November 30th is Remembrance Day for Lost Species. I believe commemorations like this can be channels for the grief that any authentic living in this time must confront. Definitely a good day to mark for those with an animist bent.
I’ve written a couple of poems and tributes to the lost birds of the Big Island of Hawai’i for this day.
A distinctively human consciousness arose in Paleolithic
linguistics and painted its wrestle with abyssal animal mind,
staving guilt of hunt and anxiety separation
with ritual’s diplomacy:
ochre and feathers
and sorcerers dancing on the edge of worlds,
occasionally falling off into the pit of bones.
now centuries of the rites cast aside,
suppressed volcanoes of grief wait unaddressed
and sedimentary layers of numbness press on our continents—
a society looks for the forgotten
who peek occasionally from sedated dreams,
in pixar and pokemon-alert smartphones
(the children were out in August—I hadn’t known there were any,
but there they’d gathered near where the stream gushes by the supermarket unseen)
while outside barely known
the Sixth Extinction rages on.
We the truly lost species as tectonic plates grind on.
Here on the island of Hawai’i there are at least ten species of bird that have gone extinct since the arrival of whites in the late 18th century. There are many more if the entire archipelago is included. Hawaii has suffered more extinctions and more endangered species than any other US state. The majority of these lost species are of a group of birds called Hawaiian honeycreepers that underwent diverse speciation as they adapted to a multitude of island environments much like the finches that led Darwin to theorizing evolution. In many cases their habitat was destroyed by sugar plantations and cattle ranching; also the introduction of rats, mosquitoes and the diseases they transmit (there were none before the Europeans came), mongooses and cats have led to the demise of others.
The Hawaii mamo, Drepanis pacifica, last seen in 1898.
The greater Koa finch, Rhodocanthis palmeri. Last confirmed sighting in 1896.
The lesser Koa finch, R. flaviceps, 1891.
The Kona grosbeak, Chloridops kona. 1894.
The Hawai’i o’o, Moho nobilis, last seen in 1934.
The ula-‘ai-hawene, Ciridops anna, extinct at the latest by 1937.
The greater ‘amakini, Viridonia sagittirostris, last seen in1901. Lost to sugar plantations destroying its habitat.
The lesser ‘akialoa, Akialoa obscura. Last seen in 1940.
The Hawaiian rail, Porzana sandwichensis. 1884 or maybe 1893.
The kioea, Chaetoptila angustipluma, 1859.
All images Wikipedia, public domain.
before the cattle, before the sugar,
before the mosquitoes and rats
brought by whalers’ ships,
before the plantations
how much richer the island life—
when the lost birds could be heard cracking
the naio fruits, flitting in gold epaulettes and black dress
Hawai’i has a vital shrine culture. I came across this shrine by happenstance this afternoon. Even though this labor activist was murdered when Hawai’i was still an independent kingdom (1889), it had largely been taken over by American plantation owners by then (who instituted the coup a few years later that led to the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy and the occupation by USA). This young immigrant sugar worker had learned English before leaving Japan but was lynched on the Hamakua coast.
Counter what a small, if very noisy, subset of American polytheists would have it animism/polytheism is hardly the precinct of the Right. I am moved that Goto’s shrine is still lovingly and beautifully maintained.
The sugar plantations are gone, but corporate and oligarchic interests are still rife. But as the plaque says his spirit lives on! What is remembered, lives.
And apologies for the blurry photos—it seems that (and not altogether unrelated) smartphone cameras are designed to degrade purposefully to get us to ever buy new models.
The winds are blowing hard. Last night they howled and moaned, things clattered and knocked about outside. A light rain falls. A storm is expected tomorrow. It seems to reflect things happening far away in the national ‘center’. I think of David Abram’s intuiting of the wind as spirit. This has been a difficult year on a personal level. When you have a local focus and animistic practice big moves, changes of geography and ecology are painful. At times I have been nearly overwhelmed with what the French call mal du pays (yes, the French have a much better word for what English makes do with homesickness; readers of Haruki Murakami, that animist novelist, will recognize this term, and know Lizt has a musical piece by this name). Local spirits left behind. Meeting new ones, but that takes time.
Things are shifting, realignments occurring on the macro-level. This is happening within our pagan/polytheist communities as well. Unpleasant things have come to light this year, things that weren’t exactly invisible before, but like seeing peoples’ masks slip, and seeing such ugliness revealed.
Rootedness is good for animism, good for learning ecological ways. But uprooting can be needed, so a god tells me. And there are much greater ones, much greater uprootings. I received rebuke (it hurt), my complaints getting in the way of doing the work. The storm warning says trees will be downed. Be prepared. Stock up on water, batteries…
A god shows me we must make otherworld sanctuaries, places not of this world. With our gods-given gift of imagination we co-create these places. They will be needed.
The winds blow harder. I am much more aware of the sky here. The stars. Much of my practice has long been deeply earth-focused (and still is) but the sky is becoming more prominent. There are times for flight. I receive lessons. I watch the birds, especially the white ones. At times it is necessary to fly high above the cloud layers, above the storms to high mountain summits, to the Cities of Knowledge, to the abodes that shine with the light of the Shining Ones.
We need to unleash the imbas, the awen, the intuitive flows. I touch the odd vitreous substance of the castle walls. There are others here too, others heeding have flown here.
I went up on the mountain, almost to the summit. Iron-red and black cinder all about. I was light headed, this one was this-worldly but not really, it all intersects, the heavens and the earth. Some build bridges with science, some with poetry. I was oxygen deprived, I was drunk, the light was tangible. Poetry flit in the thin air, the god wanted me to go there for a long time, I could see for two hundred miles. It’s necessary at times to go high above the cloud layers above the storms to high summits.
It’s been quiet here for a bit. Lots of work stuff, and life thrown us a difficult blow recently. But time to share a poem. This one came while I was writing prose about reenchantment. The eucalyptus tree, while originally from Australia, is a signature part of the California landscape. Some people would like to see them gone, saying they are fire traps. I’m rather fond of them myself.
The bee came at me and then buzzed away.
I stand here:
tall dried mustard, purple flower kind,
the ground is sandy,
the log imposes
pale and catches attention
pulling me in to investigate.
a low key compelling, behind is an altar shaped log
Boundaries are often good things, walls sometimes, sometimes not. Walls are much in the US news of late, with a would be demagogue loudly proclaiming the need to build a wall between the US and Mexico, and another would be president imbecile saying it’s worthwhile to explore building one between the US and Canada. Which leads to the thought if the inhabitants were completely walled in, wouldn’t that be a prison?
Staking out claims, carving out territory, specifically for those whose theological stance is definitely polytheist has been and continues to be a necessary action, when larger communities have proven so often that they want to redefine our polytheist stances into their own—or to disregard ours completely. But it works both ways, an obsession for taxonomy doesn’t necessarily lead to a healthy practice. It easily leads to this is the ‘right and true way’ to do Polytheism.
One aspect of this makes me at times feel like I’m caught in one of those awful European tortures of centuries past (drawing and quartering), being pulled in more than one direction. This is the notion that Paganism (that poorly defined rain protection device) has various ‘centers’. These are said to be the Gods, Nature, the Self (not the ego), and Community. I orient in a general way within the Druidic Three Kindreds practice. That is the Gods, the Spirits (conceived as spirits of land, sea, sky, that is lowercase nature) and the Ancestors. That my practice is largely deity-driven and focused doesn’t in any way preclude my animism, devotion to the spirits, seen and unseen. And all of these drew me to paganism in the first place.
I agree with John Beckett that it is very important to have that vocabulary of fishes (http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnbeckett/2015/08/fish-is-not-just-fish.html); if I want mahi-mahi I certainly don’t want to end up with a plate of perch. But I might want to order that seafood medley the next time around (I still want to know what’s in there but the grouping might offend your taxonomy, though*). Boundaries and definitions (and they are very important in a time when people want to make words mean whatever they feel like—like the Atheopagans now saying they have a ‘theology’ and a ‘creed’), yes, but let’s note we are setting our taxonomies up, they weren’t cargo dropped from the Sky by the gods, and we need to be careful we don’t set up high walls that only keep us in—or worse dismember our bodies and minds. My core tradition (Irish) is full of overflows, spills, gushes, after all. Defining things needs to be strategic and conscious and strategies have to be able to be changed. Walls can be undermined, or bored through or overflown. Nomads have much to teach. And we oughtn’t forget walls/borders are built across indigenous territories in colonial architectures devised to divide and rule.
My religion includes trees, gods, stones, demigods, ancestors, lakes, creeks, ancestors, more gods, animals, heroes, the sun and the moon, deified humans, the stars… and if it’s not clear, I will say it: all are persons with agency.
*An obsession with taxonomy can be found in the Book of Leviticus.
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….
I will be writing more extensively about the conference, but for now here are some pictures. The conference was a deeply meaningful array of experiences. It was such a welcoming place, and the need for such dedicated polytheist time was profoundly felt. My gratitude to PSV Lupus, Niki Whiting and Rhyd Wildemuth!