Good Fences Make the Best Neighbors
I was so sorry to miss Many Gods West (MGW) and I really want to thank Rhyd Wildermuth, Niki Whiting, and PSVL for putting it on. I know exactly the amount of hard work and stress that goes into planning and running a conference, and also how necessary this type of work is for community building. Really great job folks. I am so so sorry I wasn’t able to be there. If i weren’t just getting back from a three week pilgrimage and beyond exhausted, I’d have been right there with you all. For those who haven’t had a chance to read the various recaps, I recommend this (John Beckett Rocks!!), this, and this and this. (I so wish i could have attended the Bakcheion rite!) 🙂
Of course not all the recaps were unvarnished delight. I just read Jason Mankey’s account and I have a few things I want to say in response. Firstly, this amuses me to no end. Mankey is so representative of Wiccanate privilege and it saturates everything he sees and everything he writes about especially in this article. Obviously, he was so intensely bothered (he mentions it several times) that what Wiccans do, what Pagans do was largely irrelevant at Many Gods West. He’s rather peevish about it too.
It also seems to really bother him that he wasn’t treated as a celebrity (he goes on a bit about how out he is as a Pagan and how a google search will turn him up *rolls eyes*. Sannion told me that while manning registration to help Rhyd and folks out, Mankey came to check in and was really put off when Sannion didn’t recognize him right away. This really reads as though he wants very much to detract and dismiss and even say nasty things about MGW but can’t come up with a way to do that without looking like total ass lint. The cognitive pain this seems to give him is palpable throughout the article.
I do wonder why he purposely notes “people who self identify as polytheists…” — that’s always warning language in academia– and i wonder why he felt the need to use that particular phrase here, as though casting subtle question on our legitimacy. Of course, it goes without saying that I consider Mankey anything but an ally in our work. I’ve been watching him for awhile now, and while I don’t think he’s as bad as some (di zerega, halstead, et al), I do think he bears watching.
This article is a perfect example: the way he describes us and the conference is very, very subtly condescending. he uses a lot of negative imagery: compares us to a revival meeting (not a positive image if you think about it but rather one that implies blind fundamentalism), questions polytheists’ connectivity and ability to meet our goals, and refers to the MGW key-note as ‘goofy’ (when with decades of service to the Morrigan she is anything but) and note he completely avoids mentioning any of the not insignificant Dionysian presence. This is especially notable when compared with other accounts of the conference, which provide a very different emotional tenor. For instance, this article notes:
“One of the things that I noticed about Many Gods West is that even though the group gathered at the event was diverse and varied with attendees coming from a broad spectrum of religious practices, there was a noticeable air of respect and courtesy towards each other and each other’s practices. As a matter of fact, the only real display of discourtesy that I witnessed came from someone who seemed to be struggling with the feeling that they had of not being included in the Polytheist “group”. I find this very interesting.”
I think Mankey’s article really shows his animosity toward us, and I point that out because it’s a good example of what we all too often face in the Pagan and Wiccan communities.
He talks about how the feelings MGW brought out in him were different from other conferences, and says he doesn’t mean to be bleak….well, reading this, it’s clear that what bothered him was not being in a position of privilege and i think we can all learn from this. His comment that the Pagan umbrella has ‘a lot less leaks when we drink cider” together is telling as well. I think that this is one of the reasons that no matter how hard we try, people constantly want to wrench the work and the focus back to people and not the Gods….it’s less challenging.
In a way, i am really appreciative of Mankey for writing so honestly about this, because it shows the authentic divides between our respective communities and we can’t pretend those don’t exist. The more we are able to recognize our differences, the more we can adequately protect our traditions, and the more we will ultimately be able to get along, but that has to begin with recognition of those differences and respect for space.
EDIT: I apologize if anything I said here was taken as a personal attack on Jason. I had no intention of hurting him and this is the farthest thing from personal for me. This is about theology, ideas, and community politics. I try to leave my personal feelings about people out of those discussions (and i have no personal feelings toward Jason. I don’t know him). That being said, I realize that this is a medium of communication prone to misunderstanding and I take full responsibility for my the consequences of my words intentional and others; and i want to take special care here to make it clear, that despite my stated objections above, I have no ill will toward Jason personally and respect what he’s doing for his Gods and community. We need all our voices to make Polytheism and Paganism grow.