My original tagline, “Experiences and Thoughts of a Mystic Reconstructionist Pagan”, generated some static a while back; it is a term I coined, and some feel it is inappropriate for one reason or another. That’s their right, of course, as much as it’s my choice to keep using it. I like to think that discussion on the matter can remain civil and inspire reflection in people from a range of perspectives. (On this blog it will be civil at any rate, or the discussion will simply not remain.)
At the time I was getting rather tired of arguments on the matter, and elsewhere online asked friends if I should change the tagline to “Provocative Pagan Philosophy”. There was a resounding “NO, don’t give in” response, so I let it be.
Today I have changed it, though, for another reason entirely – I need to set up new pages, and the tagline took a lot of space on the menu bar! (I also remain delighted by the alliteration and the idea that what I have to say is provocative. *grin*)
Fear not, I am not abandoning the idea of Mystic Reconstructionism – it’s still included as a page name on the title bar. . . and I may still be appealed to for ribbons promoting it if you happen across me at a convention. . .
So, this past Saturday morning (February 18), I co-presented a talk on Gaulish Polytheism with my most excellent colleague, Indus Brenni filius of Deo Mercurio. It seemed to be very well received – an audience of about 40 people at 9 AM is far more than I had been expecting!
I will be creating a new Resources page in the next few days to share the sources and inspirations we used in putting the presentation together (we did show them, but we talked up until the last minute so they were on display only very briefly). The majority of material we covered was done conversationally with only the outline and reminders in the PowerPoint, so I really don’t think sharing that file would be very useful. (Except as perhaps a writing prompt for blog posts. . . ).
The level of interest that was shown by the community was very heartening. I’m not sure what will be happening next, but it appears there is a demand greater than we anticipated.
On another note, since I’ve addressed gender issues in the past here: there was a controversial ritual scheduled as part of the con this year, and a silent meditative protest in response. I was not there. I may or may not comment here; my opinion on the situation seems truly irrelevant. I choose to acknowledge it happened, though, rather than leave silence on the matter open to speculation.
I recently had a dream, one of those that start with little fanfare but gradually become almost more real than waking life. In it, I was witness to a mystery play based on the Eddas presented by the members of a close-knit Heathen spiritual working group. It was very engaging and well-done. Afterward, most of the audience dispersed, but a handful or so of others remained in the hall as the strike of the production space got underway. There was no indication from the group that they wanted people to leave, but no encouragement to stay, either. I’d enjoyed and been very engaged by the show; I’m not sure what I was waiting for, but I wasn’t ready for the experience to be over, so I stayed with the others, among whom there was something of a mood of anticipation.
Eventually, it seemed that a few people broke off from the cleaning efforts and started doing some kind of divination to decide the group’s responses towards those of us who had remained. More of the group members stopped what they were doing and got involved as some audience members were called forth and welcomed as new members of the group.
It didn’t seem that I’d come there with such a purpose particularly in mind; I didn’t have a sense of anxiety or expectation, but I was very interested in watching all that happened.
At some point in the middle of all this – there were a number more audience members still waiting and watching – I heard a declaration like “Skadhi speaks for that one,” and someone pointing at me. Well, okay, dream-self hadn’t been expecting that but it was certainly plausible. There was a lull in ambient conversation, and people turned to look. “We’re very sorry,” I was told, “but you can never fully be part of the frith (this word literally means “peace”, but in context seemed to be an advanced level of group membership) . You can be an honored ambassador, though.” They did seem genuinely regretful to have to exclude me, and rather fascinated. I was something of an exotic exception, apparently. There was a sudden murmur, somewhat of surprise, somewhat of titillated gossip, somewhat of admiration. Someone started to sketch me.
It all seemed kind of an over-reaction to me. On some level I was disappointed – aware of it or not, I’d had some desire to be included. One another it made perfect sense; they’d never explained the parameters of the group membership, but if it was an Aesir and/or Vanir oriented group, someone spoken for by even a peacefully allied Jotun could very reasonably be considered outside the usual membership ranks. If Skadhi speaking for me meant my exclusion, I’d rather be excluded than NOT have Skadhi speak for me. It all left me very unsure, though, of what to do next.
It seems worth noting that this dream occurred a few weeks after my return from a week in Iceland. Before, during and after I had been deeply immersed in the study of Icelandic history, literature and culture.
It’s also worth noting that this dream occurred shortly before a trip to the East Coast. This is where I grew up, where most of my family is (with ancestors in the area over almost four centuries), and from which I moved away a decade ago.
Last month, my husband and I took a road trip from Seattle down to Reno by way of the Oregon Coast, Redwood Country and Lake Tahoe.
One of the things I particularly wanted to do as we crossed into Nevada was stop at Donner Memorial State Park, which hosts the Pioneer Monument and the Emigrant Trail Museum.
Having grown up in New England, the history of the settlement of the western United States was a low academic priority. All the early local events for which we had battlefield sites and museums to visit were covered in great detail, then the Civil War was addressed in some depth, with the discussion of Manifest Destiny left until just before finals. Then it was time for modern 20th century studies.
I’d never had personal motivation to look further on my own – my ancestors boarded ships in Europe and settled close to where they made landfall, and most of my family is still within a few hundred miles of there.
Chance was taking us within a few miles of this landmark, however, and I wanted to take the opportunity to learn about what happened in this place that had made such an impact and helped shape the identity of this part of the country I now call home.
The main feature of the museum is a 40 minute documentary, a simple voiceover relating the story of the Donner Party as the camera slowly scans over photographs and paintings and maps. It describes day after day of challenging travel, with very little information to go on and most of it bad, one decision leading to another without a clear point of no return. Exhausted almost past endurance, they took a few days to rest before tackling the greatest hurdle of the trip, a delay that trapped them in the middle of nowhere with almost no supplies and very few people with any skill in hunting, fishing or foraging. How bad the disaster was doesn’t seem to ever have been clear except in hindsight – it turned out to be the worst winter in fifty years, and a great many of the men in California who might have helped save the group were tied up in territorial conflict with Mexico. The rescue parties that were finally mustered were often delayed, or sometimes gave up, or only made it through with enough supplies for a few weeks, or could only bring the most able-bodied back with them, or consisted of men more interested in looting the goods of the settlers who had died than in assisting the ones who still survived. . .
The base of the monument is 22 feet high, the recorded depth of packed snow in the camps that winter.
My husband has asked me why I was so deeply moved by our visit to the museum. I am still trying to figure that out for myself. In part, it’s a sense of fellowship with people who set off for the far side of the continent in the hopes of a better life. The two of us drove across the country in 2001, in late October, the same season that saw the earlier emigrants stranded. We had to cross the Rockies and the Cascades, and we had neither snow tires nor chains. We decided to take the risk and go for the direct route rather than the detour that was likely to spare us bad weather. As it happened, for us there turned out to be only a dusting of snow in the high passes, rather than enormous drifts piled up by a blizzard, but that isn’t due to better planning or preparation on our part, just sheer dumb luck.
The situations are emphatically not parallel. I do not mean in any way to minimize the enormous difference between their dire circumstances and the many safety nets in place for us should things go wrong. The century and a half of technology and transportation infrastructure development between the trips meant that we were never truly in danger of anything greater than inconvenience, expense and delay. Nevertheless, I do feel a similarity at the core of the two journeys, as though our experience was somehow a faint, distant echo of theirs.
Something that has surprised me when talking to people about our visit to the museum is how uncomfortable the conversation tends to make them. Most of the time they’ll look away, shuffle their feet, and jokingly ask if there’s a cafeteria at the park and what’s on the menu. I have to admit I’m very puzzled, frustrated and disappointed by the juvenile and disrespectful attitude, especially when it comes from people I know to be intelligent and compassionate and interested in history. Maybe it’s me that’s out of step with what’s normal, though; perhaps I’ve been doing ancestor work for so long that I can’t really remember or imagine how it feels not to do it.
I believe that the bravery and terrible suffering of the members of the Donner Party should be honored, rather than made the punchline of a tasteless joke. These people deserve to be remembered as human beings no different in nature than ourselves, rather than caricatures or monsters. Thinking about how it must have felt for them to face the challenges they did and asking ourselves what we might have done in their places is uncomfortable, but it also seems to me that it is our duty. I’m not sure we can fully inhabit our own humanity if we don’t make the effort to understand and acknowledge the humanity of the people who came before us and made the life we live possible by their work and choices and sacrifices.
I intend to light a candle for the members of the Donner Party when I host Samhain next month, and to claim them as cultural ancestors, and honor them from this point forward. In choosing to move West, I chose to take on a debt to them as people who tread the path before me. There are innumberable others who have done so, of course; I can’t form a relationship with all of them, but when I come across people whose story calls out to me, I listen and thank them for what I learn, and strive to remember and share it.
I’ve been quiet, and I’ve been cautious, and it’s pointless. I’ve always been of the “stick your finger in the light socket” school of mysticism; I’m not good at being timid, and I doubt it’s interesting watching me try, so forget it.
Went to do some trance work with Lugos last night, for the first time, after it being suggested *cough* that I really should. I suddenly get why people talk about there being multiple layers of subtle bodies; the way He wanted me to do it was very different than anything I’ve done before. In the past I’ve had. . . an intellectual projection of myself going out and about, and it was me, but at something of a remove, abstracted. He had me trying to inhabit and manipulate a level much closer and more connected to my physical self.
I wasn’t very good at it. I was supposed to do it anyway. My continuing to wonder why was not apparently very reverent of me. *sigh*
Once past the initial “Hello, yes, We want you to work with Us!” fuzzy warm NRE vibes, working is clearly the defining term in the relationship right now. I get the impression the beings I’m connecting with have not really been in touch with average on-the-street sorts of people for quite some time. I’m not one for the “my spirituality is for my own self-empowerment and healing, I will summon powers and order them about as I see fit” school of thought, but I’m getting the message that my general attitude and behavior is, well, shockingly and dismayingly modern for these gods. I am not responding as They expect me to respond, and it’s kind of disorienting for both parties.
On formulaic daily morning/evening prayers:
Them (Lugos as Spokesgod): “We made clear We wanted them, a week or more ago! Why aren’t you doing it?”
Me *startled*: “Well, I’ve never really done anything that seems to fit, and I was doing some research to write something to try out. . .”
Them: “?!?. . . just start somewhere and improve as you go! It doesn’t have to be perfect to begin with!”
I’m not sure They really get how much context has been lost.
Things to learn on both sides. . . I just have to focus on mine.