Long time readers of this blog know that I really enjoy Pagan Festivals. I like the community, the rituals, the workshops, and most of all the discussions that take place in bars, around campfires, and in hotel rooms. What always surprises me about those discussions are just how agreeable they all are. The blogosphere can often be a contentious place, but the face to face generally lacks the adversarial edge that makes our online spaces so damned unwelcoming sometimes.
Pagan gatherings are not without their faults. Many of them have controversies, and there’s certainly been some just flat out wrong and bad behavior at a few too. Usually I don’t notice the controversies while I’m at a festival because I’m generally working (I often do a lot of workshops and rituals) or engaged in those agreeable discussions I alluded to above. And I think I’m probably not the exception either, many of the larger festivals are the size of at least a village, and a few reach small town status. Most of us can’t keep up with the comings, goings, and doings of a few hundred to a few thousand people.
I’m sad to say that last year I got caught up in some of the drama revolving around the Many Gods West festival. Some of that was perhaps my fault; I can be a bit stand offish, especially when I find myself in an uncomfortable situation. I met some wonderful people at Many Gods West last year, people that are going to be friends of mine until I die, but there were also a few people upset that there was a Wiccan-Witch at a polytheist conference. (Never mind that there are a great many of us who have always believed ourselves to be polytheists).
Things got particularly ugly when someone who didn’t even attend the conference felt the need to discuss my presence there. Things spiraled downward from there when a (now former) friend publicly called my love for a deity into question because I chose to visit a workshop presented by a fellow Patheos writer instead of a ritual honoring that particular god. This was all so weird to me, I just don’t carry that kind of energy around, and when I do, I don’t inject that sort of poison into our community spaces.
Despite the strange energy that was a part of my Many Gods West experience last year, I returned this year, and ended up encountering a completely different festival. There were a few new faces of course, along with different speakers and ritualists, but many of them were the same as last year. In some ways it felt less like a Polytheism conference and more like a general Pagan festival, though one with a different focus.
I think some of that different energy can be summed up as “Well I’m here, aren’t I?” This hit home to me on Saturday night while discussing the definition of polytheism in John Beckett’s room around midnight. As soon as the question was brought up a lot of people tuned out. Not surprisingly John and I were up for such a conversation, but for many other hanging out with us the answer was best summed up with that quote, “Well I”m here, aren’t I?” I understand the neatness of boxes but isn’t showing up enough sometimes?
(And as John Beckett has pointed out, it’s the ones who show up who end up making the decisions and setting the agenda. We can’t all go to every conference and gathering of course, but we can be supportive of things even if we don’t attend them. This last part is important because most of us won’t get to festivals and gatherings. But we can promote them even if we don’t attend, discuss the ideas presented there in online spaces, and most importantly be supportive of these types of festivals. And if we don’t agree with a festival because we dislike the organizers or something that’s no need to publicly call for a boycott of a festival.)
Instead of having to define everything, doesn’t attendance at a particular event suggest a kinship, affiliation, or agreement with a certain way of thinking? If I go to a polytheist gathering it’s probably because I think of myself as a polytheist. There’s just always going to be a sizable percentage of the community who are not as caught up in definitions as some of us are.
The weekend featured a whole host of different rituals. Not only did those rituals honor very many different (and sometimes unexpected) gods, they also utilized several different ritual methods. And everyone was OK with, and right at home with, all of those different deities and ways. How do I know when someone’s a polytheist? When they believe in many gods, are open to experiencing them, and revel in the joy others feel when deity reaches out or calls to folks.
The rituals I went to also didn’t include any gate-keepers. No one was at the door explaining how to worship or honor the deities being honored or how exactly to be a polytheist. I think polytheism is better when it includes Wiccans, Witches, Druids, Re-constructionists, Feri practitioners, along with new faiths, new gods, and faith systems I don’t even know the names of yet. I realize there will always be a difference between Devotional Polytheism and what I practice, but that doesn’t mean we can’t have those conversations about our similarities and how we interact with our deities. (And I have a great deal of respect for a great many Devotional Polytheists and believe they do good and important work!)
A Few Random Thoughts:
I led a Dionysus ritual at MGW Friday night, and while it didn’t go exactly as I wanted it to, no one complained and everyone seemed pretty happy with it. Because Dionysus has been so many things to my wife and I over the years (not to mention he’s been involved in all sorts of traditions and celebrations over the millennia) I wanted to create a ritual that worshipped him in four parts. We opened up with a traditional Greek-style rite, followed that up with some re-imagined Orphic stuff, toasted Bacchus during the Italian Renaissance, and finished with some Jim Morrison and the Doors. I was not sure how this was going to be received, but I’m pretty confident it was received well.
There are many ways to worship Dionysus of course, but most of my rituals involving the wine-god have revolved around joy. For Ari and I his presence has usually resulted in happiness (and sometimes hangovers), so that’s the kind of ritual we try and present when we do things for him in public. I know there are other sides to the god (and have experienced those too) but in public we like to show off his good side, and he’s been very good to us over the years. I ended up at Many Gods West only because there was some fallout with a previous scheduled Dionysian ritual and I just wasn’t comfortable with leaving Dionysus out there as a source of contention.
Speaking of contention, I may have a new god in my life. For the second time in three years I was called upon to play the part of Loki in a ritual, and for the second time in three years I could feel him while I did it. I’ve never felt particularly drawn to the Norse pantheon, but I feel like that’s something I’m going to have to re-evaluate. I can’t see Loki supplanting Pan, Cernunnos, and Dionysus in my big three, but he seems to want a place in my life. More on Loki later. And thanks to Ryan Smith and the Golden Gate Kindred for offering me the opportunity.
If you didn’t get it before, my favorite part of the weekend were the conversations. When Anne Niven (editor of Witches and Pagans), Kirk Thomas, and John Beckett are just some of the folks you get to talk to it’s not a surprise that the conversations are going to be bloody awesome.
This past weekend marked the first ritual I’ve ever participated in where Lucifer was an invited guest. I’m sure his name has come up in some of the rituals I’ve done over the years inspired by Charles Leyland’s Aradia, but I don’t think I’ve ever explicitly called to him in those rites. Anaar Niino did the calling and it was different. I get that Lucifer is not always Satan, but hearing forty voices say his name was new to me.
This was a “low work” festival for me (Ari and I were only responsible for one ritual and had a small part in another) but I still find myself exhausted today. No time to be tired though, I’ve got lots of Patheos work to do in the next 36 hours before heading to CWPN’s Harvest Festival on Wednesday . . . . I know Harvest Gathering is going to be awesome, and when my plane touches down in New Jersey Wednesday night I have a feeling I’ll still be smiling about this year’s Many Gods West.