Well, I think it’s fair to say that the inaugural Many Gods West conference in Olympia, Washington, was even more successful than any rational person could have hoped. The people attending brought with them a compelling blend of sincerity, devotion, intellect, conscientiousness, and respect for each other’s differences that constantly reminded me, “Oh, right! This is what I love so much about this movement.” That and, y’know, the gods and everything.
(Admittedly, I began writing this before P. Sufenas Virius Lupus began reconsidering eir involvement in this kind of activity; losing eir contributions would be a heavy price to pay for MGW’s success. Thankfully, however, e now seems to have thought better of that stance, for which I am very glad!)
One thing has been resoundingly demonstrated at MGW: To accommodate many traditions, voices, and needs, polytheists do not need to reach for the lowest common demoninator. As PSVL pointed out at the concluding ceremony, the shared shrine was constantly abuzz with activity, from offerings and prayers to silent devotions, both during and between sessions. On this shrine might be found dozens or scores of divine images, each brought separately, each susceptible of being worshipped separately or together, and each sharing in the others’ presence and the sacredness of the space. I was rather pleased to be able to show off Ancamna in this context. I’d spent a fair bit of thought in deciding which deity’s image to bring. My own ritual, of course, was in honour of Dea Roma and the divine Augustus; I’m a devotee of Mercury; I’d just commissioned a new image of Rosmerta by Grace Palmer; I’d also printed out another image for Cernunnos, Mercury, and Apollo (a modern recreation of the Reims relief) that would have done nicely. Yet under the circumstances, the healer and protectress of the ancient Treveri—her beauty now revealed by Grace Ibor’s lovely imagery—just felt like the perfect embodiment of the local, the ancestral, and the keenly important. Ancamna might just work out at Many Gods West, I thought—and she did. (I was also happy to see what appeared to be Apollo Hyperboreus, bedecked with amber beads; a really exquisite relief of Óðinn; not to mention Antinoüs, Hadrian, and other old friends.)
Having begun with this executive summary, I’d love to give a play-by-play of everything that happened, but then this post would never come to an end (and I would have to reveal a certain amount of drinking in public on the part of otherwise highly estimable people (not that I would ever engage in behaviour so shocking) (and that was damn fine rum, by the way)). Instead, I think I’ll focus on the rituals to Rome and Augustus, to Διόνυσος Βακχεῖος, and to the Matronæ, and the speeches by Morpheus Ravenna and Theanos Thrax, not necessarily in that order; for which purpose I’ll divide this report-back into three parts. I was gutted to have to miss the ritual for Cathubodua by Morpheus Ravenna and the Coru, and she was kind enough to say she was sorry to be missing my ritual as well. Vive la Gaule ! Aux muri gallici, citoyens et pérégrins !
Romae et Augusto caeremonia
Regarding the kalends ritual for Rome and Augustus, the major announcement is that habemus sacerdotem! The inaugural ersatz sacerdos Romae et Augusti at Olympia is the Revd Kirk Thomas, archdruid of the ADF, duly elected and installed by the attendees. It didn’t occur to any of us until afterwards how appropriate it was that an eminent druid should take on such a role, in view of the continuities between Gaul’s pre-Roman aristocratic and spiritual élite and those who would figure so highly at Condate. (Plus ça change!) It hardly needs to be said that Kirk fulfilled his sacerdotal functions with magnificent aplomb: his delivery was masterful, his execution authoritative, and his guided meditation exactly what was called for. Congratulations, thanks, and blessings to Kirk Thomas!
The ritual’s divinatory response, provided by PSVL, was solid (almost literally!), and I thought the discussions before and after the ritual were excellent. I had been somewhat worried whether and how I’d be able to turn the discussion to highlight the fact that, in worshipping Rome and Augustus, the Gaulish élite was also taking some ownership of that relationship and setting the bar high for relations with the prince of the day. Then PSVL’s very first comment, suggesting a subaltern analogue of the practice of éuocátió, set up that theme just perfectly! Langston Kahn also made thoughtful contributions along these lines. Of course, the federal cult at Condate was an expression of loyalty first and foremost, but this provided a venue for some subtle, half-veiled critiques of Roman administration. I didn’t get a chance to bring this up in the discussion, but one interesting article I was reading on the Claudian tables at Lyon (I’d have to find the citation for better details) suggests that that speech of the divine Claudius was immortalized in bronze, probably in the time of Nero, in order to express frustration with the limits on Gauls’ social advancement, notably into the Senate. An intriguing possibility, in light of the internecine turmoil that would soon take shape in the revolt of Vindex, the mutiny of the Rhine legions, the revolt of Civilis, and the council at Reims. But I digress.
People seemed to like the fertí I made as well, for which I refer anyone curious to the recipe. I’d made many extras, just in case, so there were plenty to hand around at the end of the session, as well as leftovers that were subsequently presented privately to other deities (by myself and others). Somebody (was it Dísirdóttir?) suggested adding rosemary to the recipe, which I think would be an excellent touch.
Kirk remarked that the ceremony was pre–Vatican II, and he’s quite right: facing the deities you address, and therefore having your back on the people assembled, it’s hard to gage what the congregants behind you are doing or thinking. I was happy to hear folks take with gusto to the exclamations of “Macte!”, as well as the ‘participatory’ segments of the ritual: the circumambulation and litany.
Finally (on this subject), with Kirk’s permission, I’d like to make available the script and handout used in the ritual. Several people expressed interest in seeing them, and I admit that as a publishing nerd, I thought several aspects of the presentation and layout work rather well (though the script could certainly have used a third level of quality control). I therefore present them to those interested in this Dropbox folder. Feel free to remix. Apart from the parts that are public domain anyway (Virgil, for instance!), let’s call that folder and its contents CC-BY-SA-NC. For fun, I’ve also thrown in an audio file with my rendition of the Io, triumphe! from Horace. As I remarked to those at the ritual, it might be in a musical key. It might not.
This will conclude part I of III of my report-back and reactions to Many Gods West. Before I sign off, however, I’d like to point out some other significant ritual occasions in August: the Ides of August (also a date laden with ritual significance, particularly for Diana and for Hercules), Lychnapsia, the dedication of the altar of Apollo Grannus, Volkanalia, the birthday of the divine Marciana, and that of Salus (which occurred a few days ago on the Nones). Things tail off by October or so, but for now we’re in for quite a run of major religious dates.