The conference began with an opening ritual. Sean Donahue lead it by himself. While Many Gods West 2015’s ritual was large and involved, Sean Donahue kept it rather simple. He blessed the area with the four elements, and then we did a sort of grounding ritual to the space. Overall a very simple opening ritual, but one that I enjoyed nonetheless.
Immediately afterwards was the Plenary Session on polytheist community. The panel had some great community builders on it: John Beckett, Syren Nagakryie, Ryan Smith, and Kirk Thomas. Gosh… I could write a whole blog post just about this panel. But to be as brief as possible: I took away a lot of insight from Syren talking about how we are always building community because community is made up of people doing things. So going to a ritual is community; helping a friend grieve is community; writing blog posts is community; etc. I really agreed with that. Who I didn’t agree with was John Beckett. Once again he was talking about putting gods at the center of community, which I already wrote about why I disagree with that premise in length here. However, I did agree with John Beckett’s ideas that showing up is important to community.
Another notable thing that happened was that Kirk Thomas, former Archdruid of ADF, was being ableist. He was saying things along the lines of “There are psychos and crazy people in the community we need to watch out for!” and while what he meant to say was “toxic people” … he was using ableist language. Someone in the audience bravely spoke up about it during the Q&A, and I’m very thankful they did. I don’t think Kirk Thomas understood why what he said was ableist, but his tone for the rest of the Q&A was different so I think he at least understood enough that he needed to investigate this claim. I saw him talking to the person who spoke up after the panel, but I don’t know how much understanding was happening since I couldn’t hear. We’ll see, I guess, if behavior changes for good.
After that, there was a short break. Then came the first presentation of the conference by Emily Carlin. She gave a really great presentation on Santa Muerte, and I learned so much. Granted, I went in with the knowledge of “Santa Muerte is Mexican and maybe involved with death??” so I had a lot to learn. One thing in particular that I really respected that Emily Carlin did was stress how much Santa Muerte is indigenous to Mexico and Mexican culture. She stressed how you can’t plop Santa Muerte into a Norse framework, or anything like that. And after learning the history of Santa Muerte, it’s easy to see why: she was more or less born from the needs of the wider Mexican population that the Catholic Church was not meeting. (“Born” not necessarily meaning she was only created recently — that was something we talked about.)
After Emily’s class, I spent the next few hours gearing up to do my ritual and discussion for Lugh. Which meant I skipped a ritual to Rhiannon that I wanted to attend to, but I had to attend to myself first. I was extremely nervous, despite having so much support from everyone I ran into. I got even more nervous when my narcolepsy began to rear its ugly head and I thought I would pass out. Luckily, that did not happen. My energy levels got re-energized and I got myself to my ritual space with plenty of time to set up.
My ritual to Lugh started at 9:00pm, with the other option that evening being a ritual to Dionysus. I expected maybe eight or nine people to show up, but I got closer to twenty-to-thirty people. I was not expecting that, but I was prepared luckily for it. I began a little after 9:00pm and started by introducing myself. Then, I invited Lugh formally into the ritual space and gave Him an offering. Next I told the myth The Coming of Lugh and analyzed it. I gave more facts about Lugh and asked if anyone had questions about Lugh before we moved on to meeting Him. With no one asking any questions, I told everyone to get as comfortable as they could — sitting or laying down — and to prepare for a guided journey if they so wished to participate. I lead them to a Lughnasa festival, had them tell Lugh their talents, and share how those talents would help the wider community. After that, I shared in some food and drink. I then passed out Lugh’s messages to everyone that I divined prior to the event. Finally, I suggested we play some Apples to Apples as a way to celebrate Lughnasa — though people could leave given how late it was and how early the next day would start. Most people left and that left me with six other people to share in Lughnasa games. The smaller group had a good time playing Apples to Apples until about 10:30pm, when I our time was up and we cleaned up.
Overall, my ritual was a success to me. About fiveish people had sat up from the guided journey and then promptly left the room without a word to me. While that could have meant a lot of things, I took it to mean that they were bored. But a good number of people stayed until they received their message from Lugh. Then, as I said, most people left for the evening. The ritual was short — which I didn’t really like. It lasted about 30 to 40 minutes. But given how late it was and given how I do rituals, I didn’t want to inflate the time with dragging out the guided journeying or talking more about the myth. I wanted to keep as tightly to the goal as possible, and anything that didn’t serve that goal to be at a minimal. The goal being for people to meet Lugh, which I think I did a good job doing.
My two friends who participated in the ritual liked it, and they both gave me some thoughtful critiques about what I could do in the future to make it even better. I had two people who I never met before tell me the next day they enjoyed the ritual and that it was close to what they do with their group at their home. Which made me smile because Yes! I wasn’t the only person who liked rituals done this way!
And, most importantly, I divined that Lugh enjoyed the ritual very much and was very proud of me. I made my god happy, which in turn made me happy.
This brings us to Saturday! I didn’t get a chance to attend the morning presentations since I was volunteering at the registration desk. I heard lovely things about them, though.
My plan was to go to the Basics of Hinduism presentation, but they never showed. Instead, I went to the Working with Water Spirits by Annwyn Avalon. It may have been a blessing that the Hindu presenters didn’t show up, because I learned so much with Working with Water Spirits. We learned about the various mythical creatures and spirits and so much! It was just gleaming the surface (pardon the pun) of working with water spirits. I left with wanting to connect with the waters around Omaha, though I’m not sure how possible that’ll be. We’ll see.
After that presentation, I went to How Land Informs Our Arte by Corinne Boyer. The overall presentation was really helpful, I think. I enjoyed how it seems to be that most of the time, land spirits just want to be acknowledged. Which is great. I did disagree with the notion that you could only connect with spirits if they were “wild” and “untouched by humans.” There are plenty of people I know who venerate their cities and engage with the spirit of their cities. City spirits — spirits of brick and stone and concrete — are real too.
I skipped the first group of rituals Saturday night because I just wasn’t feeling them. I don’t want anything to do with Odin, and I wasn’t really interested in doing an ADF ritual either.
So next thing I participated in was the De-Possession Ritual put on by Anaar Niino, Laura Tempest Zakroff, Phoenix LaFae, and Gwion Raven. The ritual’s premise was that there are things in our lives possessing us and we need to take control back. The people running the ritual invited the four elements into the ritual space, and then also invited Lucifer and Lilith to hold space basically. As much as I now get to say I attended a ritual involving Lucifer, he didn’t involve himself with me at all so that’s almost a let down. Oh well. The people running the ritual were very open to different types of mobility and ability, too, and emphasized to do what felt right above all else. Which was an useful disclaimer given the dancing we ended up doing.
I wasn’t sure entirely what to expect, but it the ritual ended up hitting me pretty hard in a sensitive spot — in a good way. While we talked about what is “possessing” our lives, my mind instantly went to my sickness. And that realization alone made tears stream down my face. We then danced to break free from what was possessing us. And I danced hard. I tried so hard to break free from it — but it didn’t feel possible. I cried harder. By the end of the ritual, I was exhausted mentally but energized physically. It wouldn’t be until the next day that I felt like narcolepsy didn’t control my life as much as it was prior to the ritual. I’m still narcoleptic — I wasn’t cured — but something inside of me opened up and took back control I think. It was very moving, and empowering.
This brings us to Sunday — last day! I began the day by volunteering at registration, but as soon as it struck 9:00am I was in the Ritual Co-Creation for Polytheists put on by Emily Carlin and Raye Schwarz. I was so eager to learn about this process, because it sounded exactly what I wanted to do with the Polytheist Community Center. The actual presentation seemed to focus more on magic rituals than ones focusing on polytheism, but the techniques seem easy enough to transplant to a polytheistic purpose. And the idea behind the ritual is quite simple: have a loose outline of what’s going to happen, but let the bullet points of that outline be filled by those who showed up. In the case of their rituals, they may want to accomplish some sort of healing ritual so they’d ask people who showed up what that would look like to them and go from there. It’s ridiculously simplistic, though guiding the process seems to take a good amount of skill and awareness.
Next was the Shadows on the Surface of the Sea: Practicing Discernment Amidst Uncertainty by Anthony Rella. We had some really great conversation about what discernment is, which gave it in a new light for me. Discernment, by how it was described by both Anthony Rella and the participants, is the ability to separate things from other things. Then we did a guided meditation (sorta?) on focusing on our thoughts and our body. It was the weirdest experience for me, because while I was able to interact with my thoughts and with Lugh, I still was very much aware of my body. I never left it, or forgot about it, but instead it was part of the experience. Compared to other guided meditations I do where the purpose is to leave the body’s sensations behind…it was really unique. Something I definitely want to try more of, because I spend most if not all my time in my body so I should be aware of what a spiritual experience feels like in my body — not out of it.
After that, I had a tough choice. Either go to Syren Nagakryie‘s Community Ritual of Grieving, or go to Sara Star’s Gnostic Polytheism and Animism. I decided to go to the latter because my grief in my life is almost abstract compared to others. The only person who I ever mourned was someone I knew through her autobiography; I wasn’t close enough to my grandparents to feel a loss or grief over their passing; and while I do mourn the tragedies of the world, they aren’t people I knew personally so it feels different. So I didn’t want to detract from those who needed that space for losing their sisters or brothers or parents or other loved ones. (Also, Sara asked me personally to attend her presentation and I wanted to support her.)
The presentation on Gnostic Polytheism and Animism was okay. We talked about gnosticism a bit, but we quickly got sidetracked by talking about community problems and how to handle the community rather than how to handle our gnosticisms. However, I think Sara’s wish for us to take away that we’re the creators of myth was well understood by the end of the presentation. Also, her write-up on her presentation is well worth the read.
The last thing I got to experience from the conference was the Disability and Polytheism, put on by the wonderful and insightful L. Phaedrus. Most if not all the attendees were disabled in some manner or another, which was a visual reminder of how important being aware of disability is since so many of us are. My major take-away from the talk was that making the effort for accessibility was better than waiting to make accommodations. Nothing will be 100% accessible, but you can make the effort so that it’s mostly accessible.
Unfortunately I had to leave before the closing ritual happened, but overall I enjoyed all the presentations and rituals I attended. I learned a lot, and learned a lot about myself too. And while I probably won’t present next year, I am grateful to myself that I gave it a go.