Archives For Terra Mysterium

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!

open_halls_squareThe Open Halls Project, an organization serving military Heathens, has announced a letter writing campaign to urge the U.S. Army and Department of Defense to expedite allowing Heathens to choose “Asatru” or “Heathen” as their religious preference (which they currently can not do). Quote: “We’ve already processed this request twice, with the support of the Asatru Alliance and the Troth. That was over two years ago now and we are being told we will have to wait even longer. The OHP would like to initiate a letter writing campaign to our legislators, in the hopes that putting congressional pressure on the Department of the Army and the Department of Defense will have some positive effect. We specifically are calling on those who live in a district run by a member of either the House Armed Services Committee or the Senate Armed Services Committee. These are the folks that can really bring some political muscle to bear for us!” You can download and edit a sample letter, here. With the recent publicity over the approval of the Thor’s Hammer for veteran grave markers and headstones, now seems like opportune time to press this issue forward.

AREN_ACTIONThe Lammas edition of ACTION (plain text version), the official newsletter of the Alternative Religions Education Network (AREN), has been released. This edition has a special focus on Pagans in South Africa, and according to editor Christopher Blackwell “deals with the development in the community from coming out until today.” Interviewees include Dr. Dale Wallace, who wrote her doctoral thesis on South African Pagans, Damon Leff, director of the South African Pagan Rights Alliance (SAPRA), Donna “Darkwolf” Vos, founder of Circle of The African Moon, and more. This is a rare, in-depth look at Paganism in South Africa, and these interviews deserve to be read widely. Here is a quote from Dr. Dale Wallace’s interview: “Far more than Paganism per se, it is the witchcraft issue that affects almost all religions in South Africa with many divisions arising over differences of opinion, experience and interpretation. Where these become really important is in finding some consensus over a definition of the terms in light of the repeal or replacement of current legislation, and also the very real possibility of this not being adequately addressed. Different outcomes will have some serious consequences for many communities.” In addition to the section on South African Paganism, this issue of ACTION also features an interview with Taliesin Govannon, director of “Dark of Moon.”

terra mysteriumThe Chicago-based performance troupe Terra Mysterium, who create “experiential works of music, theatre, and performance art that are rooted in the Earth mysteries,” has launched a new IndieGoGo campaign to fund their 2013 season. Quote: “This year we are looking to add even more exciting elements to two wonderful new productions – a full-length play that will feature animations and light mapping, as well as a touring production – and, as a stretch goal, two more music videos. In addition to these artistic projects we will incorporate this year as a non-profit theatre company with the intent to achieve a 501 (c)(3) status in the near future. Both these actions will help to make Terra Mysterium a sustainable troupe.” Terra Mysterium is trying to raise $6,500 in 30 days, and have raised nearly $2000 dollars so far. You can see samples of Terra Mysterium’s work at their official Youtube channel. I’ve embedded their official 2013 fundraiser pitch video below. You may also want to check out Terra Mysterium’s official Facebook page for further updates.

In Other Pagan Community News:

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

I arrive in Chicago, now, as an outsider. Though I have lived near Chicago in the past, I’ve become a true transplant to the Pacific Northwest and find myself newly awed by the scale of this city. The buildings, the public art, and even the convention center are massive, sprawling, and alive.  Before I attend any session at the American Academy of Religion’s Annual Meeting, I’m able to make it to the end of a day-long pre-conference event on Friday entitled “Mapping the Occult City: Magick & Esotericism in the Urban Utopia.” Co-sponsored by DePaul University and Phoenix Rising Academy.

During a roundtable discussion on the “psychic city” featuring several local Chicago Pagan and occult leaders, including Angie Buchanan of Gaia’s Womb, one of the current owners of The Occult Bookstore, and a representative of the local OTO Lodge. It was clear that Chicago has a very distinct character, one that defies easy categorization, and one very much tied to the unique landscape of this metropolis. It’s a place where syncretism, religious cross-pollination, and a respect for the deep roots placed here generations ago.

psychic city chicago panel

Roundtable: Re-examining Psychic City.

As fascinating as that discussion was, the real highlight of that evening was a special performance from Terra Mysterium, a local collective of actors, singers, musicians, poets, and magicians, who weave theatre and the esoteric arts in a way that’s captivating, and deliriously enjoyable. Truly you haven’t lived until you’ve seen a banish-off between an un-orthodox Witch and a group of ritual magicians doing the lesser banishing ritual of the pentagram (in song)! An extra bonus was seeing Pagan chaplain and activist Patrick McCollum, who’s going to be on a panel discussing the Pew Forum’s prison chaplaincy survey.

terra mysterium patrick

Matthew Ellenwood, Patrick McCollum, and Keith Green after the Terra Mysterium performance.

After that enriching evening, it was time to start the AAR Annual Meeting proper, and the Pagan Studies programming track began bright and early with “Contemporary Pagan Theology and Praxology.” This panel, which featured papers from Michael York, author of “Pagan Theology,”  along with Christopher Chase, Michelle Mueller, and Morgan Davis, mirrored conversations that have been happening with increasing regularity in the Pagan community. The tensions between practice and theology, between community and individuality, and what the best lens is to view these issues. It shows how Pagan scholarship isn’t disconnected from what concerns us, but is instead deeply interconnected. Their work helps us move forward.

Contemporary Pagan Theology and Praxology panel.

Contemporary Pagan Theology and Praxology panel.

Tomorrow I’ll recount the experiences and interactions I had on Sunday and Monday, and talk more about how what happens in the academy not only mirrors our experience as Pagans, but informs and shapes it as well.

I’d like to thank everyone who contributed to the campaign to send me to AAR, including the underwriters who joined us during that time: A Modern Druid, Assembly of the Sacred Wheel, Brotherhood of the Phoenix, Egregores, Ix Chel Wellness, Mill Creek Seminary, Solar Cross Temple, Stone City Pagan Sanctuary, Teo Bishop, The Summerlands, Urania’s Well, and Wiccanwoman. Thank you. You make this possible.

There are lots of articles and essays of interest to modern Pagans out there, sometimes more than I can write about in-depth in any given week. So The Wild Hunt must unleash the hounds in order to round them all up.

The Maetreum of Cybele's building.

The Maetreum of Cybele’s building.

That’s it for now! Happy Friday! Feel free to discuss any of these links in the comments, some of these I may expand into longer posts as needed.

Pagan Community Notes is a companion to my usual Pagan News of Note, a new series more focused on news originating from within the Pagan community. I want to reinforce 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 lets get started!

The Bonewits Papers: On their official Facebook page, Isaac and Phaedra Bonewits have announced that Isaac’s personal papers will be donated to the American Religions Collection at the library at University of California, Santa Barbara.

“It’s been a rough week, but we’d like to share one piece of good news. Isaac’s personal papers will be going to the American Religions Collection at the library at University of California, Santa Barbara. So all you researchers will be able to rummage through his stuff :-)”

Bonewits has been, and continues to be, an influential author, ritualist, theologian and thinker within modern Paganism. It is heartening to know that as he continues to struggle with cancer, his rich legacy will live on for future generations to benefit from. For those who’d like to support Isaac and Phaedra during this trial, you can still donate to offset their mounting medical bills.

Pagan Pacifists Speak: A month ago I announced a new initiative, the Voices of Pagan Pacifism project, and now their first issue of interviews, essays and articles has been released.

“Part monthly newsletter, part educational archive, part resource directory, the VoPP project hopes to further the causes of peace, nonviolence, social justice, ecological balance and creative living. By providing a forum for conversation and connection, VoPP seeks to dispel misconceptions about the philosophy of pacifism and the spiritual traditions of modern Paganism. To encourage Pagans and non-Pagans, pacifists and non-pacifists alike in pursuing the challenging work of confronting and engaging authentically with that place in all of our lives where the political meets the spiritual, and both are transformed.”

Contributions include an interview with Dana Rose, an article on pacifism in ancient Greece by Jeff Lilly, a meditation from Alison Shaffer, and more. This looks like a strong start to the project, and I look forward to many more issues in the future.

Exploring Pagan Theology: The Pagan Portal at Patheos has posted three new essays exploring Pagan (poly)theology from different angles. First, portal manager Star Foster looks at the challenges of discussing and exploring theology in a pluralistic (and polytheistic) manner. Then, Alison Shaffer examines the problems of relating to the gods through an American capitalist framework. Finally, P. Sufenas Virius Lupus (boy that name sounds familiar) discusses syncretism, Process Theology, and “polyamorotheism”.

“The insurmountable divide that people put between humans and gods in terms of our ability to understand them (e.g., “the Gods’ ways are not our ways” — a passage here paraphrased from the Hebrew Bible!), and of our abilities to communicate and negotiate with them, therefore, is not necessarily in operation. The gods may have a great deal more power, or knowledge, or freedom due to their position and their conditions of existence, but if they cannot be understood, communicated with, or related to, then the entire enterprise of religion and spirituality is useless entirely.”

All are well worth the reading, and should provide some food for thought (and discussion). Kudos to Star Foster and Patheos.com for working to bring us quality Pagan content at this multi-faith religion site.

AREN’s Action: The latest issue of the Alternative Religions Education Network’s (AREN) newsletter, ACTION, is now out, and features a wealth of interesting interviews. This includes Selena Fox, Brian Ewing of the Pagan Pride Project, and Cathryn Platine of the Maetreum of Cybele.

“Throughout this mess the “reasons” for denial have been almost impossible to pin down. Apparently the Town attorney is under the mistaken impression that I am the religion and my not living on the property for a short time is significant. He also has argued in his legal opinion that the fact we have always done charitable work, even before formal incorporation, housing women in need is some sort of proof of not being an exclusive religious property which is absurd given that the New York tax law covering mandated exempt classes is quite clear that charitable work, education and other activities are all equal and any two or more activities on the property are still in the mandated exempt class.”

Christopher Blackwell at ACTION is like a Pagan interviewing machine! Seriously, his efforts really do deserve more attention, and I hope that the ACTION archives can be saved for posterity since they provide such a fascinating snapshot of modern Paganism in the last decade.

Finding Eleusis at Fringe: The Chicago-based Pagan/magical performance troupe Terra Mysterium will be performing their new Fall show “Finding Eleusis”, an urban and modern take on the Eleusianian Mysteries, at the Chicago Fringe Festival September 1-5th. Here’s a clip from their previous show, “Professor Marius Mandragore’s Salon Symposium regarding Spirits, Spells, and Eldritch Craft”.

If you’re going to be in the Chicago area, you can buy tickets for the performances now. I wish I could afford to jet-set to the Midwest and catch this show!

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

Thank you to Jason, and to my fellow Wild Hunt readers, for allowing me to share my thoughts with you today.

Which came first, ritual or theatre?  Most history of theatre curriculums taught at Universities across the Western world impress upon their students the theory that theatre came from ritual.  In the Journal of Religion and Theatre, Dr Eli Rozik deconstructs this theory, and refutes the work of cultural anthropologist Victor Turner, and performance studies professor Richard Schechner.  As contemporary Pagans, we too have recently reconsidered our history through the work of scholars such as Dr.  Ronald Hutton, and are challenged to replace a mythological awareness of our origins with more factual considerations.

Though I find the above arguments fascinating on many levels, as a clergyman and artistic director I am most interested in how ritual and theatre intersect in contemporary society, and within contemporary Paganism in particular.  Pagans practice ritual in private and in public.  We offer solitary devotions to our gods, and large scale community rituals at Sabbats and festivals.  Our religious community is a treasure trove of inspiration, color, pageantry, and transformational power.  What is it about ritual that captures our collective imagination?  In Dr.  Sabina Magliocco’s excellent article “Ritual is My Chosen Art Form:  The Creation of Ritual as Folk Art Among Contemporary Pagans” (published in Magical Religion and Modern Witchcraft, edited by James R. Lewis, pp. 93-119. Albany: State University of New York Press), Magliocco details the many reasons Pagans create and perform ritual.  She also cites the various sources for ritual creation including academia, folklore, mass media, popular culture and popular psychology, as well as interaction with other Pagans and our own internal inspirations.  She also mentions the tripartite ritual structure of the French ethnographer and folklorist Arnold van Gennep: 1)  the separation from the current state of awareness, 2)  the transition to a middle, distinctly different state of awareness,  and 3) the incorporation and integration of the middle state with a return to the world at large.  This three-fold structure was elaborated upon by Victor Turner in his articulation of a key concept called liminality.  I direct readers to the Limininality.org blog for a well-crafted explanation of Turner’s liminal/liminoid theme.

Why is this tripartite structure important, and how does it relate to theatre and to life?  As Pagans we seek that key moment of transcendence, magic, connection, and transformation that comes from truly effective ritual and magical practice.  There are those rare but amazing and mysterious moments where we feel linked to the ancient past, or as if we’ve entered into another world altogether.  We might even have a peak experience and feel profoundly connected to everything and everyone, where we can see the divine everywhere, and in all things.  These experiences help to create our personal worldview.  They inform our ethics and values, and they give us a reason for living.  We can also experience these profound states of consciousness from truly great theatre, film, and storytelling.  As with rituals, all stories have a beginning, a middle, and an end, but it is the central liminal/liminoid space which creates the transformational power found in both theatre and ritual.

In the theatre, the audience enters into a unique situation where they experience a story.  Actors guide the audience on a journey, which, if performed well, will allow the audience to resonate with the story.   For a time, the audience is asked to make a personal investment of imagination and emotion, which is embodied in the journey of the actors in the play, movie, or story.  The success of the experience weighs heavily upon the skills of the actors, and the ability of the audience to willingly invest in (and enter into) the world of the story.  If an actor forgets his or her lines, or isn’t truly invested in the other actors and the story, the audience will be separated from the liminal space either temporarily or for the duration of the story.  The same can be said for ritual.  How many times have you attended a ritual where the entire liturgy was simply read off of cue cards (or a loose leaf script), or else some blunder from the ritual team took you entirely out of the sacred nature of the experience?  Knowledge of both the theatrical and ritual art forms can inform and strengthen the other, without losing the integrity of either medium.

I have implemented these ideas in my work with my theatre company Terra Mysterium, and the Neopagan order Brotherhood of the Phoenix.  Part of Terra Mysterium Performance Troupe’s mission statement affirms the use of ritual structures, symbolism, and multi-disciplinary artistic mediums to transform, enliven, and entertain audiences.  We are aware of the natures of theatre and ritual as separate and distinct, yet we seek to allow each art form to inform the other for the creation of something rich, deep, and cathartic for the audience.  Our company’s name can be translated as “Land of Mystery,” which serves as a metaphor for the experience of theatre, magic, and even life itself.  In the Brotherhood of the Phoenix,  we have a celebrant training program which is required of all brothers who wish to perform our public liturgy.  The Chicago temple uses between 7-15 men as celebrants for each ritual.  It is as necessary to train these men in ritual theory and performance, as much as it to train them in the theatrical building blocks of ensemble creation (text analysis, diction and vocal projection, active listening, unison movement, improvisation, and anticipating the next part of liturgy); the ability to act as one cohesive unit.  To see how theatre is influencing Pagans and visa-versa, see Coreopsis: A Journal of Myth and Theatre.  The current issue is dedicated to Paganism.

The skill sets that both celebrants and actors must possess overlap more often than not.  In order to create a dynamic relationship between the ritual team and the circle of seekers, there must be a deep understanding of the ritual’s structure and its goals.  There must also be a profound awareness of the energies present in each moment, so that the ritual moves forward with grace and skill.  Likewise, actors must be aware of the entire arc of the story, their goals/desires as individual characters, and their own profound commitment to each and every moment.  This allows for spontaneous and genuine reactions to other characters, the set and props, and the circumstances of the story.  Both the ritual team and the actors must commit to letting go of fear, self-conscious judgment, and external distractions.  They must use all of their senses in a highly focused and purposeful way, and they must be fully present for the work at hand.    Anything less risks the loss of liminal space and, therefore, the loss of the potential for deep catharsis, transcendence, and transformation. See the work of Lauren Raine, and the MetaMorphic Ritual Theatre Company for further inspirations.

For the non-actor, or for those actors looking to explore the spiritual and metaphysical potentialities of the theatre, I recommend the following websites:  Peggy Rubin’s Sacred Theatre Rubin’s work explores the journey of life, and how to live a richer “story.”  Antero Alli and his paratheatrical research explores the transformational processes of theatre work, without the need to perform for anyone; the work itself the goal.  His ideas and techniques will bring creativity to an actor who feels stuck and stagnant.  They are also excellent for Pagans looking to explore ritual in a more ecstatic, improvisatory manner.

Last, I feel that Viewpoints training is essential for any group looking to deepen their awareness and cohesion during ritual and collaborative magical workings.  Although humans have always used the ideas and tools behind these concepts, Viewpoints as a technique of improvisation emerged from the post-modern dance world. It was first articulated by choreographer Mary Overlie who broke down the two dominant issues performers deal with – time and space – into six categories.  Overlie called her approach the Six Viewpoints.  Artistic Director Anne Bogart and SITI Company have expanded Overlie’s ideas and adapted them for actors.  Anne and Chicago Steppenwolf director Tina Landau co wrote The Viewpoints Book: A Practical Guide to Viewpoints and Composition. This text would benefit anyone interested in creating an ensemble of highly coordinated and intuitive celebrants, circle members, or actors.  Whether you perform public ritual or work in private as a small group, these Viewpoints exercises will create group awareness in a quick and skillful way.  The results are immediately tangible, and are as applicable to ritual and magical practice as they are to theatre.

Matthew Ellenwood is a music director, voice teacher, and the artistic director of Terra Mysterium Performance Troupe. Terra Mysterium will be presenting their third production, Finding Eleusis (a modern day exploration of the Eleusinian Mysteries), at the Chicago Fringe Festival September 1-5, 2010.  Matthew is also one of the founders of Brotherhood of the Phoenix a Neopagan order for gay, bisexual, and transgender men who love men, where he serves as the senior clergyman for the order, and as the senior mentor of the Brotherhood’s seminary training program.  The Brotherhood will be presenting the closing ritual for Chicago Pagan Pride on August 14, 2010.

Today at The Wild Hunt I’m featuring a guest-post from Ruby Sara.

Ruby Sara is the author of Pagan Godspell and the editor of the forthcoming collection Datura: An Anthology of Esoteric Poesis. She is also a member of the Chicago Pagan performance collective Terra Mysterium.

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Greetings, Pagani, from the wind-warm and lake-gorgeous streets of the urban Midwest!

I’m very excited to be guest blogging here at The Wild Hunt today – many thanks to Jason for the opportunity!

The rose bushes on my porch are giddy with the astonishing, blustery and honeyed weather. Walking through the neighborhood this week I saw approximately two zillion (I counted) crocuses, daffodils, and blue scilla flowers peppering the gardens of my fellow city-dwellers. April! Month of poetry and hyacinths. Wind and verse. April is National Poetry Month here in the US. Certainly a delightfully auspicious time for the release of Datura: An Anthology of Esoteric Poesis, published by Scarlet Imprint. It’s safe to say that I’m practically over the moon excited about this book. As readers over at Pagan Godspell can attest, I am something of a rabid fan of poetry. Indeed, as I’ve mentioned elsewhere, I believe that poetry is the language of magick. The language of the gods. A fire in the veins, with the smokelight prism, jewel and thunder of religion as its fuel.

Poetry’s role in the devotional and magical lives of the Pagani is manifold. It can be used in magical practice both in riddling (i.e. grokking a text for its deeper meaning), and in inducing trance (alliteration, rhyme, evocative word choice – all can assist the individual in Diving Deep and Surfacing). It can be used to communicate the ineffable in ways that are inaccessible through prose or didactic speech. It can bring people together in worship and in prayer. It can act as a channel between a people and their god. It can illuminate what was previously hidden, and make opaque things that require occultation. Poetry works the mind and the heart – it infiltrates the bones. Poetry works.

Poetry works both in the writing and the reading of it. The writing of poetry is an excellent medium for communion with the Holy. Last Sunday I had the privilege of attending the 2010 Milwaukee Ostara Festival in Wisconsin, where I presented a workshop on writing Pagan liturgical and devotional poetry. In answer to the question, “Why is poetry important in liturgical and devotional practice?,” one participant commented that the writing of a poem is an act of deepest respect, which was an excellent point. To write poetry is to engage with the subject in intimate detail, to devote to it your complete and undivided attention – to make the act of observation an offering. This is true also of poems with no ostensible spiritual element – to write an effective poem about a moment or an object requires Seeing it truly, with your whole body, via the lens with which you view the world. This is what makes poetry unique as well – the meeting of observer and the observed in the medium of language means that poems written about, say, plums by one poet will look very different than those written by another. To engage in an act of spiritual scrutiny with what is Holy then is to engage in authentic relationship. It’s not unlike, in my limited experience, the act of translation. I’m thinking for example of Normandi Ellis’ Awakening Osiris – a translation of the Egyptian Book of Coming Forth By Day not in its most literal expression, but in its spirit – Ellis’ deep grokking of the flower beneath the words and her transmission of its meaning via her unique perspective and the use of exquisite, embodied imagery has breathtaking results. “From the first cry to the last I chant the spell of living. In my belly I join the breath of life with the flame of becoming. I rise from the center of myself, fire on the wick, burning, tossing back shadows. Night drifts away like smoke.” (Ellis, 174). This kind of attention, this deepening, is inherent in the act of poetic expression.

Then, of course, there is the act of reading poetry, which is fundamentally important, especially for those who write themselves. I see a lot of poetry highlighted in the Pagan blogosphere (most especially around Imbolc with the annual Brigid Silent Poetry Reading), and this is because we recognize the significance of reading and sharing poetry that inspires. In working towards the continued cultivation of Pagan culture, I believe it is critical to support and share the work of poets and other literary artists who are dealing specifically with themes of devotion, esoterica, and magickal practice (via collections like Datura as well as opportunities such as the international poetry competition run by the Cambridge Centre for Western Esotericism). Art is the fruit of religion and spirituality, and in the spirit of knowing things by their fruits, the arts of Paganism and occultism function as evidence of the deep and challenging paths we walk on as worshipers and practitioners. My goal in creating Datura was to highlight a collection of poems that speak to the hidden and rapturous nature of our work as Pagans and occultists as well as essays that explore various aspects of poetry in our communities, and in doing so provide inspiration to those seeking an understanding of the paths we walk as practitioners, to those who practice themselves as they deepen their study, to other writers and poets in these communities as they undertake the Work inherent in the writing process, and to those who simply grok Beauty in its myriad forms. It’s especially thrilling to work with Peter and Alkistis at Scarlet Imprint, as their commitment to the exquisite art of fine bookbinding makes Datura art enfolded in art.

Friends, as National Poetry Month unfolds and the rosebushes grow, I wish you a season filled with the rapture of good words and the celebration of art! Why is April the season of poetry? Because poetry is the flower of human experience. May you count a zillion hyacinths and hear a thousand poems that move you.

Grok poetry, Pagani! Pray without ceasing.