The Ghosties Are Here Early

A ghostie joins La Catrina at the Hanging Tree Cafe.

I came down to Pueblo today and stopped for breakfast at the Hanging Tree Café, where it is already Halloween. And here I was getting geared up for the Chile & Frijoles Festival this weekend, which is my personal autumn equinox ritual. Time is out of joint! But at the Hanging Tree, La Catrina is always in the window. (I was complaining about this last year too, only this year I did Instagram it. It is what it is.)

A Proposal for Honoring the Spirit of the Poudre River

I had to follow Wind over Tide, “a folk band specializing in traditional music of the British Isles and Americas with special emphasis on tales of seafaring and adventure,” which was kind of a challenge.

The evening before I was scheduled to give the keynote address at the Fort Collins (Colorado) Pagan Pride Day on August 24th, M. and I were driving around the city, buying groceries for the camping trip we planned to take after the event, and sight-seeing a little bit.

The university town where I spent some of my teenage years has tripled in size. Yes, it’s weird seeing what was ag land turned into “technology parks” alternating with chain hotels and chain restaurants. And the drive up from the Denverplex was hellish.

Biologists studying the Poudre River above Fort Collins (Colorado Parks & Wildlife).

But one thing has changed for the better — the community’s relationship with the Cache la Poudre River, which leaves the mountains nearby and flows down through the city before continuing eastward across the High Plains.

My outdoorsy friends and I went rock-climbing at Horsetooth Reservoir, backpacking in the Rawah Wilderness, etc., and hunting wherever, but we ignored the Poudre River once it came out of the canyon and was no longer considered fishable. I don’t recall anyone canoeing it or anything like that. It was just a conduit to farms and towns further east.

In Fort Collins, a sign under a bridge shows the river’s flow in cubic feet per second.

Now the river has been dignified as the Cache la Poudre National Heritage Area. In the city, the change is huge. Suddenly it is a place that people want to visit for hiking, biking, kayaking, tubing, fishing, and so on. And at its nearest, it flows along edge of the downtown area, only three or four city blocks from the park where the festivities take place.

Where College Avenue, the main north-south commercial street, crosses the Poudre River.

So as I was standing there talking about nature religion and urban animism and such things, it hit me: the Pagan Pride Day ought to end with a procession to “honor the river.” (“Honoring” sounds suitably bland and inclusive, don’t you think?) Make up some wreaths of native flowers and grasses and toss them in with appropriate invocations. And of course there would be music.

I put that suggestion into my talk. Whether anyone takes me up on it remains to be seen. Meanwhile, I should be doing something like that for Hardscrabble Creek. Devotion begins at home.

Edited to add: See what they are doing at Twin Cities Pagan Pride!

Related posts:

What is Wrong with Large-Scale Ritual?

Large-Group Ritual: Magic, Worship, or “Just What We Do”? (with procession and midsummer wreath-tossing)

Can You Put Your Paganism in the Street?

These Heathens Reject “Garb”

Next comes shoe polish, gentlemen! (Photo from The Runestone).

I have heard complaints from some Heathen groups about too many people trying to copy the movie-Viking look of Ragnar Lothbrok, Brjorn Ironside, and the rest of the Vikings TV seriies.

Now Matthew D. Flavel, Alsherjargothi of the Asatru Folk Assembly, makes it official. No garb!

There was a period during the early days of modern Asatru where it was the norm for folks to wear Viking reenactment garb for events and rituals. There was an idea that by trying to recreate the look and feel of the Viking age, folks could better connect with our Gods and more “authentically” practice our religion. Perhaps that was a necessary stage in order to reject what folks were used to and embrace something that was very different. Perhaps folks felt better connected to an idealized time, a better time for our folk’s spirituality, by attempting to imitate the dress of that period. Happily, our religion has grown and developed over the last 50 years and, in the AFA, we no longer feel the need to reenact something dead, instead, we enact something living and vibrant in our own day and in our own real lives. Just as the Vikings did not dress up as cavemen in order to be more spiritual, we do not need to dress up as Vikings to be pious.

I was wondering about the appeal of “dressing like the ancestors” some years ago.

In the Wiccan world, I have gotten mixed messages over the years. There is the definite priestess-y fashion statement that involves auburn hair and flowing garments. I have no problem with that — in fact, I married one of them, although I have not seen M. in flowing garments for years. She turned out to be a boots-and-jeans type of gal, which is fine with me.

But against the Renn Faire Wicca stereotype, there was the Denver old-guard/Gard HP who told me during a festival around 1990 that “You can tell the elders. They’re the ones in blue jeans.” Of course, the old guard/Gard types don’t wear jeans in ritual, except maybe at mountain festivals.

So I have often wondered if “dressing like the ancestors” takes you out of the mundane world, but simultaneously if it is not also an obstacle.

Being a Solitary Pagan Does Not Mean that You Celebrate Alone

They’re putting on a Mabon festival, so why not go to it? (Photo: Colorado.com)

If you are in the Northern Hemisphere, the fall equinox (Mabon) is nearly upon us — 1:54 a.m. Universal (Greenwich) Time on Sunday the 23rd. For North Americans, that is Saturday evening.

What will you do if you are a solitary Pagan? At Under the Ancient Oaks, John Beckett suggests, for example, slicing open an apple and contemplating the pentagram concealed in its inner structure.

Which sounds very sensitive and contemplative  . . . and lonely and depressing.

John is a smart guy and a good writer, but there is another option. Now, like Samhain and Yule, is one time when the whole society is celebrating — or at enough of them that you can ride the energy that is out there in the polis.1)A city-state, or a body of citizens. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polis.

Festivals! All around you are harvest festivals. I wrote once about attending the nearest winery festival — it was a good time.

I don’t see Mabon as a time for quiet contemplation. The season’s energy is “outer,” not “inner.” Eat, drink, and celebrate the turning of the Wheel!

Come Saturday, M. and I will be at the El Pueblo Museum farmers market, just below the bottom edge of the photo — and then we will have to visit some booths and listen to music. And buy some fire-roasted Pueblo chile peppers — that is a sacred obligation.

Maybe I can slice one open and contemplate it, before it it is chopped and tossed into the skillet.

Happy Mabon! (Or to the people that you meet, “Happy equinox!”)

Notes   [ + ]

1. A city-state, or a body of citizens. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polis.

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.

An Ancient Solar “Observatory” in Arizona

The Sun Dagger at Chaco Canyon — an Ancestral Puebloan (Anasazi) residential/ritual/governmental (?) complex in northeastern New Mexco that flourished during what where the early Middle Ages in Europe — is well-known among archaeoastronomers, as is the possible solar alignment built into one of the grand kivas nearby at Casa Rinconada.

Now another solar “clock” is being claimed at the the ancient Puebloan site preserved at Wupatki National Monument in northern Arizona, where moving shadows and petroglyphs mark the solstices and equinoxes: an “imaging calendar,” as it is called.

To quote someone on the Casa Rinconada website,

“The historical accuracy of the alignment may be less important than its symbolic value, especially for those who flock to the site on the summer solstice.

“Casa Rinconada has become a place where people come to see an alignment. In our culture, we haven’t been taught to relate to the natural rhythm of what the sun and the earth are doing throughout the year. So here’s a place where you can come and see that—not a representation of a solstice, but the actual solstice, as mediated by a building. It’s a wonderful experience.”

So perhaps we look at all astronomical alignments in whatever country as wonderful examples of nature religion. Casa Rinconada attracted a crowd during the Harmonic Convergence of 1987, when various New Age thinkers, led by José Argüelles, promoted prophecies connected to a planetary alignment: “The convergence is purported to have ‘corresponded with a great shift in the earth’s energy from warlike to peaceful.'”1)No doubt you have noticed how much more peaceful the world is.

The New Age event was spoofed at a Pagan festival in New Mexico that summer by a dance performance of the “Harmonica Vigins.”

My view on astronomical alignments was being warped in the 1980s by seminars with Davíd Carrasco, a scholar of Mesoamerican religion who has spent a lot of time working with temple alignments and associated mythology.

My take-away was that astronomical alignments are mostly about priestcraft and power. Farmers don’t need rows of giant stones to tell them when to plant. Every locale has its indicators: here in the southern Colorado foothills, when the emerging leaves of Gambel oak are thumbnail-size,2)“As big as a mouse’s ear,” some people like to say, because it sounds more folkloric. the chance of a frost is usually past. (Usually!) And I know that the sun sets in a notch on the ridge to the west at the equinoxes, for what that is worth.

Being able to proclaim the cycles from the temple steps is probably more about showing how “King Jaguar” enjoys of the favor of the gods than anything else.

Notes   [ + ]

1. No doubt you have noticed how much more peaceful the world is.
2. “As big as a mouse’s ear,” some people like to say, because it sounds more folkloric.

Grappling with Workshops and Festival Culture

heartland

Heartland’s sponsor

Earlier this week I sent in my workshop descriptions to the Heartland Pagan Festival, whose organizers kindly invited me to present.

Now I get to be anxious for two months — can I do it? My experiences with turning my own writing into festival material has been, let’s say, sort of mixed. My last piece was a general entry on contemporary Paganism for the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Religion — definitely not festival-workshop material.

They ask me my needs: day or night, chairs or outdoors, and all I can think of is to ask for a whiteboard, because if I can’t write at least a few things, I will feel crippled. That is what twenty years in a university classroom does to you — my thoughts go automatically to syllabi and reading lists — probably not what the festival crowd is looking for.

Florida Pagan Gathering

Florida Pagan Gathering

My last big festival was the Florida Pagan Gathering in 2009, I think, while the last smaller one I attended was Beltania here in Colorado three years ago, which used to be about twenty minutes’ drive from home, before organizers moved it to a more populous area.

Pagan festivals have changed, to be sure. The first gatherings I attended in the late 1970s were more like “cons”: they were held in hotels and they had a high ratio of lectures, talks, and panels to ritual. Music, when it happened, was someone with a guitar in their hotel room, or whatever band was playing in the bar.

And I do remember people writing equations on blackboards: there were a few engineer-witches who argued that magic occurred on the electromagnetic spectrum, like radio. (Discuss in the comments if you like.)

Llewellyn’s Gnosticons in Minneapolis, perhaps the biggest of the era, included all kinds of occultists, witches, astrologers, etc. in order to fill the bill.

Then camping festivals began. Various groups had had their own campouts for years, but I think the Pagan Spirit Gathering of 1980 was the first one to be nationally advertised as open to all compatible attendees.

The tradition established by the multi-day open-air Protestant Christian “camp meetings” of the early 19th century (including trance, ecstasy, and sexual excitement) was now re-established by the Pagans!

In the pre-Web 1980s and early 1990s, festivals spread Pagan music and ritual practices more and more, along with workshop topics. But then another change occurred: a move towards more professionalization. No more Morning Glory Zell with her guitar doing Gwydion Pendderwen’s latest song — now you get Wendy Rule or Sharon Knight and Pandemonaeon.1)I’m a big fan.

When I attended FPG, I was surprised that many campers not only put a lot of work in creating and decorating their camps, but then they just stayed there, skipping not just workshops but the Big Ritual and concerts. (At some point of size, do you lose the communal feeling?)

Which brings me back to the idea of workshops. At a music-focused gathering like Beltania, workshops are something less than an afterthought. The grounds are pretty dead (except for the Maypole erection) during the way, coming alive only in the evening when the headline performances start — or at least that was my experience.

That’s a lot to compete with when your focus is academic, as mine is. I admire Ronald Hutton’s ability to work a Pagan crowd, staying true to his profession of historian while still giving a Pagan-positive message. Maybe that works better in Britain when you can be talking about ancient Pagans, such as Lindow Man — he is definitely in the “murder victim” rather than the “human sacrifice” camp, but he can argue his case without making you feel bad that you took The Life and Death of a Druid Prince: The Story of an Archaeological Sensation as holy writ the first time you  read it.

So come the end of May, I might be asking as I have in other situations, “What would Ronald do?” (WWRD).

In a larger context, I wonder about workshops at festivals in general — not that I don’t appreciate the organizers giving the opportunity to try some material on a live audience — if anyone comes — if they are not busy sleeping off the previous night’s festivities.

But “cons” can have more of an intellectual focus than camping festivals do, don’t you think?

Meanwhile, I have started notes on two presentations with the working titles of “Nature Religion: You’re Doing it Wrong” and “Did Witches Ever Fly?”

Notes   [ + ]

1. I’m a big fan.