Thursday, February 14, 2013

Claremont Pagan Studies Conference - III

Peter Dybing gave Sunday's keynote speech, "Stirring the Cauldron of Pagan Sensibilities."  A worthy pursuit to my mind.  In an animated talk, Peter emphasized that Paganism was not a monolithic institution.  He also spoke of the need for boundaries, avoiding what he called "the 2 a.m. crisis."  During feedback, I reminded folks that one of the required courses for degree-seeking students at Cherry Hill Seminary is Boundaries & Ethics.  I took the proto-class from Cat Chapin-Bishop back around 2000 and found it one of the most valuable classes I've ever taken.

He itemized several issues and then compared the attitudes about them of older Pagans and to those of younger generations.  He said that older Pagans generally held tightly to beliefs whereas younger ones welcomed debate.  I think this is true of any social phenomenon when it achieves some years; however, I don't think it's universal.  I count many Pagans, myself among them, as being open-minded, adaptable, and willing to engage on current issues, far from being hidebound.

It was helpful for me to hear, even though it's obvious, that we bring with us the cultural attitudes of our times.  I know that the feminism that underlies my being, religious and otherwise, has informed my views and practices.  I know that my experience pre-Second Wave Feminism is very unlike the experience of women who, for instance, grew up in a world where reproductive choice is a given.  And that's just on one issue.  I know that the zeitgeist of my formative years differs from the zeitgeist of subsequent generations.  Sometimes hearing something stated clearly from another person gives the fact a more crystalline ring.  Thank you, Peter.

There was a contention Peter made with which I disagree.  He showed photos of about six prominent Pagans and said how important it was to respect them.  (I think 'respect' was the verb he used.)  In any case, the sentiment was that we should excuse bad behavior among Pagans who've had a strong positive impact for many seekers.  (Peter, I welcome clarification of this if I've misunderstood.)  Respect cannot be forced.  There are some I simply cannot respect.  That doesn't mean I'm gonna run out and trash them all over the place.  I see no benefit to anyone.  On the other hand, if a sincere question comes my way concerning some incident or behavior and I have personal experience of the party(ies) involved, then I can't in good conscience ignore what I consider damaging, or potentially damaging, conduct and turn my back to the querent.  My answer may be oblique and avoid specifics, but it will not whitewash.  That said, such problematic individuals are thankfully rare.

We live in a culture of celebrity.  None of us, including Pagan leaders, is immune to its allure.  So it's understandable (1) that people might have a tendency to hero-worship those they perceive as Pagan celebrities, and (2) that prominent Pagans might succumb to the glamor of being 'celebrated.'

Indeed, it behooves us to show our appreciation for the gifts of our more visible and activist Pagans, be they artists, musicians, writers, or whatever, and to treat them with respect.  At the same time, I believe everyone is accountable to her or his community (whoever that may be and however that is defined).  With leadership goes responsibility. 

For all of my high-mindedness from up here on my horse, I cannot say what any individual has to learn from another.  Teachers and teachings sometimes come in unlikely packages.

Remember, though, young and haler Pagans, to notice if some greying person near you might need a chair, would welcome a place at the front of a long food line, or could use a hand with that luggage.

* * * * *

The final session consisted of four presenters: Sam Webster on "Pagan Soteriology," Tony Mierzwicki on "Pagan Warriors Past and Present," Amber Dineén Gray "On Racism, Misogyny, and Homophobia in Pagan Reconstructionist Communities," and Helen Hye-Sook Hwang on "Field Research of Collecting the Oral Stories of Gaeyang Halmi, the Sea Goddess of Korea, and Uncovering Her Magoist Implications."

Having a concern for the well-being of returning military veterans,1 I found Tony's presentation especially interesting.  Again, my notes are fragmented, but I jotted down "betrayal of those in power," "guilt for surviving," and "alienation on return," all of which are common among the battle-worn.   Tony claimed that the key to avoiding PTSD is to adhere to a strict moral code.  He explained that it's the custom among warriors to say prayers in unison and to pour libations before entering battle.

Tony's sources reveal that there are approximately 20,000 Pagans in the U.S. Armed Forces.  I know from reading and from hearing from service members that chaplains often lead prayers with those about to enter combat, and also that there is pressure put upon all military to accept some form of Christianity.  Their mission is evangelic.  The job of chaplains is to serve the spiritual needs of all their clients regardless of their religions.  Unfortunately, that's more the stated expectation than the reality.  The largest portion of military chaplains in today's forces are Southern Baptist who have a goal of bringing people to their way of thinking about Jesus Christ.  (This latter imbalance I have learned from my interfaith involvement.)  I don't think I need to say how dangerous it is to enter battle, and how critical it is to feel the bond with one's unit that means everyone has everyone else's back.  Because of this imbalance, as a priestess, I'm open to opportunities to help military Pagans feel more supported.

Tony described two military traditions from the ancient world2 that seem more humane to me than what I know of more modern practices.  He said that the defeated side in a battle was allowed to collect its dead, and that the shrines of the defeated side were not defaced or destroyed.

I'm grateful to Tony for giving me a better understanding of the religious dimension of ancient warrior culture.

Others have reported on Amber Dineén Gray's unsettling experiences with racism, misogyny and homophobia in a reconstructed tradition.  I concur with them that she was brave to share her knowledge, and I hope we were able to reassure her that her experience is not typical of most Pagans.  In a way, what Amber encountered relates to the Pagan fundamentalism of which Dr. Magliocco had spoken the previous day. 

1.  See "Beyond Memorial Day: Understanding the Hidden Wounds of War," an interfaith event in which Don Frew and I were the only Pagan participants.

2.  I'm not sure exactly which ancient world, although I suspect Mediterranean, because Tony had way too many written words on Power Point slides for us to get all the juicy information offered.  Several presenters in addition to Tony had to skip over interesting work due to time constraints on each presentation.

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Claremont Pagan Studies Conference - II

Day Two, Session Five, was a panel on Bringing Pagan Sensibilities into Classroom Pedagogy, and featured Zayn Kassam, Jennifer Rycenga, and Dorothea Kahena Viale. 

Jennifer Rycenga's talk, "Richard Jeffries and F.C. Happold: The Presumption of Nature's Naïveté," introduced us to the work of English nature writer and mystic Richard Jeffries.  She quoted some beautiful passages of his soul's awakening from The Story of My Heart. available online at Project Gutenberg.

Dorothea Kahena Viale described her current teaching innovations at Cal Poly-Pomona using art, movement, and rhythm in "Drumming, Dancing, Masks and Circles in the Academic Classroom"

The next panel was on the Pagan History Project, an idea that arose out of last year's conference.  Armando Marino (Murtagh anDoile) initiated this project, and he and I have discussed it in interim -- I did not attend the conference last year -- with a plan to join our resources for the enrichment of the effort.  Tagh emerges from NECTW in New England while I emerged only a few years later on the West Coast.

In Tagh's talk, "Reconsidering Magic and Witchcraft in America Before Gardner: Grandmother Stories Reconsidered, or 'Don't Throw out the Baby with the Bathwater," he spoke of the emergence of Craft in the 1950s, its flowering in the 1960s; how groups adopted such things as working in circles, watchtowers, and a divine dyad to give themselves some sort of legitimacy; and how they became progressively more secretive.  The people he spoke of were Lady Gwynne/Gwen Thompson (Phyllis Healey, d. 1986), her grandmother Ariana Porter, and the influences of Spiritualist Emma Hardinge Britten, folklorist Charles Godfrey Leland, anthropologist Margaret Murray, James George Frazer, and Aleister Crowley.  He cites the appearance of The Rede after Doreen Valiente in 1964, and also the research of Robert Mathiesen.

Sabina introduced each speaker and moderated this panel.  When it came time for my presentation, "Elders and Oldsters, Ancestors and Teachers," she gave such a glowing introduction I was stunned and surprised, especially by the applause the followed, even before I spoke.  This provided me the perfect opportunity to preface my talk by telling why and how I happened to be there that weekend.  I said I'd been invited by some of the organizers, and helped in the effort to get there, because, as they told me, they sympathized with how rootless I'd been feeling since cutting myself off from my long-time community and they wanted me to know that they, too, were one of my communities, and that they appreciated and loved me.  I was deeply touched.  You can see why this weekend was restorative and healing for me.

Sam Webster followed with "Theurgy and the Ancient Origins of Today's Pagan Religion," in which he spoke of Iamblicus, Agrippa, and the Golden Dawn; theurgy = possession, channeling, drawing down, aspecting, from the Chaldean Oracles; anagogy = ascending into "the one"; solar worship = ascending into the light); and photogogia = bathing in the light.

With all of these presentations, information I wanted to note was coming fast and furious, thus what I was able to capture is frustratingly limited.  Also, many presenters had more slides in their Power Points that time allowed, so they were forced to omit stuff and they rushed the slides along faster than note-taking could accommodate.

Part III to follow shortly.

Friday, February 01, 2013

Claremont Pagan Studies Conference - I

I join the chorus of voices reporting on the general wonderfulness of the 9th Annual Claremont Pagan Studies Conference.1  I found the overall quality of presentations exceptionally high, as they were the last time I attended two years ago.

I arrived Friday night after a long solo drive from the SF Bay Area to Los Angeles, through rain and the hairy Grapevine Canyon through the Tehachapi Mountains, stressed and with intense pain between my shoulders.  Cranky, in other words.  Soon Lauren cheered me up.

Saturday morning's first session consisted of four speakers.  Joseph Nichter, an Iraq war veteran, spoke of using Tarot in healing PTSD.  I loved his ideas about what he calls "peripheral exploration," wherein the querent draws a single card, places it on a larger sheet of paper, and draws a scene that embeds the image in the card in a larger picture.

Others have written about Sabina Magliocco's keynote speech on Saturday on "The Rise of Pagan Fundamentalism."  I will only add a few notions I jotted down.  She spoke of the fact that foundational narratives foster group cohesion, and the core experiences are those common to all people of all religions.  She pointed out that the reconstructed traditions are growing faster than witchen traditions, and that their practitioners tends to disdain syncretism.  The fact is that those very ancient traditions "recons" seek to reconstruct were themselves syncretic.

During Q&A, I told a story about an encounter I had at Reclaiming's Dandelion Gathering this past August.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

On the first morning at Dandelion there was nothing on my agenda, so I asked if I could sit in and listen to the discussions of the WitchCamp teachers.  Conversation turned to the subject of new ideas for teaching, at which point I asked if I could offer a suggestion.

I told of my experiences in different places around the country where there was a Reclaiming community of some kind that I'd been told did not socialize or collaborate or in any other way interact with other local Pagans.  How most (some would insist all) Reclaiming communities are very insular.  This comports with my experience locally as well, although here there are some exceptions for such things as the Berkeley Pagan Festival.  I recommended they consider reaching out to other Pagans in their areas, that this very likely would result in some cross-fertilization that could bring some fresh perspectives to their teachings.

Now if you know me at all, you know that networking seems to be hardwired in my makeup.  I cannot help myself when I see connections I see as having potential for enrichment, even collaboration.  So I have spent more than thirty years helping to foster Pagan solidarity.2  Suggesting this to Reclaiming WitchCamp teachers arose from my nature.

Later in the lunch line, one of these teachers told me that what I had described as exclusivity or maintaining an exclusionary attitude (often experienced, even within Reclaiming groups themselves, as cliquishness) was not really exclusivity.  She said they were "fundamentalists."  Huh?  This really took me aback.

In reply, I asked "Don't you have to have a doctrine or credo or some kind of orthodoxy to which to adhere before you can call yourself a fundamentalist?"  By this time we had reached the food and the conversation was dropped.  Still, I was nonplussed.  This conversation also plays in to my August disaffiliation from the trad.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

When I related this at Claremont, the room erupted in laughter.  Sabina and I concluded this little interchange by clarifying that in this case, "fundamentalism" really meant "we're so cool and special."

Among the speakers after lunch, Alfred Surenyan discussed "New Directions in Pagan Music."  He spoke about different musical forms in which Pagans were writing and performing Pagan-themed music, beginning with rap.  He differentiated rap from hip hop, explaining that rap came from Africa and it had to do with rapping rhythmically with a stick.  Examples given were Belgian Mani De Bard and Canadian Dano Hammer.

He listed several compositions in classical modes by Seamus Gagné, including "Cantata for Beltain."  This cantata, with strings and chorus, was performed once, in 1990, on Vashon Island, Washington, for CoG's MerryMeet.  It was recorded at the time, but somehow in the intervening years the recording has been lost or destroyed.  I was present at that performance.  As I recall, the lyrics of the cantata seemed to be based on Lady Sheba.  Although I enjoyed the cantata and thought it well-performed, and I am disappointed the recording is no more, I think of Beltain as a time of wild abandon, a state this musical form does not allow expression.  I love the idea of Pagan-inspired cantatas; I would like to hear others for other soberer sabbats.

Alfred also Spoke of the "Missa Druidica," by Joseph C. Nemeth (Theman the Bard) performed by the Orpheus Pagan Chamber Choir in Denver. 

The Missa Druidica is inspired by "the great sung Catholic masses of the 18th and 19th centuries, combined with the beautiful modern Druidic liturgies of the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids (OBOD) of England."

To Alfred's investigation of Pagan composers and performers I suggested the "A Winter Solstice Singing Ritual," by Julie Middleton and S. Morgan-Appel, which has been performed in Philadelphia and other venues; and Pagan hip hop artist Slippery Elm from Vancouver.  

I have the greatest appreciation for these many new artists who are helping to make and shape Pagan culture.

Jeffrey Albaugh's presentation, entitled "As Above, So Below: Pagan Theology, Polytheistic Psychology, and Pagan Praxis," concluded with the creation of this pentacle.

Session Four, the final session on Saturday, was a panel discussion on Community Engagement through the Lens of a Pagan-Buddhist Perspective.  First to speak was Francesca Howell.  I was delighted to finally meet Francesca in person, since we have been online friends for some years, in the context of Pagan Studies.  During much of that time she lived in Italy; now she's back in the U.S.  Her talk was "Sense of Place and Community: An International Pagan Perspective."

Lauren Raine spoke on "Numina: Sacred Places and Pagan Pilgrimage."  You can get a sense of her presentation here

The day concluded with Marie Cartier's "Stories from the Yoga Mat," followed by a brief, much-needed yoga stretching.

A too-big gang of us moved to a too-busy and very noisy restaurant nearby to talk further.  I wanted to take this opportunity, while I was in Southern California and we were both in the same venue, to chat with Tagh about the Pagan History Project he's proposed.  We both think I have a lot to bring to the project.  More as things unfold.

That's it for day one, folks.

1.  I have used the term Claremont Pagan Studies Conference because that's the name by which I first knew it.  Over the past few years the name has morphed -- Claremont Conference on Contemporary American Studies, Claremont Conference on Current Pagan Studies, and similar.  Since the only kind of Pagan studies there is is current, or contemporary, I've omitted the reference to time.

2.  My friend Oak has labeled my role as "ambassador," and I think she has a point.