Come Join Us at Pantheacon!

For the fourth year in a row, Atheopagan events will take place at Pantheacon, the largest indoor gathering of Pagans in the United States. Pantheacon 2018 will be held February 16-19, at the Doubletree convention hotel in San Jose, California.

Pantheacon is an adventure: there is wide-ranging content on all sorts of Pagan paths, and the attendees include many memorable, wonderful, and colorful folks. Much of the material isn’t really germane to Atheopaganism, but I always find useful and thought-provoking presentations to attend, and the experience of seeing in person friends I rarely get to experience other than online is a real treat.

This year, I am involved in three offerings at Pantheacon. They are:

  • Arming the Earth Warriors: An Activists’ Ritual. This ritual is for those who are actively working on issues of environmental and social justice concerns, to help them in their efforts.  1:30 pm Friday the 16th, in the Silicon Valley Room.
  • Non-Theist Pagan Mixer. Immediately after the ritual will be an informal gathering for non-theist Pagans and those curious about non-theist Paganism. Come by, have a glass of wine and a snack, and enjoy great conversation! 3:30 pm Friday the 16th, in the Fire Family Suite, Room 241.
  • Spark Collective Ritual. This annual offering is always a favorite. I serve on the Core committee of the Spark Collective; their ritual format is deity-free and based in the Fire Circle Tradition11 pm Saturday the 17th, Fir Room.

Pantheacon is an opportunity to meet new friends, hang out with old ones, learn about the very disparate paths of Pagans from throughout the world, and have a great time! I hope to see and/or meet many of you there this year!

If you are at Pantheacon and looking for me, most of the time other than at the events above I will be working in the Green Room, which is where presenters go to check in. Come find me!

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The Ritual Cycle of the Rain Baby: An Example

So, last year I wrote about a new tradition for Riverain, the Water Sabbath, which is how I celebrate the holiday that falls between the Winter Solstice (Yule) and the Spring Equinox (High Spring). Riverain comes at the height of the wet season in California’s Mediterranean climate, when the hills are green and the creeks and rivers are running high.

Riverain is an example of my firm belief that the Sabbaths (holidays) we celebrate around the Wheel of the Year should be rooted in the actual climate, culture, growth cycles, and land where we live, rather than reflecting some other culture or place in the world. The traditional Pagan holiday at the time of Riverain, Imbolc, is a Celtic-named time the traditions of which include “casting seeds upon the snow”; this has no relevance to me in California (if it does for you, of course, that’s great–go ahead and celebrate it!)

So this new tradition—the weaving of a Rain Baby, a corn-husk doll that represents the cycle of water through the year—started last year but I am fleshing out how it plays out through the year now.

The Rain Baby is born (crafted) at Riverain, and kept on the household Focus.

The Baby is a child/toddler at High Spring (the vernal equinox), and presides over the childlike games and festivities of that Sabbath.

The Rain Baby becomes an adolescent at May Day, and is not involved in the celebration of that adult Sabbath. The Rain Baby may be kept on the May Day Focus, but should be shrouded in fabric so they cannot watch the adult, sexual aspects of May Day.

The Rain Baby emerges from this “cocoon” of social shielding as an adult on Midsummer, ready to do their work as the Bringer of the Harvest. The Rain Baby presides over the Focuses of Midsummer and Harvest. Also at Harvest, we gather the corn shucks which will be used to make the Rain Baby of the next cycle.

At Hallows, after the harvests are all done, the Rain Baby is burned in the Hallows fire, to go back up into the sky and fall as rain for the next cycle.

The Rain Baby is a cycle of observances that adds another layer to the Wheel of the Year, lending meaning and tradition to my annual celebrations. I encourage each of you to think about how you can layer practices and meaningful traditions into your own annual cycle of celebrations. Have fun with it!

Approaching the Animal Self

I’m a white guy.

I mean, a seriously white guy. My 23andme.com DNA profile shows me as having 100% Northern European ancestry, pretty much all of which is English/Irish except for 1.2% Scandinavian, which has GOT to be a Viking raider. Not one of my ancestors ever had the courage to mate out of group, to choose someone different than the people s/he was raised by.

As a white guy, I’m the first to admit that I’m kind of crippled. I am the product of centuries of European cultural “bleaching out” of human wildness in favor of manners, rectitude, forebearance, privacy, and shame. Of steady alienation from the body in favor of the mind. Some of that was probably inevitable, given cold weather and high-density living, but some of it is unquestionably the legacy of Protestantism and its naked hostility to all things pleasurable and bodily, and the narrow range of emotion that is allowed to men under our patriarchal culture.

Underneath all that, though, I am what we all are: an animal.

Yes, an animal. A thinking one, but an animal nonetheless, who eats and shits and sweats and fucks.

And as I get older, I find I treasure more and more the times when I can experience my animal self. Singing. Dancing. Howling at the moon.

In ritual, there are techniques that make it easier. Masks are amazing: you wouldn’t think that a mask would really make you feel as anonymous or Other as it actually can. Face paint, too, to a lesser degree, but you feel the separation from your ordinary self in a mask. I have a small collection of masks from sub-Saharan Africa and Oceania, which amaze me with their aliveness and extraordinary diversity. I don’t use them in ritual because to me that would be an inappropriate theft of their native cultures, but I admire them greatly for the visceral power they communicate.

african-masks-illustration

The confluence between the human and the animal is a motif found in Paleolithic cave paintings more than 25,000 years old, and it persists in many indigenous cultures today. Siberian and Arctic shamans, Native American medicine men, African and South American and Australian cultures represent in costuming and masks this vivid reality: that we are both human, in all the unique ways that is true, and animals, tied to the greater natural world and subject to the urges and requirements that animals share. Here, for example, from the cave of Les Trois Frères in France, is a 17,000-year-old representation of a demi-man, demi-beast, dubbed by modern academics as “The Shaman”:

cave painting-shaman

There is great joy in living in the animal self for a time, such as dancing around a fire to the beat of drums. It’s a challenge, for bleached-out men like me, getting to that animal self and honoring it.

But I try, and I encourage you to try, too.

Own your animal. Feel the breath going in, the happy surge of blood sugar as you eat on an empty stomach. Indulge the urge to howl at the moon, to dance about the fire. Find a way to get outside naked, and feel the sun on your skin. Run your hands over your body.

Feel that you are an animal, here on planet Earth, not only thinking and wondering at the glory of what we can understand, but grunting and snuffling through the underbrush for something delicious and sustaining.

Both are true. Both are what we are. Celebrate it.