Saturday, May 22, 2010

20 Years of The Wellspring Gathering (and 100th post)

It’s a moment for anniversaries, it seems. This is the hundredth post here on mr. blog, which pleases me. I had no idea whether I’d find enough ideas or time to write for this, but taking stuff from my other writing has helped keep things coming. No sign of stopping now…
More exciting to me is the 20th anniversary of the Wellspring Gathering, Stone Creed Grove ADF’s annual Druidic festival and retreat. In our efforts to create lasting Pagan institutions, longetivity counts for something. I’ll indulge myself in a reminiscence…

Stone Creed was founded in 1990 (earlier for the first meetings I think, but the first public ritual was Fall Equinox 1990)), and we were planning the first festival by winter of that year. Several of the first-wave members of Stone Creed had been Starwood festival organizers for a decade, and the whole thing had a natural “Let’s have a show” feel to it. Starwood had just moved to what would become the Brushwood Folklore Center. Wellspring came right behind, hosting the first year there mid-may of 1991.

Wellspring was the first specifically ADF camping festival and it arrived at a key moment in ADF’s growth. At that time ADF had maybe a half-dozen working Groves, maybe 10, and almost all of them came to Wellspring. Several interested parties came as well, including Skip Ellison, who would found Muin Mound Grove right afterward. Isaac Bonewits came, and Stone Creed Grove had been able to present the first ever (I think) unscripted presentation of a full liturgy. By a year after the first Wellspring we had grown to … maybe a dozen Groves. (Skip could produce numbers…)

Before Wellspring, the ADF Annual Meeting had been held at the Starwood festival, with limited success. ADF’s membership was still mainly a mailing list, receiving an occasional publication, with a few growing local Groves. At the second Wellspring Isaac moved the national meeting to our event, where it has stuck ever since. With the draw of an actual ADF festival we found ourselves meeting face to face, and a new level of accountability as well as enthusiasm took hold.

In Isaac’s plan he was to remain the autocrat of the organization for its first nine years, with the Mother Grove appointed purely by his choice. By about the time we began Wellspring the membership had demanded an elected seat, and the Member’s Advocate position was created. In 1994 (if I count correctly) the first full Mother Grove election was held, with Isaac still Archdruid for life. The ballots were received on paper, or cast at Wellspring, and the count done by frantic volunteers in tents. While the present election system is vastly more organized, reliable and dry, I miss the big wait and the announcement of winners at the national meeting.

The first few Wellsprings were also a lot about solidifying and refining the liturgy. Isaac had produced one core script, and a number of articles supporting his model. As Groves implemented it, changes happened and reforms occurred. I hosted an annual roundtable for a few years called ‘Deepening the Liturgy’, in which Grove ritualists came together to discuss the things that became the Three Kindreds, the Hallows, etc. We experimented with group ritual, did good ones and… less good ones. I recall the dreaded Five Fires rite, spread out on the Brushwood hilltop, and the Fashion Show of the Gods, in which I attempted to meld ‘Culhwch and Olwen’ descriptive style with full trance vision. They can’t all be gems.

Around the mid-90s the internet arrived as a tool of ADF organizing, and it was a whole new ball-game. Groves proliferated, and ADF festivals began to as well. Having the national meeting at Wellspring has helped to keep us in the middle of things, and one reason that the national meeting has stayed at Wellspring is that we have built the Nemeton at Brushwood.

I never get this right… Wellspring 2 or 3? saw the beginnings of the Nemeton, built under the direction of Bryan P, the First Nemeton was a simple mound with three offering pits making it into a triskel shape, with a central fire-pit, and a metal-sheathed (eventually) Bile in the center of the Fire. Bryan carved a marvelous tricephalus pole, which lasted for several years before burning through dramatically at a Starwood rite. Over the following years the mound has been enlarged, walled in stone, and is now the site of a fine woodland ritual space, filled with shrines and hallowed with ADF memories. The development of shrines and special dedications to the many Gods and spirits in the woods surrounding the ritual mound has added a wonderful flavor to this unique Pagan ritual space.

In early years Stone Creed made an attempt to create a program that would be a general interest pagan festival, with a focus on ADF. As the organization grew the national agenda just ate its way into that effort, until Wellspring became a mainly in-house event. It’s a much bigger house, now, of course. Still we try to provide inspiring teaching and ritual, good hospitality, and plenty of opportunity to grow ADF’s plans, dreams and programs.

This is just some meanderings… looking backward while looking forward… The list of people responsible for this is too long to even get after without making some awful blunder, so you all know who you are. On we go to 20 more years of building the Old Ways in our time.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Healing for Isaac

As has been widely reported on the net and in ADF's in-house lists, Isaac Bonewits, elder of North American neopaganism, author, lecturer and Founder of Ar nDraiocht Fein, as well as a good friend and colleague of mine, to my pride, is having difficulty responding to treatment for his rare nether-cancer. See a good report here.
In response, many of his friends and well-wishers are taking up a campaign of magical work in support of his health and recovery. Along with more focused efforts I give a simple photoshop talisman with this article. You can participate directly in its spell by taking up your favorite strong drink (however striong that may be for you) and raising one to Isaac's image, saying "Slainte!" (slawnchuh), which as well as being a popular Irish toast plainly means "Health to You", and drinking. Doing this repeatedly can only add to the power of the work.
There are so many good things to say about Isaac's life and work, but ya know, I'll write no eulogies today.

Monday, May 10, 2010

A Pagan Theodicy

This was a post in a theology discussion on the ADF religion list. I'm actually horning in on a question directed at Cei Serith. How did I do?
>> I think that every religion has to answer the question of why bad things happen to good people.
> And if someone asked you this question now - what would you> say?
> Blessings,
> Briar.

1: Evil must be defined. Classic theology usually divides evil into natural evil and moral evil. Natural evil is stuff that hurts - disease, injury, natural disasters. One might place some kinds of emotional pain in this category - death causes emotional pain, thus death is an evil. Moral evil is in deeds that violate a (divinely) given moral system. Most moral systems attempt to make rules to prevent the pain of natural evil - allowing spouses to sleep with other people violates the pride and security of the mate, thus causes emotional pain, thus is made illicit. Elements of 'fairness' and right dealing enter in moral judgments as well, which may be less directly related to physical or emotional pain. Natural evil happens to all people in all times. It helps to shape notions of moral evil, which are entirely conditional to culture and locality.

2: Then, we must describe what we mean by 'god'. Western monotheism has the problem of explaining how a single all-powerful, all-knowing, administrative being who is described as both loving and just can allow/cause evil to occur. Why would humans not be made with an inherent moral sense? why would the universe be made to contain pain and loss? This difficulty is why evil is a Problem in western theology.

3: The good news is that much of this is No Problem for a polytheistic theology. For a polytheist there is no single being that made the worlds (even if there is a single being out of which the world was made...) no single intelligence, no single will, had the option of making everything work perfectly together. Polytheistic models of 'creation' are another theology post, but we start by saying that the divine is not unified in will or intent. In the same way, we have no notion that 'god is love'. Lovingness is one aspect of many deities, maybe all, in some way, but so is every other kind of quality. For me, I like 'wisdom' as a primary description, but, in a polytheism, we each choose which kinds of gods we work with.

We can say that pain exists as a desirable and natural consequence of the ability to feel. It warns us of damage, teaches us how to avoid harm. Perhaps we might teach that wisdom lies in managing one's own emotions in ways to minimize emotional pain, yet emotional pain may be considered a source of spiritual growth. Pain that harms or degrades is an 'evil', in the sense that evil is 'stuff we don't want to happen'. But that happens because humans fail in strength or wisdom (i.e. can't run fast enough or manage to avoid getting caught by the tiger), or by deliberate malice.

Most every culture holds that deliberate efforts to cause harm or loss are to be avoided and deterred. This becomes moral evil as the cultures set rules and norms to avoid harm and loss. Many cultures enforce these norms with social methods - humiliation, loss of honor, possible loss of social standing and legal rights connecting to it. Some cultures make a whole judicial system out of it, and even imagine a deity ruling a court of judgment on those who break the rules (and who don't have a good representative...).

Pagan cultures have develop this sort of code as well. There is some notion that a Pagan afterlife may include reward or punishment for deeds, but the afterlife is usually based more on initiation into the correct mysteries than conforming to the right moral codes. Wisdom teaches that it is good to avoid harm and loss, and our own wisdom, guided by that which we inherit, must decide what will be permitted and what condemned.

Why do humans deliberately cause harm and loss to others? Most usually it is a matter of conflicting needs and circumstances producing anger and desperation. The hungry person steals bread, the angry person lashes out. Those subject to long-term exploitation or unfairness seethe with resentment. Emotional pain is notable for its ability to persist. Our ability to relive an event or insult in memory allows anger to seethe and grow, and anger eventually wants expression. Moral and legal codes are devised to deter humans from acting on those emotions in ways that cause harm and loss. Some people seem to have defect of mind or character that makes them more willing to cause harm and loss. To them society's duty is first to educate and retrain, but second to restrain and prevent harm.

So, a Neopagan Theodicy:
1: That the multiple nature of existence naturally produces occasional conflicts among systems and individuals.
2: That these conflicts can produce harm, loss and pain. This is what I mean by "evil". (A Pagan theology need not make 'obedience' a primary virtue - merely disobeying is not itself evil, but only by it's result.)
3: That the Gods often teach how to avoid evil, but more directly, the Gods and spirits give wisdom to humans, and humans devise strategies to avoid evil.
4: That moral codes are local and conditional, not themselves given by divine fiat. It is between the society and the individual as to how codes are formed and enforced.
Without the conflict between an all-loving all-creator god and the facts of existence, the problem of evil becomes rather simpler

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

The Coolest Thing I've Seen This Week

For something completely different, I found this marvelous paper on neurological studies of Brazilian mediums. Along the way we get comparitive neuroanatomy of buddhist meditations, Carmelites, and enthusiastic Christians (no sorcerers of any type, more's the pity.). The observations of the mediums' process sound so very similar to what I see Neopagan seers and trancers doing. There's more neuroanatomy than most folks will care about, but the summaries, theories and observations are worth a read.

The paper is by various science folks, including our old Starwood chum Stanley Krippner, certainly a Dean of Weirdo Studies by now.

There's just so much good stuff:

• "The term “severely dissociative” could be reframed as “intensively imaginative” when culture-bound beliefs and practices are taken into account."

• "From the perspective of modern neuroscience, all behaviors and experiences have typically been related to the dynamic matrix of chemical and electromagnetic events within the human brain. However, resuming a rigorous, open-minded and comprehensive investigation of trance and mediumship may provide important evidence and many insights capable of advancing an alternative understanding of mind-brain relationships."

• Eight good reasons why brain research need not lead to materialist conclusions about mind.

Usually these Coolest Thing posts are funnier than this, but this is cool.