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 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. 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.


2 thoughts on “PantheaCon Reportage: The Excellent & The Good

  1. Erynn

    I was really impressed by the wonderful discussion that arose around that workshop. There were so many great contributions from the folks attending, which is what I like best. I love to get people participating, thinking, discussing. It’s so important to engage everyone and draw out all the knowledge that others have. It wouldn’t have been nearly so much fun or so successful without everyone who contributed to the discussion.

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