When Worlds of Grief Collide – Why I Support ADF’s Memorial DVD

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There are few things more difficult than dealing with grief. Each of us has to process our grief in our own way and in our own time.

Losing Isaac was easily one of the most difficult things I’ve ever had to deal with. We were friends for twenty-one years. We lived under the same roof for the last seven years of his life. We had plans, as we used to say to the oncologist. We had planned to go to Oregon, to write more books, to plant gardens, to grow old together. It was not to be.

He left me in charge of his estate. In his final months (I almost wrote year, but it was less than a year from his diagnosis to his death) we had endless conversations about his legacy, his papers, and his possessions. We even discussed what to do with his ashes. I hope you never have to have these conversations. I hope you and your loved ones all go together, and you are not left with spending twenty or thirty or forty more years without them. Such is not my lot.

Isaac was famous, in his way (he called himself a “micro-celebrity,” or sometimes more wryly he would say, “I used to be famous”). He had a lot of acquaintances, a lot of friends, more than a few lovers, one son, and four ex-wives. And me, the last one, the widow.

Every one of us has to process our grief in our own way.

Unfortunately, sometimes those ways clash. Maybe it’s differences in culture, or temperament or something else, I don’t know. But I do know there is a clash going on right now.

Back last August, within days of Isaac’s passing, ADF held a beautiful memorial service for Isaac at their Summerland festival in Ohio. You can see excerpts on ADF’s YouTube channel. I wasn’t able to be there, and it meant a lot to me to see what I could of it on YouTube.

I say “what I could of it” because as many of you know, I live in a very rural area right now with no broadband access. It can take me ten minutes to download a one minute video. (I’ve had trouble getting this blog post up today.) So I was delighted to know that I would be able to get a DVD with the entire memorial service on it.

Those DVDs are now available. And now the kerfuffle begins.

A member of ADF paid out of pocket $3000 to have the memorial service professionally videographed and edited. Then ADF paid to have one hundred DVDs made. Members of Isaac’s family have been given DVDs. To ADF members and the general public, they being made available for ten dollars apiece.

One of Isaac’s ex-wives, the mother of his son, Arthur Lipp-Bonewits, is objecting to this. She wrote a letter to ADF telling them that they were exploiting Isaac’s memory to make money, and that if they did not cease and desist, she would write an open letter denouncing them. Then ADF contacted me. Then I contacted Isaac’s siblings. We were all OK with the DVDs being sold. (Do the math; $10×100-nfamily giveaways is not anywhere near the cost of the videography. It’s not going to “make money” for anyone.) In fact, we in the family are delighted to be able to have copies of it.

You can read Deborah Lipp’s post here.

I need to state publicly that I profoundly disagree with her post. Ms. Lipp must process her grief in her own way, as I must process mine. But I cannot stay silent on this issue.

On her blog, I commented thusly:

As someone to whom his loss is intensely personal, I am appalled at your misrepresentation of the situation. I am in contact with other members of his family and we are all fine with both the DVD having been made and with it being sold at a nominal price. His mother is looking forward to seeing it, and so am I, as I do not have a good enough broadband connection to watch it on YouTube. The $3000 videographer’s fee came out of someone’s personal pocket as a donation to his memory, not ADF funds. The nominal price of the disc is to defray manufacturing costs.

You also misrepresent his wishes concerning his library. As both his wife and the executor of his estate, I had many, many, many conversations with him as to disposition of his library and other personal effects. None sounded like what you recount. I was with him every day for the last seven years of his life. You were not. Please do not presume you fully understood his wishes.

As I reread it, I can say, yes, I sound angry. I am angry, and very, very sad.

ADF has been a huge help to me in processing my own grief. Kirk Thomas, ADF’s current ArchDruid was at our home doing healing rituals for Isaac as late as June of last year. We (Kirk, Isaac and I) had many discussions about Isaac’s legacy and his estate. It pains me greatly to see ADF and Kirk maligned. I imagine it would pain Isaac, too. ADF was so very dear to him, as was he to them.

Ms. Lipp included ADF’s reply to her, which ADF had shared with me yesterday:

On August 12, 2010, P. E. Isaac Bonewits, the founder of ADF, passed to the next world. Many of our members were unable to attend the memorial service, and many struggled with their own feelings of loss and grief following Isaac’s death.

We were able to release selected videos of the memorial on our web site to aid in this struggle with grief and loss, but many of our members do not have access to broadband internet, and they asked for complete videos, knowing that even though they could not be there, they would be able to release some of the pain and remember again the love they had for our founder.

So we are selling a limited release of the DVD’s created. ADF spent well over $3,000 on memorializing Isaac. We have purchased a limited run of DVD’s for re-sale at $10 each. We are not seeking to recoup the full cost of the memorial: we consider the funds spent on the memorial an offering of love and honor to the spirit of our Founder. In charging for the DVD, we only seek to recoup a fraction of the costs associated with their creation.

Ten dollars? You can spend ten dollars at Starbucks without half trying. Ten dollars for a DVD to which you can go back again and again is nothing. Ten dollars so the non-profit organization that had it manufactured can make back a mere fraction of the cost of producing it is more reasonable than spending it on that muffin and latte you’ll forget about tomorrow.

Bottom line, I do not want anyone to think that the opinions of Ms. Lipp, Isaac’s ex wife, represent my feelings, or the sentiments of any other member of Isaac’s family other than those of her son, Arthur Lipp-Bonewits. They are entitled to feel what they feel, but their feelings are not representative of the rest of us.

I can’t presume to speak for Isaac, not really. But he did put his legacy in my hands because he loved and trusted me, as I loved and trusted him. Thus, I want to state unequivocally that I do not find the videotaping of the memorial, nor the distribution of the DVDs at nominal cost to be in any way disrespectful or exploitative of his memory. I completely support ADF in this situation, as do his siblings and his own mother.

Now excuse me while I go off with a Guinness and a box of tissue (about ten dollars worth) and have a good long cry while I try to get “Hymn to Bridget” to download off of YouTube. It breaks my freaking heart that I’ll never hear Isaac himself sing it again.

We all deal with grief in our own way.

Posted in Druidic/Celtic, Personal Happenings | Tagged , , | 6 Comments

Be (Neo)Pagan Once Again

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Another day, another tempest in our corner of the blogosphere.

Any of you old timers remember the debates in the letters columns of Pagan magazines? One letter would spark a reply in the next issue, and the next. Our best and brightest writers would carefully craft replies and the editors would weigh in as the issues of our emerging community were hashed out. The Legendary Green Egg Forum was arguably more anticipated than the rest of the magazine.

These were rarely monthly, more likely quarterly or eightly (I just made that up) magazines, so a good controversy could go for the better part of a year, or sometimes even more. Now, that timeline has sped up just a bit.

Put up blog post. Tweet that you put up blog post. Followers read post, tweet their reactions. Comments get posted. Reply-to blog posts get posted and tweeted. Comments get posted to those blogs. Facebook updates get commented, and more blogs ping back. And on the end of the First Day, the Internet rests, until the next dawning when Jason over at the Wild Hunt includes it in a link round-up and it starts all over again. By day three-four, everyone is kinda exhausted. If you were away for the weekend, you might never know it happened.

I haven’t been away, but I have had a Legendary Head Cold, the kind that keeps you out of your brain and present in your body as only the constant friction of Kleenex on schnozz skin can do. So although I tweeted some at the beginning of this one, I’ve kept to the sidelines as it grew. Which is good, because it’s let me do some of the crafting that our elders (OK, maybe your elders but mostly my contemporaries) used to do before shooting off letters to GE.

Our topic today is the word Pagan, or, more accurately, the category Pagan. As in, who’s Pagan and who’s not? Drew Jacobs over at Rogue Priest started it up with an explanation of why he is a polytheist but not a pagan, followed by a slew of blogs going pro and con.

Drew’s point, and that of a few others, is that the designation Pagan has been, willy-nilly, co-opted by Wiccan-style practitioners, that presenting ritual or teachings that do not include casting circles or calling quarters is not received well in nominally “Pagan” venues, and that restricting activities (and recruitment) to “Pagan” environments has proven, for them, to be limiting and unproductive.

This is an argument I personally first heard from the Egyptian revivalists, Kemetic Orthodoxy, nearly twenty years ago, and one that those who call themselves Heathen and Asatru have also been expressing for if not that long, nearly that long. Plenty others have spoken to the same frustrations, including those following Hellenic, Caanan, Rom, Celtic Reconstructionist and Druid paths. Heck, the main ritual at the Florida Pagan Gathering I attended earlier this month included a little skit written by the presenting Druid grove where they were embraced despite the fact that their ritual was not going to look like a typical post-Gardnerian Neopagan rite. And at least one influential blogger spoke to the fact that such pre-judgments were as much based in the startling success of Wicca and its clones as to any deliberate plot to crowd other players out of the tent.

In addition, possibly more sad and troubling, was the assertion that the Pagan-named community was just too flaky to associate with.

Neopagan has also been discarded by many of these players. For some, the word is still too linked to “Pagan.” And I’ve heard many folk tell me, including many for whom have the greatest respect, that their is nothing “neo-” about what they are doing.

I doubt if anything I can say here will get any of these people to change their minds. But I think it’s important to state why I will continue to use Pagan, and especially Neopagan.

There have been lots of dictionary definitions tossed around in the debate. It doesn’t feel useful to add to that. But as a rough working definition of the “Pagan,” as it exists in my head and my working vocabulary, I’d probably go with something like thist:

    - not Christian, Jewish, or Islamic;
    - having historical roots in its cultures preceding the arrival of the above- mentioned monothestic religions
    - if not polytheistic, at least henotheistic
    - meets at least two of the three points above

This is not rigid. As I typed, I realized I had to throw in the last point to account for religions like Church of All Worlds, because CAW doesn’t have roots older than Stranger in a Strange Land. And some practitioners of Ifa will tell you they are really monotheistic; all those Orisa are really more like the Catholic saints than they are gods. Oh, but the Jehovah’s Witnesses say it’s all those saints that make Catholics pagans…and my head hurts.

Let me try again.

    - not Christian, Jewish, or Islamic;
    - may have historical roots in its culture preceding the arrival of the above- mentioned monothestic religions
    - appears to be if not polytheistic, at least henotheistic
    - looks like a duck, walks like a duck, sounds like a duck
    - meets at least two of the three points above

(Which reminds me that I have in a crate in my living room an injured duck who was almost pecked to death by a Jersey Giant hen who apparently thought he was looking a little too ducky to be hanging out with the chickens. All barnyard fowl do not flock together, as do not, apparently, Pagans.)

As for Neopagan, I gotta go with my late husband Isaac’s definitions. After all, he was instrumental in popularizing it, so if you are dictionary-definition fixated, here are some definitions by a pioneering neoligist himself:

Pagan, Paganism:
Originally from the Latin “paganus,” meaning “villager,” “country dweller,” or “hick.” The Roman army used it to refer to civilians. Early Roman Christians used “pagan” to refer to everyone who preferred to worship pre-Christian divinities and who were unwilling to enroll in “the Army of the Lord.” Eventually, “pagan” became simply an insult, with the connotation of “a false religion and its followers.” By the beginning of the twentieth century, the word’s primary meanings became a blend of “atheist,” “agnostic,” “hedonist,” “religionless,” etc., (when referring to an educated, white, male, heterosexual, non-Celtic European) and “ignorant savage and/or pervert” (when referring to everyone else on the planet). “Paganism” is now a general term for polytheistic, nature-centered religions, old and new, with “Pagan” used as the adjective as well as the membership term. It should always be capitalized just as other religious noun/adjective combinations are, such as “Buddhist,” “Hindu,” “Christian,” etc.

Paleopaganism or Paleo-Paganism:
A general term for the original polytheistic, nature-centered faiths of tribal Europe, Africa, Asia, the Americas, Oceania and Australia, when they were (or in some rare cases, still are) practiced as intact belief systems. Of the so-called “Great Religions of the World,” Hinduism (prior to the influx of Islam into India), Taoism and Shinto, for example, fall under this category, though many members of these faiths might be reluctant to use the term. Some Paleopagan belief systems may be racist, sexist, homophobic, etc. There are billions of Paleopagans living and worshiping their deities today.

Mesopaganism or Meso-Paganism:
A general term for a variety of movements both organized and nonorganized, started as attempts to recreate, revive or continue what their founders thought were the best aspects of the Paleopagan ways of their ancestors (or predecessors), but which were heavily influenced (accidentally, deliberately and/or involuntarily) by concepts and practices from the monotheistic, dualistic, or nontheistic worldviews of Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, or early Buddhism. Examples of Mesopagan belief systems would include Freemasonry, Rosicrucianism, Theosophy, Spiritualism, etc., as well as those forms of Druidism influenced by those movements, the many Afro-Diasporatic faiths (such as Voudoun, Santeria, Candomble, etc.), Sikhism, several sects of Hinduism that have been influenced by Islam and Christianity, Mahayana Buddhism, Aleister Crowley’s religion/philosophy of Thelema, Odinism (most Norse Paganism), most “Family Traditions” of Witchcraft (those that aren’t completely fake), and most orthodox (aka “British Traditionalist”) denominations of Wicca. Some Mesopagan belief systems may be racist, sexist, homophobic, etc. There are at least a billion Mesopagans living and worshiping their deities today.

Neopaganism or Neo-Paganism:
A general term for a variety of movements both organized and (usually) nonorganized, started since 1960 c.e. or so (though they had literary roots going back to the mid-1800’s), as attempts to recreate, revive or continue what their founders thought were the best aspects of the Paleopagan ways of their ancestors (or predecessors), blended with modern humanistic, pluralist and inclusionary ideals, while consciously striving to eliminate as much as possible of the traditional Western monotheism, dualism, and puritanism. The core Neopagan beliefs include a multiplicity of deities of all genders, a perception of those deities as both immanent and transcendent, a commitment to environmental awareness, and a willingness to perform magical as well as spiritual rituals to help both ourselves and others. Examples of Neopaganism would include the Church of All Worlds, most heterodox Wiccan traditions, Druidism as practiced by Ár nDraíocht Féin and the Henge of Keltria, some Norse Paganism, and some modern forms of Buddhism whose members refer to themselves as “Buddheo-Pagans.” Neopagan belief systems are not racist, sexist, homophobic, etc. There are hundreds of thousands of Neopagans living and worshiping their deities today. As “Neo-Paganism,” this term was popularized in the 1960’s and 1970’s by Oberon Zell, a founder of the Church of All Worlds.

These three prefixed terms do not delineate clear-cut categories. Historically, there is often a period, whether of decades or centuries, when Paleopaganism is blending into Mesopaganism, or Mesopaganism into Neopaganism. Furthermore, the founders and members of Mesopagan and Neopagan groups frequently prefer to believe (or at least declare) that they are genuinely Paleopagan in beliefs and practices. This “myth of continuity” is in keeping with the habits of most creators and members of new religions throughout human existence, and should not be taken too seriously.

Now, if you really can’t see yourself in any of those definitions, just don’t go there. I’m not going to worry about it too much. I may, if I hear quacking, call out “duck!” but you don’t need to if you don’t want to.

But somehow I keep being reminded of that poor, bloody-headed duck out in the living room. The chickens and ducks are expert at finding the fine differences between one another, but from the fox’s perspective, they’re all barnyard birds and they’re all lunch. Maybe we ought to give that metaphor some thought.

(If you don’t get the joke in the post title, see this.)

Posted in Pagan Stuff, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 8 Comments