Last night, some members of Silver Spiral gathered to rehearse the ritual we’re presenting at Vancouver Pagan Pride Day (VPPD) on September 10th. Jamie Robyn and I had worked to create a very inclusive, accessible ritual that empowered the participants to participate. Our pre-ritual speeches include explicit permission to leave if needed, information on how to opt out of activities, alternatives and assistance for people with issues with mobility, sight, or hearing. This makes for a bit of a long period of talking at our participants before the ritual even starts, but in my experience, making sure people don’t feel trapped or pressured results in freer, deeper participation, so this is time well spent. We’ve also made sure the rest of the ritual is monologue-free (no half-assed rituals for us), so hopefully everyone will understand the necessity and forgive us for the “lecture”.
In my opinion, Pagan Pride Day is the perfect place to build consent culture in our community. It’s when all our different traditions gather and when the public gets to see what we’re all about. If we want to show each other and the public our best selves, the event must address accessibility, social justice, and consent. It can’t just be a nod in the opening remarks either; we need to talk about it over and over again, and walk our talk in the most visible ways possible.
I am just the volunteer coordinator for Vancouver Pagan Pride Day 2016; I can’t take credit for how the overall event is embracing consent culture. That’s being led by ED Johnston, the event coordinator, and she has had some amazing insights into what it takes to make an event safe and inclusive. For example, the yellow wristband policy is one of the thoughtful ways we can live consent culture at VPPD. Anyone can easily opt out of having their picture taken, which makes the event safer for those who can’t be publicly Pagan, for those who aren’t Pagan and don’t want to be labelled as such in a picture, and, hell, for those who just hate having their picture taken.
Creating inclusive, welcoming spaces is hard. It is hard to create an event that respects the needs of a wide variety of people. I know; it feels like every week there’s a new consideration. And there is pushback from people who will accuse you of “political correctness”, or of coddling people, or of watering Paganism down. Reading the comments on the excellent Bad Magic reminds me how many people think you have to shock people or force them to confront their challenges. I don’t think that’s true. I think it is lazy to depend on shock to create a religious experience. It is bad ritual art, and potentially harmful, and unnecessary. People will surprise you; if you give them safe ways to do so – if you give them a real, informed choice about how deep to go – they will push their own boundaries. Or not, and I don’t see how that’s anyone’s business.
Pagan Pride Day isn’t the place for hard work anyway. If you want to explore your inner darkness and challenge yourself spiritually, that’s best done in a trusted group that has done a lot of foundational work together. To me, Pagan Pride is both the opportunity to show off our unique collective identity and our diversity, both to each other and the public, and the opportunity to create that identity. When we gather together our tribes and traditions in a literal Big Tent of Paganism, we have a chance to set a tone and to set an example and expectations for our community. Vancouver Pagan Pride Day is leading our community towards more inclusion, more accessibility, more safety, and making consent culture a part of our religious culture. I’m honoured to be a part of it.