Thursday, March 19, 2009

Hippie Pagan Speaks Out

There's a great article this week at about the International Convocation of U*U Women. I don't know the author. She's obviously a generation or so younger than I. She "got it" that those of us who planned the program (crones and queens) wanted younger women to feel connected and welcomed, but I must say I feel misunderstood and rejected by her labeling of the opening ceremony as "hippie pagan."

I'm so very glad she understood the importance of the first keynote--on third wave feminism. She got it that we need to connect the present with the past and see ourselves as part of a developing lineage of women (and men) who understand that women are key to the future of this planet. But she didn't get the opening ceremony. Neither did some others.

The Right Relationship facilitator even included in her report that some women had commented that the opening was "too pagan" and that it wasn't their spiritual tradition. I wondered at the time if she would have made that report if women had complained it was "too Christian" or "too Buddhist." My defensive self wanted to shout out: "Hey women, didn't you come to an international conference knowing you might experience some religious practice that was different from yours? Where's the love and respect you pledged to this community at the end of that opening ceremony?"

I realize, though, that maybe what we were trying to do simply didn't come across as well as we might have hoped. As the coordinator of the opening ceremony I'd like to tell you about our intentions and see if you can maybe help me figure out how we might have communicated the spirit of the opening better. I know part of the problem was that we had no time for rehearsal--and I now have new respect for those who orchestrate opening ceremonies at other conferences, like the UUA General Assembly.

I will be posting on another blog--"Rainbow Ceremonies"--a full description and text as soon as I get it up and running. But I can give you some of the basics here.

The hippie pagan label stung precisely because one of our stated goals was to not be too pagan. The worship theme for the whole conovcation was the elements--earth, air, fire, and water. We sang that chant from the UU hymnbook, as was suggested by others planning worship. Was it the drums that made it too hippie pagan? Or was it the chant?

We started with a procession, four lines of women of different ages and cultures--youth and young adults, adult women (35-50, queens (50-65), crones (65 and older). These are approximate ages, of course. We were lining up in the dark and guessing at ages. I was frantically trying to get the lights turned on, so the augdience would see the diversity as we danced in from four different directions up onto the stage.

Once on the stage, we wove the four ages of women together and danced as the chant continued to build. It was a joyous moment for those of us on stage, as we passed by each other and smiled across generations and cultures. I have no idea what it looked like to the audience. Hippie pagan, I guess.

Then one of the youngest women lit the chalice and said the words of the chalice lighting in her language. Women from 5 or 6 other countries then said the words in their languages. Each time the audience applauded. I wasn't sure if they were welcoming the women or rewarding them for speaking their languages. Ironically, I got no applause when I said the words in English. Too hippie pagan, I suppose.

The emcee then dedicated the ceremony to the women from Africa who were unable to attend due to US goverment refusal to grant visas. She read words from the UU hymnbook that included the line: "Gaia, mother of everything." We chose these words because our assigned elemental theme was earth. Clearly hippie pagan.

One of our most beloved songwriters then led a song from the UU hymnbook that she had written. As we sang a group of women did a lovely liturical dance. The women on stage were a mother and daughter. The song has "a rose" in it and mentions one of the seasons. More hippie pagan elements.

We asked the administrator/coordinator of the Convocation to welcome women to Houston, to name the unique location of our gathering and invite us to be open to the energeis of the place. Then we "called the directions," a traditional practice of earth-based religions. Many years ago, at a Women & Religion workshop at GA, four women invoked the directions by naming women who came from those direction. That seemed like a universal way to bring us all togehter, so that what we did. The words acknowleged the indigenous people of the land on which we met and named the different countries women came from. What part of this was hippie pagan?

Probably the most specifically pagan thing came next. The emcee said these words: "We are between the worlds. What we do between the worlds affects all worlds." I think I'll explain what those words mean in my next blog. This is long enough for now. Besides, it's time for "Ugly Betty," one of my favorite hippie pagan shows.


  1. "Was it the drums that made it too hippie pagan? Or was it the chant?"

    Maybe it was the hippies. . . ;-)

    Sorry CGIM I just couldn't let that one pass.

    Here's a consolation prize from someone who is quite hippie-pagan friendly.


  2. Hey California Girl,

    It sounds like you worked hard on that opening ceremony and it was deeply meaningful for you. I know that the entire event was also deeply meaningful to Ms. Crawford and I'd be sure that the comment was not intended to insult your hard work or your earnest commitment to our UU Women and their spirit filled time together. After all, she does admit to waist-length hennaed hair and a goddess necklace!

    I hope Ugly Betty was fun and that we can all come together, we third gen, we first gen and all our sons and daughters, nieces and nephews, grands great grands and beyond. Our movement is far too precious to let things get in our way.

  3. Dear CGIM, in rereading the article by my friend Joanna, I noticed that though her first impression is "hippie pagan", she has changed her tune by the end of the convocation. Her discomfort faded and her sense of connection grew. I hope you'll give her another chance.

  4. Trust me, it was the liturgical dance.

    --Interloping male ex-hippie

  5. I'm certainly willing to give anyone another chance. I really want to know, though, what it was that gave the hippie pagan impression. I suppose I also want to know what hippie pagan means to a younger person. I'm not even sure what it means to me.

  6. Well you *could* embrace the term "Hippie Pagan" and take it as a compliment HPCGIM. ;-) It's not *that* derogatory even, if it was meant to be derogatory, and it is by no means *necessarily* derogatory. I mean what is wrong with being a hippie and/or pagan? It's not like someone in a position of power and authority in the U*U World falsely and maliciously described your ceremony as a "cult" or something. . . but I none-the-less feel your pain here. More than you might think.

  7. Hi Dorothy...
    Well, this hippie/pagan/buddhist/christian queen thinks maybe that someone was trying to be a little too earnest, you know, the artificial gravitas. We've all been there. She young, and we can hold out hope that she'll recover and be a little more generous to her sisters, without whom she might not be able to evoke the term hippie-pagan :)

    I wish I had been there.

  8. Hi California Girl!

    Let me start by giving you my snapshot: Almost 40, rather hippie-looking woman, former member of a goddess group – candles, drums, spiral dance and all.

    I used the term “hippie pagan” in the essay to illustrate the trajectory of my experience at ICUUW – came in with a big ole chip on my shoulder, hissed something snide to my friend, listened up, lost the chip, remembered that I do have a place at the feminist table. You shouldn’t change things because of the chip on MY shoulder and I don’t believe I implied you should.

    (In the interests of full disclosure, or full non-disclosure, it was not I who complained to the Right Relationship team, and frankly, I think it was fairly silly to do so. C’mon people, RR is not about protecting you from leaving your comfort zone.)

    There’s lots of good stuff here that we could chew over – styles of worship, feminism and the age-divide, etc. (And there’s a good essay about the latter at

    I thought the ICUUW was great. But you know, I am a hippie pagan. A neo-hippie pagan? A neo-hippie, Starhawk-influenced-pagan-affected Unitarian Universalist.

    Putting aside any defensiveness I might feel, and any you might feel, I love your idea of getting down to some analysis.

    What makes me think “hippie” – yep, Patrick, the liturgical dance. But more specifically, the lack of self-consciousness. Didn’t say it was a bad thing! But that’s something I equate with “hippie” – a lack of inhibition. In a different vein, Margot Adler touched on this divide when she spoke about the younger members of her coffee group who are “too uptight” to talk about sex. Um, maybe they’re not, maybe they just prefer to keep certain things more private. My sister (a boomer) and I (gen X) have this divide. “TMI! TMI!” I holler at some of her uninhibited discussions.

    But I digress.

    What makes me think “pagan” – well, sure, most of the things you mentioned. Calling the directions. The spiral dance (yeah, I know it wasn’t a spiral) at the end. There were tons of pagan elements. So what? Looking at the ICUUW as a whole, there were far more “intellectual lecture” elements than pagan, right?


  9. I just have to chime in here that to me, a 30 year old, raised pagan by hippies, and converting to UUism in my late teens, the term "hippie-pagan" would not be meant as something derogatory. In fact, when I think, quite fondly, of the spirituality of my parents and my husband's parents, there is an uninhibited joy to it that I wish I could authentically feel. Hippie-pagan is lovely, and we don't always have to be so serious and intellectual.

  10. This hippie pagan California Girl is still learning the technology of the blogging business. I wrote a comment a few days ago that disappeared into cyberspace, so I hope this one posts.
    I would like to claim the hippie pagan identity, but I'm still trying to understand what people mean by the term. Thanks to Johanna for sharing more of the back story on her article and to others for assuring me that hippie pagan isn't necessarily a bad thing to be.

  11. I don't know what the person who used the term meant, but reading your description of the event, what would strike me as hippie-pagan would be the Earth-Air-Water-Fire and the calling of the directions. Those are pagan rituals. UUism comes out of a pretty up-tight Christian tradition. so anything other than that could be termed hippie-pagan, or at least pagan. Don't necessarily take it as a cut.

  12. I'm 38
    Raised southern baptist in the south.
    converted to UU at age 30
    proud to claim "hippie pagan"
    it's a positive to me.
    i throw some humanism in the mix, too- but isn't that very UU? :-)

  13. Well done Joy 2 The World. Personally I don't see the term or "title" Hippie Pagan as being all *that* derogatory in and of itself, although it obviously can be a bit of a put down if the person clearly means it that way.