|Site of Riddu Riddu|
San Diego, CA
Day Two: Saturday Afternoon
After lunch I duly went to the joint session of “Contemporary American Studies and Ritual Studies Groups” on “The New Animism: Ritual and Response to the Nonhuman World.”
No regrets, but to do this I had to pass on three other sections scheduled at the same time slot:
- I Tantric Studies Group on “Funerary Practices in Tantric Tradition,” Featuring “Saving the Unfortunate: A Tantric Rite to Rescue the Dead,” Necorliberation in Early Sakyapa Funerary Manuals,” and The Five-Element Pagoda, the Mantra of Light, and the Six Paths: Tantric Elements in Medieval Japanese Funerary Practice.” As someone interested in both death and dying and rites of passage and other rituals, including the employment of bricolage within them, I’m drawn to these types of presentation on the rare occasions they can be found.
- I Religion and the Social Sciences Section, Religious Conversions Group, Secularism and Secularity Group, and Sociology of Religion Group, on “The Shifting Boundaries of the Secular, Spiritual, and Religious.” This is another area of culture that I as a Pagan feel worthy of exploration, since we seem to be expanding in numbers, and even in diversity, as well as our having a face in the interfaith/multifaith movement for social change and social justice.
The panel brought together “papers exploring the fluid, antagonistic, and overlapping boundaries of the secular, spiritual and religious…how various across draw these boundaries differently be relying on multiple understandings of the religious and the secular and by creating hybrid identities that cut across religions traditions or the secular/religious divide.”
Again, as a Pagan who has always considered her religion to call for efforts at social justice and political change, this panel called to me.
Such papers as “Switching, Mixing, and Matching: Towards an Understanding of Multireligiousness in Contemporary America” and “Qualitative Research on Spiritual but Not Religious ‘Nones’: Heterogeneous yet Conceptually Converging,” seemed that they would have addressed some of the attitudes I’ve encountered frequently in my interfaith activities.
- I Body and Religion Group on “Fragmented and Digitized Bodies,” chaired by my friend Shaun Arthur, and including papers on ”The Fragmented Body: Alternative Cinematic Visions,” Discerning the Body in Cyberspace: Jaron Lanier, Merleau-Ponty, and Contested Personhood” – this seems very relevant to the presence and personalities of Paganisms online, as distinct from those in terraspace, a subject I touched in in my book Witchcraft and the Web: Creating Pagan Traditions Online --
- I Native Traditions in the Americas Group on “Native Traditions, Food, and Environmental Change: Restoring Right Relationships” “Plants and animals are an essential part of the complex relationships that are central to the religious frameworks of indigenous peoples…” From four different bioregions of North America, papers address the relationships between Native traditions, food and the environment “as expressed through sacred narratives, teachings about reciprocity, responsibility, and respect, traditional stories, ceremonies and rituals, and songs. Climate change, human manipulation of the environment, and the loss of traditional knowledge through government intervention are some of the ways these relationships have been altered, yet found within traditional knowledge are ways to restore these relationships. …presentations explore… different yet complimentary examples of indigenous peoples turning to their religious traditions to restore right relationships with food in the face of colonial legacies and climate change.” Here’s a list of the juicy-sounding papers in this session: “Restoring Himdag: Traditional Ecological Knowledge and the Tohono O’odham,” “Of Coyotes and Culverts: Tribal Salmon Preservation in the Pacific Northwest,” “How Traditional Storytelling and Activities Help Make the Anishinaabeg Defenders of the Earth: A Case Study of Making Maple Syrup,” and “The Nature of Food: Dene Approaches to Caribou Hunting.” Isn’t it obvious how appealing these talks would be to a contemporary American Pagan whose existence, like the existence of all life as we know it, depends upon right relationship with our environment and food sources?
- I New Religious Movements Group. The five best paper proposals received in 2014; papers included:
o Massimo Introvigne on “Painting the Southern Border: New Religions, the Mexican Revolution, and the Visual Arts”;
o Stephanie Yuhas on “The Relationship of Dark Green Religion to the Spiritual But Not Religious Movement”’ – definitely Pagan flavored.
o Erin Prophet on “California Science Fiction, Atlantis, and New Age Apocalypticism: The Constructino and Influence of Frederick S. Oliver’s Dweller on Two Planets by Phylos the Thibetan”;
o Shannon Trosper Schorey: “’The Internet Is Holy. Code Is Law’: New Religions and Sacral Materiality at the Intersections of Technology and Policy”; and
o Donald Westbrook on “’A People’s History’ of the Church of Scientology: Conclusions from Ethnographic Research in the United States.”
Here’s the session I went to: “Contemporary American Studies and Ritual Studies Groups” on “The New Animism: Ritual and Response to the Nonhuman World.”
Arrived to greet several Pagan scholar pals, only to see someone who’s a rock star in my world, Ronald Grimes, now retired professor of Ritual Studies. I’ve heard him speak at past Ritual Studies Sections of the AAR. I’ve read several of his books, and require students to read them when I have the opportunity to teach ritual theory and liturgical design. In particular, Rite out of Place: Ritual, Media, and the Arts, and Deeply into the Bone: Re-inventing Rites of Passage. So, feeling emboldened, I went up to him and told him I’d been worshipping him from afar for years, I loved his work, and I used it in teaching. I actually told him he was a rock star in my world. After all, we’re both of an age (the same age) and I have nothing to prove one way or another, so appearing like a teeny-bopper fan girl didn’t concern me. It needn’t have anyway, because I found him to be a lovely fellow. He immediately invited me to sit next to him during the session, which I did. Unfortunately, I seem never to remember to take photos, so I blew the opportunity to be in a shot with him. Oh, well…
I was disappointed that Donna Seamone was unable to present her paper, “’The Path Has a Mind of Its Own’: Eco-Agri-Pilgrimage to the Corn Maze Performance – an Exercise of Cross-Species Sociality.”
Folklorist Sabina Magliocco spoke on “Beyond the Rainbow Bridge: Animal Spirits in Contemporary Pagan Religions.”
* * *
Samuel Etikpal, from the University of Oslo, spoke on “Transition Concepts in Ghanaian Festival Performance,” specifically the annual Kundum Festival, “during which diverse participants ritually express their conceptions of and wishes for a health environment, spiritual protection, and socio-economic prosperity, bringing into play those other-than-human agencies expected to uphold or oppose these goals.”
First recorded by a Dutch trader around 1704, the festival takes place in the Jomoro District. With drumming, a canoe regatta, the pouring of libations, the eating of special foods, for eight days or longer the people seek to honor their ancestors and elders, and to ensure good health and abundant crops. In rituals involving communication between humans and non-humans, they appeal for protection. They honor a “God creator” and Mother Earth Yaba.
|Earth Mother Yaba|
Local river goddesses are also honored, for they are seen as good mothers, providing a place for swimming, an artery for traveling, and fish for eating. Today these rivers are threatened by oil drilling -- all the more reason to employ any and all means of restoring balance and repairing damage caused by human activity.
Samuel also showed some photos of a Kundum Festival held annually in Atlanta, Georgia. He has not attended the one in the U.S.; rather, a friend sent him these photos. Since, he’d emphasized the rituals honoring the local river goddess in Jomoro, I asked him if the festival in Atlanta connected to the Chattahoochee River in any way, but he wasn’t certain it did and suspected it did not.
* * *
|Sami Flag by Jeltz|
I found fascinating Graham Harvey’s paper, “Indigenous Cultural Events, Sovereignty, and Inter-Species Relations,” about the Riddu Riđđu Festival he attended last Summer. Held in ‘the land of the midnight sun’ at a time of year when the sun is visible round the clock, the festival, Sami in origin, is described as “an international indigenous festival, which annually takes place in Kåfjord in Norway. The festival has programs for the whole family. The program includes worldwide indigenous music, art, theater and dance, youth camps with artistic and political workshops, children's festival, seminars, film and literature.”
They begin with a traditional greeting:
From our rivers to your rivers,
From our mountains to your mountains,
Form our people to your people.
Riddu Riđđu does not encourage travelers from afar because it discourages anything that increases one’s carbon footprint, which air travel obviously does; they nevertheless do welcome other indigenous peoples. This particular year Maori people from New Zealand were among the participants.
|Ándy Somby yoiking|
Singers perform traditional Sami joiking, a personal and evocative vocalization in which the singer “sings” or “becomes” persons, animals, and landscapes.
In semi-underground lodges and outdoors they perform rituals around speaking to the food (meat and plants) when dining. They emphasize inter-species communication. They ask not “What do you believe?” Rather, they ask “What do you eat?” or “Whom do you eat?”
Just as the health of the rivers of Ghana (and elsewhere) is threatened by oil drilling, so too is the health of the rivers in the circumpolar regions. As Earth’s atmosphere heats and glaciers melt, at temperatures of 30º F. and higher in the arctic summer, rivers flood, resulting in the inability of trout to swim upstream to reproduce because the rushing water is too strong and too cold.
More to come.
[Apologies for funky formatting.]