Your Hate has Made You Powerful

7622419_xxlThis one’s a repost as the blog it was on is now defunct. Though I wrote it a few years ago, it seemed appropriate given the political climate and the many people rising as activists to fight against a bigoted regime.

There’s a quote from Star Wars: Return of the Jedi that has nagged at me for years. In my 20′s, it was an inspiring quote that brought a lot of energy to me when the chips were down and I was fighting the good fight.

After I did a lot of feminist leadership training, I reversed my opinion on the line: “Your hate has made you powerful.”

Here’s what has itched at me.  Hate is “bad,” right? So why is it some of my greatest creative bursts come when I’ve been enraged enough to see red? I have painted large murals in mere hours when fueled by my wrath…I have felt that hot, dark pulse of creative inspiration in a moment of anger.

But if I am feeling hate, then I’m not a spiritually-developed, balanced person, right?

This was the struggle I went through as I engaged in a multi-year mystery school program of personal and spiritual development. This mystery school also led to my getting training as a leader of spiritual groups and facilitator of rituals. I had always thought of my anger as just one piece of my energy. I had thought that my anger was something that I–as an artist, a creative–had the power to transmute.

Sometimes I even thought of it like the Bene Gesserit women from the novel/movie Dune who transmute the Water of Life from a poison into a water that others can drink and that offers a deep spiritual experience. (Yes, sort of like Siberian Shamans and mushrooms, but that’s another post entirely.) However, the more work that I did in this leadership program, and the more I was exposed to principles of nonviolence, the more I began to fear my own anger. The more I began to do personal work exploring myself and my motivations and my emotions and my boundaries…the more shadows I encountered, the more I tried to work to “fix” myself.

And…I have to liken what happened at that point in my life to this metaphor. I was like a half-trained programmer working with a huge amount of code. I feel like I was trying to hack my life–hack my Self and self-identity–and I deleted too large of a line of code. Of course the rest of the app (in other words, me) didn’t work right after that.

What I mean is, I decided somewhere in there that anger, rage, and hate were inherently “bad” and if I was taking energy from them then that made me “bad” as well. So I basically began the process of cutting off that source of my energy, my power, my motivation.

It was like a tree cutting off half of its taproot system.

Motivation, Anger, and Bullying
I used to have a limitless supply of energy for a project. The bigger the project, the more energy I had for it. And somewhere in the depths of my brain…in my subconscious…in the mire of my old wounds and my pain from my past, the energy that I had often came from hate. Specifically, my hate for my peers who had abused me in middle school. Somewhere inside of me, every time I was doing some big huge project, like running an event, I was saying “Fuck you” to the kids who had bullied and abused me in school.

I just recently read an article about the long-term effects of childhood bullying.

I certainly suffered from years of poor self esteem, which has a rippling impact on the rest of my life. I’ve written other posts on working with the wounds of our past. Somehow, when I did a big creative project, like when I’d organize one of the Star Wars themed parties at a Sci-fi Convention, I felt like I was giving my classmates the finger. Like I was somehow proving that I was indeed better than them.

That I was beyond all that they had ever done to me.

There were times when my energy for a project was absolutely inexhaustible. There are times when I’ve stayed up for days, fueled by limitless energy. I think I maybe got a little unnerved when I realized how much of my creative energy was being sourced from the deep, bottomless well of “Fuck you.”

Need For Approval
Tied up within that was my own need for approval, largely from mentors. Since from grade school through high school I didn’t really have many friends among my peers, I had always sourced my need for approval from teachers, adults, and other people in authority. Basically, I wasn’t getting friendship or affection, but what I could get was approval for good grades, or approval for being “good.”

And, as you might expect, that became a factor when I began doing the deep personal work at this particular mystery school. I desperately wanted the approval of my mentors.

So when I learned how much anger towards those bullies I had been harboring those years, and when I was exposed to techniques of nonviolent communication, and as I did more personal growth work, I got the idea that sourcing my energy from anger made me “bad.”

Well, I didn’t want to be “bad.” I’d never get approval from my mentors if I was “bad,” right?

It took me rather a few years to unravel what I’d done to myself, and how I’d gone a little overboard in my course correction. I had already been facing a lot of depression symptoms–largely, exhaustion, brain fog, and lack of motivation or interest in things that used to interest me. Those symptoms got worse as the years went on.

Any time I felt a rush of energy from that “fuck you” source, I felt a rush of corresponding guilt, and then exhaustion. Instead of staying mad, I’d get tired. Many times, I’d feel the overwhelming need to sleep, immediately. I started doing less events, and less grandiose events. Less projects, less creative work. And then I’d get sad and tired thinking, I haven’t done any cool projects lately, nothing worth doing.

And that would make me more sad.

It’s really hard to say how much of this depression was from me trying to change too much internal programming, and how much was from what I’d later discover was an intolerance to gluten, dairy, and to other preservatives and chemicals. I can say that when I finally started eating the right foods for me (basically the paleo diet) many of my depression/exhaustion symptoms reduced tremendously.

But what I think also happened in the intervening years of personal growth work is that I regrew my taproots in a healthier way, and I renegotiated my work with my anger.

Boundaries and Self Esteem
Back when I was sourcing my project and creative energy in “Fuck you,” it was pretty simple math. I had terrible self esteem. I had a poor sense of self and self identity. When there are old wounds, old holes in the ego, one of the ways that manifests is through extreme defensiveness and arrogance. It’s a coping strategy.

I can sum it up as: if everyone is hating on me, then I have to defend myself proactively. And the best defense is to be better than the people who were making fun of me, bullying me. If I am superior to them, then what they did to me doesn’t hurt as bad somehow. But, that kind of behavior tends to extend out. It becomes easy to not just be arrogant towards the people who have bullied and harmed me, but to everyone, because everyone is a potential threat.

It’s the defense mechanism that keeps a lot of us sane when we’re being bullied and abused…but it can go too far.

In the years I was involved with that mystery school and the years after, I continued to do my personal work. I grew an actual, healthy sense of self esteem. I traded my arrogance for confidence. If someone teased me or insulted me, I would no longer lash out defensively. Instead, I’d realize that what they were saying probably was a lot less about me, and more about their own projections or issues. I got a lot more centered.

I began to be able to hear the difference between, “I don’t like what you did on ___ project,” and, “I think you suck.”

As I developed better boundaries, better self esteem, I got a lot less angry at my former bullies. I recognized that the adults around me weren’t all the kids from school. And then I began to recognize that the kids in school that bullied me, tormented me…that many of them were acting out their own issues of abuse.

That indeed, a lot of what they had done was not about me at all. I was just a convenient target.

What’s my Source?
For those many years, I had lost that energetic taproot. I was depressed a lot. I didn’t have the energy to do the big events, the inspiring events. I wondered rather a lot about where the source of my inspiration had gone, where my muse had gone. I felt I was on a desperate Grail quest, begging for the scraps of the edge of the cup to refill my heart again, to bring that life force back that seemed to have vanished from my life.

The combination of several things began to bring back my life force, my muse, my inspiration.

Changing my diet reduced my exhaustion, as did leaving an emotionally abusive relationship. But it was the years of work on building up a healthier sense of self esteem that formed the core of that. It was also remembering what it was that brought me energy and life force in the first place helped me to sink those new, healthy taproots back in. In other words, I began to remember that I used to do events that I was inspired to do. It wasn’t just that I ran an event or did a project because I wanted to show off–it was that I was genuinely interested.

And anger wasn’t bad, I realized. Anger was passion. Anger reminded me that I cared. If it was me being angry at some years-distant abuse, I had to think about what I was really angry at. If I was angry at someone for something and it turned out I was really actually projecting my anger from some long-distant wrong…then I knew I needed to look at that, examine it.

But it didn’t mean that all anger was automatically bad.

There’s the righteous anger of the activist, standing up against those who oppress others. There’s the righteous anger of the abused. Being angry at the people who abused me doesn’t make me bad.

There are all sorts of things in this world that make me angry and that I have nothing to do with that anger. I get angry at how people bully each other. I read the news or hear about people hurting each other and I am sad, hurt, angry, and it’s not something I can fix for them, not something that I can change. There are times when people have hurt me, and it’s ok to be angry at them.

I think that there’s a lot of anger that is sourced in love–and what I mean is, we get angry when something we love is violated or hurt.

I deeply believe that the most potent muse, the most potent source energy, is love. And love, passion, and anger are all a bare breath away from each other, emotionally. They make our blood pressure rise, our cheeks flush, our heart palpitate. I, in having the capacity to love, in choosing to feel desire, yearning, and passion…also have the capacity to be passionately angry when that which I love is violated.

In center of my heart I have the power to transmute my own fury into creativity, life-force. I bring myself back into alignment with love using that energy to spur me from entropy to action.

These days, I’m no longer cut off from anger as energy…I just have a far healthier relationship to my own rage. The core of my source energy  is following my calling, it’s working with the energy of what inspires me, of life and life force and love. And I’m a human being and I get angry, and that’s a part of things too.

Personal Growth: Creating New Shadows
In doing some of the personal growth work that I did, I created an entirely new shadow. What I mean by shadow is that we (humans) have basic needs. Needs like sex, food, shelter, approval, attention…except, culturally, we’re often taught that some of  these needs are bad.

When I began doing the work of personal transformation, I didn’t start out having issues around my anger. I was already using it for creative work, channeling it. But in that particular group where I did so much personal work, there was the subtle pressure that anger was “bad,” as I’ve said. So I created an entire shadow–I tried to not be angry ever. I thought that if I was perfect and centered and spiritual, then I wouldn’t be angry. That I should never feel hate.

Once I re-embraced that shadow, once I accepted that I’m a human being that feels anger and feels hate from time to time, then I could accept and love myself again instead of fighting myself. I could renegotiate my relationship to that anger.

Sometimes, I get pissed off, and I put that energy into my creative work, instead of hating myself even more for not being perfect.

Overall, I work to source my energy in love, in my calling. The work that really draws me is the work that I know is going to bring good things out there, bring some joy or serve community. Maybe it’s one of my fiction stories, or a painting. Maybe I’m teaching a workshop on leadership or running a weekend conference. Maybe I’m helping another author organize an event. When I focus on the joy, and let the occasional anger flow into the project and transmute it into something good, I feel pretty balanced.

There are times when “my hate has made me powerful.” Hate is that emotion that I feel when something I love is violated. When I need that boost of energy to make a big change in the world. I hope to help build the kind of world where we aren’t hurting each other so much. Where we try to help one another. Where we try to help heal each other.

I don’t live in that world yet, but every time I get angry, I try to fuel it into work that will help make this world a better place.

Filed under: Activism, Personal Growth

Compassion, Truth, and Bonesetting

Rift on the earth excellent background

I was taught that setting the bone is a crucial part of being a priest/ess, a leader. That sometimes we have to hurt in order to heal. And I was also taught that truth often hurts. We couch so many things in white lies to salve someone’s feelings, to soothe it over, to make it hurt less. But those attempts to ease pain in the short term often cause longer term pain. In essence–sometimes the deepest form of compassion is to say the hard thing. It hurts in the short term, but it heals in the long term.

I’ve written about the Frosts, and I’ve received a number of comments on my Facebook, and private messages, from people who feel that I lack compassion for Gavin Frost’s family by posting some reminders about their writings where they detail an entire chapter on sexual initiation of barely pubescent minors.

It’s not that I don’t have compassion, it’s that I’m not codependent. I’m not responsible for the feelings of the family members, and I certainly am not responsible for the feelings of those who support them somehow despite the horrific things the Frosts wrote. I am sorry that they lost a loved one, and I mean that sincerely. But I’m not going to lie about the Frosts just to make them feel better.

I’m reporting what has happened because it’s important to the broader community to not lie about Gavin Frost. You can’t ethically/honestly/journalistically write an article about a public figure and speak about the awesome stuff they did without speaking about the horrible stuff too. I’m not defaming the Frosts (or any other leader/elder I speak about), I’m speaking to things they wrote in their book or in blog posts, things they said in interviews.

Defamation means telling a lie, speaking an intentional untruth. It’s not defamation to speak the truth. And it’s not speaking ill of the dead to speak the truth of what that person did in their life.
My compassion is for the broader community, for the current future Pagans that need to remember our history so we don’t repeat it, so we don’t continue making space for leaders and authors that harm us.

I’ve not said anywhere that Gavin Frost sexually abused anyone, because I have no proof of that, so saying that would not be the truth. What I’ve said is that the chapter in the book by the Frosts (The Witches Bible and later, The Good Witches Bible) is a how-to manual for sexual abuse. And it’s a chapter, a guide, that Pagan/coven leaders have used or at least tried to use as a template. I personally know several people (and I know of others) who were harmed by coven leaders who were following the teachings of the Frosts.

My compassion is for the victims. My compassion is for all those who come after us who deserve better. My compassion and my love is for the community that (I hope) survives us. And my deepest hope is that this future Pagan community is not riddled with rape culture, misogyny, homophobia, nor with with unethical, harmful leaders. This goes far beyond the Frosts, but they are a part of our past, and sweeping what they wrote and said (and held to) under the rug is a lie.

I’m speaking up because people are eulogizing Gavin Frost without telling the whole story–or without knowing the whole story. What is remembered lives, and we must remember our failings as a community. One of our grossest failings collectively is failing to speak up when something’s wrong.

I don’t believe Gavin Frost was a completely bad person, any more than my ex was completely bad. People are complicated. The labels of “good” and “bad” aren’t really useful. People can do good things, and also bad things. People can be beloved teachers who helped you find your spiritual path, and they can also have taught and promoted some very harmful practices.

If you believe that I’m heartless for posting about the Frosts now, I’m not going to be able to convince you otherwise. But the way I was trained was in the magic of the bone-setting, of healing the longer term even if there is pain in the short term. That speaking the truth is healing, though it can hurt. There’s no way I can write about the topics that I do without hurting someone, but I do so with that intention of setting the bone, of longer term healing.

I don’t enjoy writing those posts about our harmful leaders and elders. Those are hard posts to write, and they lead to days of stress dealing with angry comments and hatemail. I lose friends when I post about these things. I lose paid teaching engagements. I don’t write these things without a cost to myself, but I write them because I love my community and I want to see it thrive. I want to see a healthy, sustainable Pagan community.

What is remembered lives, and we must not forget the mistakes of the past or we are doomed to repeat them.

Filed under: Activism, Leadership, Pagan Community Tagged: Frosts, Gavin Frost, Pagan, Pagan community, Paganism, rape culture, sexual abuse, The Witches Bible

Reblog: How To Spot A Spiritual Sexual Predator

I reblog this with some recommendations and some caveats. This post is an excellent overview of many of the red flags of predators within the Pagan community. This is something I’ve written about and talked about at length and I think it’s important for more people to be aware of these dangerous traits.

Here’s one caveat: Many of these red flags are not, on their own, problematic. It’s the constellation of red flags that are the issue, just as with so many other things. The author brings up that sustained eye contact and charismatic behavior is a predatory behavior, and that’s not exactly true; not on its own. So remember–just because some Pagan you know does some of these doesn’t automatically mean they are a predator. Use discernment.

Another caveat: The post is bigoted against polyamory and open relationships. For that reason, I hesitated to share this post, however, the rest of the overview of behaviors is so spot-on that I still find it an excellent resource on spiritual predators. Here’s the thing; just because someone is polyamorous doesn’t mean they are a predator. I’ve seen lots of ethically open relationships. Heck, I’m in one now myself, though it was unexpected. However, where I see poly being predatory is with these additional red flags: When the person is pressuring you to be poly and extolling the virtues of polyamory and how polyamory is better than monogamy, or when the person is telling you they are poly and they’re actually using that as a line to cheat on their partner. Again, use discernment. There’s a big difference between someone new to being polyamorous and enthusiastic about it, and someone who’s trying to manipulate you into a sexually coercive relationship.


 Link to article: How To Spot A Spiritual Sexual Predator

“It surprises me not an iota that a sexual predator would become a prominent new-age guru. The guru-student relationship is fertile land for sexual misbehavior to flourish in. There are too many guru sexual predators to list, but I’ll highlight a few who were exposed relatively recently: John Friend of Anusara Yoga, Bikram Choudury of Bikram Yoga, Eido Shimano Roshi of New York Zen Studies Society, Joshu Sasaki Roshiof Rinzai-ji, Swami Shankarananda of Shiva School Of Meditation And Yoga, and Doug Phillips of Vision Forum….”

Filed under: Activism, Leadership, Pagan Community Tagged: abus, abuse, leadership, monogamy, polyamory, predators, sexual predators

Return of the Light: Seeking Joy

WinterKnightWishI have a hard time with the word “fun.” The words “happy” and “joy” are difficult words too, for that matter. Yet, a year ago around the Winter Solstice I committed to finding more real joy in my life and actually experience that elusive sensation known as happiness. And I found some of it, though I have more seeking to do. Part of my Winter Solstice practices is reviewing the past year and looking forward to the next.

Recently I was trying to explain Yule and the Winter Solstice to my non-Pagan boyfriend. My own spiritual tradition has changed a bit over the years, so I had to think for a bit about what the Solstice still means to me.

I couldn’t really define it by a religious observance with a group, since I don’t have a group I practice with. I couldn’t define it by public ritual offerings as I haven’t hosted rituals in Chicago for a year. I’m a pantheist–barely a theist at that–and there aren’t particular deities I work with that have any Yule practices I’m obliged to perform.

Since my boyfriend is a science geek, I told him a bit about the astronomical importance of the Solstice…in a nutshell, imagine it’s thousands of years ago, the nights are getting darker and longer, the sun is setting further and further south…and suddenly, the sun slowly starts to return north. The nights get shorter. It’s a time of hope that the winter is going to end, that the days will return and there will be food and plenty again.

In fact, as an astronomy geek, that’s always been one of my core attraction to the solstices. I swear, in a past life, I was one of those crazy people who thought that hauling large rocks into place to mark astronomical observances was a great idea.

What Is My Practice?

After I explained the sciency part of things, I had to think about what the Winter Solstice even means for me these days. I tend to work with the dark season from Samhain to Winter Solstice as a time for reflection on the past year, what I accomplished, what I didn’t.

Solstice is, for me, a more spiritual take on New Year’s resolutions. I feel the death of the old year, the things undone, the things I want to release…and I also feel the light of the new year. I look forward to what I’d like to focus on in the coming year.

And as I thought about that, I realize that a lot of my spiritual work isn’t done through solitary ritual with candles and all the trappings–it’s done through writing. Some of you reading this are probably thinking, “Duh. Of course writing is part of your spiritual work.” But sometimes I suppose we each have to re-remember these things for ourselves.

Thus, this post is part of my spiritual practice. And since I took a big risk in seeking joy, I wanted to dig into what it meant for me, and how it played out.

Elusive Joy

I’ve always been a workaholic; I was a straight-A student in school and I suppose that’s probably where I developed the idea that “fun” was for unfocused slackers. I’ve always had a hard time articulating that work–writing, painting, studying, event planning–is “fun” for me. Happiness wasn’t always such a difficult word, but for the past decade, I’ve struggled with depression. When someone asks me what would make me happy, what would bring me joy…I’m genuinely at a loss for what to say.

I’ve been emotionally numb for a long time. People say things like, “Wow, you have another book out! You must be so happy!” And I just think, no, I really don’t feel anything except relief that it’s  done and I’m not stressing about blowing deadlines.

However, in the past year, I have found some things that genuinely brought me joy, those elusive moments of actual happiness.

What Brings Me Joy?

I sing to keep my voice warmed up and to reduce my anxiety/depression. Sometimes singing on my own brings me joy, but typically singing is more uplifting for me in group rituals when there’s all the layered chanting and harmonies.

I have playlists of music and certain songs bring out intense emotional responses. It’s not always joy in the sense of, being happy…sometimes it’s tears. But for me, the ability to feel at all is a joy in itself, even if I’m weeping in grief, in sorrow.

When I give myself over to it, painting is so meditative and centering. I will offer that when I go on an art-making jag, I do increase my stress level in the sense that, I have zero desire to check email and respond to communications, or deal with my other to do’s. These to do’s can sometimes pile up when I’m painting for days and days, and my awareness that they are piling up makes it harder to enjoy the process of painting. I will say that I deal with less insomnia when I’m painting. For that matter, if I’m having a bad depression day, I can often still paint even if I have too much brain fog to write or do anything that requires more focus.

Friendships and Romance:
I’ve spent a lot of my life terrified that I’d be lonely forever. Or, sticking with unhealthy relationships so that I don’t have to feel lonely. The past years, I’ve spent a lot of time alone–I’m far less afraid of alone now. Some friendships have sustained me, though my Pagan hermit lifestyle has cut me off from other friendships, and I’ve faced difficulties the past years connecting with romantic partners. There’s a fair amount of science around how lack of touch can contribute to depression, anxiety, etc. About six months ago I started dating someone and–to our mutual surprise–we fell for each other. Love is a heck of a thing, and being with my partner makes me really happy.

Getting Paid:
This past summer I was driving home after a weekend festival. I was sunburned, it was at least 95 degrees in my car, I had a five-hour drive in front of me, but a song I liked started playing and I just smiled. I just felt joy. Why? I got paid. I not only sold artwork, but I got paid for my travel expenses and a decent stipend beyond that.

Joy isn’t usually what I feel after an event. Exhaustion, yeah. Dread for the drive home. Relief that the event is over. Aftereffects of social anxiety. Sometimes I feel a little pleasure if a ritual went particularly well, but the work I do is difficult and it’s hard to get groups of people to participate in ecstatic rituals. Sometimes after an event I’m scrabbling for any positives I can take away.

I had this ludicrous surge of joy realizing that I’d been paid a reasonable fee for my work–and it is work. It’s my soul’s calling but it rarely pays the bills, and it doesn’t feel very good to put myself out there with long days and travel and not get paid for it.

Reducing Stressors

I sometimes call this “Reducing the suck.” It’s hard to fill your cup with joy if there are holes punched in the sides. In the past decade of personal and spiritual growth work, one of my focuses has been on removing various stressors, specifically, the stuff that makes me less effective at my work and in my life. Typically I find that a lot of these are things that I agreed to don’t have time to actually complete. This leads to the really sucky spiral of dropping the ball and disappointing people.


I’ve worked to notice the things I am, by my nature, not necessarily good at, or things that irritate me to do.

One red flag for stressors is if I am consistently procrastinating something. It turns out, for instance, that although I have all the skills to edit Pagan anthologies–and I’m very proud of the Pagan Leadership Anthology that will be released soon–editing anthologies is difficult for me. I’ve written more about that in the intro to the Pagan Leadership Anthology, but in a nutshell, editing an anthology is far more about communication with the authors and managing the project than it is about writing. And when I’m overwhelmed with anxiety, I spiral into communication avoidance-land.

The past two years I’ve also floundered when I took on paid work as a graphic designer. I’m a good designer; I’m a crappy freelancer. I especially struggle when I’m traveling and teaching. Traveling takes a lot out of me and I have had difficulty getting paid projects done on time. I was talking about this to Taylor Ellwood; he’s a Pagan author and publisher, and he and I are co-editing the above-mentioned leadership anthology, but he’s also a business coach. I realized that freelance design work is essentially my fifth job. I write fiction, and nonfiction, and I’m an artist, and I travel and teach workshops, and then I also do graphic design.

I take on graphic design work because the first four jobs don’t pay well and I live far below the poverty line. This should be pretty obvious but taking on extra work when you’re already working 12-16 hour days, when you’re already stressed out…well. Not really a good equation.

I suppose that brings me to another clear stressor, and that’s money. Another obvious point but worth stating: When my bank account is approaching zero and I haven’t sold any artwork or books lately, and I have no paid graphic design work, there’s not much that’s going to make me “happy.” The best I can hope for is feeling “not terrified.” I will say that this year I made more than in past years. I focused more on events that paid me to present, I raised the prices on my artwork, and did more vending of my artwork than in past years. Vending itself is a stressor, so that’s something I have to keep in mind for the coming year.

I reduced some stress this past year by not organizing any Pagan events in Chicago. I’ve been running Pagan rituals, classes, concerts, and other events in Chicagoland on and off for years, and–while I love running events, there’s the stress of:

  • Getting enough volunteers to run the event and take ritual roles
  • Planning the ritual without knowing how many ritualists or attendees I’ll have
  • Working with presenters, musicians, and the people hosting them
  • Dealing with the venue including flaky venue contacts
  • Marketing the event to ensure there will be enough (paid) attendees to cover the costs of the event
  • Running the event and dealing with all the last minute problems

…Yeah. When I’m running a public ritual, I have no idea–until the event is done–if we broke even on the rental fees, or if we’re in the hole and I have to figure out how to cover the shortfall.

I’d like to go back to organizing occasional events, but I really can’t do that without some kind of financial backing, and without at least a few committed event organizers. I enjoy planning events if there’s at least one organizer who enjoys planning.

Health is another stressor. I’ve been dealing with anxiety and depression for a long time now, and some of that is related to my hypothyroidism and Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS). Over the years, I’ve minimized the impacts of these ct on my health and life, from adding in vitamin supplements to eliminating wheat and dairy, losing over a hundred pounds, and techniques from cognitive behavioral therapy to meditation/mindfulness to reduce anxiety and the spiral to depression.

However, in the past years, some of the symptoms of PCOS have caused me some serious grief, in specific, my acne has gotten progressively worse despite eliminating a lot of the foods that seemed to exacerbate it. I’ll be blogging on Patheos in more depth about my experience of how body image connects to my anxiety. Currently I’m taking antibiotics which reduce the acne–and thus–my anxiety and depression, but I need to explore treating the PCOS and not just the symptoms. However, that costs money I don’t have.

These stressors feed into one another; health issues that could be easily resolved with proper medical treatment, but I can’t because of my limited income. When I try to take on paid work to buy myself more time to do the work I actually love, I end up overextending myself…and then I drop the ball on projects like books I’m writing.

This past year I also reduced how many incendiary/activist blog posts I wrote. I used to write for Pagan Activist, but when I took on writing for Patheos and for Witches and Pagans, I was overwhelmed with blogging. Plus, I noticed that the activist-focused articles calling out the Pagan community on our flaws…those posts got me the most nasty comments. There are still plenty of issues to wrestle with in the Pagan community, and I still write about them, however, to prevent burnout, I have written less on those issues, and I consider more carefully when I write those posts.

Goals for this coming year:

A focus on financial abundance: While I don’t want my life to be about making money, I’ve also hit the edge where not having enough money for food, bills, medical care, etc. are serious risks. My challenge here is that focusing on financial abundance may mean I have to do less of the work that I love, so I’m struggling with that. I don’t think there’s any way for me to make a living wage teaching and writing about ritual and leadership, but I’m going to try and find a way to make that work bring in more money so that I can continue to justify time to write and teach on those topics.

This means you’ll see me posting more about my books and artwork for sale, and I’m accepting sliding-scale donations to pay for my time writing articles and creating educational videos. I’ll be traveling less, and focusing on events that pay me. Likely I’ll blog less and focus more on writing books.

Health: I need to take the next steps with dealing with my PCOS. This is going to mean some shorter-term anxiety in the form of filling out a lot of paperwork to get financial assistance with healthcare, but the potential positives are worth that.

Love: I’ve found a romantic relationship with a man I love, and that relationship will take time and care. It’s my first time having feelings for someone when we’re in an open relationship, but being with him sure does make me happy, so it’s worth dealing with the complexities.

Event Organizing: I really miss doing this, and I want to find a way to do some events in a sustainable way. I’m definitely on the lookout for co-conspirators who might want to plan some bigger events, like a Pagan leadership conference or a Faerie masquerade ball.

I’m also looking forward to more singing, painting, and writing that genuinely makes me happy.

Filed under: Personal Growth Tagged: abundance, activism, anxiety, burnout, depression, financial difficulties, happiness, health, joy, love, seeking joy, self reflection, stress, wellness, winter solstice, Yule

Pagan Response to Racism

shutterstock_104520869Crystal Blanton is one of my favorite Pagans. She has been a tireless activist voice within the Pagan community and beyond it. Her focus has been speaking up for those marginalized by society at large, primarily focusing on People of Color, but also focusing on issues around class, gender, and sexuality.

Recently there have been several high-profile cases of unarmed Black men being killed by police officers, and despite the fact that there was evidence that the Black men were not resisting, or evidence (including video in some cases) that the police were using excessive or inappropriate force, the police officers were not charged with murder.

What does this have to do with Pagans? The issue is that Paganism is a minority religion. We’re used to being persecuted, and many Pagans jump at the chance to defend other Pagans from being unfairly treated. The Pagan community has long been a refuge for other minorities, such as GLBTQ community members. Yet, in a recent Facebook post, Crystal spoke up about the silence of Pagan organizations on issues of race. And that silence is something that is worth speaking about.

Here’s what Crystal wrote:

Crystal Blanton:
I am noticing… again… the silence of the Pagan organizations in light of the recent unrest, death of unarmed black men, injustices, protests, and harm within society. As a POC Pagan, I am looking out into my community and I do not see the community standing up for me.

This is an opportunity to stand up and support the people of color within the Pagan community, and society, by saying… we see you. We are not ignoring you, we are not staying silent.

When the Pagan community does not stand up to support the POC members within their community that are hurting, it is an “in your face” way of reminding us that we are not welcomed.

An African Zulu greeting “Sawubona” translates to mean… I see you. More than the normal seeing…. seeing the core, our humanity, our spirit, our worth… our souls.

So tonight I am saying to the Pagan community, I see you….. the question is… do you SEE us?

I thought I’d offer some context about where I stand on this. First, I’m not the leader of any large organization, so I’m not in much of a position to release a formal statement to any non-Pagan group. Or at least, not one that carries any weight with the media. However, I do have a voice within the Pagan community.

My activism has, in the past, primarily focused on environmentalism. And then transgender activism, and GLB activism, within the Pagan community. And then I became an activist for consent culture (vs. rape culture) as well as an activist speaking out about issues of abuse and rape.

Where I’ve tried to be an activist for People of Color, as well as other minorities, is through using my voice to begin to speak to the issue of privilege. I feel that that is a key step in this whole process.

I use myself as an example; I’m white, heterosexual, cisgender, and female. I grew up thinking I was incredibly poor–and by comparison to my classmates, I was. I grew up in an all-white town thinking that racism was over, never realizing how many racist attitudes I was raised with. Several years ago I was (very harshly) privilege checked. The way it was done, it pissed me off and I had a bad reaction to the P-word for years. It wasn’t until talking to Crystal, and attending part of the first Pantheacon discussion on privilege that I really understood it.

A lot of my activism around privilege is practically one-on-one. I post conversations on my FB, write blogs, and I hope to introduce the concept of privilege in a way that is more accessible than how it was thrown at me the first time.

Why do I bother?

Because for me, once I understood privilege, I understood that we don’t actually live in a color blind society. I’m often appalled at my own racist assumptions. And these are just autopilot things that I never even considered; it’s just what people did and said around me when I grew up. “Lock your car door when you’re around Black people.” And, “It’s not racist if it’s true.” And dozens of other things.

By understanding my own privilege, I understood a lot more about racism, and it’s made me a better ally.

What is an Ally?
Certainly I’m not a perfect ally–I’m sure there’s more I can do, I’m just a little clueless as to what. As I said, most of my activism has focused in other areas. I see environmentalism and ecological sustainability as a core issue of social justice. Who lives next to the toxic gas exuded by factories? The poor, who are often minorities. Who gets exposed to the weird chemical runoff in the water that causes exotic cancers? The poor, who are often minorities. Who isn’t going to be able to afford to pay for clean water? The poor, who are often minorities.

My activism is usually twofold. One is, I work to live my own life in a way that is in accordance with my values. I reduce what I use and try to live more sustainably. I’m an advocate for consent culture so I shift my behavior to support that.

The other is that I speak out. Again, my platform is typically within the Pagan community, so I speak out about environmentalism and ways we can change our behavior as a community to be more environmentally sustainable. I speak out about how heteronormative rituals aren’t inclusive of gay, lesbian, and bisexual community members. I speak out against the discrimination against transgender community members. I talk about sex and abuse and consent and rape. I hope to expose people to these concepts so that, even if just within the Pagan community, we can begin to make those changes.


And I also write about privilege because I find that once people can see the perspective on their own privilege, they begin to see how the system harms those at the bottom. People of Color, GLBTQ, Pagans, the poor…there are so many who suffer because the system treats them differently. But we can’t really effectively help, or change the system, until we first SEE the system, and acknowledge our own place in it.

Privilege is usually accompanied by silence. Meaning, people who have privilege–even if they don’t see that privilege or understand how much privilege they have–don’t tend to speak out about injustice because they don’t see that injustice is happening.

And many, many people try to argue with me that they didn’t come from privilege, and they perpetuate the “American Dream” myth that anybody, regardless of class or background or ethnicity or skin color, can pull themselves up by their boot straps if they try hard enough.

As long as we hold up that myth, we are supporting the system that murders unarmed black people.

Being an ally first means acknowledging the system. And then, working to change it, even if all you are doing is speaking up to confront racism in others. You don’t have to join a protest with a sign to be an ally. But, I also acknowledge that it can be difficult to navigate how to best help as an ally.

How Can I Help?
There are ways I already speak out, but I acknowledge that there’s more I can do. Speaking for myself, I don’t always know how I can help. I’ll be more specific. As I said earlier, I’m white, I grew up in a pretty much all-white town. I’ve slowly been learning how many microaggressions I’ve committed against People of Color (check Wikipedia or Google if you want to understand microaggressions) and I’ve worked to correct that behavior.

But I don’t always know how I can best serve as an ally or activist for People of Color. I can work to wake people up to the concept of privilege…but how can I impact the larger system? How can I help?

Going further, how can I help in a way that respects Black and brown voices and doesn’t seek to put my voice above theirs?

I know that many don’t consider themselves to be activists at all. And I’ve heard with some frequency from other white Pagans that they, also, feel at a loss for how to help. What I’d love to do is begin to gather together some concrete actions that Pagans can take to combat racism.

I feel that the first step is for all of us–all of us–to acknowledge our own racism and classism. Our own privilege. Our own discrimination against minorities. Let me tell you, I was a little horrified once I realized how many racist assumptions were just ambient noise in my head. And I’ll be clear–these are things I learned from teachers, classmates, family, television.

Once I began to recognize my own racism and discrimination, I had the tools to begin to take it apart piece by piece.

Concrete Actions
What I’d like to do is put out some information–probably in the form of blog posts–about what are things that people (Pagans) can do to combat racism. And for that, I’d like your help. I’d love to pull together a list of specific, concrete things that people can do to help. Personally confronting our own privilege and racism is a start. And talking to others about racism (and checking others on racist comments) is another. Asking larger Pagan organizations with a media presence to speak out is yet another.

But what else will really help?

I’ve found that running Pagan events is very similar to activism work. When I’m running an event and I post on Facebook or in email and just vaguely ask for help, that usually gets very few results. What works better is asking people, “Will you help? Here are five concrete things that you can do that would help me.” That gets a lot better response.

In fact, in an activism workshop I was in years ago, there’s an entire category of activism that isn’t at all about being out on the streets with the signs–it’s the person who’s good at strategizing those 5 things that people can do, and coordinating the helpers.

Posting on Facebook is potentially a way to shift people’s thoughts and ideas. And I’ll keep posting on privilege because I know I get through to a few people every time I do and build the pool of allies. But I’d love to know what are other concrete actions that I can take that would help this cause.

Brainstorm and Boost the Signal
Send along your ideas in the comments, or repost this blog on your Facebook and put it in the comments there. Tag me if you post this on your Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, or elsewhere, or otherwise send me an email with a link to make sure I see the comments.

If we, Pagans, want to see a world that gives us justice, we can’t sit by and watch People of Color get trampled by that same system. Let’s look at ways we can help change this system for all of us.

Filed under: Activism, Pagan Community

Activism, Burnout, and Magic

shutterstock_18780682Sometimes bloggers will ask me to write a bit about my thoughts on a particular issue…and, being longwinded, I usually have a hard time coming up with a a concise quote. Tim Titus asked a really pertinent question and I had a lot of answer, so here’s the full text of what I wrote in response.

The issue is activism, overwhelm, burnout, and magic.

Tim Titus asked me:

“There are so many pressing social, environmental, human rights, and justice issues across the world right now that it can be hard to keep up. Many witches and other magickal people want to help, but the problems seem so widespread and so intractable that it can be hard to know where to start. Sometimes that leads us to just give up. How do you choose issues to take action on? Knowing that we can’t always physically lend aid, What magickal acts can you suggest to help heal some of the world’s most difficult problems?”


Here’s the original blog post on Tim’s site along with some great quotes from other Pagans.

This topic something I think about a lot. I’ve suffered various types of burnout not just as an activist but as an event planner, as an artist, and a writer. Specifically as an activist, I’ve learned to limit my focus. When I worry about all the ills of the world I get overwhelmed, stressed out, and I freeze up. In fact, as a kid I was so hypersensitive that seeing TV commercials with the starving kids in Ethiopia would make me physically ill. As an adult, I realized that watching the news stressed me out. In fact, I can’t even really watch TV shows about characters who are horrible people because I get too upset. I think about all the horrible people out there in the world and I want to just crawl into bed and hide.

While there are a lot of things in this world I’m concerned about, my activism in the past has primarily focused on environmental issues. While I’ve blogged and spoken about environmental activism to educate people how to live more sustainable lives, the bulk of my activism there has been through living more simply and reducing my own impact. I’ve also done a lot of what I’d call daily activism in the area of speaking up about privilege, bullying, racism, homophobia and transgender discrimination.

Impact on the Activist
Of late, my activism has focused a lot on supporting a sex positive culture and fighting rape culture, particularly within the Pagan umbrella. That’s a type of activism that works well with the resources I have at my disposal—social media, blogs, articles, and public speaking. I have written books, I have a following, and so I have a voice within the Pagan community/communities.

However, I’m the first to admit that this particular activism has also proven to be really emotionally exhausting. Whenever I put up a blog post taking someone to task or asking for accountability, and especially speaking up about sex and ethics issues, what folks might not realize is that I’m then dealing with days of intense comments. I’m dealing with the occasional hatemail, or even just long discussions with people who disagree with me. I value dissent, however, living my values and talking things out takes hours of time, and costs me in terms of stress and anxiety.

I also receive numerous messages from people who have been abused and who need someone to share their story with who will understand. Sometimes I’ll get a huge email from someone telling me about their story that they can’t speak up about because of the recriminations they will face. Other times people ask me to talk to them on the phone. And I’m honored that people feel safe checking in with me, but it is a lot of emotional weight to carry.

So every time I post one of those really intense articles or blog posts, we’re talking at least a full-time day of managing comments and emails, and about a week of what I’d sum up as emotional fallout.

What’s the impact on my life? Well, I’m mostly a hermit.

As an introvert, one of my primary coping mechanisms to avoid stress is simple; I avoid people most of the time. The more anxiety I have in my life, the harder it is for me to have the emotional resources to do things like simple social events. The impact on my life is that speaking up about these things and dealing with the fallout makes it hard for me to write, paint, or design–in other words, to do the things that bring in income.

The impact on my life is that the more stress I’m under, the harder it is for me to want to teach workshops at a Pagan Pride, or to organize a class or workshop in my local community, or even to go out on a date.

I value the work that I’m doing, and I acknowledge that activism is sacrifice. To build the world I want, I’m willing to let a little bit of my own blood. I mean that metaphorically in terms of my own energy. In other words, I’m willing to exchange some of my own life force to bring about the change; no change ever happened by everybody being comfortable. Someone has to sit in the wrong spot on the bus, drink from the water fountain, chain yourself to the tree, blow the whistle.

But, the various shaming, victim blaming, and other crap that I deal with has begun to edge toward “more than I’m willing to give.”

How Does Magic Help?
To the question of what magical acts I can suggest…that’s probably the toughest part of this question, because my relationship to the word “magic” is complicated. Or rather—I have struggled the past years to redefine magic for myself. I look at magic as understanding the mysteries of how the world works behind the scenes. I see magic as the power of transformation. Thus, I understand magic mostly in the sense of, determining a goal, and marshaling my resources (energetic, mental, and physical) toward that goal.

However, in the Pagan community, I experience that many people use the word “magic” to mean, “Imagining that I’m sending energy to something when I’m not willing to do the actual work to make it happen.”

So I tend to be leery of using the word “magic” in terms of activism.

Here’s the thing. Changing the world isn’t easy, and it takes a lot of work. There’s setting intention, and then there’s the physical work to do it. That’s part of magic too. While rituals and spells absolutely serve to set that intention, they also aren’t the whole package. You can’t say, “I want to heal the earth,” and then keep drinking bottled water and using resources the way most people do.

Once, years ago, I was asked to facilitate an earth healing ritual at a festival, and I likely will never do so again.Why? Because years later, the people of that festival leave piles of trash behind them when they return home. They eagerly discuss all year long all the extra camping supplies they’ll bring, and they load in tons of things like flats of bottled water and beer, and then they fail to even sort their recycling.

Maybe the ritual helped inspire some of them reduce their use of resources…but I think for most of them it was a way to fell like they were doing something to heal the earth, when they really weren’t. I think for most of them it was a “feel good” ritual.

Magic and Dedication
If you want magic, if you want change, it requires dedication. One of the daily pieces of magic that I do is speaking the truth. What I mean by that is, I’ve taken a vow to—as best I can—speak the truth. And that’s far more complicated than you might think. However, over time, this means that my words have more power, more magic, more ability to transform the world.

Here’s an example. Most people say, “I have to go do ___.” Do you have to? Or, are you choosing to? It doesn’t matter if the task is unpleasant and you’d rather not. Today I chose to go to the Post Office and spend $100 mailing out packages. I didn’t have to, I chose to. Many people say, “I have to go visit family for the holidays.” Or when asked if they can help with something, people will make up an excuse. “Oh, I can’t, I’m washing my hair.” We tell lies all the time.

I work to speak the truth, even when it’s awkward. I try to keep my tongue clean of lies and half truths. It not only builds up my personal magic, but my relentless honesty is part of what gives my blogs, articles, and public speaking their power. People believe me because they know I speak the truth. And–to speak the truth here, I don’t always manage it. I do my best to speak the truth whenever possible, but there are times when I slip up and speak the easy white lie or the half truth. But this is something I work hard at.

It takes daily commitment, and this is just one of my daily practices. Other consistent magical practices I engage in are relentless personal work and shadow work.

I suppose what I mean is, I think people mistake “magic” for “easy.” Magic is still work. However—what I would say is two things if you are finding yourself overwhelmed.

  1. If you are finding yourself overwhelmed by all the pain out there, you might need to take some space and work on your boundaries. You might need to say “No, I can’t help with that” for a while. And you might need to look at what activism to focus on, which is both looking at what you are most passionate about, and where you can have the most impact. There are a lot of different types of activism. I go back to the axiom, Know Thyself. Focus on what you care about, not on what you “should” be helping with. If you focus on the “shoulds” you’ll lose energy fast. Focus on where your fire is; your passion for the cause is your fuel. A good rule of thumb is, if it doesn’t piss you off, it’s probably not your calling.
  2. The other thing is that there is some magic that is really effective at transforming ourselves to keep our spirits up.

Magic for Centering
As someone who struggles with depression and anxiety, I admit I don’t always use the tools at my disposal. Some of the tools that come from magic and ritual that are excellent for centering ourselves and keeping our spirits up include listening to music, and especially singing along to music or singing chants, using singing bowls…sound is incredibly powerful magic and can help you shift your mood from sad/anxious/depressed and into a more focused head space where you are making better decisions. Light a candle, light incense, do some intentional movement like Yoga or Tai Chi or exercise or go out dancing, or other forms of meditation.

I call this “short term” magic; the various actions we perform when doing ritual, spellwork, or personal devotional practice aren’t necessarily going to change the world in the long term, but they’re going to help you to be able to center and keep your focus so that you can sustain doing the work.

Magic and the Vision of the Future
Overall, a lot of magic is about knowing what the goal is, and looking at how you will approach working toward transforming yourself and the world to support that goal. And—for some of the big activism, there’s the realization that you will die with the work unfinished.

Let me tell you, that one’s hard. I’m still working with wrapping my head around that one. Look at the goals, and look at what you can, as an individual, reasonably accomplish. Keeping focus may help you to reduce your overwhelm.

I wish I could say pretty things here. I wish I could say it gets easier, but the truth is, most activists burn out. The truth is, most activists end up pissing people off because they are vocal about what they’d like to see change and speaking up about issues. The truth is, many activists have a hard time sleeping because they see shit running through their brain and can’t shut it off. Many activists have a hard  time being happy because they are so sensitive tot he pain in the world around them. Because they see past the curtain. They see the Matrix Code, as it were.

I’m writing this at a point of some serious activist burnout on my part. Writing about sex and ethics and leadership ethics in the Pagan community and having so many people tell me they’ve been sexually abused…and so many other people say that they still support leaders/teachers who are abusive. Or people saying that if you take sexually abusive practices out of their tradition it’s destroying their tradition…seeing so many verbally abusive Pagan leaders out there…it’s wearying.

When I post a blog about the abuses I went through with my ex fiance, I will have people simultaneously message me and yell at me to say, “Quit defending him, you keep making excuses for him,” and others messaging me saying, “Quit your whining, you blame everything on him, I’m sick of your woe-is-me posts.” And far worse messages, and the occasional threat.

I’m not really doing a good job with this post on selling people on being an activist, am I?

However, here’s why I keep at it. Because if I don’t, who will do this work? If I don’t act, can I look at myself in the mirror? Can I look into the faces of the next generation and feel like I did my best?

Callings aren’t easy. But somebody’s gotta do it.

For another great post on determining where to focus your energy as an activist, and when to hold a boundary, check out my friend Lauren’s post on Pagan Activist.

Filed under: Activism, Leadership, Magic, Pagan Community

Reblog: Squid Eye and Sexual Exploitation

I’m reblogging this very excellent post by Lydia MN Crabtree. It was written in March and it continues to be relevant as I see the Frosts are still out there teaching, and many Pagan groups and organizations still need better policies and processes regarding abuse, harassment, and other issues.

The Fish Rots from the Head Down: Squid Eye and Sexual Exploitation

Filed under: Activism, Leadership, Pagan Community

Reblog: Why We Shouldn’t Have to Keep Pregnancy a Secret for the First Trimester

Reblog of an article. Some potent thoughts around the stigma, and challenges, of dealing with a miscarriage and why most women feel they have to keep it a secret. I know that even within the Pagan community, which works to be more accepting of women’s bodies and cycles, it’s only in the past years I’ve seen women coming out about going through a miscarriage.


“But as I stumbled my way through the online world of miscarriage and infertility and pregnancy and loss, I discovered a virtual sea of women who were reaching out to someone, something, so as not to drown in their own feelings of isolation and guilt.”

“The realities of making a baby are thus: 10 to 20 percent of all pregnancies end in miscarriage.”

“I slowly began to leak the news to close friends and extended family. I braced myself for…I don’t know what….Women in my family, friends and acquaintances all came forward with stories of their own. They had gone through it, many of them very alone, and they had come out the other side, changed but not undone.”

Filed under: Activism, Pagan Community, Personal Growth