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Column: Pantheacon 2016

Heathen Chinese —  February 20, 2016 — 5 Comments

Pantheacon is an annual “conference for Pagans, Heathens, Indigenous Non-European and many of diverse beliefs,” which is held on the unceded land of Tamien Ohlone-speaking peoples in the city of San Jose, California. Pantheacon 2016 took place from February 12-15.

CA-map+ohlone-territory

[Courtesy Kanyon Sayers-Roods]

The inherent contradiction of a conference billing itself as being at least partially for “Indigenous Non-European” people while taking place on Indigenous Non-European land was highlighted and addressed by several events scheduled on Sunday February 14.

At 9 a.m., a panel was held on “Indigenous Experiences Inside and Outside the Pagan Community.” The panelists who spoke were Gregg Castro [t’rowt’raahl Salinan/rumsien Ohlone], Jacki Chuculate, Kanyon Sayers-Roods (Hahashkani-Coyote Woman) [Costanoan Ohlone and Chumash], Ryan Ts’ítskw Kozisek [Tlingit and white] and Michaela Spangenburg [multiracial Huron-Wendat].

The 9 a.m. panel was immediately followed by at 11 a.m. by “Native/Pagan Community Dialogue,” at which Ann-Marie Sayers (Mutsun Ohlone), caretaker of Indian Canyon, the only sovereign native lands in central-coastal California, and Director of Costanoan Indian Research, spoke. At 3 p.m., Ann Marie Sayers’s daughter, Kanyon Sayers-Roods, who had already spoken on the 9 a.m. panel, presented on “Finding Balance with Coyote Trickster Medicine.” Kanyon spoke eloquently on being taught the lesson of humility by and through trickster medicine to a packed room, and fielded many questions from the audience.

I have offered space within this column for the speakers from the “Indigenous Experiences Inside and Outside the Pagan Community” panel to write or otherwise publish whatever they wish, if they wish, with no edits or omissions. The time constraint of publishing within a week of Pantheacon has made that difficult, but the offer is continuous and open-ended with regards to future columns.

Kanyon Sayers-Roods recounted her experiences at Pantheacon in a short video which is too large to be uploaded directly, but which can be viewed here.

The questions I had asked, to which she was responding, were as follows:

My main question would be along the lines of: insofar as you feel comfortable sharing, do you feel like the Sunday 9 a.m. panel on “Indigenous Experiences Inside and Outside the Pagan Community” and your Sunday 3 p.m. presentation served your own goals well? How about the other things you attended that day?

To provide some context for the phrasing of this question, I think native-settler conversations (as the Sunday 11 a.m. “Native/Pagan Community Dialogue” was billed, for example) often have an element where settlers are still trying to “take” something from the conversation, even (or perhaps especially) when settlers are trying to be seen as “good allies.” But of course, you (both as individuals and as members of your communities and lineages) have your own reasons for engaging in such conversations, and for sharing your perspectives as you did. I really appreciated the 9 a.m. panel, and I recall that several speakers said that they really didn’t want the visibility of being on it but chose to do so anyway because it aligned with other work they were doing.

Anything that fell short of or exceeded what you were hoping to accomplish? Do you feel you and your ancestors were shown proper respect, or were there moments that you felt tokenized or otherwise disrespected? Any thoughts on how any of your experiences this weekend might influence anything you do in the future? And of course, let’s leave room in this conversation for trickster medicine to have its due, however it may choose to manifest.

Kanyon also offered the following additional thoughts in response:

There are times that I’ve been in the community/public where the sensation and energy is I’ve already conditioned me to feeling like a token Indian, specially around late October and early November. I call those months, “Rent your token NATIVE month” (also with that being said I do enjoy it a lot because that is my most lucrative month, actually being valued for the knowledge I carry and perspective that I share for the work that I thoroughly do everyday of my life ) so because I’ve already been conditioned in that type of environment, I have learned how to shield myself and protect myself so I’m not sure if I can properly assess my feelings if I were to claim I felt tokenized or commodified when it was present at Pantheacon.

I did appreciate those who had the willingness to attempt to voice their perspective with respect and courtesy. One of the things I voiced during one of my panels, was [that] at any given point we are ignorant to any information and what is important is how we walk forward when that new information is brought into our life. Walking with humility, attempting to decolonize our projected actions (less entitlement and privilege and outward energies that lack acknowledgement of how ones actions and words affect those around them–as well as seven generations in the future).

I will say this: I had an amazing time. I enjoyed all of the perspectives and opportunities to share perspective and insight to my life and experiences. Also [to] observe other people in their own native environment (pun intended).

Hospitality: Guests, Hosts, Hosted Guests, Guesting Hosts

A microphone and time were reserved for indigenous attendees to speak at the end of the 9 a.m. panel on “Indigenous Experiences Inside and Outside the Pagan Community,” and several members of the audience did indeed speak movingly and powerfully. As the event description stated, “Indigenous individuals have long been contributors at Pantheacon, and to the community as a whole; yet are often rendered invisible in pagan spaces through pervasive stereotypes, appropriation, and lack of awareness.” The panel provided space for acknowledgement that indigenous people have been present at Pantheacon for many years, but that they just haven’t been seen. Minutes before the room was cleared to make space for the next event, however, the founder and organizer of Pantheacon, Glenn Turner, walked up to the microphone and spoke, despite not identifying as native.

Let’s take a step back here and consider the question of hospitality. In a theological context, Anomalous Thracian writes that “when welcoming gods and spirits into your home and shrines and life, you are welcoming them as sacred guests.” At the same time, however, once the gods are enshrined within a space, you area guest in Their space when you step inside.” In other words, even when “hosting” on one level, one is still a guest on both the smaller level and the larger:

When hosting the gods, it is important to also remember that we are guests in Their dominions, travelers through Their domains of influence, dallying upon the doorsteps of Their infinities. Act accordingly, as guest or host or hosted guest or guesting host. […]

The laws of hospitality are ancient and to a certain extent elastic enough to stretch into different contexts, but always it is about the relationship between being welcome and being welcomed, and in this day, as I sit at a borrowed table, I find that this is as near to the heart of polytheism that I can perceive of in this moment. [Emphasis in original]

By analogy back to the inter-human sphere, one might be the host of a conference, for example, but one is still a guest of the peoples whose land one it is on, and a guest within the spaces provided for those people. A respectful guest would follow the rules delineated within that space. As the Thracian writes, “It isn’t about being a perfect host (there is no such thing, for all guests have different expectations) nor is it about being a perfect guest (there is no such thing, for all hosts have different expectations).” Being aware and respectful of those expectations would be a good first step, however.

[Credit: Klaus D. Peter / Wikimedia]

Matronae Aufaniae Altar [Credit: Klaus D. Peter / Wikimedia]

War: “Allies” and Accomplices

At a 9 p.m. ritual on Sunday evening, the Matronae — “a collective of indigenous Germanic and Celtic goddesses who were worshiped syncretically in the Roman Empire” — spoke through oracular trance possession again, as They had done six months earlier at Many Gods West. They too spoke about the importance of knowing the land upon which one stands: “Some of you know…find this thread and strengthen it.” They spoke of the storm, much prophesied at rituals in the past: “The storm is not coming. It is here.” They spoke of the war in which we cannot fight alone.

This war, then, makes alliances necessary. But the word “ally” itself has been stripped of much of its meaning. The phrase that kept coming to my mind on Monday morning, especially as I reflected upon my own experiences at the Pagans of Color Caucus and at the Pagans of Color Hospitality Suite, was “accomplices not allies.” The author of the article of the same name offers some thoughts on the distinction between the two terms:

In the worst cases, “allies” themselves act paralyzed believing it’s their duty as a “good ally.” There is a difference between acting for others, with others, and for one’s own interests, be explicit. You wouldn’t find an accomplice resigning their agency, or capabilities as an act of “support.” […]

Don’t wait around for anyone to proclaim you to be an accomplice, you certainly cannot proclaim it yourself. You just are or you are not. The lines of oppression are already drawn. Direct action is really the best and may be the only way to learn what it is to be an accomplice. We’re in a fight, so be ready for confrontation and consequence. [Emphasis in original]

“The lines of oppression are already drawn,” and “the storm is not coming, it is here.” For my part, I am looking for people who are already fighting, who remember that they know how to fight, and who exercise that memory. People who are fighting and living with a dignity and ferocity of spirit that can be recognized by any who share it. People whose ancestors are strong, whose ancestors walk close to them, whose ancestors are armed and fighting on their behalf. That’s why I go to events like Pantheacon. That’s why I write.

Dionysus said it this way once: “Under certain circumstances I love what is human”–and with this he alluded to Ariadne who was present–”man is to my mind an agreeable, courageous, inventive animal that has no equal on earth; it finds its way in any labyrinth. I am well disposed towards him: I often reflect how I might yet advance him and make him stronger, more evil, and more profound than he is.”

“Stronger, more evil, and more profound?” I asked startled.

“Yes,” he said once more; “stronger, more evil, and more profound; also more beautiful”–and at that the tempter god smiled with his halcyon smile as though he had just paid an enchanting compliment.

— Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil