River of Consciousness

The Summerland festival was this weekend, which I missed yet again due to lack of funds. I did quite enjoy the last one I went to, back in 2000, though I assume it’s changed at least a little since then! I know all too well how much of ADF’s actual work gets done at festivals, not to mention actually having fun and all that, and again I feel like I’m letting “festival reality” pass me by. Well, maybe next year. In the meantime, I eagerly await hearing the reports of the festival goings-on come to me through ADF’s e-mail lists, slowly wending their way toward me like a boat on a river…

…from the source of the river in Ohio, it flows north, toward the colder weather…

…At least it was pleasantly cool this weekend. Even if the rain kept me from going outside and reading as I’d hoped, it was at least pleasant to get the housework done. I know that the end of the summer is either the Autumnal Equinox in September, or Samhain (literally “summer’s end”) in November, depending on who you ask and in what context. Still, it feels like my least favorite season of the year is on its way out, to be replaced by my favorite season, with outdoor temperatures that I can actually stand for more than a few hours, and football, and my birthday, and my Grove’s Fall Equinox and Samhain rituals, and so many other good things coming around the bend…

…and as the boat meanders around a bend in the river, the course branched out into multiple streams, some flowing freely toward the ocean, while others lead into the swamps, where lurks the Hydra…

I’ve several times before used the Hydra as a symbol for what I feel are the worst aspects of the pagan community, in particular our seeming inability to work together in meaningful ways. My first use of it specifically satirized the efforts of several people/groups in the Detroit area to start their own pan-pagan groups at the same time, each feeling that they couldn’t work with the folks in the other groups, and defeating the purpose of a “pan-pagan unity group” right from the get go.

Those times have passed, but lately I’m feeling like I’m staring into the face of an even larger yet more subtle Hydra: the creation of lots and lots of online forums and other pages which want to put just as much of a drain on everyone’s time as those old attempted groups did. I’m all in favor of people starting up their own social networks, and I get that people won’t always be comfortable with what other people set up. (I freely admit to being annoyed at the one “pagan” page I signed up for which lists the members as “Fellow Witches”. I am NOT a f***ing witch, and my group is NOT a coven.) But I also worry that having too many options will only dilute our ability to work together and know what’s going on in the greater community. Facebook isn’t the perfect Web site, but you have to give it credit for making itself the site the everyone uses, and I hope that some single pagan variant (or even two or three) can establish itself as the place to be, but knowing what a contentious lot we are, I’m probably hoping for too much…

…and through to the wider river now, but now the boat is caught in a pool of somewhat stagnant water on the banks, but it’s easy enough to paddle out again…

…Of course, many folks throughout the years have suggested that I and/or SLG should have our own public forums on the Web. We have a member-only e-mail list which doesn’t get a huge amount of traffic, but I’ve very deliberately avoided creating any discussion area that’s open to the public, as I would rather drive rusty spikes through my brain that moderate such a forum. There are a lot of stupid and/or insane people out there in Internetland, and I already get too many messages from them at the Grove’s e-mail address without encouraging them. I also freely admit to just not liking Web-based forums in general. My dialup connection and graphics-intensive Web sites don’t mix well, and when the graphics are just flippin’ pictures of people to go next to their message, and then I have to download every message in the thread just to see the one or two new ones at the bottom, this equation equals “very unhappy Rob”. It’s even more bizarre to realize that the forum software I used back in 1986 was entirely capable of just showing you the new responses in just the threads you wanted to read, but as far as I can tell 2009’s forum software seems incapable of doing this. Well maybe if somebody creates a forum where I can do everything via e-mail, read new threads and check personal messages and so on, without ever having to log on to the Web site itself, maybe I’d actually participate in that one.

In the meantime, this week begins the process of updating our own Grove’s web site in terms of look and feel. I very deliberately designed it to look plain but information-rich as a counter to the flashy, substanceless Geocities sites that were all the rage back when I first created the site in 1997. But now that Geocities is officially dead, it’s probably time to make the site look only five years out of date instead of the twelve years it currently appears. Paul Kershaw has proposed some good design changes and I’ll be going through them this week, before fall comes and I actually want to do things outdoors instead…

…and finally the mouth of the river, where the ducks seem to be… racing?…

As we prepare for our Fall Equinox rite and my thoughts turn to our river goddess Ana and our celebration of the harvest, I think of the Heritage Festival, which was held here in my home town of Ypsilanti this weekend. Each year, the festival ends with a “duck race”, where several hundred numbered rubber ducks are dropped from the Cross Street bridge into the Huron River, where they float past Riverside Park (where the festival is held) and over a thousand cheering onlookers, to the collection net where the first fifteen to finish win prizes for the folks who wagered a dollar on their number. I’ve never won anything, but Gen’s dad did win a gift certificate a few years ago. Given that we associate ducks with Ana, this seems like the perfect activity for a big festival here in the Ann Arbor area, if we ever have one again. Then again, with thousands of people focusing their energy on ducks in the river, maybe the race itself is a pagan celebration, or at least a celebration of nature? That’s duck food for thought.

Rev. Rob Henderson
Senior Druid, Shining Lakes Grove, ADF

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