Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Ritual: the new animal sacrifice

Excuse me, I just need to rant for a moment. Did you know that "ritual" is the new "animal sacrifice"? Yes, really!

It used to be that the Big Assumption I got from Friends about Paganism was animal sacrifice.

When I was first doing intervisitation as a Priestess & Witch among Friends, people would sometimes ask me about animal sacrifice. I was a little surprised, somehow -- I think I expected Quakers, as a minority religion subject to stereotypes, to be a little more clueful about other minority religions subject to stereotypes -- but I was a bit naive. So, since I was used to answering questions about Paganism in other contexts as part of my work in education and outreach, and since I got that question all the time back then, I answered questions from Friends about animal sacrifice.

Later, when I came to identify as and came to be identified as a Friend, other Friends would sometimes ask me, "How do you reconcile being a Pagan with being a Quaker? I mean, isn't animal sacrifice incompatible with the Peace Testimony?"

Hmmm.

I'm sure you can imagine how that question, how that assumption, made me feel. It was infuriating and painful. Why on earth would Friends assume that a Friend, someone intimately involved with Quakerism, living her life as a Friend, would somehow be involved with a spiritual practice that involved such an apparently obvious contradiction to, oh, living one's life as a Friend?

Well, that hasn't stopped.

I think most Friends I meet these days know now that Pagans and Witches generally do not sacrifice animals (although in some traditions, under certain circumstances, sacrificing certain animals is a legitimate practice). Pagans overall, and Witches especially, have put a lot of time and energy over the last 40 years into countering that stereotype, and into helping convince people that pets and assorted wildlife are safe from us.

(I am leaving out an entire other rant about the fact that animal sacrifice is widespread in the US today, and that all of us participate in it pretty much every time we eat meat. Only it's called agribusiness. And yes, I do eat meat.)

We still joke about it in my family, though, especially when I'm prepping Quaker workshops, but with much less of an edge than ten years ago. "Is that the part where you teach them about sacrificing squirrels?," Beloved Wife asks, pointing to my outline. "Nah, I thought I'd start them off easy. So this is the part where we'll just make stew from a squirrel I sacrificed earlier. They sacrifice their own squirrels later in the week/year/etc."

In my interactions with Friends, the concern about those poor squirrels has faded, but it has been replaced by other Big Assumptions about Paganism.

The main one I'm dealing with these days (and have been for the last few years!) is this automatic, knee-jerk pairing of Paganism with ritual. As you can guess, I find this extremely frustrating. It drives me nuts that people automatically assume that if somebody is Pagan, they must do ritual.

And you know how unprogrammed Quakers feel about ritual. Ritual is fine for other people, but it's bad if you're a Quaker. (Defining words like of "rite" and "ritual" and other related words, and looking at our strong feelings about them, is another post.)

No one has been able to show me any definitive source that demonstrates the 100% correlation between being Pagan and using ritual as a spiritual practice. No one has been able to show me any definitive source that demonstrates the 100% correlation between being Christian and using wine as a spiritual practice, either.

(Or the 100% correlation between being Quaker and driving a Prius. Or the 100% correlation between being a Witch and wearing a black, pointy hat. I'm kind of bummed about those last two, because I think I'd look really cool driving a Prius while wearing a black, pointy hat, don't you?)

Why does this bother me so much?

Well, why does it bother me so much when people assume that Pagans, by definition, practice animal sacrifice? Sure, part of it is that in general, most of us find animal sacrifice repulsive, and why would I like it if people automatically assumed I do something most people find repulsive?

But that's not the only reason I get so frustrated: it's that I hate it when people make these kinds of absolute assumptions about me and "people like me," whether those assumptions are apparently harmless or not. And I find it thoroughly frustrating when people have an absolute conviction that what they think is true, regardless of actual facts that contradict what they think -- or the real, lived experience of the people involved that contradict what they think.

I've experienced this in particular as a woman, as a feminist, as a lesbian, as someone with a working-class background, and as a Witch: in ways I am a minority. It's a way of claiming the power of defining reality, and it's a privilege that folks who are part of the dominant culture have over folks who are minorities. It's a tool of oppression.

And one of the most important reasons it bothers me so much when Quakers make that assumption -- that being Pagan means, by definition, using ritual as a spiritual practice -- is because what usually comes next goes like this: since ritual, like animal sacrifice, is incompatible with Quakerism, then Paganism must be incompatible with Quakerism; and therefore, Pagans cannot be Quakers. (Ta-da!)

All those Quakers whose theaology or experience of the Divine is Pagan, who are going along living their lives and going to Meeting for Worship and clerking committee Meetings and setting up for coffee hour, whom you can't tell are Pagan -- poof! Not real Quakers. Sorry, see ya. Oh, I guess you'll have to find someone else to clerk that Meeting for Worship with Attention to Business...

In our religious society, we are fond of quoting our main founder as having said, "Let your lives speak." It's very disappointing to me to be faced, over and over, with Friends who refuse to listen to others' lives, but prefer instead the convictions in their own heads.

From my experience and training in mental health and as clergy, I know that when dealing with what seems to be the issue doesn't resolve something, it's time to look deeper, for something else that's going on that's the real issue. And there are a handful issues tangled up this knot, in addition to dominant/minority culture issues. Some of them I've already mentioned in this post:
  • the question of what we all mean when we use the word "ritual"(a question for another post)
  • believing what you think rather than what others' lived experience demonstrates as true
  • justifying discrimination
And some of the issues, I haven't mentioned explicitly, although they're part of this, too:
  • the difference between a set of spiritual or religious beliefs, and a set of spiritual or religious practices
  • fear of the rich diversity that exists in the Religious Society of Friends
  • the fallacy that naming our differences is what actually creates them -- that the differences which minorities in particular experience don't actually exist until named (usually by minorities). (Again, this is a dominant culturally privileged point of view.)
I have been thinking about all six of these for quite a while, and I hope to write more about them.

But in the meantime, I am thoroughly tired of knee-jerk assumptions, and would really appreciate it if non-Pagan Friends actually listened to Pagan Friends, used logic, and educated themselves.

End of rant.

33 comments:

Marshall Massey (Iowa YM [C]) said...

Staśa, if I click on your keyword “Paganisms”, which seems to be the word under which you file all your postings relating to that matter, I see it’s less than a month since you posted an essay to this blog titled “A quintessential Pagan Quaker ritual - ?” (Second sentence: “A few days later, in passing, I happened to mention on Facebook that I’m doing Beltane planning......”)

I don’t have to go much further to find your Winter Solstice posting (“...our Celebration was at the Springfield Friends Meetinghouse. This is a great space for this Celebration -- conducive to the ritual...”).

I don’t know whether you are conscious of this, but it is really very hard to read for any length of time about what you, Staśa, mean by “Paganism”, without finding you talking about important Pagan rituals.

Just sayin’, of course.

staśa said...

Marshall, your comment, in many ways, demonstrates exactly the limitations in thinking and perception I'm talking about. So, thank you.

#1: Beltane planning: If you were doing Christmas planning, or Easter planning, would that by definition mean you were planning ritual? Was my Beltane potluck a ritual?

If I had done a May Pole at my (Quaker) alma mater's celebration, would it have been a ritual?

#2: Part of the point of one of those posts was the assumptions people make. Including... that Beltane planning equalled ritual planning.

#3: If I do ritual, does that mean all Pagans, and all Pagan Quakers, do ritual?

#4: The post about what quintessential Quaker Pagan ritual, if there were such a thing, might look like talks about "quintessentially Christian Quaker ritual," as well.

5#: The Winter Solstice Celebration is an interfaith ritual. And yes, that is a ritual in the sense you mean -- the same songs and readings every time (unless someone violating copyright). Although I know it looks very different much of the time.

Thanks for sayin'.

staśa said...

p.s. Marshall, looking over the list of posts with the tag "Paganisms" for the last year, we see:

- this post

- a query about what folks want to know about Pagan Quakers

- someone else's question about "quintessential Quaker Pagan ritual," which answer mentions Pagan ritual, Quaker ritual, Christian Quaker ritual, and "ritual I never do"

- work Pagans do for the greater good

- a lawsuit concerning civil rights Christians have that Pagans don't

- seminary education and graduate education for Pagan clergy

- Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, the music of the Civil Rights Movement, and Bruce Springsteen

- musings about some of my experiences with different productions of A Winter Solstice Singing Ritual. Which, as I mentioned, is an interfaith ritual. Most of the host groups, at least in the Philadelphia metro area, haven't been Pagan at all; and the largest single bulk purchaser of the book isn't Pagan -- it's Unitarian Universalist congregations.

- Full Moon Meeting for Worship/Worship-Sharing (but is that Quakerism, or is that ritual?)

- my feelings about programmed (Quaker) worship

- a paper about ritual which includes analysis of some Quaker rituals (as well as some Pagan, and some Jewish, rituals)

- Pagan values

- marriage equality

- sunrise and sunset

- Christopaganism

- Passover

Aside from Winter Solstice, most of the posts about ritual have come up in response to other people's questions.

Mary Ellen said...

I don't entirely understand the problem some quakes have with ritual - when many things we do have a ritual element, even the way we conduct worship and business. Now, an objection to _dead_ ritual, or thoughtless ritual, or practice done by rote (even Quaker practice done by rote) without a sense of leading or presence - that is a sensible objection. But then, I find ritual and symbol meaningful at times, just as I find complete silence and stillness meaningful at times. It's the quality, the presence, the light that counts, not the form it comes in, in my view.

Steven said...

It's all those B movies.

Laura said...

There's a difference between performing ritual and considering paganism a ritualistic religion.

Think of it like Catholicism - ritual is important to the ritual, but one *can* be Catholic without performing the weekly ritual.

I perform ritual on occasion, for big holidays when I have a group (or if the holiday is important enough I do it alone), but I'm not a ritualistic pagan. Ritual is just a small part of what I do.

Kody Gabriel said...

you, my friend, are awesome. I appreciate that there is so much meaningful content that speaks to me in this post, even though i'm not pagan. (stereotypes, assumptions vs. lived experiences, accepting other people's lives as a witness).

thanks for ranting.

earthfreak (Pam) said...

Stasa - I have to say that this isn't "clicking" for me either. I totally see Marshall's point. He's not saying that all you ever write about is ritual, just that you mention it a LOT, especially in relation to paganism, so it's confusing.

My sense is that this is something that's really bugging you, and perhaps you are too emotional about it just now to make the point really clearly, or something.

I, for one, am having trouble getting past the bit about animal sacrifice. It doesn't seem at all the same sort of thing (I agree animal sacrifice is common in our society, and would add the 99.999% of the animals that we eat (well, not me) suffer a lot more than animals sacrificed as part of a rite (I would guess) BUT, animal sacrifice is something that pagans rarely, if ever, do, where ritual I would guess is quite common, if not, as you point out, required.

Also animal sacrifice really horrifies most people, ritual does not. This is where I think I'm missing something important about your experience. If someone thought I was doing animal sacrifice I would be absolutely horrified. If someone thought I was doing ritual I would think they were dumb and shrug it off. This has nothing to do with the level of ignorance on their part, and everything to do with my valuing of each practice in my own worldview.


All of that said, I'm not sure what you're running into and why it's upsetting you. What do you think people mean when they say pagans are into ritual? what are they wrong about? many would claim that quaker potlucks are a ritual of sorts, or that silence is. I suppose I think of pagan rituals as having certain words, songs, movements, etc. But I don't have a clue, I've never been to one.

I personally quaver at the edge of calling myself pagan. My spirituality is nature-based, but I don't have a group who I practice it with, or any particular way of practicing (I don't, in fact, practice it, it just is), so it seems to me somehow not to "qualify" - are you defending, here, my right to be recognized as a pagan? I don't honestly care either way, I'm just trying to get at what any of these words even mean, "pagan" and "ritual"

help?

beth said...

Interesting - I'm particularly interested in the issue around Quakerism and ritual. I think it all comes down to our defination of ritual - I think we Quakers (unprogrammed) do have ritual - there is the ritual of shaking hands after meeting, the ritual of greeting strangers, of spoken and then unspoken ministry. But I really hear your frustration at dealing with assumptions of others - it's true that anything outside the 'mainstream' gets assumptions. And also, there can be assumptions coming the other way! For instance, I used to be a lesbian but now I'm in a heterosexual relationship but I don't call myself heterosexual because that's not how I identify myself. The assumptions that some of my lesbians friends make about this is really frustrating sometimes!

Marshall Massey said...

How good to have such thoughtful responses to my comment! Thank you, Stasa and Laura, for your efforts to educate me.

Stasa, you write, “If you were doing Christmas planning, or Easter planning, would that by definition mean you were planning ritual? Was my Beltane potluck a ritual?” Let me just respond by pointing to the very next sentence you wrote, after the one I quoted in my previous comment: “I told her that Beltane with Roses, Too! is not a Pagan Quaker ritual, but a Pagan ritual with Quaker and lots of other influences.” I think that sentence speaks for itself. Don’t you?

Laura, it is true that one can be Catholic without performing the weekly ritual. One cannot, however, be a good Catholic without doing so. (From Catechism of the Catholic Church [1994], §1389: “The Church obliges the faithful ‘to take part in the Divine Liturgy on Sundays and feast days’ and, prepared by the sacrament of Reconciliation, to receive the Eucharist at least once a year, if possible during the Easter season. But the Church strongly encourages the faithful to receive the holy Eucharist on Sundays and feat days, or more often still, even daily.”)

Pam, I’m glad to see that you understood my point. I had been becoming a little worried that no one did.

Kathleen said...

To take a completely different tack, the most information I have about animal sacrifice is from Judeo-Christian history, not pagan (because that's the history I know better, not because of any sort of ratio of who practiced what). And from what I know, animal sacrifice was a sanctifying, sacred activity, thus the word used is sacr-ifice, not "slaughter" or "harvest." The animal sacrifice rite was about the human's relationship with God and didn't involve especial cruelty to the animal. CAFOs (factory farms) involve unacceptably cruel treatment towards the animals before they are killed for food. I would never call that "sacrifice!"

Laura said...

@Marshall - that is completely true according to the official doctrine of the Church. I bet even the Pope and Bishop would agree with you. But the lay class, even those who attend weekly, see things differently, and while priests encourage people to attend regularly, I've yet to meet the priest who categorizes individuals as "okay, good, and better" Catholics. I think mostly it's a difference between what's taught and what's actually going on, and in Catholicism, there's a huge gap between those.

Hystery said...

Stasa, thank you for writing this. It is excellent.

However, I find that I am very confused by the responses to it. I feel I must be missing something. Your post seems very clear to me. You are asking that Pagans as a group and more importantly, as individuals be granted the courtesy of defining our own religious terms, experiences and affiliations without having to put up with those who are not Pagan deciding that they get to define our terms and experiences for us.

Leaving aside definitions of ritual which range from images of Pagans wearing funny cloaks and chanting in the moonlight to Pagan Friends simply shaking hands with the person next to us after Meeting for Worship, I state again for the record that A) I am a Pagan and B) Ritual is just not important in my practice as a Pagan.

So my question is: Am I not truly a Pagan because ritual is not remotely important to my Paganism? Or am I not a Quaker because Paganism is not compatible with being a Quaker (because Pagans are ritualistic)?

And given that many Christian rituals are OK with Friends (or else all the programmed meetings I've attended weren't really Quaker) why are similarly meaningful rituals undertaken by Pagans not OK? Would it be OK if we stopped calling stuff "ritual" and used less scary terms like "event" and "prayer meeting" and "meeting for worship with a concern for early spring"?

Could part of the problem be with language usage within different religious groups? When I was a Christian (Methodist and Congregationalist), I attended Maundy Thursday and Good Friday services which were very ritualistic but we never used the word "ritual" to describe them. Likewise, communion, baptism, and even just the regular old service with hymn-singing, candle-lighting, standing and sitting, responsive prayer, Lord's prayer, etc. was very ritualistic. We never called it that. We called it "the service" as in "The service was lovely today!" or "The service ran a little long, don't you think?" It was a ritual but we didn't call it that. Less religiously evolved people have "rituals". We had "worship services."

Pagans often do things that are far less ritualistic on the surface but use the word "ritual" to describe a religious practice. For instance, one might gather with Friends for a meal and sit in silent prayer in remembrance of lost loved ones and call it a Samhain ritual. One might simply light a candle and sit quietly with and call it a ritual for peace. One might have a May Day ritual of giving flowers to elderly relatives. Meanwhile, a Christian might sit through a service in which several candles are lit (ritually), a procession takes place down an aisle (ritually), and a series of set speeches, words, phrases, and movements are enacted (ritually) before they all file down the aisle after the "service". They could say "ritual" but they don't. It is a word choice, nothing more.

Who is more ritualistic? Without a doubt, programed Friends are far more ritualistic than this unprogramed Quaker Pagan. And does it really matter? Are we not more concerned with empty ritual than with ritual itself? Are is all of this just a cover for another issue? Are Pagans, regardless of the level and centrality of ritual in their practice, incompatible with Quaker belief because we are not Christian?

earthfreak (Pam) said...

Laura - yeah, but I assume that's sort of what Marshall is getting at. My stereotype of both Catholics and Pagans is that ritual is an important part of their faith. ie: if you're really DOING Catholicism, you engage in ritual. If you intentionally forgo ritual, you may well still be a christian, but in all honesty you should probably modify the "catholic" in your description of yourself (lapsed catholic, recovering catholic, cultural catholic) - what I heard Stasa to be saying is that there are Pagans, active, whole, engaged, PAGAN, pagans, for whom ritual is not a part of it. This is news to me. And I'd like to learn more about it. Keeping my eyes open has not been enough. I havent' known or read about anyone for whom their pagan identity is both important and ritual-free. I'm willing to learn, but I quite honestly haven't come across that yet. Maybe, Stasa, it would be helpful (if you feel like it) to blog about how/where this exists, what it looks like. I feel as if I'm being scolded for not seeing something that I really, honestly, just don't see, and I'm kind of stuck as to what to do about it.

staśa said...

I don't have time right this moment to post as much of an in-depth comment as I would like, but let me share this:

Catholicism is one branch of Christianity. I think we all agree that someone doesn't have to use, say, the Catholic tool of the rosary as a spiritual practice in order to be either Christian or Catholic. We certainly all seem to agree that not all Christians use ritual -- unprogrammed Christian Quakers, for example, right? So, why wouldn't that be true for unprogrammed Pagan Quakers?

Paganism, as an umbrella term, is much, much broader than even Christianity as an umbrella term: there are more different "flavors" or branches of Paganism than there are of Christianity.

If not all Christians would use ritual, why would all Pagans use ritual?

What's Paganism? There are many excellent resources out there. You can do a basic internet search. You could also start with some of the resources that are right here. On this blog, in the right-hand column, there's a link to "Pagan resources," which links to my web site's Pagan info page. The very first resource there is the Pagan Pride Project's "What is a Pagan?" The second one is an overview of modern neo-Paganism in the US. One of my "Highlighted Posts," again in the right-hand column, is "My Pagan Values," which includes the Pagan Pride Project's definition of Pagan, as well as a pretty good exploration of Pagan and Quaker values.

If you look at the Pagan Pride Project's "Who Is a Pagan," you'll notice a few important things -- both in general, and pertaining to this conversation. Go check it out and see what I mean.

Let me also come back to the difference between spiritual belief or thealogy and spiritual practice.

Practice and theaology inform each other, but they are not the same.

Quakerism and Paganism are, in general, both much more about orthopraxis than about orthodoxy: they're about how we walk in the world, and less about what beliefs we profess, say we have. But "right action" is rooted in beliefs and in values. In both Quakerism and Paganism, I would say our spiritual practices come out of our spiritual beliefs or our thealogies -- noting that it's possible to be a Quaker and a non-theist, and that it's possible to be a Pagan and a non-theist.

For all that so many non-Pagan Friends are convinced a theaology of Paganism by definition means using ritual as a spiritual tool, not one has yet been able to explain to me how any theaologies of Paganism mandate ritual -- where any of them say, "If you experience That-Which-Is-Sacred this way, then you must do ritual," or, "If you have Pagan theaology, you must do ritual."

For many Christian Friends, Quakerism is the spiritual practice that gives outward form to their inward truth of Christian theology.

For many Pagan Friends, Quakerism is the spiritual practice that gives outward form to their inward truth of Pagan theaology.

More later, but for now, I'm very much enjoying, and I very much appreciate, the conversation you all are having!

Hystery said...

Wow. This is a bit like being invisible and inaudible.

I know I've said this here and other places like a bazillion times but...I am a Pagan. I do not do ritual. I write a blog about being a Quaker Pagan with a strong tendency to non-theism. I am therefore living evidence that not all Pagans are ritualistic.

One of the reasons people don't know as much about Pagans who do not fit into the stereotype of Pagans who do lots and lots of ritual is marketing. Wicca and related forms of Paganism are very popular but they do not represent all Pagans any more than all Christians can be represented by Roman Catholics or by right wing Christians. I also must point out that not all Wiccans who write blogs or publish books actually represent most Wiccans. There is absolutely no agreed upon orthodoxy among Pagans so it is absurd to try to stereotype us. Friends should know better. Just as not all Christians are fundamentalists who talk on television shows, not all Pagans are represented by the books and popular blogs.

Beth said...

This really became a complex conversation! I assumed that most branches of Paganism included ritual, but never thought of it being a necessary part of all Paganism.

In my experience, very few people other than Pagans or those close to them or studying them, know much about actual Paganism. Of course, many people are ignorant of large stretches of Christianity, Judaism, Islam and more common religions.

You hand an entry about Christopaganism? I'll have to look for that one! Your Beltane celebration (was any of that 'ritual'? Seemed to have some ritual elements to me, or was that some other 'brand' of religious practice) touched me spiritually and I think I might want more of those elements in my spirtual life.

Alyss said...

As someone who has generally identified herself as pagan but is now exploring being part of a quaker community, I find this topic fascinating. I personally am drawn to ritual as a spiritual tool but understand why quakers rejected it and are still wary of it today. I read a great article recently that deals a little with the usefulness and uselessness of ritual. It can be read here:
http://www.witchvox.com/va/dt_va.html?a=usil&c=words&id=13910

I attend a programmed quaker meeting that no one on earth could deny is quaker, but also has ritual. Some of it is quite minor - every week after open worship the pastor says the exact same words, "Friends, are our hearts clear?", or the fact that every mothers day there are cookies, and every easter there is a goofy play - but some are "bigger", like a yearly retreat at the beach, and a monthly potluck, and a weekly time to share joys and concerns.

Still, none of this quite pertains to Stasa's worry about people judging her or her spirituality despite her best efforts to speak her truth. That is a much bigger issue that who practices ritual and why.

Cat Chapin-Bishop said...

Hystery: I believe that both you and Stasa are unusual as Pagans. (So am I--though my past experience may be a bit more normative than yours.)

I for one am not offended if non-Pagans think of ritual when they think of Paganism, because I think that's an accurate first impression. Just as most people who identify as Christian believe in the divinity of Christ and the importance of the Bible... though I certainly have met others who do not.

Likewise, stereotypes about appearance don't offend me much if they're not inherently negative. I'm not offended if people think I eat oatmeal as a Quaker, or wear the Quaker Oats guy's hat, and I'm not offended if people think I wear a pointy hat as a Wiccan. (I have one, actually, made from felt as a joke. It is purple, with a wide floppy brim, and I wear it on lighthearted occasions well-doused with insect repellant, to keep away black flies and other critters.)

I'm not sure what's offensive about someone having any kind of previous impression they bring to me openly for discussion, actually. What does offend me, and has, is when someone goes out of their way to avoid me and drop what had been a friendship when they discover my religious beliefs. That makes me think less of them, I will admit.

But I'm not sure where it's rude to acknowledge that three Quaker Pagans may not be the usual run of Pagan, either. I don't think any of the three of us are exactly "off the rack..."

Hystery said...

Cat,
You are very likely right that we three aren't exactly typical. I don't know for sure because I'm very hesitant about generalizing others' experiences given my lack of deep engagement in the broader practicing Pagan community.

I'm not so much offended if people have a mistaken belief about me and are open to my corrections. I'm offended when they persist in telling me that my experience is irrelevant because it is atypical or when they ignore my voice completely or when they persist in the stereotype long after others have tried to offer educational material to help them understand at a more sophisticated and informed level. That is irksome.

I'm hearing that there are unquestioned assumptions about *Quaker Pagans* and that is deeply troubling. If some random person thinks I engage in complex rituals well fine. Who cares? I correct the misunderstanding or not depending on my mood and patience. But if a Friend continues to insist that they have a hard time imagining non-ritual centered Pagans and is then suspicious of my involvement with Quakers and fearful that I will be making changes to Quaker worship and belief that are detrimental, then it is a major problem for me and my ability to be treated and trusted as a sister.

staśa said...

Friend Hystery speaks my mind. Several times. Thank you for sharing your measure of the Light.

staśa said...

Since so many folks are missing the point, I will try two things here:

1) You are a lesbian. Everybody knows lesbians wear Birkenstock sandals. Birkenstock sandals are not safe for certain kinds of work, such as doctor, nurse, disaster relief, or heavy equipment. Therefore you, as a lesbian, are barred from employment as a doctor, nurse, disaster relief worker, or heavy equipment worker. You can't get angry about it, b/c there's nothing wrong with wearing Birkenstock sandals. If you want to work in such fields, obviously, you should give up being a lesbian. And why are you upset about this, anyway?

2) For the love of all the Gods, people, GO READ THE DEFINITION OF PAGAN AT THE PAGAN PRIDE PROJECT AND EXPLAIN TO ME HOW RITUAL IS NECESSARY TO BEING A PAGAN. No, PPP does not speak for all Pagans, but they're a lot more likely to speak for many of us than the freaking dictionary.

staśa said...

Mary Ellen, about "the problem some quakes have with ritual," and dead ritual... Marshall and some other folks and I were talking about this on Facebook, and there are a couple of issues here (which I hope to write a separate post about). One is, What do we mean by ritual? Most unprogrammed Friends, I would say, equate all ritual with empty ritual. Some of our Quaker ancestors died over the right not to practice empty ritual. Many unprogrammed Friends equate ritual with something done the exact same way every single time, and truly don't believe that describes unprogrammed Quaker practice. Some have some education and training in the different meanings of ritual in different cultural and religious contexts. A huge problem is that we all use the word without all actually meaning the exact same thing, although we're mostly using related definitions.

To me, from my experience, training, and religious and academic study, Quakers have ritual. My analysis of "Four Doors to Meeting for Worship" outlines the parallels between Taber's description of the structure of Meeting for Worship and basic ritual structure in any number of religious traditions, with particular attention to Pagan -- how the basic structure of Witchen/Wiccan ritual and Quaker ritual are the same. (Heresy!)

I would agree with you, it's the light that infuses what we do that's important.

Steve -- and this surprises -- no one!

Laura, you wrote, yes! To much of what you wrote.

And b/c going to ritual every week is not necessary to being Catholic, that's part of why I was able to identify as Catholic for a while after I felt I could no longer go to Mass. I've since stopped trying to do the mental gymnastics necessary to make myself be Catholic, but there's an old adage I very much understand: "To be Catholic isn't to belong to the hierarchy, to be Catholic is to belong to other Catholics."

Kody, thank you. Part of my larger point is that this isn't an issue that affects Pagan Friends. Oppressions are connected.

staśa said...

Pam, if I'm too upset about this to make sense right now, maybe you're too married to your privilege to make sense of it right now? ;-) (I am mostly joking, which may not come across well in cyberspace.) Prejudice always upsets me.

Pam, part of my point in the juxtaposition of animal sacrifice and ritual is that a stereotype doesn't have to be obviously negative to be destructive, prejudiced, or oppressive.

You say, "If someone thought I was doing ritual I would think they were dumb and shrug it off. This has nothing to do with the level of ignorance on their part, and everything to do with my valuing of each practice in my own worldview." Could you just "shrug it off" if it meant you got kicked out of your Meeting? If it meant someone could stand up in Meeting for Worship with Attention to Business and block a decision of the Meeting not to treat you in a discriminatory way? I can't shrug it off when it's used as an excuse for discrimination, which is my point.

What do I think people mean when they say Pagans are into ritual? Good question. I think -- although I can't be sure; this is based on answers I've gotten when I've asked Quaker Adult Religious Ed groups what they mean by ritual, and from conversations with Friends about why Pagans can't be Quakers -- that they mean that they think all Pagans worship in the exact same way every single time and must do things in the exact right way. The kind of High Church stuff our ancestors worked so hard to get away from.

Some of them, though, mean what our siblings in programmed Quaker traditions do. More than one elder from more than one unprogrammed Meeting has told me outright, "That's not Quakerism and that's not compatible with being part of this Meeting" (and I've been to semi-programmed Meeting for Worship in one of the Meetings where that's incompatible, but I guess it's different if it's intergenerational worship...). I've talked in other posts about my own feeling of "being allergic" to programmed and semi-programmed Meeting, but my experience has taught me that yeah, these folks are Quakers, regardless of how self-righteous we unprogrammed Friends feel about it. :) So, I suspect some of it is about the programmed-vs-unprogrammed Quakers set of tender places. Which is ironic to met, since most Friends I know from programmed traditions are Christian.

Pam, yes, I most certainly affirm your right to call yourself a Pagan. And it makes me sad that you think you can't be a Pagan b/c you don't do ritual. Does someone have to have sex with other women to be a lesbian? (Does a woman have to have sex with a man to be straight?)

By the Pagan Pride Project's definition of Pagan ("http://paganpride.org/who/who.html"), I would almost say you are a Pagan -- a big part of their definition is self-identification, and I've never heard or read you say you're a Pagan. Just, almost.

And I think we need to look at what "ritual" means, but that's another post. Maybe I'll go start one so we can all talk about it there.

Beth, monosexuals love to assume everyone's monosexual. I'm not homosexual, but I am a lesbian, and I struggled for years against the assumption that my relationship with my ex-husband -- indeed, with any of the men I'd been involved with -- was invalid b/c I'm a lesbian, and that we split up b/c I came out. Uh, no. Our relationship was real, and I was out before we ever dated. He took me to my first Gay Pride Day. :)

(The one and only time I've ever seen Liz P (of former FGC Gathering and now SAYMA fame) speechless was the first time I said the words "my ex-husband" in her presence. It was astonishing. And priceless.)

(So don't you all start with, "I never knew you were married to a man...")

staśa said...

Marshall, you wrote, "...the very next sentence you wrote, after the one I quoted in my previous comment: “I told her that Beltane with Roses, Too! is not a Pagan Quaker ritual, but a Pagan ritual with Quaker and lots of other influences.” I think that sentence speaks for itself. Don’t you?

For itself, yes. For all Pagans, no. But if you think it demonstrates a reasonable assumption that all Pagans use ritual as a spiritual practice, it says something about your assumptions. And while I would call Roses, Too! ritual ritual, I would also call Meeting for Worship ritual, and I would not call Roses, Too! Beltane potluck ritual. However, "Beltane planning" (or "Samhain planning") to many folks sounds the same as "ritual planning" in a way that "Christmas planning" or "Easter planning" doesn't. And that's about assumptions, stereotypes, and prejudice. Any of those four could be about a spiritual practice of ritual, a cultural ritual, or a religious or cultural practice that isn't ritual.

What disturbs me are the kinds of double-standards that allow Quaker Meetings to have Christmas dinners while Friends condemn Friends who host meals for Pagan holidays as "anti-Quaker" for hosting ritual. I have experienced both of these. (I never went to my former Meeting's Christmas Dinner; I did go to their 12th Month Dinner.)

It doesn't matter, technically, if a Catholic goes to Mass/ritual or not -- you can't get kicked out for not going to Mass, by canon law.

It's good to know someone understands us even if we don't always understand each other. :)

Hystery, I don't think you're missing my point at all; I do think other folks are missing major portions of it. (And b/c it doesn't make sense to them, it must not be true - ?)

I hear you. I see you. You are visible and real to me.

You ask a bunch of questions, and some part of me is sorely tempted to say that you and I, like the Babelfish, may be about to disappear in a puff of logic. ;-)

In another context, Cat talked about how replacing the word "ritual" with the words "regular spiritual practice" very often makes it suddenly completely acceptable.

I have actually witnessed this. An elder in one Meeting told me that if I had a private practice of a [yoga] sun salutation every morning, and if I taught that to other people, that would be okay, but that if I lit a candle or called the directions, or taught other people to do that, that would not be compatible with Quakerism. Hmmmm.

Yes, I think a lot of the difficulty is about words and what different people mean by them. The Samhain observance you mentioned, Meeting for Worship with Attention to Spring... Is grace before meals a ritual? By whose standards?

Ahhh. By whose standards.

This goes back to what you said about self-definition.

staśa said...

Pam, you wrote:

"My stereotype of both Catholics and Pagans is that ritual is an important part of their faith. ie: if you're really DOING Catholicism, you engage in ritual. If you intentionally forgo ritual, you may well still be a christian, but in all honesty you should probably modify the "catholic" in your description of yourself (lapsed catholic, recovering catholic, cultural catholic) - ",

Ah, yes! So here's something: not all Christians are part of the same denomination, use the same practices, etc, right? There are Christians who don't do ritual, right?

Not all Pagans are the same denomination, either. In fact, even in the same "denominations," there's more diversity -- both of theaology and of practice -- than within many Christian denominations. This reminds me of the old joke, "Two Witches, eight opinions." Often modified by, "At least."

"...what I heard Stasa to be saying is that there are Pagans, active, whole, engaged, PAGAN, pagans, for whom ritual is not a part of it. This is news to me."

Yes. Yes, yes, yes. *happy bounce* And Hystery, too.

"And I'd like to learn more about it. Keeping my eyes open has not been enough. I havent' known or read about anyone for whom their pagan identity is both important and ritual-free. I'm willing to learn, but I quite honestly haven't come across that yet."

Reading this makes me very happy. Well, you "know" Hystery, right? Or at least, you do now.

"Maybe, Stasa, it would be helpful (if you feel like it) to blog about how/where this exists, what it looks like."

I think Hystery's well-equipped to do that; and Hystery, if you want to do a guest post on my blog, I'd love that.

Pam, here's one concrete example for you, which is hard to blog about b/c it doesn't look, outwardly, any different from what any other Quaker does any First Day: Meeting for Worship on the Full Moon.

(Unless you count Meeting for Worship as ritual...)

"I feel as if I'm being scolded for not seeing something that I really, honestly, just don't see, and I'm kind of stuck as to what to do about it."

Ah. Thank you for saying both those things. I'm sorry I've sounded scolding. I'm impatient and frustrated when Pagans I know say, "I don't do ritual," or when I say, "There's nothing inherent in being Pagan that mandates ritual," and people don't believe our words. And I'm sure that sounds scolding. Somehow, the way you've asked in that comment "worked" for me, and I was able to be with you in a less impatient (and, in fact, pretty enthusiastic) way. So, thank you.

staśa said...

Hystery, you're also living proof that not all Pagans are theist. (Personally, I'm somewhere on the non-theist spectrum.)

One time when I was writing on the non-theist Friends list about community- and bridge-building between the communities of Pagan Friends and non-theist Friends, I got not-quite-slapped down about assuming that non-theist Friends would want to build community with Friends who believe in supernatural, omniscient, all-powerful Deities. It took me a bit to recover from that one, especially since I know a LOT of atheist Pagans, but we had it sorted out in a short email conversation. :)

Beth, I had a link to a review of Gus Di Zerega's review of a book on Christopaganism: http://aquakerwitch.blogspot.com/2009/05/gus-dizerega-on-higgenbothams.html. Not my cup of tea, but I know it's the lived experience of a number of people. The few I know well are folks who are, generally, Pagan and polytheist (no, not all of us are polytheists, or monotheists), and Jesus is one of the Deities who speaks to those folks. They know Jesus. I can no more doubt them than I can doubt anyone else who tells me they know/experience Jesus.

Just to put the fox among the hens a little more, at least three of the Pagans I know who are also Christian are Quakers. :)

staśa said...

Beth, yes, part of my Beltane celebration was 'ritual' (and I think I will adopt your practice and start putting that in quotes). In Roses, Too! Tradition, we usually have 'ritual' and potluck elements of any celebration; potlucks are larger, noisier, and draw people who are in no way Pagan -- sometimes, in no way religious -- but to whom community is important.

So, here's a question: It's May 1st, and I'm with a group of people who dances a May Pole. Is this ritual? If so, is it religious ritual or cultural ritual?

In all four communities I've lived in over the last however many years, there have been people who do May Poles as religious or spiritual, and people who do them as cultural. I grew up with them. My Quaker college has them, still.

In Roses, Too! Tradition, we have our basic 'ritual'/worship structure, and what we usually do specifically for Beltane is each tie our ribbon on the May Pole, naming what we're weaving into our lives in the upcoming year, then sing as we dance the May Pole with attention and energy to what we're weaving into our lives.

But if we're led differently -- at Beltane or any other time -- we do something different.

staśa said...

Alyss, well-said. How long have you been worshipping in your Friends Meeting? It sounds like they feel like community to you.

Cat, if Hystery and I are unusual, that doesn't make us less-than, or less legitimate somehow, as Pagans or as Friends. Not that I think that's what you said; just that I think it could be interpreted that way.

It's not whether a stereotype is negative that's the issue: it's how it's used. And when any stereotype is used by a dominant group to enforce its power-over a minority group, damned right it bothers me.

Or, as with lesbians (sex with women) and Pagans (ritual, animal sacrifice, etc), when stereotypes are used by the dominant group to convince people they're not part of a minority group, damned right it bothers me.

I admit I also think less of someone when they suddenly avoid me b/c of my religion or theaology -- or my sexual orientation, or when they treat me differently b/c of my class background. I also admit I think less of someone when they don't listen to me about the truth of my experience. That I've ever been in love with a man. (That I've had good sex with someone male.) That I've been homeless. That Quakerism is an integral part of how I walk my theaology in the world.

No, LOL, I don't think you, Hystery, or I is "off-the-rack." On the other hand, in the three regions I've lived in recently, Paganisms have had very different flavors. *shrug*

I am engaged in the broader Pagan community, through Pagan Pride, Cherry Hill, OLOTEAS, my involvement with Pagan Friends, the interfaith Winter Solstice Celebrations I help Pagans and non-Pagans put on, the Pagan Arts Initiative... and what a "typical" Pagan looks and acts like varies a lot depending on where you are.

Hystery wrote, "I'm offended when they persist in telling me that my experience is irrelevant because it is atypical or when they ignore my voice completely or when they persist in the stereotype long after others have tried to offer educational material to help them understand at a more sophisticated and informed level. That is irksome.", and I agree with her.

You also wrote:

"I'm hearing that there are unquestioned assumptions about *Quaker Pagans* and that is deeply troubling. If some random person thinks I engage in complex rituals well fine. Who cares? I correct the misunderstanding or not depending on my mood and patience. But if a Friend continues to insist that they have a hard time imagining non-ritual centered Pagans and is then suspicious of my involvement with Quakers and fearful that I will be making changes to Quaker worship and belief that are detrimental, then it is a major problem for me and my ability to be treated and trusted as a sister."

Yes, yes, yes.

I've been part of Meetings where people brought just those assumptions, and were willing to engage in the hard work of discerning the truth of my, and other Pagan Friends', lived experience. It was hard. I worked my ass off. But it was exhilarating. It was, in fact, magic. It was community. I loved it. Importantly, I was changed by it, in ways that help me be more faithful as a Pagan and as a Friend.

I've also been part of Meetings where people brought those assumptions, and were for whatever reasons unable to challenge them successfully -- to listen deeply, openly, and truthfully. And that was heartbreaking.

(And, why on Earth would I want to change Quaker worship and belief - ? Why would I want to live my life as a Friend if I wanted to fundamentally change Quakerism - ?)

staśa said...

Since I probably haven't said it recently: Thank you, each and every one of you, for contributing to this chewy, difficult, rewarding, hard, good conversation.

Marshall Massey said...

Staśa, I think part of the problem in the conversation I am trying to have with you, and with others here, is that there is an ongoing confusion here of three different questions.

One question is, “Do all Pagans practice ritual?” That is the idea that you, and other Pagans here, are evidently anxious to refute. But you don’t need to refute it to me personally, because I already understand. This is not the issue that I am arguing about.

Another, actually different, question is this: is it legitimate to engage in what you have called, in your posting, an “automatic, knee-jerk pairing of Paganism with ritual”? And I would submit that the answer to this question is yes, just as it is legitimate to engage in such an automatic, knee-jerk pairing of Christianity with ritual. Even if not all Pagans, and not all Christians, are willing to practice ritual, nonetheless, ritual is a thread inextricably woven into both tapestries. In the Christian tradition, it goes all the way back to the Last Supper — and if we’re talking about the Judæo-Christian tradition then it goes back much farther still, to the original Passover. And in Paganism, it certainly goes back at least as far as the emergence of the movement in the modern West.

The third question that I see lurking in the background of this conversation, but not being clearly acknowledged, is the question of why, exactly, Christian Friends object to Pagans calling themselves Quaker. It would be false to assume that they (or more honestly, we) are objecting simply because Pagans engage in ritual. And thus when you try to keep the discussion focused on Quaker acceptance of ritual, and leave out the rest of what Christian Friends object to, it produces a sort of Plato’s-Cave distortion of the truth about what is actually going on.

earthfreak (Pam) said...

Hey Stasa

I have to echo, again, a lot of what Marshall says here. I think when I said maybe you were too emotional (and yes, I do know how condescending that sounds, but rest assured it comes out of years of my own experience being too emotional to get my point across) what I meant was more that there are so many issues here mixed up together, and it's hard to really understand what's going on without teasing them apart.

So, yes,

1- Do all Pagans do ritual? ok, apparently not.

2 - Is it unreasonable to assume that a given pagan does ritual? -still perhaps up for debate. Of course on a one to one basis it makes most sense to actually talk to them like you're both human beings and learn what you can about what you're interested in.

3- does it matter if Pagans do ritual, in terms of whether they can be accepted as Friends? (This, I think, is really two, as Marshall pointed out - can people who do ritual be Friends, and can Pagans be Friends)


This last one actually almost completely slipped past my radar, I must admit, which I (perhaps wrongly) assume is where most of the emotion is coming from (I assume because it still makes no sense that it's so upsetting that people have a widely held, inaccurate but not wildly inaccurate assumption - I think of stupid stereotypes of lesbians. If someone thinks that "one of you has to be the man in the relationship" I (mostly) laugh it off and explain. If someone thinks I'm a pedophile, that's obviously a LOT more upsetting)

Anyway, I think I"m spoiled, as a nontheist pagan-ish friend. I attend a meeting that (for the most part) doesn't care. Our most vocal nontheist is serving his second term on ministry and counsel. We have a number of Pagan-ish members who as far as I know don't get any flak for it at all. I'm used to a little quaker world where such conversation usually (though not always) take the course of, "really? I hadn't known that, tell me more" rather than some call for expulsion. I'm saddened to be reminded it's not so everywhere

orawnzva said...

(Or the 100% correlation between being Quaker and driving a Prius. Or the 100% correlation between being a Witch and wearing a black, pointy hat. I'm kind of bummed about those last two, because I think I'd look really cool driving a Prius while wearing a black, pointy hat, don't you?)

That would be adorable, but I'm not sure the interior of a Prius has enough headroom.

Just to put the fox among the hens a little more, at least three of the Pagans I know who are also Christian are Quakers. :)

And how many of the Pagans you know who are also Jewish are Quakers? I'm not sure if this says something special about (liberal, unprogrammed) Friends, or just that, once you have two religious labels, why stop there?