It’s the middle of September and for the first time in six years, I’m not getting ready to go to Pennsylvania for the OBOD East Coast Gathering.
I missed the first ECG in 2010, but I was there for the non-stop rain in 2011. In 2012 I had a great time listening to Philip Carr-Gomm and John Michael Greer talk about Druidry. In 2013 I helped lead the Cernunnos Ritual in a truly magical setting, and I participated in fulfilling but exhausting five-hour initiation session. I was in a stressful place in 2014 – ECG provided a much-needed retreat. In 2015, I listened to Kristoffer Hughes honor the contributions of Iolo Morganwg to modern Druidry and I talked with Damh the Bard for a DruidCast interview.
But before I left last year’s ECG, I told camp director Lorraine Soria that I wouldn’t be back in 2016. We thought our Chosen Chief would be returning this year – there are others who need to talk to Philip more than I do (due to scheduling conflicts, he can’t make it this year – maybe in 2017). And I’ve done a lot of traveling this year – I’m out of vacation days and travel budget. I can’t do everything I want to do. With the Gulf Coast Gathering now up and running I can participate in an OBOD retreat that is drivable for me and therefore much less expensive.
I’ll miss spending four days in the Poconos, away from work and blog and everything else. I’ll miss seeing the friends I’ve made among the ECG regulars, and I’ll miss meeting the new people who are coming for the first time. Mainly I’ll miss the informal but deep conversations you just can’t have anywhere else.
This will be the seventh year for the East Coast Gathering. It’s a well-run retreat, it’s become a fixture on the calendar, and I expect it will continue indefinitely. But my time with the ECG has come to an end, at least for now.
Our Buddhist friends talk about impermanence: the idea that everything is transient and nothing lasts forever. Our refusal to accept impermanence – our attachment to the way things are or the way we wish they were – is one of the major causes of suffering. (There are deep implications of the doctrine of impermanence in Buddhism – for our purposes as Pagans, this high level understanding should suffice).
When I told my wife I was writing on letting go of things that have run their course, she laughed. “You never let go of anything.” She’s not wrong. Here lately I’ve run into trouble holding on to a dream – the dream of a Polytheist Restoration.
Over the past four or five years we’ve seen the emergence of multiple varieties of a particular form of polytheism. This form is rooted in the beliefs and practices of our ancient ancestors – some varieties attempt to reconstruct our ancestral religions, while others are simply inspired by them. It is expressed in values, with hospitality and reciprocity at the top of the list. It is devotional – honoring the Gods in ritual and sacrifice is a foundational practice. Many varieties have an ecstatic and oracular component – the Gods speak to people and make Their presence known, sometimes subtly and sometimes in dramatic and life-altering fashion. They are out-reaching – they may be small or quiet but they are not occult orders. And they are community based – the focus is not on the individual priest or devotee, but on the collection of priests, devotees, and other supporters, whether that collection is local, virtual, or a combination of the two.
This is my polytheism. This is the polytheism I’m called to practice and promote. And I love it.
When I saw this particular form of polytheism start to grow, I started to dream. I dreamed of institutions and infrastructure. I dreamed of priesthoods, temples, and a strong public presence. I dreamed of a time when temples to deities and pantheons would be common. Perhaps not as common as Baptist churches in Texas, but at least as common as UU congregations. Clearly this Polytheist Restoration would not be complete in my lifetime, nor likely in the lifetime of anyone alive today. But we were on the path that would get us there.
Was this an unrealistic dream? Probably. But dreams don’t care about realism – they just want what they want.
2016 has not been kind to this particular form of polytheism, nor to my dream of its growth. The reasons are many, varied, and not particularly relevant to this blog post. They are – to the best of my knowledge – almost entirely human issues and not deity issues… but seeing as how religion is ultimately a human endeavor, that’s little comfort. At best, this movement – our movement, my movement – has taken several steps back and will start moving forward again before too long, having learned a few valuable lessons. At worst, the Gods will decide to throw us all back and try again with another group of priests, devotees, and supporters in a few years or a few decades.
[Two caveats to hopefully avoid conflict in the comments. One, if your polytheism is something other than this, then I’m not talking about you. Two, if your polytheism is something like this and you’re having a great 2016, please share your story. I couldn’t possibly stay in touch with every ecstatic, oracular, devotional, public polytheist tradition and group in the world. I could use some success stories right now.]
Though I could see what was happening as well as anyone, I’ve been slow to accept it. Letting go of a beloved event I’ve participated in for five years straight? That’s easy. Letting go of a dream? That’s hard. This is a textbook case of attachment. As Buddhism predicts, suffering has followed.
And so it’s time to let go… of the dream. The Polytheist Restoration will happen in its own time – or not. I may have a part to play in it – or not. It may look and feel something like what I’ve envisioned, or it may look and feel completely different. I make my living as an engineer, but it’s time to put away the blueprints and project plans.
It’s time to focus on my calling as a priest of two Gods, a devotee of a third, and a semi-regular servant of several more. It’s time to get back to studying the ways of my ancestors, of living their values, and of serving the community I have instead of obsessing over the community I don’t. It’s time to focus on the presence of the Gods Themselves. It’s time to focus on those who hear Their call and are looking for a home or just a helpful word.
I’m a Pagan, a polytheist, and a Druid, not a Buddhist. But there is great wisdom in Buddhism, including the concepts of impermanence and attachment. And suffering.
I’m tired of suffering.
Sunday is my night to make offerings to the Morrigan. I have a nice Malbec that should make an acceptable offering. I need to pour a libation and then listen… and listen well.