Witch at Large: Ruminations from a Grey Perspective

Seeing Paganism in terms of being a movement, explorations of our history, societal context, comparisons to other religious movements, and general Pagan culture.

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Claremont Pagan Studies Conference - I

I join the chorus of voices reporting on the general wonderfulness of the 9th Annual Claremont Pagan Studies Conference.1  I found the overall quality of presentations exceptionally high, as they were the last time I attended two years ago.

I arrived Friday night after a long solo drive from the SF Bay Area to Los Angeles, through rain and the hairy Grapevine Canyon through the Tehachapi Mountains, stressed and with intense pain between my shoulders.  Cranky, in other words.  Soon Lauren cheered me up.

Saturday morning's first session consisted of four speakers.  Joseph Nichter, an Iraq war veteran, spoke of using Tarot in healing PTSD.  I loved his ideas about what he calls "peripheral exploration," wherein the querent draws a single card, places it on a larger sheet of paper, and draws a scene that embeds the image in the card in a larger picture.

 

Others have written about Sabina Magliocco's keynote speech on Saturday on "The Rise of Pagan Fundamentalism."  I will only add a few notions I jotted down.  She spoke of the fact that foundational narratives foster group cohesion, and the core experiences are those common to all people of all religions.  She pointed out that the reconstructed traditions are growing faster than witchen traditions, and that their practitioners tends to disdain syncretism.  The fact is that those very ancient traditions "recons" seek to reconstruct were themselves syncretic.

During Q&A, I told a story about an encounter I had at Reclaiming's Dandelion Gathering this past August.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

On the first morning at Dandelion there was nothing on my agenda, so I asked if I could sit in and listen to the discussions of the WitchCamp teachers.  Conversation turned to the subject of new ideas for teaching, at which point I asked if I could offer a suggestion.

I told of my experiences in different places around the country where there was a Reclaiming community of some kind that I'd been told did not socialize or collaborate or in any other way interact with other local Pagans.  How most (some would insist all) Reclaiming communities are very insular.  This comports with my experience locally as well, although here there are some exceptions for such things as the Berkeley Pagan Festival.  I recommended they consider reaching out to other Pagans in their areas, that this very likely would result in some cross-fertilization that could bring some fresh perspectives to their teachings.

Now if you know me at all, you know that networking seems to be hardwired in my makeup.  I cannot help myself when I see connections I see as having potential for enrichment, even collaboration.  So I have spent more than thirty years helping to foster Pagan solidarity.2  Suggesting this to Reclaiming WitchCamp teachers arose from my nature.

Later in the lunch line, one of these teachers told me that what I had described as exclusivity or maintaining an exclusionary attitude (often experienced, even within Reclaiming groups themselves, as cliquishness) was not really exclusivity.  She said they were "fundamentalists."  Huh?  This really took me aback.

In reply, I asked "Don't you have to have a doctrine or credo or some kind of orthodoxy to which to adhere before you can call yourself a fundamentalist?"  By this time we had reached the food and the conversation was dropped.  Still, I was nonplussed.  This conversation also plays in to my August disaffiliation from the trad.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

When I related this at Claremont, the room erupted in laughter.  Sabina and I concluded this little interchange by clarifying that in this case, "fundamentalism" really meant "we're so cool and special."

Among the speakers after lunch, Alfred Surenyan discussed "New Directions in Pagan Music."  He spoke about different musical forms in which Pagans were writing and performing Pagan-themed music, beginning with rap.  He differentiated rap from hip hop, explaining that rap came from Africa and it had to do with rapping rhythmically with a stick.  Examples given were Belgian Mani De Bard and Canadian Dano Hammer.

He listed several compositions in classical modes by Seamus Gagné, including "Cantata for Beltain."  This cantata, with strings and chorus, was performed once, in 1990, on Vashon Island, Washington, for CoG's MerryMeet.  It was recorded at the time, but somehow in the intervening years the recording has been lost or destroyed.  I was present at that performance.  As I recall, the lyrics of the cantata seemed to be based on Lady Sheba.  Although I enjoyed the cantata and thought it well-performed, and I am disappointed the recording is no more, I think of Beltain as a time of wild abandon, a state this musical form does not allow expression.  I love the idea of Pagan-inspired cantatas; I would like to hear others for other soberer sabbats.

Alfred also Spoke of the "Missa Druidica," by Joseph C. Nemeth (Theman the Bard) performed by the Orpheus Pagan Chamber Choir in Denver. 

The Missa Druidica is inspired by "the great sung Catholic masses of the 18th and 19th centuries, combined with the beautiful modern Druidic liturgies of the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids (OBOD) of England."

To Alfred's investigation of Pagan composers and performers I suggested the "A Winter Solstice Singing Ritual," by Julie Middleton and S. Morgan-Appel, which has been performed in Philadelphia and other venues; and Pagan hip hop artist Slippery Elm from Vancouver.  

I have the greatest appreciation for these many new artists who are helping to make and shape Pagan culture.

Jeffrey Albaugh's presentation, entitled "As Above, So Below: Pagan Theology, Polytheistic Psychology, and Pagan Praxis," concluded with the creation of this pentacle.

Session Four, the final session on Saturday, was a panel discussion on Community Engagement through the Lens of a Pagan-Buddhist Perspective.  First to speak was Francesca Howell.  I was delighted to finally meet Francesca in person, since we have been online friends for some years, in the context of Pagan Studies.  During much of that time she lived in Italy; now she's back in the U.S.  Her talk was "Sense of Place and Community: An International Pagan Perspective."

Lauren Raine spoke on "Numina: Sacred Places and Pagan Pilgrimage."  You can get a sense of her presentation here

The day concluded with Marie Cartier's "Stories from the Yoga Mat," followed by a brief, much-needed yoga stretching.

A too-big gang of us moved to a too-busy and very noisy restaurant nearby to talk further.  I wanted to take this opportunity, while I was in Southern California and we were both in the same venue, to chat with Tagh about the Pagan History Project he's proposed.  We both think I have a lot to bring to the project.  More as things unfold.

That's it for day one, folks.

~~~~~~~~~

1.  I have used the term Claremont Pagan Studies Conference because that's the name by which I first knew it.  Over the past few years the name has morphed -- Claremont Conference on Contemporary American Studies, Claremont Conference on Current Pagan Studies, and similar.  Since the only kind of Pagan studies there is is current, or contemporary, I've omitted the reference to time.

2.  My friend Oak has labeled my role as "ambassador," and I think she has a point. 

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Aline O’Brien (M. Macha NightMare), Witch at Large, has circled with people of diverse Pagan paths throughout the U.S., and in Canada and Brazil.  Author of Witchcraft and the Web (2001) and Pagan Pride (2004), and co-author, with Starhawk, of The Pagan Book of Living and Dying (1997), Macha has also contributed to anthologies, periodicals, textbooks, and encyclopedias.  A member of the American Academy of Religion, the Marin Interfaith Council, and the Nature Religion Scholars Network, Macha also serves as a national interfaith representative for the Covenant of the Goddess (CoG) and on the Advisory Board of the Sacred Dying Foundation.  Having spent the last eleven years developing and teaching at Cherry Hill Seminary, the first and only seminary serving the Neopagan community, Macha now serves on its Board of Directors. An all-round Pagan webweaver, she speaks on behalf of Paganism to news media and academic researchers, and lectures at colleges, universities and seminaries. www.machanightmare.com

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