Paganistan: Notes from the Secret Commonwealth

In Which One Midwest Man-in-Black Confers, Converses & Otherwise Hob-Nobs with his Fellow Hob-Men (& -Women) Concerning the Sundry Ways of the Famed but Ill-Starred Tribe of Witches.

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Can a Pagan Woman, in Good Conscience, Go to Uluru?

Uluru: the Great Red Rock, Australia's most iconic holy place.

Held sacred by local First Nations peoples, it is considered by them to be a men's shrine, and hence forbidden to women.

So, can a pagan woman, in good conscience, go there?

Well, different peoples, different ways. I can't rightly expect you to act in accordance with my people's ways, nor you me.

Still, it's always best practice to be respectful of other people's stuff, especially their religious stuff. In the old Witch language, there are two words for "peace." Frith is peace within a community. Grith is peace between communities, and maintaining grith is a cultural value of great (although not overriding) importance.

And when it comes to religious rules, peoples vary. So what to do when your people do things one way, and mine another?

Among the Kalasha of Pakistan, the last remaining pagans of the Hindu Kush, the high mountain pastures are considered sacred to the suchi ("fairies"), and hence reserved to men; and even then, only at specific times of year. (I should mention that there are also, among the Kalasha, women's places that are forbidden to men.)

Yet now tourist women (probably unknowingly) and Muslims (intentionally, to flout the Old Ways) go there regularly, and the Kalasha are powerless to prevent it. The result? A devastating increase in the frequency, and severity, of floods and landslides. "The fairies are angry," say the elders of Kalasha. "Climate change," says the Western observer. But are these not two ways of describing the same thing?

The impact of alcohol on American First Nations has been historically devastating. With this in mind, some North American elders feel that to pour alcohol on the ground is a violation, a profanation of Earth's sanctity. Yet for my people, to pour out a libation onto the ground is an act of worship. These are irreconcilable positions. How to keep grith?

Well, when I'm in First Nations contexts, I try to play by their rules. That's only respectful. And when First Nations visitors join us for our celebrations, I try to be a good host and make sure beforehand that they're aware of what we'll be doing and of what it means in our context.

There are wide cultural and intercultural questions here on which we as a community simply don't yet have the experience to speak authoritatively. But that doesn't obviate the responsibility to ask the questions, and to proceed on a case-by-case basis until more general guidelines emerge—as, in time, we may be sure that they will.

So, can a pagan woman, in good conscience, go to Uluru?

Well, that's a question that I can't answer. You'll have to ask the pagan women of Australia.

If anyone would know, they would.

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Tagged in: frith grith Kalasha
Poet, scholar and storyteller Steven Posch was raised in the hardwood forests of western Pennsylvania by white-tailed deer. (That's the story, anyway.) He emigrated to Paganistan in 1979 and by sheer dint of personality has become one of Lake Country's foremost men-in-black. He is current keeper of the Minnesota Ooser.


  • Anne Newkirk Niven
    Anne Newkirk Niven Friday, 19 August 2016
  • Jön Upsal's Gardener
    Jön Upsal's Gardener Tuesday, 23 August 2016
  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch Saturday, 20 August 2016

    Thanks for the link, Anne; it's a thoughtful piece, well worth the read. The conversation about the proper relation between "immigrant" pagans and the holy places of the Land is a deeply important one.

    Her conclusion, though--that pagans of European descent cannot in good conscience go to non-European holy places--strikes me as extreme, if not ultimately a reductio ad absurdum. How far back do we go? Should access to the holy places of Europe be restricted to those of Neandertal descent?

    On which, more later. All in good time.

  • Bekah Evie Bel
    Bekah Evie Bel Sunday, 21 August 2016

    If that was my conclusion then I have to agree, it would indeed be extreme and absurd. It wasn't my intent to give that conclusion at all. I mention that if those who have the right to do so, invite us into their spaces, then we can in good conscience do so. But if they deny us their spaces, we cannot (or should not). Our big-P Paganism does not give us rights to encroach on the spaces of living little-p pagan cultures.

    For what it's worth, though I didn't mention it in my post, Uluru isn't actually a mens only shrine - it has sections that are mens only and sections that are womens only. Those that are at the base of the rock we are allowed to visit, some of them anyway, but there is also an injunction against taking photographs of them. Legally anyone can climb the rock itself, but the local mobs ask that we do not.

    It's a confusing situation to be honest, and hits close to home for some of us in Australia because so many people (of any or no religions) just ignore the request to not climb Uluru. "Can a Pagan woman in good conscience go to those open to the public mens only areas (and Pagan men, womens only areas)?" probably wouldn't have raised so many Aussie Pagan eyebrows or warranted a response from me. Because it is a question worth thinking about.

  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch Monday, 22 August 2016

    Thanks for the clarification, Bekah; as I spent more time thinking about your post, it became clear to me that I had far overgeneralized what you were saying. Thanks also for the additional information on Uluru. So much to know! My friend Volkhvy always says: "There's no rest for the Wicca."

    Good conversation makes us wiser and turns the Wheel. My gratitude to you.

  • Anne Forrester
    Anne Forrester Sunday, 21 August 2016

    The response of Bekah Evie Bel did not strike me as extreme at all, but very respectful. This is obviously a topic that needs careful thought before we tread.

  • Jön Upsal's Gardener
    Jön Upsal's Gardener Monday, 22 August 2016

    Frith and grith come from Old Norse, not some "old witch language."

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