Some Thoughts on the Recent PantheaCon

I meant to post this a couple weeks ago but came down with a nasty cold. But here are my impressionistic PantheaCon thoughts.

By turns revivifying, draining, overwhelming, recharging, hope giving, and ever so American in its hugeness PantheaCon charged up in the Doubletree Hotel owned by the Hilton hotel chain, which sits in the flood plain of the Guadalupe river, though from the hotel you would never know it flows nearby. Perhaps the incongruence and contradictions are appropriate—earth-revering pagans and corporate America, the rush of the adjacent freeways, the bubble of other worlds seeping from portals within a middle class generic hotel. Rhyd Wildermuth spoke on witches in a crumbling empire, on how empire is lodged everywhere in our mind/bodies. Walking near the hotel and to the Motel 6 where I spent the last nights of the conference (don’t even ask) on avenues allergic to pedestrians, I found a convocation of crows had gathered around the building; to me a good sign of protection, though for others it might mean something menacing (omens are relative and directed). I felt more of an exhausted empire myself in the landscape of onramps and tech ‘campuses’ and Denny’s. Here is America hyped and amped up, determined to race along until the fuel tank is empty, circuits of pointless rushes, oblivious to surroundings, as long as the ear buds are in and the smartphone is working.

***

In a smallish hotel room has been transformed into a temple. The entire room is lined with marvelous shrines, images of many deities, and pervaded with presences. Rhythmic song and people swaying, this is a place of transport in this very same mundane hotel, but here we are in another world; another culture is in birthed action. A place of Wide Branches and Deep Roots.

 

I speak one evening about the sea and filidecht to a surprisingly large group of attendees, we explore the cauldron of poesy. Beforehand I had gone outside into the pouring rain which purified me, and the otherworld lapped around my feet, momentarily took my glasses, and said it’s time to turn to that inward vision now.

 

A few days later I watched a construction site near the Motel 6 that had turned into a lake, with a small mound rising from the center by a construction crane. The floods rise in any landscape, no matter how postindustrial and seemingly manmade*. The mounds are to be found in all countries, with their portals to the dead. The dead are invited in, to walk the concourses, as we open more doorways into the impossible futures full of beauty and joy. At a marvelous rite led by Welsh Druid Kristopher Hughes, he said that a real spiritual path takes anxiety and transforms it into joy.

 

To turn the Cauldron of Motion, our sorrows and joys move the cauldron, and help to move it upright due to our own efforts of a fully lived life. I cried tears of blocked sorrow, saw the sky bright eyes of a goddess looking down, and let go into the tide. This is a time to both delve deep and activate on the surface. Cauldrons were abrewing, spells woven, blessing poured forth over the long weekend. My body was exhausted by over 6000 miles of travel, my soul revivified, shards of empire pulled out of flesh.

 

* Just a few days before the start of the ‘Con the town of Oroville to the north was evacuated due to the waters building up and threatening the Oroville dam, one of the world’s largest such structures. A crater formed in the spillway and the emergency spillway was seriously eroded.

Filidecht Resources

Here are some useful resources.

Breatnach, Liam. “The Caldron of Poesy”. Eriu 32. 1981.

Calder, George. Auraicept na n-Eces: the Scholar’s Primer.https://archive.org/details/auraiceptnancess00calder

Carey, John. “The Waters of Vision and the Gods of Skill”. Art and the Sacred Kairos and the Dallas Institute for Humanities and Culture. 23 March, 1991. Santa Fe.

Carney, James. Medieval Irish Lyrics with The Irish Bardic Poet.

Chadwick, Nora. Poetry and Prophecy. Good worldwide survey form 1952 (but does contain some racist/colonialist attitudes prevalent in that era).

—, Chadwick. “Imbas forosnai”. Scottish Gaelic Studies, 1935.

Corkery, Daniel. The Hidden Ireland.

Ford, Patrick. “The Blind, the Dumb, and the Ugly”. Cambridge Medieval Celtic Studies 19.

Guyonvarc’h, Christian J. The Making of a Druid: The Hidden Teachings from The Colloquy of Two Sages (the text with annotations).

Heaney, Seamus. Sweeney Astray: A Version from the Irish. Irish poet’s translation of        Suibhne Geilt, the poetry of “mad Sweeney’, a glimpse into the world of a geilt, outsider poet living in the woods.

Henry, P. L. “The Caldron of Poesy”. Studia Celtica 14/15. 1979/80.

Jones, Mary. Jones Celtic Encyclopedia. 1998-2015. Web.

Laurie, Erynn Rowan. The Well of Five Streams (contains her Cauldron of Poesy article).

Minahane, John. The Christian Druids: on the filid or philosopher-poets of Ireland.

Nagy, Nagy, Joseph Falaky. The Wisdom of the Outlaw: The Boyhood Deeds of Finn in Gaelic Narrative Tradition. Berkeley and Los Angeles: U of California Press, 1985. The Fenian outsider warriors were poets too.

Ó hÓgáin, Dáithí The Sacred Isle. A crucial book for understanding pre-Christian practices and believes in Ireland by an Irish Celticist.

Ó hÓgáin, Dáithí. Myth, Legend and Romance: An Encyclopaedia of Irish Folk Tradition. London: Ryan, 1990.

Ó Tuathail, Sean. The Excellence of Ancient Word: Druid Rhetorics from Ancient Irish Tales. Idiosyncratic modern practitioner’s take is worth a read.

Patterson, Nerys. Cattle Lords and Clansmen: The Social Structure of Early Ireland. The historical background.

Skelton, Robin. Samhain and other poems in Irish Metres of the Eighth to the Sixteenth Centuries. Contains an appendix with the different traditional meters.

Thompson, Christopher Scott. A God Who Makes Fire: the Bardic Mysticism of Amergin. A recommended practitioner’s handbook.

Above the Clouds

It’s been quiet around here (it seems with the gloom of the US political situation, prepping for a new job, and my mom being hospitalized my ability to write has been stopped up), but before the newness of the year is gone I want to spill out a few words here. The old year sputtered out with an occasional remaining fit of coughing and spewing. A new one has come in with the energy of a careening freight train, will the rails hold, or if not what might be down there at the end of the line? Some will say years are arbitrary but they are astronomical realities. Sure, it’s a cultural thing where they’re said to start and to end and begin again but we are symbolic animals and psyche is as real as soma.

 

For many in the northern hemisphere it’s winter, but here in the tropics day and night are the antinomies, but the nights have at least cooled off. At the end of the year I had the opportunity to journey up to a high summit (just under 14,000 feet) where winter is reigning. Plenty of snow on the amazing mountain of Maunakea. The effects of high altitude, of low oxygen can easily induce light trance-like states, and the otherworld can more easily communicate with this one at these heights, I have found. Whether via literal heights or those we can reach in our imagination, in “interesting times” it is important to get above the clouds from time to time, above the light pollution of the media (including social media). Of course, one can go underneath too, but that is a different journey.

 

I do have a few announcements to make:

 

I will be at PantheaCon in San Jose in February and presenting a class on filidecht practice on Feb. 17th, “Cauldron Work: The Cauldron of Poesy” (9PM). Here’s from the program:

 

The Three Cauldrons are discussed in the medieval Irish text: “The Cauldron of Poesy”, attributed to the mythical vision poet (fili) Amergin. We will talk about the nature of the whirlpool-like cauldrons and their turning in this wisdom tradition, the importance of our emotions in this tradition (which can turn the cauldrons), and techniques to scan for personal knowledge. To turn the cauldron of wisdom upright, even if momentarily, brings mystical insight. We will discuss the key technique of incubation as well; poetry, art, song, knowledge, wisdom are fruit of this work.

 

The devotional book The Dark Ones, published late last year by Neosalexandria has my poem for the Cailleach, along with a lot of familiar voices. Ordering info here:

https://neosalexandria.org/bibliotheca-alexandrina/current-titles/fiction-anthologies/the-dark-ones-tales-and-poems-of-the-shadow-gods/

 

The new issue of A Beautiful Resistance is available for pre-order and will be out next month. I have an essay there about the left-hand sacred, an important understanding of the sacred earlier developed by Emile Durkheim, Marcel Mauss and Georges Bataille and very relevant for 21st century pagans/polytheists. https://godsandradicals.org/2017/01/01/left-sacred-presale/

Here’s a lovely meme with a quote from the essay made by Rhyd Wildermuth:

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Finally, a quote from an inspiring essay by William Hawes:

“Each of us must find the strength to light their own flame, find their own inner strength and sacred fire, and use their passion and creativity to change the world. By using our collective brilliance, a new space could be opened up for a new kind of Earth. Reviving our communities one-by-one gives us our only chance to confront and defeat the many tentacle monster of international capitalism and US imperialism. There is an alternative: but you won’t find it by watching your TV, or playing on your smartphone.”

https://godsandradicals.org/2017/01/16/lighting-a-flame-in-dark-times/

Imbolc is coming! May Brigid’s flame inspire us.

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Seasonal Reportage

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night-blooming jasmine

So last night, we celebrated our household Samhain. As usual, I cooked salmon but it was hard to find wild salmon in the local markets. The finches and doves had gotten all the land spirit offerings by the time I got up this morning (as they should). We did a Beloved Dead altar on the 31st, but very modest, as a lot of things are still in boxes in a shed, and my energy has been limited.

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The night before I had vivid dreams of unusual intensity. In one a horrifying super-wasp kind of creature, which was buzzing about the room, it was many segmented and had a bit of the centipede to it as well. I went after it and had a hard object with which I repeatedly smashed it, but every segment had to be squashed as it could grow appendages and revivify from a segment, hydra-like it was. Full of a virulent goo. But I triumphed, (as far as I know). In dream the sacred approaches us. In many forms.

On Saturday we went up to the Maunakea summit again with a group of international exchange students, to that place of deities above this world. Again the awe. You can easily walk into the Otherworld there.

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The last few days I’ve seen unusual birds, one by the shore that looked like a great blue heron, though I didn’t know they lived on the island, and an owl which flew right above my car at twilight, a good sign according to Hawaiian lore. Rainbows too.

I write this in a night of unease in the long-occupied nation of Hawai’i as the debacle of the United States election brings more instability and turbulence to our world. May the gods help us all.

A few seasonal images:

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A druid walk

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Incubation & Surrender

With Samhain approaching, on Friday I went out to one of my favorite places anywhere. At the end of a remote road on the North Kohala coast lies a deep valley. Pololu. A steep trail zigzags down to the wild beach. This is a favored place for my visionary filidecht practice of incubation. Beach huts make nice incubatory chambers. The sea itself induces light trance. I am the sound of the sea. I am the wind on the sea. The waves of the deep.

 

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Beach huts make nice incubation chambers

 

Deepening. Down, down, down, I went. The Cailleach is a deity that has surprised me in her importance in the work, as least in my practice of it. I feel she laughs with amusement that after my being cast into the sea in her cold waters I washed ashore on this remote tropical coast. And an island that could only be Otherworld from the point of view of the ancients.

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This has been a year where much was about letting go, surrendering; it has not been about my will, my ‘self’, which I think Paganism in its modern from has heavily overemphasized (I’m sure a part of our modern western notions of the absolute importance of the individual). Old ‘selves’ die, are shed, decompose, new selves sprout and grow, if one surrenders to the work of visionary traditions. It comes with pain, mutilation, as well as ecstasy. Such is sacrificial work. Consider the Shining Ones burning their ships when they landed on Eire’s shores. Did they not have great longings from whence they had come? I am told.

 

Perhaps a true sovereignty comes from overcoming the boundaries of the daylight self, the ego, of its puncturing and laceration, of the waters overflowing its dam, as French philosopher Georges Bataille suggested; that overcoming of self that happens when we really come into intimacy with the sacred.

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Lughnasadh and Various Announcements

On Sunday, we lit a druid’s fire for the first time here. Such a different environment (and no berry-picking!), but I believe the Gods were pleased. Praise to the Shining Ones!

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A Beautiful Resistance #2 is out, and edited by Lorna Smithers. I have an essay “Bataille and the Dead”, exploring the application of aspects of the philosophy of Georges Bataille for contemporary pagans and polytheists. Words from Emma Restall Orr, Heathen Chinese and other interesting writers can be found.

“The thought of French philosopher and writer Georges Bataille (1897-1962) can help reveal the ‘limited economy’, its role in creating this wasteland that is blighting the entire biosphere, and via an understanding of the ‘accursed share’, hidden by modernist productive ideology, afford pagans insights into a life beyond utility in a ‘general economy’ of sacred expenditure, one where the dead (always) await, and animality returns to us.”–Finnchuill

A Beautiful Resistance, #2

 

With Lyre and Bow: A Devotional in Honor of Apollo, edited by Jennifer Lawrence, is now available from Bibliotheca Alexandrina. I have a sonnet for the God therein.

https://neosalexandria.org/bibliotheca-alexandrina/current-titles/devotionals/with-lyre-and-bow-a-devotional-for-apollo/

 

I remember that this time a year ago, I was in beautiful Olympia, Washington attending the first Many Gods West. It was so awesome! Wish I were able to attend this year, but here I am on a tropical island, thousands of miles away. Best wishes to all attending, and presenting–I’m sure it will be wonderful.

Keepers of the Past, Guides to the Future

I’ve lately been very struck by this statement of Arundhati Roy, Indian writer, activist and author of The God of Small Things:

“The day that capitalism is forced to tolerate non-capitalist societies in its midst and to acknowledge limits in its quest for domination, the day it is forced to recognize that its supply of raw material will not be endless, is the day when change will come. If there is any hope for the world at all, it does not live in climate-change conference rooms or in cities with tall buildings. It lives lowdown on the ground, with its arms around the people who go to battle everyday to protect their forests, their mountains and their rivers because they know that the forests, the mountains and rivers protect them.”

 

“The first step towards reimagining a world gone terribly wrong would be to stop the annihilation of those who have a different imaginations—an imagination that is outside of capitalism as well as communism. An imagination which has an altogether different understanding of what constitutes happiness and fulfillment. To gain this philosophical space, it is necessary to concede some physical space for the survival of those who may look like the keepers of our past, but may really be the guides to our future.” (Quoted in This Changes Everything, Naomi Klein).

 

I find there is much applicable to pagan polytheism and our reconstructions here. And an understanding of the positive side of traditions that a reconstructionist should hope to cultivate as attitudes/practices/imagination that are an “altogether different understanding of what constitutes happiness and fulfillment” and a good way of life that what our mainstream viewpoint of neoliberal capitalism asserts. Whether Celtic—Irish, Welsh, Gaulish, etc.—or Scandinavian, Hellenic, Baltic, etc. reconstruction of our traditions provide tools of imagination and life as we fare into a dangerous future and forging new/old ways of life that are integrated into the great life cycles of our planet, of our biology and ecology and the greater cosmos. They provide us with understandings of reciprocal living in a relational landscape, that we may step out into a sacred intimacy with world.

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Christopher Williams, Ceridwen, 1910. Wikipedia commons.