Transgender Elevation of the Ancestors Rite

I’ve felt pressured from a couple corners to say something about this.

I think the whole thing is quite lovely, and a beautiful idea, but I really don’t think I have anything to say about it that hasn’t already been said better by others.

The thing is, I don’t like most trans people, on an individual basis, so except for the occasions where being trans has also intersected with my spirituality in a meaningful way, I try to avoid the topic on this blog, if only to discourage other trans people, who I’m likely to dislike, from finding this blog. That said, I have not always been successful in avoiding the topic of trans people when it doesn’t specifically overlap with my own spirituality, and I’ve got a handful of trans people who seem to think I Trans Polytheist better than Raven Kaldera, who I guess all missed the fact that I actually agree with him on many points they seem to find distasteful when HE says it (maybe the fact that I’m unabashedly feminine gives me a bit of leeway from certain sl/activists who think it’s not actually patronising to hold the words out of my mouth and/or keyboard to a lower standard than they would hold someone who is, for all intents and purposes, apparently more “butch”?) That said, there are also a fair number of trans people whom I do like, but in all honesty, many [read: not all] of them are only “trans” in the broadest definitions, or are those weirdo apolitical non-binary types who don’t give a crap about whether or not neologue pronouns ever enter the common parlance. The combination of generally-binary trans men, alt-pronoun-using non-binary folk, and politic-thumping trans women I actually get on well enough with to call real friends can be counted on one hand, and at least one of those people only qualifies under one of those descriptives by just barely. Multiply that by three or four and you’ve probably got the number of such combined trans people I get on well enough with to talk to regularly. Yeah, truth be told, I really don’t like most trans people on an individual basis, nor am I a big fan of the idea that trans people be given more leeway cos they’re trans –if anything, being trans, myself, I hold other trans people to a higher standard and thus expect better of them.

…but here’s the thing: I still support the right of people to prefer and be referred to with whatever pronouns they so choose, I still agree with the politic-thumpers on ideology, and… Actually, most of the generally-binary trans men I’ve met, in-person or in-real-life, are fucking dudebros and either the most repulsive endorsers of staunch gender-normativity and/or the most pathetic examples of eat-it-and-have-it syndrome who think it’s their gods-given right to be recognised as being uncomplicatedly “male” in every walk of life except when and where they feel entitled to LBQ women’s spaces, even if it means that trans women will be excluded from said spaces “cos [phantom] penis” even when we’ve got FT-douchebags like MRA Tony Barretto-Neto, the post-phallo trans man who attended Michfest, SHOWERED IN THE COMMUNAL SHOWERS and STILL asserts it was his right to do so —so fuck them, and let them die in a fire, just cos they’re “trans, too!” doesn’t mean they have a right to their uninformed and patently harmful views.

I’m still undecided on whether or not I’m going to participate in this Ancestor Elevation ritual even one day of it, but at the same time, I recognise that a lot of people need to do this, and I support their right to. It’s not about me, and while it’s mostly about elevating our beloved dead, it’s not JUST about that, either (a point I think often gets lost when polytheists talk about how “it’s not about Us, it’s about the Gods, Ancestors, and Spirits”); it’s also about those still living who need to forge that connection in a meaningful way with the deceased members of a community they seek the most meaning in connecting with.

It’s like one of the comments I caught hell for on Tumblr a few months ago, a comment I still stand behind: If you’re asexual-identified and worshipping Eros, why? What are you getting out of it? While Sex isn’t ALL that Eros is, it’s such a HUGE part, it strikes me as being like that pacifist who came onto the old Hellenistai forum wanting to know how to take the War out of worshipping Ares (and then, foolishly, insisted that “refusing to fight is a kind of warfare” –no, no it’s not). I’ve no doubt that at least some of the trans people honoured in this rite will appreciate my presence, but I’ve had such a bizarre and uncomfortable relationship with other trans people, I have to ask myself why I’d be doing it, and if it’d be for the right reasons or not. Will I be doing it For Them, or will I be doing it just to spite those still among the living who have annoyed me or to prove some kind of point to those people? If I’m not going to be involved for the right reasons, I should take a moratorium until I can.

That said, I still want to donate my old prayer to Kybele for the cause.

About Ruadhán McElroy

Ruadhán has been a traditional Hellenic polytheist for about a decade, and has also maintained devotions to Eros and Apollon most of that time; his status as a devotee of Nyx is more recent. He also paints, makes music, makes jewellery, and writes novels set in the Mod Revival (UK) and Swampie (Oz) subcultures of the 1980s. He also gets a lot of odd little experiences that he jokes will forever render him an insufferable Goth.

On Kenny Klein

You know, I understand the call for some degree of compassion, but at the same time, it’s not the community’s responsibility to fix people who are broken in that way –and the notion that they even can be fixed is something that doesn’t seem at all promising. There are some things more important than inclusivity –including people regardless of sexuality, ethnic background, gender, ability, and so on, are perfectly commendable, but sometimes a line has to be drawn in the sand. If some-one comes up in a background check as a sex offender, ask “why?” Yeah, in some states, sex offender registration is broken and you end up with people who are on there for public urination or (as is the case with one of my high school classmates) cos an 18-year-old high school senior knocked up his fifteen-year-old sophmore girlfriend –but it’s easy to see on at least some of those lists who’s a rapist, who’s a child molestor, and so on, and especially who’s a repeat offender. And yeah, sometimes the evidence and testimonials are sketchy or coming from sketchy people –but even then, I still wouldn’t have let my hypothetical child go to the Neverland Ranch without me, cos why take that risk?

Mental illnesses don’t absolve people of the responsibility to address them and seek help for them. If Klein is mentally ill, he should have recognised that and taken care of it –and if his illness is just bad enough that he can’t realise he’s ill and needing help, then why is that not a sign to some people that it’s not worth the risk? If you wouldn’t let your kids go to the house of someone who you knew to have bubonic plague that isn’t being treated, why should the pagan community be any more compassionate to a shitty folk singer who wrote some books, just because his hypothetical illness is mental and he doesn’t even realise he needs help?

If we want to play the mental illness card, why not treat it like we treat physical illnesses? Healing energies are great and all, but when that’s not all that’s needed, then what? You take a cough drop, or you take your medicines, or you remove yourself from others until you’re well. Paedophiles can’t be fixed with a cough drop, and chemical castration is not only not always an option, it doesn’t really work on everyone (one of my best friends has a “horrors of Craig’s List” story about that –she thought she was meeting a nice, normal trans woman for coffee, but when she got there, she met someone who admitted [hey at least they admitted it] to being a registered serial rapist who was put on chem-cast, started growing depo-breasts, and decided it was a huge turn-on –thankfully she high-tailed it out of there). If physically ill people sometimes need to quarantine themselves off for the safety of others, then yeah, sometimes mentally ill people need to be separated off for the safety of others. Why think of it as “evil ostracism” when we can instead think of it as “quarantine”?

I also contend that not only are those who still keep crying out “Let’s stop calling Klein a pagan — think of how this must make us look to the EEEEBIL XTIANS!!!!” are not only enablers of abuse, but are worthy of ostracism on the grounds of caring more about appearance than about basic right and wrong. After all, for the last thirty-some years, people in the pagan community have cared about the public perception of paganism more than the potential victims accusing potential abusers of abuse –and look where it got us.

Yeah, I’m not saying that every accusation is always true –in one of the small towns near where I went to high school, a pair of 11yo girls got six months of probation after falsely accusing a junior high principal who was also a math teacher of inappropriate touch, and only after he committed suicide (don’t ask why they only got that, or why it went that far –I’ve since lost a lot of the details), and one of the people on my step-mother’s caseload as a social worker was mentally handicapped woman who was also a schozophrenic who accused a worker at her group home of rape, even though the security cameras absolved him of any guilt– but when it gets to a point where several people are now accusing Klein independently, and timelines can be verified that he was at least in those cities at those times, and spans several years, then that’s enough smoke to think “housefire” rather than “cigarette”.

That said, I think it should be clear that there is a difference between the kinds of accusations that run around the pagan community about certain prominent people. I have not seen anyone actually claim “Raven Kaldera did this to me…” or “I saw Christian Day do more than that video of the binding ritual against Charlie Sheen” and even the ONLY person who made such a claim against Galina Krasskova is known to a small number of people to have both a financial incentive to do so, and a dubious grip on reality. That’s not what’s going on with Klein –his ex-wife has made several statements, in public and private, though apparently restricted by a gag order that, until more recent years, violation of could have removed custody of her son and placed him back with Klein (during which was presumably the time she asked friends not to say anything). His own son has come forth to speak of abuse his family endured. Other potential victims, independent of each other and with apparently nothing to gain, have come forward with similar stories of Klein behaving inappropriately, at best, and pulling most known ploys of child molesters (some so basic, like persistent unwanted touch and giving alcohol to the underaged, that it’s been on “very special episodes” of sitcoms since at least Diff’rent Strokes), short of going into graphic detail of molestation and rape. These people are all saying “Klein did this to me” not, “I heard from someone I don’t remember that Klein did X to someone I’ve never heard of.” You’d think that much would be obvious to people, but still people, mainly (to my witness) Peg Aloi and Christian Day, are making tacky comparisons to the SRA hoaxes, vaguely accusing people of false accusation or even outright lying, and “backing kt up” with the dubious claim of “well-known facts of false testimonies” in the face of statistical evidence that less than 1.6% of sexual abuse allegations being false, and peer-reviewed estimates that between 40% and 60% of sexual abuse goes unreported, likely due to social stigmas and the idea, often proved fact, that people, especially loved ones and trusted authorities, won’t believe the accusors.

And some people have the nerve to say that rape culture doesn’t exist.

On one hand, I get what Aloi’s said about being careful about what we say and repeat from others, but she’s saying this in the face of several people saying things that point to immensely inappropriate behaviour on Klein’s part, at the very least. I can also be somewhat sympathetic to those who are concerned about how this might look to outsiders, but at the same time, wouldn’t it look worse if we knowingly swept child abusers and rapists under the rug for the sake of appearances?

I have also seen a clear difference network the way that the “general Neopagams” are handling this, and the way the polytheist community is handling this. With few exceptions, the Neopagams are stressing forgiveness of the abuser, “Klein wasn’t a REAL pagan if he really did this”, “but what if he DIDN’T! “, “how is this going to make us look to Christians?”, worthless Change.org petitions so pagans can pledge they will never, ever, ever rape children and or have sex with minors below the age of consent (apparently unaware of the fact that Change.org is supposed to be for issues of potential Presidential concern) and so on. Very little regard for the victims. The defacto polytheist leaders have all come forward stating outright “I’m concerned for the victims and potential victims, the accusations and evidence against Klein is damning and his abuses have been a blight on the pagan community, and I am taking a stand”. Anyone worth their salts would find that rather telling.

ETA:

I just noticed someone in the comments on Sannion’s blog note a striking similarity between the way certain people are reacting to this and the way certain other people in the Neopagan community react to the topics of privilege (from Wiccanate to White, from cisgender to male –and don’t tell me, in the face of people who STILL are willing to dismiss Tzipora Katz as Kenny Klein’s “psycho ex making baseless accusations”, in the face of enforced rape culture for the sake of appearances, and other examples that this Klein scandal is spotlighting, that women are at a privilege over men in the pagan community, as many seem to contend): “are you sure? Maybe you misunderstood ?” “Think about what you’re saying and how it makes people look.” “Why can’t you see it this way? Why do you have to stir up trouble?” “Stop causing drama, this is just how things are and it doesn’t mean anything.”

I’m not saying that everyone with privilege over another is an abuser, but that the dynamics of unchecked privilege are practically the same as the dynamics of those who enable abusers –though the statistics of abusers who are in a privileged position over their abusers is certainly telling of these dynamic similarities, as well.

About Ruadhán McElroy

Ruadhán has been a traditional Hellenic polytheist for about a decade, and has also maintained devotions to Eros and Apollon most of that time; his status as a devotee of Nyx is more recent. He also paints, makes music, makes jewellery, and writes novels set in the Mod Revival (UK) and Swampie (Oz) subcultures of the 1980s. He also gets a lot of odd little experiences that he jokes will forever render him an insufferable Goth.

[review] The Urban Primitive by Raven Kaldera and Tannin Schwartzstein

urban-primitive-kaldera-schwartzsteinTitle: The Urban Primitive: Paganism in the Concrete Jungle

Authorship: Raven Kaldera & Tanin Schwartzstein
Publisher: Llewellyn International
Year Published: 2002, First Edition
ISBN: 0738702595

I first want to say that I scrapped my first draft of this review because, as odd as this may sound, I thought it was unintentionally mean, well beyond anything this book, which is full of problems, deserves. I also got really self-conscious that some might interpret it as a personal attack against one of its authors, Raven Kaldera, who I honestly want to like (he’s one of the few people amongst the FTM spectrum on FetLife who is seriously realistic about TS/TG issues, even if some of the things he’s written for the public about the TS/TG community and his own transition may seem problematic, especially out of context or if one is making a habit of projecting), and so I really wanted to like one of the few books published (only three, ever, that I’m aware of) about urban pagan and polytheist spirituality —as odd as I find it that some-one who proudly runs a rural homestead would get involved in a book about urban spirituality, I was optimistic, at first, and still believe that even the most awful parts were included with the best intentions.

Tanin Schwartzstein’s introduction is wonderful and very welcoming to those whose spirituality is urban-centred —dare I say, I even saw bits of my own experiences in the recollection and lamentation of a pagan community that dismisses the city as “cold” and spiritually “dead”, especially as one whose experiences are of anything but. I’m also convinced that she’s responsible for some of the best parts of the book that follows (though I assign equal blame for the worst parts, cos if either of them knew better, one of them should have caught it and revised).

I love that this book is written for those with limited income in mind, and offers detailed suggestions on the arts of dumpster diving, thrift store combing, and frugal resources that are not only kind to one’s wallet, but also the environment. There are several helpful lists in this book for herbs, incenses, stones, even colours, and their uses in different purposes. One of the best parts is even an entire chapter dedicated to common plants found in most cities in North America, and their purposes and meanings. Another list is even specifically for suggestions on budget-minded substitutions for scented oils, and suggestions on budget-conscious or scavenged items to use in rituals, like a piece of broken glass for rituals that need a blade and you don’t have a blade, or using stumps of candles rather than tea lights in travel kits for altars or shrines. Let me tell you, after years of looking through “pagan 101” books in the mid-1990s that made it seem like one needs a middle-class income to even start out as a Pop Wicca nub, it’s refreshing to see that, barely more than a year into the Twenty-First Century, there was finally a book that made it indisputably clear that ritual tools could be scavenged or otherwise obtained with little or no expense, and one needn’t be financially comfortable to practise pagan religions —sure, nothing beats what the ritual recommends, nobody is arguing that, but if you think burning herbs is “too expensive”, it’s really only cos you don’t know enough about where you live, and this book offers an adequate primer for that knowledge.

It’s also nice that this book is written for not just those who thrive in cities, but for those who live in the city out of necessity. I may not personally understand the appeal of rural life, but I understand the necessity on a fundamental level, and I at least understand that, for some reason barbaros to myself, there are those who prefer a pastoral lifestyle and may only be living in the city’s walls for the work, or school, or family obligations, so adequate coping mechanisms seem like a fair inclusion.

On the other hand, most of the lists are too similar to other lists I’ve seen in “Pop Wicca 101” sorts of books. While it’s nice that Kaldera has added bits to this book to make it seem useful to those whose spirituality is rural-centred but who live in urban lands due to necessity, a lot of this really does come off as a bias, making urban spirituality seem dangerous to the soul, and the city an inferior place to live; it’s really hard to get through a chapter without somehow getting a potentially subtle or downright blatant guilt-trip for living in the city, or some kind of nonsense “warning” about dangers only vaguely alluded to, with practically nothing to back up most claims about the alleged physical risks (aside from crime rates, which is easily searchable on-line) and some of the more obvious pollution risks, and let me tell you, not even the developed countryside is without its pollution and risks to the environment —do a search on The Dust Bowl, kids, it wasn’t a gridiron game, and over eighty years later, it’s still affecting the central United States. While the introduction is wonderful, even describing experiences similar to my own, the book that follows it flip-flops between celebrating the Urban Divine and blaming all cities everywhere for everything wrong with the world.

This book also suffers from its constant use of vague claims, and almost never giving much, if anything, in the way of specifics to make for ease of fact-checking. The index is present, but not quite as comprehensive as I usually hope for a book of this length, and a proper bibliography of sources is practically nonexistent, so aside from the rare mention of other books and references in the text, there’s no real way to check whatever sources may have been utilised. Sorry, kids, but a “Recommended Reading” list (largely of books from the same publisher —curious, non?) is not the same as a Bibliography. Some quotes also seem like they might have been taken from an e-mail list or Usenet group or something, something I’ve discerned from the fact that the quoted person is unsearchable in a pagan context, and there’s a mention of an Internet group in the book acknowledgements, so confirming the backgrounds of the people quoted isn’t easy, sometimes even impossible —sometimes, that’s important, but to be fair, gven the context of many quotes in the book that fall in this potential category, it’s really not necessary. When it is necessary, on the other hand it’s something that really bothers me, and appears to be a trait of Llewellyn books that seems far too common, contributing to the negative reputation of the publisher amongst religious reconstructionists and academic pagans. And speaking of, I had hoped, knowing Kaldera’s background and that he’s also collaborated with Kenaz Filan, who I completely respect, that this wouldn’t be much of a problem, but I guess that’s what I get for hoping. That said, one of the best and most quoted people in the book is credited as “Beth Harper, Nashville witch”; I was incredibly disappointed to find her practically impossible to find on the Internet.

And this book makes a lot of really dumb factual errors that could have been avoided with a modicum of research. The one that really stands out for me, to the point that it just seems like a prime example of “making shit up in hopes of sounding smart” is conflating the Horai (Goddesses of time and seasons) and the Khorea (or “Hora”; a group of traditional circular dances from the Mediterranean and Near East) and attempting to link both to “sacred [prostitution]” (they use the word “harlots”), and explaining that it’s an etymology of “whore” and thus strip tease and erotic dance, as a profession, is directly descended from goddess worship (Chapter 5, page 50). Trying to decide where to begin on how much is wrong with that little “etymology lesson” kind of gives me a headache, because there is just so much wrong with it. Just to give you a taste of how wrong that claim is, there is no clear or even muddy etymological link between the Horai, or even Khorea, and “whore” —the word “whore” is descended from the Old Norse hora, meaning “adulteress”; considering that Kaldera is best known amongst pagan circles for his “Northern tradition”, I’m just floored at the fact that his understanding of his traditions’ languages is so sparse that he either didn’t catch that preposterous fallacy or, may the gods forbid, he desired to include it.

Of course, whether some Hellenists utilising religious reconstruction care to admit it or not, not only was there magic practised in ancient Hellas, but a lot of the “spells” and other rituals mentioned in this book bare a similarity to ancient Hellenic practises that are somehow “not magic” by the circular logic employed by some Hellenic circles, and can be easily adjusted to fit the standard ritual script of Hellenic practise. In the chapter on Protection Spells, the recommendation of drawing eyes, with oil, on windows and over the threshold of doors, even on the stairs, is not a far cry from the ancient Greeks putting apotropaic eyes on drinking vessels and heads of Gorgons at the threshold, this is just a modern, and argueably stealth adaptation of an ancient practise. Granted, you really need a good background in Hellenic practises to catch that sort of thing, but if this is your first time hearing of such a thing, don’t take my word for it, go check out apotropaic eyes in ancient Greece, and it’s clear that this simple little protection ritual is adaptable to Hellenic practises.

One of the complaints about this book that I see a lot from people on Amazon is the “Urban Triple Deities”. Now, obviously, I don’t acknowledge these “deities” in my practise, and I am sort of sceptical that something so basic as what’s described here is even a whole deity, and honestly, I really hate the illustrations for these six epithets, but who’s to say that these aspects don’t exist in existing deities? Knowing that Kaldera is a polytheist, I’m sure there’s intention that these simplistic figures can be aspects of existing deities, and knowing that Schwartzstein describes her religion on Teh FarceBorg as simply “pagan spiritualist”, there’s room to regard these as complete deities, if one so chooses. I can easily see traits of Hestia in Squat, “goddess of Parking Spaces”, whether it be your car or your bed, Skor, the scavenger goddess, strikes me as an epithet of Demetre or possible Tykhe, and Skram, Who warns you away from potential dangers, is a clear face of Hekate; Slick, the silver-tongued, works as an aspect of Hermes (something the book even suggests), Screw seems a simplistic, Neizchean aspect of Dionysos, and Sarge seems a sort of superficial Zeus or perhaps Ares. I also don’t see how most of these aspects of deity are specifically urban; having gone to high school in a rural area, I can assure you, rural people are no stranger to needing spaces, needing motivation, an anonymous lay, being in danger (I’m sure “Skram” might’ve been just as useful in Laramie, Wyoming, which has a smaller population than Adrian, MI, the latter being indisputably rural), or even scavenging (hello? gleaning, anybody?), but if this is a device that can open some-one’s eyes to these aspects and relevance to the city, then awesome.

In the previous chapter, though, ancient deities are addressed. Again, I have mixed feelings about this. I understand the space constraints the authors were working with, and to their credit, they acknowledged that the deities mentioned were described in overly simplistic manners and further research is best. On the other hand, there is no shortage of statements made that even a casual, but genuine relationship with a deity could easily prove false. I’m sick of people assuming Apollon only digs classical music, and saying “[He’s] not interested in rock or rap or hip hop … [play] classical music, or He’ll frown” just after suggesting propitiating Him in a record store (Chapter 5, page 49), is more than a bit contradictory —seriously, people, if He’s the God of music, why limit music for Him to a single genre? In my experiences, Apollon really loves Nick Cave. I doubt that Thoth is simply “the Egyptian god of writing” (in fact, Wikipedia suggests I’m right about that). Zeus and Odin? Not the same deity. I really have to argue against the notion that Athene is the primary Hellenic goddess associated with science museums —not only is the name of the Moisai in the word “museum”, Ourania is specifically associated with astronomy, and Kleio’s domain of “history” can logically extend to natural history and evolutionary sciences. Saturn has nothing to do with “karma”, and I had to raise an eyebrow at the suggested association with the IRS —at the very least, an explanation of the logic employed would have been nifty.

One of the other problems with this book is the regular language that seems awfully Americentric, as if the whole world of Llewellyn Worldwide begins and ends with the United States. Not only is this book available at regionally domestic pricing in Canada, the United Kingdom, and Australia, my own copy came from a UK seller via eBay (but it’s also a US copy), and Schwartzstein’s FaceBook profile states that it’s been translated into Russian. I wonder how well the suggestion that those who live along “the West Coast” fault line should worship Poseidon as a bringer of earthquakes translates to readers from Moscow? Or in Australia, where it’s the North Coast that gets more earthquakes?

Why can't we see his hands?  Gods above, why can't we see Morrissey's hands??

Why can’t we see his hands? Gods above, why can’t we see Morrissey’s hands??

What’s so wrong with simply saying “anyone in a city near a fault line should supplicate Poseidon”, especially considering that those along the North American West Coast tend to get a higher ratio of reminders of their fault line than most other people? Why force the rest of the Worldwide readers to have to mentally adjust what they’re reading? In the immortal words of a Double-Double fucker named Steve1, “America is not the world”.

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About Ruadhán McElroy

Ruadhán has been a traditional Hellenic polytheist for about a decade, and has also maintained devotions to Eros and Apollon most of that time; his status as a devotee of Nyx is more recent. He also paints, makes music, makes jewellery, and writes novels set in the Mod Revival (UK) and Swampie (Oz) subcultures of the 1980s. He also gets a lot of odd little experiences that he jokes will forever render him an insufferable Goth.

New TS/TG pagan book out now

Here’s a press release for All-Soul, All-Body, All-Love, All-Power: A TransMythology by P. Sufenas Virius Lupus

And don’t forget Gender and Transgender in Modern Paganism, or Hermaphrodeities: A Transgender Spirituality Workbook by Raven Kaldera.

About Ruadhán McElroy

Ruadhán has been a traditional Hellenic polytheist for about a decade, and has also maintained devotions to Eros and Apollon most of that time; his status as a devotee of Nyx is more recent. He also paints, makes music, makes jewellery, and writes novels set in the Mod Revival (UK) and Swampie (Oz) subcultures of the 1980s. He also gets a lot of odd little experiences that he jokes will forever render him an insufferable Goth.