Many Gods West : Magic and Liberation in the PNW

Originally posted on my blog at Call of the Siren: It is rare for me to review an event and have almost nothing critical to say, but that is what my experience at Many Gods West was. As an introvert with a solid dash of shyness, conferences can be challenging for me. But MGW felt safe and welcoming. The experience for me was as if the entire event was in dropped and open awareness, a grounded openess that is hard to achieve at conferences.

The Conference

The conference started for me with Morpheus Ravenna’s keynote address, which was a brilliant piece of theology and put words to my experiences and thoughts in a way that I had been unable to do myself. It was a wonderful affirmation to start the conference, and any doubts about being in the right place dissipated. Her address is posted at the link above, so I will abstain from any personal commentary for now and let you read it yourself.

I then attended Rhyd Wildermuth’s discussion on Gods, Authority, and Creation of Meaning. Rhyd frequently says the things that people don’t want to hear, and this was no exception. Reclaiming the power to create and own meaning is one of the core aspects of my polytheism. No one can dictate meaning to me, they can not speak to my experiences as if they are their own, they can not validate or invalidate who I am or what I do. That is my (our) power, and reclaiming it is essential to rediscovering enchantment and breathing mystery back into the world.

On Satyrday I had intended to start with Brandy William’s presentation on Women Magicians and though I was disappointed with the cancellation, it worked out to give me a much needed slow morning and pleasant breakfast at the New Moon Cafe, a worker-owned cooperative cafe. Seriously, how cool is that?!

Olympia seems to be an awesome city. Within blocks of the hotel there was three Pagan shops, three local bookstores, several cafes, multiple places to eat with groovy folks who have no problem showing up as who they are in the world, and most importantly several parks and natural areas. It was the perfect location for the first West Coast Polytheist conference.

L Phaedrus‘ talk on anonymous spirits and what to do when a spirit is refusing to tell you who they are was very interesting. I attended it because it was something I hadn’t heard a lot about, though I have experienced the phenomenon. It helped alleviate feelings that I must be doing something wrong, and gave me some additional tools to use. I’ll be digesting that one for a while.

Occupy Your Heart with Langston Kahn was a beautiful discussion. I felt in Langston a powerful worker and shaman who truly showed up for the people in the room. I left feeling my heart open wider to the people and experience of Many Gods West.

There were many ritual offerings at the conference, and I was especially looking forward to the Devotional to Cathubodua. Coru Cathubodua seems to have a certain following within Polytheists, and I was curious about their work. I’ve also long felt the teasing presence of a Raven Battle Goddess, and for the weeks leading up to MGW my dreams had been increasingly active with Her presence. I entered the ritual without any expectation of what would happen but knowing that I needed to be there. And there, She was. It was an incredibly powerful experience and though I did not feel called to receive Her mark, I do know that my work with Her is just beginning.

Following a delightful dinner with old/new friends, I was planning on attending John Beckett’s talk on infrastructure within polytheism. I was looking forward to it as I’ve been involved with creating infrastructure for quite some time and co-founded the Mother Grove Temple in North Carolina. But surprisingly, as folks were gathering in the halls I felt that distinct pull towards the Dionysus ritual. I don’t play with the boy Gods, and so was resistant. After several minutes of arguing, I decided to attend the ritual instead. I am glad that I did – it was an hour and a half of ecstatic dance and free-flowing wine (of which I only imbibed a few respectful sips). Ariadne was also invoked so I danced for Her, with a tip of the hat to Her husband. I’m not sure it was uncouth for me to be there in that manner, but They didn’t seem to mind.

I only had a little energy left for the evening music event at Obsidian, but I love the way MGW organized this event. A variety of musical styles was presented in a location where everyone could gather – rather than having to choose between events. The feeling of community permeated the air, and though I left early to retire to my room I carried that sense with me.

Sunday morning I had to be up in time to get to Sean Donahue’s talk on Dead as Allies as Resistance. Personally I think Sean is one of the most brilliant, beautiful, yet humble thinkers in Polytheism. I had goosebumps of recognition and resonance during his entire presentation. Whether you call it the thinning of the veil or the rattling at the gates, it is obvious that the Dead want to be heard and those who are taken from this world before their time are angry and confused and need to be witnessed. This has long been a part of my work, and I am excited to hear about others doing the same. Can we have more discussion about this please??  Yes.

Anomalous Thracian is another one that I had only known as a “personality”, but his discussion on Regional Cultus was both entertaining and brilliant. To be honest, I’ve forgotten many of the details but the overall impression has remained with me as one more piece to the overall experience of affirmation and inspiration that was Many Gods West.

For lunch on Sunday I coordinated a meet n greet with other writers for Gods&Radicals, and it was a highlight of the weekend to spend some time with the amazing people who were there, just chatting and joking and getting to know one another better. By this time I was personally feeling more comfortable and less introverted, and I wish we had had an entire weekend together!

I did not know Annar Niino at all, but as the Dead are such an important part of my work I had to attend her presentation on Feri and the Mighty Dead. The audience was a bit low energy by this time on Sunday, but the anecdotes she told were hilarious (Victor Anderson grating the ass of god?! Ha!) and the reminder of sensory memory and connection to our ancestors was very relevant.

The final ritual I attended on Sunday was for The Matronae, and it was the most powerful, meaningful ritual of the weekend. I will likely never be able to give words to the experience, but the call I felt was unmistakable and was something I had not felt since receiving and devoting to my primary goddess. So She/They and I are getting to know one another and will have much work to do.

Many Gods West was the kind of conference that I wish we had more of. Regional, focused, community based with a high caliber of speakers, ritualists, and discussion, without any of the arguing and ego massaging that happens in other places. The arguments that seem to happening on the internet now? None of that was present at the conference, to my knowledge. There was a sense of hospitality and respect that can be achieved when we approach each other from a place of community-building. I will be carrying that feeling and memory with me for a very long time – until (hopefully!) the next Many Gods conference.

Afterthoughts

On the Grand Stage of Paganism, I’m pretty much a nobody, an unknown. And I’m good with that. We talk of developing regional cultus, and that applies to our work with each other as well. I don’t want to be A Leader, but I am comfortable leading and working with people on the level of close community, and have continued to do so quietly for over 15 years.
Even as a “nobody,” I have always felt exceptionally welcomed in Polytheist spaces. No one has ever asked me for my credentials, or asked for empirical explanations of my experiences, or asked me to discuss the nature of my relationship with the Divines beyond friendly curiosity and note-comparing. Which isn’t to say that it doesn’t happen, but for me it has happened far more often outside of Polytheist spaces than it has within.

As a polytheist that finds meaning in diversity of experiences and ways of being in the world, I have a very hard time accepting that any way is the one and only way. Even when it comes to our atheist or humanist friends, I have to acknowledge that they came to their ideas through a path uniquely their own. The Matronae reminded me that these paths can be woven together into a web of support and connection, but that there is also nothing wrong with cutting off a strand that does not belong. I do not have to forsake community for individuality and I do not have to allow individuality to poison community.

For me, being in self-defined space is an important part of my work. We have definitions and meaning thrust upon us from the outside all the time. I seek to reclaim that power and to say for myself who or what I am and what spaces I seek. Doing so does not have to cut me off from the rest of community – these are just the threads I weave. In celebrating the multitude and the myriad, we can also acknowledge our differences, celebrate them, and respect our need to be with others who identify the way that we do, without building walls and separating webs. This is a part of building healthy, thriving communities. We still have a lot of work to do towards that end, and it is very clear that that work needs to be done now. Many Gods West was an important thread in that work, which will reverberate through the web for a long time to come.

*h/t to Niki Whiting for a comment she made from which I drew the subtitle of this article

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