Friday, March 06, 2015

AAR Annual Meeting - V

November 2014
San Diego, CA

Day Three:  Sunday

Passed on these alluring sessions:

   Religion and Roots of Climate Change Skepticism – not a problem amongst any Pagans I’m aware of.  This panel was comprised of “a Christian evangelical climate scientist; a professor of modern Jewish philosophy and rabbinical thought; an historian of science specializing in debates about climate change; and an evangelical leader in the ‘creation care’ movement.

   Religion and Politics Section: “Contraception, Corporations, and Conscience: Evolving Appeals to Religions Liberty in the Context of U.S. Health Care.”  Again, this session was, as one might expect, Abrahamic-centric.  One paper in particular seemed worth hearing: Shannon Dunn on “The End of Religious Liberty? Discriminatory Laws, Religious Rhetoric, and Efforts to Shape the Body Politic.” 

   Critical Approaches to Hip-Hop and Religion Group:  Keepin’ it Real’ to ‘Keepin’ it Right’: Hip-Hop, Representation, and Epistemology.”  Talks included:

o   “’This Dark Diction, Has Become America’s Addiction': Religion, Race, and Hip-Hop in a Neo-Liberal Age”;
o   “Black, White, or Blue? The Indigo Children, Hip Hop, and the Interrogating Assumptions about the Race and Aims of ‘New Agers.’”;
o   “More Than Human: Bataille, Kanye, Eminem, and the Monstrous Quality of the Sacred”;
o   “Appropriation and Appreciation: Hip Hop as a Critical Category in the Study of Indigenous Religious Traditions with Special Attention Paid to Afrika Bambaataa and the Zulu Nation.”

I’m always curious about how our Pagan religions intersect with, and are impacted and informed by, contemporary culture.  In addition, I’m currently engaged in a mentoring/initiatory relationship with a young poet who is also a hip-hop artist.

   Contemporary Pagan Studies Group, Gay Men and Religion Group, Lesbian-Feminist Issues in Religion Group, Men, Masculinities, and Religion Group, and Religious Conversation Group: “Evolving or Born This Way: Conversion and Identity.”

*     Hinduism Group and Law, Religion, and Culture Group: “The Politics of Religious Sentiment: Religion and the Indian Public in the Light of the Doniger/Penguin Affair.”  Surely a session for those engaged in religion, politics, and a free press. See comments about Jeffrey Kripal in the Wildcard Session comments here.

   Public Understanding of Religion Committee: “The Doniger Affair: Censorship, Self-Censorship, and the Role of the Academy in the Public Understanding of Religion.”  Because (i) I’m devoted to a Hindu goddess and find that Hindu practice has informed my personal Pagan practice; (ii) a friend was moderating what could have been a contentious debate; (iii) I have read some of Doniger’s work and heard her speak; (iv) I have friends and colleagues in the American Hindu community; (v) I have friends and colleagues on both sides of this issue; and (vi) this impinges on the interfaith movement and interfaith relations, I had thought this was the session I’d be attending in this time slot….  However, I went to:

Contemporary Pagan Studies Group: “New Paganism(s) around the Globe.”   Now we’re cookin’.

Daniela Cordovil: “The Cult of Afro-Brazilian and Indigenous Gods in Brazilian Wicca: Symbols and Practices.”  Since 2003 when I visited Brazil III Annual Witches Meeting (III EAB - Encontro Anual De Bruxos) in São Paulo, as a guest of Abrawicca (report here), I’ve taken a special interest in Brazilian expressions of Neo-Pagan spirituality, Wicca in particular.  I’d left my notebook in our hotel room when I picked up my companion’s tote, with her permission, I share some of Gwendolyn Reece’s notes. 

According to her notes, Wicca first arose in Brazil in the 1980s, with traditions beginning to manifest in the 1990s, followed by the formation of civil associations such as Abrawicca, the Brazilian Association of Witches (Associa"o Brasileira da Arte e Filosofia da Religi"o Wicca).  (This is where I come in.)  Daniela’s presentation primarily concerned Brazilian Dianic.

The Brazilian Dianic Tradition…organizes two annual meetings… In March…[they] honor the indigenous goddess Cy and in July they honor the Afro-Brazilian (Yorùbá Orisha) goddess Oshun (in Brazil, Ochún or Oxúm).

To me, it is remarkable that these Brazilian Witches are reclaiming their indigenous goddesses and worshipping them in a Wiccan format.  They held workshops discussing such goddesses as Cy (“Mother”), Anhanga, Ceucy, Matinta Pereira, Saci, Curupira, who evidently are no longer worshipped in Brazil except by Witches and possibly other Neo-Pagans.

They performed a ritual circle dance in honor of Coracy, and had an altar honoring Anangha, a god connected with waters, trees, and some animals.  “It was a Wiccan way to connect to Anhanga [and has] nothing that has to do with indigenous patterns.

“At an esbat (esbath) honoring Cy, the goddess’s body at the center of the circle dance is made of nuts, fruits, and legumes.”

They also fashion clay sculptures of Pachamama and leave them in the water.

“They invited a Tembe Indian to talk about Tembe culture, since ‘none of the participants other than the speaker had ever been in an indigenous culture.’”

They also created “an oracle inspired in indigenous symbols – made with indigenous signs.”

Gatherings of BBB (“Brazilian Witches in Brasilia,” the nation’s capitol) take place in July at a private communal farm owned by the high priestess of Brazilian Dianic Tradition, Mavesper Cy Ceridwen.  Almost ten members live there, with about 100 coming for the festivals.  They celebrate in Templo da Deusa (The Goddess Temple).

When Daniela showed her slides, I exclaimed sotto voce, “Oh, that’s Mavesper,” but she heard me, and I think she grew more relaxed and felt more welcome from that point.  It was exciting for me to see my Brazilian friends appear in this study.

Honoring Oshum, the gathering featured:

*     Workshops to earn how to consult the Ifá conch shells;
*     Workshop about myths and histories of Orishas, adapting to Wiccan language, such as linking to Wiccan element constructions;
   Workshop about traditional female societies in Africa – the Geledes Society

Interestingly, the people who were leading some of these workshops had actually been initiated into Candomblé, but left and became Wiccan and have brought some of the traditions and practices from Candomblé.  This is a point of conflict with practitioners of Candomblé since they are using and teaching rites from Candomblé to Wiccans.
They performed an esbath in Honor to Oshum featuring her main symbol of the mirror, and in which they included belly dance along with contemporary music and ritual.  They concluded with the sharing of Omolocum, traditional food prepared to Oshum, eaten with hands as in Afro-Carribean religion.

It would seem that Brazilian Wicca is about as syncretic as a religion can be, rich and diverse like the cultural milieu from which it arose.

Gwendolyn concludes by saying:

Brazilian Wiccan feels free to bring elements of traditional religions, but the indigenous don’t really practice them anymore.  However, the Afro-Brazilian religious tradition has tension – because of appropriation.

Here is an interesting article written by an American Pagan that I found on, but authorship is unattributed.  However, from the context, it would appear to have been written by someone from Reclaiming in Northern California.

* * *

Shai Feraro: “Is There a Future for Neopaganism in the Holy Land?: Past and Present in the Shaping of a Community-Building Discourse among Israeli Pagans, 1998-2013.”  Again, I rely upon Gwendolyn’s note-taking for this summary.  The speaker is a:

“Jewish born Pagan in Israel.  Paganism in Israel is relatively new phenomenon, … [since] the late 1990s.  The internet is largely responsible for the group.  Israeli Pagan Community – a few hundred.  There are probably a few hundred more that do not participate.  So, in this paper, looking at community-building and organizing.

Generally, at the moment, they are staying in the broom closet because …[Israel] is  a Jewish state, including the extreme Orthodox, and because… anti-witchcraft laws are in effect.  There is great concern that the community is too small and too fragile to be able to come out and be public and call themselves a religion and work for their rights.

There was a festival 2011 [mentioned in The Wild Hunt.  I note that Gwendolyn’s notes mention Rena Kessem; she was one of the organizers of this festival, and someone I’ve been in casual communication with Rena for several years.]

In Israeli society Jewish identity is a highly privileged one and if they claim the Pagan identity, they believe that they will probably lose the privilege of being Jewish and it will probably be replaced by negative connotations, including betraying the memory of those who died in the Holocaust.

Within Israel, you can be nonreligious, religious, or spiritual (which is considered to be non-serious – “Jew Age”).  Religious is considered to be Jewish; there is no place for Pagans.  It doesn’t map.

Part of the problem, also, is that the Ultraorthodox Jews tend to control certain aspects of the government.

There is a community leader who escaped from a Hasidic background and is out of the closet both as a witch and gay man and is encouraging others to come out.

Emphasis on the Burning Times tends to lead to secrecy; there is also the burning of the 300 prophets of Baal led by the Prophet Elijah. 

The question is whether there is any kind of fertile ground for rights in Israel.  Israeli Jews tend to hold onto the general theories that the Canaanites who were wiped out by the Israelites is the triumph of monotheism over idolatry.  So, Israeli Pagans are caught in a horrible bind.  If they follow Wicca or Druidism, they are seen as betraying their Jewishness.  If they reconstruct Canaanism, they are seen as bringing back the evil that the Israelites conquered.

* * *

Unfortunately, the final speaker, Dmitry Galtsin of the Library of Russian Academy of Science in St. Petersburg was unable to present his paper on “The Divine Feminine in the Silver Age of Russian Culture and Beyond,” so moderator Chas Clifton read it.  What follows is from Gwendolyn’s notes:

Sophia became an icon of the silver age.  … Sophia is emergent unity,… the world-soul that is being saved and is that essence.  This is totally Hellenistic Gnosticism.  [Gwendolyn’s interpretation, not specifically articulated in the paper] He hasn’t called it that yet, but his description of Sophia is exactly that.

Mystical contact with female – the Sophia.  ….  She speaks mostly of her love for the philosopher. 

So, there are two images – the philosophical and also, however, the erotic lover.  They tend to be the white lily and the red rose.  Trying to reconcile but they have both sides. 

Rosenov  - Diana and Aphrodite – tries to bring the erotic into the Pagan context.  Mostly looking at the near east.  [I find no reference to Rosenov online and don’t remember any more that was said.}

Praises the Mari,…an ethnic group of Russia that maintained Paganism. 

Metashosky blends Paganism and Christianity.  The quote I really like is basically: “What is the difference between father and mother?  Philosophers don’t know, but children do.  Father will punish; Mother will forgive.”

Check back for my next and final report on AAR 2014 that will include information on “Religious Communitarianism, Utopianism, and the ‘Race Problem’ in Nineteenth Century North America” and “The Hidden, Transgressive and Camouflaged in Popular Religion.”