Today was the day of my presentation at the Gestalt therapy center, so my
Shortly upon returning to the hotel, Natris came by and took me to their center, which occupies a fairly modern, three-floor stucco house on the fringes of the business district. CIDEHUM, which is directed by Carlos and Sara, provides Gestalt therapy training as well as counseling services; while it doesn’t have any direct connection to paganism as such, a few of the staff members as well several of the students and clients do consider themselves to be pagan. By the time we arrived, Carlos and Sara were marshalling more than a dozen volunteers to decorate the place, prepare the food, set up the sound system, etc. This was the first time they’d organized an event of this nature, and they were going all out with the preparations. They insisted that I wear my robe, and the two of them and Natris dressed up in similar ritual fashion, and constructed an elaborate altar next to the stage. They had also printed three-color posters, buttons and t-shirts.
Despite their excitement, though, they were also rather concerned about attendance – about 50 people had contacted them to say they were planning to come, but that had been before a couple of local groups created some degree of controversy by publicly boycotting the talk. One of them wrote to me ahead of time to inform me of their decision and to reassure me that it was not at all directed at me personally; rather, they said their action was prompted by a concern that the CIDEHUM people lacked the ‘standing and qualifications to sponsor such an important conference by a well-known international elder’, and that it really should have been organized by ‘a much more established group.’ I wrote them back explaining that the organizers had been the only people who’d approached me in the year since I had sent out an announcement of my upcoming trip to México, that my accepting their very gracious invitation in no way meant that I was ‘taking sides’ with any one group over another, and I encouraged them to reconsider their decision, to attend the talk, and to catch me afterwards, as I would be very happy to meet with them.
The other boycotter was a local Wiccan high priestess who reputedly charges huge amounts of money for the public classes that she teaches; she summarily forbid all of her students to attend the event under threat of banishment, claiming that I was an impostor, that I wasn’t a member of the board of the Parliament of the World’s Religions, and that I was not a presenter at the Encuentro in Monterrey. My hosts, as might be expected, were quite distressed by all of this – concerned that I would be upset, worried that attendance might suffer significantly, and particularly incensed at the woman for openly lying: one of them even went so far as to post in several pagan and New Age forums the relevant URLs of both the Parliament and the Encuentro, in an indignant effort to ‘uphold my reputation.’
They finally calmed down a bit after I reassured them several times that I was not at all upset, that I had experienced this kind of thing many times over the years, understood the reasons why it happened, was not at all concerned about my reputation being sullied, and that it would not matter to me if even just ten people showed up, instead of fifty. When the time for the talk to start finally arrived, and they came to take me to the hall, they seemed much more relaxed and were smiling broadly: there were about seventy-five people waiting for us downstairs.
I had just expected to walk right into the room and sit down, but as I started to do so my hosts quickly grabbed me and asked me to wait; it turned out they had other, rather more formal, plans in mind. Sara, Carlos and Natris led me to a small alcove next to the stage, where we were joined by two young women and two young men, dressed to the nines, who were there to act as our respective escorts. An announcer – one of Carlos and Sara’s sons – let everyone know that the evening’s event was about to begin, and then, after a long dramatic pause, each of us, in turn, was loudly introduced by a staff-pounding herald, as our young escorts ushered us by the arm to our seats at a banner-draped table. Next, four torch-bearers called to the directions, Sara welcomed everyone on behalf of CIDEHUM, and the announcer introduced a local young man who played several musical pieces on a variety of indigenous wind instruments, including the Mexican version of a didjeridoo. Then the announcer introduced Carlos, who in turn introduced me. I had not anticipated anything resembling that level of formality, and that was certainly not the tone that I intended to convey in my talk, so after checking with Carlos and Natris to make sure they wouldn’t be offended, I just grabbed a chair and sat myself right at the edge of the stage.
Often, when I give a talk in that kind of a setting, I try to start by getting a sense of the audience’s composition; the fact that my participation in the Encuentro in
As I had done at the Encuentro, I began by placing paganism in the context of the various indigenous traditions around the world, and gave a brief account of pagan cultures in pre-Christian times, and of how they came to be almost completely eradicated by the rise of Christianity, and pointed to specific similarities between what happened to pagan peoples in Europe and indigenous peoples in the Americas. Then I talked a bit about the ways that some pagan traditions were able to survive into the present, and moved from there to a discussion of the modern pagan movement and of the three main general currents that can be found within it: the traditional, as embodied by the random and mostly localized country-folk practices that managed to remain alive in places such as the Scottish Gàidhealtachd, Wales, Brittany, Lithuania, the Basque country, parts of Scandinavia, etc.; the reconstructionist efforts, primarily text-based, that seek to recreate modern versions of ancient traditions, such as various forms of ‘non-wiccan witchcraft’, Ásatrú, and Celtic Reconstructionism; and the eclectic approaches – including Wicca, neopaganism, Celtic shamanism, etc. – that borrow elements from many diverse sources to create new syntheses.
I gave some examples and told a few anecdotes from my own experiences in the pagan movement over the past forty years, and then spoke at some length about EarthSpirit while presenting a slide show, using it as a model to illustrate how we have attempted both to preserve and to develop pagan culture and community. I also included a bunch of slides of several Parliaments of the World’s Religions, as well as some from the Encuentro in
Our hosts had gone all out to provide a table full of many different and delicious antojitos (Mexican finger food) as well as several choices of wine, so as we nibbled and drank, many people came up to ask more questions or just to chat. I had the great pleasure of meeting several Mexican pagans with whom I’ve corresponded at various times over the years through the Internet. In particular, I was delighted to finally meet Carmen Orellana, founder of the Pagan Community of Mexico, an organization which offers classes, gatherings, rites of passage, etc., and which has been making efforts to gain legal status for paganism as a religion in this country. Though Carmen is only in her early thirties, she’s already kept the PCM going for some seven years, and just recently became the representative of the Pagan Federation International in México. Both Carmen and her group proved to be delightful people, and I am very much looking forward to seeing her again on Monday, when I hope we’ll have more time to talk in depth. I also met three students of the woman who had boycotted the talk; they were very upset with their teacher for telling them they couldn’t attend, so they decided to come anyway, and really enjoyed the evening. I was very grateful for all the really nice things people told me about my presentation, and once again was deeply struck by the great warmth and friendliness of the Mexican people.