Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Thanksgiving with Our Homeless Population

Most years the Marin Interfaith Street Chaplaincy presents an interfaith religious service on Thanksgiving Eve.  These events include music and singing, poetry and drumming, stories and prayers.  Some of the speakers come from the homeless population and some are religious leaders.  I’ve participated in many of these services as a representative of the Pagan paths.  (Technically, I’m Witchen, but I try to present the broadest and most diverse faces of Paganisms.)

In the past I’ve chosen to highlight Demeter, for several reasons.  One is that many Americans are familiar with the Greek and Roman myths; often they’ve heard of about Persephone’s descent into Hades and subsequent reunion with her mother Demeter in the Spring.

I also find that short talks that end with a song tend to be more memorable, leaving people with a song in their head.  The song called “Demeter’s Song” contains words, such as “the lover’s smile and the worker’s arm,” that are relevant to contemporary life.  People can relate to them.  They are not obscure or other-worldly. The song is not laden with appeals to a divine entity; rather, it’s sung in the first person and tells who she is, sort of like a brief introduction in a conversational group.

So I briefly tell how the land became barren during the time of Demeter’s grief and search for her missing daughter, and how the hens begin to lay, the orchards to bear fruit, and the people’s hunger is then assuaged when mother and daughter are reunited and Demeter again assures abundance.  I conclude with a duet with my partner Corby of “Demeter’s Song.”[1]

At the time in the service where offerings are proffered and the collection plates are passed, people pile gifts of new sleeping bags and packages of socks at the base of a harvest-bedecked altar.

Afterwards we gather in another room for casual conversation and refreshments.  During this after-gathering both homeless people and other religious leaders have told me how much they’ve appreciated this talk and song about Demeter.  For, although the service is broadly welcoming of all forms of religious expression, the fact of the matter is that, like society at large, it’s overwhelmingly Abrahamic in manifestation.  This year, in fact, there wasn’t even a rabbi or an imam there.  Except for a Buddhist and myself, all speakers came from one or another Christian denomination.  So it’s really great for me to learn how my offering was perceived.

This year’s service came shortly after the terrorist attacks in Paris.  The discord around the world, especially in the Middle East, seems to be expanding.  Only the completely oblivious can remain unaware of these unfortunate developments.  This situation has been on my mind, and I’m sure it’s been on the minds of those at this event.

I was ready to rehearse our harmonies on “Demeter’s Song” again this year, but another song kept nagging me.  Another song about another goddess in another time and place.  I pondered the notion of speaking of something so unfamiliar and remote.  Then I decided to go for it.

I spoke about a goddess named Inanna, who showed herself to the people of the Fertile Crescent thousands of years ago, about 4000 Before the Common Era.[2]  I talked about how the people of her homeland in Mesopotamia (literally, “[land] between rivers,” the Tigris and the Euphrates), now considered to comprise modern day Iraq, Syria, and Kuwait, live in such distress.

I told of Enki’s gift to Inanna of the 10,000 Me, all the gifts of civilization (music, medicine, agriculture, writing, mathematics, weaving, pottery-making, et al.).  I spoke of her journey to visit her sister Erishkigal in her underworld realm of heat and dust, and how she divested herself of her possessions at each of the seven levels or portals, beginning with her shigurra crown, then her bejeweled breastplate, until she arrived before Erishkigal naked.  I said that some consider Salome’s dance of the seven veils to have been a reenactment of Inanna’s descent, but that I was not prepared to argue the merits of that contention; I wanted to emplace her and give them something to think about.

Then I invited them to join me in a spell, a spell to reawaken the spirit of Inanna and all the wonderful gifts she represents – joy and abundance, beauty and prosperity, peace and creativity.  Like the Christian prayers for peace and healing of those gathered, we would do a “working” using our voices in song.  I said that if they were uncomfortable at the thought of performing a spell, they could view what we were about to do as simply a sing-along.

The song I used is a call-and-response in which every line is sung and then repeated by everyone; in other words, each line is sung twice.  They didn’t need to remember anything; all they had to do was to sing back the lines as I sang them. 

I explained that the words and images are from those ancient times when Inanna was worshipped, translated from the original cuneiform into modern English by the late Sumerologist Samuel Noah Kramer, and thence turned into a song.  They are not the words of romantic fantasy.

I asked them to think of the plight of the peoples of the Middle East and to envision them enjoying the gifts of Inanna and the pleasures of life -- safe homes, plenty to eat and drink, dancing.  With our song we would work towards reawakening these qualities among the people of her homeland.  And so we sang:

Barge of Heaven[3]

Your crescent shaped barge of heaven,
So well belayed, so well belayed.
Full of loveliness like the new moon.

Your fertile fields well watered
The hillock lands well watered too.

At your mighty rising
The vines rise up and the fields rise up,
And the desert blooms in green
Just like a living garden.

In the heat of the sun you are shade,
A well of water in a dry dry land.
Swelling fruits to feed the hungry,
Sweet cream to quench our thirst.

Pour it out for me.
Pour it out for me.
Everything you send me I will drink.

I had called for us to sing this through three times.  At the first round, some of the congregants’ responses were tentative.  Responses grew more convincing during the second repetition, until when we arrived at the third repetition, my words and their responses were full-throated and powerful.

I concluded with the words, “By all the power of three times three, as we do will, so mote it be!”

This year at the after-gathering I was a bit apprehensive.  I wasn’t sure if I’d pushed too hard against the prevailing mindset.  The feedback I got, however, reassured me that what we Pagans can bring to the common table of interfaith resonates and carries meaning.  Annie, the wife of the street chaplain who organizes this event, said, “You rocked!”

May the welcome reception I received for this spell-working encourage others who represent a public face of Paganism to make our presence known in a constructive way.

This was my Thanksgiving spell.

[1] Corby and I also sing this song as a form of grace before family holiday meals in our complex multi-religious and atheist families.
[2] You have to say “Before the Common Era” because most people think of BC (instead of BCE) as “before Christ.”  However, it’s more accurate, at least in a broad inter-religious context, to use BCE.
[3] Words adapted from Sumerian text (tr. Thorkild Jacobsen, Diane Wolkstein, and Samuel Noah Kramer)  Music by Starhawk, arranged by Lunacy.

Thursday, June 04, 2015

On *A* Pagan Community Statement on the Environment

If you’re reading this, you’ve seen notifications of a Pagan Community Statement on the Environment.  Inspired by the environmental statement released by CoG in 2014 and statements from other religious organizations, blogger John Halstead invited 66 assorted Pagans, about 48 of whom collaborated on the piece that became the final product.

The final statement was a months-long, complex collaboration of diverse Pagans.  That fact in itself is, to me, remarkable, given that Pagans can be a fractious lot.  For me personally, the fact that this exists demonstrates a certain sense of solidarity.  We Pagans are a fringe demographic, and each Pagan path, sect, and individual is an even smaller fringe demographic.  We tend to work hard at distinguishing ourselves one from the other.  And that tends to fragment us as a demographic.  So when this many Pagans from many Pagan perspectives can come together and manage to agree on something of paramount importance to all of us, and to publicly proclaim our stance — well, that speaks to a stronger presence in society, and perhaps a louder, clearer voice not usually heard in the clamor of other Abrahamic dominion-inclined, religio-spiritual voices.  I think Pagans bring an important perspective to society.  And I think if this small effort can grow big enough, we might actually make a difference beyond ourselves.  Needless to say, this statement is meant to be noticed. 

No doubt there are positions articulated in the statement that do not precisely reflect yours or others’ viewpoint.  For some, the statement isn’t strong enough on certain topics.  However, it’s amazingly thorough, and universal enough to have garnered signatures from a variety of Pagans around the world, as well as from Buddhists, Anglicans, UUs, CRs, African Diaspora, Heathens, and interfaith colleagues.  I’m also bringing it to the special attention of my Hindu interfaith colleagues.

Of course, all the words in the world won’t make a difference unless we follow them with action.

To those who say they’re already onboard: they recycle, conserve energy, drive a Prius, commute by bike, donate to environmental causes, and vote Green, I say huzzah!  Good for you for doing this and for setting an example for others.

As important and valuable as those behaviors are, they make barely a blip on the screen of environmental degradation.  These address what I see, if I may presume to say so, as ‘first world’ problems. 

We[1] are the ones who over-consume.  We are the ones eating more than we need, dining on delicacies shipped from around the world.  We are the ones obsessed with electronic devices that consume lots of energy, much from coal and other ‘dirty’ sources.  We are the ones needlessly consuming fossil fuel by driving six blocks to the supermarket or ‘convenience’ store in our SUVs occupied by a single person to get some milk when it’s run out.  We are the ones filling our water treatment facilities with throw-away wipes that clog up the works.  We are the ones tossing vaccine-contaminated diapers into our ever-expanding landfills.  We are the ones using IVF that results in litters.

To those whose reason for declining to respond is that they’re “not a public Pagan,” that their spirituality is personal, I ask you to consider these lyrics:

Blessed be and blessed are those who dance together.
Blessed be and blessed are those who dance alone.
Blessed be and blessed are those who work in silence.
Blessed be and blessed are those who shout and scream.
Blessed be and blessed are the movers and the shakers.
Blessed be and blessed are the dreamers and the dream.

~ Paula Walowitz

Dancing alone, working in silence, dreaming – these Pagans are all part of our larger Pagan demographic.  Not all of us is either suited or called to be the least bit public.  We are no better or worse Pagan for choosing a private spiritual life.  That said, our ecosystems are shared; thus, I see it as the obligation of each of us to do whatever we can to maintain its sustainability and viability.  Recycling, voting Green, donating are all good, but in the bigger picture they don't make a huge difference. Not any more than this remarkable statement makes without follow-up in the real world.

Signing a document that states things you agree with is not “doing public pagan stuff.”  What it is, however, is standing with others in the face of a dire situation, and standing together makes for a stronger force.  Witness the diverse Pagan population who created it.  Not folks who often stand as one.  No one's personal spirituality is compromised in the least when she signs a document that serves the entire planet.

We have no choice about sharing this planet.  If we love life, it seems only right to respect what makes it possible, what makes us possible.  One itty-bitty way of showing that love and support, commitment and concern, is to add your name to this statement.

I have lots of ideas for building upon this statement now that we've managed to create a semblance of kinship.  I hope others will also employ their ideas, creativity, and magic to take this statement beyond the articulation stage. 

Blessings of the living land,

[1]   By “we” I mean American Pagans in general, as well as international Pagans who are well enough off to have access to the Web.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Interfaith Celebration of National Day of Prayer

Much has been said about the National Prayer Breakfast that takes place in Washington, D.C. each May, critical that it is intended to foster a “Christian nation,” which the United States decidedly is not.

For the past 16 years my own local interfaith group, Marin Interfaith Council, has produced an Interfaith Prayer Breakfast.  I’ve described some past breakfasts here: 2007, 2009, 2010, and 2014.  Generally speaking, these local breakfasts have been diverse, tolerant, and minimally Abrahamic-centric

Featuring three religious leaders, each presenting on the same theme, these annual events have taught me much, particularly in the way of the nuances of particular denominations.  We’ve had several kinds of Buddhist speakers, many, many iterations of Christian religious thought, representatives of at least three if not four kinds of Judaism, a couple of Muslims, Bahai, Latter Day Saints, and, in 2011, Gardnerian Witch Don Frew was one of the three speakers. 

With the exception of the year Don spoke, it wasn’t until last year that I was ever able to be more than the sole Pagan presence.  I humorously refer to myself as the “token Pagan.”  Last year we were three: Don Frew, Kemetic Matt Whealton, and myself (a Witch at Large).

* * * * *

As near as I could tell, the theme for this year’s speakers to address were oppression and suffering, prayer and meditation.

Zahra Billoo,[1] J.D., Executive Director of the SF Bay Area Council on American-Islamic Relations[2] who is also a civil rights attorney, spoke first.  She explained that prayer in Islam in personal and ritualistic, and can be done alone or in a congregation.

She spoke of two kinds of prayer, one being petitionary the other being an act of worship.  She stated that the sole purpose of Islam is to worship.  Muslims pray five times each day.  She also explained that prayer requires cleanliness of clothes and person, which is why one can observe worshippers washing before entering the mosque and beginning their prayer.  God is the center, and all other things must fit in.

* * * * *

Dr. Johnathan D. Logan, Sr., Pastor of Cornerstone Community Church of God in Christ (Pentecostal) in Sausalito, California, advised us to “Look through the eyes of another” so that you can “fine-tune who you are.”  He said that “prayer is essential” and that we should[3] develop a “prayerful lifestyle”

He described the expression of prayer in his congregation as involving tingling and dancing feet, and being accompanied by a Hammond organ.  As a Pagan from two ecstatic traditions, I can really get behind this form of spiritual expression.  I like dancing and sweating our worship.  This lack of decorum and reliance on a much freer form of expression appeals to my heretic heart.

Dr. Logan also said that praying is two-way communication -- something happens and we get “God’s feedback.”  I can appreciate this perspective, except for the monotheistic assumption.  In my own experience, sometimes I learn from Brigit, and others times I learn from Kali Ma.  Or if not “learn,” at least sense their presence and feel their blessings.

Using the acronym made from the name of the book of ACTS in the New Testament, the speaker explained prayer thus:  Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication (intercession).

He explained that prayers in Pentecostal Protestant practice are used for (a) asking favor, (2) adoration, (3) recitation of sins, (4) asking forgiveness, and (5) interceding on behalf of others.  Prayer can bring one a sense of calm and a sense of peace.

Again, speaking from my Pagan perspective, I don’t hold much with the concept of sin and redemption when it comes to an other-than-human agent.  For me, forgiveness, redressing wrongs committed against another, and restoration of healthy relationships are the responsibilities of those who transgressed to those they offended.  I hold forgiveness in high regard, although I find that in reality it’s often a difficult state to achieve.  I feel that forgiveness must be followed by atonement, not in the Christian theological sense, but rather in the sense of reparation for a wrong or injury.

He claimed that (his) God is immutable, in total contrast with my view that “She changes everything She touches, and everything She touches changes.”

* * * * *
Last to speak was Rabbi Susan Leider, Senior Rabbi of Congregation Kol Shofar (Conservative) in Tiburon, California, the host community for this breakfast.  She stated that prayer focuses on joy and gratitude, not on suffering and persecution.  A rather refreshing attitude, I must say.  She said that only personal prayers are petitionary, and that community prayers are not.

The “Amidah,” The Standing Prayer, is said aloud three times a day in Jewish tradition.

Blessed are You, Adonai, Shield of Avraham.
Blessed are You, Adonai, Who causes the dead to live.
Blessed are You, Adonai, The Holy One.
Blessed are You, Adonai Who sets Shabbat apart.
Blessed are You, Adonai, Who causes His presence to return to Zion.
Blessed are You, Adonai, Whose name is good, Who is fit to praise.
Blessed are You, Adonai, Who blesses His People Israel with peace.

* * * * *
I want to explain how this report on my interfaith activity differs from past reports.

In interfaith environments, it’s common to encounter what I will call Yahweh-centrism, which of course is an assumption of monotheism, a single creator god.  Welcoming prayers and benedictions at the conclusion of interfaith events generally refer to “the one” in some way.  I remain silent and respectful, but I have to say I don’t really relate to those blessings.  I accept their sanguine intent.  I try to overlook the monotheistic assumption with which they are offered.

But I have to say it does get to me after a while.  After one event a few years ago when this attitude was especially prevalent, I asked one of my Zen colleagues how she, as a non-deist, dealt with it.  Being a mellow Buddhist, she seemed able to just let those assumptions roll off her back.  She suggested I speak to the executive director of the Council. 

I just didn’t feel I wanted to pursue it, at least not at that time, because I suspect that I, as a single, solitary Pagan member, with no “community” (church, synagogue, congregation of some kind) behind me, would more likely than not be viewed as a malcontent.  Which is not to say that my participation in many Council activities hasn’t been both solicited and appreciated; it has.  I do believe my MIC colleagues are generally fond of me as a person.  I believe that are glad I’m involved and that they consider me a peer. 

So instead I backed off a bit from my involvement.  I withdrew from a committee on which I’d served for a few years, the Justice Advocacy Team.  I attended fewer events, and I only contributed my time, energy, and expertise to those events if and when invited to do so.  I didn’t volunteer.

I nearly blew off this most recent Interfaith Prayer Breakfast, mainly because I could see from the list of announced speakers that the program was entirely Abrahamic.  Then it turned out only the week before the event that both of my other Pagan friends who’d attended last year, Don and Matt, were planning to come again this year.  Well, after about 15 years of being the only Pagan in the room, I found this likelihood encouraging.  It fortified my resolve to remain engaged.  Three Pagans in the same gathering where heretofore I’d been the sole presence!

However, at this point as a representative of Paganisms in the interfaith arena I do feel the need to go beyond simply recounting what was presented, and to express my disagreement with some of the presenters’ assumptions.  In past reports I have mentioned things where I feel a resonance, but not where I dissent.  That makes this report different from previous reports.

I don’t seek to dispute anything that’s said in sincerity by practitioners of other religions.  I don’t seek to offer any kind of case that my worldview and practice are superior to or “more right” than theirs.  What I do hope for, though, is some understanding on the part of my Abrahamic colleagues that their assumption of monotheism excludes many of us other religious folks.

[1]   The same evening I saw the last minute of an interview with Ms. Billoo on All In with Chris Hayes.

[2]   Some years ago I sat on an interfaith panel at Napa Valley College with another colleague from CAIR.

[3]   I have a lot of trouble with statements that include the word “should.”  They reflect an attitude that religious professionals somehow have more authority over each person’s choices than we individuals do.  I disagree.  This is one reason I dislike notions like a pastor (shepherd) and his flock.

Friday, April 24, 2015

BNPs, PPPs, & Leadership

Pagan Summit, Bloomington, Indiana, 2001
(Note: Several in this photo have crossed over since this was taken, and most are not published authors.)

Ever since I’ve been on a Pagan path I’ve heard of BNPs.  The acronym was told to me to indicated Big Name Pagans.   Over time, as more people found their way to one Pagan path or another, or began to create their own paths more specific to their particular worldviews, the term BNP took on a negative connotation.  I started to hear it explained as Big-Nosed Pagans.

Most of those referred to as BNPs had published a book or several and were known for that.  Of course, when I was coming up, there were few books, and those there were tended to be elementary.  They lacked depth, refinement, and nuance.  Today, thankfully, creative Pagans have explored Paganisms in much greater depth.  They’ve done academic and historical research, as well as incorporating anecdotal evidence for their theories – good ol’ UPGs.  Practitioners of reconstructed traditions of many kinds have explored the traditions they’re reviving, and thereby have advanced this learning tremendously.  As well, walkers on more personal Pagan paths, including “hard polytheists,” have contributed to our growing body of resources.

I’ve encountered plenty of disdain in various Pagan social contexts of what the disdainers called BNPs.  Overall, I think this is unfair.  Yes, there are well-known Pagan authors on the broomstick circuit who expect a degree of deference, who require that their luggage be carried and other assistance rendered.  However, not all behave that way.  And in some cases, as with older or frailer authors or those who may be traveling with small children, such accommodations are justified.

I see many other Pagans who aren’t necessarily authors with a body of published books, although often they contribute to anthologies, to published (in the sense of printed matter) discussions and online fora, and who otherwise contribute to the understanding of our communities among the general public.  They may be known, but not necessarily as authors.  After all, leadership takes many forms.

We Pagans also have poets, sculptors, painters, dancers, musicians, song-writers, ritualists, and other artists who might, by the common understanding of the term BNP, be deserving of the appellation.[1]

There are also many other Pagans who’ve taken on leadership roles.  Some organize festivals, or they may take on the big task of creating the meal plans and arranging for  cooking, feeding, and cleanup; or do the accounting a festival requires; or do all the advertising and promotional work; or book the flights for presenters; or fetch guests from the local airport; or one of the many other roles necessary to make a festival happen.  Some may be leaders while others would more accurately be considered volunteers.  In whatever capacity they work, they are helping to create Pagan culture.

Another kind of Pagan leader may be someone who’s done substantial work in the context of interfaith activities, or is a Pagan scholar.

More recently, I offer as an example one individual, John Halstead, who solicited involvement from Pagans of all stripes who, with his facilitation, created a Pagan Community Statement on the Environment.  This is not a Pagan who has a bunch of books to promote and workshops to lead (that I know of).  Surely this action can be seen as one of assuming leadership.

For them, and others who’ve taken on leadership roles, I propose a new term:  PPPs, or Publicly Prominent Pagans.  How do you like it?

[1]   Check back later for more on Pagan artists, writers, and musicians as agents of cultural change.

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 belief.net, 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.”