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Here we go again | A tale of two paganisms

The Pagan net has been abuzz after beloved and noted elder, Luisah Teish said some not so polite things about the trans-community on Tuesday. Some took offense, others defense, while those who took no side were in for quite the show. In the end it wrought in its wake a lot of old discussions and old wounds. Before I knew it I was left feeling like we (the community) dropped the ball and that we failed to protect our own.


I have been involved in the US Pagan community for over a decade. In this time I have donated to pagan causes, volunteered hundreds of hours to pagan causes, have sat on the board of directors for multiple major pagan organizations, and head my own tradition with students worldwide. I have over 200 hours of audio floating around for free via my podcast and I have worked in the metaphysical industry for over thirteen years. Needless to say, I’m invested. I’m invested in this community and what it means to be pagan.

We are all invested in our own ways and perhaps that is why we go head to head when things flare up in the community. We know we face age gaps, experience gaps, leadership gaps, economic gaps, and even gaps in spiritual values but yet we are all thrown under this umbrella called “Paganism.” What we can all agree to is that we are the freaks, the geeks, and the often outcast of society. It’s our job as the current caretakers of this movement to do right by those who have joined it; that includes trans people.

The issue of transphobia in paganism is live and real. Sometimes this is something that we see outright, like with Ruth Barrett and Z Budapest a few years ago, and other times it is more casual and all the more shocking like with Luisah Teish. The way we respond to this as a community is, I feel, often with a lack of understanding regarding the true crystalline nature of this issue. This issue means something different for everyone involved, which means the arguments are layered, complex, and often lack closure.

To the elders who have been called out recently; the issue is not your want for private cis-gender space. No one wants to take away your right to circle together, explore your mysteries together, and bond without the intrusion of those who could never truly understand the journey you undertake in life. I think I speak for just about everyone when I say that your work has been and still in invaluable. Not just to the women you help, but to their daughters and sons as well. We as a community respect, encourage, and honor the work that you do.

We just want you to be aware of, and to adjust, your behavior towards the trans community within paganism. These people are members of our community and whether you like it or not they wont be going anywhere so perhaps there are better ways for us as a community to deal. When you are an elder, people look at you as a spiritual authority so when you share hate propaganda it is interpreted as a full endorsement both emotionally and spiritually. This is especially disturbing when you casually bring up a transgender person as a joke while doing so.

You can’t bring up a sensitive topic publicly and not expect for it to become a big deal. Chances are, if an entire group of people is upset over something there might be a teachable moment.

Hosting a panel after one of us sticks our foot in our mouth has become the pagan equivalent of going to rehab after getting too drunk at the office Christmas party. Why not just actually start with an, “I’m sorry.” Luisah Teish still hasn’t apologized for saying what she said, she posted a story, invoked the power of tradition, and then avoided the real issue that was right there. All she had to do was apologize. No one will take you seriously if you don’t actually apologize because they will be too busy waiting for you to give them a human response.

In the end the fault and the fall out lays at the feet of each of us as a direct result of our inability to act appropriately the last time this ugly beast reared its head. We failed at taking care of this the first, second, third, and fifth times this has happened in the past four years! We are now to blame. Not just these elders who are being called out, but us as well. Because we let them get away with it.

The truth is, whether you’re transgender or not, in the older camp or younger camp, no matter if you are new to the scene or have been here for a while; how we handle our own, how we choose to handle the ugly parts of our society, is all the outside world will know of our ethics as a people. Not only are we setting a horrible example as to what the actual values of our strange little subculture are, but we have drifted far away from our origins.

There appears to be a major difference in the way the elders in our community and the younger generation want to address this topic (as well as many others.) One group fights to leave things alone and to carry on in the name of tradition. The other fights for progress, equality, and shared dignity. It wasn’t too long ago that the former was in the shoes of the latter so you wont be surprised when I say that I’m confused as to how it has all come to this.

In the past twenty-four hours I have lost a good friend, a network of people I adored, have been called a hypocrite, and have watched friends of mine be bullied for standing up for a the victims of bigotry. All because yet again; a beloved elder said something nasty. Its exhausting, it’s a waste of time, and its embarrassment to us all.

This is a teaching moment for all of us. For those of us who haven’t made it to elder status, we get the chance to demand a new way of being, where we actively pursue spiritual growth and acceptance as a community. It is a chance for our elders to stand up and show the rest of us that maturity and compassion will always prevail. It is a chance for us as a people to rise to the occasion. 

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Devin Hunter is a professional witch and the resident House Medium at The Mystic Dream in Walnut Creek, Ca. He holds third-degree initiations in both the Northern Star Tradition of Wicca as well as the Dianic Tradition of Witchcraft (the Cult of Diana) and is the founder of his own tradition, Sacred Fires. His AV Club favorited podcast, the Modern Witch, has helped thousands of people from all over the world discover and develop their magical abilities. Devin is currently teaching with the Black Rose School of Witchcraft and is the reigning Master of Ceremonies at the New Orleans Witches’ Ball. His first book, The Witch's Book of Power will be released Spring of 2016 from Llewellyn Worldwide.


  • Elain C. Moria
    Elain C. Moria Friday, 13 November 2015

    As a Transgender Pagan I find it incredibly maddening for people (other Pagans) who are still a marginalized and regularly attacked group, to turn around and marginalize and attack an already marginalized and attacked sub- group of people within their ranks.

    It's bad when an inclusive belief system has members within it's ranks who want to exclude, marginalize, and revile Transgender Pagans.

    Christians drove us from their ranks because of their hate... We came to you because you didn't... And now we find that you do. Where are we to go to for spiritual solace, when the most inclusive belief system on the planet excludes you for being true to yourself? Something it, itself, teaches us to be.

    Where do we go now?

  • Sable Aradia
    Sable Aradia Friday, 13 November 2015

    Elain, I'm sorry this is happening too. What Anne said -- we're not all like this. This is inexcusable and I'm not standing for it, and I know that lots of other people feel like I do.

    These people are on the wrong side of history and they haven't figured it out yet. Their hate-filled anachronism is damaging the reputation and effectiveness of both Paganism and feminism. It makes me even more upset and angry when we see it in the LGBTQ+ community because we should know better. You would think that Pagans would know better too . . .

    In other words, screw those guys. Come circle with Anne and Devin and me.

  • Anne Newkirk Niven
    Anne Newkirk Niven Friday, 13 November 2015


    I'm so sorry you are experiencing this transphobic behavior within the Pagan community. All I can say is "we aren't all like this."

    I've been in Paganism for almost thirty years now, and I've concluded that (in the immortal words of the Muppet character "Rizzo the Rat") "peoples are peoples."

    Pagan theology does not immunize Pagans from acting badly. We just have to try to do better when we fail to act as we should.

    Gaia bless you and yours.

  • Sable Aradia
    Sable Aradia Friday, 13 November 2015

    Great article, Devin. I think you've hit the nail right on the head all around. Yes, we tend to be invested so when we get older, we resist change, and we view anyone who holds a contrary view to our own as "attacking" us and trying to oust us from a community we've given so much of our lives and selves to.

    But you're right; we are the change-makers, the weirdos on the periphery; or at least we used to be. Our only criteria for membership is that you claim membership; and we have a duty to look out for our own, because who else will?

    On a side note -- I like the title of your upcoming book. ;)

  • Anne Newkirk Niven
    Anne Newkirk Niven Saturday, 14 November 2015

    Macha (Aline) posted the following on her Facebook page about an hour ago.

    "Recently I thoughtlessly signed an online petition at changeDOTorg about removing the T from LGBT. I regret having signed it and I disavow its contents."

  • Wendilyn Emrys
    Wendilyn Emrys Friday, 20 November 2015

    Even among Pagans there is fear of the other and the unknown. For me, the body is a meat puppet, what matters is the person inside. If a Trans person is a good person, why would I care about their meat puppet? If they are Obnoxious, I will treat them civilly, but avoid them because they are Obnoxious, NOT because they are Trans. The same goes for everyone.

    For a similar reason I took issue with certain Dianics in the late 1970s. I'm not a converso, Athena called me to her when I was a VERY young child. Luckily, because my parents were freethinkers, I was allowed to follow my own path. I had no great trauma to lay at the feet of men, or women, for that matter, so I am pretty much a true Egalitarian. So, when a group of Pagan Women started telling me that men were excluded from their practice and why, I chose not to be a part of that practice. It was their choice to do as they wished, if it was not for me, no harm... no foul. I continued to worship in my own way where women and men are equal and respected for their individual qualities, not what they have or do not have between their legs. I have heard, that nowadays certain Dianic groups allow men at their public rituals, and that is a welcome concept to me.

    The Goddesses [and Gods] call whom they choose to them, it is not my business to question it. What I will question is if these persons, any of them, are persistently Obnoxious, they will not be Obnoxious because they are Trans, or Women, or Men, Straight, Gay, Etc... they will be Obnoxious because that is their mentality and they derive something from acting in that matter. I however, will not add fuel to that fire, nor validate them in their obnoxious behavior. Even then I will try not to speak against them, I will treat them with utmost civility and avoid them.

    People make jokes about other groups because those groups make them uneasy and they want to show publicly that they are not afraid or disgusted. The problem is, people get hurt, and as outsider as we as Pagans are, why can we not show empathy and compassion, and try not to hurt people who are even a bit of the "other" to us? If our row has been hard to hoe, imagine the row of a Trans person. The surgeries alone, if they were assigned to the wrong sex as a child, are harrowing. I suppose in some cases it may come down to the fact that some people want to have the biggest pity party street cred around and when a Trans person walks in, they usually have to take second place, because seriously, that is a whole new galaxy of pain and oppression to take on. When I think of a Trans person, I think of Tiresias.

  • Tia Ryan
    Tia Ryan Saturday, 21 November 2015

    Ifa isn't Paganism.

  • Anne Newkirk Niven
    Anne Newkirk Niven Sunday, 22 November 2015

    Tia, I didn't see anything referencing Ifa in this post. Are you referencing another post or ...?

  • Aline "Macha" O'Brien
    Aline "Macha" O'Brien Tuesday, 11 April 2017

    Thanks for your even-handed approach to this sensitive subject, Devin. I wrote a longish response and then lost it. Blessings, Macha

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