At the Pagan Alliance's recent conference on Gender and Paganism, CAYA Coven offered a Ritual of Radical Forgiveness as one way of creating atonement and accord around our complex approach to handling gender-selective spaces. This is but one of many steps we have taken in the past year toward harm reduction around this issue. Additional measures to create peace and clarity included many personal conversations with concerned individuals and activists across the country, sponsorship of the Pagan Alliance Conference on Gender (and we were gratified to find out that our sponsorship allowed the Conference to give scholarships to low-income individuals who would not otherwise have been able to attend), and our own process of negotiating this rocky terrain via internal discussion, review of existing protocols and future planning in our Coven.
CAYA's commitment to gender diversity includes a commitment to creating public circles for all to practice ritual together, circles for all who self-identify as a particular gender, and private, closed circles for those who continue to identify with their gender at birth for the sake of healing and deep personal work. It is not an easy place to be. On the one hand, intellectually-sound and impassioned arguments exist for the full inclusion of all self-identified men and women in all gendered spaces they choose. These arguments are well-reasoned, clear, loving and radical- all very much in keeping with CAYA's core philosophies. On the other hand, there are mysteries and wisdom paths that are associated with embodying a certain gender from birth and the lifetime of acculturation to that gender, as well as physical experiences associated with coming of age in that particular body. These are primal, powerful, visceral and also radical- very much in keeping with CAYA's core philosophies.
I do not think anyone in CAYA or outside of CAYA has the final answers on how this integration of diverse and sometimes opposing viewpoints can happen effectively to the highest benefit of the greater pagan community. Certainly it won't happen overnight. Certainly it requires delicacy, patience, and good faith.
Our hope in offering a Ritual of Radical Forgiveness at the conference was to magically and sympathetically put to rest the discord around the topic of the past year and to acknowledge that there is pain and challenge on all sides of this issue. It is our prayer that, moving forward, everyone who has a strong and powerful opinion on this topic or experience of their gender reality will be able to at least co-exist in mutual harmony, respect for one another's right to hold their views and practices as best befits them, and non-violence in our language and actions toward one another. The religious right would love to see us tear one another apart. It would mean they don't have to lift a finger in order to cripplingly disempower us. I, for one, will not allow that to happen if I have any say in the matter whatsoever. My intent is to create respectful unity around our spiritual diversity and thus protect it with my own intentions, prayers, words and actions. To that end, here is the ritual outline, for those who were not able to attend. The ritual was received very well by the 25-30 participants who attended, and while it is not a final step to end all conflict, it felt like a powerful step in the right direction toward peace and wholeness within our extended community.
Ritual of Radical Forgiveness
Pagan Alliance Gender Conference 2011
Intro: Yeshe Rabbit
-What is Radical Forgiveness? It is a path to personal liberation. Just as acid held in a bucket eats away at the bucket, so too do anger, grief, resentment, and blame eat away at us and steal our joy. Liberating ourselves from this pain is crucial to moving forward with our lives, even when we cannot find resolution to past hurts or current disagreement.
-Why is it important that we forgive? Because we are not always able to see justice at work. We all have open endings in our pasts, things that hurt us or harmed us, injustices that never gained redress. Radical Forgiveness allows us to put a period where previously there were ellipses and question marks. It allows us to let go of the past so that we have more energy to create positive change in the present.
-Does forgiveness imply condoning/excusing negative behavior? NO. Forgiveness is a process of acknowledging your own correctness for/in yourself, acknowledging the hurt someone else has caused you, and willingly choosing to let it go rather than hold the conflict in an ongoing state of dissatisfaction. At no point is anyone asked to condone or excuse anyone else’s behavior or action. Instead, radical forgiveness re-centralizes your own truth by de-polarizing your reality and disentangling your destiny from someone who hurt you.
Grounding: Yeshe Rabbit leads with Sam Webster’s Dedication of Merit
“May the benefits of this act and all acts be dedicated unto the complete liberation and surpeme enlightenment of all beings, everywhere, pervading space and time. So mote it be. May the benefits of practice, ours and others, come to fruition ultimately and immediately, and we remain inn a state of presence.” Tone three “Ah’s- at the first, awaken the divine helpers of the universe, at the second, they awaken the divine in us, and at the third, we and the divine hosts of the universe awake the divine in all beings.
Circle cast: Each person turns to the person to their left around the circle and says, “I am holy and you are holy and this circle is holy.”
Directions: Gatekeeper Jey
Air: the spirit of gentle communication and respectful discussion
Fire: the courage to face our conflicts with peaceful hearts rather than rage
West: compassionate wisdom for all who cause harm or have been harmed by others
North: stability of self to face those who have harmed us with equanimity
Ancestors: Salamangkero Yansumi
Bessie Smith-lesbian blues singer, Gloria Anzaldua-political author and activist, Sylvia Rivera- transgender activist and Stonewall participant, Gwen Araujo- local teen victim of transgender hate crime, Harvey Milk- first openly-gay person elected to political office, Audre Lorde- lesbian author, James Baldwin - gay author, Arthur Evans- recently-deceased author of Witchcraft and the Gay Counterculture, Doric Wilson- playwright and gay activist, Bayard Rustin- gay political organizer, draft resister, key in creating the 1963 March on Washington with Rev Dr MLK who was later kicked out the the Fellowship of Humanity for his sexual orientation, and all those whom we cannot name here: we ask that you bless our work from your place of wisdom beyond this mortal coil, and open the way for our hearts to lift in self-determination and personal clarity.
Invoking the Highest Powers and protector deities of everyone in the Room: Yeshe Rabbit facilitates a collective personal invocation for each person to feel whole, safe, holy and acknowledged for their truth in this working
Guided Meditation on Radical Forgiveness: Stella Iris
(CAYA Clergy walk around during this meditation gently fanning the participants with feather fans.)
Ritual Cleansing: Yeshe Rabbit invites each participant to whisper his/her grievances into his/her hands, and to cup them there, like a caterpillar in a cocoon. After ritually opening our hearts, releasing anger and resentment and hurt to the best of our ability, we allow our pain to fly away transformed into butterflies. All are invited to repeat this practice as often as necessary in an effort to help us move forward from blind rage and pain toward productive, respectful, solution-driven effort. Stella Iris guides all Clergy in facilitating a ritual hand-washing (Molly Blue Dawn and Stella Iris with a pitcher and bowl, a ceremonial splash of water) and Gatekeeper Jey follows, anointing everyone’s heart, hands or third eye with Unchain My Heart oil (anyone may refuse oil if they wish, due to scent-sensitivity). Yeshe Rabbit speaks further on the nature of suffering and how it overflows the boundaries of one person to cause pain in another. The cycle of pain yields only more pain. Forgiveness breaks the cycle. Yeshe Rabbit invites everyone to lift their fragile and delicate hearts and powerful voices as one in order to release the past and create a better future for all.
Raising Power: Stella Iris leads the group in a slow, deliberate spiral dance, Gatekeeper Jey takes the end. Molly Blue Dawn, Salamangkero Yansumi and Yeshe Rabbit will hold the drum and song at the center. Anyone who cannot or does not want to spiral dance, may join them at the center to receive energy raised. All look into one anothers’ eyes to recognize and acknowledge one anothers’ holiness.
“And we’ll dance as the walls are falling
and we’ll be the change we wish to see
and the Universe will answer
for a joyful change is what we need
and we’ll know the our gods are with us
and the spirits of our honored dead
for we hear their voices singing
in our hearts and in our heads.”
-song by Yeshe Rabbit, 2009
Once the spiral has turned its way in and out at least three times and Stella Iris has crossed paths with Gatekeeper Jey, they grab hands and gently pull the spiral back into a circle. Yeshe Rabbit dedicates the power raised for the healing of all who have been harmed in their sexuality and gender, and the enlightenment of all who have done the harm, that the cycle of harm draws to a conclusion and mutual respect reigns. Seamlessly, she moves into thanking the higher selves of everyone in the room.
Ancestors thank and devoke: Salamangkero Yansumi
Directions thank and devoke: Gatekeeper Jey
Circle is opened by passing a kiss while singing, “We are a circle within a circle with no beginning and never ending.”