Monthly Archives: February 2015

Honoring the Spirits of Here

On the one hand, I think it’s a good idea to honor the deities of the place one lives. Otherwise, it would be like living in someone’s home, eating their food, using their bandwidth, but not talking to them or helping with the rent.

On the other… I live in America. My first (European) ancestors came here almost 300 years ago, but they settled on the other side of the country from where I am. Most of my family’s dead are buried in Kentucky and Tennessee. And, they were Christians, a faith also not native to this land.

So, do I try to find a way to worship the gods of the Natives those ancestors displaced? Or the gods of the Africans they enslaved? Or the gods of the Natives who were displaced by the Europeans who settled the state I now live in?

It’s a mess, no doubt.

What I actually do is this: I make a practice of honoring the spirits of the land where I live, of the San Francisco Bay, of the Pacific coast. I honor the ancestors not only of my blood, but of all those who lived here before me, and left this world to me. To all these dead, I owe many debts. To preserve what they did that was good, and to fix what they did that was not. And I pay these debts to posterity.

How could I not? If I lived in their domains without giving them honor, would that not make me a thief?

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many felt unsafe walking alone

I haven’t been talking much about Pantheacon 2015, as I was out sick for most of it. However, I have heard all these stories from folks involved with the Pagans of Color hospitality room, and others. This is a problem in our community that we, collectively, have ignored far too long.

It should be stressed that these are not problems with Pantheacon in specific, but in the greater Pagan community. If it seems like you’re hearing a lot about Pantheacon, it’s because putting 2000 Pagans together in a hotel for a long weekend kind of amplifies the sound. Pagans of color experience these problems at non-Pantheacon gatherings, as well as in everyday life, but there are more witnesses (and more people fond of blogging about such things) in the con environment.

I’ve been asked to clarify: The photo that comes with the article is not of an honor guard outside the PoC Hospitality Suite. They’re outside the PoC Caucus, an event held in regular programming space.


Update on PantyCon Kerfuffle

Well, a few days ago, the PantyCon authors apologized in responses to Jonathan Korman’s open letter. It’s in three responses to the original post, linked above. Go read it, I’ll wait.

So, basically, they hadn’t realized it would be taken the wrong way, they’re sorry they contributed to an ongoing problem, and they’ll be more careful about it in the future. I’m not certain I’m entirely satisfied–to my mind, an apology shouldn’t spend so much time explaining, as that starts to sound like making excuses after a bit–but it isn’t my satisfaction which is of primary concern. Still, it is an apology, and it does show some awareness of what went wrong and why.

That last bit, though, where the authors defend their choice to apologize anonymously and get in a last dig at Pantheacon…

Good form through the routine, but you stumbled on the dismount, there.

Look, I can understand apologizing anonymously. I think it would have been stronger to come forward, but I see their reasons. But that last bit reads like a slap at everyone who made complaints about PantyCon but who has been silent about the ongoing presence of problematic groups like Covenant of the Goddess and The Troth.

Thing is, people haven’t been silent on those issues, either. Many of the same folks who have been loud about PantyCon’s tone-deaf application of satire have also been loud about the weaksauce, color-blind statements from these larger organizations, issued as a PR fig-leaf more than as a commitment to stand against racism.

Racism is an ongoing problem in the Pagan community, really, in the human community. And so resistance to racism must also be an ongoing work. It didn’t start with PantyCon, and it won’t end there. We must each continue to call out what we see, and demand that it be corrected.


He Doesn’t Ask Much. Just Everything.

Have you ever found it difficult to uphold your end of a bargain with the divinities?

Well, yes. If I wanted to be glib, I’d say something like, “If these deals were easy to keep, they wouldn’t be worth much, would they?” But that wouldn’t be entirely true, and it would be a deflection, and I’m not in the mood for either of those right now.

Honestly, I don’t think I’m very good at keeping my bargains. I can’t be completely horrible at it, as neither my mortal friends nor the gods have written me off yet. It’s one of the reasons I’m uncomfortable asking them for things. Whatever my intentions in the moment, I don’t feel I can honestly promise that I’m good for it.

And, yet, they still talk to me. I’m not sure I understand it, on a deep level, but I’m cringingly grateful.

Yeah, hold on a moment. That’s not getting us anywhere, is it? I was prepared to go on like that for some time, despite not being of the right religion for self-flagellation.

Then I remembered something from my first post here:

I do not ask you for followers or students or temples full of worshipers. I ask you only for yourself, for my passion is for you.

and:

I am not worthy of you.

That is not for you to say. That judgment is mine alone.

This is a dialog between myself and Dionysos. His words are in italic. And they’re words I forget too often. He’s only asked one thing of me… Everything else have been goals I’ve set for myself. He’s only ever asked me for everything; all that I am, the good and the bad, the parts I like and the parts I don’t.

Yes, I often fall down on specific obligations, but that central bargain, the most important one of all…

I ask you only for yourself, for my passion is for you.

That one, I always keep.

My lover Ember and I have decided to go through Galina Krasskova’s Devotional Polytheist Meme questions together, over the next several months. We encourage our friends to follow along, and welcome links to other people’s answers in our comments, as well as your thoughts on our answers. Ember’s answer can be found at her blog, Embervoices.


Misaimed Satire at Pantheacon

Honestly, I can’t leave the Pagan community alone for a weekend…

So, Pantheacon is an annual Pagan conference held in San Jose, California. This year, a parody of the con newsletter was published by an anonymous satirist which contained a (fake) panel description: “Ignoring Racism: A Panel for White Pagans.”

Now, I get what whoever-that-was was trying to do. Unfortunately, by mishandling context and going too far too soon, the satirist ended up poking the community’s fresh wounds and reminding people of color in the community just how little support they get, too much of the time.

Jonathan Korman has posted an open letter to his blog, Miniver Cheevy, asking the anonymous satirist to come forward and apologize.

I have to agree with Korman, here. Letting this go on is a distraction we don’t need.

An open letter

To the Mysterious Author who writes the PantyCon schedule:

I have an unsolicited word of advice, in this moment when a lot of people are unhappy with you. I’m going to ask that you do something that probably runs counter to your instincts:

Apologize.

That’s a strong suggestion, and both you and the community deserve a clear explanation for why I propose it. That means, I’m afraid, that I must get long-winded in the name of clarity.

Read the rest at Jonathan Korman’s blog, Miniver Cheevy.

Spread the word.


My Personal Festival Calendar

What sort of festivals, memorials or seasonal observances do you keep throughout the year?

Well, this is slightly embarrassing. I don’t feel like I’m a very devout polytheist, sometimes.

Let me give a little background: I’m very much a group-oriented person. This makes things occasionally difficult, because I’m also an introvert–but that’s not the point, here. The point is, I find it hard to keep a continuing solitary practice. Or, at least, I find it hard to keep anything that looks from the outside like a practice, if I don’t have a couple of other people to do it with. So, when asked what kind of festivals I keep, I’m afraid I look like a very bad polytheist, indeed.

When I was working with a Wiccan coven, I kept all the usual Sabbats. But when that coven fell apart, as they sometimes do, my active observance of overtly Pagan holidays fell off. Mind you, I was never sure what to do with holy days like Imbolc or Lammas at the best of times.

What I do keep, so far as seasonal or annual festivals, tend to be ones that coincide with mainstream holidays, and ones the rest of my family keep. The three big ones are Samhain, Yule, and the Fourth of July. They’re all observed with a low-key mix of secular and Pagan elements.

Samhain is the big one, for me personally. If I had the budget and the energy, I’d spend the last weekend of September transforming my house into something like the Addams Family house, and leave it that way until Thanksgiving. There’s something about the visceral inevitability of death that makes the plastic skulls and Styrofoam tombstones feel warm and comforting to me. It’s like dealing with existential terror by inviting the Reaper in for a beer and swapping stories about our kids.

It’s also a solid reminder that someday, I’ll be an Ancestor. I don’t know if I’ll ever live up to the “mighty” part of Mighty Dead, but I’ll go into the sunless lands none the less, and gladly take up my duty of griping into the ears of my descendants. Samhain reminds me that I am part of that chain of lives that makes up history, in a way that’s both elevating and humbling.

So on October 31, I pour a shot of rum for Ghede and a shot of bourbon for my southern ancestors, and spend a few moments in contemplation and prayer. Then, I put a cheesy horror flick on the TV to be interrupted every five minutes by the need to pay protection in sweets to keep the neighborhood child-ghouls in line.

Yule is different. I’m not, personally, into the trappings of Christmas. I’d do up a tree, because the lights are pretty in the dark, and leave it at that. However, my family is as into Christmas decorating as I am into Halloween, so I end up putting as much effort into wreaths and cheery, snowbound miniature villages (though I insist on adding Daleks to the scene) as I would into cobwebs and Jack-o-Lanterns.

That’s just the set decoration, though. The real observance is the solstice vigil, also known as the community slumber party (sans slumber). Fifteen or twenty of our friends gather at my place to stay up all night, telling stories and playing games. We light a candle at sunset, set a fire in the grate, hold a brief ritual of song and gratitudes at midnight, and sing up the sun at dawn. We burn the trunk of last year’s Yule tree in the morning fire.

It seems to work, as the sun keeps coming up. Though, to be fair, if a bunch of us sleep-deprived fools were singing Paganized Christmas carols of dubious poetic value while you were in bed, you’d get up, too.

See what I mean? I’m the only one who feels so strongly about Samhain, so there’s not a lot of ritual there. The family is into Yule, though, so we go the whole nine yards.

The Fourth of July may seem to some a strange day to keep as a holy day, but it makes sense in my mind. I regard the Founding Fathers (and the less famous but no less valuable Founding Mothers) as a sort of civic ancestors. I may not like everything they did–and there’s plenty to critique–but they shaped the world I was born into, and thus the person I am today. I owe them for helping make me who I am, and I repay that debt by keeping their memory alive. With an annual showing of the musical, 1776.

You, in the back row! I heard that!

Yes, well, it does play loosely with history. And some of the musical numbers come off a bit cheesy. But it’s the spirit of the thing, yeah?

Oh, we also read the Declaration of Independence aloud, and grouse at the lack of inclusion of women in the common story of the revolution, and complain bitterly about how recent generations have pissed away the legacy of our nation’s Mighty Dead. But, all that aside, it’s nice to be able to take a break from the cynical realities of life in the modern USA to remember the ideals of liberty and justice for all that are supposed to be guiding us.

Additionally, I host quarterly feasts for Dionysos. I spend the two or three days before cooking and cleaning, and then have twenty or thirty friends over for a Revel that lasts into the wee hours of the morning. We begin with an invocation to Dionysos, and a communion of grape mead I brew. After that, it’s all party. I’ve been hosting these for fifteen years, and they are, for me at least, deeply moving. Most everyone else enjoys them, but I don’t think everyone gets the same level of spiritual satisfaction from them that I do.

I’m also working on a calendar celebrating the major points in the life of Dionysos, keyed to the life cycle of the California vineyards, but that’s not quite ready yet. And, there’s that problem about being group oriented…

I ought to mention Pantheacon, as well. It’s an annual convention of Pagans, Heathens, Polytheists, Goddess worshipers, and other alternative religious folk. It’s the grand convocation in which two thousand of us gather in a San Jose hotel to worship together, discuss our faiths and practices, buy and sell our crafts, and generally hobnob and schmooze.

I’m also running a Dionysos devotional ritual this year, but more on that in a later post.

So that’s my festival calendar. I hadn’t realized it until just now, but it’s still eight festivals, just a little loosely joined, thematically. Still, it’s what means something to me, and while that’s not all that matters, it does count for a lot.

How about you?

My lover Ember and I have decided to go through Galina Krasskova’s Devotional Polytheist Meme questions together, over the next several months. We encourage our friends to follow along, and welcome links to other people’s answers in our comments, as well as your thoughts on our answers. Ember’s answer can be found at her blog, Embervoices.


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