Friday, February 20, 2015

Hanging with My Peeps at PCon

Don Frew, Macha, Richard Reidy of the Temple of Ra
This year’s PantheaCon nourished me.  I printed out a schedule ahead of time of events on the official schedule, as distinct from the many programs being offered in various suites throughout the weekend, that I wanted to be sure to attend.  I left plenty of space for serendipitous encounters.

I knew I had some responsibilities in the Pagan Scholars’ Den -- I dislike that term – for both Cherry Hill Seminary and the Pagan History Project with which I’m involved.  And I was scheduled to sit on one panel, “Tradition vs. Innovation.”  Beyond those things, I was open to see what arose.

Arrived Thursday evening in order to avoid morning commute traffic and my tendency to retire late and sleep late.  My first dip in the brew was attending a panel called “The Good, the Bad, & the Blogging,” featuring Patheos bloggers.  The varied panel gave a good cross-section bloggers on topics of interest to Pagans.  I was especially happy to make the acquaintance of one blogger whose work I admire and try to read when I can; that would be John Halstead who writes The Allergic Pagan.  Nothing to do with allergies, rather because he has a find mind and writes thought-provoking blogs

For reasons I don’t recall I missed several Friday evening offerings, including concerts by Celia Farran, Ruth Barrett, and Holly Tannen.  I’m a fan of all three women and rarely miss their local appearances.

I don’t usually attend much in the way of rituals, maybe only one to three over the course of a long weekend, meaning I missed “Hekate: Witness and Ally” and “The Rite of Grand Convergence.”  The latter interested me because it was an offering of Black Rose Witchcraft, whom I view as Craft cousins, though I must say the title of the ritual is rather grand.

I spent a good while in the Pagan Scholars suite, where Angela Pearson supplied me with Jameson’s.  I’m not much of a drinker, but I do enjoy an occasional, say annual, alcohol high.  Cole and Allie and I took a break in the parking lot, then went up to Clifford Hartleigh Low’s fantastic Green Fairy Party, where the host himself escorted me to the front of a very long line in the hallway and into the scene of festivity.

And whom should I see as soon as I entered but Erik Davis wearing a little feathered green cap and looking like Robin Hood.  Our paths had last crossed when he talked about ‘weird’ at the Brainwash Café at the same event where my grandson Ian Kappos was reading.  On the infrequent occasions when we meet, we always seem to have plenty of information to exchange, at least from my perspective.

On Saturday morning I missed Brandy Williams’ talk on “Lives of Pagan Teachers”; well, I did manage to get there for the last half hour, but it was all over and the room empty by then.

Unfortunately, the panel on “Tradition vs. Innovation” was scheduled at the same time as one on prison ministry.  I have plenty of experiences to share with regard to the latter, and would have benefitted from talking with others who are doing similar work; however, I haven’t yet mastered the skill of bilocation, so sat on the former panel.

As to “Tradition vs. Innovation,” I hope I conducted myself well and spoke with clarity and conviction.  Some of us panelists did find instances where we reflected and enriched each other’s commentary.  I found this especially heartening when it occurred with younger Pagans like Lou Florez. 

Went to Richard Reidy’s talk, “Ancient Magic for the Modern World – A Kemetic View” and did a spell that seems to be working.  Richard, of the Temple of Ra, always offers well-planned and informative presentations

Babalon Rising: Jack Parsons’ Witchcraft Prophecy.”  I found this talk by Erik Davis   fascinating.  Not only did he tease his threads out to include mention of W.I.T.C.H. (Women’s International Terrorist Conspiracy from Hell), but even more, he cited my late friend Sequoia as a later manifestation of this current (to mix metaphors).  She would have been thrilled.  Old-time Pagans like Murtagh AnDoile, Elizabeth TigerRose, and Magenta Griffin had plenty to contribute to the follow-up discussion.  Great fun!

Gary Suto joined me for “Katabasis: Descent to the Underworld” a drag show performed by the Circle of Dionysus in the weird-vibed abandoned disco club on site.  This performance involved another spell that I think is working.  We met Erishkigal, Persephone, and even Aphrodite down there in the Underworld.  The amazing original sinnerjee filked the Village People’s “YMCA” around the theme of conversion therapy, the chorus being, “Why am I gay?”

I enjoyed plenty of party-hopping during the evening hours. 

Talked shop about working with inmates within the prison system with Christopher Penczak in the Temple of Witchcraft hospitality suite.

Met with others in the CoG suite concerning attending the Parliament of World Religions in Salt Lake City in October.

Enjoyed socializing in the ADF suite with Sean Harbaugh and others.
Macha, Kristoffer Hughes, Kat Sanborn
Hung with authors in the Llewellyn hospitality suite, for fun conversations with Kristoffer Hughes and Sonja Sadovsky in particular.

Enjoyed hanging with Sisters Krissy Fiction, Shomie D. Goods, Hera Sees Candy, and other sisters both in and out of Sister drag.  I was delighted to find and old/new friend in Sister Lilith of the Valley of the Shadow of Death with whom I share friends and experiences from the 1980s and ‘90s.   We had a reflective talk about Raven Moonshadow at the Pagan Alliance party warmly hosted by JoHanna White.
Sister Krissy, Macha, Sister Hera Sees Candy, Derik Cowan
Blessed with a fine new friend, Jon Drum of ADF, whom I expect to be more involved with Cherry Hill Seminary.

On my last night there I joined hundreds for Orion Foxwood’s “The Flame in the Cauldron: The Awakened Spirit of the Witch.”  It’s been years since I’ve attended any of Orion’s presentations, mainly because they have such long lines and I cannot stand for long periods.  This year, however, I finally accepted the fact that as an older person with some physical limitations, I could go to the front of the line and enter ahead of the main crowd.  What a wonderful talk, concluded with ritual chanting!  Thus began the third spell of the weekend for me, connecting with and reviving the witch blood.

There are many other reports out here in cyberspace on the goings-on at this year’s PantheaCon that focus on the experiences of People of Color.  I did not witness any of the incidents they are talking about. 

Bear in mind, dear reader, that this annual event consists of about 10 or 12 simultaneous official events around the clock and perhaps 2,500 attendees on ten floors.  That doesn’t count the many offerings in various suites during those same limited hours – alas! only 24 in a day. 

I had many more experiences, encountered so many other dear friends, old and new, than I can mention in one blog post.  This is my digest.

This is my personal experience – and this year was wonderful for me.

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

AAR Annual Meeting - IV

"The Nightmare" by John Henry Fuseli

  November 2014
San Diego, CA

Day Two:  Saturday Late Afternoon and Evening

For the 4:00 p.m. session I passed on three others of interest.

Indigenous Religious Traditions focused on “Ritual Objects and Materiality in the Study of Native American Traditions.”  Anthropologists have considered the importance of social and historical context while neglecting physicality and materiality in such circumstances as indigenous rituals “tied to particular places and things in irreducible ways.  Panelists spoke on

·      “Maya Persons, Places, & Things: Relational Theory and Maya Blood Offerings to the Ceiba Tree”;
·      “Ayahuasca as ‘Teacher Plant’: An Ethno-Metaphysics of Santo Daime’s Botanical Sacrament”;
·      “Animacy and Agency in Puppets, Masks, and Other Ritual Objects”;
·      La Vara: Divining Bundle of the Highland May Ritual Specialist”; and
·      “The Way of the Mask: The Intersection of Ritual and Value in Highland Guatemalan Religious Dance Masks.” 

Blood offerings, entheogens/psychotropics, puppets (poppets?), masks – just some of the less conventional sacred technologies that we Pagans often employ.

Ritual Studies Group: “Ritual Assembly and the Dynamics of Democracy.”  This panel offered five different ways in which ritual acts and performances reveal and mobilize culture resources and initiate changes to establish new conditions for democratization processes. …[P]eople entering ritual activities establish new conditions and forms of social and political engagement, and … how they are continuously renegotiating social identities.  …[R]ituals significantly impact democratic processes, both in reshaping society and providing the grounds for responding to local and global crises.  Thus ritual is not just the outcome of social construction, but serves as a precondition for the construction and transformation of society.”

As a ritualist myself, I do see ritual as a vehicle of social change (not necessarily with respect to democracy).  The cultures from which these papers were drawn include, among others, Hong Kong, rural Uttar Pradesh, Norway, and Turkey.

Tantric Studies Group: “Out for Blood: Sacrifice, Tantra, and Normative Hinduism.”  “Taking animal sacrifice as the quintessential pubic marker of Shakta Tantra in much of South Asia, this panel examines how historical, regional, practical, and economic contexts have shaped the ways various traditions … relate the theory and practice of blood offerings to mainstream brahmanical Hinduism…case studies detail some of the social effects and rhetorical uses of … sacrifices within Tantra and Shaktism…while particularizing our understanding of how these categories relate to other comparatively peripheral formations including folk and tribal religions.  Taken together, these papers highlight the role of sacrifice as a flashpoint for divergent articulation and valuations of Hinduism’s center and its frontiers.”  [emphasis added]  Could you not change a few words and apply this statement to contemporary Paganism?  Given much discussion of animal sacrifice in the Neo-Pagan world, it would seem we might have something to learn from these traditions.

One paper in particular, “Blood in the Mainstream: Kali Puja and Tantric Orthodox in Early Modern Bengal,” intrigued me because I am a devotee of Ma Kali.  I perform Kali puja at the New Moon at a local store before altar in a temporary temple.  The pujaris (priest/esses) who conduct the ceremonies I attend are trained at Dakshineshwar, and the kirtan singers and musicians are mainly Indian rather than Euro-Americans, though I’ve seen no evidence of blood sacrifice, and suspect that most attendees are vegetarians.

When I ran into Steve Wehmeyer on Friday, he said he’d come to substitute for his wife, Kerry Noonan, to chair a wildcard session that he raved would be my best option among all these tempting sessions.  So that’s where I went.

* * * * *

Wildcard Session:  Contemporary Scholars, Contemporary People, and Belief in Spirits: Folklore, Religion and the Supernatural.”  

We met in a moderate-sized room, and there were folks sitting on the floor and hanging in the doorway.  This panel could easily have filled a larger meeting space.  This, to me, indicates a growing interest in exploring these phenomena, and comparing them with our own personal experiences.  Perhaps ‘religious scholarship meets UPGs (unverified personal gnosis).’

Robert Glenn Howard, from the University of Wisconsin spoke on “Hoarding the Spirit: Discourse Approach to Folklore of the Supernatural.”   He explained that discourse analysis accepts the experience of the spiritual being as real at the level of experience.  The vernacular authority, on the other hand, is “an appeal to trust in what is handed down outside of any formally instituted social formation.”  He cited Don Yoder’s definition of folk religion, that folk religion is separate from but not necessarily in opposition to or replacement of official religion.[1]

As I mentioned above, I am a Kali worshipper, so I was familiar with the next panelist, Jeffrey Kripal , from his controversial book Kali’s Child: The Mystical and the Erotic in the Life and Teachings of Ramakrishna.  I also heard him speak on a panel on North American Hinduism at the AAR in San Francisco in 2011. 

At this session, Dr. Kripal gave something of a fan’s appreciation entitled “Comparativism Unbound: The life and Work of David Hufford.”  It seems that Dr. Hufford has been Dr. Kripal’s mentor for most of his professional life, and from what we saw and heard, this relationship proved beneficial to religious scholarship. 

He described what he calls ‘supernatural assault phenomena,’ also known as ‘sleep paralysis’ or ‘Old Hag Syndrome.’   These phenomena are called by many terms and found throughout the world.  Described as an experience that occurs when one is awake, lying supine, and experiences physical paralysis, fear, the sense that someone is in the room, someone is on one’s chest.  An ‘old hag attack may be accompanied by the sound of footsteps, very soft, wearing no shoes.  This is the source of such phrases as “hag-ridden” and “haggard.” 

Dr. Hufford’s research centered in Newfoundland, where the included his own experience plus cross-cultural subjects.  He “found that these assaults are not associated with any anthropological variable. … People are being perfectly rational when they are reporting them.”[2] 

“Sleep paralysis does not seem to be causal.  It is more like the metaphor: the sun must go down for us to see the stars.  Night is a condition for us to see the stars but they do not cause the stars.” [3] 

David J. Hufford, from Penn State-Hershey and currently working with the Samueli Institute exploring the science of health presented a talk entitled “The Experience-Centered Approach to Spiritual Belief: Understanding the Persistent Enchantment of Modernity” immediately after Dr. Kripal.

Wow, this talk was even more fascinating than the two previous talks!  Gwendolyn took lots of notes, not especially easy for this reader to interpret, because we all have our own shorthands in note-taking.  Rather than incorporating her notes here, I’ll simply note a couple of things that impressed me most. 

Dr. Hufford cited Francisco Goya’s 1799 etching called “The Sleep of Reason Produces
Francisco Goya "The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters"
Monsters,” which I include here because, as they say, “
a picture is worth a thousand words.”

He has also published what appears to be a fascinating study, The Terror That Comes in the Night: An Experience-Centered Study of Supernatural Assault Traditions.   I recommended Hubbard’s book to my friend Megory Anderson, thinking it might prove germane to her work with the dying.  .  Further, Dr. Hufford's work at the Samueli Institute benefits veterans who return from the front with hidden injuries.

Our own Sabina Magglioco provided the response to the panelists, wearing her super-cool magical coat. 

* * * * *
Pagan Studies Dinner

Finally, on Saturday evening the Pagan scholars and other Pagans in attendance met for a dinner filled with lively chat and warm camaraderie.  This dinner is one of the few opportunities for all of us to see one another, since the Annual Meeting itself is vast and varied, and chances of our crossing paths are limited.

[1]   Thanks to Gwendolyn Reece for sharing some of her notes on these sessions.
[2]    Gwendolyn Reece.
[3]    Gwendolyn Reece.