Let’s Have More Writing about Pagan Experience

I used to complain about the dearth of American Pagan biography and autobiography. Michael Lloyd’s Bull of Heaven: The Mythic Life of Eddie Buczynski and the Rise of the New York Pagan and John Sulak’s The Wizard and the Witch: Seven Decades of Counterculture, Magick & Paganism made a big dent in that, but we could use more.

Meanwhile, we could use more nonfiction writing too!  Currently, much Pagan nonfiction comes in two flavors. First is the how-to-be-a-better-Pagan genre, which has kept Llewellyn in business all these years. I have done my part to contribute to it.

And there is the blogger-ish “Oh, look what a devoted devotional polytheist I am — I spent half a day assembling a playlist for my evening devotions. Here it is!”

What I want to see more of is just good writing on what it feels like to be Pagan. Hence I have come to admire Eric Scott’s writing, including his novella The Lives of the Apostates or this Wild Hunt column on a trance-possession ritual at a Pagan festival last May.

Afterwards, while talking about my friend’s difficulty coming down from the possession of the mask, the ritual’s high priest held mixture of concern and scientific questioning. The masks had been enchanted to deactivate upon removal, a sharp and seamless conclusion to the ritual, but Eris had still been laughing in my friend’s ears at the time she went to bed. The kill-switch had gone awry somehow; something must have been wrong with their masks.

Not “what should you do” but “what was it like?”

Heartland Festival Presentations, Take 2

Once again, I am packed, ready, and excited to be going to the Heartland Pagan Festival.  With any luck, that will be me stepping off the Southwest Chief in Lawrence, Kansas, on Friday morning. (Usually I snooze through Lawrence when traveling east and wake up for the long stop in Kansas City.)

This was all supposed to happen last year, and as I wrote then, the weather turned against me. I still feel sort of ashamed about aborting the trip — I could have maybe done one of my two presentations.

These are a “work in progress” discussion of the flying ointment project and the provocatively named “Nature Religion: You’re Doing It Wrong,” which is partly material from Her Hidden Children: The Rise of Wicca And Paganism in America and partly some new stuff.

To me, this is more stressful than presenting at an academic conference, which shows what a recluse I have become. 🙂

Why I Am Not at the Heartland Festival.

Amtrack's Southwest Chief in southern Colorado. By Steve Wilson - Flickr (Wikimedia Commons)

Amtrack’s Southwest Chief in southern Colorado. By Steve Wilson – Flickr (Wikimedia Commons)

All day I had been tracking the progress of the eastbound Southwest Chief, the Amtrak train between Chicago and Los Angeles. It was slightly late out of Gallup, N.M., but on time into Albuquerque.

Then something happened to slow it between Lamy Junction and Las Vegas, New Mexico. The estimated time of arrival at my station (La Junta, Colo.) kept sliding back.

Just as well.

With the train fifteen minutes out from the station, my phone rang with a Kansas City number that I did not recognize, but I ended up talking with Sean, one of the Heartland Pagan Festival organizers.

I was supposed to give two talks there this weekend: one on American nature religion and one on my flying ointment research.

Things were not good: a dam had overflowed, the access road to Camp Gaea was blocked, and the person who was to pick me up in Lawrence, Kan., tomorrow morning (Friday, May 27) was trapped (along with everyone else) at the festival site.

It was questionable if I could even get there tomorrow. He spoke of reimbursing me for a hotel room. Would I even be able to do the scheduled Saturday presentation?

It’s not that I dislike Lawrence — it’s an interesting town — but did I want to ride all night just to go there and then, perhaps, stay a night in a hotel and then come back again, if I could get my ticket changed?

And what about all the people who paid for the weekend, were they getting in? There was a strong vibe of chaos and confusion, and I did not envy the organizers one bit.

Meanwhile the train was getting closer. “Maybe I had better abort this mission,” I said.

As I turned onto the highway home, the silver cars of the Southwest Chief were rolling beside me. I was going west, and they were going east.

So here I am, after two hours’ drive back home. After having sweated numerous bullets trying to put two talks together, packed, gotten everything organized (notes, handouts).

At least some of the work will transfer to other projects, an article and a book.