Friday, February 20, 2015

Hanging with My Peeps at PCon

Don Frew, Macha, Richard Reidy of the Temple of Ra
This year’s PantheaCon nourished me.  I printed out a schedule ahead of time of events on the official schedule, as distinct from the many programs being offered in various suites throughout the weekend, that I wanted to be sure to attend.  I left plenty of space for serendipitous encounters.

I knew I had some responsibilities in the Pagan Scholars’ Den -- I dislike that term – for both Cherry Hill Seminary and the Pagan History Project with which I’m involved.  And I was scheduled to sit on one panel, “Tradition vs. Innovation.”  Beyond those things, I was open to see what arose.

Arrived Thursday evening in order to avoid morning commute traffic and my tendency to retire late and sleep late.  My first dip in the brew was attending a panel called “The Good, the Bad, & the Blogging,” featuring Patheos bloggers.  The varied panel gave a good cross-section bloggers on topics of interest to Pagans.  I was especially happy to make the acquaintance of one blogger whose work I admire and try to read when I can; that would be John Halstead who writes The Allergic Pagan.  Nothing to do with allergies, rather because he has a find mind and writes thought-provoking blogs

For reasons I don’t recall I missed several Friday evening offerings, including concerts by Celia Farran, Ruth Barrett, and Holly Tannen.  I’m a fan of all three women and rarely miss their local appearances.

I don’t usually attend much in the way of rituals, maybe only one to three over the course of a long weekend, meaning I missed “Hekate: Witness and Ally” and “The Rite of Grand Convergence.”  The latter interested me because it was an offering of Black Rose Witchcraft, whom I view as Craft cousins, though I must say the title of the ritual is rather grand.

I spent a good while in the Pagan Scholars suite, where Angela Pearson supplied me with Jameson’s.  I’m not much of a drinker, but I do enjoy an occasional, say annual, alcohol high.  Cole and Allie and I took a break in the parking lot, then went up to Clifford Hartleigh Low’s fantastic Green Fairy Party, where the host himself escorted me to the front of a very long line in the hallway and into the scene of festivity.

And whom should I see as soon as I entered but Erik Davis wearing a little feathered green cap and looking like Robin Hood.  Our paths had last crossed when he talked about ‘weird’ at the Brainwash Café at the same event where my grandson Ian Kappos was reading.  On the infrequent occasions when we meet, we always seem to have plenty of information to exchange, at least from my perspective.

On Saturday morning I missed Brandy Williams’ talk on “Lives of Pagan Teachers”; well, I did manage to get there for the last half hour, but it was all over and the room empty by then.

Unfortunately, the panel on “Tradition vs. Innovation” was scheduled at the same time as one on prison ministry.  I have plenty of experiences to share with regard to the latter, and would have benefitted from talking with others who are doing similar work; however, I haven’t yet mastered the skill of bilocation, so sat on the former panel.

As to “Tradition vs. Innovation,” I hope I conducted myself well and spoke with clarity and conviction.  Some of us panelists did find instances where we reflected and enriched each other’s commentary.  I found this especially heartening when it occurred with younger Pagans like Lou Florez. 

Went to Richard Reidy’s talk, “Ancient Magic for the Modern World – A Kemetic View” and did a spell that seems to be working.  Richard, of the Temple of Ra, always offers well-planned and informative presentations

Babalon Rising: Jack Parsons’ Witchcraft Prophecy.”  I found this talk by Erik Davis   fascinating.  Not only did he tease his threads out to include mention of W.I.T.C.H. (Women’s International Terrorist Conspiracy from Hell), but even more, he cited my late friend Sequoia as a later manifestation of this current (to mix metaphors).  She would have been thrilled.  Old-time Pagans like Murtagh AnDoile, Elizabeth TigerRose, and Magenta Griffin had plenty to contribute to the follow-up discussion.  Great fun!

Gary Suto joined me for “Katabasis: Descent to the Underworld” a drag show performed by the Circle of Dionysus in the weird-vibed abandoned disco club on site.  This performance involved another spell that I think is working.  We met Erishkigal, Persephone, and even Aphrodite down there in the Underworld.  The amazing original sinnerjee filked the Village People’s “YMCA” around the theme of conversion therapy, the chorus being, “Why am I gay?”

I enjoyed plenty of party-hopping during the evening hours. 

Talked shop about working with inmates within the prison system with Christopher Penczak in the Temple of Witchcraft hospitality suite.

Met with others in the CoG suite concerning attending the Parliament of World Religions in Salt Lake City in October.

Enjoyed socializing in the ADF suite with Sean Harbaugh and others.
Macha, Kristoffer Hughes, Kat Sanborn
Hung with authors in the Llewellyn hospitality suite, for fun conversations with Kristoffer Hughes and Sonja Sadovsky in particular.

Enjoyed hanging with Sisters Krissy Fiction, Shomie D. Goods, Hera Sees Candy, and other sisters both in and out of Sister drag.  I was delighted to find and old/new friend in Sister Lilith of the Valley of the Shadow of Death with whom I share friends and experiences from the 1980s and ‘90s.   We had a reflective talk about Raven Moonshadow at the Pagan Alliance party warmly hosted by JoHanna White.
Sister Krissy, Macha, Sister Hera Sees Candy, Derik Cowan
Blessed with a fine new friend, Jon Drum of ADF, whom I expect to be more involved with Cherry Hill Seminary.

On my last night there I joined hundreds for Orion Foxwood’s “The Flame in the Cauldron: The Awakened Spirit of the Witch.”  It’s been years since I’ve attended any of Orion’s presentations, mainly because they have such long lines and I cannot stand for long periods.  This year, however, I finally accepted the fact that as an older person with some physical limitations, I could go to the front of the line and enter ahead of the main crowd.  What a wonderful talk, concluded with ritual chanting!  Thus began the third spell of the weekend for me, connecting with and reviving the witch blood.

There are many other reports out here in cyberspace on the goings-on at this year’s PantheaCon that focus on the experiences of People of Color.  I did not witness any of the incidents they are talking about. 

Bear in mind, dear reader, that this annual event consists of about 10 or 12 simultaneous official events around the clock and perhaps 2,500 attendees on ten floors.  That doesn’t count the many offerings in various suites during those same limited hours – alas! only 24 in a day. 

I had many more experiences, encountered so many other dear friends, old and new, than I can mention in one blog post.  This is my digest.

This is my personal experience – and this year was wonderful for me.

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

AAR Annual Meeting - IV

"The Nightmare" by John Henry Fuseli

  November 2014
San Diego, CA

Day Two:  Saturday Late Afternoon and Evening

For the 4:00 p.m. session I passed on three others of interest.

Indigenous Religious Traditions focused on “Ritual Objects and Materiality in the Study of Native American Traditions.”  Anthropologists have considered the importance of social and historical context while neglecting physicality and materiality in such circumstances as indigenous rituals “tied to particular places and things in irreducible ways.  Panelists spoke on

·      “Maya Persons, Places, & Things: Relational Theory and Maya Blood Offerings to the Ceiba Tree”;
·      “Ayahuasca as ‘Teacher Plant’: An Ethno-Metaphysics of Santo Daime’s Botanical Sacrament”;
·      “Animacy and Agency in Puppets, Masks, and Other Ritual Objects”;
·      La Vara: Divining Bundle of the Highland May Ritual Specialist”; and
·      “The Way of the Mask: The Intersection of Ritual and Value in Highland Guatemalan Religious Dance Masks.” 

Blood offerings, entheogens/psychotropics, puppets (poppets?), masks – just some of the less conventional sacred technologies that we Pagans often employ.

Ritual Studies Group: “Ritual Assembly and the Dynamics of Democracy.”  This panel offered five different ways in which ritual acts and performances reveal and mobilize culture resources and initiate changes to establish new conditions for democratization processes. …[P]eople entering ritual activities establish new conditions and forms of social and political engagement, and … how they are continuously renegotiating social identities.  …[R]ituals significantly impact democratic processes, both in reshaping society and providing the grounds for responding to local and global crises.  Thus ritual is not just the outcome of social construction, but serves as a precondition for the construction and transformation of society.”

As a ritualist myself, I do see ritual as a vehicle of social change (not necessarily with respect to democracy).  The cultures from which these papers were drawn include, among others, Hong Kong, rural Uttar Pradesh, Norway, and Turkey.

Tantric Studies Group: “Out for Blood: Sacrifice, Tantra, and Normative Hinduism.”  “Taking animal sacrifice as the quintessential pubic marker of Shakta Tantra in much of South Asia, this panel examines how historical, regional, practical, and economic contexts have shaped the ways various traditions … relate the theory and practice of blood offerings to mainstream brahmanical Hinduism…case studies detail some of the social effects and rhetorical uses of … sacrifices within Tantra and Shaktism…while particularizing our understanding of how these categories relate to other comparatively peripheral formations including folk and tribal religions.  Taken together, these papers highlight the role of sacrifice as a flashpoint for divergent articulation and valuations of Hinduism’s center and its frontiers.”  [emphasis added]  Could you not change a few words and apply this statement to contemporary Paganism?  Given much discussion of animal sacrifice in the Neo-Pagan world, it would seem we might have something to learn from these traditions.

One paper in particular, “Blood in the Mainstream: Kali Puja and Tantric Orthodox in Early Modern Bengal,” intrigued me because I am a devotee of Ma Kali.  I perform Kali puja at the New Moon at a local store before altar in a temporary temple.  The pujaris (priest/esses) who conduct the ceremonies I attend are trained at Dakshineshwar, and the kirtan singers and musicians are mainly Indian rather than Euro-Americans, though I’ve seen no evidence of blood sacrifice, and suspect that most attendees are vegetarians.

When I ran into Steve Wehmeyer on Friday, he said he’d come to substitute for his wife, Kerry Noonan, to chair a wildcard session that he raved would be my best option among all these tempting sessions.  So that’s where I went.

* * * * *

Wildcard Session:  Contemporary Scholars, Contemporary People, and Belief in Spirits: Folklore, Religion and the Supernatural.”  

We met in a moderate-sized room, and there were folks sitting on the floor and hanging in the doorway.  This panel could easily have filled a larger meeting space.  This, to me, indicates a growing interest in exploring these phenomena, and comparing them with our own personal experiences.  Perhaps ‘religious scholarship meets UPGs (unverified personal gnosis).’

Robert Glenn Howard, from the University of Wisconsin spoke on “Hoarding the Spirit: Discourse Approach to Folklore of the Supernatural.”   He explained that discourse analysis accepts the experience of the spiritual being as real at the level of experience.  The vernacular authority, on the other hand, is “an appeal to trust in what is handed down outside of any formally instituted social formation.”  He cited Don Yoder’s definition of folk religion, that folk religion is separate from but not necessarily in opposition to or replacement of official religion.[1]

As I mentioned above, I am a Kali worshipper, so I was familiar with the next panelist, Jeffrey Kripal , from his controversial book Kali’s Child: The Mystical and the Erotic in the Life and Teachings of Ramakrishna.  I also heard him speak on a panel on North American Hinduism at the AAR in San Francisco in 2011. 

At this session, Dr. Kripal gave something of a fan’s appreciation entitled “Comparativism Unbound: The life and Work of David Hufford.”  It seems that Dr. Hufford has been Dr. Kripal’s mentor for most of his professional life, and from what we saw and heard, this relationship proved beneficial to religious scholarship. 

He described what he calls ‘supernatural assault phenomena,’ also known as ‘sleep paralysis’ or ‘Old Hag Syndrome.’   These phenomena are called by many terms and found throughout the world.  Described as an experience that occurs when one is awake, lying supine, and experiences physical paralysis, fear, the sense that someone is in the room, someone is on one’s chest.  An ‘old hag attack may be accompanied by the sound of footsteps, very soft, wearing no shoes.  This is the source of such phrases as “hag-ridden” and “haggard.” 

Dr. Hufford’s research centered in Newfoundland, where the included his own experience plus cross-cultural subjects.  He “found that these assaults are not associated with any anthropological variable. … People are being perfectly rational when they are reporting them.”[2] 

“Sleep paralysis does not seem to be causal.  It is more like the metaphor: the sun must go down for us to see the stars.  Night is a condition for us to see the stars but they do not cause the stars.” [3] 

David J. Hufford, from Penn State-Hershey and currently working with the Samueli Institute exploring the science of health presented a talk entitled “The Experience-Centered Approach to Spiritual Belief: Understanding the Persistent Enchantment of Modernity” immediately after Dr. Kripal.

Wow, this talk was even more fascinating than the two previous talks!  Gwendolyn took lots of notes, not especially easy for this reader to interpret, because we all have our own shorthands in note-taking.  Rather than incorporating her notes here, I’ll simply note a couple of things that impressed me most. 

Dr. Hufford cited Francisco Goya’s 1799 etching called “The Sleep of Reason Produces
Francisco Goya "The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters"
Monsters,” which I include here because, as they say, “
a picture is worth a thousand words.”

He has also published what appears to be a fascinating study, The Terror That Comes in the Night: An Experience-Centered Study of Supernatural Assault Traditions.   I recommended Hubbard’s book to my friend Megory Anderson, thinking it might prove germane to her work with the dying.  .  Further, Dr. Hufford's work at the Samueli Institute benefits veterans who return from the front with hidden injuries.

Our own Sabina Magglioco provided the response to the panelists, wearing her super-cool magical coat. 

* * * * *
Pagan Studies Dinner

Finally, on Saturday evening the Pagan scholars and other Pagans in attendance met for a dinner filled with lively chat and warm camaraderie.  This dinner is one of the few opportunities for all of us to see one another, since the Annual Meeting itself is vast and varied, and chances of our crossing paths are limited.

[1]   Thanks to Gwendolyn Reece for sharing some of her notes on these sessions.
[2]    Gwendolyn Reece.
[3]    Gwendolyn Reece.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

The Power of the North, the Wisdom of Earth

In the midst of current drama around racism, those of us who’ve not spoken up risk being accused of complicity.  I wish to share my process about why I haven’t said much.

One of the four pillars of the Witch’s pyramid is the Earth, the power to keep silent.   That is the place where I’ve been sitting for some months.

Dr. King said, “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”

While I do not disagree with this entirely, I don’t think we’re “at the end.”  Rather, it seems obvious to me that we still struggle in the process.  We, on all sides of these issues, have much to learn from each other, and we cannot hear each other if we’re all yelling.

Further, Elie Wiesel, who knows a thing or two about silence and oppression, says,

I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation.  We must always take sides.  Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim.  Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.

Both of these men know a whole lot more about oppression than I do.  They speak from their own experiences.  Mine are very different.  I consider myself to have had the advantages[1] of white skin in a Euro-dominated culture, a literate woman with a good education, and plenty of all manner of nourishment and caring in my life.  This condition has not saved me from struggle and suffering.  It has, however, made my life easier by virtue of my appearance and ability to communicate in common parlance within a system.

As these issues have been discussed, both within Pagandom and beyond, I’ve not said much – and those of you who know me know that I don’t shy from stating my mind.  I’m not turning away from the problems.  The reasons I’ve not contributed much have to do with my reverence for silence, and for what we can learn by listening.  If one considers that she has nothing to contribute that might advance the discussion, nothing constructive to offer, then I believe it behooves that person to sit in silence, meditate on the issues of contention, and listen.

As this anonymous quote states:  “A meaningful silence is always better than a meaningless words.”

I’ve also sought to learn about the wisdom of silence from other religions

His Holiness the Dalai Lama, for instance, says, “Sometimes one creates a dynamic impression by saying something, and sometimes one creates a significant impression by remaining silent.”

Rishika Jain says, “Speak only when your words...are better than your silence.

By his name, Ali Ibn Thalib r.a., I take this thinker to be Muslim, although I could be mistaken.  In any case, he says, “Surely silence can sometimes be the most eloquent reply.

Another spiritual leader whose wisdom I admire, Ram Dass, claims, “The quieter you become, the more you can hear.

When I seek insights from poets, I find the words of Emily Dickinson, “Saying nothing … sometimes says the most.”

English Romantic William Wordsworth on silence:

The silence that is the starry sky,
The sleep that is among the lonely hills.

I’ve also turned to our pagan ancestors for counsel.

By Silence, the discretion of a man is known; and a fool, keeping Silence, seemeth to be wise.”  Pythagoras, c.582-c.507 BCE

Showing that wisdom can be found even in the speech of tyrants, Dionysius I of Syracuse (c. 432 – 367 BCE) said, “Let thy speech be better than silence, or be silent.”  Of course, this could simply be a threat to his counselors.  In any case, I find it useful.

And finally, “I have often regretted my speech, never my silence.” Alternatively, “I have often repented speaking, but never of holding my tongue.”  Xenocrates of Chalcedon (c. 396 – 314 BCE)

I do know where I stand on these issues, but I have much to learn.  When heads are counted in support or in opposition, I will be present.

[1]     I prefer the word “advantage” (“a condition or circumstance that puts one in a favorable or superior position”) to “privilege” (“a special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group of people”). Not much difference, but enough to matter to me.  I lucked out in the circumstances of my birth; I don’t feel I have a special right or immunity.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

AAR Annual Meeting - III

Site of Riddu Riddu

November 2014
San Diego, CA

Day Two:  Saturday Afternoon

After lunch I duly went to the joint session of “Contemporary American Studies and Ritual Studies Groups” on “The New Animism: Ritual and Response to the Nonhuman World.”

No regrets, but to do this I had to pass on three other sections scheduled at the same time slot:
  • I    Tantric Studies Group on “Funerary Practices in Tantric Tradition,” Featuring “Saving the Unfortunate: A Tantric Rite to Rescue the Dead,” Necorliberation in Early Sakyapa Funerary Manuals,” and The Five-Element Pagoda, the Mantra of Light, and the Six Paths: Tantric Elements in Medieval Japanese Funerary Practice.”  As someone interested in both death and dying and rites of passage and other rituals, including the employment of bricolage within them,[1] I’m drawn to these types of presentation on the rare occasions they can be found. 
  • I    Religion and the Social Sciences Section, Religious Conversions Group, Secularism and Secularity Group, and Sociology of Religion Group, on “The Shifting Boundaries of the Secular, Spiritual, and Religious.” This is another area of culture that I as a Pagan feel worthy of exploration, since we seem to be expanding in numbers, and even in diversity, as well as our having a face in the interfaith/multifaith movement for social change and social justice.

The panel brought together “papers exploring the fluid, antagonistic, and overlapping boundaries of the secular, spiritual and religious…how various across draw these boundaries differently be relying on multiple understandings of the religious and the secular and by creating hybrid identities that cut across religions traditions or the secular/religious divide.”

Again, as a Pagan who has always considered her religion to call for efforts at social justice and political change, this panel called to me.

Such papers as “Switching, Mixing, and Matching: Towards an Understanding of Multireligiousness in Contemporary America” and “Qualitative Research on Spiritual but Not Religious ‘Nones’: Heterogeneous yet Conceptually Converging,” seemed that they would have addressed some of the attitudes I’ve encountered frequently in my interfaith activities. 
  • I    Body and Religion Group on “Fragmented and Digitized Bodies,” chaired by my friend Shaun Arthur, and including papers on ”The Fragmented Body: Alternative Cinematic Visions,” Discerning the Body in Cyberspace: Jaron Lanier, Merleau-Ponty, and Contested Personhood” – this seems very relevant to the presence and personalities of Paganisms online, as distinct from those in terraspace, a subject I touched in in my book Witchcraft and the Web: Creating Pagan Traditions Online   --
  • I    Native Traditions in the Americas Group on “Native Traditions, Food, and Environmental Change: Restoring Right Relationships”  “Plants and animals are an essential part of the complex relationships that are central to the religious frameworks of indigenous peoples…” From four different bioregions of North America, papers address the relationships between Native traditions, food and the environment “as expressed through sacred narratives, teachings about reciprocity, responsibility, and respect, traditional stories, ceremonies and rituals, and songs.  Climate change, human manipulation of the environment, and the loss of traditional knowledge through government intervention are some of the ways these relationships have been altered, yet found within traditional knowledge are ways to restore these relationships. …presentations explore… different yet complimentary examples of indigenous peoples turning to their religious traditions to restore right relationships with food in the face of colonial legacies and climate change.”  Here’s a list of the juicy-sounding papers in this session:  “Restoring Himdag: Traditional Ecological Knowledge and the Tohono O’odham,” “Of Coyotes and Culverts: Tribal Salmon Preservation in the Pacific Northwest,” “How Traditional Storytelling and Activities Help Make the Anishinaabeg Defenders of the Earth: A Case Study of Making Maple Syrup,” and “The Nature of Food: Dene Approaches to Caribou Hunting.”  Isn’t it obvious how appealing these talks would be to a contemporary American Pagan whose existence, like the existence of all life as we know it, depends upon right relationship with our environment and food sources?
  • I    New Religious Movements Group.  The five best paper proposals received in 2014; papers included: 

o   Massimo Introvigne on “Painting the Southern Border: New Religions, the Mexican Revolution, and the Visual Arts”;
o   Stephanie Yuhas on “The Relationship of Dark Green Religion to the Spiritual But Not Religious Movement”’ – definitely Pagan flavored.
o   Erin Prophet on “California Science Fiction, Atlantis, and New Age Apocalypticism: The Constructino and Influence of Frederick S. Oliver’s Dweller on Two Planets by Phylos the Thibetan”;
o   Shannon Trosper Schorey: “’The Internet Is Holy.  Code Is Law’: New Religions and Sacral Materiality at the Intersections of Technology and Policy”; and
o   Donald Westbrook on “’A People’s History’ of the Church of Scientology: Conclusions from Ethnographic Research in the United States.”

Here’s the session I went to:  “Contemporary American Studies and Ritual Studies Groups” on “The New Animism: Ritual and Response to the Nonhuman World.”

Ronald Grimes
Arrived to greet several Pagan scholar pals, only to see someone who’s a rock star in my world, Ronald Grimes, now retired professor of Ritual Studies.  I’ve heard him speak at past Ritual Studies Sections of the AAR.  I’ve read several of his books, and require students to read them when I have the opportunity to teach ritual theory and liturgical design.  In particular, Rite out of Place: Ritual, Media, and the Arts, and Deeply into the Bone: Re-inventing Rites of Passage.  So, feeling emboldened, I went up to him and told him I’d been worshipping him from afar for years, I loved his work, and I used it in teaching.  I actually told him he was a rock star in my world.  After all, we’re both of an age (the same age) and I have nothing to prove one way or another, so appearing like a teeny-bopper fan girl didn’t concern me.  It needn’t have anyway, because I found him to be a lovely fellow.  He immediately invited me to sit next to him during the session, which I did.  Unfortunately, I seem never to remember to take photos, so I blew the opportunity to be in a shot with him.  Oh, well…

I was disappointed that Donna Seamone was unable to present her paper, “’The Path Has a Mind of Its Own’: Eco-Agri-Pilgrimage to the Corn Maze Performance – an Exercise of Cross-Species Sociality.”

Folklorist Sabina Magliocco spoke on “Beyond the Rainbow Bridge: Animal Spirits in Contemporary Pagan Religions.”

* * *

Samuel Etikpal, from the University of Oslo, spoke on “Transition Concepts in Ghanaian Festival Performance,” specifically the annual Kundum Festival, “during which diverse participants ritually express their conceptions of and wishes for a health environment, spiritual protection, and socio-economic prosperity, bringing into play those other-than-human agencies expected to uphold or oppose these goals.”

First recorded by a Dutch trader around 1704, the festival takes place in the Jomoro DistrictWith drumming, a canoe regatta, the pouring of libations, the eating of special foods, for eight days or longer the people seek to honor their ancestors and elders, and to ensure good health and abundant crops.  In rituals involving communication between humans and non-humans, they appeal for protection.  They honor a “God creator” and Mother Earth Yaba. 

Earth Mother Yaba
 Local river goddesses are also honored, for they are seen as good mothers, providing a place for swimming, an artery for traveling, and fish for eating.  Today these rivers are threatened by oil drilling -- all the more reason to employ any and all means of restoring balance and repairing damage caused by human activity.

Samuel also showed some photos of a Kundum Festival held annually in Atlanta, Georgia.  He has not attended the one in the U.S.; rather, a friend sent him these photos.  Since, he’d emphasized the rituals honoring the local river goddess in Jomoro, I asked him if the festival in Atlanta connected to the Chattahoochee River in any way, but he wasn’t certain it did and suspected it did not.

* * *

Sami Flag by Jeltz
I found fascinating Graham Harvey’s paper, “Indigenous Cultural Events, Sovereignty, and Inter-Species Relations,” about the Riddu Riđđu Festival he attended last Summer.  Held in ‘the land of the midnight sun’ at a time of year when the sun is visible round the clock, the festival, Sami in origin, is described as “an international indigenous festival, which annually takes place in Kåfjord in Norway.  The festival has programs for the whole family. The program includes worldwide indigenous music, art, theater and dance, youth camps with artistic and political workshops, children's festival, seminars, film and literature.” 

They begin with a traditional greeting:

From our rivers to your rivers,
From our mountains to your mountains,
Form our people to your people.

Riddu Riđđu does not encourage travelers from afar because it discourages anything that increases one’s carbon footprint, which air travel obviously does; they nevertheless do welcome other indigenous peoples.  This particular year Maori people from New Zealand were among the participants.

Ándy Somby yoiking
Singers perform traditional Sami joiking, a personal and evocative vocalization in which the singer “sings” or “becomes” persons, animals, and landscapes.

In semi-underground lodges and outdoors they perform rituals around speaking to the food (meat and plants) when dining.  They emphasize inter-species communication.  They ask not “What do you believe?”  Rather, they ask “What do you eat?” or “Whom do you eat?”

Just as the health of the rivers of Ghana (and elsewhere) is threatened by oil drilling, so too is the health of the rivers in the circumpolar regions.  As Earth’s atmosphere heats and glaciers melt, at temperatures of 30º F. and higher in the arctic summer, rivers flood, resulting in the inability of trout to swim upstream to reproduce because the rushing water is too strong and too cold.

More to come.

[Apologies for funky formatting.]

[1]   I realize this treads closely to cultural appropriation.  I live in a multicultural society.

Thursday, January 08, 2015

American Academy of Religion Annual Meeting - II

Witch Riding Backwards on a Goat
November 2014
San Diego, CA

Day Two:  Saturday Morning

Saturday morning I passed on the “Plenary Panel: Release of PRRI/AAR National Survey on Religion, Values, and Climate Change,” because, although I’m interested to see how mainstream religions are now paying closer heed to our utter and complete interdependence upon other species, weather, and other planetary phenomena, and am encouraged, I decided to pass. 

Instead, I attended the Arts, Literature, and Religion Section on “Writers and Artists as Agents of Cultural Change”  “What roles, if any, do writers and artists play in processes of cultural change, and what roles does religion play in an artist’s cultural agency?  Does individual interpretive and imaginative work influence culture or merely reflect it?”

As one of the panelists said at the outset of this series, “We rarely know what we’re doing until someone else tells us.”  That is one of the roles of artists and writers as interpreters of culture as well as in their roles as agents of change – to show and tell us what our behaviors seem to be indicting.

Discussions and analyses have traditionally taken place in pubs and coffee houses.  One panelist claimed that it is in these venues where ideas are transmitted, which may account, at least in part, for my affinities for metropolitan life.  It offers more access to other minds and other perspectives.  With the exception of Emily Dickinson, all the subjects treated were social creatures, very much engaged in the society around them.

According to the presider,  Shakespeare invented the idea of human personalities as agents for social and cultural change.

Each of four panelists spoke about an individual whose life works served these functions:  painter and engraver Albrecht Dürer, poets Emily Dickinson and Allan Ginsburg, and musician and songwriter Bob Dylan.

First, and by far the most interesting to me, was Dürer, primarily because I knew so little about him.  One of the panelists remarked that she learned more about Dürer in this presentation than she’d ever known before.  I did, too.  In today’s digital world, few but art historians delve into the works of German Renaissance artists.

The Fall of Man
However, unlike today when most people (in this country, anyway) are literate, in Dürer’s time (1471-1528) literacy was uncommon.  Ideas, theories, and most significantly theology were communicated by way of imagery.  In this regard, Dürer became a transmitter of evolving early Reformation Christian theology.  For instance, he created several images of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden that changed over time.  In some the subjects seemed innocently naked, in some they are shown touching, in one Adam’s arm embraces Eve’s waist. 
Expulsion from Paradise

Among the other interesting characteristics of Dürer’s art is that he embraced the new technology of etching.  This presages new digital technologies in contemporary art.  He also inserted himself and his friends into his etchings.  Although this was not a fact mentioned by the presenter, I have since found that Dürer created many images of Pagan personages such as Nemesis, Apollo, Diana, and Orpheus, and allegorical figures such as Melancholia and Death, as well as the zodiac. 
Idealistic Male and Female Figures (Adam and Eve)
Bob Dylan, who was Zen, Christian, and Jew, all advanced and exclusive of each other..  Is he “unknowable” religiously?  His evangelical turn/”conversion” occurred in the 1970s, during the Presidency of Jimmy Carter, and the rise of the Moral Majority.  Dylan was introduced to the born-again creed of a charismatic sect called the Vineyard Christian Fellowship in 1979 when he became friends with Kenn Gullicksen, one of its founders.

My experience with Vineyard Christian Fellowship locally is minimal, except that I’ve noticed they keep a tight focus on their own version of Christianity and conversion, with little involvement in wider community issues.  Regardless of his enigmatic religio-spiritual identity, there is no doubt that Bob Dylan’s artistic output has influenced contemporary society.

Allen Ginsberg, such a mensch!  From his time at Columbia University in the late 1940s, through the publication of “Howl” in the ‘50s, and up until the time of his death in 1997, Ginsberg encouraged new literary and cultural, political, sexual, and religious expression.  A Jew by birth, Ginsberg was one of the founders of the Beat Generation in San Francisco in the ‘50s, traveled to India in 1962, where he studied yoga and meditation, and later embraced Buddhism.  He is tied to Eastern religions and the counter culture, and he lived where the culture around him enabled his ideas to be heard.

The respondent to these presentations asked two questions:  Is it the religion around or the cultural icon that predominates?  Is the artist a reflection or an agent of cultural change?  I would answer “both/and.”

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 More to come.