What Kenny Klein can teach Pagans . . . about Wikipedia

My work to encourage more Pagans to edit Wikipedia has stalled, probably because I tried to organize it into a series of tedious tutorials.  But when the Kenny Klein story broke, I added his Wikipedia entry to my watchlist, and realized that this one obscure article contains a wealth of lessons.  Here are a few:

  • Don’t write an article about yourself.  This is really frowned upon in the Wikipedia community, although an outsider usually doesn’t know any better.  Back in 2006, when the first draft was posted by user Kennyfiddler, it was actually pretty common, and no one even noticed he’d done it until 2013, at which point the article’s “talk page” was tagged with a note explaining the conflict of interest.
  • Nothing is forgotten.  As one might notice from some of the links I’ve provided already, a strength of Wikipedia is that every edit to every page ever is retained.  There are some rare exceptions, but that’s the rule.  It makes fighting vandalism easier because it’s possible to revert to an earlier version with a couple of clicks.  It’s also an astounding audit trail for any article or editor.
  • Don’t embellish the facts.  Promotional language is a surefire way to annoy Wikipedians.  We don’t need text list this (emphasis mine):

“Through his interest in British music, Klein discovered the Wiccan and Neopagan communities. He learned a great deal about traditional Scottish Witchcraft from New York merchant Eileen Campbell Gordon, and then joined the Blue Star coven and tradition of Wicca, becoming a High Priest within that tradition in 1983. He helped steer the Tradition towards a more traditional British form, discarding Alexandrian and ceremonial rituals and replacing them with British folkloric Craft practices, including the 8 Paths of Power, the 7 Tenets of Faith, and the Drawing Down of the Moon and Sun. Between 1983 and 1992 he and his wife, High Priestess Tzipora Klein (née Katz) were largely responsible for transforming Blue Star from a local coven to a Wiccan tradition of its own.[4] Touring the country during that period performing music, Kenny and Tzipora continued to teach Blue Star Wicca, initiating many people and founding many covens, at the same time recording and distributing lessons on cassette tapes.[5] Klein has continued to teach Traditional Wicca since then.”

The hard and fast rule for Wikipedia:  if it’s not in the sources, it shouldn’t be in the article.

  • Deletion can be a consequence.  In 2012 the article was nominated for deletion, a complex process in which editors debate Wikipedia policy until they reach consensus.  The nominator said, ” He wrote part of the article himself, describing himself twice in the third person as ‘a noted fiddler.'”  Many of the article’s references are to primary sources (things Klein wrote himself, mostly), which do not establish the ever-important notability.  Although it was ultimately kept, articles of lesser interest, such as many in the Pagan sphere, are vulnerable to deletion because the average editor won’t know where to find reliable sources.
  • Innocent until proven guilty.  Wikipedia has been burned more than once because articles about people weren’t entirely accurate.  There’s a rather rigorous policy on biographies of living persons which demands rigorous checking of sources.  In this case, it means that it is not appropriate to include details about Klein’s arrest until his case is decided in court, despite the fact that he apparently confessed.
  • Wikipedia is an alphabet soup.  The site has a vast array of policies, guidelines, and conventions, all of which are referred to (and, more helpfully, usually linked to) with some kind of alphabetic mishmash.  The policy on living people is called BLP, for example.  If an editor refers to something in all caps such as NOTNEWS or TOOSOON, e is not shouting; e is referring to an essay, guideline, or policy.  If it’s not linked, you can find it quickly in the search bar.  Type WP: before the term to ensure you get results from outside the article space; the various opinions and policies all live in a different place, and the WP: will get you there.

Wikipedia needs more Pagan editors to learn its policies and participate in editing articles.  It’s not the most user-friendly site, but it’s possible to learn.  Ask me any questions you like and I’ll do my best to answer them.

On Kenny Klein

Word is circulating quickly that musician and writer Kenny Klein has gotten himself into some trouble.  How Pagans react will be telling in understanding how we view community.

There is no question that participating in the types of activities that Klein has allegedly admitted to are illegal with good reason.  Protecting our most vulnerable, those who are unable to protect themselves, is perhaps the most important value any community can uphold.

I do not know Klein personally, I am not a member of the Blue Star or any Wiccan tradition, and I know little about his specific faith community.  But I do know that it — as well as the broader Pagan sphere — is a religious community.  Where the secular world writes laws to define what actions should result in consequences, it is the realm of religion to explore motivation, intent, and how those actions impact the relationship with whatever divine or natural forces that religion holds sacred.

Should someone be cast out and shunned for possessing child pornography?  Some traditions would say yes without hesitation, others would counsel for healing, and many more might not have an answer to the question.  How does the answer change if the crime is sexual conduct with a child?  Non-sexual physical abuse?  Mental torment?  Murder?

There are no cut-and-dried answers to these and many other questions, at least not ones that can be universally applied to all Pagan religions.  But one thing that I believe should apply to is this:

How outsiders perceive Paganism should not be a factor.

The Roman Catholic Church made some really bad decisions that look like they were driven by public-relations concerns, when their only concern should have been how to protect children.  Public relations should never be a factor in religious decisions, unless that’s actually part of the doctrine or practice of the faith.  There will be a growing blog tizzy about the Klein story, as we process our emotions and release them.  That’s understandable and needed.  But we don’t need to make decisions in our religions that are based on public perception.  Yes, a real Pagan did that, which makes it all the more important that Pagans don’t change how the address it just because there will be media scrutiny.  I, for one, hope that there can be healing for all those involved in these incidents, including Klein himself.

What blocks to devotion have you had to overcome?

This all comes down to lack.

  • I sometimes lack a desire to perform devotions.
  • I have lacked faith in the gods I claimed to worship.
  • Likewise, in a secular world, I sometimes feel like the belief that this is all worthwhile is mostly beaten out of me.

I get depressed.  (Let’s be clear what this means.  Depression is a mood and an illness, and the two are often conflated.  Some years ago when I was suffering mightily from the illness of that name, I attended a “Norseworking” healing ritual; when I told the leader of my ailment, she suggested I “grab some energy when the ‘warm fuzzies’ come around.”  Warm fuzzies may tickle a mood, but the suggestion was one of the best-intentioned utter dismissals I have even been subject to.)  Depression interferes with just about every mental process, including relations with the gods.  There’s a reason my Catholic mother finds the poem Footprints in the Sand to be inspiring:  depression cuts you off from men and gods alike.  There’s no greater obstacle than that.

Luckily for me, routine is the core of an orthopraxic religion.  I can perform devotions whether or not I happen to believe on any given day, and I’ve performed daily devotions long enough that they’ve become a habit for me.  In other words, I’m more likely to do them in my sleep than not do them at all.  That’s good, because depression amplifies the feelings of hopelessness and being a tool that our secular world create without effort.

In the before-times, when I simply described myself as Pagan but couldn’t articulate what exactly that meant for me other than an enduring love of the Earth and an attraction to forest gods, the obstacles were greater.  I never quite got myself into a ritual routine as I have now, so it didn’t take so much to undermine me.  I didn’t feel any divine forces unless I was in nature, or in a group ritual, if at all, and I needed that to inspire me to act.

I was all but saying, “Show me that you’re real from time to time, and I’ll honor you.”

But I really can’t say enough about orthopraxy and the power of forming habits.  The idea is present in many, if not all, Pagan religions, but Hellenic practice spoke to me in the most sure voice.  I’m sure that any Pagan can become more rooted in eir faith with some solid routine, whether they come from a reconstructionist, traditionalist, polytraditionalist, or pretty much any perspective at all.

This post is part of a series of devotional questions for polytheists which were developed by Galina Krasskova.

Have you encountered any obstacles as a result of your religion?

Obstacles?  Not hardly, not so that I noticed.  But for that response to make sense, it needs context.

I’ve had people look at me like I had two heads when I acknowledged worshiping the ancient Greek gods.  You know, the same look people get when they proclaim that they believe Jesus is their personal and literal savior.  I don’t think that people believing I’m a little nuts is particularly an obstacle, because I mostly keep conversations about my religion out of places where it doesn’t belong, like in the workplace.  And if I did consider that reaction to be an obstacle, then it would be present no matter what deity-centric religion I followed.  It’s not cool to believe in literal-yet-unseen beings.

Has being part of a minority religion ever made me feel uncomfortable?  Hmm, there was the one boss I worked for who demanded all offices be closed and empty by one o’clock on Good Friday, but he didn’t make me go to church with him.  I had another boss who moonlighted as a minister, and while he did bring his religion into the stories he told, it never felt like recruitment to me.

Most people in my word are members of a religion in name only, if at all.  Secularization is in, but it’s a Christian-focused secularism.  You notice that more when you’re not trying to be Christian, or when you’re trying to be something other than Christian.  It can be annoying, but I’d rather call it ignorance of the masses than any form of privilege.  Just because nobody could hear the Whos didn’t mean that they were being silenced, they were just small and commensurately quiet.

This experience of mine is all about external obstacles, or lack thereof, which I define as coming from society and the environment; I’ve never had any internal obstacles either, those which stem from vows, taboos, or otherwise from relationships with one’s gods.  I’ve kept all my vows, including two which are ongoing, and I have no taboos or divinely-inspired restrictions which might create obstacles.  If I did, though, I would try to celebrate them, for surely such obstacles would lead me onto a path I might have otherwise never noticed.

This post is part of a series of devotional questions for polytheists which were developed by Galina Krasskova.

How does your tradition handle wrathful, savage and destructive divinities?

The theoi — gods of the Hellenes, or “ancient Greeks” — are a study in opposites.  Poseidon rules earth as well as sea.  Zeus is progenitor of many offspring by many mothers, but is also god of marriage.  Hermes is swift as thought,yet his oldest representation is as a standing stone.  Demeter brings forth crops, and takes them away. Dionysos can bring sanity as well as madness.  Haides and Persephone hold the promise of life in their dark kingdom.  The Hellenes prayed to Ares not only for victory in war, but also to keep war far from their gates.

There is no wrath without calm, destruction without creation, death without life.  I believe that this understanding of the nature of the gods resolves the above question quite nicely:  the way to day with wrathful, savage, and destructive divinities is to appeal to other aspects of those very gods.  The myths also speak about involving other gods, but that usually doesn’t end well.

This post is part of a series of devotional questions for polytheists which were developed by Galina Krasskova.

What methods of inducing altered states of conscious[ness] does your tradition have?

As with anything in a localized, reconstructed tradition, the answers can come from “there and then” or “here and now.”

There and then altered states were most famously (and perhaps apocryphally) induced by gases leaking up from a volcanic vent.  Alcohol was pretty popular in some corners of the world, too.

Here and now I’m aware that many of my co-religionists have mastered techniques, both old and new, to induce trance for oracular work, as well as open themselves to the gods in general.  This is technically hearsay, because I have neither witnessed nor experienced it myself, although I have faith it’s really happening to others.  I simply haven’t felt called to explore this myself, and rely upon those flashes of insight that I receive from time to time.

Someday when I’m not working three or four jobs I may yet learn what works for me.  I had some powerful experiences in my pre-Hellenic days, specifically with Herne, and I’m more than a bit curious what doors I may open by going deep.

This post is part of a series of devotional questions for polytheists which were developed by Galina Krasskova.