St. CuChulainn

On a day of Irish heritage, unsurprisingly my thoughts have turned to the sacred isle, a homeland from which some of my ancestors came, a somewhat otherworldly locale, and therefore a symbolic one.

Something that stands above controversies about what the Romanized Briton missionary Patrick actually did pale beside his historic symbolic freight. After all history is a narrative. Snakes are culturally-loaded animals, a snake is never simply a member of the reptilian suborder Serpentes. Symbolically, Patrick is playing very heavily into one of the foundational platforms of the biblical mythos, for snakes are serpents and serpents partake of that primal mover of Christian mythos, Satan the adversary who in snake form in the garden of Eden so successfully engaged with Eve, thereby setting the expulsion from the garden: that whole spiraling into history (a basic job of myth is to give insight into that). So back to Patrick, the Christ-bearing hero, who in defeating that evil serpent, rids the emerald isle of the serpent, and performs a basic heroic function. So peeling this back reveals there is something even larger going on here, for in a sense Patrick is being Celticized in this version of the story, whatever  its historical and lateness of provenance (apparently 11th century). He is the hero or demi-god from whom the serpents flee, so he is like those figures on the Jupiter columns of ancient Gaul or Conall Cernach defeating/taming the serpent …And here we are in a field of narrative at least as wide as that of the Indo-European reach, the crushing of dragons, defeat of chaotic watery darkness….Really snake, dragon, worm, eel myths are world wide .

And then striding on I slip in the fog, in the muds of early spring and I see ahead the young boy hero Setanta slaying Cu’’s hound, and becoming CuChulainn the hero of Ulster.

But where does that take us? Or leave us? One thought that arises here like a gleam of sunshine on a mostly rainy day is that the Christian tradition tries to freeze the defeat, fits it into a Manichaean framing, emphasizes black and white at the expense of all the blurriness, the greys and myriad other muted tones, to say nothing of the glistening rainbow hues that flash, both along the scales of the reptile and upon the hero’s raiment, multi-colored hair and flashing eyes.  The absolute need for chaos is forgotten, yet the pagan hero is full of it, berserk on the battlefield, heating up with warp spasms and crazy madness; blood spouting from the crown of his head he is like the super-hound in fury himself. Indeed he even at times moves like a dimly seen serpent in a chasm. The queer hound of Ulster has plenty of chaos in him.

Henri Rousseau, "La charmeuse de Serpents"

To put it succinctly, you cannot have cosmos without chaos. A cosmos will harden, then petrify, ossify and probably crack brittle, and fall to toxic dust without sporadic flashes of chaos. Sound familiar? There’s a big difference between taming a serpent and driving it away or crushing it.

Finally,, let’s not forget the real snakes, many of whom are being abused in the international pet trade (I just ‘happened’ upon a PBS program on that today!).

Hail CuChulainn, the Sacred Isle and the snakes!

Circle of Cerridwen Book & P’Con Policy Change

I’m very happy to see there has been motion on the transgender/gender issues of PantheaCon. PantheaCon has announced a new policy. I find this a big step forward. And I had been puzzled since last year about the legal aspects of the situation which so many people in the pagan communities seemed to blow off. Here’s the beginning of the statement:

PantheaCon will adhere to state and federal laws which require age limitations and non-discrimination on the basis of age, race, national origin or gender. We also affirm the importance of safe space and will continue to schedule presentations that limit attendance to specific groups of individuals.  All workshops or rituals that say “Women Only” or “Men Only” will be open to all who self-identify as such.

The entire statement can be found at:

pantheacon.com/wordpress/blog/2012/pantheacon-policy-on-limited-access-events/

I’d also like to recommend the book put out by Circle of Cerridwen Press: Gender and Transgender In Modern Paganism, the catalyst of which was the discriminatory event put on in 2011 by the Amazon Tribe of CAYA Coven (who have recently taken a step forward on the issue themselves). Especially interesting is “Who Is Lilith’s Tribe” by Anya Kless (of the Fruit of Pain blog), which deals with the nature of the goddess who was the center of ritual of the excluding rite in question. The ironies behind this are especially bitter considering that Lilith is a deity that in one of her main forms is transgendered or gender variant. Kless writes, “In a Babylonian image believed to be of Lilith, She holds a combined ring and rod in Her hands, suggesting hermaphroditic genitalia. The Zohar, the foundational text of Kabbalah, describes the hermaphroditic birth of Lilith and her partner/brother Samael…”  She makes the excellent observation regarding our deities that “We need to resist the urge to put a velvet rope around the face we choose to honor, as well as the urge to become that deity’s bouncer or political advisor.” T. Thorn Coyle has a moving and personal essay, “Snapshots: Musings on Polarity and Flow”. Another strong piece and unique perspective is offered by Raven Kaldera in “The Third Voice”. “The Goddess and Transphobia” by Amethyst Moonwater is a moving piece from a local transwoman activist (who works with the city of Oakland and Alameda county among other entities) that asks hard questions. Some essays seem less relevant to the issue at hand like the one by Janet Farrar and Gavin Bone, or the rather odd point of view taken by OBOD Druid Michael Gorman that seems to posit the problem being one originating in ancient Rome—I guess since Diana is a Roman deity. Now I certainly would align with the Gauls and the Druids against the imperialism, conquest and genocidal slaughters perpetrated by the expanding Roman Republic and Empire, but he has a fantasy idea of Celtic cultures of the time (egalitarian in Iron Age Europe—oh, right). Philip Tanner has a piece on “God As Multi-Gender Deity” which is a genuinely interesting take on the gender of the Abrahamic deity but at first struck me as odd in a pagan anthology, but it’s also a ceremonial magic anthology. Thers are worthwhile looks at polarity and duality in pieces by Helix and Jacobo Polanshek and a passionate manifesto “Awakening The Transsexual Gods” by Foxfetch. And yes, there is a painful essay by Ruth Barrett, A Dianic who repeats the tiresome and transphobic views of Z Budapest, including that toxic chestnut of transwomen are really men coming in to steal women’s culture The editors really do present a full spectrum of views on the matters. I highly recommend reading this book if you are interested in these issues. It could’ve done with some more proofreading but is a great contribution edited by Sarah Thompson, Gina Pond, Philip Tanner, Calyxa Omphalos, and Jacobo Polanshek and can be ordered at http://cerridwen.st4r.org/ either as a reasonably priced book or as a free e-book. The mark of a fine anthology is leaving the reader wanting to read more writings by some of the contributors and I know I will be seeking out books by some of the writers here named.

It’s Anthesteria!

 

As I write, it is the middle of the Anthesteria, the three day Dionysian festival that I hope will become more widely known and celebrated. Yesterday, I stood on the most soil barefoot; I picked flowers and ivy for the altar and the God’s image. Later we opened the wine, the offerings were made, there was music and dance.

 

Tonight, I will meditate on the mystery of the God coming to the queen. Tomorrow attention will be given to the Dead, as both the life of spring, the new wine, and the dead are intertwined in this holiday.

 

I am sharing here a poem by Walt Whitman that I find fitting to this time.

 

 

A child said, What is the grass?

by Walt Whitman

 

A child said, What is the grass? fetching it to me with full

hands;

How could I answer the child?. . . .I do not know what it

is any more than he.

 

I guess it must be the flag of my disposition, out of hopeful

green stuff woven.

 

Or I guess it is the handkerchief of the Lord,

A scented gift and remembrancer designedly dropped,

Bearing the owner’s name someway in the corners, that we

may see and remark, and say Whose?

 

Or I guess the grass is itself a child. . . .the produced babe

of the vegetation.

 

Or I guess it is a uniform hieroglyphic,

And it means, Sprouting alike in broad zones and narrow

zones,

Growing among black folks as among white,

Kanuck, Tuckahoe, Congressman, Cuff, I give them the

same, I receive them the same.

 

And now it seems to me the beautiful uncut hair of graves.

 

Tenderly will I use you curling grass,

It may be you transpire from the breasts of young men,

It may be if I had known them I would have loved them;

It may be you are from old people and from women, and

from offspring taken soon out of their mother’s laps,

And here you are the mother’s laps.

 

This grass is very dark to be from the white heads of old

mothers,

Darker than the colorless beards of old men,

Dark to come from under the faint red roofs of mouths.

 

O I perceive after all so many uttering tongues!

And I perceive they do not come from the roofs of mouths

for nothing.

 

I wish I could translate the hints about the dead young men

and women,

And the hints about old men and mothers, and the offspring

taken soon out of their laps.

 

What do you think has become of the young and old men?

What do you think has become of the women and

children?

 

They are alive and well somewhere;

The smallest sprouts show there is really no death,

And if ever there was it led forward life, and does not wait

at the end to arrest it,

And ceased the moment life appeared.

 

All goes onward and outward. . . .and nothing collapses,

And to die is different from what any one supposed, and

luckier.

 

 

 

PantheaCon Reportage: The Excellent & The Good

The bad has been gotten out of the way, so now to the excellent and the good of my experience.

First off there was the excellent “Brigid and Sarasvati: Goddesses of Poetry and Inspiration” by Erynn Rowan Laurie. It’s really striking to see how many similarities Brigid and Saraswati have from water associations and symbolism to music (the lute for Saraswati), to poetry and torrents of inspired speech. Both are paragons of generosity, and healers as well. Both have their birds: Brigid the oyster catcher, that remarkable shore bird colored red, white and black, and Saraswati her white swans or geese; these are all waterbirds which can be found in all three realms—sky, water and land. Both deities are associated with cattle and sheep. And both are triple: The Three Sisters Brigid, and the three Saraswatis.

Laurie showed how both of these deities have transcended their origins, crossing the boundaries of religion as well as of geography, Brigid obviously coming into Christianity, and Saraswati into some forms of Buddhism and other India-derived traditions. Saraswati first impressed upon me during a sojourn in Bali where the schools were closed on her holiday so the books could be honored.

Discussion of the music led to a wonderful demonstration by Caera of keening and explanation of the three strains of music in Irish tradition: goltraighe—sorrow; gentraiche—joy; suantrighe—sleep. Caera’s CDs can be found at http://chaosdancer.egoplex.com/caera/music.html. Keening is said to have been invented by Brigid Herself at the death of her son Ruadan. There was also lots of interesting (well, mostly, as the case usually is in these situations) input and questions from the audience. Laurie provided a detailed handout for attendees to take home.

9th Century CE Marble

Another excellent presentation followed: “Queer Celtic Myth” given by the Celticist Phillip Bernhardt-House. This is a topic I’ve been reading in for a very long time and a lot was familiar like Eochaidh O’ hEoghusa, a late 16th century Irish poet and his patron Hugh Maguire; I’ve written myself of their relationship in an essay for an anthology that has yet to be published, but there were many fascinating bits—and the presenter’s knowledge is immense and grounded in reading original texts (his impressive talent with Old and Middle Irish is heroic). Some interesting morsels from the talk include that Socrates (that would have been Plato) referred matter-of-factly to marriages of men in Gaul. (I wondered what was the source of the lovely illustration in the accompanying Powerpoint.) He discussed ethnographic reportage from the Posidonian traditions on homoeroticism among the Celts, and made an important point as to why this was a matter of comment to the Greeks; in other words what was so noteworthy about it from these viewers who had homoeroticism in their own culture—it was noteworthy because it was among equals as opposed to the view of the classical world that sex involved power differentials, whether between man and woman, older man and young man, or master and slave.

The important topic of the suppression of LGBTQ topics in academia among Celticists to this day was broached, the pervasive ignoring of much material on sexual variation and gender variation, for example as of the bardic (filidecht) poet traditions; something I’ve been maddened by myself in regard tot the obviousness of the relationship of love found in poets like the aforementioned Eochaidh O’ hEoghusa and his patron chief, which Carney (although writing, I believe back in the 1950s) said surely was but a literary conceit. An unthinkable reality! Even though Eochaidh wrote  “I have no regret that I am beguiled like the women of Ireland—I part not from effeminacy.” There’s a great book that goes further into this titled Terrible Queer Creatures: Homosexuality In Irish History by Brian Lacey.

Much of interest was said on Cuchullain and his gender variance and his love for Ferdiad, and the translations that hide the graphicness of the gae bolga and all of its phallic/anal associations (yes, you can imagine where it made its point of entry into a victim’s body). So much more was covered, including what Phillip calls the Middle Irish Lesbian story and also a saint named Darlugdach, daughter of Lugh (or Darlughdacha) who was associated with St Brigit; he imagines them as lovers. In medieval hagiographies St. Brigid was said to have had a disciple named Darlugdach with whom she was close and specifically “shared her bed.” From a Catholic viewpoint of course this is supposed to show their spiritual closeness but not that they were lovers—as they are nuns, but he emphasized that they are exemplars of woman-woman love. And why not imagine that as having a physical dimension—for all we can know it may have (and so Peter Beresford Ellis has argued). An intriguing aspect of this is the bringing together of Brigid mythically speaking with Lugh’s family, as there was strife between her sons and Lugh in the lore. At any rate after the saint died Darlugdach became her successor, and then she died on the following year on Brigid’s feast-day and then became a saint herself. For more on this see. http://aediculaantinoi.wordpress.com/2012/02/01/on-feis-brigid-7-darlugdach-and-narrative-theology-notes/. Lacey also discusses it.

There was much else discussed including some Arthurian literature; one being my favorite old werewolf tale, the lai (lay) of Bisclavret, by the amazing medieval woman writer Marie de France.

Cuchullain Carrying Ferdiad Across the River, 1905., from Charles Squire's Celtic Myths and Legends.

Phillip emphasizes the doing, the devotional, and so brought it to that in the last part of the presentation, suggesting dates to do devotion to several of the figures and heroes he had discussed, examples including celebrating Cian on Lughnasad and Cuchullain on March 17 which sure does seem a good thing to do on that day! I mentioned that I often do a devotion for him around Winter Solstice, which also seems an appropriate time.

I also attended the “Modern Dionysian Initiation”, which was presented by the Circle of Dionysos. This was a theatrical piece that centered around a variant on the Rocky Horror Picture Show with Frankenfurter being Dionysos. There was definitely plenty of funny parts and strong casting choices. But the structure was sprawling and at nearly two hours it seemed overly long. Somewhere somehow it all segued into the myth of Hera and Dionysos in the story of the chair She get stuck in. A few glasses of wine (and just greater participation), I’m sure, would’ve made it all more enjoyable and the set up of actually getting admitted to it didn’t help. There was a cattle line like one would expect at some huge nightclub where people had to wait for half an hour before admittance, with one of the ‘gryphons’ (Con organizers) literally yelling at people. For people with disabilities, or just not a lot of stamina this is poorly done, to say the least, by ‘Con staff. Nonetheless, I found this overall an enjoyable effort at sacred silliness, a contemporary satyr play of sorts, a much needed  (and sweetly queer)antidote to some of what goes on at big religious events.

I also went to Gus DiZeriga’s “Pagans, Culture Wars and the Modern Crisis” talk, which was interesting, but painted with very broad brush strokes, and I thought was inaccurate about some late 19th century cultural developments such as ‘nihilism’—Nietzsche for instance was against nihilism and was actually a modern pagan progenitor.

Monday was my Echrtai, Imramma, Aisling workshop—welcome to any new readers from that! I spoke about The Adventures of Near, Cormac’s Adventure In The Land of Promise, and The Voyage of Bran among others. Actually I had enough to talk about for a three-hour slot (we’re only allotted ninety minutes), but some basic journey work was undertaken. I personally love doing this type of working together and hearing people’s reports afterward. I found particularly striking the folks whose boat traveled by means of song or sound.

There were so many other interesting sounding events I was not able to make it to. It’s astonishing how the staff pulls off the sheer magnitude of this event, and it’s a great event, warts notwithstanding. The colloquy, the fun, the community-making that goes on makes me always look forward to the next one.