Saturday, February 22, 2014

Culture of Paganisms

It is Sunday night at Pantheacon, one of the largest gatherings of Paganfolk in the United States.  I am sitting with friends and colleagues in the Pagan Scholars’ Den when I am overcome with feelings of sadness and loss.  This is the last evening of the conference, and after a short respite tomorrow morning, including breakfast with Don Frew, I must return to a world that does not understand who I am.  I am sure that many pagans feel this way towards the end of whatever festival they are attending.  After spending time within a cultural experiment in which we are understood, honored, esteemed, and valued, it is difficult to return to a world in which we feel misunderstood, nickeled and dimed to death for the most basic commodities of life, and valued only for the work we can do the produces the money that lines other people's pockets.  I myself often feel a sense of loss and displacement when I return to the collective Abnormalcy.  I have heard some people refer to this as returning to the "mundane world," as if we only briefly managed to touch the enchanted and magical realm.  My take on this is very much the other way around.  It seems to me we live day-to-day lives in a sort of lunatic asylum, a mechanized, mechanical, soulless world in which we are all gears in the worship engine of Mammon.  A world in which we move like somnambulists, shuffling one foot in front of the other through the grimy gray, seeking after a dollar or a dime, performing largely meaningless and menial tasks, and wishing that we could be seen, cherished, and part of a community.
Somewhere around the beginning of February each year, an excitement begins to seize me.  It's much like that feeling of when you were child and you were going to go to Disneyland with your parents for some special occasion (If Disneyland is nowhere near you feel free to fill in with the theme park or experience of your choice).  The experience of being at Pantheacon, or any large pagan gathering, including the Conference of on Current Pagan Studies, is something that recharges my psychic batteries and allows me to hold my head up high as I participate in a culture with which I often feel at odds.  A few years ago I missed and Pantheacon entirely, and it saddened me.  The ensuing year was a difficult one and I often felt rootless.  I had to work very hard during those twelve months to remember who I am.  This year it was the Conference of Current Pagan Studies, for which I have the pleasure to serve as program manager, that I could not attend.  After working all year reading abstracts, sending acceptance or rejection letters, compiling the program, designing and printing the signage, and a myriad of other tasks, I woke at three in the morning the day of the conference puking my guts out.  People that attended the conference told me that it went well, and that my presence was felt through the work I had done to bring that particular conference into being.  I was amazed at how many thoughtful people took a moment to communicate through texts and emails to tell me that I had been missed.  Although all of this went a long way to assuage my battered feelings of loss, the lived experience of being with a group of people who share my particular weltanschauung could not be replaced.  Consequently, being present at Pantheacon was something that took on added importance.  There is, I suppose, a sort of yearning to be with people of like mind, perhaps like spirit or soul, that is of the utmost importance.
 Even though we, as contemporary pagans, often bicker, sometimes engage in infighting, or disagree concerning how many Pagan Gods can dance on the head of a  tangible pin, still there is an underlying commonality, a sense of family and home, that permeates such gatherings.  Most of my life I feel alone.  When I am at Pantheacon and other such festivals and gatherings I know that there are others walking by my side.
This leads me to muse that there is some commonality here, a Culture of Paganisms if you will.  Deliberately I leave “culture” as collective; as is my habit, I refer to Paganisms, in an effort to express the multiplicity and diversity of our peoples, including not only the Wiccans and Witches, the Druids and all the various reconstructionists, but also the mystics, and those who have not yet found or hold a fluid definition for themselves.  Our Culture of Paganisms recasts us as one large family, our commonalities sometimes not so evident, but there in ephemeral underlying worldview that permeates all of our variegated varieties of belief.
Away from this Culture of Paganisms, back in the Abnormalcy of clockwork men, I find myself yearning for the people with whom I have recently sat and discussed both heady and silly subjects.  I miss the smiles and hugs that happen in the halls and other between places.  I crave the way in which I am rolled on the tongue and savored.  Additionally, I hunger after the way in which I am in service to my people, all of the members of this Culture of Paganisms of which I am humbled and proud to be a part.

How do we sustain our connection to this culture in which we find membership and value?  Every year there are emails and texts between people who spent time together at Pantheacon.  I am sure that this phenomenon happens with other festivals as well.  The old acquaintances and new friends attempt to hold on to those connections forged in the rarified space of the temporary coming together of the Culture of Paganisms.  Does this ever prove adequate?  Disembodied text is appropriate for certain communications, but, sadly, I do not think that it is a medium through which culture can be knitted together.  There is something about the transaction between eye-to-eye, hand-to-heart, and mouth-to-ear that carries the soul, strengthening and sustaining our Culture of Paganisms.  When together, we witness one another more honestly and sincerely then when we are hacking at each other's words in an email or a blog.  Not to say that our connections in cyberspace are not significant, but it is of utmost importance that we meet each other face-to-face, engage in dialogue both speaking and listening, gaze into one another's eyes and witness one another's being-ness.  This experience of witnessing one another truly binds us together and creates a common culture.  It is this entering into dialogue with my peers that sustains me as I leave the blessed, uncanny reality that envelops festivals like Pantheacon and begin my journey back into a world in which I am never perceived as a truly am.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Identification and Identity

Part of our work, the work of this god, the conversation with the holy guardian angel, or however you would like to put it, often times appears to be the relinquishment, at least for a moment, of the things with which we identify, and a manifesting of the true, inner identity into the world. It is a taking of the epoché, the philosophical concept of all those things of the world with which we identify, bracketing this aside and then examining the identity that is left behind as our way of being in the world (Hussurl). The things with which we identify are those things we would we would identify if we were asked to describe who we are. I might say I am a man that chooses same sex romantic partners, a partner in a deep committed relationship, a pagan mystic, an emergent elder within the Pagan community, a conference organizer, a teacher of reading, mathematics, psychology, and religion, a graduate student, an artist, a writer, and a magical practitioner, among many other things. Precious though all these things may be to me, they are only the things with which I identify. Within me, past the bricolage of identification, lies the deeper mystery of myself.

After we have put aside our Democratic leanings or our Republicanism, our age and nationality, our position within a family as mother, son, father, or daughter, our many offspring or our childlessness, the money we make or charity we receive, the nature of our jobs, even our gender and race - all the things that define us by accident of birth - then we have left the indescribable and unique I-ness that we along bring into the world. This identity seems to me to have a somewhat archetypal nature. Here I am using Jung's definition of archetype as the unknowable pattern in the collective unconscious that we can only experience though image and ideas, only applied to the manner in which we move through the world. Perhaps the unfathomable archetypal patterns in the depths of the psyche manifest in our lives partly as our unique pattern of identity. Could it be that the way in which I move through the world is inherently Hadean, Hermetic, or Jovian? What part of my nature is Aphroditic, or Appolonic? if we are not controlled by complexual patterns of behavior that do not serve us (oddly also archetypal), what new patterns of perception and action emerge? How do we then churn the events of our life into experience (Hillman), and take action based on reflections upon our experiences (Freire)?

Entering into communion with this identity, this way of being in the world, is in part the divine work we essay if we dare: in what way can I manifest my identify into my life, into the world, with responsibility, integrity, passion, and compassion? In what way does this being in the world reveal and manifest the telos of my existence?

Brendan Myers, in Loneliness and Revelation (which I heartily recommend) incorporates this into a beautiful set of revelatory moves:

I am here and now, and I am not nothing -
This is who I am,
And I am beautiful!
Who else is here?

It is the second line, "this is who I am", that contains the bracketing of the epoché. Meyers suggests that there is an inherent aesthetic beauty to the identity is left: I have added an exclamation point to this line, recalling the ecstatic cry of the peacock god on catching the revelation of himself in the dark mirror of God Herself. Although all of this is profoundly moving, it is the last line that throws out the invitation to enter into the circle of dialogue, to see and be seen, and to build our collective action and reflection together.

Who else is here?

Monday, January 24, 2011

Between the Worlds

The Seventh Conference on Current Pagan Studies is now over. It was a thrill and an honor to hold the space for our key note speakers, Selena Fox and Patrick McCollum, and our twenty some presenters. Kimberly Hedrick shared some of her research, and it turns out that there are now an estimated 1 - 2 million Pagan practitioners in the United States. If you are not staggered by that number, consider that it is far more than the number of Scientologists, and getting close to the number of Jews in the America. Some ten years ago I noted, using some of Helen Berger's research, that the Pagan population was doubling about every 30 months or so. Just imagine where our numbers might be in only a few short years.

But today, millions of Pagans or not, I return to work, to the - as some call it - mundane world. In this Default World (as the burners call it) I have to deal with the dominant over culture (thank you, Macha, for familiarity with that term). I reflect that it is a shame that I must make such a demarcation, drawing a line between a world where soul and imagination is near at hand, manifest, juicy, and delicious, and the world where we care only about numbers, what you can do for me, and what money might buy. Certainly I am not the only one to feel this, and to yearn for a way to always have at least one foot in the imaginal, fluid, polytheistic perspective. I worry about how I will sustain the enthusiam and pale clarity of percpective that this conference, this gathering of wisdom, has invoked.

This conference also gave me chace to write and present, allowing me to break through one of the darkest and pernicious writing blocks I have yet experienced. The warm reception with which my presentation was received, and the kind comments directed toward it, did much to reaffirm my ability to speak to issues in a manner that is both psychological insightful and lyrical. I feel renewed.

Perhaps, just perhaps, if I focus myself through my writing in just the right way, I can perserve this current state of apperception. Perhaps by creating a blog for myself, and using it to connect myself, my thoughts, to others in my beautiful community, I can sustain myself against the onslaught of the logic choppers, and keep one foot between the worlds.