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As many of you know, California has been suffering from a horrible drought. The last couple days have been very wet, but we’re still only a little over half of average rainfall in San Francisco. To the south, like in San Jose, there’s been even less rain. Here’s my gratitude for the rain:

 

Hail to the spirits of storm

To the pounding ones

To the loud ones

The thunder and lightning wielders

The sonorous and the soaking

(May you visit more often)

And to the wide drinking earth

To the moist soil and the land yearning!

We give thanks to the storm powers

To the life giving rains

May we drink deeply!

I promised this a while back, but have been so busy and now realize nearly a month has passed. So…

 I talked about exploring some Celtic practices upon North American land, like encountering the local land goddess in whichever land we live on, working with river and creek deities/spirits, springs and other local spirits; ways of offering to them, based on years of my own experience and experiments. I also talking about what reconstructionist methodology is and what some of the very serious pitfalls are such as the reenactment mindset, being unaware how deeply different we are from ancient peoples, being incognizant of scholarly perspectives and inevitable historiographical interpretations, as well as reading the lore like it was gospel…and discussed the experimental approach as one way to avoid such, and to simply get things going: try something out and see if there is result and what kind of result. Then I opened it up to discussion and sharing. A strong takeaway is that there are religions that have sufficient common ground so it is easy to talk together, and without any apparent misunderstandings, or anything major at any rate. That actual polytheist religions, and not only reconstructed ones of European and Near Eastern origins, but those generated in many parts of the world share so much. Often these are sacrificial and liturgical in orientation, and have profound local affinities; offerings important to all of the ones I have encountered.

 

Although the presentation was scheduled rather late into a Friday night (recon/devotional polytheist events are often scheduled early in the morning or late in the evening or at opening or closing spots when many have not arrived or many have already left), when many convention goers were partying or attending concerts, we staked out a space for serious discussion and interactions that I found encouraging. It was great to hear the experiences of a woman reconstructing Indo-Iranian practices, and the perspectives of heathenchinese (check out his blog at heathenchinese.wordpress.com/), as well as from those with a Celtic focus, and also some heathens. PSV Lupus was there and had plenty of good things to share too (unsurprisingly) Again, the ability to share language and not having terrible times understanding one another’s words is so different an experience from the debates in the ‘umbrella pagan’ sphere (or for that matter at the Wiccanate Privilege session). I find that people involved in various reconstructions (and those who are more engaged in restoration of existing traditions) are able to converse fruitfully.

 

There were people also who attended to simply get some idea of reconstruction. One asked a question that kind of surprised me: Why do reconstructionists want to revive these old traditions? I didn’t actually answer the following, but I thought because old things are really cool! (well, not everything, but you know). I did say a lot of us want something that is different than the dominant culture and its values. Perhaps this is a conceptual divide that is very hard to cross and is one of the difficulties in communicating with eclectic Wiccanate neopagans who want something that easily fits into the superficial instant of the consumer culture.

 

More PantheaCon

Much of what I most enjoyed this year was talking to friends and co-religionists and new acquaintances over meals, and in hospitality suites, and the various public spaces of the rather maze-like hotel, but I do want to mention a few public events I went to.

 

First off, I’ll mention a fairly disappointing panel on sacrifice. My hopes weren’t high for this one, and I almost didn’t go (and I left early), as it was hosted by Rynn Fox, a woman involved in eating horse meat in Canada and calling it a sacrifice, though it was bought on the market (it being legal to consume horseflesh in Canada). I think there is a difference between offering and sacrifice, the making holy of something and taking it out of this world into the sacred. As my friend and colleague Saigh Kym Lambert, who is a devotee of the Morrígan and Macha dunsgathan.net/caithream/, has said buying meat, slaughtered in cruel fashion (as is always the case with horse slaughter, as horses have a very different anatomy than cattle), is a far cry from sacrifice, and is an insane thing to offer a horse goddess.  There is little record of horse as sacrificial animal in Gaelic tradition anyway, but as another Druid colleague said to me, if we consider the possibility as in royal inauguration (like in Gerald of Wales’ report) it would be an animal that would have been treated like a king. A modern person would have to raise the animal exceptionally and it would be an emotionally fraught experience to make such sacrifice. Even a devastating loss. Putting that aside momentarily, I felt I should check out what would be said.

There was a range of panelists, including atheist pagan and anthropologist, Amy Hale, Sam Webster of the Pantheon Foundation, and Mamba Chita Tann (a Vodou priestess). Various valid points were made, such as someone with professional slaughterer/butcher training is needed if one does animal sacrifice, and that is required in Afro-diasporic traditions; that there are the dangers of stupid young people thinking this is a cool thing to do, among other points. I wanted to comment on both the over-emphasis on animal sacrifice in what had been said, and also on the distinction between offerings and sacrifice but was repeatedly passed over when I raised my hand. Then because a lot of people did want to join the discussion, a highly controlling format was set up—people were told to get in a line for a mike; well, I was sitting in the middle, and a huge bunch of people from the front immediately surged into line; it was pretty clear the rest of us would not get to talk, so I found it an opportune time to leave. I will be writing more about sacrifice on this blog.

 

At this point I don’t go to many rituals at the’Con. I’m energetically sensitive; and I’ve explored rites of many different religions over the years, but these days I mostly like to focus on those of my own traditions or ones close to them. I also prefer to avoid rituals for deities I worship, which are being done in a Wiccanate format. For years now at the ‘Con one of my favorite rituals has been the Lupercalia put on by the Ekklesia Antinoou. While far from having a Roman-oriented practice (and not subscribing to some of its theological points), I am a citizen and a mystes of this syncretistic group. The magister, P. S. Virius Lupus has (re)constructed a Lupercalian rite, among many others of the Ekklesia,  which allows plentiful opportunity for praying to the main deity and others, in a setting that is powerful and serious. The rite also involves a foot race that has a bit of chaos to it and ‘raises energy’ like nothing else at the ‘Con in my experience. In ancient times this was performed by young men, but innovatively in the Ekklesia, it is open to all genders. There is also a moment for ritual laughter, which can be quite cathartic.  Lupercalia shares with other Indo-European rites of early spring, like Imbolc, ritual lustration and purification; in the Lupercalia this includes being whipped lightly by goat leather thongs (in this rite simply on the palms of the hands).More here:aediculaantinoi.wordpress.com/2014/02/23/pantheacon-2014-lupercalia/

 

Another rewarding panel I attended was the Pagans and Privilege one. Hosted by Thorn Coyle, panelists were Crystal Blanton, Xochiquetzal Duti Odinsdottir, Charlie Glickman and the ever-so articulate and amazing Filipina/Jewish transwoman Elena Rose Vera. Racism, transphobia, homophobia, sexism, classism, intersectionality and much, much more were discussed within communities of the pagan umbrella. It was an excellent panel and lots of fruitful dialog with the large audience. I’ve said enough elsewhere about the closing prayer (and I was happy to see Thorn address it on her own blog). Talks like these make the PantheaCon worth it. And from my Caucasian-blinkered perspective it does seem that PantheaCom is getting more ethnically diverse, though great work obviously needs to be done.

 

I’ll discuss the presentation I put on on Experimental Reconstruction in a separate post.

 

 In the last few years in reconstructionist and polytheist communities there has been talk of the Wiccanate*, referring to practices either specifically Wiccan, or of traditions like (some) Feri and Reclaiming that share many reasonably similar practices like circle casting and working with four elements; the term is used also to refer to the much larger eclectic neopagan practices that still generally reference the aforementioned traits. If one is a reconstructionist and attends pagan festivals and pagan pride events and the like there will be exposure to these practices as a presumed default for the wider pagan umbrella.

 

More recently this has been labeled as part of “Wiccanate privilege”, the assumption that Wiccanate practices and theologies are the ‘norm’ for pagans, and to the degree where it can be hard for those with very different (or not so different, but still different) practices to be heard, to be given space, to not have their difference erased in public spaces. Many have heard that at the recent PantheaCon there was a discussion on this Wiccanate Privilege, hosted in the Covenant of the Goddess/NROOGD/New Wiccan Church hospitality suite in the Doubletree Hotel in San Jose, California on Sunday Feb. 16. The genesis of the dialog was an online exchange between Don Frew, HP of Coven Trismegiston and well-known in interfaith circles, and P.S. Virius Lupus. The majority of the people present apparently were Wiccans, Feris and Reclaiming witches but with a significant sampling of others including Kemetics, Heathens, and other recons, such as myself. Frew and Lupus introduced their views and got the discussion rolling. The room temperature, figuratively speaking, rose sharply. Each person who shared was to introduce themselves. I said I was a Celtic reconstructionist, a Druid, and also a citizen of the Ekklesia Antinoou, and that I was a polytheist, neither hard nor soft, and also an animist (wow, did I really make that many identity copula statements?). It had been said that this meeting in itself was an interfaith not an intrafaith dialog, and I reiterated that, with some seemingly disagreeing with their body language. I said that much of what constitutes this privilege consists of very small acts, unintentionally privileging and unconscious. I stated that this was very common at the ‘Con itself, and gave as an example something I had experienced the day before, which was a Wiccanate (Goddess) prayer at the end of, what I said was, an excellent panel on pagans and privilege (including Elena Vera, Xochiquetzal Duti, and Crystal Barton) moderated by T. Thorn Coyle. I stated this calmly, indicating it was ironic to come after a long discussion on inclusion, (and mind you, this was not a ritual, but a panel open to people of any or no religious traditions) and I mentioned that I had spoken with some other polytheists who had felt a bit excluded by its language**. Well, this provoked outrage from some present, with one woman exclaiming, how could I “take umbrage” over such a beautiful prayer—and also that it was not a “Wiccan” prayer. Of course I hadn’t taken umbrage and I had taken pains to say it was Wiccanate, not Wiccan. I was accused of ignorance. This led to other practitioners of Feri and Reclaiming Witchcraft to insist that they are not Wiccans and had never been Wiccans, and seemed to be upset to be included under that banner term of Wiccanate. The nature of this event being what it was there was no time to address what larger term they prefer—I’m somehow imagining that it’s neopagan (which would be one of erasure of others), but could be wrong. So while sensitivity to language is an important part of this, I wonder what others think of these paths not wanting to be considered Wiccanate? Quite a few thought Wiccanate privilege didn’t exist, but others obviously attended to the discussion respectfully; I especially note Don Frew, Macha Nightmare and Margot Adler in that category with several telling me afterwards they’d learned something valuable from the dialog, so although I took a lot of heat, as did Lupus, I think overall this event was a positive development. But obviously there is much resistance as Starhawk practically derailed the entire conversation talking about the terrible things happening to the Earth (of which probably everyone there wholeheartedly agreed) and so why talk about such a tiny little thing—an attitude that smacks of privilege. (How many times do queers hear something like this?)

 

I don’t expect we will all ever agree but it’s good to have dialogue. I do think the pagan communities have way too much New Age ‘we’re all one and should all get along’ influence, and I think this attitude just suppresses difference. Anyway, I have no problem holding unpopular views and I’m glad I had an opportunity to speak some words there.

 For more coverage on this event see Aedicula Antinoi: http://aediculaantinoi.wordpress.com/2014/02/21/pantheacon-2014-wiccanate-privilege-discussion/

 

* My working definition: practices of casting a circle, 4 directions and 4 elements, and a goddess and god, or simply Great Goddess theological focus.

**Thorn has contemplated this in an admirable way in her own blog since.

I

The first issue of Air n-Aithesc is out. What is that? you may ask. Well, it’s a new magazine focused on Celtic polytheism that is available in both digital and print formats.

I’ve got an article there on Brigid’s ‘retinue’ and am also on the review committee. There’s a lot of good stuff in the first issue, so go and check it out. Writers include Saigh Kym Lambert, Morgan Daimler, and Ceffyl Aedui, among others. We are also seeking articles for the Lughnasadh issue.

 

From the website:

Air n-Aithesc: Our Message is a peer-reviewed magazine that hopes to offer well researched material for Celtic Reconstructionists and others who value the role of academics as much as they value the role of the spiritual in their practice.

 

The magazine’s main aim is to offer as many resources as possible, from research articles to in depth explorations of how personal experiences fit in with the sources, book reviews, and much more.

Vol. 1, Issue 1

http://ciannai2.wix.com/air-n-aithesc

The 20th PantheaCon will be happening over the President’s Day weekend in San Jose, California. From the Con’s website: “Join our huge and varied Pagan, Heathen, Wiccan, Reconstructionist, Indigenous, spiritual and magical groups in education and celebration. As usual, we fill the hotel’s 18 function rooms with concerts, workshops, rituals, and presentations, including 4 ballrooms for Vendors along with open house parties.”

On Friday evening at 9pm (Feb. 14) I will be presenting and facilitating discussion on “Experimental Reconstructionism” an approach I’ve written about (some time ago) here: http://finnchuillsmast.wordpress.com/2011/04/03/revisiting-the-r-word-toward-an-experimental-reconstructionism/

 

From the program guide (slightly edited): Experimental Reconstructionism is often seen as something overly tied to a distant past, to ways of life (and mentalities) that are far from our own. What are some ways we can use recon methodologies, but in an experimental way, taking practices as far as we can understand them and then trying them out in our own context? Example: River goddesses were worshiped in ancient Celtic cultures–how to apply that here and now? Discussion meant to further participants’ own experiments. Applicable to various other cultural traditions too.

 

 

The full program guide can be found here: http://pantheacon.com/files/Program14-final-contents.pdf

 

There are several presentations/rituals of the Ekklesia Antinou scheduled, which are always recommended too.

 

Also, if anyone who’s going and wants to do one of those pagan coffee/tea chats, I’d be happy to do so there!

Año Nuevo

A sunny day in January, warm. The willows grow around us in the sand, offshore a small island, with a somehow faint grey house, that was once the lighthouse keepers’. We hear them before we see them, the orchestra of the elephant seals, some of their sounds not obviously mammalian, but sounding like gongs, something hitting metal, percussive rings. Then we see them, a couple males sparring at the edge of the water, others moving rapidly with their odd squirming movement along the beach; before long we are fairly close, and we see mothers, babies, a copulating pair, the male bites the females back in some sort of foreplay. Around 3000 of these huge seals are here in the breeding colony of Año Nuevo State Reserve. By the end of the 19th century the northern elephant seal was believed extinct, having been plundered for their oil; then a few were discovered to have survived at Guadelupe Island off the coast of Baja California, Mexico. Today there are more than 125,000 having survived and grown from that genetic bottleneck. In recent years new rookeries have been established in Oregon and on the southern tip of Vancouver Island in British Columbia. Something hopeful to take away from that; extinction is not inevitable.

 

 

They are a species with many curious features, besides the males’ trunk-like proboscis: they have an unusual amount of blood which absorbs a lot of oxygen, so allowing their incredible dives. Females can dive deeper than a mile. They also molt, losing their fur but also their complete outer layer of skin as well.And they are huge, males often weighing 5,000 pounds!

Seal-Adventures-Return-02

 

 

This is animism: feeling the power of this species once abused and slaughtered by humans for oil to the verge of extinction, now after may decades of protection tolerant to the humans who come to see them, and occasionally curious about us too, one huge male looking back at the funny anthropoids on top of the dune.  Crows and gulls hang around the seals, hoping to snatch an afterbirth. The sun glitters on the sea. Inland forested hills, green with conifers. A researcher from UC Santa Cruz shows a mannequin of a female made from fiberboard, they pull it and play female calls, and young males will chase after it blinded by sexually attractive cues, not    unlike many a human male, and right on to a scale where they are weighed. Bottles of Clairol for dyeing the numbers on pinniped fur, allowing easy identification of individuals are laid out by it. The threads of connection are many, some improbable—the ecological, both the harsh and the beautiful; history; curiosity; and wonder.                      

 

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