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Part One: Waxing to Full

(I originally wrote about these issues--because I believe this to be more than one issue, not a binary--in my personal blog.  In the interest of clarity and time, I have taken some parts of that initial post, which most of you have not seen, and worked them into this first part. Please forgive me, long-time readers,  if it seems like you've read some bits before.)

I've been threatening to write about this set of situations--really write about it--for over a year.  Every time I wrap my head and heart around it, some new information comes to light and I step back a bit, wondering what else I can add from so far away.

I will engage these on-going issues in three parts--Waxing to Full, Waning Moon, and Dark Moon. I hope you will bear with me as I develop my own thoughts, bear witness to what I haven't seen and step into a world that is both mine and not mine.

It's the women-born-women issue, of course--something that has been seething in some circles for a while now. The first large-scale incident, as far as I know, was at last year's Pantheacon, there was a fascinating repeat at Pantheacon 2012 and then we got the coverage of that powerful circle that blessed this year's Pagan Spirit Gathering.

I had been planning to save up my pennies (many, many pennies) to go to  Pantheacon this year. Those West Coast gigs look like so much fun but they are spendy for those of us back in the old country on the East Coast. But I figured it would be worth it to catch up with colleagues and friends out there, and to meet people whose work I've followed over the years.

But after the fallout began over Z Budapest's non-inclusive ritual, I got too disheartened to test those waters. I knew if I'd scrimped and saved to go to this cool conference, I would be royally ticked off if I had to spend it fighting with colleagues about a complicated issue about which I have a very, very definite viewpoint.

The reports from this year's con were also difficult to read through and I finally gave up trying to ken the comments that attached themselves, lamprey-like, to every blog-post about the issue. I've been told on more than one occasion that one should never read the comments--sterling advice. But I  learn so much about the larger Pagan/Heathen community by witnessing its passion, pain and anger, even if it is often ugly and brutal.

I finally stopped reading them, however, because the level of acceptable classism, sexism and ageism became too much to bear.  I was much heartened by my colleague Max Dashu's report on the events. She was present and she wrote so eloquently on the issues I was and am finding so disturbing.

Here's a link, with thanks, to her report:

Z (and Pantheacon) had promoted her ritual as open to "women-born-women" and that means exactly that. Women who had the experience of being women from the time of their birth, had probably experienced menarche, had lived as women under this oppressive set of systems that many of us call "patriarchy." Some male-to-female transgendered folks felt excluded (rightly so--they were excluded) and they protested last year that this wasn't fair to them, as they had always believed themselves to be women on the inside. At this year's conference, there were other rituals that welcomed all who self-identified as women.

In considering the nature of sacred space and ceremony, I can only speak from my own experience as a priestess. Sometimes women need to be in ritual with other women because they don't feel safe with men--even men who are transitioning to being women. This may also be true of men, but that is not my experience. Not only do they not share with transgendered Pagans the experience of having grown up--as women and girls--within this culture, but they simply don't feel safe. I am appalled that so few people seem to get that. They don't feel safe. At a gathering of this size, are you seriously suggesting that women's safety within sacred space doesn't have to be a consideration?

That's short-sighted, mean-spirited and unhelpful, in my opinion.

Here's the analogy I've used with some people--suppose a group of African-Americans wanted to be in sacred circle together, to explore healing through their African spiritual roots. They choose not to be in circle with people of European ancestry because they cannot safely explore the full repercussions of having been enslaved--they cannot safely explore that--with white people present. But then I carefully explain--as though they may not quite comprehend how behind the times they are--that all humans originally came from Africa and so I have a right to be there.

That's short-sighted, mean-spirited and unhelpful, too.

All people have a right to feel safe in a healing ritual circle--that should be a given. Otherwise the work is harder than it needs to be, in fact it may not be possible to do that work at all, if one does not feel safe.

Next--Part Two: Waning Moon

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Tagged in: gender
H. Byron Ballard is a ritualist, teacher, speaker and writer. She has taught at Sacred Space Conference, Pagan Unity Festival, Southeast Her essays are featured in several anthologies, including “Birthed from Scorched Hearts“ (Fulcrum Press), “Christmas Presence“ (Catawba Press), “Women’s Voices in Magic” (Megalithica Books), “Into the Great Below” and “Skalded Apples” (both from Asphodel Press.) Her book Staubs and Ditchwater: an Introduction to Hillfolks Hoodoo (Silver Rings Press) debuted in June 2012. Byron is currently at work on Earth Works: Eight Ceremonies for a Changing Planet. Contact her at,


  • Byron Ballard
    Byron Ballard Wednesday, 11 July 2012

    Thank you, Kenaz. I felt sure you would be one of the first to comment on this post. I will address some of your issues and comments in the next installment of this saga. I believe we have already moved beyond armistice with the events at Pagan Spirit Gathering and that, as a larger community, we are on the road to further compassion and true understanding. Your suggestion of creating safety inclusion zones at specific gatherings would give me a chuckle--if I hadn't been brought up in the post-civil rights South. It says much about how far we've come as a movement and set of religions that we can so easily dismiss questions of anyone's safety in gatherings of seemingly like-minded folk. It is a complex set of issues and I suspect I don't have much to offer to this discussion--other than my experience and heart. I am only a small fish in a small and distant pond, after all. :>)

  • Kenaz Filan
    Kenaz Filan Wednesday, 11 July 2012

    I think it is important to emphasize that Z Budapest and other Dianic Wiccans have the right to admit or exclude whom they will from their private circles. They have a right to open their rituals only to "women born women" just as Catholics have the right to allow only "men born men" to become priests and your local Hibernian society has the right to admit only those with provable Irish ancestry.

    But none of these groups has a right to public ritual space at Pantheacon or at any other event. The organizers at PCon can say that they won't allow a Catholic Pagan to speak because they disagree with hir position on abortion. They can refuse to offer ritual space to a ritual which is only open to "Pagans of exclusively northern European ancestry." And they can say that the controversy which has arisen over the "women born women" rituals -- much of which stemmed from Z's habit of making intemperate and hateful comments about "transies" -- is such that they don't want to deal with it.

    This may well make some women feel unsafe. They may feel more comfortable attending Z's Goddess Spirituality event, the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival, or other festivals which will provide them with a more secure environment. And I will support the right of Z Budapest, Lisa Vogel, etc. to hold those events according to their ideals -- just as I support the right of Glenn Turner to respond to her constituency's demands and hold Pantheacon according to her ideals.

    Frankly, I see this as the best possible solution to the whole argument. Z Budapest and many "Second Wave" feminists refuse to see transwomen as women, full stop. Trans activists refuse to consider any kind of solution which does not treat transwomen as 100% women, full stop. Given this impasse, we may do well to give up on dialogue and start working on an armistice. And the most important part of an armistice is setting out boundaries.

  • Kenaz Filan
    Kenaz Filan Wednesday, 11 July 2012

    Unfortunately I think we've got competing requirements for safe zones here. Many trans women feel unsafe at events where officially sanctioned presenters make public claims that they are not "real women" or exclude them from women's circles. And a sizable number of cisgender women and Dianics feel unsafe at a clothing optional women's circle where penises are present -- even if those penises are attached to women who view them as a birth defect, not as their raison d'etre. My feeling is that it is at present difficult-to-impossible to meet both of those needs in a single conference.

  • Byron Ballard
    Byron Ballard Wednesday, 11 July 2012

    I think you are being lured into the temptation of a false binary here. The situations and issues here can't be answered in simple terms. As we as a community work through these issues, it is essential to allow room for thinking outside the paradigm, of making more doors/windows and bringing best hearts and minds into the equation. Stereotyping and shaming serve no purpose here. We need to recall the great gifts of active listening and empathy into the great weaving that is being created. But I will speak more on this later. How did diaper duty go today, my friend?

  • Kenaz Filan
    Kenaz Filan Thursday, 12 July 2012

    Diaper duty is going well: Annamaria is her usual cheery and vocal 8am self, while I am gearing up for that second cup of coffee.

    I'm going to cover this in more detail in my blog. For now suffice to say that I agree that there is room for discussion between the two groups. However, I think it might be useful to establish boundaries - "safe spaces," if you will - between the two groups for the time being. Right now everyone is fighting out of a feeling of serious insecurity. Letting everyone know what is theirs by right and affirming our commitment to uphold those rights may go a long way toward making everyone feel less defensive.

  • Byron Ballard
    Byron Ballard Friday, 13 July 2012

    I am so enjoying this conversation with you, Kenaz. I will cover a bit more about safety and maturity in my next post and will look forward to reading your position on these issues. Cheers!

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