First of all it was a powerful experience to be at Many Gods West, an environment where I didn’t feel like an outsider, as I so often do even at pan-Pagan events. The Governor Hotel, the site of the conference, is an interesting place with a sense of distinctive, and at times intense, local psychogeography. The current one was built in 1971 but hotels have been on the site since the mid-nineteenth century. The hotel is across the street from a tree filled park that marks the center of Olympia with a handsome, old government building on the far side. On the back side a block or two down is a shallow lake. I will say that on my first night (Thursday) the Hotel did seem to have its ghosts, and it was probably a good thing that a procession called the Furious Revels led by River Devora occurred the next day to keep any disruptive influences at bay. I soon learned that the lake had once been an estuary but was dammed and thereby flooded a shantytown that had existed on the site, apparently built in the Depression years, that was said to have housed, among others, a number of sex workers. I made offerings in the park and at the lake before the conference started and I know some others did too.
The conference formally began at 1:30 Friday afternoon with an opening ritual that I found very moving. So counter to the generic Neopagan rituals that I’ve experienced at pan-Pagan conferences before or even at Pagan Prides. First of all conference attendees had been asked to collect water from their locales and also to gather soil or a rock or such and bring it for the Opening Ritual. So often I find Pagans talk about practicing religions of the Land, yet I can’t gather anything particular or concrete of their places when I listen or talk to them. They say Earth and Water are elements they use in their rituals and such, but that’s pretty generic. At any rate, each individual had a chance to bring both their soil and their water and say where it was from and then deposit into a large bowl for soil and another for water. It was so moving to do this and listen to all of the particular places that people named. Our places have names, that is so important. Then there was a focus on ancestors, ancestors of all kinds including gender-diverse and spirit workers and warriors. Names of Native peoples were called out and the local land thanked for hosting us. Hosting, guest-ship, and hospitality and its responsibilities were a key theme at the conference. PSV Lupus had carved ancestor figures from madrone wood, and these were passed around, so each person could hold them and commune with ancestors. Again, this was very powerful. Next came the gods. Each person could come to the altar and bring a deity image or symbol (or for some of us multiple ones) and place them on the communal altar. I know some have issues with commingling but this was a god party as Lupus explained, a place where all of our deities could be honored and given the due They so deserve. I found it moving to see and hear names of deities who hark from Europe, Asia, the Americas, the Middle East, and Africa. This really set the mood for the conference, a time that was devoted to the Gods, the ancestors, the spirits, a place for deep devotion. Photos can be seen here: https://finnchuillsmast.wordpress.com/2015/08/05/many-gods-west-pictures/
That evening, Morpheus Ravenna gave the keynote address wherein she discussed discerning archetypes from the deities but with the interesting notion that the archetypes can be used by the deities to communicate with us; this all done through the metaphor of a cathedral with stained glass windows, the artistry of the stained glass windows being the archetypes, which can be filled with colors and illuminate us as the Sun –the light pouring form the multitude of the gods—lights up the colored glass. The text can be read at Polytheist.com.
After this I went to a talk by Rhyd Wildermuth entitled “What Do They Mean?”, which basically was about construction of meaning, of how truths are relational…He started by riffing off some of the meanings various people tried to establish around the recent Charleston white supremacist-perpetrated church murders, including the astonishing-to- me one that it was about an ‘attack on Christianity’, this apparently set forth by some evangelicals. A key word of the talk was his discussion of the notion of the jetzzeit, a concept of Frankfurt School critical theorist Walter Benjamin on ‘now moments’, those points in time that greatly alter meanings, like September 11, 2001. This could well have held interest for a longer time slot than the conference set up allowed for; as a colleague said to me, a smaller group with plenty of time for a discussion would have been great. I didn’t agree with everything presented, like his definition of anthropomorphicism, but it was an engaging and, dare I say, meaningful talk.
The next morning Lupus led Antinoan mystes in a pre-conference prayer and ritual for Antinous. The first officially scheduled event that I attended was Sarenth Odinsson’s “Calling To Ancestors”. Sarenth had a lot of good things to say about working with one’s ancestors and led us in a short ritual that was quite effective; I received several surprising communications.
Next up on my schedule was Heathen Chinese who presented on “Chinese Polytheism and Millenarian Movements”. This looked at the relationship between Chinese millenarian movements—much broader and more interesting than in medieval Europe—and various Chinese rebellions, and related social unrests ranging over a vast period of time all the way from the Han dynasty to the Boxer Rebellion at the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th. This included the peasant movement of 3 BCE which worshiped Xiu Wang Mu, the Queen Mother of the West, and whose chaotic ‘unrest’ was noted in royal chronicles that rarely noted religious practices of peasants, and was viewed as a portent that the country was being mismanaged and showing that the emperor may have lost the Mandate of Heaven. Famine and drought were associated with these. He also spoke of the Yellow Turban movement led by a Daoist faith healer which brought the downfall of the Han dynasty (220 CE). Similar revolts kept occurring from time to time. In the 14th century the White Lotus Society appeared under whose name rebellions would occur all the way up to 1804. A secret society that combined Buddhist and Daoist elements, it maintained radical sexual equality and had women fighters. The Boxer Rebellion held religious aspects that were never noted in my world history classes, that’s for sure. It was a polyvalent movement; one impulsion was a response against the Christian missionaries that were disrupting local communities with their conversions, which caused converts to break off ancestor worship. There was am element of Luddism, and outrage of how church spires disrupted feng shui. As in previous Chinese millenarian movements women played an important role: girls between 12 and 18, called Red Lanterns from the red lights they carried, claimed magical powers and were believed equal to the male Boxers. He drew subtly out the thread of drought and its obvious applicability to those of us in the US West (Washington is experiencing drought too) and thoughts on connection between human(dis)order and cosmic powers. This was all very well organized with lots of powerpoint slides, and definitions. Impressive. It would make an interesting book.
Then it was time for my talk on “Becoming Placed”. Several of us had our presentations at the Columbia Center, which was some blocks away, a pleasant setting itself but it did require walking through some intense heat (mid-90s). I was glad a decent amount of people turned up. I probably will post some notes separately, but I talked first of all of how we got to the place of disenchantment, focusing especially on Bacon and Newton and the ‘dissolution of place in space’ in modern thought within the context of the great shift to capitalist relations, before moving on to thoughts on reenchanting place.
On Saturday night the onset of the Bakcheion provoked an aura of mystery and a large crowd lined up to be prepared for entry. Sannion and the Backheion Crew put on an amazing ritual that engaged all the senses in devotion to the Ecstatic Lord, including dabbing with a compelling oil made by Aridela, the taste of black grapes and dried figs, and freely flowing wine, of course. I must say Dver is an amazing ritualist. I had an expectancy as to see what would personally transpire, as I’ve gone through a kind of fallow period with the Lord. Very slowly I was taken in and after quite a while I was compelled into the center of the room in front of the altar, transported by the music, and the wine and the revel of Dionysos and Ariadne: I was in a space where communication came. That is all I will say. My great gratitude for all who put on this rite. For awhile that room in the Governor Hotel was truly transported….
Sunday morning respect for my body demanded sleeping in. But I was up for Anomalous Thracian, whose talk on “Religions of Region” was like an alternative keynote address. Terms of Service was his key term and came from a dream while at the hotel. Anomalous is funny and was waving a bottle around. Yes, there is a Thracian Mystique. My notes are funny too: flotilla, god phones, not the best term; Dented cups (prompted my Denton CUUPS, where John Beckett is). The Ds: definitions, yes, definitions are Important! distinctions, differentiations, all those things. And relations. Watersheds. Definitions—we need to find better ways to talk. Jesuits and discernment were talked of too. Regions: what places do our gods come through to us, epiphanies of place, these are distinctive and will be important in future. But everything kept coming back to his term of service dream—protocols, requirements…. A great talk, but I guess, you had to be there.
Rev. Kirk Thomas (ADF ArchDruid) gave a talk on “Sacred Gifts” that was informative, funny (he is very funny) and full of good storytelling based on various Indo-European cultures. Guests, hosts, gifts, hospitality, a thread that ran throughout the conference. Among others, he told the story of Philemon and Baucis, a story of hospitality and the gods that was one of my favorite mythic tales as child and made a big impact on me, whichever grade that was when Greek mythology was first studied in elementary school (I wonder how much that one stayed in my subconscious?!). Thomas was quite emotional telling the story, which impressed me. We need a lot of heart in Druidism and sometimes it’s sadly lacking.
The ritual for the Matronae, “Reweaving the Fabric of Connections”, presented by the Hearth of the Blessed Web with oracle River Devora and priestess Rynn Fox was another very powerful one. This collective of Celtic/Germanic goddesses was called forth and spoke through the oracle. Sometimes these types of events can seem staged and inauthentic, but River Devora is the real deal. However, it seemed the Oracle was carrying most of the weight of the rite, and a Sovereignty figure could have stabilized things, (as a friend received very strong communications regarding in the rite). I was taken again into ancestral communications and insights and learned I have much work to do in this area. The coming of a Storm was prophesized.
There was a closing ritual that basically mirrored the opening ritual and the community altar was taken down. Dinner was had at the atmospheric McMennimin’s (apparently also known as the Spar) and later a few of us met in a hotel room for a short CR ritual to Iuchar, Brian and Iucharba, the Three Sons of Brighid the Poetess. “Take back the sun, Bring the Rain…” Yes, indeed.
And in restaurants, hotel rooms, and at the end of events and rites important conversations took place, where important ideas were turned over and communitas cultivated: I especially note those with C. Lee Vermeers, Disirdottir, Xochiquetzal Duti Odinsdotir, Sarenth Odinsson, Owen Cook, Silence Maestas, TurningTides, Lon Sarver, Ember Cooke, besides people already named in the event coverage.
It was a bit arduous getting to and out of Olympia, but it was a pilgrimage. The heat wave was difficult to deal with, the main event room at the hotel had no AC, just a couple of fans and even the AC in the rooms was feeble. But I supposed it added to the liminality (even the nights were hot). It was interesting to see several threads run through so many presentations like hospitality, importance of regions and place, critique of capitalist relations, etc. All in all I feel this was a historic event, and the dedication to the gods, and polytheist practice was soul-satisfying. I’m still processing and probably will be for quite a while….