Revisiting “Morphing the Myth” – Building a Mystery or Personal Self-Examination?

All of what you are about to read started with a question posed to me in Facebook, which I turned into a status post. From there, what I perceived to be a touch of playfulness from Cat Treadwell turned into me turning that same point over and over in my mind. First let me setup what happened to get this entire aspect kicked into gear.

Q; Biggest Pagan confession?

Well…its not much of a confession, as a lot of people do know this about me. I’m not a fan of the Mabinogion. Never really was enthralled with it when I read it (all three times, different translation each time), and its generally not a part of anything that I practice within my Spirituality. I grok that it speaks to others….just not me. Now what’s my penance? ::eye-roll::

This was what started everything. A simple question, followed by my answer. Many of the members of OBOD – and many more Druids – are inspired by the Mabinogion. For me, its an odd series of tales, which provide no area of ready comprehension for me. That prompted the following….

Cat: So what story speaks to you instead?

Me: Mythological?? Theseus and the Minotaur.

Cat: I do wonder who set those Pagan Rules. Tolkien made his own mythology. I’d love to see yours.

Me: Mine would be really messy…I mean REALLY messy….

Cat: Do it!

…and all of that started my brain racing.

A few years back, I attended Pantheacon in San Jose, California. Actually, I attended it three years in a row. In one of those years, there was a panel that I attended called “Morphing the Myth” which I wrote a blog post on. There’s actually about six or seven blog posts that tie to this panel, but you should get the picture with the one. If you want to read further, just do a search on “Morphing the Myth” here at the blog site, and you should pull up the other posts.

Back to Pantheacon’s “Morphing the Myth” panel… Much of the discussion fell towards how Science Fiction and Fantasy open the doorway to Paganism for so many people. Cat’s point on Tolkien really struck home with this thematic for me and realized that I was suddenly thrust back into the panel’s wide-ranging discussion. Tolkien wrote a very impressive universe for his stories to live in. His vivid depictions of places such as Fangorn Forest, the formidable and dangerous land of Mordor, and the dwarven fortress of Erebor, provide the fertile ground upon which the seeds of his stories grow and take deep root. In much the same way, we find similar fertile ground in the myths and legends that we read, study, and explore. For some of us, certain legends resonate deeply with who we are and the manner in which we connect with the world around us. As I noted, the Mabinogian holds no such cherished treasure for me. Furthermore, while I identify greatly with Theseus in the story concerning the Minotaur, is is also not a story that calls deep to my heart either.

Oddly enough, I am drawn to the stories of the old West here in the United States. The stories of Wyatt Earp, Doc Holiday, Billy the Kid, and so many others ring deeply in my soul. However, it is not the lawman that resonate with me. I’ll use a very specific example – the movie Hidalgo, which depicts the legend of distance rider Frank Hopkins. The character is one that does things his own way, a trait that plays well in my way of dealing with the world. I am also drawn to the mythologies of the First Nations, some of which do not dove-tail neatly from tale to tale. As I noted my idea of a mythology would be extremely messy, and this rag-tag mythology of tales fits right into that particular point.

Building my own mythology. While it certainly sounds intriguing to my ears, its a direction I cannot tread – other than through a fictional narrative. I have often though about creating my own world for characters that wander through my mind. There is a certain appeal to doing just that, through short stories which I might be able to weave into a longer tale. As I noted, it would be messy. And while I am not completely seeing how I might be able to do this, as I said there is a certain draw to it.

You come out at night
That’s when the energy comes
And the dark side’s light
And the vampires roam
You strut your rasta wear
And your suicide poem
And a cross from a faith that died
Before Jesus came
You’re building a mystery

“Building a Mystery”, sung by Sarah McLachlan

The “Morphing the Myth” panel did have one extra feature to the discussion that I thought was an incredible point – we give life to the Myths and Legends that we hold close and dear. We don’t always get all the points absolutely correct in the retelling, and this literally brings these stories back to having a renewed life. Plus, there is some aspect of retelling these stories with updated parts to the stories – told against the background of a culture so alien to the original story. Take for example, the 102nd episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, titled “Darmok”. Much of the story parallels “The Epic of Gilgamesh” and is a very interesting showcase for how an old myth can be painted against a futuristic backdrop. I have often wondered at the inspiration of so many other films and whether or not that inspiration may have been drawn from a myth or legend that have long been put to the wayside.

I don’t keep an altar in the house. This is as close as it gets.

Would I create my own mythology and legends, from which I could use as a backdrop for a series of characters? I do not know about the “would” part, but the “could” reaction is that yes I could. It would be messy. As if the entire aspect of the myths and legends was not completely preserved. This is a thought that I have constantly had concerning the myths and Gods and Goddesses that we all work with. Yes, this God was a god of this or that, and there are references to the God having certain characteristics and personality traits from the myths and legends. However, I have often wondered if we paint too much of a two-dimensional portrait of the Gods in this manner? Maybe the stories, legends and myths that have survived are not a complete understanding of that particular God or Goddess. Maybe Pan was more than just the epitome of a collegiate student headed to the Florida beaches for Spring Break. We just don’t know about an alternate, more serious and studious side of Pan because those stories did not survive being handed down during the ages.

And what if we have an incomplete understanding of the Gods? Does it negate what energy we have put into worshiping and working with Them? For me, that answer is easy: no. Over the years, I have developed my own relationship with both Coyote and Crow. Both are tricksters and enjoy having fun at my expense from time to time; however, both can also be quite serious about things that need to be accomplished too. For me, this is a case where the myths and legends only show you a two-dimensional aspect of who the Gods are. If you believe that the Gods are individual Beings who have Their own lives and make Their own choices…then of course, the myths and legends will only show a singular side of who They are. Do I believe that? Yes, I definitely do. Do I have a complete understanding of who Crow or Coyote are? No, not even close. My relationship shows me a side of each of Them that is chosen to be shown to me. I know enough of Them to do the workings that I need to do for Them.

…and all of this came from a single comment made on a Facebook post. That’s generally considered diving down a rabbit hole. Except that it is not. That one comment opened a doorway I have walked through many, many times. That comment lead me through the doorway to something that I have done my very best to consider, evaluate, understand and believe for a huge portion of my adult life, and will continue to take up my thoughts far into the future. Is my perspective empirical fact? Nope, not even close. It is; however, a part of my own UPG – Unverified Personal Gnosis. And as such, you might even be able to consider it a part of my own personal Mythology. For me, it is just the prelude to some chocolate eclairs for this morning – and a topic that I will continue to obverse, evaluate and explore well into my next lifetime.

…and I certainly have to thank Cat…for knocking the door off the hinges, so I would walk through. 🙂 Conversations can take us all to some supremely strange places.

“‘And what is the use of a book,’ thought Alice, ‘without pictures or conversation?'” Indeed Alice…what are legends, myths and stories without internal observation and personal examination. Indeed.

–T /|\

Thinking About: Pantheacon and Pagan Gatherings

This past week, there was an announcement made that this coming Pantheacon would be the last. Now, there are quite a few folks who have never heard of Pantheacon. And many, many more that never got the chance to go to one. I made it three years in a row. To be honest, it was an interesting experience, to say the least. All kinds of Pagans, every flavor you could think of. Everywhere. Mingling, talking, laughing, learning, discussing, debating, having fun – because that is really what a convention experience should be like. There was literally something for everyone. Serious panels, panels that took a light-hearted approach, themed panels, concerts, music, and hospitality suites run by various groups. You could find food, drink, conversation, more teaching, more discussion. And none of that gets into the moment that the Krampus Walk gets upon you – and you had no idea what it was or that it was even coming — my first-year experience.

But to be honest, conferences are expensive beasts to run and maintain. From the cost of the hotel itself to all the other smaller details that go into it – putting these on gets expensive, in terms of money. Then there’s the sweat equity of the folks behind the scenes. Making sure that projectors, project screens, speakers, microphones, etc etc are in the correct places at the correct times and working correctly. Managing such mundane details as fire-code issues for room occupancy, maintaining a lost-and-found, providing information for people lost or overwhelmed in the hotel, mitigating issues on behalf of those booked at the hotel with the hotel staff – and the list goes on and on. Its quite an undertaking. I know. I have been there before.

Back at the beginning of Project Akon, I was the Security Director for the very first two conventions. The first convention went fairly easy, but at the second one, I had to deal with people throwing rocks from the rooftop into the swimming pool below, handling a few sticky-fingers issues within the dealer’s room, and a pair of drunken females wanting to disrobe at the pool in the early morning hours of the night. Each of those moments carried a shit-load of stress for me, and I was only in charge of a single group of volunteers (fifteen to be exact). In the case of both conventions, I think I got less than ten total hours of sleep over each three-day convention. Those days were tough, and I was completely exhausted by the end of it all, but it was grand fun for me. I got to meet and talk with cartoonist Tex Avery (scratch that, I got my “Tex’s” mixed up. It was Bill “Tex” Henson) during the first one, simply because the room I was checking badges for had no one in it. He pulled up a chair, introduced himself and we talked for at least two hours about animation in the 1950s and 1960s. Eventually, we had a small group of folks gathered around, just listening to our conversation.

I am sure that some of the folks at Pantheacon have had similar moments. I know I did. My first and third years, I shared a room and a trip with John Beckett. John presented both of those years, both with the convention and in the hospitality suites. The second year; however, I went alone. I spent a lot of time in the OBOD suite talking with Frank M. and with Kristoffer Hughes. A presentation of Kristoffer’s that I attended, I saw again three weeks later at the OBOD Gulf Coast Gathering. It was just as interesting, entertaining and informative as when I had heard him at Pantheacon. That second year, being on my own, I explored more panels and visited the hospitality suites more often than the first year. And I could never forget the lovely singing of Byron Ballard to begin one of the panels on death that year.

Were there controversies? Were there issues? over the years, it has certainly been documented. During the three years that I went, I never really saw or experienced anything that would be considered controversial. But then, I tend to run in very small circles when I attend events like this. So, most of that may have been outside of my senses. But I also do not go to public events seeking to be controversial either. I am just me…just as I am anywhere else. I am not sure how controversial I may be considered. I tend to get the feeling that I am considered to be rather milquetoast, even for a Pagan, Druid, and/or Polytheist.

Imbolc Retreat 2015 – photo by Amanda Godwin

There are a few folks that see this as the possible beginning of the end of large social gatherings for the Pagan community, particularly in the arena of conventions. Maybe. There are a few other conventions that are Pagan-oriented around the country. People that are interested in this type of setting can certainly find those fairly easily. But I certainly would not call the end of Pantheacon the end of such a setting or even the end of a large convention setting. Its the end of Pantheacon. Certainly traveling to conventions is expensive. The flight/drive, the hotel, the food, all the other expenses – that shit adds up quickly. But if this is your kind of thing, there are other spots to attend. And let’s not over-play Pantheacon as some massive monolith that just cannot be replaced or created again elsewhere. Because that is just not true.

So, what to do next? Well, if you can afford to make it to Pantheacon in 2020, I would suggest you go. In my estimation its a wonderful experience to have. If you can’t make it, see what’s near you and make plans to be there – whether that is a convention or festival or a gathering…whatever. All of that is part of your wider community. Reach out, meet new people, engage with old friends…have experiences! It does not have to be “just like” Pantheacon…does it?? I don’t think so, but that’s just my perspective. Your experience will definitely vary because we are all unique. But seriously, reach out, find new places to explore…

As for the folks who have helped put Pantheacon on for these many years, I say thank you. Certainly, there were rough times, but the wonderful experiences throughout it all would hopefully outweigh all of that, especially over the number of years the convention has existed. I, as a three-year attendee, am grateful for all that you have done.

JOEO

Morphing the Myth – a Personal Look

One of the nice things about taking time off from everything else in life, is that I get the chance to look backwards a bit. In this case, I was digging through some old notes in my Evernote application. I ran across some things I wrote during the “Morphing the Myth” segment from this year’s Pantheacon – which was an absolute blast. As I read through the notes, I realized that each point could be written in up as a set of posts for the blog, and I have been working on that since that point. Later this coming week, I will start publishing those here on the blog. However, I thought it would be prudent to preface those posts with this one.

One of the first things I should do here is to introduce what the panel was about. According to the Pantheacon booklet I received during my registration:

Morphing the Myth (S.P. Hendrick)

Mythology is an integral part of our belief systems. Over the years, however, these ancient tales have been transformed and added to in order to make them more palatable to modern audiences. Many Pagans of today had their first experiences with Paganism in their reading of ‘The Mists of Avalon’ or watching the British ‘Robin of Sherwood’. How has the modern interpretation of mythology changed the Pagan community, and is it a change for the good?

When I was putting together my schedule for Pantheacon, this was one of the “must attend” panels I had starred. There were only five of those total. “”Finding Your Personal Magic” (Shauna Knight), “The Dark Side of Druidry” (John Beckett), “The Cauldron of Change” (Kristoffer Hughes), and “Bardic Magic” (John Beckett). The last was held in the ADF Hospitality Suite, and I would hear it again later at the Gulf Coast Gathering (2016) in a slightly revised format. The other panels were all presented by people whom I have met (briefly in some cases), but “Morphing the Myth” was on a topic that has drawn me in quite a lot over the years. Mythology. And it went further down the trail…into the realm of how new stories create new mythologies, and how retelling of the stories can change with the moods and tastes of the popular culture of the time. In other words, morphing the story to fit the understanding of the new cultures that have grown up.

Yes, the panel intrigued me quite a bit. In fact, I might even say that it was the highlight of the entire Pantheacon for me – at least from an intellectual side. And that’s not taking away from the cerebral aspects of any of the other panels I attended. Hardly. Just merely stating that this one panel piqued my curiosity in a manner that I could not explain, heading into Pantheacon.

Once I arrived at the panel, I found quite a few folks had already arrived. I was four deep in what appeared to be a crowd of about thirty-five. For an early morning panel, I assumed that this was a healthy number of attendees. As the panel continued, more folks filtered in. With S.P. Hendrick were two other individuals – an Australian man (judging from the accent) whose name I never caught, and a lady whose face seemed familiar. She turned out to be the author Diana Paxson, whose books I have adored for quite some time. As my notes show, the conversation moved along some very familiar territories, which I will explore through the next series of posts. And the conversations were absolutely fascinating. In one of my writings after Pantheacon, I noted this as well as how the panel has had me looking through various stories that have been favorites in my life.

IMG_0215And while I have alluded to where I am headed with this next series of posts…I am about to dive a little deeper than before. What I am wanting to do, is to dig a little deeper into the ways that mythology, stories, songs, poems and other aspects of the Bardic Arts fuel the fire of who and what I am. Hopefully, some of what I am about to present over the next few posts provides a way for you to look deeper into your own personal Spiritual fires. And perhaps, some of the questions I walked away from this panel with will also help you look a little deeper into how mythology presents itself to your life, your Spirituality, your connection to the Gods and Goddess, and your connection to the world around you. I know its done just that for me.

–T /|\

 

Scheduling Myself for PantheaCon 2016

So late last year, I made the decision that I was going to attend the 2016 Pantheacon. I have heard a lot about this particular gathering of Pagan folk – how it can be controversial, how it can spur some aspects of in-fighting and differences, how it can also bring people together to spur positive and affirming action. Nothing, however, prepared me for the crisis that hit me yesterday:  which panels will I be able to attend?

The sheer number of panels that are available is absolutely stunning. And while the folks at Pantheacon do a great job of labeling various tracks — its still a chore to make choices. And then there’s the concept of free-time, when are you going to eat, when are you going to sleep, and that doesn’t even begin the point of visiting the various suites that will be open.

So, last night, I decided to sit down and figure out some kind of a schedule. I decided to start with the basics, which panels I wanted to attend. With no regard to when my arrival flight would land, when my departing flight would take off, or how far away my hotel was going to be…I came up with my “schedule”.

Right off the bat, I am hit with a decision – the opening ritual. Apparently, there is a limited amount of room for the ritual, so the spots are listed on a first-come, first-in solution. Since I am a first-time attendee, I figured it would be better if I hugged the sidelines for this one, and left it out of my schedule.

Friday

  • 1330 – The Many Faces of the Celts
  • 1530 – The Changing Earth
  • (lunch/dinner – who knows where that will take place?)
  • 1900 – Finding Your Personal Magic
  • 2100 – Pagan Pastoral Care Issues
  • (off to find my bed)

Saturday

  • 0900 – The Dark Side of Druidry
  • 1100 – On Dragon’s Wings
  • 1330 – A Practical Guide to Irish Spirituality
  • 1530 – Chanting, Trancing and Story
  • (lunch/dinner)
  • 1900 – Anansi’s Tales & Wisdom Time
  • 2100 – The Horned God in the British Isles
  • (off to find my bed)

Sunday

  • 0900 – Morphing the Myth
  • 1100 – Native/Pagan Community Dialogue
  • (lunch)
  • 1530 – The Four Faces of the Horned God
  • (dinner)
  • 1900 – Journey to the Hearts – Welsh Goddesses
  • (free-time)
  • (off to find my bed)

Monday

  • (free-time)
  • 1100 – Sacred Fire
  • (go home)

So, with this hopeful schedule in hand, I checked my previously booked flight times to mesh with this.

My arrival flight comes in at 1240. So, it looks like the first panel may be a no-go.  I’ll set that in as a “potential” instead. My departure flight is Monday at 1725…which means that everything there is a sure-fire thing.  In fact, I’ll add the closing ritual into everything as well. So, my schedule looks to be set for Pantheacon. There seems to be plenty of chances to allow for some interviews with folks that may want to be on the podcast. And plenty of other chances to get to know other people as well.

Yeah.  Stepping out of the shadows… naked and all that…  ::sigh:: But I’ve been told I am going to have to just “suck it up buttercup.” Its a part of who I am that I am going to have to embrace now. Being out in the open. So, I’m going to start my death-grip now.  🙂

Podcaster

 

Daring to Make a Noise

I have read a couple of posts here and there about PantheaCon – mostly from John Beckett, but I am sure there will be more to come from the folks who went. I did not go – nor do I ever have plans to attend. I teach college classes, and this particular event happens typically at the quarter-point of my semester. I am not about to walk away from my classes to attend a Convention, no matter how tempting it might be (which it really is not). But I do enjoy reading some of the questions raised at such events, and quite a few were presented over at the Wild Hunt on this post by Jason Pitzl-Waters. So I was quite intrigued to read the material he presented, and the resulting comments – and decided to lend my own (albeit quite small) voice to the fray. So, let’s start with where Jason’s observations did:

If I were to sum up what I thought the spirit of PantheaCon this year was, I think it would be the overarching question: What kind of community, what kind of religious movement, do we want? Who do we want to include? Who do we want to exclude? What do we look like? Are we prepared to examine our flaws? Our privilege ? Do we want to build new institutions? Are the ones that we have serving us?

Quite an intriguing arena of material to work with. But let me start with my first observation – the (what I assume to be) royal we utilized in much of the questions. While I get the idea, I am supremely uncomfortable with the perspective of stating any form of ‘we’ in how I answer. I can no more answer any question or provide any observation for any other Pagan than myself, than I can take credit for any of the database systems I have worked on as a developer or Database Administrator. I certainly had a hand in the design and operation of those DBMSs, but I cannot speak on behalf of anyone else that was on any of those development and operational teams. Now, I am not trying to criticise Jason’s choice of words here, just merely pointing out how I find that choice to be cringeworthy in my eyes. There are a few – as evidenced in the comments to this thread – that point to PantheaCon as being a meeting of elitist Pagans, who only acknowledge people that they feel are worthy of admittance into their group. As someone who has never attended a single Pantheacon event, I cannot attest to the correctness or wrongness of such sentiments…and I can only take the word of individuals who have attended and either feel that to be correct or incorrect. In my mind, Jason’s word choice does not seem to be intentional towards being exclusive – merely just a choice of what seemed appropriate in his statement. I do not see Jason as being any kind of elitist or what have you. Now, that and ten bucks will get you a cup of coffee at Starbucks. On to more meatier ponderings….

The question of what kind of community do we want to have, and who should be included – certainly does not help to dispel some of the elitist tags that get bandied about – but it certainly does bring some interesting food for thought. What precisely is going to be the makeup of a “Pagan Community”; how do we define its overall community; and dependent on that definition – should we be all inclusive or aim towards an area of specifics in terms of what makes up such a community? All of this ties into other areas, such as Polytheism, Eco-Warrior perspectives, sustainable living, pantheism, and a few others – but it begs the question: what the fuck should be considered as a “Pagan Community”? And who gets to make that choice??

….and this is where the terrain goes from a smooth, gravel-laid, walking path through the forest – and becomes a rock-strewn, uneven deer trail through the woods. The footing becomes a little less sure, there’s always the potential to trip on exposed tree roots, and sometimes the path can fade into nothing for a while. Then you hope that the trail picks up where you are walking – otherwise, you may find yourself walking in the middle of nowhere, with no trail or landmarks to guide you. And depending on your point-of-view, this can be a good thing or it can be a bad thing.

Again, I cannot speak for anyone other than myself. Which makes addressing the concept of “community” a little difficult. An opinion of one, to address a definition of many. I look at community as a group of people that help one another – regardless of differences of opinion. A community assists one another when there is need. A community celebrates together when there are moments of greatness. A community mourns together when there is loss. For me, there is no reason to exclude anyone – even those who have done some form of wrong. In my opinion, everyone deserves a second-chance. Its when they blow that second-chance that removes them from the community. Forgive the first time, but be wary until the trust is rebuilt. After the second violation…well, there’s no reason to trust after that. But this is what community is for me. Its about helping, assisting one another, celebrating Life with one another, and mourning loss together.

DFW Pagan Pride Day 2013
DFW Pagan Pride Day 2013

So, how to splint this into an idea of what a Pagan Community is for me. Its not difficult for me to imagine. I saw it with my own two eyes back on October 5th of last year. A community of Pagan folk came together and celebrated the fact that we were all Pagan. Together. All of our differences were on display to one another. We accepted those differences, we embraced those differences – and acknowledged one another as brothers and sisters. We came together to give back to the other communities around us – the communities that we physically live in. The communities that are defined by geographical definitions. For that afternoon, we were a single tribe of people, even despite our differences. And for those on the DFW Pagan Pride Day planning committee – it has continued. And I see elements of that continue in other areas of the DFW Pagan Community. For me, that’s what community is about. There’s no exclusion of people because of their social or legal sins. There’s no exclusion of people because their beliefs don’t fit neatly into a single definition. That’s Pagan Community – at least for me.

The tougher questions to answer – are we prepared to look at our flaws? Are we prepared to look at our sense of privilege? I would certainly hope so. Again, I can only answer for myself here. I know I am by no means the “perfect” anything. I make mistakes. I have flaws. I accept that and do my best to not let any of that get in the way of being a productive member of my part of what I perceive of community. But am I prepared to examine my own sense of privilege? I would hope so, but first, I need to see what my sense of privilege is exactly. So my answer to this would be “not yet” — mostly because I have not identified where all of that is around me. Until then, I can only answer in the negative.

These questions are what I consider to be the tip of the spear – the point that needs to be discussed and determined by anyone and everyone. All of our answers are going to be different – because all of our individual needs will be different. But regardless of that level of difference, that area of individuality that tends to be the primary spark within Pagan belief systems…this is still something that we need to examine…and determine for ourselves. Our individual, selves. I think this question will be an interesting one, and that the answers will also be quite interesting as well.  My voice is not the be-all, end-all – and truth be told, I am a very, very small voice in the Pagan blogosphere and podcast communities. I am brave enough to offer my own perspective here – in the open, where it can be hailed as brilliant (not likely), roundly criticised and debated (also not likely) or soundly ignored (more likely). But I do dare to make a noise (a small one) and how I perceive things. An avalanche starts when a single pebble has a dream of moving things.