Future PaganCons: Won’t You Include Us Too?

I’m getting some post-PantheaCon discussions coming through my social media feeds, with much said on the topics pertaining to inclusion–the need for great heaping gobs of it–for “everyone.” Reading these posts, I always have the pitiful question, “does that mean people like me too?” Generally, it doesn’t. 

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Multiple Chemical Sensitivity/Environmental Illness. My decorated chemical cartridge respirator.

I ‘ve never gone to PantheaCon or any other neo-pagan convention because my disability is seldom accommodated. I didn’t go to this last PantheaCon either–the very last, ever, apparently–but some friends of mine just got back from it. These are people who have a long history with the event and with some of its founders. I’m talking “Old Guard Pagans” who have been active for a long time in Northern California. One of them brought back a stack of ephemera from the conference so I’m looking through the flyers and postcards, as well as the conference program, to see what I missed.

And, frankly I’m also looking to see if any one of these organizations, events, or teachers bother to put the magic words, “Come Fragrance Free,” on their ephemera. But before I get too curmudeonly and critique-ish about the program and ephemera, I need to say a few things first and ask a few questions.

Here’s the Pathos.

Please take a few moments to consider the following. Can you imagine:

Living like an “almost hermit” for a major portion of your life, simply because consumer toxins, including fragrances, are in wide use?

Becoming ill, asthmatic, or brain-fogged after ordinary outings such as trips to the grocery store, dental and medical appointments, buying new tires, meeting a friend for lunch at a restaurant, going to a concert or event, attending a class, filing out forms at government agencies such as DMV or Social Security, venturing outside when a neighbor is doing laundry, taking public transportation, using a public swimming facility, and pretty much any other activity that involves other people and poor indoor air quality?

Finding out that friends, family members, and lovers or spouses prefer their toxic products to spending time with you?

Finding that you’ve lost the love and concern of people you deeply love, because accommodating you is just too much work and they’ve grown tired of it?

Not having a job, as there are practically no fragrance free workplaces, and not being able to get disability benefits either?

Having your options for affordable housing severely limited due to toxins used in building products and home furnishings, as well as by people who could have been roommates?

Finding that most of your social contact takes place online, but then being shamed for it?

Being told that your sufferings are imagined or exaggerated, or the result of negative thinking? Being told you don’t “look” sick or disabled?

Seeing medical and mental health professionals who have little or no idea what you are talking about?

Being constantly exposed to substances that make you sick, tired, brainfogged and frustrated, just in order to have something that remotely resembles a normal life?

And finally, can you imagine all of the above and also being denied physical entry to spiritual communities, fellowship, and solace? 

I could go on.

Welcome to my life and the life of every other person I know who copes with “Toxicant Induced Loss of Tolerance,” also known as “multiple chemical sensitivity,” “chemical injury,” or “environmental illness.” We not only cope with “invisible disabilities” but are also invisible ourselves, as we “don’t get out much” and most dialogue about inclusion & disability and environmental health & justice take place without us. For most people, we do not exist. And there are no social programs to assist us with our special needs. There are no celebrities or major philanthropists championing our cause. As for allies–there are only a few.

Now For the Curmudgeonly Part

Back to my examination of the PantheaCon program and ephemera. In the program, I don’t see any of those magic words that address disability accommodation and indoor air quality, such as “please attend fragrance free to allow people with asthma and enviornmental illnesses to attend.” The program also does not have a section with disability access information. I do notice “no smoking” and “no incense, smudging or candles” policies are in place, and those are certainly helpful to preserving some semblance of breathable air. However, the lack of restriction pertaining to fragrance use in public spaces, workshops, and rituals makes the PantheaCon (and any conference) a dangerous place for someone like me.

I also skimmed through the “Event & Ritual Etiquette,” looking for some awareness of “share the air” manners, but there’s nothing. None of the hospitality suites, workshops, ads, or group events contain accommodation language either, EXCEPT for the following:

(1) Katrina Rasbold’s The Limpia: Cleansing the Mind, Body, Spirit workshop (p. 20) specifies that “no smoke, scents, or scented sprays are used in this workshop.” Reading this makes me want to adore her!

(2) Dree Amandi’s Aromatherapy Magick-Spellcraft warns that “we will be actively using essential oils, hydrosols, and carrier oils in this space.” Such warnings are also deeply appreciated, though use of such substances in a workshop may also affect my ability to attend adjoining workshops in that time frame, or workshops which take place in the same room or nearby afterwards.

Workshops that might be expected to use this inclusive accommodation language would include anything with a breath,  “eco,” or healing theme, such as: Selena Fox’s Circle for Planet Earth and her Brigid Healing RitualEcoActivism & Climate Change, which was put on by Circle Sanctuary EcoActivists; The Power of Yoga–Energy and Healing with Lisa J. Hamlin; Chants for the Earth with Starhawk and Evelie Delfino Sales Posch; Eco-Magical Activism with Starhawk; possibly The Healing Isle with Christopher Penczak, though the talk of “potions” and “plant essence” makes me nervous; Theurgic Activism Panel; Tomorrow’s Pagan Panel: and Envisioning the Future of Paganism with Solstice.

Such compassionate and inclusive language would also be nice for Elysia Gallo’s Pagan Speed Friending, as I couldn’t risk being “speed friended” by a well-meaning person off-gassing toxic petrochemicals in the form of personal care products. And for anyone talking about inclusion and diversity as part of their program–likewise. Set an example of inclusive welcoming by asking people to be considerate on behalf of those who depend heavily on the “kindness of strangers.”

Of all the many pieces of ephemera gathered by my friend, only one is inclusive of people with multiple chemical sensitivities and respiratory ailments. This is the postcard advertising the “JeWitch Camp,” an event with “Rabbi Arthur Waskow, Starhawk, and Friends.” It has the magic words: “come fragrance free.” (And again, I want to adore them!)

I think you get the idea.

I won’t say I never go to conferences, ever, but the ones I attend are professional conferences which enable me to gain CE credits to update my professional certifications and/or may help boost my diminishing private practice–my only means of work. Still, I don’t go to more than one every few years, and I build in recovery time and escape routes and limit my attempts to socialize. It sucks, frankly. Read my Fragrance-Free FAQ on my professional site to know more.

Why Are Pagans OK with Polluting the Air-One of Our Four Essential and Sacred Elements?

Ea is a word in the Hawaiian language that first means “sovereignty, rule, independence.” Its second meaning is “life, air, breath, respiration, vapor, gas; fumes as of tobacco; breeze, spirit” (Pukui, M.K. & Elbert. S.H. (1986). Hawaiian Dictionary: Hawaiian-English, English-Hawaiian. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, p. 36). To me, the connections between these two categories of meaning are highly significant.

And I want to know why–when air is our sacred elemental symbol of mental powers and intelligence–we humans are short-circuiting our brains with deliberate inhalation of toxic, petrochemical fumes, via consumer products? And why are we so stupid as to deliberately pollute our air, INDOORS and out, along with our water and soil? As pagans, shouldn’t we be extra aware and respectful?

And why isn’t consensuality considered? Why is the physical violation of other people’s bodies with airborne toxic chemicals not a matter of discussion? We ban smoking in public places. Why not scents and fragrances and essential oils, which contain some of the same cancer-producing and respiratory irritant chemicals found in tobacco smoke and vaping?

The answers to the above questions have lots to do with capitalism, entitlement, and industry pressure on legislation and policy. And they also have a lot to do with who we feel is worthy of “accommodation” and assistance. There is something in the American psyche  that despises the “snowflake”–those seen as weak are deemed unworthy. And people with significant adverse reactions to chemical toxins are among the “snowflakiest” of us all.

In 1998, Scientific American published a study that claimed that the air in the average American home is MORE polluted than the air around most outdoor Superfund Clean-Up sites. Here’s the PDF: SciAM-EverydayExposure-3 As for me, I’d love to have a study done on the air quality in the average pagan conference in an average hotel. And then I’d like something done by way of solving this problem, so that we may all breathe freely in fellowship with each other. Pagan conference organizers, I’ve thrown down the gauntlet. What say all of you? Or can you still not hear me and those who are like me? A 2018 study showed that one in four Americans suffer from environmentally caused illnesses (Ann Steinemann study–download here). So, with this increase in illness, how long can you ignore the effects on people in pagan communities? How long can you refrain from a proactive examination of this issue of indoor air pollution, and from creating policies that seek to diminish the health consequences of attending your events?

Spirits of the Air, I conjure thee–give us the awareness to do better, help us heal your sacred substance, and that of the earth, and of all living bodies–else we be doomed to choke on our hypocrisy and ignorance as all living things perish around us, through our selfishness.

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Rabbit, Rabbit

No, I don’t wake up the first of every month saying this. I’ve heard about it, of course: a superstition to bring luck in the next month. But I do pay attention to auspicious signs and portents.

This morning (December 1st), my waking up to The Troth membership opinion survey regarding the hailing of Loki at Troth events was indeed auspicious. The hailing of Loki is controversial within the organization, which apparently consists largely of U.S. membership. I have heard that similiar organizations in other countries find this controversy puzzling and unnecessary.

The survey results will not produce a binding vote, but might help influence the organizational leadership’s position on this topic. Currently, Loki is banned from Troth events (a form of religious discrimination we call Lokiphobia.)

There were three options: (1) continue the ban on hailing Loki at Troth events; (2) no ban at all, so that Loki could be hailed at any time; and (3) a compromise position that would allow one hailing of Loki in the main event, with separate bowls and drinking vessels for Loki-hailers and abstainers, presumably for spiritual “hygiene.”

An aside: the one thing I do wish the survey had included was a second question as to how many people in The Troth membership do hail Loki at all, ever. I think this could have been very interesting indeed, as it would provide numerical information as to allies and practitioners as well as abstainers.

For those who don’t know, The Troth is an organization that promotes inclusive Heathenry (as opposed to all the white supremacists running around with Norse runes tattoo’d on their biceps). The stated policy of inclusivity is why I joined, even though I don’t describe myself as “heathen” per se at this point. Here’s a key portion of their policy statement:


From The Troth website: “We are deeply proud of our indigenous Northern European religious, cultural, and historical heritages. We welcome all people, whatever their religious, cultural, or ancestral background, physical ability, gender identity, or sexual orientation, who have developed or wish to develop a relationship with our Gods and Goddesses, and would like to know more about Asatru or other forms of Heathenry. Together, our members practice the moral principles followed by our noble predecessors, including: Boldness, Truth, Honor, Troth, Self-Rule, Hospitality, Industry, Self-Reliance, Steadfastness, Equality, Strength, Wisdom, Generosity, and Family Responsibility.”


Oh, the Irony…

…that such spiritual hygiene should be given such attention when there are a few other  more essential topics the organization could address more robustly.

For example, Jeremy Baer, a  Redesman for The Troth, just blogged his opinion on the divisiveness of the Loki/not Loki controversy and pointed to what he sees as the greater challenge for inclusivity in The Troth and heathenry in general: racists and “Nazi scum.” Baer writes:


Baer writes: “Whether it is on the domestic front in North America, or courting potential allies in Europe, the Troth does itself a strategic disadvantage in actively alienating devotees of Laufeyson. Most Lokeans I have met, because of who they are and Who called them, are natural anti-fascists who would stand against the racialist scourge.”

(Note: Baer uses “Laufeyson” as Loki’s “last name” instead of the more correct “Laufeyjarson.”)

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Pride Loki” artwork (based on “Marvel Loki”) by DKettchen.

Yeah, gotta agree on that. We Lokeans also seem to be more supportive of LGBTQIA+ and disability issues and many of us exist in marginalized spaces as a result of our own lives and identities.

(I’d personally love to see a survey on that, including the kinds of activism we’re engaged in outside of heathen and neopagan topics.)

However, in the Loki Wyrdlings facebook group, several people have pointed out that Baer seems dismissive and glosses over the problems of inclusivity that we Lokeans face, and that this must be addressed before unity can be achieved. Also, it’s been pointed out that as grown-ups, we can work on more than one issue, say, addressing internal prejudice against Loki practitioners as well as cultural appropriation and misuse of Norse religions by white supremacists.

But Wait! There’s MORE!

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From a hat sold by the Environmental Health Network of CA, http://www.ehnca.org. I was a board member and president back in the 90s.

But, Lokean as I am, I want to throw another issue into the “hygienic” mix, that of disability accommodation, particularly with regard to those who have the invisible disabilties of multiple chemical sensitivity and environmental illnesses and respiratory ailments (such as asthma) that are triggered and worsened by the exposure to airborne toxins such as fragrances, scented personal care products, candles, incense, pesticides, paints, etc. Such people, at least the ones who have recovered somewhat from previous toxic exposures, generally do pretty well at maintaining their health and stamina as long as such products are excluded from gatherings and public spaces. I hear the Trothmoot this year is taking place on the West Coast. I would enjoy experiencing such a thing, just once in my life, and to be able to go home from it in relatively healthy shape.

Most people with conditions such as mine are socially isolated and many are longing to participate in faith and spiritual communities, including neopagan ones (heathen, Wiccan, etc.). When I moved here to Lake County, I even tried the local Unitarian Universalist church, as UU’s have a history of accepting neopagans. I had a few conversations with someone in the local leadership and decided to try attending a service. Within ten minutes I had to flee due to one person wearing a heavy dose of sandalwood essential oil. I cried all the way home.

I’ve never been to a Trothmoot, or indeed any public heathen or neopagan event except for that thing the Druids used to do in Berkeley in the park, and that only once. Reclaiming Witch Camps could be fun, but they are outdoors in the woods in the summer and I know the mosquito repellant would make attendance impossible. (I also dodge airborne toxins at health facilities, schools where I’ve taken classes, public transportation, restaurants, grocery stores, senior centers, and so on.)

Good indoor air quality, which is what people like me need in order to participate in  events and experience those stated Troth values such as Hospitality, Frith, and Self-reliance, benefits everyone in attendance. Go on over to my Why Fragrance Free page on my professional website and you’ll see links to a study published earlier this year that estimates that 1-4 Americans has some form of environmental illness now. ONE IN FOUR. That’s staggering.

From where I sit and stand, always on the outside, I’d much rather see the vast amounts of attention focused on the pros and cons of Loki worship (so, just get over it and let us hail Loki already!!!!) directed instead toward a thoughtful consideration of a ban on fragrance use at such events, as the toxicity of such products is well documented in scientific literature and numerous anecdotal accounts. (Yes, and as grownups, we can also address the problems presented by alt.right fascists and neo-nazi scum, as well as other challenges.)

Because I have no kindred beyond those I find on the internet, and no place of worship beyond my own altars and my Lokabrenna Tiny Temple, I am probably doomed to spend the rest of my life as a solitary practitioner of just about everything. I try to make peace with that, but even writing about this brings tears. When it’s not too painful, I like to imagine the cheer of bright halls where people like me (aging, disabled, kinky, Lokean) are welcome as full members of the community. I long to toast, boast, recite poetry, and look with love on my kindred. I long to rely on the “kindness of strangers” who soon become my friends. I long to stand up and do battle beyond writing these blogs.

Alas.

smallEcoMaskBut, yeah, I’m a gonna bring this up. I’m bringing it up now. I’m tossing my respirator on the ground as a gauntlet. Loki is all about pointing out hypocrisy and the hypocrisy in action against those with disabilities is every bit as damaging as other forms of exclusion.

As for Loki–I’ll leave you with the song stylings of Joan Jett, Bad reputation.

Loki! Loki! (For luck.)

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