Wednesday, March 7, 2012

My Sisterhood: Evolution

Three years ago, I was wandering the halls of the Doubletree hotel in San Jose and trying to figure out what I would be attending for the evening session at Pantheacon.  I read one ritual description that mentioned it would be a skyclad rite for women.  It was being presented by a group called The Amazon Priestess Tribe. Skyclad? Amazon? I had to go.

Amazons and Naiads sing at the beginning of the Earth.

For a long period of my life, I felt like I was alone in being the kind of woman that I am.  It wasn't that I didn't know other women or that I wasn't friends with them.  It wasn't that I didn't know that women like the Amazons existed.  I just didn't know women like them, personally and I didn't know how to find them or even if I should.  Thankfully, The Goddess does know such things and she sent me to the right place at the right time.

"The Amazon Priestesses are a rowdy, intellectual, wily, beautiful, dangerous, sacred sisterhood of High Priestesses in the Amazon Tradition. We celebrate our wild natures as well as our poised propriety, we dance naked beneath the moon, sing in harmony and screech like banshees, and generally revel in the Blood and Womb Mysteries of the Goddess in each one of us...and in you." - The Amazon Priestess Tribe

Blood Sisters: Zafira (Bast) and I (Sekhmet). 
Kismet-Bast spreads mischief in between.
A year later, after attending rituals and events with this group of amazing women, I was on the path to joining this Sisterhood.  These were the fierce, strong, confident, funny, compassionate, beautiful, intelligent, loving, powerful and unique women that I'd been looking for.  The bonds that I have developed with these women are some of my most treasured possessions.  They have taught me many lessons of love, friendship, and sisterhood through good times and bad.  The past two years that I have spent with these women as an Amazon Priestess has helped to further define who I am.

Pantheacon 2011 was a lynchpin event for the Amazon Priestess Tribe. Individually and collectively, we were at the center of a controversy that we didn't even know we could start - how's that for a powerful bunch of women! The gender controversy that was sparked by our miscommunication in the program about the Rite of Lilith went up like a mushroom cloud over our Tribe.
Devi Zafira Stardust and Salamangkero Yansumi
await The Mother's Blessing.

Personally, as one of the Priestesses who brought Lilith into the ritual, I was surprised to return home and have one of my Sisters point out the controversy that was brewing online about us.  Here I'd spent three days at Pantheacon receiving hugs and tears of gratitude from a multitude of women who were deeply moved by the messages that Lilith brought to them through my Tribe's work and the voice I provided for Lilith to speak to them with.  I had no idea that people were so angry with us (or were about to be).  I was doing the work that my mamma Goddess asked for and wanted of me.  Honestly, the work in that ritual was one of my proudest accomplishments during my initiatory year.

Khotuns on the road!
It was an emotional punch in the gut to return home from PCon and hear the stories of how people were enraged over our ritual and the rumors that erupted about us.  When onslaught began our High Priestess and our Tribe took a beating.  This age of the internet has, in my opinion, led many people to be less considerate and compassionate.  I watched these flames explode online, watched people attack and condemn and all without ever once having come to the source.  I read after the fact about a group who seemingly made it their mission to condemn us at the end of PCon 2011 without even giving us the courtesy of appearing to defend ourselves.  Across the board, members of the Pagan community acted as though there were no living human beings on the other end of their scathing comments and blog entries and instead acted as though the only thing that mattered was their enacting revenge on a group they only knew through heresay, rumor, and outright vicious lies. Only through the tireless work of our High Priestess, leading us through the onslaught, was our voice able to cut through to those ears who had not forgotten how to actually listen without knee-jerk reacting first. Imagine the difference that makes!
Little Sisters of Manea enjoying the beach!
(R to L) Madame Hummingbird,
Maia Mermaid, and me.

The fallout from that ritual impacted me in many ways.  When I watched all this bad behavior going on, I had to fight the first inclination to simply join in on the bad behavior just like them.  I wanted to smash things and scream at people and bear my teeth at those who threatened us.  I wanted to turn right around, like a child on the playground, and scream right back, "You're a stupid poo-poo booger head!" just like I perceived our detractors were doing.  But wait a minute - that was just it.  I didn't want to be like those other people

It was through my priestess work with the Amazons and the women we reach that I saw what kind of woman I wanted to be.  When I needed help, I had but to turn to my sisters.  When I was sad, they cheered me up.  When I was happy, they shared in my joy.  When I was angry, they let me vent.  When I was out of line, they put me in check.  When I needed it most, they gave me laughter and love.  I wanted to be the kind of person who is able to give that back just because they can.

The Wisdom of Freyja: (R to L) Yeshe Rabbit,
Strega Manea, me, Mistress Ladybug.

I spent my ordination service year working on what and who I wanted to be in the world.  The archetype of the Amazon Warrior had called to my blood when I met these women.  The power of the Amazon got me through one of the toughest years of my personal life.  A failed relationship, a job of eight years disappearing, needing to find a new place to live - any one of these things can easily overwhelm a person but my work with the Amazon got me through all of these as they happened to me at the same time.  The Amazon taught me a lot about control - how to hold things together and power through.

When it was time to attend Pantheacon again, I was wary.  What would the Amazon Priestesses face?  Would we have people protesting our ritual?  Would we the recipients of nasty looks and vicious whispers?  Would we be attacked outright?  Would we be attacked after Pantheacon from under the cover of other people's computer screens?  So many questions and so much to prepare for.  What actually happened was different than what I expected and yet had a much greater impact.  The words and actions of others that we'd been affiliated with put us in the path of character assassinations once again.  This time, however, we were far more prepared to deal with the turmoil.

As a result of what came about at Pantheacon last year and this year, serious navel gazing has been going on in this Tribe.  The Tribe has recently met and around the table, it was agreed that the time had come for change.  This decision does not come lightly.  Surely we have all felt the benefit of working with the Amazon archetype over the last several years.  The energy of the Amazon has powered us forward, forging the initial way down the path that our Tribe walks together.  Based on recent events, we have felt that it is time for our Sisterhood to walk a new path. We have all decided that it is time for our Sisterhood to evolve.

Kismet-Bast (aka Duat Ka Neit Kismet) and I
at The Goddess Temple of Orange Count
You already know that in my eyes, being an Amazon High Priestess has been good to me.  You can imagine that I might have some feelings around the changes that are happening in our Sisterhood.  Personally, I am still working through my feelings on the change that necessitates that we move into working with the energy of a new archetype.  I still feel, in my heart, the call of the Amazon.  The Amazon calls to my blood.  The Amazon was at the heart of my song. 

I am warrior, I am Amazon
Diana before me, Aradia beside me
With my magic and my mystery
I transform my body and birth myself again

Some part of me is still reeling over the realization that it is time to change the way I work and resonate with this archetype.  What else do you feel over knowing that the hand pulling you out of the muck and grime is one you now have to let go of so you can forge your path forward?  There is anger, there is grief, there is sadness - all of these things factor into how I feel.  But nothing can overwhelm you if you don't let it.  I take comfort in knowing that I will always have that energy at my fingertips... no - within my very blood, ready to call up to service whenever it is needed.
My blood is sacred.  My blood is power.  My blood is life!

Kismet-Bast and Yeshe Rabbit
I feel good about the decisions that my Tribe is making as we step into our newest phase of growth.  I believe that we're heading in the direction we were meant to in breaking with the Z. Budapest branch of the Dianic path. I believe that we are coming rightly into our phase of working with the Sovereign Queen and attuning our energies towards creating a world that works for the highest good of all it's inhabitants, woman, man, child, and wild kindred.  I believe that we are strengthening ourselves by embracing the path of the Pan-Dianic tradition that, "respects the sovereignty and autonomy of each person or group who wishes to honor the Goddess in any ways that best suit unique needs, individual(s), or circumstances ... We honor everyone walking their own paths of knowing and serving the Goddess, including all beings of all genders."*
Celebrating Madame Hummingbird's
Birthday at Furthur's NYE Concert

To me, the last year has felt as though it were a Rite of Passage - one that would test whether we would be crushed under the pressure of being unyielding to change or if we would flourish by incorporating the energies of change into our Priestesshood.  This decision, to me, sends us on the path towards the latter - our Sisterhood continuing to live a healthy life by infusing itself with the energy of necessary change. I think it bodes well for this Sisterhood that if we can come to the consensus once that we need to change that when the need comes again we can do so as swiftly and easily as we have done now. (Though I'm sure that many of my Sisters would say there was nothing "easy" about making this change.)
Mother Help me / I'm gonna break
Mother Heal me / these chains that bind
Please release me / I'm gonna break
From all things worldly / these chains that bind
That do not serve me / I'm gonna break, break!
Mother Love me / these chains that bind
Yes I will break these chains that bind!
I'm actually excited about the potential that this change brings even as I process my own feelings of some sadness around this.  What excites me is that in working with The Living Temple of Diana (another Pan-Dianic Tradition based group) on the Rite of the Bear Mother at this year's Pantheacon, I've had my eyes opened.  Two groups, both holding the Goddess as whole and complete unto herself, who do things differently but have many similar goals, who recognize and respect the other's sovereignty, came together and created some amazingly powerful, transformative, and healing magics for those hundreds who came to seek it.  If we can do that, what else can we do?  I am excited that these changes will keep our Sisterhood and Mysteries intact while still allowing for us to work magic in new ways that are beneficial in new ways and places.  We take off the heavy mantle of battle armor to don the crown - perhaps no less heavy in the responsibility that it carries but something that tempers us, differently, in good ways.

- Q'desha Yansumi Diwata, High Priestess of Music in the Bloodroot Honey Priestess Tribe

*Noted from above: This is an excerpt from a statement that our Tribe, now known as the Bloodroot Honey Priestess Tribe, released this week detailing the direction we are headed in. 

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

She Thinks She's Amusing

 So... Last night, I'm sitting in my room and doing a bit of writing.  The TV is on in the background and I've been ignoring it in my focus on writing.  There's screaming on the TV.  I look up from my writing, distracted by the sound.  I'm watching drag queens being attacked by bad guys in what appears to be a mockingly weird version of a B grade horror flick. 

Ticked-off Trannies With Knives, is a film by Israel Luna. It's a very strange "tribute" to exploitation films, bad horror movies, and cheezy comedies.  It's loaded with "snappy drag queen dialog" and exaggerated stereotypes across the board.  Think of it as Pink Flamingos (Waters) meets Kill Bill (Tarantino) meets Corman-grade horror.  I'm not sure what I think of it - it's so well done in its intentional crappiness.  And yet it's so horrible for, among other things, its misguided listing of the details of several murders of transgendered people during its opening credits.  That's something that could be interpreted as either a big and graphic political statement on the high murder rate of transgendered people OR as a horrible use of the details of murders against *actual* transgendered people for the purpose of inflating the "horror" content of the film.  (I should note that Luna removed the references to the murders of Angie Zapata and Jorge Mercado after protests were made about the use of that information in this film.)

I can't take my eyes off the movie.  For better or worse, I watch the whole thing. I can't decide, still, if it's horrible in good or bad ways.  Is it bad for the stereotypes of the people that it portrays or is it good for how brilliantly it does illustrate stereotypes within the container of the "bad horror flick" movie genre?  Is it bad for showing violence against transwomen or is it good for bringing further into the light the kind of violence that trans folks regularly experience?  Is it bad for taking advantage of trans actors in need of work or is it good for employing trans actors who are very real? 

The opening scenes showing the backstage goings on at a drag queen "cabaret" show and the dialog in the bar scene after is exactly the kind of whip-snapping, catty as all hell, funny, sad, and strange conversations I'd experienced when I lived and partied in San Francisco's Castro district.  Then, a long-haired hillbilly leads two wife-beater wearing Latinos in his murderous quest to seek revenge on Bubble Cliquot for her crime of having a penis.  But that's after the long-haired guy had slipped a roofie into her drink and he'd taken her somewhere else to rape her (thus how he discovered her penis, he tells us). Never fear - Bubble's friends (Emma Grashun, Rachel Slurr, Tipper Sommore, and Pinky La' Trimm) come to the rescue.  However, in what is actually *very* hard to watch, the first horror scene has them all getting the living daylights beaten out of them with a baseball bat.  Those who survive, live to fight another day and these drag queens certainly aren't going down without a fight.  They go to train with a martial arts master who works in lines like, "Damn right, it's better than yours.  I'd teach you but I'd have to charge." (a tribute to Kelis' song, "Milkshake").  Then the ladies get their revenge on their attackers in ways that include shoving a loaded handgun into the ass of the long-haired guy (ala .  Who, by the way, busted into a twisted and black monologue about how Bubbles couldn't kill him because he knew that she was actually attracted to him because she believed that she wasn't good enough for anything but the worst example of a human being who would do nothing but abuse her and who, "... would have killed [her] a long time ago" if he were the one there with the gun (which he'd removed from his ass at this point in the film). 

So, now I decide to do a little research.  First, I look up Israel Luna.  No big surprise - there's some controversy about him and his film.  Some people give it rave reviews for what they think it appears to be.  Other people are slamming the film and screaming at Luna for what they see as a clear mistreatment and misrepresentation of trans people on film.  I make a mental note to research him a bit more later as I want to find a little more on what *he* actually says of his film and himself (rather than just reading what *others* are saying about him).  I'll get back to him later.

Then I look up the film title, on Google.  *MY* Google Search box took "Ticked-off Trannies With Knives" and corrected, "Trannies" for "Transvestites".  My understanding is that "tranny" is often considered an offensive term and "transvestites" is somewhat better (though often misused to describe transgendered people).  I just find it interesting the cases in which Google will get PC and how it enforces such things in its products. 

Not surprisingly, I see the film generated a bit of a controversy in the LGBT community.  It was screened at the Tribeca Film Festival despite protests from transgendered folks and their allies.  GLAAD endorsed it, without ever having seen it, then revoked their endorsement after they'd seen it (per the demands of the trans community).  Transgendered activist bloggers were condemning the film.  Some condemned the film and then noted their outrage at the lack of response by the wider LGBT community as was seen after the Isaiah Washington and TR Knight kerfluffle on Grey's Anatomy.  There are some great writings out there on why this film should never have been made due to it's highly offensive nature.  I have a lot to continue reading on.

I definitely have to come back to this and do more reading as I've yet to come to a full decision on what I think of all this.  Something that I've had drilled into my head over the last year is that doing my due diligence on getting information about a thing is important before making a judgement and taking action.

Oh! So what was I writing about when this randomly appeared on my television, you might ask? 


She thinks she's funny.  I think that I'm still undecided on that subject as well. (However, I do have to admit that She's got a helluva knack for bringing certain issues to my attention.)

Doing Things Backwards: Obligatory First Post

So often you read these blogs that folks start and they have the obligatory first post.  You know, the one where the person describes who they are, what reasons they have for starting their blog and where they say how they're going to keep up the journal.

Well, here's MY take on that obligatory first post... yes, yes, it's my second post and I'll write it how I want :)

Why The Blog?
I started this blog as a way to recount my experience detailed in the actual first post.  (You can find that link, I won't stop ya.)  Then I realized that the reason Lilith poked at me so much to write that first post was because I needed to keep witnessing such events and chronicle my experiences as a High Priestess of Lilith. 

The Singing Q'desha
When I started walking my path as an Amazon Priestess Initiate, I started giving thought to what I wanted my "ministry" to be.  What were my specialities and talents in the realm of the magical and spiritual?  What areas did I want to focus on as my forte in my work when I was finally ordained as an Amazon High Priestess?

I have been singing and banging on musical instruments for as long as I can remember.  When I was a toddler, the upright grand piano in my parents basement was the place I liked to play at being a Carnegie Hall Pianist. I started taking music lessons at a very young age.  Through the years I've played a variety of instruments, sung in a number of choirs, and have even spent a while as a Music Education major in college.  Music has always been a part of my very soul for as long as I can remember.  I love to sing and I love to drum.  Thankfully, I found a coven where both of these skills are regularly put to use.

I use my musical skills often in my work as a Priestess.  I believe that words, tones, and intentions combined into one focused working can be a very powerful thing.  A well crafted song or chant (spoken or intoned) can be used to pump up the magic in many things.  The pouring of emotion and intent into these pieces of music can imbue our workings with so much more strength.  The very act of listening to music can transform things in amazing ways. I use my skills to craft these musical pieces, whether written by me or another, through the use of my voice and/or drum. 

So now you know the musical part.

As for the Q'desha...

A few years after I moved to the SF Bay Area, my life went through a radical shift and I was finally living fully on my own.  I was just out of a bad marriage, I was supporting myself, and the internet was rapidly becoming an integral part of everyone's everyday lives.  Craigslist and their free personal ads section is an amazing playground for a reckless and brave woman trying to explore every crevice of her sexuality while living in a city with a Heavy Sex Culture badge sewn to its chest.  It's also a handy tool for having fun when traveling to other cities and countries! 

I kept a blog, online, where I shared many of my experiences in great detail.  Sex with men and women, sex with individuals and with groups, sex with people from a "fetishized subculture" and sex with more vanilla partners, sex in comfortable places and in dirty dungeons with men lined up for a thrust or two - there were so many things to see, do, and experience when it came to sex! Living my life so out in the open, I began to see how very differently others were now viewing me, a woman who was actively seeking out ways to satisfy her sexual curiosities and desires.  Most people didn't understand the notion that a woman could be so sexually curious and adventurous in as blatant a way as the stereotype of the man constantly trying to get laid.  I had more than my fair share of "friends" who spoke poorly of "me and my promiscuity".  Nearly everyone I knew was uncomfortable with my openness around the subject of sexual activity.  No one seemed to understand why I did what I did. 

During my initiatory year, I learned of ancient temple priestesses and priests who provided the masses with a gateway to the divine.  The word Q'desha has its roots in the Hebrew word for "sanctified, dedicated and holy."  In short, the Q'desha were the sacred prostitutes of a temple and allowed for the mortal body to connect with The Goddess thru sexual contact and worship.  However, these Q'desha were often slandered and disapproved of by "polite society".  Given my body of knowledge in the sexual arts, my possession of a fearless voice, and my experiences being so similar to what I was learning about the Q'desha, I began to see where the path of my Priestesshood would begin to take me. 

Before folks get to thinking that I'm running about fucking any and every person seeking connection to the divine, as fun as that sounds, my Priestess work does not involve the act of sex with others.  (Ironically enough, I have found myself completely in love and in a monogamous relationship with a phenomenally wonderful man who makes me tremendously happy.)  In the process of exploring many different sex-based interest communities and amassing a wealth of my own personal sexcapades, I also studied the way that sex, psychology, and magic wove themselves together.  There's a lot more to working with sexual energies and magic than the act of sex itself and this is something I hope to spend more time writing about in this blog.

So... there you have it and here ends the obligatory first post.

Friday, February 24, 2012

You Decided To Love Anyway

I, like many pagans, have returned from Pantheacon 2012 this week with so many stories, experiences, lessons learned and questions to ponder.  While there is so much to write about from the entire weekend, I want to start with what had the largest impact on my time at con - Sunday afternoon and evening.

So, I think to give you an understanding of my experience I want to start by giving you some background on my history with the gender issues raised at Pantheacon 2011:
  • I am an Amazon High Priestess in the Lineage of The Lady Yeshe Rabbit.  
  • I was at the Amazon's Rite of Lilith at Pantheacon in 2011 as one of the HPs aspecting Lilith during the Rite.
  • I was a volunteer who worked on the event security team at the Pagan Alliance's Pagan Pride Festival in 2011.
  • I was a "staff" volunteer at the Pagan Alliance's 2011 Conference on Gender and Earth Based Spiritualities and was a facilitator in the Ritual of Radical Forgiveness that CAYA held during the event.  
  • I helped to priestess the Amazons' Queen of Hearts ritual at Pantheacon in 2012, open to all self-identifying women
  • I attended the Discussion on Gender and Transgender in Paganism at Pantheacon in 2012
  • I was present during the protest at Z. Budapest's Self-blessing ritual at Pantheacon in 2012
  • I helped to priestess the Rite of the Bear Mother, a ritual put on by The Living Temple of Diana and the CAYA Grove of Artemis at Pantheacon in 2012.

Queen of Hearts
My Tribe does skyclad (naked) ritual and we work with Women's Blood Mysteries.  We celebrate our bodies and our sovereignty as women in a time when women's bodies and women's rights over their bodies are a bone being fought over in the dogfight of politics and religion. To me, skyclad ritual is a means of allowing each woman in the room to show both strength and vulnerability.  I recognize that just the thought of naked ritual can create quite the emotional charge within a woman and that this charge can be one that is very easily pushed to an extreme reaction.  Because of this and because I am both a Virgo *and* a Warrior Priestess - I was mentally, emotionally, and magically preparing myself for *anything* that might happen before or during this ritual.  However, I am also a Great Lover who works with Aphrodite so I was also prepared to offer all the love in my heart that I had to give rather than be The Fighter.

The Queen of Hearts ritual, dedicated to Aphrodite, was about love in many forms, about facing challenges, and loving anyway. We are all put through many trials in our lives - trials of youth and inexperience, trials of adulthood that challenge our physical and emotional lives, trials of motherhood where giving everything seems it is too much and leaves you too little, trials that cause you to doubt whether you are worthy of any love at all.  These trials all come with a decision we must make: what are you going to do?

"You decided to love anyway." - this was the lesson that I took from the words of Aphrodite.

A transwoman came up to me after the Queen of Hearts ritual.  Her eyes glittered with tears and her smile was warm, yet tentative as she was unsure how I might receive her.  She thanked me for my part in the ritual,  one that truly moved her.  The Goddess was before me, in that moment.  A woman who stood before me, with courage, taking a risk in showing her beautiful self to me - she was naked, as I was, and we were sisters.  It was love, appreciation, gratitude, honor of her bravery and vulnerability that held my arms open wide in a welcome hug, thanking her for being there, for being her, and reflecting back to her the love of the Goddess.

She needed this space, too.  I understand that.  I have always understood that.  I have never wanted to deny her nor my sisters like her, this space.  Nor have I wanted to deny this kind of space to my cisgendered sisters who were not yet in a place where they could be in this circle, or any circle, with their transgendered sisters. So much work left yet to do...

Circle of Cerridwen

Because the Amazons', Queen of Hearts ritual was right before this discussion, I was still dressed in my Amazon finery, a.k.a. my "in the halls" outfit  (a red satin and black lace neglige, red and black sparkly eye makeup, my Red Cord, my Crown, other glittery bits in my hair, feathers adorning me, and other sacra attached in various places) when I attended the Circle of Cerridwen's "Discussion on Gender and Transgender in Paganism".  My covenmate and fellow Wildflower initiate, Jenn, happened to also be there and so we sat together in the South.

The session's ground rules were established by the facilitators.  The talking stick method would be used.  If you had the stick, you could speak. When you spoke, you were to try not to be overly apologetic and were asked to always speak respectfully towards others. If you didn't have the stick, you were to be respectful and listen in silence to those who spoke.  This would not be a session that allowed us to interactively respond to each other.  People would be given a chance to speak as much as time would allow for.  As this session was more, "each person gets to say their piece", the discussion was not directed by the facilitators of this event.  The facilitators noted that as this was a hot and emotionally charged topic, they had set up protections in the room.  The purpose of The Crow's presence was explained.

Now, it was stated The Crow was there as a protector and she clearly appeared there as a Warrior.  Though I think the organizers intended this role to serve as a protector rather than a visual symbol of intimidation.  At least, that is what I gather from Gina's posts on FB around her experience with being Crow during this session.  Unfortunately, the black make-up, the dark garb, the big staff (later noted, specifically, as a weapon - though it was ritually "laid down"), the silent staring through the discussion - the Warrior in me tried hard not to react to this as an intimidation/threat tactic even if the intimidation was meant only to "keep the peace" in the room. However, being a Warrior Priestess myself, and having mentally prepared for "battle" prior to the previous ritual, I could understand where she was coming from and I chose to take the enactment of this role in a more positive light.

I was a little concerned, at the time, about the framework of the session lacking all but the the rule about the talking stick.  I'm a Virgo - I like to know the intentions of a thing and the direction of which a thing will go.  However, one of the things that the Lady Yeshe Rabbit has taught me is that there are times where, despite my Virgo nature, I have to let go and trust in the process.  That is what I did here.  

We were asked to go around the room and introduce ourselves and note if we were speaking on behalf of an organization or if we were speaking for ourselves.  I stood up and said, "I am Salamangkero Yansumi.  I am an Amazon High Priestess, in the Amazon Priestess Tribe, of The Lady Yeshe Rabbit's lineage. I am part of CAYA Coven.  I speak today as a representative of my Tribe and Coven, and for myself."  For obvious reasons, the moment I spoke the word, "Amazon", the entire room physically shifted to see me (some turning in their seats to stare directly at me).  I could hear some people take in breath - whether they were shocked that an Amazon came to the discussion, whether they thought it was brave of an Amazon to step in there, whether they'd never seen an Amazon up-close-and-personal and wanted to verify what their ears just told them, it didn't matter.  I was suddenly a huge focus for the energy in the room.

Jamie, the co-head of Pantheacon programming, was the first to speak.  She began by explaining that she was there in her official capacity as co-head of programming.  She and her co-chair have a great deal of details and logistics that they have to work out each year when it comes to the offerings and schedule Pantheacon offers each year.  I have a great deal of admiration and respect for what it is that they do.  Jamie then explained that Z. Budapest had, with the help of the Pantheacon leadership (and after what I understand was a very dramatic argument with Pantheacon staff the night before), written a statement of apology that would be offered to the whole of Pantheacon and to those attending the planned protest of Z's offering at PCon. She also added that because she was there in her official capacity, she could not share her personal and differing opinion but that she'd share that to those who were curious when she was not wearing her "PCon Official" hat. 

I listened to the stories and words of those who chose to share.  Pain, anger, frustration, sadness, terror - these were the pervading factors in each of the stories shared.  So many of these things were let out and simply sat in the room for the duration of the session - it was hard not to let it feel so heavy upon one's soul and I can see how the "more sensitive" could have been troubled by this during the session.  However, it is important that these stories and feelings are witnessed and acknowledged and, in many cases, are offered healing for.  I wept for some who told their stories, I felt anger on behalf of those who were treated unjustly by others, I felt sorrow for the losses of family and friends that so many in the room had suffered.

I did not walk into the discussion with the intention of speaking.  What could I say about last year's events or even my own feelings on the matter, that has not been covered already and with far greater eloquence than I could ever muster? However, for me, the energy of the room dictated that I should speak up - that I should give a physical presence, a face, to the Amazon Priestess Tribe, in this particular space.  I felt it necessary for people to *see* (as many in this room hadn't already) that the words of apology that CAYA had issued, that the words of compassion from Yeshe Rabbit, that the steps CAYA had taken to make more clear our stance on gender and diversity - that these were all more than just pixels making words on an electronic screen and that they were real. I also realize that I can be, in person, rather physically intimidating to others (I'm a *big* 5'10" Irish+Filipina girl after all) and so I wanted to make it clear with my tone and emoting that I was there, in peace, to listen and try to go back to my Tribe with what I learned there. 

I acknowledged that I took the talking stick with a great deal of trepidation - the "laughter" in the room as a response to what I said, acknowledged that there was a very real possibility that I would be a target for some people who were in attendance.  I further acknowledged this uneasiness by making note that I was one of the priestesses who, during the Lilith ritual, aspected Lilith and that there may well be people here who would take issue with me for that alone.  I spoke of CAYA's apology (and re-iterated it), of our self-examination that has resulted in our not only being far more sensitive but far more clear on our use of a sometimes confusing language, of our wanting (genuinely) to hear from those who would help be part of the solution to this issue.  I spoke of the aftermath of the conflict that arose last year and how it tried to culminate in death threats but yet how violence is NOT the answer to solving these issues. I encouraged anyone who might take issue with what I said there, as I knew I would not always manage eloquence, to please speak directly with me afterwards as I am open and welcoming of questions to help clarify what I had said. 

When I had finished speaking and handed the talking stick back to Sarah, she asked me to stand before her in front of the whole room. She placed her hands together in a prayer position, bowed towards me and said, "I forgive you."  To which I nodded and simply said, "thank you" before I returned to my seat.  I felt it better to truly understand what I was feeling before having any kind of a reaction.  I was neither prepared for that moment nor did I know how i felt about it until many hours later.  This would be, as I found, a recurring theme for what happened next.

There was a woman who spoke shortly after I did.  I did not know who this woman was - I had never met her before.  Though I now know her name, I choose not to share it here.  She began by stating that she had two things to say.  The first (I don't remember much of the second) was her telling of a ritual preparation that she was taking part in and she noted that someone there had very nearly broken her neck.  This, of course, garnered a great deal of sympathy towards her from the room - myself included.  She then turned towards me and stated, her voice laced with gratitude, "...and Rabbit was VERY supportive." and she intentionally paused in her speech as though she were done and insinuating that Rabbit had been supportive of *her*.  I simply nodded my head in this woman's direction and then she angrily exclaimed, "OF THE PERSON WHO NEARLY BROKE MY NECK! Perhaps Rabbit should spend some time thinking about WHY she has to apologize all of the time!" During this, she was directing so much angry energy at me that was so incredibly misdirected - I had nothing to do with her conflict with someone else.   I resolved, quietly, to try and speak with her after the session was over.

At one point, Pantheacon's head Gryphon (I did not catch her name during the discussion and I was distracted from reaching out to her after the session was over) spoke on her experience after last year's Rite of Lilith.  She made a comment that, as I understood later, some people heard differently and took as an official position of Pantheacon staff.  She was noting how, after the Lilith ritual last year, she was consoling some of the gryphon volunteers because, "With NO intention on the part of the presenters, these Gryphons had felt as though they were asked to look down the pants of their sisters."  There were those in the discussion who heard, "because of the presenters, the Gryphons had to look down people's pants".  What I heard in her words was that she was trying to be careful in her phrasing.  I heard her stating that though it was NOT the intent of the presenters to cause hurt like this, hurt still manifested in people because of the presenters miscommunication. What I heard is that she, too, felt pain around this whole situation, understood that there were misunderstandings all over, and that she wanted to be part of the solution. 


It would do me no good to talk about how I remember seeing this woman at the Lilith rite.  Afterall, it isn't often that we have a transgendered sister come to our rituals so you remember it when it happens.  When I say that I recall seeing her there and that she was not kicked out of the ritual, I know that there are going to be a lot of people who don't believe me.  People have already made up their minds that there was a transwoman (or more than one) who was kicked out of the Rite of Lilith.  People were now making up their minds that this was the woman that it happened to.  I can say with certainty that this absolutely did not happen. I can't say that enough, I can't stress that enough - no one was kicked out.  That being said, I believe that Astrid has so completely convinced herself of this story that, to her, the experience she described is her own reality.  However, I am not here to shake Astrid of her recollection of last year's events nor to dissuade anyone from taking her words as truth.  I can only speak from my own experience.

Astrid began her talk, quietly, slowly.  She was the last in the room to be given the talking stick.  When folks in the room asked her to repeat herself, she turned to me and said, "I was the one who was kicked out.  I was told, to my face, that I was a man."  She continued to describe the pain and loss she's experienced in her life.  As she spoke, my inclination was to approach her after the session and offer my humblest apologies for any hurt that she might have suffered as a result of anything that I, or my coven, might have done.  I wanted to talk with her about her experience, to understand what happened to her the previous year, and learn what I could to help avoid anyone else being hurt (by me or mine) in the manner that she was.  I heard her pain and I wanted to help, if I could.

(edited for clarity on what happened with the talking stick, 2/24 2:47pm) Astrid said that she used to come to Pantheacon because, to her, it was safe space.  She then began to scream, with rage, "this is what a child of violence looks like! I was one of the original screaming queens that started the Stonewall riots!" She threw the talking stick to the ground and it bounced off somewhere, nearly striking several people who were in it's path.  In the shock and confusion that people were experiencing during that moment, the talking stick was retrieved and handed back to Astrid (though I think at that point it should have been time for the facilitators to step in to "slow things down" a bit, this didn't happen).  Astrid tried to break the talking stick, couldn't do it, ripped off her con badge, turned to me and while she directed the full energy of all the rage she had within her she screamed at me, "YOU WILL NEVER FORGET THE OTHERS!" and stormed out of the room.

It's important to say, here, that several people in the room felt that Astrid took some actions that felt as though she were about to draw a weapon and/or physically attack others in the room with her bare hands.  I certainly felt, as she turned to me and directed her rage at me, that she was going to launch herself with bared fists at me.  So, in that context, I can understand why no one tried to stop Astrid from what she was doing and I don't blame anyone for feeling fear, confusion, or frozen from action - it WAS a VERY scary few moments.

I was being drawn in, again, to be wounded for what I felt was the sole purpose of being wounded.  I understand, "an eye for an eye", though I do not personally subscribe to that method of behavior.  I understand wanting to make someone, by force, feel the same (or worse) pain that you yourself have felt.  But I also understand the concept of self-restraint, of compassion for others in the most difficult of situations, and as the ritual before this had emphasized, "love anyway".  I make no assumptions that a stranger, especially one that I have offered ritual energy to, would try to harm me with the intention of doing so.  Yet, here I was, enduring that very thing.

Like the warrior under the shield being bombarded with Dragon's Fire, I withstood this attack.  Make no mistake - this was both a physical and psychic attack upon my person.  I was not allowed to defend myself, I was not allowed to offer comfort - both of these were frustrating to me.  I was angry that the facilitators allowed her anger and rage and potential for hurting others to continue by handing her back the talking stick (I would have stopped things right then when the rules were broken).  I was angry that Astrid would choose to show such disrespect to those in the room who had taken great pains to be respectful of everyone in the room.  I was angry at being assaulted, in a very personal manner.

I really do try to see situations from many points of view.  I try to imagine what it feels like to walk in other people's shoes.  So imagine that in those few moments of Astrid attacking me, I flash to "seeing" directly from the shoes of different people experiencing this moment.  I see Astrid from the points of view of many sets of eyes, through the lenses of many emotional filters, some good, some not-so-good.  Their voices cry out to me under the thunderous roar of Astrid's rage:

i am the woman who has been beaten... i see my attacker... her physical body looms over me and becomes larger in my eyes, i'm filled with fear. RUN!  i see the definition of muscle flash under skin, oh god don't move and call attention to yourself... i hear the rage in that deepened voice, i can't breathe, i feel the physical violence coming out of memories...  RUN! She morphs from the softness of femininity into a hulking monster of aggressive male energy ...i'm going to get hit again... RUN!..
 I am the Warrior, looking upon a kindred Warrior's soul.  My heart pounds for the tale of her courage, my voice wants to cry out for the pain and wounds she's suffered.  I wish to stand by her side, helping her hold up her banner with pride... but I am struck down with grief for how much the battle has broken her down...
I am the mother hearing her child cry... her pain screams to me and my mother's heart rises to try and soothe that heart-wrenching pain.  I understand that she has been so hurt, beaten, and abused time and time again and that her rage and acts of violence are the only things she feels she has left.  I understand that she feels the only way to get people's attention is to threaten, to scream, to shame, to attack others.  I also understand why.  Come back, child of the Goddess - there truly *is* love here for you...
I am the Priestess and the Queen who sees an injustice before me. No human should endure such things as to be left with only rage and violence.  I vow to work towards making things right...

I cried in silence when Astrid stormed out.  Though I may have my own feelings about her attack upon me, the pain that she'd never heal from was a heartbreaking concept to me. 

I stopped to talk with a few folks after the session ended.  Some I connected with so that we could continue a dialog.  Some connected with me to tell me they thought I was brave for being there.  Some wanted to offer a hug of support after what I'd just gone through.  I appreciated the connections being made.

It should be noted that after the discussion ended, I tried to speak to the woman who had earlier related her story of nearly having her neck broken and directed her issues with Yeshe Rabbit at me in her stead.  I really did not understand how the experience she related had anything to do with the subject we were there to discuss.  I walked up to her with caution (from what I could tell, she was calmly chatting with another person in the room) but before I could even say a word, she began to wave her hands in my face and yelled repeatedly at me, "NO NOT RIGHT NOW!" I was very taken aback by this as I had only wanted to ask her name.  Generally, I don't take very kindly to people who are both shouting AND waving their hands in my face but it seemed to be my time to face some very challenging situations so I did not engage her any further.  She stormed out of the room.

A few minutes later, she returned and came up to me to speak with me.  She started with telling me her rude behavior of a few minutes before was an appropriate reaction from her as she was being called upon to deal with a "child emergency".  As she put it, her being so rude was the only way she felt she could prevent me from delaying her in handling that emergency.  However, I was not going to tolerate her treatment of me - it was NOT ok no matter her justifications.  I managed to tell her, "I'm sorry that this thing happened to you. However, your anger being directed at me like that was inappropriate and I don't appreciate your attack."  I was not, sadly, surprised that she would not apologize to me but chose to justify and stand by her actions.  She seemed to get very angry with me that I would not engage in her personal drama with Yeshe Rabbit.   I simply walked away from her at that point.  I certainly was not going to continue by telling her that I felt her setting an example that it was ok to break the magical agreements of the space, to be disrespectful to others and to directly attack them in what was supposed to be a "safe" magical space - was 100% wrong and left me with no respect for her. After someone fully admits to you that they have an issue and they further acknowledge that they have no intention of dealing with it directly (as she did during part of our exchange), what else can you do?

When I spoke with Sarah afterwards, I thanked her for facilitating and noted that I could have hoped for a different ending, but that hope for a different ending to the session didn't make any less real the pain and anger Astrid so obviously felt. Sarah responded by saying (and I'm paraphrasing as I cannot recall her exact phrasing) that she felt it was a good thing that this happened.  I wasn't really sure how to respond to that, at first, as my mind came up with many interpretations of her words.  Before jumping to conclusions, however, I resolved to take the time to think further on my reaction to what she'd just said.

I left the session, shaking and in tears.  Thank the Goddess for Jenn - she, also a Warrior, calmly and quietly stayed by my side, offering love and support the whole way as we made our way back to our coven's gathering place.  Thank the Goddess for my Coven - they took very good care of me that afternoon when I needed it most.

The Protest

There was a silent protest that was planned to happen during Z. Budapest's self blessing ritual on Sunday evening.  I can't say that it wasn't expected - the incendiary language Z used in the program listing (ai ya! "genetic women only"!) would be enough to set off WWIII in some places. 

I, personally, believe that an event like Pantheacon has the right to decide what kinds of rituals and other sessions are offered and that those sessions can be exclusionary in nature (men only, women only, non-menstruating only, gay only. etc).  I know that there are many who come to Pantheacon for offerings specifically like that as it is the only time they may have opportunity to be in that space.  I don't believe, however, that any of those offerings have the right to use discriminatory language (as Z's description of her ritual did).  I really think that given the nature of the conflict that arose from last year, those folks who were putting out printed material (Pantheacon folks and presenters alike) should have been more careful to proofread what would be seen by the eyes of thousands.  Further, though I do believe that there is a place for rituals at public events where those rituals have specific "entrance" requirements, I also believe that we can all come together in the same ritual space at the same public event.

As the ritual team was getting ready for The Rite of the Bear Mother, Yeshe Rabbit and Devin Hunter (the visionaries who put this ritual together) gathered up members of the Living Temple of Diana as well as the Amazon Priestesses and we all walked to the other side of the hotel where Z's ritual was to take place.  I, personally, had a very hard time going to the protest, even as a witness to the events that unfolded there because of what I'd experienced earlier in the day.  Though it was made clear that I was not required to go, I decided that I would continue on the path of "Witness" that I'd started earlier in the day.

We stood together, at the end of the hallway, between the silent protesters and the ritual doors.  I think that there was some fear that the moment Z came into view, the silent protest would no longer be silent (or at least that was the impression I got from the tense energy in that space).  Yeshe Rabbit started us with singing, "We All Come From The Goddess", followed by singing Thorn Coyle's song, "Divine Twins".  We repeated these two songs, back and forth, hoping to add to and maintain the peace in that tight space.  

I went with my brothers and sisters from the Living Temple of Diana, the CAYA Grove of Artemis, and the Amazon Priestess Tribe, whose intention it was to stand in the space between.  I sang for love and peace.  I sang for respect.  I sang for those who wanted/needed to attend the ritual but felt shamed away.  I sang for weapons to be laid down.  I sang for the ability of both sides to be able to listen with open ears and hearts to one another.  I sang for Z for showing the courage to come to the table, finally, with an apology (albeit an awkward and very rough one).  I sang for those who sat in protest.  I sang for healing to begin.

I listened to Z's rough, awkward, and sometimes painful apology.  I know that it doesn't come anywhere close to easing or erasing some of the more discriminatory language she's used in the past.  But, it WAS a start.  I don't know how she'll continue to react or what else she'll have to say on the matter but in that moment, Z really was trying.  Some day, perhaps, folks will see that. But I can also understand why there are many who will never give her that benefit of the doubt.  Afterall, if I were personally struggling with accepting her apology (and I have a lot of respect for her work) even when it was nowhere near enough, there were surely others who would not only say it wasn't enough but that nothing from her would have come close to making things ok.  In any case, she did try and that is important.

When Z had finished speaking, our ritual team continued to sing as we left the hallway and hurried to make our way back to our own ritual that was waiting for us to return so that it could start.

Rite of the Bear Mother
We are strong.  We are whole.  We are one.  We can move forward together for the betterment of all.

I enter the room, one of the Wards for the night.
Holy Sovereign Huntress Diana, Diana! Mother, come to us!
I hear the drums calling.

Holy Virgin Huntress Artemis, Artemis! Maiden, come to us!

I feel the power begin to flow.
Lend me your arrow, Lady of the Wildwood...Charge my intentions, my aim is pure and true...

I walked into the Rite of the Bear Mother feeling exactly as the Bear Mother - wounded, scarred, fiercely protective towards my family and loved ones, wanting my roar to drown out hatred and pain and pave the way for love and peace. I came out of it fired up with the energies that 300+ people put towards a healing that was necessary.  I poured myself into protecting the work we were doing.  My heart wept with joy at the beauty that came into that room.  I watched my brothers, sisters, and kindred as they danced, sang, as they were caught up in the ecstacy and as they felt healing.  The two verses of the song ("Stonehenge", by Kelliana) combined into one verse, danced fiercely with the beats of my drum, and reverberated through our working...

Mother Help me / I'm gonna break
Mother Heal me / these chains that bind
Please release me / I'm gonna break
From all things worldly / these chains that bind
That do not serve me / I'm gonna break, break!
Mother Love me / these chains that bind

Yes I will break these chains that bind!
We can break free from old values, old mindsets and still be powerful and whole.  We can recover from mistakes and make things better than before.  We can reach across the divide, to those different than ourselves, take their hands and become a stronger people.  We CAN change ... and we do.

After the ritual concluded and a "Hella Sacred!" moment was had between the LToD and GoA, I had opportunity to speak to a woman who seemed to have her mind changed about the Amazons.  The Amazons had just done what people condemned them for not doing - ritual with everyone where all were welcome.  Perhaps the Amazons weren't such a bad group afterall. 

To say that I had much to process is an understatement.  Did all of this need to happen today?  Did I need to be the one who all that rage was directed at earlier?  Why was I the one who had to take this?  Perhaps if it had been someone else - would things have been different in a more positive (or negative) way?  Was there a place for me to be present with all of my feelings, including the anger, or was I to deny that anger like I was denied the ability to defend myself?  Would I never be "right with the world", a world who judged and condemned me and my Tribe even though, not even an hour before I and many other Amazons had JUST welcomed a trans sister with open (and naked!) arms?

"Grace does not respond with anger." - Yeshe Rabbit.

My Brothers, Captain Jack of Bears and Doktor Kian Drakos, helped to put things into perspective for me on Sunday evening as I was processing the day's events.  It was necessary to have a Warrior be in that space, during that time.  It was necessary that it was I, the combination of an Amazon, a Warrior, a High Priestess, a Queen - be the one who withstood these attacks.  I was the tool of the Goddess then - being able to maintain a cool head, to hear the messages in all those instances and then take them home.  I was the shield who could take the fires and transmute it into love.  I could stand there and take the onslaught with grace and poise, I could keep my ears and heart open while listening to it all, and I would be the one who would choose to act with a mouth held closed in compassion rather than react with a mouth spewing vitriol into the mix.  I needed to be there on the path to come full circle - from the Rite of Lilith to the Rite of the Bear Mother and all the stops that had to be made in between both rituals. I had to be the Grace that did not respond in anger to what was going on.

Did I attend the discussion on Gender and Transgender in Paganism to receive forgiveness? I'll be honest that my first reaction to being offered forgiveness was not along charitable lines.  However, that was only because I didn't understand, right away, what was happening and I was feeling my own internal pressure to not embarrass myself by mis-stepping or mis-speaking in front of a room full of strangers.  That said, there were reasons that I attended this discussion that went beyond just being there to listen.  Perhaps, in some way, I was seeking forgiveness as I was heavily involved in the energies of last year's Rite of Lilith that triggered this wave of change.  Perhaps Sarah needed to offer me, a representative of the Amazon Tribe, forgiveness for what hurt she may have personally suffered because of our miscommunication.  Or perhaps the forgiveness enactment was necessary to be modeled to the rest of the room so that the energy of things could move in a forward direction rather than stagnate on discussions of last year starting in, "what had happened was..." In any case, it was forgiveness that needed to happen.

I was attacked twice that afternoon during the discussion.  Once by a woman whose issues had nothing to do with the actual issues we were all there to discuss.  Once by a woman who truly, yet falsely, believed she had been wronged by me and mine.  Both left me feeling angry but in different ways.  The latter left me feeling violated and heartbroken at the same time.  I thought about what Sarah had said - [that it was good that it happened].  I don't agree that it was a good thing I was attacked (and I don't think, at all, that Sarah meant that).  However, I do agree that it was a good thing that people in that room got a glimpse of what kind of toll that years of violence, hatred, and anger can turn a person into.  Also, I agree that it was a good thing that someone like me, able to withstand all of that being directed at their own self, was the target of Astrid's rage - it could have had an entirely different outcome if someone else were in my shoes.  Still, I don't agree that it was a good thing to allow Astrid to continue her attack once she violated appropriate boundaries around physical violence in that space.

I will never forget the others, Astrid, but perhaps not how you intended your words to mean.  I will never forget the ugliness that humanity can create - it gives me a much deeper appreciation for the beauty that humanity can create.  I will never forget what working together "in love and unity" feels like and I will carry that feeling into all my workings.  I will never forget what it felt like to be assaulted in those moments but I have already, "decided to love anyway".