It’s very hard for me to separate Many Gods West itself from everything that lead up to it and has come out of it, much less the rest of our trip to Washington. For the sake of brevity and relevance, I’ll try to stay on topic.
First of all, a huge THANK YOU to the folks who made Many Gods West happen, especially Niki Whiting, Rhyd Wildermuth, and PSVL! I enjoyed the event a great deal.
I’m very used to PantheaCon, the occasional Heathen campout, and lots of medium-to-small group rituals, so this small Polytheist conference was unusual in scale for me, and I had no idea what to expect. After years of helping run these sorts of things, whether it’s the framing event itself, or one or more presentations within it, I have to say, it’s a wonderful thing to be able to attend things I’m NOT responsible for running!
I want to try to unpack my experience day-by-day.
PSVL’s Opening Ritual:
Talk about starting off with a bang!
I really liked that it started with cleansing, and how the honoring of gods and revering of ancestors was done in such a way as to emphasize both diversity and hospitality. We and They are indeed MANY, and this event represented our choosing to come together under categorical banners that do not in any way erase the individuality of any entity present. That can be very challenging to do, and I think the opening ritual pulled it off beautifully.
I don’t remember the exact details of what order things were done, so this is written in the order of emotional significance:
I really liked the idea of using different wooden sticks for the various categories of the ancestors, and that the ancestors were honored in several ways, to make certain all were acknowledged.
My first thought when the sticks were passed to us was “Ooh! I want these sticks!” immediately followed by the obvious realization that clinging to these sticks would be quite selfish, but nothing is stopping me from making my own set. On the road home with Lon I started contemplating what kind of wood I would like to use for each kind, and if I want to keep the same categories PSVL used, or the categories in the Ancestor Prayer I use, or contemplate from scratch what I might consider a basis set for ancestor reverence. Definitely some of the additional categories from the ritual I would want to include even if I started from the Ancestor Prayer categories.
It struck me as sad at the time that because nobody present was descended from any Northwestern First Peoples, it was apparently assumed that nobody could connect the stick with any Northwestern First People ancestors. I would have thought that at least the folks who live on the land might well have various spiritual connections with the Ancestors associated with the land, and could have invested the stick with those connections. At the same time, holding it separate was a way of acknowledging that we can not presume to uphold or represent their peoples or traditions, so in a way it served a respectful purpose.
I am used to the Mighty Dead/Fallen being honored distinctly from the rest of the Ancestors, but this is the first time I’ve seen the Spirit Worker ancestors honored! Cool!
Also, while Mothers and Fathers biologically do not actually equate to Female and Male genders, conflating them is so ubiquitous that overtly calling out gender variance among the ancestors is definitely very important.
I realized I’d entirely forgotten to bring anything to place on the altar for the Vanir, and was fretting over that when I remembered that I had my large stickers from Zazzle in my pouch. So I took out one of the Vanatru Boar stickers and one of the Sigdrifa’s Prayer stickers, and placed them on the altar in honor of the Vanir and Their allies throughout the Nine Worlds – which is kinda everything in Norse Cosmology by the time we’re done, really.
I haven’t seen a gathering of diverse gods and spirits on that scale since AMUH moved the Lubisha from Concord to Berkeley and called the Milokan to make sure every. single. power. the House might have included before was properly invited to the new location. Many pantheons, many many gods, many many many paths and masks and names. It was quite a glorious sight!
For all that I appreciated how it was put together, the ritual structure didn’t grab me at first. I felt as I often do when witnessing and respectfully participating as a guest in the rituals of an unfamiliar tradition, slightly disengaged, respectfully attentive, and analytical. I wanted to be sure to remember what all did and didn’t work about the ritual so I could carry that information forward to future efforts.
Then it got to the part where we literally gathered common ground, as each person who had brought earth and water from their homes and holy places around the world came up and poured them into a large bowl for each, and whatever composure I had was GONE.
I was in tears, watching this, feeling this. It was all I could do not to openly sob.
At first I felt a wrenching pain that I had not remembered this announcement and brought any of my Lady’s creek water or orchard soil with me go contribute! Mind you, She and Her kin around the San Francisco Bay Area were well represented several times over, and I drew comfort from that.
But! But! This!!! This is THE THING WE MUST DO!
My mind was SCREAMING that we had performed THE ritual that was necessary for all Polytheist gatherings of this kind henceforth. It wasn’t really a new idea, but it was the single most important thing we MUST do, and moreover, that everyone should be taking some of the dirt home to keep such a bin with their shrines and adding to it over time as they travel and mixing it all together and bringing some of that to the next thing and and and….!
Now, this may actually be a profoundly bad idea, agriculturally speaking., but the voices in my head did not care about the science of it in the slightest.
Mind you, I have found myself collecting Salt of Many Seas and Waters of Many Lands for years now with no real idea why I was doing so. It seems to me the Earth of Many Lands isn’t quite the same thing…
And just now I heard “No, Earth of Many Spirits“, and gather that at least for me it’s a third thing, and that’s all very well. This seems to be building into some kind of very specific structure for honoring landspirits as gods. Is this why I never get to attend any of River’s Matronae stuff? Would it muddy the waters or something?? (No pun intended.) Argh!
No doubt I will end up sharing more as I figure this out…
Morpheus’ Keynote Speech:
First of all, if you haven’t already read Morpheus’ keynote speech, go read it now.
My own reaction was that yes, it was preaching to the choir, but it’s got to be the most deeply satisfying preaching to the choir I’ve ever heard. Normally preaching to the choir irritates me. I’m not easily moved to enthusiasm by the kinds of pep talks politicians give at rallies, even when I agree with every word they’re saying.
I think the reason this worked for me is that Morpheus didn’t sound like she was trying to convince us of what we already believed, nor did she sound like she was trying to boost our collective pride in already agreeing with each other. Rather, she was giving us more and deeper ways to understand and explore those beliefs, and giving us a framework for affirming that we do indeed have that much in common, even if we don’t have the particular gods, cultures, or specific practices in common to share.
I’m normally a much bigger fan of orthopraxy than orthodoxy, and for group work, this is still the case. Nevertheless, I recognize that there is a value to gathering with people who share the same ideals, and it was a value I didn’t know I was missing until I sat in a room full of people watching us all nod as Morpheus spoke.
I was raised to be wary of letting being in a group turn my brain off. Sitting and agreeing with a large group of people is honestly mildly alarming to me. This wasn’t that, though. We agreed on the broad strokes while acknowledging that we didn’t need to share the specific details, because part of that broad stroke included an awareness and acceptance of diversity of details.
What the opening ritual had established symbolically, Morpheus’ speech emphasized intellectually.
Here I was some 780 miles from home, and it felt like a family reunion.
Oracular Seidh with Xochiquetzal:
John Murphy was not able to attend and present on his travels among the Yezidis. I was sad of that, as I was looking forward to his presentation, but life happens.
After the opening ritual, Xochi nabbed me and asked if I was up for presenting Oracular Seidh with her that evening in the now-open time slot. Suddenly I knew why I’d had the urge to pack my redwood staff for warding (which I resisted, and shouldn’t have, because I damned well know what that kind of urge means). I told her I didn’t have my tools, but that I was prepared to work with whatever we had if she wanted to do this thing.
Her intent was to sit chair with me warding and only guiding minimally for the querents’ sakes. We discussed a bit what level of boundaries we each would need for such a ritual to work, and came back together after the keynote speech to set up the space.
Like many independent Seidhworkers, Xochi is used to sitting chair mostly unattended. As a member of Seidhjallr, I am used to warding, guiding, or seeing for a room of 60+ people all in rapport in the middle of a major Pagan festival full of people doing other rituals nearby. These are not equivalent exercises. I do have experience with other forms of Spae, though.
So I set her up in the corner in a makeshift barrow circle, marking the boundaries with spare chairs and tables. I set the sacred space only around her, placing Nauthiz on the entrance and Elhaz on the exit. Then I left her to take herself wherever she needed to see from, and addressed the attending querents to invoke the appropriate gods, ancestors, and landspirits.
The rest of the evening was largely quiet. All I really had to do was choose the order of querents, make sure people had water and tissues as needed, and check on the Seer from time to time. I arranged the space so that people could have as much privacy as possible, and thus only caught snippets of any given conversation. I know there were several instances of deity drop-in, and a few folks who were moved to tears, both of which are par for the course in my experience. Only one person seemed to need direct help from me while in the barrow space with the Seer, and that was clearly because she needed support from Freyja and Ostara, both of whom I work with. After she finished with the seer, I invited her to my Freyja ritual on Sunday.
Every single person who brought a question had the opportunity to receive an answer, which is not often the case when Oracular Seidh is performed at a festival in my experience, so that was rather satisfying.
One thing that was a bit surprising to me was that a few people left offerings for the Seer. A coin here, an apple there, nothing hugely valuable in a monetary sense. Rather, they would leave tokens of exchange.
I’ve seen that done for Seidh, especially Barrow Seidh, but it’s not part of our core practice in Seidhjallr.
I am very interested to know if it actually helps boost the signal…?