless of that, the opening and closing statements by the attorney for the Town of Catskill were almost entirely attacks on the legitimacy of a religion legally recognized by the State of New York and the Federal government.  Additionally the closing statement by the Town attorney consisted of slanderous personal attacks on myself, most of which had long been disproved (see link to Judge Pulver's decision above) and ruled against as part of the legal action prior to the trial.  Dan Vincelette had literally cyber stalked every single word I had ever written online to attempt to twist it.  He did this for seven long years in what should have been considered criminal acts, not evidence in a legal action regarding the property belonging to a religious corporation.  I am not the Cybeline Revival.  I founded it but my standing within the religion is exactly equal to every other priestess, we are organized and function as consensus based organization which is also clearly outlined in our theology and organizational models.

In 2006 the Maetreum of Cybele was granted property tax exemption by the Town of Catskill.  That year we also made a huge mistake in elevating a sociopath to priestess.  Sociopaths can be charming and often are which makes them very dangerous.  Inside organizations they often become antagonists.  Our sociopath followed the classic antagonist model and proceeded to attempt to completely destroy the Maetreum from within.  I was physically driven from the Maetreum property through extreme physical and verbal abuse on a level I had no idea could happen despite having worked with abused women for many years.  It was during this brief time period that the Catskill attorney contacted me, misrepresented himself as a "tax examiner" and asked to come on the property just to verify the number of buildings.  I told him he could with me present only. While the Maetreum property was held by those who attempted a schism at that time, we were in communication and I was trying to work out a compromise.  Vincelette showed up unannounced with a team of inspectors, bullied his way into the main house and proceeded to "blueprint" a 150 year old inn for building and alleged safety violations.  He wrote a "legal opinion" to justify removing our tax exemption that claimed the property was just residential even though he acknowledges that the schism group told him they still conducted regular religious services and functioned as the Maetreum.

It took a Freedom of Information demand two years later to see that so called "legal opinion" that by then had been the basis of two years of exemption renewal rejections.  The Town absolutely refused to reveal it to us before then in the Board of Assessment Review hearings for two full years completely tying our hands in proceeding to court.  During that time the schism had failed after less than a year and we had started rebuilding the Maetreum and the Cybeline Revival. Attendance was up, many many improvements were made to the property, the Temple was rebuilt to be permanent with concrete columns at the gateways to replace the former wooden gateways.  The entire first floor of the main house was purposed as public religious space, even the single bedroom on the first floor.  We started our "cafe" hours on Saturdays with an open house, free coffee and tea to encourage area women to come meet and talk in a safe space.  We greatly expanded our "meetups" so at least one of them happened almost every weekend.  We expanded our charitable outreach to the point where the majority of women living at the Phrygianum were part of that outreach to aid women who could not afford decent housing or were there on an emergency housing basis.  Many were escaping abusive situations as well.

In 2009 we finally learned how to file a lawsuit to challenge the continued sneering rejections of our property tax exemptions.  Up to that point the Town had required us to file extensive paperwork each year "proving" we met standards we had already met for the IRS in obtaining our recognized 501c3 status.  The assessor and Board of Assessment review rejected invitations to tour our property and see for themselves how we "used" it and it's clearly daily religious nature evident in every aspect of even the decorations in all the public spaces of the house, the Temple and the processional pathways.  During this time the Town Assessor let slip that our initial refusal of renewal of exemption was at the request of a member of the Catskill Town Board.  An attempt was made at the last minute at one of the Review hearings to hold us to a "change of use" filing requirement that wasn't part of the Town Code until AFTER the date we supposedly failed to file this mythical notice.

During the legal proceedings various members of the Catskill Town board and the various attorneys let slip over and over open admissions of the religious bigoted motives behind their actions.  Many of them are reported in the various news stories that were written. Here, here, here, here, here, here and here .

When we finally were able to have our day in court the proceedings took two days separated by over a month between them.  Still, the Town presented no direct evidence, no witnesses.  We left the court with the feelings we had more than proven our case, the judge openly hostile at times to the antics of the Town attorneys on cross examination and even indicating to our attorney that we had done so.  Written final arguments were dragged out for more than six months!  A decision was several months after that.  We could not believe that decision as it ignored almost every aspect of the prior decision handed down by Judge Pulver as well as just dismissing most of my own testimony which was uncontested!  It was basically based on the same unproven pronouncements by Vincelette that came just short of getting him charged with perjury by Judge Pulver and in no fashion had any appearance as having been written by the same Judge we had seen in court.

We are now fighting for our lives and to keep our property.  There are multiple excellent grounds for appeal which we have already filed notice to do.  Dan Vincelette told the Watershed Post  he didn't expect much protest from the pro-Pagans in this decision.  Please help us prove him absolutely wrong.  Spread the word of this outrage.  Make a donation to help us continue to fight this battle for ALL minority religious equal treatment, not just Pagans.  Demand justice!  If you have contacts with national media, show them this blog entry.  The court decision is here.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

From Whence the Patriarchy?

First let's get this out of the way, there probably never was a major matriarchal society throughout human history. No one has ever found evidence of such a society beyond the rumours of the Greeks about the Amazons.  What was, however, the basic human norm was a system of matrilinear descent.  This makes perfect biological sense as it is very hard to not know who your mother was while "who's your daddy?" remains to this day part of the lexicon.  And it was from the switch from matrilinear descent to patrilinear descent that the patriarchy came.

Think about it.  Patrilinear descent and passing of property is dependent on absolute knowledge of who is a child's father meaning the sex life of the mother must be known and controlled just for patriarchy to exist.  It is from this switch that the obscene concept of "illegitimate" children comes from and I say obscene because it is.  Placing such a label on an innocent child is about as obscene as it gets.  The evidence of history is clear if largely and willfully ignored.  Matrilinear descent was the norm throughout most of human history and such cultures are largely peaceful by nature and egalitarian in regard to the sexes.  In a world that has been dominated by patriarchial thinking since roughly 1500 BCE, egalitarian can appear down right matriarchal.

Most of ancient history as still taught to this day in grade schools and undergrad universities is pure garbage and actual historians are well aware of this but allow it to be perpetuated.  We still teach that the Tigris and the Euphrates fertile crescent is the "cradle of civilization" when the earliest known civilization has been known to predate that by almost six thousand years!  Known since the early 1960s.  It was in central Anatolia or modern Turkey first uncovered by James Mellaart at Catal Huyuk where exploration continues to this day and dozens of contemporary cities in that area have also now been found.  It was a Mother Goddess culture that later spread to Egypt, the Indus valley and the large islands of the eastern Mediterranean.  All of those cultures were also matrilinear in nature. They were also all, at least originally, Mother Goddess civilizations.  In a history that spans around five thousand years to the time of the Mesopotamian cities, this civilization never built walled cities or is there any evidence of ANY war but rather extensive trade networks.

Circa 1900 Sir Arthur Evans excavated the "Palace of Knossos" on Crete and shocked the world with the announcement that the Minoan civilization was a Goddess culture.  Today we know that the centre of the Minoan civilization was actually on Thera, known today as Santorini which was a volcano that erupted circa 1500 BCE (believe it or not the exact date is still debated) in the most violent eruption in all of recorded history.  The Minoans dominated the entire eastern Mediterranean with trade and established trading settlements all over the entire eastern coastal regions including major ones on the Nile delta.  The explosion of Thera is almost certainly the origin of the stories of Atlantis especially when you consider the habour of Thera was the caldera of the volcano and naturally had the concentric circles of water and land that Plato wrote about.  Further evidence is in that the civilization established by the Minoans was lightyears ahead of anything else on the planet with hot and cold indoor plumbing and flush toilets, earthquake proof construction methods that were engineered to naturally cool and heat themselves and furniture and art work that would look at home in any modern home today.  As a Goddess culture, the descent was matrilinear and there was absolute equality of the sexes.

Until very very recently historians have ignored the influence of the Minoan culture on the western world.  Our world today would be vastly different had Thera stayed quiet with a high degree of probability that no patriarchy would have found a foothold and the Abrahamic religions would be minor footnotes.  Think of the intellectual dishonesty involved in ignoring the influence of the single most important event in human history for when Thera did explode it changed weather as far away as China and Japan, the tsunami that resulted scoured the entire eastern Mediterranean coastlines of all settlements save a few in the lee of major islands.  What was left of the Minoan culture was on the high ground of Crete and that was immediately invaded by the Mycenaean Greeks and the entire Greek civilization thought today the origin of modern civilization was built on the bones of the Minoans with patriarchy overlaid.  What was left of the Minoan culture survived in Phrygia (Turkey) having come full circle back to where the first Goddess culture civilization began.  The Phrygians retained matrilinear descent traditions and the Mother Goddess then went from there to Athens and later Rome.  During the fifth century CE the christians hunted down and killed "all the daughters and sons of the Mother Goddess" throughout Phrygia after killing all the priestesses of Cybele at their Roman Phrygianum on the Vatican hill in their beds and burning the library of Alexandra and killing the library's last and greatest scholar, Hypatia of Alexandria with a death of a thousand cuts done with seashells by a christian mob.  Europe immediately plunged into the Dark Ages as a result.  This is christian historical legacy this and the prior killing off of all the gnostic christians giving rise to the brand of christianity, perhaps better called Paulianity has cursed the world to this day.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Why Do Christians Hate Women?

The answer to this lies in the very beginning of the Bible and is clear to anyone who removes the cultural blinders from their eyes to see what the story of Adam and Eve is actually saying.  It is first necessary to understand the symbols being used.  Whether the tradition you hold to within christianity says it was the apple or the pomegranate that was "the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil" matters not when you realize both of these fruits were sacred to the Mother Goddess.  The christian "villain" in the story is the serpent.  From the beginning of recorded history, the serpent has been held sacred, again, to the Mother Goddess.  So even before we get started the story suddenly is no longer a creation story but a war story. 

Consider, the very name "Adam" was originally a notaricon of the first letters of the four directions, a distinctly Pagan concept to this day.  Consider, Yahweh tells Adam and Eve that if they eat from the tree of knowledge, they will die.  Yahweh does not want them to gain knowledge, he wants them to be stupid!  The serpent, as a stand in for the Mother Goddess, tells Eve (notice the Mother Goddess speaks to the woman rather than the man) and points out Yahweh is lying through his teeth.  Hardly the attribute of a Divine parent with his kids best interest in mind is it?  Eve eats the divine fruit and invents clothing.  The creation of fabric was the providence of women historically in every ancient culture.  Accident?  I hardly think so.  In the spirit of the egalitarian nature of ancient Goddess cultures, Eve shares the fruit with Adam.  They don't die.  So who told the truth?  Then we learn from Yahweh's internal dialogue? with himself? that there is also a tree of life that grants eternal life and Yahweh is totally freaked out at the idea that Adam and Eve eat that as well and thus live forever.  So much for the eternal life part of christianity from the beginnings but wait, Mother Goddess traditions are base on the idea that the "soul" is the divine part of the individual that IS part of the Mother Goddess and thus eternal.  So Yahweh actually wants people to be stupid and die, the "evil" serpent (Mother Goddess) wants them to be educated and know they live forever.

Let's dig a bit deeper into this rather simple story because there is a lot more to see.  Let us look at the garden of Eden itself.  Adam and Eve are in a place where they pretty much just have to be simple hunters and gatherers with the addition of horticulture which is simple and effective.  A perfect allegory for the neolithic Goddess culture circa 10,000 BCE to 4000 BCE in central Anatolia (modern Turkey).  They are punished by being expelled from this place and now have to till the earth for their bread "by the sweat of their brow" with the very earth not cooperating with them.  Eve is further punished with difficult births and being forced ever after to submit to Adam and liking it.

Now let us look at Cain and Able where the curtain is actually pulled away from this farce once and for all.  Cain is a farmer and makes sacrifices to Yahweh of the fruit of his labour, bread.  Able is a goat herder and makes bloody sacrifices of killing animals.  True to the nature of a "god" who acts like a petty vindictive child himself, Yahweh likes the blood sacrifice and turns up his nose at the bread.  The sacrament of eating bread as part of ritual is one of the oldest Mother Goddess traditions that gives thanks for the fruits of horticulture (as opposed to agriculture) which was, once again, the providence of women in ancient cultures.  Wait, it gets better!  Cain is sent into exile for killing his brother after being rejected by Yahweh, to the land of Nod, east of Eden and then the curtain is pulled back on this story because Cain is first afraid anyone who will encounter him will kill him (anyone? who?) and lives among the people of his wife.  Wait a minute, weren't Adam and Eve the original people and their boys the original children?  Where did these folks living "east of Eden" come from?  Whole cities of them?  Oh, that is fairly simple when you realize this whole damn story is about a temperamental LOCAL diety who brags about creating the world when his own story proves that, just as was his bullshit about the tree of good and evil, that "creation" is a lying sack of excrement because there are whole, and apparently large, groups of people he did NOT create.

It was early christians who ran with this whole concept of "original sin" and laid it on the shoulders of the daughters of Eve when clearly Adam ate the fruit as well.  Yahweh wants people to be stupid and what was the actions of the early christians?  They burned the library of Alexandria, not once but several burnings, hatred of knowledge.  To this day they fight science with garbage and try to prevent actual knowledge being part of children's education. Yahweh is a proven liar, wants stupid people who die and gets his rocks off on bloody dead animals.  Christians have made the earth's ground run red with blood ever since and finally Yahweh hated women over men which is simply continued to this day in the war on women. And let us not forget that the promise of eternal life is now held by christians as a condition of subservience to their rather bizarre cult of Jesus beliefs rather than the birthright of all.

The real meanings of this story are crystal clear...and not at all pretty.  Christians hate women because this is hardwired into the very nature of their theology from the very first part of their holy book.