Monthly Archives: February 2009

Attention, Pantheacon Shoppers!

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I’ve been home from PantheaCon since Monday evening, and I can still hear Thalassa’s voice over the vendor’s room microphone, cracking jokes and telling people to leave because the room is closing. Is this some weird sign of stress or lingering sleep deprivation? The answer is probably yes on both counts, considering that I only finished the post-con bookkeeping for Serpentine Music earlier this afternoon.

I only went to two scheduled events this year: a talk on evil by Sam Webster, and a talk on “divine embodiment” by Ivo Dominguez. Both were interesting and thought-provoking, and together were about as much as I could handle of the con festivities. Yet in spite of my severely curtailed conference schedule, I had more fun at the con this year than ever before.

It turns out that if you have a great idea for a badge ribbon, you really do need to create it. pcon09ribbonIn my case, it was the “Ask Me About My Feminist Rage” ribbon, in red ink on a bright pink piece of satin. I had several hundred made, and we gave away almost all of them. In the last hour of the con there were still people coming up to the booth begging us for a “feminist rage” ribbon.

Imagine if you will calling out to random people milling about the convention hallways and vending room, and asking them if they’d like a ribbon for their badge. These people ran the gamut of age, ethnicity, gender, and every other orientation. Then imagine the looks on their faces as they read the ribbon message! Now I wish I’d taken a poll of all the intriguing, entertaining responses we got.

My favorites were the women and men who laughed hysterically and took two—one for themselves and another for a friend who just had to have one. Some men looked confused or sheepish, saying that they didn’t want one but thought their wives or girlfriends would. Some women gently said that they were over their rage and were pretty comfortable with how things were going, and at least two said they wouldn’t take them because “it all looks like trash to me, and I won’t send another thing to the landfill.” Killjoys.

My response to nearly everybody was that you don’t have to identify as a feminist or be in touch with some sort of rage to wear a ribbon. The ribbon only invites people to ask you about your feminist rage, and whatever answer you have is a perfectly valid one to give. I even counseled one older single gentleman (among the confused and/or not enraged) that if some attractive woman were to ask him about his ribbon, and if he were to answer that he had no feminist rage but really liked strong women, that might be a decent pickup line. That was the first time I’ve ever seen him blush in the many years I’ve known him.

My daughters took special delight in handing them to all the young boys and girls looking for ribbons to add to their collection, and I made sure that every prominent Pagan I knew had one as well. The most notable encounter I had was with an instructor at the California Institute of Integral Studies (CIIS), who took a ribbon but said she wasn’t going to wear it, she was going to bring it to her class as a conversation starter. Apparently her Women’s Spirituality students feel no need for feminism or anger of any sort, a stance we both agreed was troubling.

In the end, it was deeply satisfying to bring the word “feminist” into the con in such a lighthearted way. We should be able to laugh at ourselves, and also admit our strengths, outrages and longings.

I already have a slogan picked out for next year’s special edition ribbon, a sentiment that I heard expressed by several others at the con so I know it’s not just me. It captures the state of mind you get into after attending several years of PantheaCon, when you know you’ll be back but realize that next year you may only get to one or two events in a weekend packed with presentations:

OVER IT—And Yet, Still Here.

And that about sums it up. Except for this hilarious little video of my great helpers Lyra and Jojo, rocking out in an ironic rendition of Wendy Rule‘s “Deity.” You do get punchy, sitting at the music booth listening to the same music all weekend.


Courageous Dreaming? Really?

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This book, Courageous Dreaming: How Shamans Dream the World Into Being, caught my eye a year ago in a local bookstore, so I requested a review copy from the publisher. Now, before I get into reviewing the book I need to say something about Hay House Publishers. courageousdreaming

I both admire and am horrified by Hay House. As a publicity and marketing machine, they are unparalleled. Their self-help authors can publish companion CDs, DVDs, card decks and calendars to complement book sales, and get virtually unlimited exposure on their internet radio station and Hay House-sponsored tours and events. I wish more mainstream publishers had the marketing zazz of Hay House.

On the other hand, there is everything else. Hay House has singlehandedly ruined the sky blue/lavender color scheme, for one. Almost all of their products and many of their authors’ websites are invested heavily in this look, which I guess is designed to evoke calm, timeless wisdom unsullied by earthly bodies or the misery of the unenlightened. Yet as a result of its overuse, I find myself automatically bracing for bad writing and dubious content as soon as I spot it.

Hay House is the baby of Louise Hay, famous for declaring that we create our own reality and then proceeding to defend her philosophy even in the face of the most egregious human circumstances. Mutilation and abuse? Yup, if we experienced it we created it. Poverty and starvation? Double yup.

What she lacks in ethics and discernment she makes up for in sheer chutzpah however, by declaring that Hay House is a significant contributor to planetary healing. As a result of all this, it is impossible for me to separate any book published by her from the fact that it was published by Hay House.

Alberto Villoldo was at one time a student and colleague of Stanley Krippner, a man whose research on dreams, shamanism and consciousness I greatly admire. Sadly, that association is not enough for me to give Villoldo’s book a glowing review. The author’s bio reveals that he left his clinical psych position at San Francisco State to pursue an apprenticeship with Amazonian healers. One wishes that he had not left quite so much behind when he set out on his quest.

Villoldo’s prose is ponderous, and the points he makes are riddled with flaws. (Chapter Five begins with this gem: “As a species, we humans are very intrepid.” Medic!) Basically he presents a story of how we as individuals and a culture have fallen from grace, how we are suckling at the teat of an empty materialistic dream, and how our only chance of survival is to awaken to the wisdom of what he calls the “Earthkeepers.”

He never gets specific about exactly who the Earthkeepers are, but he seems to refer mostly to the Inca shamans he has developed relationships with, and to whom he regularly goes on expeditions with students and fellow seekers. Yet at different times he also lumps Amazonian shamans, sub-Saharan African medicine men, Taoist sages, and ancient Greek philosophers into this same group of Earthkeepers. Keeping up with all his rhetorical sleight-of-hand made this reader cranky.

Fortunately for us, we need not wonder about the specifics of who the Earthkeepers are, because Villoldo is here to translate their messages for us. Hence blanket statements like Chapter Nine’s opener: “The Earthkeepers believe that to live fully and dream courageously, we must wake up each morning and live this day as if it were our last.”

For all its hype the book has some ideas that may help some people. It is ironic, though, that underneath its shamanic trappings the meat of the book is comprised of fairly standard psychological ideas and re-treads of The Four Agreements. Villoldo gives us the Earthkeepers’ four types of courage: Jaguar, Hummingbird, Serpent and Eagle. These correspond to the mind, the soul, the actions, and the spirit. He also seems to say that they each affect a different building-block of human DNA, though I will spare you a thorough review of all his specious scientific references.

Never mind that he constantly makes sweeping generalizations to bolster his case. In the end, his message is simply that we need to be courageous enough to follow our dreams and hold fast even when obstacles are thrown in our path. He advises us to be creative, reject perfectionism, reject grandiosity, study our dream symbols, be mindful and truthful, live in integrity, remember to laugh, forgive and forget, and be grateful. I’ll bet the Earthkeepers agree.

Poetry for St. Brigid’s Day

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Has it really been four years now that we have been doing a virtual poetry reading for Brigid? Apparently so. Here is one then, in honor also of the great Hermes:



O Egypt, Egypt—so the great lament
Of thrice-great Hermes went—
Nothing of thy religion shall remain
Save fables, which thy children shall disdain.

His grieving eye foresaw
The world’s bright fabric overthrown
Which married star to stone
And charged all things with awe.

And what, in that dismantled world, could be
More fabulous than he?
Had he existed? Was he but a name
Tacked on to forgeries which pressed the claim
Of every ancient quack—
That one could from a smoky cell
By talisman or spell
Coerce the Zodiac?

Still, still we summon him at midnight hour
To Milton’s pensive tower,
And hear him tell again how, then and now,
Creation is a house of mirrors, how
Each herb that sips the dew
Dazzles the eye with many small
Reflections of the All—
Which, after all, is true.

—Richard Wilbur