PUC Plays Hardball With The Radical Pagan Right
BY Ron McCann
March 21, 2002
Since November of 2000, The Pagan Unity Campaign has been the only political group with a focus of fighting for the civil rights of American Pagans. They have been actively promoting citizen communications with elected officials, voter education and politician education. Their yearly big event is the "I Am Project." Every summer solstice, they encourage all Pagans to send a home town post card to their elected officials that reads, "I am a Pagan ____" where the blank is for your occupation. This lets the politicians know that Pagans do live just down the street from them and work at the businesses they deal with.
Since the last major election, PUC has made tremendous progress toward their mission of promoting the Pagan Bill of Rights; the top ten civil rights abuses suffered by American Pagans. They don't seek to have this document legislated as the laws already exist for all Americans, but seldom extend to Pagans living under a Christian dominated government.
They have beat down political barriers, overcome huge obstacles and established positive dialogues with politicians at the local, state and federal levels. But this week, one group has raised its head to tear down and destroy the work PUC has done and plans to do in the future. This group is the radical Pagan right.
Previous to learning of this story, I had never thought about Paganism HAVING a radical right wing, but it does.
Because PUC is always talking to politicians who are typically Christian, they get asked questions like "aren't you devil worshippers," "don't you kill babies," and "aren't Pagans atheist?" To counter this type of uneducated questioning, PUC developed a series of very clever, broad and simple canned responses that wouldn't scare, insult or seem evasive to politicians.
A typical example is "No Senator, grossly, Paganism is a highly diverse collection of positive, life-affirming and earth-centric religions." If the politician asked for a more complete explanation, PUC would forward them to Witches' Voice and other popular Pagan websites or refer them to the Politicians Guide to Paganism, a small brochure that listed qualities associated with each part of the sound bite. Abhorrence to murder, rape and child abuse are just three of the "typical" qualities listed under "positive." Life-affirming lists ideals common to Paganism like "appreciation of freedom, human dignity, flora and fauna." The last part, "earth-centric" lists optional qualities like having harvest, lunar, or underworld deities, the use of celestial events for timing rituals or festivals and the use of story and use of myth for rituals, festivals and theologic foundation.
Late in 2000, PUC held an extensive and public debate on the language. They did not want to refer to any other religion because Paganism had to stand on its own in the eye of the politicians. They threw out "Pre-Christian" because many Pagan paths developed after the origins of Christianity, specifically Alexandrian Wicca. Lastly, terms like earth-honoring, worshipping or respecting was felt to be to focused on Earth as a deity. Earth-centric was the widest net that felt they could cast and not anger or bewilder the target audience; the local, state and federally elected officials.
The other issue PUC needed to overcome was the issue of brevity. Because of the extreme short amount of time elected officials make available to anyone, PUC couldn't spend the three or four minutes they would have allotted, to go into a lengthy and scholarly explanation of the wide varieties and flavors of Pagandom. PUC founder, Storm Bear Williams comments, "It is not perfect, but I do not think any one can come up with a single word that describes Paganism."
I performed a random and, I am sure, unscientific poll of Pagans on different paths and those polled identified their religion with words like "beautiful," "fulfilling" or even "poetic." Furthermore, all agreed that "positive, life-affirming and earth-centric" was a wonderful way to explain it to anyone who does not practice the religion.
But PUC does have its detractors. Recently, less than 40 people have posted negative comments on PUC and began an anti-PUC campaign of their own, complete with banner ads. Some of the specific complaints of the radical Pagan right include removing the American Flag stars from the PUC logo and replacing it with swastikas, removing "abhorrence to murder" from the Politicians Guide to Paganism and adding a plank to the PUC platform that advocates human sacrifice. The radical Pagan right also demands representation for Satan worshippers, racist organizations like the Aryan's National Alliance and schedule events that have no connection to equinoxes or solstices.
One of the hottest demands from the radical Pagan right has been to change all language in current PUC newsletters, press releases and the web site to allow inclusion of "brutal" religions. The definition of "brutal, " AS USED BY the radical Pagan right is "extremely ruthless and cruel." Some in the Delphi forum have bragged that their faith is one of brutality. And if PUC cannot comply with these demands, then PUC must change its name. Suggestions have ranged from "Fluffy Bunny Unity Campaign" to "TooFuckingStupidToBreathe.org."
They feel that unless the Pagan Unity Campaign can represent every single person who claims to be a Pagan, including cults who commit murder, they have no right to use the name Pagan. Does this mean that all "Pro-Choice" groups represent every single person that supports the mother's right to choose? What about the word "environmental?" Using this philosophy, all environmentalists should agree with a philosophy of "by any means necessary" like bombs, arson and murder because that is the usual business of the Environmental Liberation Front.
But the real issue that the radical Pagan right fails to understand is the US Bill of Rights. In that document, everyone has the freedom of speech and the freedom of assembly. PUC has every right to form and speak on any topic they wish. The anti-PUC protestors also have the same rights but they seem not to be able to admit that PUC operates under the same rules as they do.
So what triggered the anti-PUC campaign? The issue of "positive, life-affirming, earth-centric" was dealt with in December of 2000, so why now? The answer in one word is betrayal.
As a courtesy, PUC removed the "positive, life-affirming, earth-centric" quote from the web site this past summer in an apparent effort to gain the support of the radical Pagan right. That brought with it a woman named Li Nightsong Ferelwing to the position of Texas State Chair. In hindsight, Ferelwing's position was probably to promote the radical Pagan agenda within PUC. When the topic came back up about what to tell an elected official if they ask what a Pagan is, Mr. Williams interjected that the previous language of "positive, life-affirming, earth-centric" could be used since opponents to it have thus far failed to come up with better political language. Ferelwing and the radical Pagan right had thought they had won that battle and killed the "non-brutal" language obstacle. At that point, Ferelwing violated PUC Staff policy and began leaking private staff email, on the topic, to the public. The posts, out of context and heavily snipped, started the firestorm.
Ferelwing has openly admitted to this betrayal in the Delphi forums and has become the darling of the radical Pagan right in the same way Linda Tripp briefly became the shining star of the GOP. Ferelwing has recently announced that she would be releasing to the public, all private emails she has received from the staff of the Pagan Unity Campaign. These could number in the thousands.
But what can be seen as a mild flame war is not the central issue or important part of this story. The issue is representation. Ferelwing was entrusted with the State Chair of Texas, a powerful political position, representing maybe hundreds of thousands of Pagans in the state and the state's 32 federal electoral votes. Needless to say that the chair is now vacant and Ferelwing says she left on her own accord. To date, she has never apologized to the Pagans she abandoned for her newfound fame and acceptance with the radical Pagan right. With the other recent turmoil in Texas, especially with the Texas Council of Magickal Arts, one must ask how much further Texas Pagans can be set back in terms of political and civil equality? When will PUC be able to trust other State Chairs to perform their jobs?
The current PUC President, Ginger Strivelli, is seeking to repair the damage Ferelwing has done and prepare the group for "I Am2" which occurs this coming summer solstice.
The final solution will be at the feet of the Pagan community. However, "positive, life-affirming, and earth-centric" will never go away. The radical Pagan right has made so much noise about it, it has caused many to pause and think, "Is my religion positive? Is my faith life-affirming? Is my path earth-centric?" There are other groups that have already adopted the use of this language to explain Paganism to high school and college faculty, to overcome obstacles to gain access to previously closed local interfaith circles, to come out of the closet, to explain to and calm confused and terrified parents, to bring about a better understanding to the world community that has retracted in fear for the last 1000 plus years at the word "Pagan."
Even if PUC is forced to close up shop tomorrow, it will have already given the world Pagan community a great gift; the gift of self-definition. "Positive, life-affirming, and earth-centric" was not written by Christians or any other group. It was written by Pagans for the benefit of Pagans. And I am glad that PUC has fought tooth and nail for this language and I hope it will continue.
I am unsure if Paganism defined as "Satanic, racist and homicidal" is of benefit to anyone.
Politicians Guide to Paganism
Politicians Guide to Paganism
Pagan Unity Campaign
Pagan Unity Campaign
Anti-PUC Protest Site
Anti-PUC Protest Site