Can you tell us about your efforts to bring Pagan terminology to ASL vocabulary? What could the Pagan community do to help or aid you?
First of all, I would like to spend a bit of time clarifying a few things about American Sign Language… also known as ASL.
First of all, ASL is a language… it’s not merely a communication system. It’s not English spoken on the hands. It has its own grammar and syntax. Like any language, it takes time, practice, and commitment to learn. Don’t think you can just take up a class and in a few hours learn how to wave your hands about gracefully. There’s a lot more to it than that.
There’s no such thing as “Pagan Sign Language.” Deaf Pagans in the United States do not use Pagan Sign Language, they use ASL. They develop signs for Pagan vocabulary based upon ASL concepts, but we don’t use a whole different sign system. For example, the sign I use for Pagan is based upon the ASL sign for “religion”, but I use a P handshape… thus representing the idea of Paganism as a religion in its own right. Developing Pagan signs is not easy, because we don’t really have an established Deaf Pagan Community that can come together regularly to discuss and develop such signs. An interesting comment was left to one of my posts at Deaf Pagan Crossroads by a Deaf (and Pagan-friendly) reader:
“In my search for deaf pagan resources, it’s been a frustration to see that most of the inquiries I see on the net aren’t necessarily for Deaf Pagan teachers or resources, but inquiries about signs…
I’ve just finished reading an article by MJ Bienvenu (a well known Deaf leader and college professor) in which she says English words that are jargony eventually find their way into ASL after signers find ways to use them (evolution of language at its best!)
The constant inquiries I see about ASL signs for words like “solstice” tell me that there are people who are needing to sign these words to other people, whether in conversation or ritual. But that we haven’t found this ASL resource tells me we’re not being public enough – at least, public in a way that pagan terminology can be owned and disseminated by Deaf Pagans.”
I think this pretty much sums it up. We’re not public enough, and we’re not community enough that we have reached that point where Pagan terminology – or signs, as the case might be – can be owned and disseminated by Deaf Pagans. And until that happens, I’m not sure how successful any kind of widespread attempt to develop a Pagan ASL Vocabulary is going to be. Certainly I have developed a vocabulary of signs that I use for conversation or ritual. But that doesn’t mean that every Deaf Pagan out there uses these same signs. Truthfully, I would love to get together with other Deaf Pagans and/or ASL-fluent individuals to discuss and brainstorm such signs. While I have had a few such conversations over the years, they have been few and far between, simply because such opportunities just don’t pop up in my life very often. I’m hoping that my upcoming move out to the West Coast will give me more opportunities to meet other ASL-fluent Pagan and Pagan-friendly individuals so we can truly begin to explore this whole idea more seriously. I get a lot of emails and a lot of comments from people who want to learn Pagan signs. I am thinking of creating a video blog (“vlog”)that I can then post at Deaf Pagan Crossroads in which I share some of the signs that I myself use, and hopefully be able to use the internet as a medium for further discussion on this topic, and invite others to share signs that they use and discuss how we can in fact develop, own, and disseminate such a vocabulary.
At the same time, I am curious as to why some of these individuals want to learn such signs. It’s one thing if you’re Deaf yourself, or an interpreter/fairly skilled signer and you have a need/desire for such knowledge in order to accurately convey Pagan concepts in ASL; hopefully to a Deaf individual. It’s a whole different ballgame if you simply want to “learn some Pagan signs because I think it would be really cool; a way to open up my spirituality more and put me in a meditative state of mind; and so I can sign an invocation at our next ritual.” That’s all nice, and certainly these are all ways that sign language can be utilized by the Pagan Community… but we need to stop and think for a moment – Is this really being respectful of ASL and the Deaf Community that utilizes this language on a regular basis?
Frankly, I would be more impressed with an individual who learned how to sign “Hello, my name is Raven and I would like to buy you a cup of coffee and practice my limited signing skills” than I would someone who can show me how to sign “Pagan,” “Witch,” “Goddess,” “Spirit,” “Merry Meet,” and/or “Blessed Be.”
I think one important thing that the Pagan Community can do is to become more knowledgeable about American Sign Language, and more knowledgeable about the Deaf Community itself. There’s lot of good websites out there for learning more…one place to start is the National Association of the Deaf at www.nad.org
I encourage any and all Pagans with a genuine interest in learning American Sign Language and the Deaf Community to get out there and interact with Deaf people…that’s really the best way to develop a level of fluency with the language, and to really understand how the Deaf Community functions.