About the EarthSpirit Community:
EarthSpirit --- of which I am a director --- is an organization dedicated to the preservation and development of Earth-centered spirituality, culture and community, with a particular focus on the indigenous, pre-Christian pagan traditions of Europe. Founded in the late 1970s, with its base in the state of Massachusetts, EarthSpirit was incorporated as a non-profit organization in 1980, and its membership now extends throughout the U.S. and to 46 other countries. For more information about the EarthSpirit Community, go to
www.earthspirit.com.
About a Council for a Parliament of the World's Religions:
The Parliament of the World's Religions is the oldest and largest interreligious body, dating back to 1893. The Parliament's mission is to cultivate harmony among all the various religious and spiritual communities and to foster their engagement with the world and its other guiding institutions in order to achieve peace, justice, and sustainability. The Parliament is convened approximately every five years in different cities around the world, and brings together some 10,000 people from every continent of the planet. I serve as one of two pagan members on its Board of Trustees. To learn more about the Parliament, go to
www.parliamentofreligions.org.
PLEASE NOTE: Since this is (at least as of right now) a travel blog, the entries below are in chronological order. If you're used to seeing the latest post in a blog at the very top, that's not how this one is organized. To view the most recent postings, please scroll down.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Sunday, 30 September 2007 --- Hummingbirds, Blue Houses, and Crowded Markets


It was nice, once again, not to have to wake up and leave real early in the morning. Today I made the pleasant discovery that, in addition to the restaurant in the lobby, my hotel also has an open-air café on the roof, and that’s where I took my breakfast as well as a lovely view of the old city.

My friends came to pick me up around 11:30, and drove me to a fairly upscale part of town, to the theatre where Call of the Hummingbird was supposed to be playing. The young man at the ticket window, however, had no information about the film, and it took several phone calls for him to determine that, yes, indeed, the documentary would be shown as part of an unscheduled, unadvertised Sunday film festival, but not for another forty-five minutes (Carlos kept shaking his head and saying, with a rueful little smile, “This is the real México…This is the real México…”). So, we waited at a small café next to the theatre, where we had coffee and this delicious thing (I’m still not sure whether it was dessert or a cocktail…) made of very tart lemon sorbet mixed with tequila and just a touch of chile.

Predictably, there were very few people at the screening, though a bunch more came in after the lights had gone down. The film was a fascinating account, warts and all, of what happens when about a thousand people – mostly strangers speaking several different languages – gather to create an impromptu ecovillage over the course of thirteen days in a gorgeous but very rustic location in the Amazonian forest of Brazil during the fall of 2005. The film opens on an exciting, upbeat note as the activists, poets, musicians, artists, scientists, clowns, healers, and so on from various parts of the world – who seemingly make up the very diverse group of participants – set about the work of developing community. Things quickly start turning sour, though, as participants begin confronting the enormity of the details involved, and the many problems that arise, in attempting to organically develop a non-hierarchical structure that will allow them to function as a community. Alberto and his former partner, Liora Adler, who are clearly the ‘initiators’ of the event, execute the delicate dance of allowing things to happen as they will, while intervening occasionally when something starts to get out of hand. They stress the dynamics of consensus process, but as any of us who have worked with that approach can tell, it’s not an easy thing to implement quickly with a large group of strangers who are conditioned to function in other systems and modalities. The film is being advertised – quite accurately, in my opinion – as “Survivor for social change addicts.”

As we left the theatre, we ran into Alice Klein, who was coming in for the next screening and was very glad that we had been able to make it. We chatted briefly, and she very generously gave me a DVD of the film, which I’m thinking of showing at the next Rites of Spring.

My companions were totally fascinated by the documentary; they had never seen anything remotely comparable, and couldn’t stop discussing it from all different points of view: the film’s stated concept of ‘politicizing the spiritual and spiritualizing the political’; the huge amount of fun it must have been to run naked through woods and fields, and to take part in ceremonies in such beautiful and wild surroundings; the heart-warming and hopeful idealism so alive in the faces of the various ‘characters’; the insensitivity, selfishness and apathy that led to most of the problems encountered; the tantalizing notion of creating a truly communitarian society, with an egalitarian and participatory form of government that eschewed authoritarianism and emphasized fairness and cooperation; the focus on developing a way of life truly in harmony with the natural world.

I, too, found the film fascinating, but for rather different reasons. I had to explain to my friends that pretty much everything we’d just witnessed was extremely familiar to me – at times, painfully so – even if the specific details, the settings, or the degrees of involvement might have been somewhat different; that much of the work I had done over the past thirty-five years to try to develop spiritual community based on very similar premises had entailed a lot of the same processes, experiences, and problems; and that as part of that work I had had attended dozens of gatherings like the one in the film, some under even more trying circumstances.

This led to a long discussion about the development of paganism in the U.S., about EarthSpirit, Rites of Spring, Glenwood, Anamanta, and how all of it fit together. Toward the end of the conversation Natris told me that, whenever she had read any of the various comments I had made about my community over the years in some of the Hispanic pagan forums on the Internet, she assumed that I had been describing a fantasy or at least exaggerating a great deal, if not out-and-out lying; but that as she’d gotten to know me, she’d come to realize that I was just stating facts, even though it was still very hard for her to assimilate the reality of it all. Then, during the slide show I had presented last night, she had finally ‘gotten it’ and had been moved to tears by the realization that such people, events and places actually existed, though she could not imagine how the whole thing had possibly come into being. “Magic,” she said she had muttered to herself, “this could only happen through magic.”

But then, she figured she didn’t have the ability to work such magic, so she decided she might as well put it out of her head, because it was not something she could ever do. Now, though, she had gotten an earful from me about how very long and hard we had worked to develop our community, and had experienced a taste of it through the documentary, so she was feeling somewhat confused. Work was something she could do, she said, and would be willing to do, so if that was the key, then perhaps developing a pagan spiritual community here in México was not as remote a possibility as she had imagined. What did I think was more important, she asked – work or magic? I told her that, in my experience, they’re not two separate things, but that they really go together and are, in the end, one and the same. She and her friends exchanged some glances, which I didn't know how to interpret, and for the next hour or so we drove in complete silence.

Eventually we arrived at our next stopping point, the Frida Kahlo Museum or, as it is commonly known in México, la Casa Azul – the Blue House in Coyoacán where Frida was born, lived and died. My companions were already familiar with it, so they went off to have some more coffee and cigarettes (it seems Mexicans smoke almost as much as the French…) while I visited the house by myself. I guess the most accurate way to describe the place would be to say that it is, indeed, a museum dedicated to Frida Kahlo, though not so much to her art. There are a number of her works on exhibit, to be sure, but they tend to be early or minor paintings, or only sketches of some of her better known ones. But for this complex artist known primarily for her revealing self-depictions, the house itself has become one of her most intimate portraits – the photographs and newspaper clippings that chronicle her life; the paintings by other artists and the folk art she collected; the intense, passionate colors and shapes with which she surrounded herself; the lush courtyard with its pyramidal centerpiece, a shrine to her indigenous ancestors.

From the Blue House, my friends drove me for a couple of miles to the Mercado de Coyoacán, an open-air market mostly for arts and crafts that is held every weekend in the town’s main square. Coyoacán (the Hispanicized version of the náhuatl term coyohuacan – ‘the place of the coyotes’) was, in pre-colonial times, a settlement renowned for its skillful stone workers (the elaborately carved Piedra del Sol, the Aztec calendrical Sun Stone, reputedly was made by artisans from Coyoacán). During the era of colonization, it became one of the first towns chartered in México by the Spanish government, and eventually was absorbed into the Federal District as one of the southern suburbs of Mexico City. Still, it retains the architecture and much of the flavor of the type of colonial town that one is more likely to find far away from the big cities.

The market was a sumptuous feast for the senses – a myriad of colors, sounds, scents, textures, shapes, and tastes emanating from hundreds of temporary booths selling pottery, leather goods, clothes, indigenous musical instruments, bags, hats, baskets, hand-made sandals, toys, etc.; street performers ranging from jugglers, balloon artists and magicians to mariachi bands and indigenous folk ‘ritualists’; and food vendors featuring all manner of Mexican dishes and antojitos. I found it very difficult not to be overwhelmed by instant sensory overload, but I had hoped to purchase at least a few small gifts to bring back to my family, so I forced myself to plunge into the throng of thousands of shoppers – very few obvious tourists, I noticed – who made the narrow aisles of the market almost impassable.

My companions were very protective of me, constantly trying to surround me to ward off pickpockets, and obsessively haggling on my behalf to make sure I was being charged ‘Mexican prices.’ It was quite endearing, but also a bit stifling, so as soon as we stopped to get something to drink, I assured them that I’d had a good deal of experience throughout my life being in similar situations in various different countries, and that it also really wasn’t necessary to haggle a price of $0.25 US for a hand-made gourd rattle (which would have sold in the States for $10 at the minimum) when I could well afford to pay the equivalent 50 cents the merchant was asking. They grumbled a little, but reluctantly let me go off on my own, though a couple of them followed me pretty closely for a while to make sure I came to no harm. I have a fairly low tolerance for shopping as it is, so after an hour or thereabouts I was more than ready to go have dinner and return to the hotel.

1 comment:

Chris LaFond said...

Unfortunately, the connection between Magic and Hard Work is one that is lost on many of us Westerners. Indeed, the connection between putting in the work and achieving anything is often lost. We want the instant gratification, the "presto-chango" effect. Read a book, be a Witch; take a class, get a doctoral degree, etc.
Thankfully, groups like EarthSpirit and a few others have been around long enough, doing the real work over time, which makes it a lot easier for folks to plug into, on the one hand, and learn that it takes work, and how to do it on the other.