Archives For Axé Orixá: Dreaming Awake the Gods & Goddesses of Brazil

[This tribute to the life of Layne Redmond was written by academic, activist, and performance artist, Wendy Griffin. Wendy Griffin is the Academic Dean at Cherry Hill Seminary and Professor Emerita from California State University in Long Beach. She and Layne have been friends since the early 90s.]

Layne Redmond, author, mythologist, teacher, historian and drummer par excellence, passed over early Monday morning on October 28, after fighting breast cancer for several years.

Layne Redmond 1952 - 2013

Layne Redmond 1952 – 2013

Born in 1952, Layne lived her early life in Florida, graduating from the University of Florida and doing Master’s work in art. A move to New York put her in touch with well-known drummer Glen Valez, who promised to teach her how to play the hour-glass drum known as the dumbek. The Fates intervened, however, for when Layne arrived for her first class, Glen told her his ceramic dumbek had fallen and broken. He handed Layne a frame drum and, in a very real sense, Layne never put the frame drum down.

As she grew more proficient as a frame drummer, she began to teach other women and formed performance groups that did drumming rituals on the solstices and equinoxes. Traditional holidays were reimaged, as Valentine’s Day became a ritual dedicated to Innana and Demuzi and reenactments were done of the procession of women drummers on the walls of Hathor’s temple in Egypt.

During her 15 year research on the drum, Layne discovered a large number of ancient images of women playing the frame drum from the Mediterranean and almost no images of men and the drum. Incensed by one museum’s description of these drummers as women with cakes, Layne began writing “When the Drummers Were Women,” the book that explored the little-known history of the frame drum as a sacred tool, the fact that the primary percussionists for a period of almost 3000 years in the Mediterranean were women, and the reasons why that changed and the information was lost.

The book was immensely popular and translated into German, Dutch and Persian. Layne collected thousands of images, and in the majority, the drummers were Goddesses or their priestesses. The many images and histories of women with powerful spiritual authority and the use of the drum as a sacred instrument resonated strongly in the contemporary Pagan and Goddess communities. Some women’s groups began to incorporate the frame drum into their sabbat rituals.

In 2000, DRUM! Magazine listed Layne as one of the 53 Heavyweight Drummers Who Made A Difference in the ’90s. She was the only woman on the list, as well as the first woman to have a Signature Series of drums with Remo, one of the world’s largest manufacturers of drums. Layne recorded, taught and performed internationally. Among the many things for which she will be remembered is returning the frame drum to Malta, and the group of women she taught there still performs spiritual rituals.

While performing at the UFBA Percussion Festival in Salvador, Brazil, Layne became fascinated by the spiritual tradition of Candomble. She spent the last few years filming the living presence of the Orixas in modern Brazilian culture.

When her breast cancer returned this year, Layne faced it with fierce courage, deciding to live her life fully until the very last moment. A few months ago, she began to turn her film on the Orixas into short videos she could post on Youtube. She wanted to make sure those who contributed to her filming on Kickstarter would see the results of their generosity. When she went into hospice, she told friends that she was only alive to finish that work.

Thirteen days before the very end, a friend helped Layne slip out of hospice in North Carolina and go to her 43rd high school reunion. From there she went to Manatee Springs, a place from her childhood. “Really,” she wrote on FaceBook the day of her last visit, “I was raised in the womb of Oxun.”

And now Layne Redmond, High Priestess of the Drum, has returned to Her. We are impoverished by her loss but immensely enriched by her life.

Pagan Community Notes is a series focused on news originating from within the Pagan community. Reinforcing the idea that what happens to and within our organizations, groups, and events is news, and news-worthy. My hope is that more individuals, especially those working within Pagan organizations, get into the habit of sharing their news with the world. So let’s get started!

Pagan Living TV Launches: Pagan Living TV, a non-profit media organization that seeks to create a world “where Pagan spirituality and philosophy is an influential voice in mainstream culture,” has launched their weekly video news program “The Pagan Voice.”

“Pagan Living TV is a charitable non-profit organization that produces a weekly news program that discusses the issues of today from a Pagan perspective.  This is the first professionally produced broadcast program that is produced in a multi-camera television studio, and is distributed on both the internet and on local cable channels in some major cities.”

As you can tell from watching the video, the production values are considerably higher than previous Pagan video-news efforts (no insult to those worthy efforts, merely an observation) showcasing Pagan Living TV’s ambition in raising the bar. As Pagan scholar Chas Clifton notes: “Although it’s still just talking heads in the studio at this point. At least there is a studio, not a sheet tacked to the wall.” I’ll be watching the growth of Pagan Living TV, The Pagan Voice, and future shows with interest.

Pagan Involvement With ‘Idle No More’: Last month I posed the question of whether modern Pagans should involve themselves with the growing indigenous/Native activist movement known as Idle No More. Since then, some high-profile figures within modern Paganism have visited the camp where where Chief Theresa Spence, of the Attawapiskat First Nation, is holding a hunger strike, or gotten involved with Idle No More actions. First, Pagan philosopher Brendan Myers, who lives near Victoria Island in Canada visits Chief Theresa Spence’s camp and share’s his observations.

Chief Theresa Spence's Camp

Chief Theresa Spence’s Camp

“Of all the many social groups which comprise Canada’s social fabric, the First Nations, the Metis and the Inuit have a special place in our identity.They gave to “us”, the visitors on this land and their descendants, a gift so precious and so valuable it’s likely that nothing we could give them in return could possibly compensate them. That gift was the land on which this country was built. Without one or two other ethnic groups in our history, we would have a different country, for better or worse; without the First Nations, we would have no country at all. Therefore, Canada has special responsibility, it seems to me, partly arising from the various treaties which the Crown signed with the First Nations, but also arising from the ‘economy of honour’ that surrounds gifts of that magnitude. Canada’s moral obligation, at minimum, to ensure that the living standards of First Nations people are at least as good as that of the average middle-class non-native Canadian person – and that’s not impossible, and that’s perhaps only the least of what Canada should do.”

In addition to Brendan Myer’s impressions, Shelley TSivia Rabinovitch, co-author of “An’ Ye Harm None: Magical Morality And Modern Ethics,” and co-editor of the “Encyclopedia Of Modern Witchcraft And Neo-Paganism,” has also been visiting Chief Spence’s camp and attending Idle No More actions urging Pagan solidarity with this movement: “I feel wonderful. And I will do it again. And again. AND UNTIL STEPHEN HARPER HEARS that he cannot sell out this country.” Also of note, author and teacher T. Thorn Coyle attended an Idle No More solidarity action in Oakland, California and shares her thoughts:

“On Saturday, I joined a couple hundred people in solidarity with Idle No More. Chief Theresa Spence has been on hunger strike for more than 25 days now, challenging the Prime Minister of Canada to a meeting regarding the sanctity of the earth and indigenous sovereignty. Idle No More is standing up – singing, drumming, dancing, and blockading – for the rights of free waterways, and land unpolluted by dangerous fracking. I want to support this challenge, this attempt to afflict the closely held privilege of the short sighted governments and corporations that are only seeing the immediate need for profit or even more insidious: an upholding of a level of comfort that we’ve come to think of as a need. We don’t need to use as much fossil fuel or natural gas as we currently do. We could instead adjust our lives to use less, or more wisely. But most often we don’t, because we – as a society – like our comforts. Idle No More has the ability to challenge, not only the governments and corporations, but to challenge our own assumptions about what it is we need. They are doing the job of comforting the afflicted of the land and the people and creatures on the land, and afflicting the comfortable – the prime minister and those of us who want to consume all the things we are used to.”

For the latest updates on Idle No More, check out their website. I will continue to monitor Pagan responses to, and solidarity actions with, this movement.

In Other Community News:

That’s all I have for now, have a great day!

No matter what your belief system a whole lot of people are kicking off their holiday shopping today (or really, really, early this morning). Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday, all initiatives to get people to spend their money early, to trigger that flood of commerce that many businesses, both small and large, depend on to survive. However, I believe this is also a great time to think about how the money you spend now could be used to help build important projects within the larger interconnected Pagan community. Perhaps a donation made in honor of a local elder, teacher, or friend who is active in building and supporting Pagan infrastructure.

A bright and ongoing success story in the Pagan community has been the utilization of crowd-funding sites like IndieGoGo and Kickstarter to collectively raise funds for important projects.Starhawk raised over $75,000 dollars to help fund a pitch-reel in order get a feature film based on her book “The Fifth Sacred Thing” made. Peter Dybing helped raise $30,000 dollars for Doctors Without Borders in the wake of the 2011 Japan earthquake and tsunami. Pagan singer-songwriter SJ Tucker was amazed when a Kickstarter campaign for Tricky Pixie’s European tour more than doubled their initial goal in a matter of hours (and kept on growing). In addition, several smaller initiatives have managed to collectively raise thousands for Pagan projects: The readers of The Wild Hunt funded the proposed budget of this site for a year, Chicago-based Pagan/magical performance troupe Terra Mysterium raised funds for their new show “The Alembic,”and the Goddess community funded a documentary film in honor of Merlin Stone.

Crowdfunding sites allow an easy mechanism for fundraising in communities that may have social networks and organizations, but not the robust money-raising infrastructure of already-established mainstream institutions. This is a place modern Paganism is in today, and more and more of us are turning to these sites as a solution to our “money problem.” There are hundreds of thousands of Pagans out there, millions around the world, and they desire to see our projects and initiatives advance just as much as any other faith community. On this “Black Friday” I’d like to bring two fundraising initiatives that I think are worthy of your support, and might just be the perfect gift for the community-minded Pagan on your list.

New Alexandrian Library Raises Funds to Finish Construction: At the end of 2011 the New Alexandrian Library, a project that hopes to create “a library worthy of its namesake” focused on esoteric knowledge, mystical and the spiritual writings from many traditions, officially broke ground on their physical space in Delaware.  Then, the foundations for that library were poured for the dome structure that will be erected. This past Fall a successful IndieGoGo fundraiser was launched to pay for the next stage of construction. Now, the New Alexandrian Library has launched the second phase of their fundraising campaign, $10,500 dollars to pay for the next stage of construction. In a guest post during the last round of fundraising, Michael Smith, an Elder in the Assembly of the Sacred Wheel, explained why this initiative is so important.

“The primary aims of the Library are: 1) to secure the resources to ensure the Library is wholly owned and administered by Pagans and contributes to the real-asset community infrastructure; 2) provide ongoing stewardship for our communities’ work and essence; and 3) make the collected materials as convenient as possible for the community to access. Ultimately, the Library will be a resource to support new academic study and research to further develop our community for centuries to come.”

Many of us talk about Pagan infrastructure, but the New Alexandrian Library Project is doing Pagan infrastructure; you can actually see the results of your donations as the first dome rises.

The New Alexandrian Library Rises

The New Alexandrian Library Rises

This campaign runs through December 8th, and so far only 7 funders have donated. I think we can collectively do much, much better, especially for a project that will benefit so many of us. Further, all donations are tax deductible, so why not give your taxes a little gift along with building needed Pagan infrastructure?

A Documentary to Awaken the Gods and Goddesses of Brazil: The next project I’d like to endorse is by Layne Redmond, author of “When the Drummers Were Women: A Spiritual History of Rhythm,” who is producing a documentary entitled “Axé Orixá: Dreaming Awake the Gods & Goddesses of Brazil.”

“Axé Orixá (pronounced ashay orishah) is a film of the dance, drumming and chants of the Orixás (Afro-Brazilian gods and goddesses) and how they manifest today through some of Bahia’s greatest musicians and legendary dancers. The film unfolds through dreamlike sequences of music and dance featuring seven of the Orixás delicately linked through the artists’ explanation of their spiritual realities, and how the rituals live on in Brazilian culture today. Axé Orixá enables modern Bahian artists to reimagine their traditions in a uniquely visionary form.”

The campaign has raised nearly $20,000 of its $30,500 goal, and has 23 days to go. A $35 dollar donation gets you (or someone you love) a copy of the completed documentary. In a recent letter to supporters, Redmond made it known that she’s been dealing with several rounds of breast cancer and its treatment, and that finishing this film has taken on a renewed sense of urgency because of this.

“Realizing the film meant something to people, I coudn’t wait to finish the project.  But then I found out I had breast cancer.  Everything came to a stand still as I went through the first surgery and recovery, and then it came back and I had the second surgery and then it came back again and I had to let go of the project.  The hardest thing about having a cancer diagnosis is that you lose your sense of a future, you give up your projects, and you don’t know how much longer you are going to live.  In reality we never know how long we are going to live and now that I’ve accepted that and prepared to die, a great weight has lifted from my mind.  And on top of it I haven’t died! :D 

In fact I feel great!  I started a weight training program in July, along with all my other health regimens and have just gotten stronger and stronger.   And then Daniel Sabio showed up, a young computational media student taking a gap year between undergrad and grad school who loved the music I recorded for Axé Orixá and has put his incredible talents and energy behind helping this come into manifestation.”

I think that more documentaries on the African diasporic religions are needed, and one focused on dance and choreography within Candomblé can only help shed more (positive) light on a faith that is still largely unknown by many in the United States. So head over to the campaign page, and check it out!

These are just two great examples of how you could use your money this holiday season to support Pagan infrastructure. In addition, you could also donate to organizations that are doing good work, but may not be running an active campaign right now. Initiatives like Cherry Hill Seminary, who’ve made great strides towards becoming an accredited Pagan learning institution, the Adocentyn Research Library, or Solar Cross Temple. There are a variety of choices before you, some local, some national, some international, but all could use greater support from us. So this holiday season, think about the gifts that could reverberate for generations to come but building our religious and spiritual infrastructure.