The president of the SRA speaks up about spiritual stereotyping

by Lezlie A. Kinyon, Ph.D., founder of the Society for Ritual Arts and Editor-in-Chief of Coreopsis: Journal of Myth & Theatre


 

Last week, while going through a mountain of correspondence, I received this note from a good friend and colleague whom I had asked to “spread the word” about the Lost Chord Award Concert, an event that the Society for Ritual Arts is hosting on January 23:

Dear Lezlie,
I’m hard pressed to know to whom to spread it. My pagan contacts are limited — and those in the Bay Area all seem to be low income.
But I’ll be thinking about who might be interested. Hmm…
Yours, M–

I felt obliged to answer and to expand upon that answer in this brief opinion piece.

Creating an event while also beginning the editing process for the next issue of Coreopsis: Journal of Myth & Theatre (all about Faeries), especially an event that is a “new thing”, as is the Lost Chord Award Concert, is a complex and interesting process. Particularly when one is known in several contexts as an activist and writer and, also, as a person who follows a minority spiritual path.  

Dear M–,

Outside of my academic colleagues (who know better), and as often happens to people who follow a specific spiritual path, many people mistakenly assume that because I’m Wiccan, everything I’m involved in is all about Wicca. This may come as a shock to those who think they know me, and to a few who do know me, but: I have a Ph.D. in systems and human science. Many of the people I created this journal with are, with the exception of a Buddhist therapist, an ivy-league musicologist, and our spiritually diverse editorial staff, agnostic Europeans in the systems and human sciences. They are well represented in Coreopsis as researchers who have published in the back issues.

The aforementioned artists and scholars will attend SRA events, such as the Lost Chord Award Concert in January, because they like live music and theatre, and because they understand and support the deeply held work of furthering freedom of belief. On our staff (past and current) are some few who are particularly passionate about that freedom because they personally have survived regimes where expressing a countervailing belief led to the imprisonment and death of colleagues.

Concert poster for the Lost Chord Award concert

Concert poster for the event in question. The venue is a church, the performers include a Yoruba Iyanifa and a Hungarian shaman, the promoter/designer is an atheist, the theme is Faerie, and the founder of the hosting organization happens to be Wiccan. Does that make it a Pagan event? Not by any stretch of the imagination. Everyone is welcome and everyone will have a magical time!

I believe in the right to freedom of belief and in expressing those beliefs in creative, deeply meaningful and visionary ways in art and in literary projects. I also uphold the freedom of intellectual pursuit and support research into the sciences that explore the fundamentals of what it means to be a human person on this earth.

These beliefs – coupled with the movement in the arts variously called west coast visionaries, Utopian, new romantics, faery music, and the ecstatic movement (lowercase) – informed by the countercultural movements of the mid-twentieth century, the literary genre of mythopoetics, and the humanistic movement in intellectual pursuit, creates this rich stew that informs everything we publish in Coreopsis.

Supporting Sharon Knight and Winter Jp Sichelschmidt and their ambitious Portals Project, as we will do at the Lost Chord Award Concert, also supports the movement in West Coast indy music informed – among other things herein discussed – by the literary genre of mythopoetics, born of five decades of gatherings (“cons”) by the highly popular science fiction and fantasy community and the primarily Latin American genre of magical realism. Starting with the “Inklings” (JRR Tolkien, CS Lewis, Lord Dunsany, and their ilk), the list of this literary genre’s founders reads as a Who’s Who of speculative fiction on three continents. Quickly escalating into fantasy art, the culture of “Filking” at conventions, and Bardic Gatherings where beginning, hobbyist and professional musicians, story-makers, and poets gathered to share their work in living rooms and cafés, these gatherings overlapped into the costumed historical re-enactment societies which also began mid-twentieth century as gatherings of geeky friends in costume, seriously exploring an historical period. Groups such as Society for Creative Anachronism, not coincidentally founded by legendary Science Fiction writer Poul Anderson at the equally legendary writer’s collective Greyhaven, the home of Diana Paxson. Anderson and Paxson, together with a number of other people, were also instrumental in the genesis of what became the “Pan-Pagan” festivals in the mid-1980s. Running through all of this was – and continues to be – a frank and honest exploration of the meaning of liberation, the many human expressions of diverse sexualities, women’s self-expression, and the ecological issues facing us all. Embedded in this mix and running though all of the threads mentioned herein is a radically different spirituality, one that knows few “leaders”, has no walls or boundaries, and maintains very little in the way of hierarchy. A spirituality of which modern Paganism and Wicca is at the heart, but which is also deeply intertwined into a somewhat tangled thread that includes what Fr. Matthew Fox in Original Blessing (1983) calls, “rituals of cosmic celebrating ” and what oft-quoted (because she was one of the first, in 1979, to publish outside of the “occult” press) Wiccan author Starhawk described in 2001 as, “…based on experience, on a direct relationship with the cycles of birth, growth, death and regeneration in nature and in human lives.”

A heady mix indeed. Add into that mix what I often describe as the “utopian dream” of the popular music and art of the late 1960s and early 1970s resulting from the twin threads of psychedelia and social consciousness and you have a treasure: a strange, golden, rainbow-colored, glittering prism of a nut that, when opened, threatens to reveal, simultaneously, the deepest truth of the human heart and the great mystery of the cosmos all around this (beautiful, verdant, moist, living) “island Earth” – our Home. Coreopsis and the SRA embrace a movement that crosses three generations and grows, despite the dismissive criticisms of the “mainstream” pundits, steadily, without fanfare (unless you count an electric guitar), without massive funding or evangelic zeal. This is a movement that grows, rather, through hope in our future, a passion for the natural world, a celebration in dance, costumery and fashion, in the visual arts and music, in poetry and story, and, in its very best egalitarian expression, in celebrations of life itself. It represents the antithesis of rigid, stifling, death-dealing, puritanical ideologies both religious and purely secular.

As artists, this is a movement worth celebrating. As scholars, a subject worth exploring indeed.

Sharon Knight and Winter Jp Sichelschmidt, this year’s Inaugural Lost Chord Award recipients, have openly expressed their beliefs. Sharon talks about “the delicious juicy-ness of being alive”. This “delicious juicy-ness” that Sharon talks about, is at the very heart of what Coreopsis and the SRA are all about. This delicious juicy-ness is that which Jeet Kei Leung, in a 2010 TEDx talk, and later, in Festival Fire, called “the transformational festival culture” (2013) born of the burgeoning outdoor music festival of the 1980s, as well as several earlier discussed intertwining strands of popular and countercultural movements stretching back into the utopian ideals of the 1960s socio-political movements. A quick Internet search will align all of these labels with emerging forms of music, dance, and art beginning in the mid-1960s and encompassing a wide range of social concerns and eco-feminist spirituality. In the words of Jeet Kei Leung, “What we get to experience at these intentional transformational gatherings is the freedom and the opportunity to come together to co-create a lived experience of the world we wish to live in, the world we need to live in. And our cultural knowledge of how to do that has been developing, evolving over, well, you could trace the lineage back in many ways…” (2010).

Coreopsis was never intended to be a Pagan journal. The Society for Ritual Arts and the Society’s publications – past, present and in the future – are all about a certain kind of art: ritual, sacred art and the folkways of all cultures, from Purimshpil to mummer’s plays, to shamanic performance to the dances of Sufi mystics. We have people working on our projects of many faiths and no faith at all.

The wider work we are doing as a Society supports scholars and artists: those involved directly with the journal and the events planned by the Society as well as the scholars who are living under repressive regimes and difficult circumstance. A perusal of the back issues, as well as the current issue, will reveal that we have published, and will continue to publish, voices from the First Nations, Christianity, Islam, atheism, Buddhism and a few other paths. The editors of Coreopsis do not have a “religious test” and never ask our scholars what their spiritual path is, we publish on the basis of excellence in scholarship and each paper undergoes an extensive process of peer review. We subscribe to the accepted ethics of scholarly publishing, as put forward by COPE: the Committee on Publishing Ethics for peer reviewed journals.

The Lost Chord Award Concert in January will also be the coming out party of our new Society, celebrating all creative, life-affirming paths and welcoming everyone equally. Including all the tree-hugging, dancing in the moonlight, lovely Pagans.

For “M,” whose e-mail began this editorial, and to my Pagan colleagues, I say to you: We are doing this spiritual stereotyping to ourselves as much as the “outside world” does it, when we conflate the idea of a journal/organization in which Paganism gets equal time with a journal/organization that is all about and exclusive to Pagan viewpoints. So, dearest friend, who do you tell about this event? Everyone, my friend, everyone and anyone who loves good music and a good party. Next year’s Lost Chord awardee will be nominated and voted upon by the SRA membership and Board, and will probably be a musical artist from some very different tradition. The process is peer-to-peer, artist-to-artist; a celebration of the music arts that is deeply meaningful, awe-evoking, and ecstatic in nature, opening the many doors in our hearts and imaginings.

As for the next pile of correspondence generated by planning an event: the next President of the Society will be in charge, and I can go back to the Editor’s Desk.

Meanwhile, friends and colleagues, put on your fanciest festival garb, your glitter and your glam, don’t forget your dancing shoes, and join the fun on January 23 when we invite the magical beings of forest and glen that Sharon and Winter, and their musical and intellectual colleagues Diana Paxson, Luisah Teish, Michael Mullen, Diana Rowan, and the members of Imager have been telling us about for the past several decades to feast and dance with us at the Lost Chord Award Concert. We’re certainly having fun planning The Event of The Season! We promise it will be delicious and juicy.

BB! Lezlie


 

Tickets are still available for the Lost Cord Award Concert at the time of publishing, and can be purchased a LostChordAward.org.

Thea

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