Pagan Consent Culture

Pagan Consent Culture: Building Communities of Empathy & Autonomy
Edited by Christine Hoff Kraemer & Yvonne Burrow
Asphodel Press, 2016

wp34 review Pagan Consent Culture

Review by Hecate Demetersdatter.

This is a hefty book crammed with essays by and a few interviews with Pagans from a wide variety of traditions. Many of the essays would make excellent starting points for discussions or workshops about consent culture. The issue of consent has been of interest to Pagans for a few years now, especially in light of complaints about the behavior that is sometimes tolerated, ignored, or dealt with imperfectly at Pagan gatherings, festivals, and conferences and within some Pagan groups. Those who organize, run, and work at such events or groups will likely find this book a useful resource.

The essays are grouped into three parts:  Part I: Developing Pagan Philosophies of Consent; Part II Responding to Abuse and Assault; and Part III:  Building Communities of Empathy and Autonomy. Appendices at the end include a list of additional resources, a sample handout for a class on consent culture, and the Pagan Community Statement on Religious Sexual Abuse (2009).

Part I includes discussions of consent from the perspective of Druidism, Thelma, Heathenry, Feminist Paganism, Wicca, the Anderson Faery Tradition, Animism, and Polytheologism. Essays discuss consent as it relates to sexual initiation, BDSM, mythology, and being a god spouse. Part II includes chapters that recount personal experiences with abuse and assault, discuss how to respond to and prevent abuse, consider how to deal with consent, boundaries, and ethics in a sex-positive religion, and provide guidelines for being in community with those who have survived sexual abuse and/or assault. The essays and interviews in Part III range over wider territory, including discussions of how to raise children who understand their own boundaries and respect those of others, using mindful touch, dealing with sky clad practices, and Pagans with Asperger’s Syndrome.

As in any collection of different authors, some of the writing is quite good and some leaves a bit to be desired.  But the book is better-edited than is, sadly, true of much modern Pagan writing.  Raven Caldera’s discussion of what the BDSM community can teach us about consent is particularly well-written, as is Jason Thomas Pitzl’s essay on exploitation and initiation. Shauna Aura Knight contributes a clear and well-argued discussion of the difference between a Pagan community that is sex-positive and one that pressures members into relationships and acts to which they may not freely consent. A. Acland presents a fascinating discussion of whether the ballad Tam Lin is a rape story. At first glance, that may appear to have little to do with modern consent culture, but the author uses the ballad to make the larger point that much Pagan mythology comes from times and cultures that saw and valued consent quite differently from modern Pagans. I found it a valuable lesson in how to interpret and re-vision mythology that, while rich, can also be troubling. Mythology, as Acland notes of ballads, is a living, breathing, changing thing.

The issue of consent is one best dealt with before problems arise. This book is a valuable tool for Pagans who interact with other Pagans and parents raising Pagan children.

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Esoteric Empathy by Raven Digitalis

Esoteric Empathy
Raven Digitalis
Llewellyn Publications, 2016

wp34 review esoteric empathy

Review by Natalie Zaman.

Some books explore the nature of the Divine; reading them enhances our understanding of deity. Others are filled with means and methods to infuse magic into day to day living; practical manuals for building a lifestyle. Both are valuable and needed depending on where you are in life and on your path. Every now and again, however, there are books that manage to do both of these things: Offer techniques for a day to day practice with the end goal of looking deity straight in the eye.

Raven Digitalis’ Esoteric Empathy is an owner’s manual for our times. Our world(s)—magical and mundane—it seems like it’s become all too easy to judge, frustrate anger and offend. We need empathy, desperately, achingly. Empathy, Raven says is, “an emotional experience… the ability to feel what another person is feeling… taking place on numerous levels simultaneously.” If only we could really understand one another. Trying out the practices in this book just might get us there. To open yourself to your empathic abilities (everyone has them) unlocks the potential to see the face of god/dess in the faces of your fellow human beings. I caught a glimpse of this, thanks to Esoteric Empathy.

My initial thought on my first read (This is one of those books that’s destined to be dogeared, marked up and filled with personal notes—a note for the reprint, if space allows) was that this would be an excellent road guide to navigate the social/economic/spiritual/religious/political/etc. etc. etc. terrain we’re all trying to traverse every day. I expected to put some of what I read into practice (Favorite chapters were the necessary and detailed, “Grounding, Shielding and Energy Management,” and “Approaching the Mundane World.”) at my own pace and in my own time, but the universe (and perhaps Mercury Retrograde) had other plans. It was one of those days where everything went wrong. I won’t bore you with the details, but let’s just say most of it took place at the Division of Motor Vehicles and what should have been a one, maybe two hour trip max turned into a full morning and afternoon affair. About half way into it I was drained, exhausted, and at the end of my patience. We’ve all been there. But I had a secret resource to draw on—a simple series of hand meditations—mudras—that I’d committed to memory after reading Esoteric Empathy (I’d read the book on a plane, and being a nervous flier, practicing these mudras helped me get through that as well).

In the chapter, “Balancing the Self,” Raven offers a series of four mudras for balancing, Prana, Rudra, Prithvi and Anjali, with accompanying breathing techniques and a mantra at the end. Mudras must, as Raven says in “Balancing the Self,” “be practiced with the utmost precision and focus,” and they lend themselves to this because of their simplicity. Practicing the mudras (which I was able to do discreetly in public) not only got me through what could have been a really terrible and stressful experience (17 year old’s birthday where he *almost* didn’t get his driving license), it boosted my energy and helped me remember that I was dealing with folks who were just trying to do their jobs, and who were as probably as tired and as frustrated as I was. Admittedly, I didn’t say the mantra exactly as it was written in the book (each of us brings our unique energy to all we do)—but it worked, and I will certainly be using it again.

Esoteric Empathy explores the nature of empathic ability (everyone has it) through analysis, anecdotes, exercises and meditations that draw on personal experience, pop culture, multicultural practices and world religions—empathy is, at its heart, a study of understanding. I would recommend reading this from cover to cover, but you can just as easily turn to any chapter (maybe even with a bit of bibliomancy—what form of empathy is needed today?) to, “open the window to the soul.”

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