I’ve thought quite a bit about how I want to structure my posts on PantheaCon 2013, and decided that I’d write three posts: one on the rituals we did, one on the rituals and sessions of allies and such that I attended, and one on “everything else” (including things that went on before and after the actual boundaries of PantheaCon from Friday through Monday, the 15th through 18th of February). But then another dilemma arose–which one to write first? After an afternoon of thinking while dreaming on this subject, and having one of the tokens of the House Thyrsatrae Communalia ritual near to me that entire time, I decided on the alliances post first. As if to confirm that, I then saw Eric Scott’s most recent post over on The Wild Hunt. Not only was he at the first event I’ll discuss below in this post, but he also attended another one that I’ll discuss later, and he spoke about both of them in his post, so I’d highly recommend reading his for good measure first.
I’ll wait while you do.
The theme of this year’s PantheaCon (and it was the 19th such event, if my reckoning is correct) was “Cooperation, Tolerance, and Love.” There was certainly quite a bit of all three of those things during the event, and before and after it, and between each event in the program. If I were challenged to make a “triad” for the weekend (which I was on Monday!), I would say that The Three Characteristics of PantheaCon 2013 were Constructive, Confluence, and Congruence. (See what I did there?) I think that is largely true based on my own experience. This was the first PantheaCon I’ve attended since 2010 that did not end with a serious feeling of tension, offense, and upset as a result of major issues of miscommunication or exclusion (and if you want to know more about those last two PantheaCons in that regard, you might read this and this). Because I so often say in my day-to-day life, as a history professor, that “those who do not know history are doomed to repeat it,” I’m glad that we’ve at least learned our history over the last two years in relation to these matters! So, that was most certainly a good thing. I’ll have more to say on some of the “darker” or, perhaps more appropriately, “more unexpected” side of an entire convention filled with so much love and cooperation in my final post in this series.
I’ll also draw your attention to the “pre-post” I have already done here, which has more to do with alliances than perhaps even the post which will follow does, and the “pre-pre-post” I did here that will touch on the first topic I address below.
While I did attend one other event on the first afternoon of PantheaCon this year, the first event in which my participation was somewhat essential was that at 3:30 PM on Friday, the Patheos.com Pagan Bloggers panel on Pagan Intrafaith. Fortunately, this panel was recorded, and you can go here and listen to it in its entirety (apart from the short conversations that happened before and after it where almost all of us met in person for the first time, all of which were pleasant!). We were first each asked to share an experience from our lives of intrafaith interaction, and I talked (not surprisingly!) about Communalia. I also addressed the issue of the difficulties of the internet in communicating effectively, and the very real matter of belief and how it can get in the way of coming together in intrafaith contexts for modern pagans. All of the other panelists made some very cogent remarks at a variety of points, and I would suggest listening to them in order to hear their viewpoints accurately from their own mouths and in their own words rather than me trying to summarize them and possibly getting their ideas wrong.
On further thought, I have some disagreements with a few of the statements that occurred during the panel, both amongst the panelists and with some of those who discussed certain matters who were in the attending audience. I am raising these points with the utmost respect for all the individuals who made them, and do so based in my own views and beliefs on these matters and how such things best occur in practice. Jason Mankey talked about being in a college group in the early 1990s, and having an exposure to a variety of practices within the broad umbrella of paganism, which he found to be enriching even when the practices concerned did not have a long-term appeal for him; but later, after the discussion point by me (and that Sarah Twichell also seconded in various ways) that meeting one another in ritual has been a good practice for creating intrafaith community, Jason remarked that he wants to meet and talk with and hug everyone, but he doesn’t want to do ritual with everyone. Steven Abell then said (metaphorically…mostly?!?) that it’s great to want to hug everyone, but not so great to want to have sex with everyone. While I agree with the literal metaphor there 100%, I’m not sure I entirely agree with the full impact of the statement. Yes, I would agree that there are certain groups with whom I’d probably never do ritual for a variety of reasons, but there are many others that I’d love to do ritual with that I have not yet had the opportunity to, and those are the ones I’m most concerned with. There is nothing which says that a desire toward intrafaith interaction must be without boundaries and indiscriminate; but, some groups or individuals are far more appealing than others with whom to have such intrafaith ritual experiences, and I see no reason not to pursue those ones to whatever extent is possible. To be honest, I personally don’t want to even hug everyone at this point, and might not even enjoy talking to certain people very much without hugs, but that’s because I can be rather particular and insular in certain respects, especially with people who I fear might take my wallet or not respect my person in such interactions–and to suggest that it is otherwise for anyone apart from certain bodhisattvas seems to me very unlikely. But, no one is calling me or any of my pagan colleagues to be bodhisattvas within our own wider communities, nor outside of them, and I think that’s fine.
One of the commenters in the audience toward the end suggested that there’s a lot of other things to do apart from ritual with other pagan groups, like having potlucks and so forth. While this seemed to get some good nods and agreements from various sectors of the room and the panel, I have to disagree with that somewhat. As my Thracian colleague recently said, my religion is not a hobby, and I have ways of satisfying my social desires to connect with people and have community with them outside of a religious context. Any event where people of a religious framework vaguely connected to my own were sitting down with me and having a meal would, by definition, be a holy event of communal sharing, even if no explicit ritual actions took place during that time; indeed, sharing meals with one another, and with our gods, is one of the most basic religious technologies we have had as humans for the past several thousand years. By sharing more explicit and specific ritual space together, I am indicating that I am fully at ease and in trust with those with whom I’m doing the ritual. While my interactions with people most certainly are “real” and genuine outside of specifically ritual space, what I do in ritual is of the utmost seriousness and sincerity, and therefore having that opportunity to interact would indicate how very seriously indeed I take the relationships that are formed by doing so. No matter how fun a dinner or potluck might be for me and those other people who participate in it (as well as, by extension, the gods and other divine beings who I represent and who accompany me on such occasions, whether acknowledged or not by myself or the others present), my words and actions are not binding therein as much as they would be if we were under the specific context provided by ritual space from my own tradition or those of others with whom I’m sharing. I don’t see what the point of having “friends amongst/who are other pagans” is any more than having friends amongst members of any or every other religion might be, unless I were to enter into relationships with them for common cause under religious auspices. Certainly, I don’t shy away from making friends with anyone or everyone if given the opportunity and if I have the desire to do so; but, I don’t see why doing that in a specific pagan context with a local pagan potluck would be useful or interesting to me outside of developing a more solid local community that goes far beyond simply knowing the others exist and attempting to “make nice” with them.
These are, perhaps, small points of subtlety to my objections on these issues, but I feel they should be clarified. My primary reason for interacting with other pagans is not social, it’s spiritual; though, any opportunity to meet people socially in which they recognize how important my gods and my practices are to me does allow them to know me that much more thoroughly and truly, I think. I do think, though, that it is important to know the difference between these things. The majority of my friends with whom I am in close and regular contact these days do happen to be polytheists of various types, but likewise, I’ve shared ritual space with pretty much all of them at some point or another as well. (And, come to think of it, the same is true for some of my best non-pagan friends as well: many of them have also shared polytheist ritual space with me!) So, while these things are more closely tied together in my own case, and thus my own views on this are necessarily shaped by my own experiences, I realize that this does not always have to be the case for me, or for other people either.
In any case, it was a good and worthwhile event, and I’m glad it is available as a recording for anyone who wasn’t able to be there (which would be the majority of the conference!).
Throughout the course of the weekend, I attended four other events on the PantheaCon schedule that were put on by groups or individuals who have done Communalia with the Ekklesía Antínoou; I would have done a fifth (Sharanya’s Kali Puja) had it not been cross-listed with one of our events on Saturday night (and, it is not the first time that their event has been cross-listed with one of ours, annoyingly enough!).
The first of these was on Saturday morning, February 16th, at 11:00 AM: Hrafnar’s “Finding Freyr” ritual. Many people I knew attended this ritual, and several people I’ve been in ritual with before were among the ritualists, including one who was the Hrafnar representative in our Communalia ritual in 2009, as well as two of the people who would be in my Tetrad ritual later in the day, and also Steven Abell; and, I’ve also known some of the other ritualists in various contexts before now, too. I’ve been doing a kind of “flirting dance” with Freyr in various ways for a number of years now, and while there’s certainly a draw and an appeal to him (for a great number of people besides myself, I’m sure!), I’ve also been reluctant to get involved with him in many ways, not least of which is that I’ve got piles and piles of gods already and I’m not quite sure how best to interact with him. I have to say, the ritual technology that Hrafnar (under Diana Paxson’s able leadership) employed in this ritual was fantastic, and each time the refrain of “Ingvi, Frodhi, Freyr” came around again, I felt the presence of the god more and more, and also found myself pronouncing his name in particular in the fashion that my Swedish friend taught me to (in a ritual that was for Antinous!) more than a decade ago. The ritual had six different representatives telling us a bit about a certain aspect of Freyr or a domain of his influence, then intoning a rune related to it, and then the core ritualists sang a verse of a song appropriate to that section with the same refrain each time (that included the line above) while three other ritualists went around and distributed the blessings of the god in relation to that section, either in material items, gestures, and words (or some combination thereof). Fully in line with the intentions of the con’s theme this year overall, peace was one of the major parts of this, and the sense of that part of the blessing in the ritual seemed to me that each of us were being welcomed as an ally of Freyr, which I certainly took (and will take) very seriously in the future. There was also a section on the ergi aspects of Freyr, and of being someone who interacts with the gods generally speaking, and during that portion of blessings, the ritualists went around with leeks and were “petting” people with them, as it were, while asking them to open themselves up to the blessings and presence of the god. I think I was one of very few people who reacted to that invitation in a manner they weren’t expecting when I threw my arms over my head and laid back in my chair; had I not had a small bag of other types of blessing from Freyr already in my lap, I would have thrown open my legs as well. And while I didn’t intend for that to be the case, this did cause a bit of laughter from various segments of those in attendance. It was great! I don’t usually imbibe alcohol outside of religious events, I should note, but on this occasion, at the end, I most certainly did that, and did so happily (even though I’m not a great fan of the beverage being served, no matter how traditional or appropriate or high-quality it might have been), because establishing this kind of relationship would necessarily involve me going out of my comfort zone (but within responsible and reasoned limits) to some extent or another.
And, later in the day (as I’ll detail in a future post), Freyr got involved in another ritual that I was helping to put on rather directly in several ways. More on that in time…
While I still haven’t done seidhr with Hrafnar yet (and, given how popular such events are, I might not do it at PantheaCon if I do end up doing it in the future), nonetheless I enjoyed this, and look forward to having more occasions to interact with them in the future. Perhaps we can do something I’ve long had the idea for at some stage in the future with them: a ship-procession in honor of Ingvi Freyr and Antinous! We shall see…
The next “allied” session I attended was that put on by EliSheva, on Asherah and Anat: Two Hebrew Goddesses, which took place Sunday morning, February 17th at 9:00 AM. EliSheva is the elected leader of AMHA, a tribal Hebrew polytheist organization, and she did Communalia with us in 2009 as well. I’ve enjoyed her various presentations over the years at PantheaCon, and likewise her lot castings (one of which was essential in predicting the emergence of the Tetrad in 2011). While I’ve known a bit about Asherah and Anat over the years, and even wrote the latter a poem in The Phillupic Hymns as well as Bibliotheca Alexandrina’s Anointed which has proven to be one of the more “popular” ones, nonetheless it was good to have this material re-iterated and explained from a more directly cultural perspective rather than what my previous experiences had been (i.e. research- and personal experience-based). Later in the weekend, I purchased an amulet that has Anat’s name on it, as well as one for my Thracian colleague; though a rather dangerous goddess, nonetheless her ferocity and directness are things that many of us might have some use, or even need, for in certain cases and situations. It was wonderful just to see and hear EliSheva again, since she has not been at PantheaCon since 2011. I am very thankful for every moment we spent together, and we did have extended hang-out time after her session, and then a bit more again the following day as well. In fact, I probably spent more time just hanging out with people at this PantheaCon than I have ever done, perhaps, at any of them that I’ve attended. And for this, I’m grateful.
Sunday night at 7 PM was the Come As You Are Coven and Living Temple of Diana “Rite of a Thousand Crowns.” CAYA has likewise been our tribal ally through Communalia since 2009; and, had things been slightly different this year, the Living Temple of Diana would likewise have done Communalia with us. But, I’m sure the latter will happen at some point in the future–perhaps before or after PantheaCon next year, even. As many of you who are reading this might know, I’ve known Lady Yeshe Rabbit for fifteen years when we were both at the same college (she as an M.A. student, me as an undergraduate) and were in a course together called “Sacred Theatre of the Middle Ages.” One day, we were discussing some topic or other in class, and she ended up reading a portion of a text that she asked about, and I responded “That’s ‘Thunder: Perfect Mind’,” which was (and still is) one of my favorite gnostic texts in the world. So much that occurred in and around that class–this Gnostic goddess hymn, the idea of sacred theatre, and the gods generally speaking–have ended up being major foci for both of our works, and particularly so at PantheaCon. It was an amazing reunion and re-discovery of one another that we had in 2007, my first PantheaCon, after I attended my first “Oracles of the Living Tarot” and Lady Rabbit was portraying the High Priestess…indeed, so much that has happened since is almost a continuation of that role, in many respects. But, enough reminiscing!
This was the largest event that I attended at PantheaCon this year, and the line for it was very long by the time I arrived. Many other people I know attended it, and all enjoyed it. The ritual technologies used were flawless and beautifully executed. We entered the ritual space through a “gauntlet” of welcoming, smiling people with singing bowls, which added considerably to the ambience and initial establishment of sacred space for the ritual. In most respects, the majority of the ritual proceeded in a fashion that would be familiar to most Wiccans, with a casting of the cirlce and a directional/elemental invocation through song and movement, which was quite beautiful. Indeed, I must single out this ritual for a particularly effective (and infectious, in the best senses of the word!) use of song that was moving and powerful. In the end, everyone in the room was in some manner involved in the ritual, and this radical inclusiveness and communal feeling was quite effective and needed after all of the difficulties of the previous years.
Of course, because I am myself, I had a few difficulties with it, despite the experience being a good one overall. There is a small theological difference between my own viewpoint and that of CAYA’s various subgroups and the Living Temple of Diana (all of which are part of the newly emergent Pan-Dianic movement), which is not insurmountable, but which is also significant and thus it would be disingenuous to ignore it. The stated purpose of the ritual, as given in the program booklet, was “honoring the Goddess as She is present within each person.” I don’t dispute that a large number of goddesses have been important in my life and have blessed me with many different things over the years, including Artemis/Diana (though I’m still not certain that these are the same goddess); this, in itself, already presents a theological difference, because I don’t see these as particular aspects of a singular Goddess, as seemed to be the case with CAYA and the Living Temple of Diana. Hathor, Aphrodite, Diva Sabina Augusta, Kali, Neith, and Brigid are a few goddesses I know and love, and with whom I’ve had different experiences, and each of them are considerably different from each other, and from Artemis/Diana as well. That all of them (except for possibly Neith) are of divine “XX” chromosomes doesn’t seem like a major factor to me, any more than all of them have feet and hands and faces (at least in some depictions or forms!).
Also, the ritual did something that few such “more traditional” Wiccan (and pagan generally speaking) rituals have done, to my knowledge, which was very good: they had a space, held by an individual on a raised platform and represented by another speaking ritualist, to represent males, females, and “others” (including trans people, but also other gender-variant or “in-betweens”). To have this recognition was a good thing, and doing anything to move beyond the usual binary or dualism is very good indeed. But, the purpose of the ritual was to “honor the Goddess as She is present within each person,” and I’m just not entirely sure that’s actually the case in the lived experiences of many people, at least as it was phrased within the ritual itself. Yes, I’ve been the recipient of the blessings of innumerable goddesses during my lifetime, and I’ve tried in various ways to carry those blessings into the world in doing their work; the same is true of many gods as well, and also many other divine beings whose genders continue to increase in number and variety. But, does that mean that these beings are “in” me? While the case could very strongly be made for Antinous (because of the work I do for him) and Paneros (because of the gender we both share) in this regard, I don’t know the same could be said for goddesses like Hathor or Persephone or Artemis, all of whom I love and respect and whose work I have done at various points over the years. In attempting to honor a variety of genders and to recognize them in ritual space, I’m not sure that the best or most effective way to do that is to then say “And The Goddess is in each of you!” In slightly different words, I don’t know that someone has to “be recognized” as “being something” in order to honor that “something.” Someone can honor and accept and praise warriors, for example, and appreciate them without actually being a warrior oneself; the same can be said of a great many other roles and functions and identities. Empathy, compassion, and appreciation do not have to entail full identification. And, I realize that because I’m a polytheist rather than more monistic in my theology that such would naturally be my view on these things, and others may (and do!) differ. So, I’m not sure if anything other than simply noting this matter, mostly for my own further reflection, is necessary here.
There was one other minor matter that ended up pushing my cognitive dissonance button, which I spoke with several members of the ritualists about the following day. Given that the intention was to honor many different genders and to honor the Goddess within each person, I found it very off-putting for the first words out of the mouths of the ritualists when the ritual began and what was to come was being explained and introduced happened to be “Ladies and gentlemen.” While I’m somewhat upset with myself that I can be so easily alienated with the casual use of three words, it is often especially useful to examine these matters where the often automatic and ingrained words or responses are concerned, as various biases and exclusionary thoughts often lurk in those very places unbeknownst to us. I spoke with one of the ritualists in the morning after, and then to Lady Yeshe Rabbit herself, and also to Devin Hunter (with whom I’ve had some internet/e-mail interactions over the past year, but had not officially met in-person before that exchange). All of them were open to and thankful for the feedback, which is the absolute best one can hope for in such situations, and I’m quite certain they’ll take these considerations to heart in the future. Obviously, this is a matter of concern for me, especially because of the work I’ve done in this area within spirituality, and the fact that my daily living circumstances don’t generally allow any recognition of gender diversity (and those opportunities where such does arise usually result in confusion and being further offended or excluded rather than understanding and acceptance, at least in my experiences thus far). Bringing the ideals that one wishes to enact in ritual space into one’s daily life and consciousness, I think, is a good thing to strive towards, and thus this modification in language at future occasions (especially ones that are meant to recognize gender diversity) would be very useful indeed.
Alas, I had a rather physically difficult day that day (and for much of the weekend), and so I wasn’t physically up to moving about and dancing during this ritual; when people first started to stand up to move in that direction, I stood for a moment or two, and then my knees felt as though they were about to give out, so I sat down. Some nice and brave people did come up to me and check on me, which was most appreciated, and I was crowned and even danced with at various points by a few people. I wish to thank them for doing that and for enacting what the entire purpose of the ritual was supposed to have been in doing so. I had a nice, long chat after the ritual with a few people before I went to my next event; one of the other benefits of this ritual was that it did not last for the full ninety minutes, and in fact was less than an hour in the end, which was good for everyone, I think, and very thoughtful on their part! (Not that longer rituals are always “bad,” but shorter ones that accomplish their goals and then let everyone go are often great, especially for those of us who like or need to visit the facilities between events, etc.)
The final ritual/performance I attended of our various allied groups was the Circle of Dionysos’ “Cybele and the Angry Inch” performance. While we have not done Communalia “officially” with the Circle of Dionysos, I’ve done the “Yes They Are!” ritual with them every time it’s been done (in 2009-2011), as well as last year’s “Modern Dionysian Initiation,” and I’ve also been on two panels they’ve presented in 2011 and 2012; and their members have also been in the Antinous-related sacred dramas we’ve put on at PantheaCon, or have been Luperci. There is so much crossover and mutual interest in what we do, we’re rather natural allies; and, the next time we’re able to do so officially, I’d like to “seal the deal” of our alliance with ritual words to that effect.
I have been looking forward to “Cybele and the Angry Inch” ever since I heard the title of it, since Hedwig and the Angry Inch is important to me in profound ways, and has been ever since I saw it. Thus, the combination of this performance of one of our most sacred modern myths of gender variance, together with one of the most ancient myths of Thraco-Phrygian (through Greek and Roman lenses) divine gender variance, was a must-see, hands-down, be-there-or-DIE sort of event. And, I was not disappointed. In fact, in speaking with some other attendees afterwards the next day, one such individual who was also sitting in the front row (though across the room from me) said she felt it to be the culmination of the entire process of reconciliation and a full realization of the theme of the entire PantheaCon in one single performance, and I fully agree with that assessment.
Now, don’t get me wrong: the performance was not without its problems from a technical viewpoint, and it wasn’t as well-rehearsed as the performers and organizers would have preferred. I won’t go into further details on that, and they admitted up-front that it wasn’t going to be perfect. But, even with such being the case, it did what it was supposed to do, and several parts of it had me nearly in tears the way that the film does–especially “The Origin of Love” and “Midnight Radio.” Energetically and magically, it was a complete success; and, on top of all that, it was also fun and funny!
I would love to see the lyrics and script for it at some point; even though many of the songs were the same as they are in the stage show and film of Hedwig, some had a few changes, or more drastic changes, and it would be interesting to see these because I could not always make them out during the performance. As usual, the weaving together of the format and characters of the stage show/film and the older Hellenized myths of Cybele and associates was brilliant and flawless (just as it was with the “Modern Dionysian Initiation” last year), and Derik fully brought Cybele, just as he has done with Dionysos in previous years, and as he also did with Antinous in our sacred drama in 2011. I hope they do this performance again at some point in the future, whether at PantheaCon or elsewhere, as I think many people would enjoy it and find it beautiful and moving.
I cannot emphasize how much I get out of these alliances with other groups and individuals, and how important they are to me both communally and religiously. Antinous is a god who connects people, as well as gods, and I feel that to do less than this in my own life and in my own works for him would be to miss out on one of the major roles he plays and plays well in the divine economy. So, I hope that I will have the opportunity on many more occasions (at PantheaCons of the future and outside of them) to continue interacting with these and many more allies, and for them to likewise come to rituals that we in the Ekklesía Antínoou are also involved in presenting.