Arthur Evans

I’ve read quite a few obituaries and memorials for Arthur Evan, who died on September 11, 2011; they seem to refer to completely different individuals—there’s the pioneer gay liberationist, there’s the curmudgeon of Haight Street who wrote almost daily letters about problems caused by homeless people to the local press, and there’s the important figure in queer spirituality and paganism. Evan’s book The Lord of Ecstasy about Dionysos and sex/gender roles made a great impact on me when I read back when it came out in 1988. It remains an essential contribution to the literature on this god. It also includes his translation of the Bakkhae. There are photos in the book from the production he directed also; it must’ve been a wonderful theatrical production! It ran from December 4th, 1984 to January 15, 1985 at the Valencia Rose Cabaret in San Francisco’s Mission District. Dionysos was played by Assunta Femia, a Sister of Perpetual Indulgence.

There’s also Witchcraft and the Gay Counterculture, which came out in 1978 and was important in inspiring the Radical Fairy milieu. He founded the Fairy Circle in San Francisco in 1975. While Evans was definitely under the influence of the Murray theory of ‘thee Olde Religion’ (well, just about everyone was at that time) it made the important point that many of those who were caught up in witchcraft persecutions in late medieval and early modern Europe were sexual/gender variant people, as can be found in historian of witchcraft E. Wiliam Monter’s archival work on French and German witchcraft persecutions, including the frequent charges of both sodomy and werewolvery.

Evans had a background in classics and philosophy, and also wrote the Critique of Patriarchal Reason, which I would like to read. I hope he is much longer remembered for his writings and activism than his complaints about the homeless (and I am sure he will be).  He played a big part in queer liberation, GLBT activism, AIDS activism and anti-war movements. In many ways his voice still resonates today, even in this conservative age of contraction and diminished expectations. May he inspire us to continue to create a more liberatory culture and may he wander the lovely slopes of Nysa and meet up with his god in ecstasy!

Dionysian Joy

 

It’s that time of year when sunshine and bright blue sky come to my neighborhood after months of fog (our seasons are different—high summer is just arriving). I have always loved the special light of September and October in California, both north and south, that is  full of gold and celestial expansiveness. This quality of light is also experienced in Greece. Pindar called it the pure light of high summer, hagnon phengos oporas and said it was Dionysian or perhaps Dionysos himself. According to Kerenyi, this light is a gift of Sirius, the ambivalent star, and reflects the promise of the vineyards. Certainly to the north the treasures of our multitudinous northern California vineyards are ripening. According to Hesiod the position of Orion in the middle of the sky in mid-September and the early rising of Arcturus (and closing of the reign of Sirius) signaled the beginning of the wine harvest. Even Plato mentioned the treasures of this season, namely those that can be stored, the ripening fruits—and that, which could not be stored, Dionysian joy. I’d say, sometimes they are the same.

Cupbearer at a symposium, using an oinochoe (wine jug, in his right hand) to draw wine from a krater, in order to fill a kylix (shallow cup. Attic 5th cent. BCE.

Here is a haiku (surely, He deserves haiku!) I wrote yesterday for Dionysos at beautiful China Beach:

The tall pine trees dance

wreathed in the sunbright ivy

Io Dionysos!

Caverns Measureless to Man

Galina Krasskova is a spiritworker and writer on heathen traditions (Nordic)*, and author of several books, including Walking Toward Yggdrasil. Krasskova was also a columnist at the ‘Pagan Portal’ of the religion mega-site Patheos until recently. She conducted an interview with  Kenaz Filan, author of The Power of the Poppy, and various works on the Vodou religion, and shamanism, that was apparently deemed too heretical regarding the American war on drug policy and censored by Patheos, so Krasskova has now discontinued her column, “The Road to Hel”. However, the interview, which is quite insightful (and touches on subjects as diverse as addiction, harm reduction, and Michael Harner), can be found at her website Gangleri’s Grove.http://krasskova.weebly.com/blog.html

We live surrounded by Plant Intelligences. Some of them are ignored, some of them are deemed illegals, others are heavily promoted like a jittery lady I know, who once lived mainly in Ethiopia.  Since long before the start of history humans have consumed them, learned from them, at times been driven mad by them; the reality is that humans are healed, fed and initiated by Plant Powers. Our consciousness is constantly being changed by plants, whether they be corn, sugar cane, wheat, rice, apples, grapes, cannabis, tomatoes, potatoes or soybeans (and as anyone who has read Michael Pollan’s wonderful The Botany of Desire knows, we have co-developed with various plant species). No matter what kind of fantasy modern humans may have of being separated from the earth, as if by Caesarian birth after an immaculate conception, that is just that—a fantasy; we are entwined with plants, and cannot survive without them. I think the disastrous drug policies of the United States, the three decade so-called War on (some) Drugs, have to be seen in the light of that biophobic drive to separate out from the Gaean matrix, our entanglement in flesh and ecosystem, that fear of the messy realities of life, partially rooted (hard to get away from plants even in metaphors) in a Puritan heritage. A mania for control over nature, yet things only become more uncontrollable: Katrina and Irene, Texan fire and drought, ice quakes in Greenland…. When we hear the word ‘drug’ some kind of serious framing is going on: if you’re at the pharmacy filling the MD’s prescription it’s a good thing, otherwise something sinful and fearful.

Papaver somniferum is obviously a dangerous plant with very addictive properties, and yet one who brings great mercy to those suffering agonizing pain and terminal illnesses—and one often denied by American doctors steeped in a Protestant heritage.  Yet, it’s been in the medical pharmacopoeia since ancient Egypt and was used by ancient Neolithic Europeans as witnessed by the burials in the cave at Albunol in southern Spain, dating to c.4200 BCE. It’s also been quite involved with a lot of our artistic and literary masterpieces (hello, Samuel Coleridge). According to Filan: “Illegal “drugs” happen to be particularly powerful substances: they’re so strong that they frighten the Powers that Be.  They should be approached with caution, as they can ruin lives. They should be approached with knowledge gained not from hysterical propaganda but from clear-headed research. But that very power and danger suggests that they have much to offer the Shaman.”

It should be borne in mind that all of these plants (and fungi) are very, very different, and that in traditional cultures and indigenous religious practices there were protocols and set-aside contexts for working with them. We live in a society where addiction to shopping, phones and other gadgets, entertainment, sugar, and oil (and on and on) is ubiquitous; shutting down discussion of entheogens (or any species of life) certainly does not help our situation. Neither does black and white or one-size-fits-all thinking.

 

*I can’t go along with the pagan convention of calling Scandinavian/Germanic traditions ‘Northern’; really that word conjures thoughts of Inuit, Athabascan, Chuckchi, Nenets, Yakut,  Saami and other Arctic peoples.