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
Juniperro Serra, founder of the California mission system, spearhead of the Spanish conquest of California, established missions where native people were worked dawn to dusk to their death on 1400 calories a day and stated the Indians “should be put to the knife”. He administered daily floggings and was a vicious person. Yet, the Vatican wants to make him a saint. Here in San Francisco the local Ohlone people were lured into Mission Dolores, but once inside there was no exiting except via death. Men and women were kept locked in their own dormitories, husbands and wives separated. Yes, however charming the architecture, they were death camps. A little known fact is that the pavement between the back of the Mission and the Archdiocese offices covers a mass Ohlone burial. At least 60,000 California Natives perished in the Missions.
According to Elias Castillo, whose book A Cross of Thorns I want to read,
“The Spanish missions of California have long been misrepresented as places of benign and peaceful coexistence between Franciscan friars and California Indians …In fact, the mission friars enslaved the California Indians and treated them with deliberate cruelty, in my book I describe the dark and violent reality of Mission life, beginning in 1769, when most of the California Indians were enticed into the missions, where they and their descendents were imprisoned for 60 years of forced labor and daily beatings.”
An account of Mission Carmel by a French ship captain Jean-François de Galaup, le Comte de la Pérouse, upon his visit to Mission Carmel in 1786 described conditions like those of the worst slave operated sugar plantations that he had seen in the Caribbean. Yet public school children of my generation were taught that the Missions were idyllic places where the Indians were civilized and brought to the gentle care of Jesus. We were also taught they were extinct.
Despite these unpleasant facts the Vatican wants to make a saint out of Serra.
It looks like I can only muster a brief note on this year’s PantheaCon, perhaps there will be more later, perhaps not.
Really, I’ve had more trouble than usual in trying to wrap my thoughts into words about the 2015 PantheaCon. It was a brief ‘Con this year for me, as I was only able to attend from Saturday evening to late Sunday night. The time I spent there was definitely about the craic and the colloquy, the important conversations and nourishing dialogues with friends from far away, and of people I only see at PantheaCon. Murtagh an Doile, of Nemed na Morrigna, one of those doing proto-CR back in the 80s, and head of the Pagan History Project; big hearted Oggie of El Paso; PSV Lupus; the Anomalous Thracian; and Duffi McDermott, were among these. It was good to meet the very knowledgeable Thenea of Pandemos, a South SF Bay Hellenic group, the marvelous Jaina Bee, and Alley Valkyrie who gave me some wonderful honeybee patches and an anti-capitalist zine (thanks!). And a few good rituals were had, including the Ekklesia Lupercalia in which I participated, and a rite to Dionysos Hestios.
Although San Jose is relatively close for me, I live too far for it to be a daily commute. Also the Con is held in one of the most expensive locales in the US (Silicon Valley) and even a sad-sack room for one night in a so-called nearby “budget” motel cost me over a 100 dollars. A usual accommodation had fallen out, and I use medical equipment for sleeping (yes, a C-pap machine).
I had had some apprehensions before I arrived, which quickly dissipated after running into some of the aforementioned friends, but at one point I almost went to the Pagan Scholar’s suite but noticed on the board that Atheopagan was soon be making a presentation, so I headed toward the elevator. I do work to avoid unnecessary stress and negativity in my life. Unfortunately this was unavoidable for other attendees, especially those of color. Much has written about a stupid unofficial bulletin put out by an anonymous group that apparently finds racism comical (read Aedicula Antinoi for a thorough treatment of this). But there was much more. I was only briefly able to stop by the Pagans of Color hospitality suite hosted by Elena Rose, Xochiquetzal Duti Odinsdottir and other fine folks,but was horrified later to hear that people had been walking down the hall there making verbal harassments. Some felt physically unsafe walking around.
I’m just…almost at a loss of words that this level of racism/white supremacism is going on at PantheaCon. I’d really like to know what the planners have in mind to better the situation in the future. It really is scary, and I am left wondering about the future of PantheaCon.
I have to push myself to share personal practice, but friends say it is important to do so, as we grow our polytheistic traditions. So here is a brief account of my weave of winter holidays, of which there have been so many: Solstice, Yule, Christmas (which yes, I do celebrate in a secular and family way), Devotions for Dionysos, Antinous, the Brigids, Nuadha, CúChulainn, all the Shining Ones of the Gaels, the ancestors, and many more. No big (Druid grove) ritual this year for me, but many devotions, and small celebrations and rites. And so we weave the sacred into our lives.
Some of what I did: two days of Solstice/Yule, a home dinner, offerings to the Gods and ancestors and a local land spirit, whiskey for CúChullainn whom I offer to around the 21st, chocolate for Antinous, and a gift for Dionysos—a beautiful piece of metalwork of grapes and vines that I bought at the Berkeley holiday craft fair on Telegraph for his shrine. On the last day of Saturnalia (Sigillaria) I walked out to the park where I have long celebrated Antinous and Diana. A big storm had blown down a large part of one of the cypress trees that makes an entry into Diana’s Grove. A few boughs were gathered; one is on my Antinous shrine (where I honor other deities associated with him in Ekklesia Antinoou practice also) and another sent to an esteemed colleague.
For years on Christmas Eve I’ve made a kind of Mother’s Night offering for my blood ancestors, especially the female, Germanic ones. They get cookies, cake, and rich organic milk/cream. One of my great grandmothers and her sister have become a focal point on my ancestor shrine which is in the dining room, an appropriate location I feel. I used to offer drink to the werewolves on this night also, but the last few years have been unable to as I currently have no neighborproof outdoor space. At my home we do celebrate a secular Christmas, a family day. Early on New Years’ I made small offerings –poems, incense, candles, and prayers for Janus, Hermes and Antinous at my Antinous shrine. My partner makes a beautiful and magical traditional Filipino (his heritage) New Year’s table, with fruit and bowls of coins to bring luck and the good stuff in the new year. Subtle magic.
Later we walked on the beach under the sandstone cliffs; spirits were showing everywhere. An offering was made to Ogma and an ogham divination done. Later I did my usual saining, purifying the flat completely with smoke of juniper and cedar.
I love the still quiet time…though, especially now at the beginning of the new year, with all my work completed for my job and some time ahead for my own projects, plenty of reading (I got some great books this Yule! including Detienne’s The Masters of Truth In Archaic Greece and Page duBois’ Out of Athens and the fascinating Steven Mithen’s After The Ice: A Global Human History 20,000–5000 BC, a mini-course in prehistory in itself), and some trance/journey work. But simply recharging is so vital. I notice after I’ve been off work for awhile I start remembering my dreams more often, and some of them have been pretty intense. In the quiet time my spiritual vision kicks in stronger. I’m more likely to be aware of spirits. Ancient calendars were designed with the wisdom of the intercalary between times, though most moderns just see it as their lack of scientific precision. Yesterday was the day I honor the ancient Druids, a day some of us call The Festival of the Three Druids or Feis Tri Druad, which is sort of a repurposing of Epiphany or Three Wise Kings Day (for more on this see https://aediculaantinoi.wordpress.com/2012/01/06/a-dies-mortis-sancti-and-a-feis/), a big holiday in Catholic countries. I think one can come up with one’s own triad (or triads); for me this year it was Bodhmhall, Tlachtga, and Fedelm who received the honors, but I also have widened it to be a Festival of the Ancient Druids in general. And so also of my own aisling contacts and guides. Offerings were made at my home shrine as well as a night walk to a grove of evergreens at a spot high above the Pacific. The day brought quite an epiphany of sorts too.
This round completes my midwinter holidays, which this season were also blessed by rain. El Niño please bring more!
I’ll close with a great quote from a Yanomamo (Amazonian) leader/shaman named Davi Kopenawa.
On western cities
Their cities are beautiful to see, but the bustle of their inhabitants is frightening. People there live piled up one on top of another and squeezed side by side, as frenzied as wasps in the nest. It makes you dizzy and obscures your thought. I can never think calmly in the city. People constantly ask you for money for everything, even to drink and urinate. Everywhere you go you find a multitude of people rushing, although you do not know why. Whenever I stay there too long I become restless and cannot dream.
There’s a tiny creek in a park near here that I only discovered last summer. It has experienced restoration and native plant planting (this was once a military base) and certain stretches felt very enspirited. But in my acquaintance so far it had been dry. There have been a number of showers since the end of the last month and a soaking rain the night before last and I wondered if this had already had an impact. So on the way home from work I drove through the park and walked down to the creek. Quick growing plants have cast a soft green cloak over the land, but at first I couldn’t see any flowing water. Then I walked carefully down to the channel and there it was, a ribbon of fast flowing water. A little thrill ran through me. I greeted the creek and introduced myself as formerly it has been in summer sleep. A small sign of a new cycle. A growing relationship.
As a Celtic practitioner, I feel watersheds are so important, we need both knowledge of our local watersheds and to make relationships with them. From the ancient cultures we can know that rivers, streams, lakes, springs and wells were goddesses and spirits; this is certainly a key to seeing how the land should be viewed as sacred, the very water that gives it life alive and worthy of worship. Living in a dry land perhaps I am especially reverent around water. But I believe this is an important foundation in Celtic land ethics. And for those of us in the diaspora one that might take some effort.
Often it’s something subtle, a glow of light through leaves, a deeper shade, a resonance of bark, and the sense of something much greater and older imbues consciousness. And someone appears. Maybe a banana slug. A surprising creature moving ever so slowly, gliding in slow motion over the moss on a dead tree trunk in moist ferny forest. There are species that when they appear seem like a spirit of the forest. I should rephrase that, this humble creature surely is a spirit of the forest. Scientifically it is Ariolimax, an air breathing gastropod mollusk that lives in the moist cool redwood zone of coastal northern California and in the wet coastal forests all the way up to southeast Alaska (with a few limited relict populations further south and to the east in the Sierra Nevada). But through the lens of the animist it is something more, my experience of it is more than rationalist knowledge can contain. I’m not putting down that kind of knowledge (I find people always jump to such conclusions when any limitations to our dominant mode of rationality are stated) as it obviously informs my understanding of this creature that is the mascot of the University of California at Santa Cruz.
But there is something improbable about the banana slugs and their appearances; at least for me. I feel a kind of surprise; I who usually find garden slugs disgusting, yet these primal creatures of the forest elicit something like what the Japanese call yugen, reflecting something deep and hinting of unnoticed things. The Japanese poet Kamo no Chōmei (13th century) offers the following as a characterization of yūgen: “It is like an autumn evening under a colorless expanse of silent sky. Somehow, as if for some reason that we should be able to recall, tears well uncontrollably.” Or Nancy Hume writing in Japanese Aesthetics and Culture: A Reader writes, “When looking at autumn mountains through mist, the view may be indistinct yet have great depth. Although few autumn leaves may be visible through the mist, the view is alluring. The limitless vista created in imagination far surpasses anything one can see more clearly” (Hume, 253–54). The Beat poet Hettie Jones (and first wife of Amiri Baraka) had a literary magazine in the ‘50s called Yugen, with the emphasize on surprise, paradox, like the classic yugen image of a tree growing out of rock, the unexpected, the richness of emotional perception, awe.
I would say chains of relationships, of time, of the exceptions, braidings and weavings of life are evoked. The ecologist Aldo Leopold, who was an advisor on conservation to the United Nations and died in 1948 in a grass fire, used the term noumenon, an imponderable essence of material things. He writes of how in the north woods autumn landscape consists of “the land, plus a red maple, plus a ruffed grouse. In terms of conventional physics, the grouse represents only a millionth of either the mass or the energy of an acre. Yet subtract the grouse and the whole thing is dead. An enormous amount of some kind of motive power has been lost (A Sand County Almanac, 137). He goes on to mention various birds who are the noumenon of different landscapes like the Thick-billed Parrot of the Sierra Madre. I’d say the Stellar’s jay is one in the redwood forest, but so is the banana slug, that humble invertebrate, flashing yellow in the dim woods, gliding slowly, but determinedly down through the ages.
I love it when by happenstance I come upon a natural shrine or altar somewhere in nature that other people have been drawn to. Here is a redwood tree from a beautiful grove in the Berkeley/Oakland hills that has attracted devotion.
My partner and I added our contribution and prayers.