Category Archives: Feminism

Witches and Pagans: Women in European Folk Religion, 700-1100 (Review)

Witches and Pagans coverMax Dashu has posted significant excerpts of her multi volume project on the history of witchcraft at her Suppressed Histories website for years, and publication of her research in book form has been eagerly anticipated. This first installment (which Dashu refers to as Volume VII) covers the years 700 to 1100 – a good choice, because this period is critical to understanding the peak of the witch craze in late medieval and early modern times. This is also a period in European history where not a lot of information is available to the average Pagan.

Dashu is explicit that she is writing for a lay audience, but this is a thoroughly researched and referenced work, with a large bibliography and over a thousand footnotes. There are some readers who will think she excessively belabors her points, but there is so much misinformation out there, often written by slipshod academics and well-intentioned Pagans who rely on these academics, that a solid scholarly work was sorely needed. The conclusions Dashu reaches will not be startling to better informed researchers inside and outside academia, but the weight of evidence on which she bases her findings is gratifying in this highly contentious field. No doubt there are many who will be surprised.

The book utilizes linguistic analysis, place names, archaeology, folk customs documented by clerics, early theological treatises on demonology and witchcraft, and mythology of pagan origin recorded by Christians. Dashu is well aware of the shortcomings of each of these methodologies and discusses them frankly. Still the amount of evidence, from many types of sources, leads to well grounded conclusions. This book mentions in passing some of the biases which hamper academic research on witchcraft, leading to often repeated yet erroneous beliefs that have seeped into Pagan discourse.

Dashu informs us that Pagan beliefs and shamanic practices not only survived well into the Middle Ages in supposedly Christianized regions, they were widespread and deeply adhered to, particularly by the lower classes. Shamanic practices and worship of goddesses and nature deities were equated with witchcraft and devil worship by clerics and formed the basis for persecution. Though trials for malefic sorcery also existed in pagan Rome, the intensity and tone of the Christian persecution was different and significantly broader, including for example healing and divination. Aristocratic government and church leadership were intricately connected and both used dispossession of pagan culture along with persecution of witches as a way of solidifying power. The healers, diviners, and keepers of tribal history known as witches were overwhelmingly female, and witch persecutions were part of a pervasive Church strategy to further subjugate women, who were already dominated by men within their pagan cultures. Dashu firmly establishes that for centuries the targets of the witch hunts were shamans, usually female, and that the purpose of witch persecutions was to establish Christian hegemony and solidify aristocratic power.

Dashu also attempts to piece together what those pagan belief systems and female shamanic practices that were under attack actually were, and here her findings must be treated as incomplete. She focuses a great deal on Germanic cultures, and practitioners of the various Germanic traditions will find a wealth of information here. She discusses the importance of the distaff in women’s mysteries and the Norse practice of “sitting out” to achieve psychic insight. She explores the little that is known about northern European goddesses. She devotes an entire chapter to the important Icelandic poem The Volupsa. This is not, however, a definitive look at any Norse tradition, and really to have attempted that would have taken this book too far afield. I have noticed a tendency in witches in my acquaintance to devote their reading solely to authors like Dashu who approach witchcraft from a solid feminist perspective. There would be nothing wrong with that if there were more Pagan writers with a true understanding of feminist theory, but there are not enough of us around to be so selective. If the material here sparks some new interest you will need to draw from a variety of sources on the runes and Norse literature. I was particularly dismayed to hear a friend say she was inclined to cut out any reference to the god Odin from her practice after reading this book. I am a Dianic priestess, and it is more than okay with me if a woman only wants to worship goddesses, but I think we must remember that male as well as female archetypes become distorted in support of male dominance. It is important that we recognize patriarchal bias in our Pagan heritage, but it is equally important that we do not stop there.

Witches and Pagans is slow reading and cannot be tackled in one or two sittings. Dashu’s writing style is clear and straightforward, but the nature of the material is that it is dense. An index would be helpful. There is a web address for an index in the book which took me to a 404 error page. There are quite a few line drawings in the book which add a great deal to the text. This is a great resource with a lot of helpful information. I hope we will not have to wait too long for the next volume of “The Secret History of the Witches.”

2 Comments

New Post Up at Return to Mago

Owl Head Brook.

I have a post in this week’s Return to Mago eZine: This Disappearing Leadership, in response to what happened at Fayetteville Goddess Festival. It’s about a need to reflect on power and control tactics being used in the Pagan communities.

Comments Off on New Post Up at Return to Mago

Resistance

Thistle Pettersen is a songwriter from Madison, Wisconsin. This is from her collection Animal Dreams.

Comments Off on Resistance

Women, We Need Vision

At the grave of Inez Milholland. Sign says “Mr. President, how long must women wait for liberty?”

What do we want? Something or other.
When do we want it? Sometime.

The morning of the Women’s March I walked out to my car and discovered my rear driver’s side tire was low. Not flat, but low enough that I had to drive miles out of my way to a convenience store to get air. I had planned to get to the March a bit early, but now I only hoped the tire would hold for the thirty mile drive.

Miraculously, I arrived on time. The tire had lost air, but it held well enough to get me to Lewis, New York, for the march and rally at the gravesite of suffragist Inez Milholland (see last week’s post). I was stunned at the turnout. Over three hundred people were there, mostly women but plenty of men and children too, many wearing pussyhats and carrying great signs. Three hundred sounds like a small number in a protest of millions, and I guess it is, but Lewis is a hamlet in a very rural county — a county that voted for Trump by three percentage points. The signs reflected concerns across the country about reproductive rights, diversity, racial justice, and sexual harrassment.

I thought the March was great right up to the point where the speaking started, and then I wondered why I bothered to come. The leader of the Lewis March spoke about the history of the suffrage movement, offering some quotes from Milholland. So far, so good. Then she spoke about how we had gathered for “truth.” That was all: not even a passing reference to actual struggles of women today, where we need to go, and how we get there. I guess being on the side of truth is a political statement in this post-truth era, but truth about what? There was no focus to this march. All the energy was dissipated on non-offensive, non-directed pablum, and the whole thing became a celebration of tribal identity, not a demand for women’s rights.

In some ways, the well-attended Lewis non-event was a microcosm of issues that spilled out with the national March during the lead-up period. Many women were unclear about the purpose of the March. Organizers expressed a commitment to inclusivity, but that did not appear to include a feminist perspective. For example, organizers headlined a self-admitted rapist and a champion of “sex work,” angering sex industry survivors. The organizers declared this was not a protest any kind and not specifically about women. Despite the timing of the event the day after the inauguration, they insisted this march was not intended to be anti-Trump. So what was this about?

News media defined the March entirely as anti-Trump, sometimes even omitting to say that it was a women’s march. To be fair, most people I talked to were motivated primarily by their horror of Trump, and the demonstrators’ signs bore this out. The pink pussyhats were everywhere (even in Lewis). I have to admit that I originally thought the pussyhats were a bit silly. I didn’t say anything because I was happy to see women excited about a project and pouring their creativity into something, but privately I thought it was dumb. I changed my mind when I saw the pussyhats in action, sending a message that so many women and men who showed up to the March thought sexual harassment and assault worthy of protest at this thing that was not supposed to be a protest. And the signs! So many uteruses, vulvas, and vaginas. They showed that women rightly see their oppression as intricately tied to their biology, and the innocence with which this was displayed showed that apparently many have not gotten the memo that references to female anatomy are oppressive to trans people and must be exorcised from all women’s gatherings. I suspect that when most women have gotten that memo, there will be a huge rebellion, and many things about gender that have been accepted without question will be scrutinized.

These young women understand the legacy of feminism, but will they have the courage to carry it forward?

But that rebellion is years away, and I believe that for now the women’s movement is in a long period of struggle to accept and confront the problem. Our problem is not violence; it is male violence directed at women. Our problem is not gender; it is the use of gender by males to define, redefine, and undefine women. Our problem is not sexual harassment; it is the sexual harassment by males toward females (and children). Our problem is not religion; it is male religions dictating to women what we can and cannot do. Our problem is men, and until a critical mass of women can name the agent of our oppression, I do not see the women’s movement progressing, no matter how many show up for a non-directed protest.

There was an indoor follow-up event ten miles away from the Lewis rally, and I had planned on attending it, but after the rather demoralizing graveside experience I decided to get my tire fixed. I think that the March was a success in that it sent a message to our Democratic lawmakers that large numbers of women all over the country and all over the world are paying attention to Republican efforts to erode human rights, and that these lawmakers need to stand up to Trump. That alone was worth the small investment of showing up. As far as the march for women’s liberty goes — we have a long road in front of us.

4 Comments

Women March Again

The big Women’s March in DC is this Saturday January 21st, and I will be attending one the “sister marches” in Lewis, New York. This march will begin at the gravesite of suffragist Inez Milholland with a follow-up rally at a nearby grange hall. Details here.

Inez Milholland was a campaigner with the National Women’s Party who appeared in an iconic photo of the 1913 Woman Suffrage Procession in Washington. She was born in 1886 to a progressive family. Her father, wealthy businessman and newspaper editor John Milholland, was a founding member of the NAACP. Milholland herself championed a number of social causes in addition to suffrage during her short life, chief among them world peace and the rights of workers.

While a student at Vassar, Milholland was disciplined for defying the injunction against participation in organized feminist activities. A few years later she received her law degree from New York University. Though Milholland had a supportive family and was considered a brilliant woman, she was to find continual disappointment in the professional world. Only one firm would hire her, a criminal law firm that only allowed her to argue cases considered unwinnable. Partners in the firm believed a jury might convict a man simply for having female counsel. In frustration Milholland quit law and went to Italy to work as a war correspondent. Despite her efforts to persuade officials that a woman’s perspective on the war was important, she was never allowed to get close to the fighting. She returned to America in defeat.

One influential person who did recognize Milholland’s talents was suffrage leader Alice Paul. Milholland was a persuasive and engaging public speaker and in addition had the big-boned large-featured good looks that were fashionable at the time. Only some who came to see her were interested in the cause of women’s suffrage; others came to see a glimpse of the famous beauty. Paul began to give Milholland a higher profile in the suffrage movement and in 1916 convinced her to embark on a multistate western tour to argue for the passage of an amendment to allow women the right to vote. Milholland was feeling unwell but went anyway understanding the importance of the mission. She attracted huge crowds and a great deal of media coverage.

During the height of the campaign Milholland wrote to Paul saying she was ill and would have to suspend travel, but Paul wrote back urging her to continue. Milholland allowed herself to be persuaded. For her part, Milholland was finally seeing her efforts produce results, and it must have been difficult to contemplate walking away from a successful enterprise after being stymied so much in the past.

Milholland collapsed during a rally in Los Angeles and died there a month later. She asked that her last recorded words be, “Mr. President, how long must women wait for liberty?”

2 Comments

Five Year Anniversary Post!

Photo: Snowmanradio

This week marks my five year anniversary of blogging. I have blogged consistently over these years for a total of 297 posts.

I will be making some changes to this blog over the next year. I will be updating the blog’s appearance and transferring it over to my main site hearthmoonrising.com. I will be transferring my webinar page over to that site as well and, yes, I will be teaching some online classes this year. I will also be transferring everything to a new site host, and while I hope to archive the whole five years you might want to cache any pages you have bookmarked so they aren’t lost to you.

I don’t know what is going on with my Tumblr blog. I have not been able to log into my dashboard or to access the Tumblr homesite since mid December, although my past Tumblr posts are still showing. I suspect that this is related to the denial-of-service attack on Tumblr about this time, but it could be another attempt to punish me for my feminist political views, as I notice that other radical feminists whom I follow have not posted for some time. My Facebook account was briefly suspended a few years ago in response to a blog post here. Compared to other feminists, I have not suffered much of this abuse, probably because I don’t write much about politics, but I am very aware that my access to social media is tenuous and this is one reason I blog so consistently. If you haven’t seen me for awhile on Facebook or Twitter, come back and check the blog. Also, sign up for my mailing list to stay in touch. The link is at hearthmoonrising.com. I do a mass email about four times a year.

I will probably be letting the Tumblr site go. I’m annoyed that they are putting advertising on my site, and I don’t enjoy going to the Tumblr dashboard anymore because of the distracting videos that assault me from the corner of my eye. I haven’t been able to find software that will disable these particular videos, and I don’t think this is good for my vision. Fortunately the adverts on my Tumblr site itself are static, but I don’t like advertising on my webpages, especially since I’m not getting any of that income. I understand that Tumblr has to bring in revenue, so I tolerated the advertisements on my news feed until they got entirely too obnoxious, but I think I’ve had enough.

My next book is in production, and I will be posting more about that in the coming weeks. I wish to thank my readers and those who have linked and commented here for making these five years possible. Here’s to another great year of thought, worship, and study.

2 Comments

Censorship is Global*

One of the banned zines.

One of the banned zines.

I don’t know how many of my readers are aware of the banning of a feminist from New Zealand from the Wellington Zinefest for her political beliefs.** Renee Gerlich had her registration refunded and was asked not to participate in the festival after organizers became aware of her peaceful activities protesting the sex industry through art and an article on her blog criticizing the medical transitioning of children. She was told that “your presence at zinefest would jeopardise the safety of our queer and trans artists, people we have worked hard this year to protect and create a safe space for.” That the zines Gerlich planned to sell at her booth were themselves inoffensive to the organizers did not matter.

Banning somebody from purchasing a booth at a festival because you don’t like something they once wrote on their blog? Really?

This attitude recalls the disinvitation by the Norwegian government a few years ago of Janice Raymond, who was scheduled to present a paper on prostitution. She wrote a book over thirty years ago on a different topic that had become objectionable to trans activists. Granted, the New Zealand example is on a small scale, grassroots level, but this exemplifies how censorship of feminists is being waged across the liberal/left spectrum, perpetrated by both government officials and scruffy anarchists. It is a censorship project underway from the far north to the far south and everywhere in between.

The phrase “safe space” is fast becoming a code word for “censor and suppress free speech.” Donald Trump used the phrase, albeit loosely, a week ago in denouncing the cast of the play Hamilton for calling out Vice President-elect Michael Pence. “The theatre must always be a safe and special place,” Trump tweeted. It is only fitting that the so-called “safe” phraseology of censorship should be put to use by fascists since it embodies a fascist concept. The tools male supremacists on the left/liberal spectrum have in desperation pioneered to assert dominance over females within their movements will increasingly be put to extreme rightwing uses. Look for “inclusivity” to move beyond its current usage as a rationale for excluding radical feminists from the public discourse, and get ready for it to exclude those who threaten the “safe space” of white supremacists and Christian fundamentalists.

Since they monitor everybody’s blogs, I suppose I am never going to have a booth at the Wellington Zinefest. And as for the Norwegian government: don’t bother to invite me. I’m sure I also wrote something thirty years ago you wouldn’t like.

*Apologies to Robin Morgan; it just fit so well.

**Thanks to stop trans chauvinism for directing me to writing by renee.

Comments Off on Censorship is Global*

Review: Female Erasure

femaleerasure

Regular readers of this blog are aware of what I think about censorship. (I don’t like it, even if you think your views are correct.) When the forthcoming publication of Female Erasure was announced less than a year ago, an attempt was made to derail editor Ruth Barrett’s fundraising for the book through Indiegogo, thereby guaranteeing that I would order an advance copy and review the book. Barrett is a well-known Dianic priestess who has received a great deal of criticism, harassment, and no-platforming for her defense of born-women-only space.

I was impressed with the thickness of the book in this age of slim cost-conscious publishing. I read some feminist theory, and I have followed this issue closely for the past five years, so I had already read many of the excerpts in the volume. Still there were a lot of new articles here.

I think the crux of the issue of transgender rights clashing with the rights of females is described in the article by attorney Maya Dillard Smith, “Federal Court’s Denial of Obama’s Transgender Bathroom Directive A Win for Everyone.” Obama’s directive on transgender rights was made without the customary public input period for Federal rules, forcing agencies and citizens to comply without debate or comment. Dillard Smith is discussing this from a US Federal legal perspective, of course, but her insights apply to a variety of religous, social, educational, and legal situations. “Trans women are women; end of discussion,” transgender advocates have decreed in exactly those words, demanding public adoption of this belief with no examination of what it implies. The contributors to this anthology have disobeyed this injunction by exploring some uncomfortable implications of transgender advocacy for the rights of biological females.

Some of the issues covered in the book are transitioning of gay children, lesbian rights, reproductive issues, prisons, girls’ athletics, racial perspectives, and feminist political organizing. I found Carol Downer’s explanation of the philosophical underpinnings of transgender “queer” theory helpful, though dense and difficult as all queer theory tends to be. Many will be interested in Barrett’s “The Attack on Female Sovereign Space in Pagan Community.” Too many people think they understand this issue through oversimplified slogans about “inclusivity.” Barrett and many other writers here take the trouble to explain the history and background behind feminist positions.

Other contributors are lawyers, feminist theorists, journalists, medical professionals, activists, parents, and detransitioned adults. For people who think transgender issues are only about bathrooms, this book is required reading.

Comments Off on Review: Female Erasure

A Momentous Occasion

Finally. How can the week go by without a feminist American blog commenting on this? But really, what more is there to say?

Every time I started to get enraged by all the misogyny from the Left and the media that has characterized this primary, I had to take a breath and remind myself “Hillary is winning.” When I got too disgusted by all the lies and double standards I even sent her a few bucks. And now, she has earned the nomination.

I won’t say she was given the nomination, because women in this country have never been given political power – we have fought for it. But this is not just about politics. Though the hug between President Obama and Hillary Clinton gladdened my heart, I have not always agreed with Barack Obama. Sometimes I liked what he was doing and other times I was critical. Clinton is still a nominee for president, not the one filling that office, and she has had no chance, yet, to earn my displeasure. I am sure there will be times when I happy with her and times when I am in disagreement. But I will always be proud of her and of all the women and men who voted for her. It’s about time.

 

Comments Off on A Momentous Occasion

Book Review Program Coming Next Week

nine-day-solstice-celebrarion-poster-2

The online review of women’s spirituality books published in 2015 will be this Wednesday December 16th at 3:00 pm Eastern Standard Time. You can access the program meeting room starting at 2:45 pm with this link:

2015 Goddess/Feminine Divine Books

Type your name and enter as a guest; no password or registration required. You may be asked to download an “add-in” from Adobe Software to configure your device for the meeting room.

There will also be an interview with poet Elizabeth Hardy. This program is offered in conjunction with the Mago Academy Nine Day Solstice Program.

A more detailed description of the program was given in last week’s post.

Comments Off on Book Review Program Coming Next Week