17 July 2014

Polytheist Leadership Conference (A Summary)

“No one has told the pagan blogosphere that we're here, right? Because all of us are in the same room. If they knocked us all out right now, we'd be done.
– Someone at PLC
On Friday morning, I awoke at 6:00 AM and extracted myself from bed to pack so I could catch the 8:50 AM Metro North train, get off at the Harlem-125th Station, and take the Hudson line up to Fishkill, NY. The “All You Can Eat” issue of Lucky Peach and Robert Mirabal’s In the Blood (of which “Medicine Man” and “Pottery Shard Man” have become fast favorites) almost made me forget that I am a chronic pacer.

I made all of my trains, thank Hermês, and found myself at the venue for the Polytheist Leadership Conference shortly after noon.

The first thing that happened was me saying to Sannion, “Hey! I know you on the Internet.” I said that a lot during PLC because it was true, and I am painfully bad at introductions. Shortly thereafter, Ruadhán reminded a group of people that when T.J. Alexander’s writings refer to the insidious feminist infiltrator hell-bent on destroying Hellenism from the inside out, he is actually referring to me. I was instant friends with everyone present during that conversation, so it looks like the taxi pulled into the correct conference. Also, the infiltration scheme is working.

The opening remarks from Galina were fantastic, and that was followed by a prayer to the collective dead. I wanted to mention something about World War I from the beginning, but waited until it sounded like others were mentioning the dead beyond ones whom someone honored religiously or who had been active in polytheisms, paganisms, &c. World War I has been on my mind as of late, namely because the podcast Hardcore History is doing a series on World War I right now in honor of the centennial.

During the opening keynote, Reverend Tamara Siuda said something that I thought worth writing down: “Priesthood should mean more to us than an anti-Christian political move.” These words spoke to a lot of my experiences growing up pagan in the rural Midwest and encountering other young pagans in college, where I actually ran the Association of Smith Pagans for a year and a half (junior and senior year, barring the semester that I was studying in the Greater London Area). I know a woman from Smith who was pagan more out of hatred at her Roman Catholic high school experience than out of genuine belief. She’s now a happy atheist, which probably suits her better.

Rev. Tamara also recommended three books. While targeted at Christians, she said that the concepts behind the arguments were helpful for any religious group: Antagonists in the Church, Well-Intentioned Dragons, and The Wounded Minister.

The next presentation I attended was given by Kenaz Filan, and it was called “The Language of Deity.” Language is one of my favorite things. The discussion about how we use monotheistic conceptions of deity and practice and how hard it is to renegotiate cultural conditioning to bring ourselves into a more polytheistic frame of mind was an important one. I’ve often wondered if one of the reasons for Apollôn figuring heavily into many conversions is because he is the god who oversees colonies, and breaking worldview conditioning is sort of like colonizing the self with a different memetic framework.

Filan brought up the concept of the Roman paterfamilias and its relationship to the Latin word pietas, which is very different from the modern (and heavily Christianized) idea of piety. He also referred to himself and other devotional polytheists as the “polytheistic shock troops” who frighten basically everyone new. I brought up that it’s then the responsibility of people like me to come in with smiles and say, “Hey, household worship! And this is how to do less intense, yet important stuff ...”

Another comment here brought up the strong current of honoring the ancestors that was present throughout the entire conference. Approaching the ancestors and the spirits of places is something that modern polytheists often overlook, although it’s an important thing to consider.

That evening, Rhyd Wildermuth presented “Radical Relationality and Polytheism.” He’s an Anarcho-Marxist, and the talk relied heavily on those ideas. Rhyd brought up the idea of divine trauma, or the first time one experiences the horrifying beauty of divine reality. Many of his points circled around the abolishment of the Commons and how that impacted the way people could live. Private property, while it provides a sense of ownership of something, takes common ownership away from individuals who have nothing else, and it destroys their ability to be self-sufficient. Controlling land is related to controlling the way people practice their religions. One of the takeaways of this is that we should boycott Dr. Bronner’s Soap on principle.

Edward Butler’s presentation on Saturday morning was excellent. I’m not going to recap it. Read the paper while listening to Florence + the Machine or whatever else grooves you into a “hell yes” frame of mind, not that you’ll need it. He needs to make audios of his papers available on his web site.

The presentation on the Ephesia Grammata was really different and quite awesome. P. Sufenas Virius Lupus gave a thorough overview. I took three pages of notes. There is apparently a book at a very reasonable price. E explained the history and context of the words, in addition to a (probably) modern divination practice that seems to work out well.

So! Contemporary polytheism! Julian Betkowski gave a talk on this. First, “individual cultus misses the relational quality” of place. A lot cultus relies on a social contract that we have made with the gods. They have given us specific things that we need to do, and we had better do them. Second, Many paganisms have a strong tendency to collapse down the mystery traditions, household religion, and public religion into one giant thing. Under this system, everyone is declared a priest, when in fact many people (like me) just do the normal and natural household cultus. Third, when the Catholic Church started, the first thing they tried to get rid of was the household cultus. It’s where polytheisms are strongest, and it’s the core of the practice. Reductionism has to stop.

And then Anomalous Thracian gave a talk. I took down a quotation that was funny. It was also filled with profanity. That entire session was awesome.

The last presentation I went to was the panel on sexual ethics. It was very good. Most of the people on the panel discussed sexual ethics in relationship to their religious practices, although Rev. Tamara had one very interesting point: Sexual ethics and sexual misconduct are conflated, but the two are actually quite different. She illustrated this point by asking for a show of hands as to how many of us thought that this panel would be about rape &c. The panel was quite good, but I had to duck out just as the moderators were about to call on me because I needed to call a taxi to the train station. If you want to know what I had planned to say, read the “Did we really think that we were any different from mainstream America?” section of this post I wrote a while ago. You’ll have the gist of it.

Overall, the experience was really awesome. The people were awesome. We are all just completely awesome.

Also, radio. A lot of us were being awesome on it on July 16th. You should listen (it starts on the near side of halfway through). This link might change at some point.


henadology said...

Aha! Now I understand what you meant about Apollon and postcolonialism. That's a really fascinating bit of theology. You definitely ought to write that up in an essay, there's sure to be an Apollon devotional at some point for which it would be perfect. (Or perhaps Walking the Worlds?)

Kaye said...

Yes. I was reluctant to use the word memetics last night, though. :) Maybe I will write something up at some point. Probably not until after the students come back in the fall. September is a bit intense. Thanks!

henadology said...

The memetics angle adds a further, interesting dimension to it. Do you conceive the role of memetics here as part of a wider project of having a non-circular definition of "truth", or is it that memetics has a particular application to the process of colonization and decolonization in which Apollon is active?

Kaye said...

I've actually been in love with the idea of memetics since I was a teenager. Memetic framework in the context I'm using it essentially means the assumptions and values that inform a person's world view. The argument also assumes that world views are established by culture and experience, although each person will find different niches within culture due to differences of personality and aptitude.

In this context, I'm referring to Apollôn as a colonizing force during conversion because a lot of social and cultural memes (and the morality/ethics scales related to these) need to be replaced, and this is never going to be an easy process. It's not decolonizing because it is creating a new suite of memes that conform to a polytheistic mindset, and I think this holds true even if one argues that polytheism is a more instinctive human framework. If a Christian cultural meme is to devalue that instinctive polytheism, the meme that replaces it tells a person instead to place a high amount of value on that instinct. Does that make sense?