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.
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:
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:
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.”
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 promised this a while back, but have been so busy and now realize nearly a month has passed. So…
I talked about exploring some Celtic practices upon North American land, like encountering the local land goddess in whichever land we live on, working with river and creek deities/spirits, springs and other local spirits; ways of offering to them, based on years of my own experience and experiments. I also talking about what reconstructionist methodology is and what some of the very serious pitfalls are such as the reenactment mindset, being unaware how deeply different we are from ancient peoples, being incognizant of scholarly perspectives and inevitable historiographical interpretations, as well as reading the lore like it was gospel…and discussed the experimental approach as one way to avoid such, and to simply get things going: try something out and see if there is result and what kind of result. Then I opened it up to discussion and sharing. A strong takeaway is that there are religions that have sufficient common ground so it is easy to talk together, and without any apparent misunderstandings, or anything major at any rate. That actual polytheist religions, and not only reconstructed ones of European and Near Eastern origins, but those generated in many parts of the world share so much. Often these are sacrificial and liturgical in orientation, and have profound local affinities; offerings important to all of the ones I have encountered.
Although the presentation was scheduled rather late into a Friday night (recon/devotional polytheist events are often scheduled early in the morning or late in the evening or at opening or closing spots when many have not arrived or many have already left), when many convention goers were partying or attending concerts, we staked out a space for serious discussion and interactions that I found encouraging. It was great to hear the experiences of a woman reconstructing Indo-Iranian practices, and the perspectives of heathenchinese (check out his blog at heathenchinese.wordpress.com/), as well as from those with a Celtic focus, and also some heathens. PSV Lupus was there and had plenty of good things to share too (unsurprisingly) Again, the ability to share language and not having terrible times understanding one another’s words is so different an experience from the debates in the ‘umbrella pagan’ sphere (or for that matter at the Wiccanate Privilege session). I find that people involved in various reconstructions (and those who are more engaged in restoration of existing traditions) are able to converse fruitfully.
There were people also who attended to simply get some idea of reconstruction. One asked a question that kind of surprised me: Why do reconstructionists want to revive these old traditions? I didn’t actually answer the following, but I thought because old things are really cool! (well, not everything, but you know). I did say a lot of us want something that is different than the dominant culture and its values. Perhaps this is a conceptual divide that is very hard to cross and is one of the difficulties in communicating with eclectic Wiccanate neopagans who want something that easily fits into the superficial instant of the consumer culture.
Much of what I most enjoyed this year was talking to friends and co-religionists and new acquaintances over meals, and in hospitality suites, and the various public spaces of the rather maze-like hotel, but I do want to mention a few public events I went to.
First off, I’ll mention a fairly disappointing panel on sacrifice. My hopes weren’t high for this one, and I almost didn’t go (and I left early), as it was hosted by Rynn Fox, a woman involved in eating horse meat in Canada and calling it a sacrifice, though it was bought on the market (it being legal to consume horseflesh in Canada). I think there is a difference between offering and sacrifice, the making holy of something and taking it out of this world into the sacred. As my friend and colleague Saigh Kym Lambert, who is a devotee of the Morrígan and Macha dunsgathan.net/caithream/, has said buying meat, slaughtered in cruel fashion (as is always the case with horse slaughter, as horses have a very different anatomy than cattle), is a far cry from sacrifice, and is an insane thing to offer a horse goddess. There is little record of horse as sacrificial animal in Gaelic tradition anyway, but as another Druid colleague said to me, if we consider the possibility as in royal inauguration (like in Gerald of Wales’ report) it would be an animal that would have been treated like a king. A modern person would have to raise the animal exceptionally and it would be an emotionally fraught experience to make such sacrifice. Even a devastating loss. Putting that aside momentarily, I felt I should check out what would be said.
There was a range of panelists, including atheist pagan and anthropologist, Amy Hale, Sam Webster of the Pantheon Foundation, and Mamba Chita Tann (a Vodou priestess). Various valid points were made, such as someone with professional slaughterer/butcher training is needed if one does animal sacrifice, and that is required in Afro-diasporic traditions; that there are the dangers of stupid young people thinking this is a cool thing to do, among other points. I wanted to comment on both the over-emphasis on animal sacrifice in what had been said, and also on the distinction between offerings and sacrifice but was repeatedly passed over when I raised my hand. Then because a lot of people did want to join the discussion, a highly controlling format was set up—people were told to get in a line for a mike; well, I was sitting in the middle, and a huge bunch of people from the front immediately surged into line; it was pretty clear the rest of us would not get to talk, so I found it an opportune time to leave. I will be writing more about sacrifice on this blog.
At this point I don’t go to many rituals at the’Con. I’m energetically sensitive; and I’ve explored rites of many different religions over the years, but these days I mostly like to focus on those of my own traditions or ones close to them. I also prefer to avoid rituals for deities I worship, which are being done in a Wiccanate format. For years now at the ‘Con one of my favorite rituals has been the Lupercalia put on by the Ekklesia Antinoou. While far from having a Roman-oriented practice (and not subscribing to some of its theological points), I am a citizen and a mystes of this syncretistic group. The magister, P. S. Virius Lupus has (re)constructed a Lupercalian rite, among many others of the Ekklesia, which allows plentiful opportunity for praying to the main deity and others, in a setting that is powerful and serious. The rite also involves a foot race that has a bit of chaos to it and ‘raises energy’ like nothing else at the ‘Con in my experience. In ancient times this was performed by young men, but innovatively in the Ekklesia, it is open to all genders. There is also a moment for ritual laughter, which can be quite cathartic. Lupercalia shares with other Indo-European rites of early spring, like Imbolc, ritual lustration and purification; in the Lupercalia this includes being whipped lightly by goat leather thongs (in this rite simply on the palms of the hands).More here:aediculaantinoi.wordpress.com/2014/02/23/pantheacon-2014-lupercalia/
Another rewarding panel I attended was the Pagans and Privilege one. Hosted by Thorn Coyle, panelists were Crystal Blanton, Xochiquetzal Duti Odinsdottir, Charlie Glickman and the ever-so articulate and amazing Filipina/Jewish transwoman Elena Rose Vera. Racism, transphobia, homophobia, sexism, classism, intersectionality and much, much more were discussed within communities of the pagan umbrella. It was an excellent panel and lots of fruitful dialog with the large audience. I’ve said enough elsewhere about the closing prayer (and I was happy to see Thorn address it on her own blog). Talks like these make the PantheaCon worth it. And from my Caucasian-blinkered perspective it does seem that PantheaCom is getting more ethnically diverse, though great work obviously needs to be done.
I’ll discuss the presentation I put on on Experimental Reconstruction in a separate post.
The 20th PantheaCon will be happening over the President’s Day weekend in San Jose, California. From the Con’s website: “Join our huge and varied Pagan, Heathen, Wiccan, Reconstructionist, Indigenous, spiritual and magical groups in education and celebration. As usual, we fill the hotel’s 18 function rooms with concerts, workshops, rituals, and presentations, including 4 ballrooms for Vendors along with open house parties.”
From the program guide (slightly edited): Experimental Reconstructionism is often seen as something overly tied to a distant past, to ways of life (and mentalities) that are far from our own. What are some ways we can use recon methodologies, but in an experimental way, taking practices as far as we can understand them and then trying them out in our own context? Example: River goddesses were worshiped in ancient Celtic cultures–how to apply that here and now? Discussion meant to further participants’ own experiments. Applicable to various other cultural traditions too.
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 http://chaosdancer.egoplex.com/caera/music.html. 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.
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. http://aediculaantinoi.wordpress.com/2012/02/01/on-feis-brigid-7-darlugdach-and-narrative-theology-notes/. 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.
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.