Many Gods, Many Peoples, Many Experiences

Many Gods West, which occurred last weekend in Olympia, WA, was a tremendous success. Yes, I’ll blow my own horn. How do I judge it a success? Because it exceeded my own hopes and expectations for the weekend.

Stall art in the Obsidian female bathroom.

Stall art in the Obsidian female bathroom.

Polytheists are a diverse group of people. There is no one Voice. We come from a diversity of backgrounds, we honor a variety of gods and spirits, we face different obstacles in our practices – yet, when we come together to share our experiences we grow stronger as intersectional and interconnected communities. I saw people talking and worshiping freely and openly. I personally made new friends and connections, and was introduced to new gods. I learned new things. I laughed and danced and served.

I also view MGW as a success because of who attended. The presenters and ritualists all – each and everyone of them a polytheist – brought their A-game. I didn’t agree with everything I heard; complete agreement wasn’t the point! Personally, I quite like it when I don’t completely agree, because it means I have something new to think about. I walked away from presentations fired up. I left rituals deeply moved. The ones I attended were POWERFUL.

And it wasn’t just the presenters and ritualists who were on-point. The attendees were gracious, flexible, enthusiastic and helpful. I was inspired by the conviviality of the gathering. People pitched in. They were respectful of one another. Gratitude and joy seemed to be the prevailing moods of the conference. I am still riding high on that wave!

In the middle of all of our diversities, we also have diversity of experience. Respecting this forces me to walk my talk. How?

If I actually value my/your/our experiences then I cannot expect others to share my beliefs without having had or sharing my experiences. I would only be promoting dogmatism, and in my view, witchcraft and polytheism are experiential and relational positions. With this attitude I can respect that a person has *not* had similar experiences and thus will have different views.
Not policing other people’s experiences means that I can respect their experiences. If some one has not experienced a god, why should they believe a god is real? I merely ask they respect my experiences too.

Diversity, respect, honor of individuals, traditions, and gods – this is what MGW was for me. With a whole lotta fun and inspiration!

I have a lot of ideas to unpack from the conference. I have children to love on, practices to get back to, and work to sort out. I look forward to sharing what I’ve learned.

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If you’d like to read more write ups on MGW, please go to our FB page, there are too many for me to link to!

You can read the keynote address by Morpheus Ravenna here.

You can read Sean Donahue’s presentation here.

[There has been some community kerfuffle and back-channel Stuff going on for the last few days. I will not comment on any of that at this time. But I want to get up some thoughts of my own on this undertaking. There is more Work to be done, and more work. I’m off to do it.]

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About Niki Whiting
  • http://nigheananbrighde.wordpress.com/ Erin Lund Johnson

    Thanks Niki for all the work you put into this! I’m glad I got to meet you, albeit briefly. I’d like to pick your brain sometime about planning a conference; I have a little idea of my own I’d like to try. I second the sense of conviviality, great descriptor. It was great to be among people accepting the reality of many gods, many traditions, many worldviews, many customs, and enjoying the variety of it all, while supporting each other. Looking forward to your further reflections on MGW. :)

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/awitchsashram/ A Witch’s Ashram

      Feel free to email me at myownashram at gmail!

      • http://nigheananbrighde.wordpress.com/ Erin Lund Johnson

        thanks! will do.

  • Tony Rella

    “If I actually value my/your/our experiences then I cannot expect others to share my beliefs without having had or sharing my experiences. I would only be promoting dogmatism, and in my view, witchcraft and polytheism are experiential and relational positions. With this attitude I can respect that a person has *not* had similar experiences and thus will have different views.”

    This feels like a powerful insight that is useful to keep in mind. At times I feel defensive about my practices because the way I relate to the gods does not seem to be the same as the way others do, and yet it is the relationship that the gods have developed with me at this time. I know that the “all ways are equally valid” approach is heavily critiqued and I am not sure how to make the statement I want to make without coming off that way… There was a great conversation like this at MGW using grandmother as an example. If I am someone’s grandchild, then the experiences and ways of relating I have to her will look very different than the experiences and ways of relating someone would have who is apprenticed to her, or volunteers with her, or is a colleague in her field. As a grandchild I may see facets of her that none of these others see or can even imagine exist, and vice versa.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/awitchsashram/ A Witch’s Ashram

      I certainly don’t want to be come across as “all roads are the same”, because they are not! BUT, why should someone believe gods are real *if they never experience a god*? That would be ludicrous! And I’m not convinced that every person needs to experience them! Maybe this leaves room for atheist pagans – which, as long as they are not telling me I’m crazy, I think bring something new to the table and have no problem with.

      All of my years in Christianity….. every one kept telling me I needed to have certain experiences and to relate to Jesus in certain ways. None of that ever happened for me. Does it make Jesus a lie? No. Does it negate the experiences that millions of other Christians have had, across centuries? No! It mean Jesus isn’t my god and those experiences are not for me. Part of me can imagine humanist or atheist pagans’ frustration saying their commitment to certain values and traditions and cultures are negated because they haven’t had the same experiences as mystics, devotional polytheists, or whomever. But I also don’t want them, or anyone else, dismissing the experiences I have had.

      • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/agora/author/cdrysdale/ Christopher

        There’s an article on the ADF website (https://www.adf.org/about/basics/adf-and-obod.html) that is especially relevant here. It’s from a 2004 article about differences between ADF and OBOD (Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids), and it talks about the difference between validity and authenticity as two kinds of truth [note: this discussion references de Mille].

        I think this kind of discussion as to what our values are can be extremely helpful. Is something “true” because it works? Because it has the right pedigree or footnotes? There are huge philosophical questions, and no one answer is correct in all times and places and about all things. If it were, magic and religion would be as straightforward as accounting.

  • MaatMenNefer

    As a solitary Hermetic I rarely celebrate with others and my Path is not widely shared. However, we can all be spiritualized and uplifted by ceremony of many kinds. The importance is not in the who or howwhat but in the how people follow their Path…I prefer the Path that has kindness and helpfulness and compassion as its road signs.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/awitchsashram/ A Witch’s Ashram

      Then you would definitely have loved MGW. The kindness there was out in force.