Thursday, February 20, 2014

Out and In and Out of the Broom Closet

"The Red God Revel" at PantheaCon (2004?) with T. Thorn Coyle on the left,
Anaar on the right, Tempest in the middle (with horns)
I tend to forget that not everyone knows the "Origins of Tempest" story.

Blogger tells me that I've written over 130 posts on just this particular blog since I started it back in 2010, and well it's quite logical that most of you haven't been here for the whole ride, or very familiar with me prior to becoming a "name" in the bellydance scene nearly a decade ago. Which is totally cool - heck, you may have just found me last week, and that's how it rolls.

So, last week when I had posted on facebook that I was preparing to go to a Pagan convention (PantheaCon), I was surprised by the number of people who exclaimed they had no idea I was Pagan. Which is made even more funny by the fact that I tend to assume that most of the people I run into in various communities are Pagan, until proven otherwise.  Not that it matters to me what path ANYONE follows, as long as they are respectful to others - but my experience with counterculture folk from the last 15 years or so, is that they tend to follow "non-conservative" spiritual paths as well. 

I think that me being Pagan is pretty obvious to anyone familiar with my artwork or dance, but when I step out of my head a bit, I'm definitely not hanging it out there as a major shingle like some others in the bellydance arena who emphasize in their short description as being a priestess, shaman, witch, goddess, etc. And I am by no means as public about it as I used to be when I first started dancing.

Why?  Well, I was in a different place back then.  During college, I started a Pagan student group for RISD, which also made it open for Brown students...and then, it seemed natural to open it up to any local college students (URI, J&W, Bryant, RICC, etc), and then from there it became the largest open path Pagan group in New England, open to ANYONE. (I doubt college policies and the new security measures would allow for that now!). It was called the Cauldron of Annwyn Pagan Society.  We held the first RI Pagan Pride event, constructed giant lighted labyrinth ritual in downtown Providence at Samhain (for 2 or 3 years running), had trips up to Salem, MA, produced "Arts & The Craft Fair" at RISD (promoting the merger of fine art and Paganism - featuring workshops, ritual, and vending), celebrated the esbats and sabbats, did community outreach, and so forth.  In addition to this (and working towards my BFA + a part-time job + being married), I was also the associate editor of Crescent Magazine: A Pagan Publication of Art, Philosophy, and Belief, and became the regional coordinator for PPD.  I was 19-21 during this time. I attended the first Pagan Leaders Conference in Bloomington, IN, and got more involved on a national level. From the Cauldron and other close friends I was working with, I spawned the House of Annwyn, which was a family tradition (we don't use the term 'coven') - so then we had big public events for the Cauldron, and smaller workings with our family. My senior-year solo show was based on the facts and myths of "The Burning Times." I frequently was interviewed by the local papers/news organizations, gave lectures at local colleges, and maintained a large website. In retrospect, I have no idea how I managed to do all of these things, all at the same time.  (Probably because I was barely in my 20's and never had it in my head that I couldn't do it all.) 

I got into bellydancing because it seemed like a natural addition to our tradition's ritual practices.  The whole family signed up for classes. Several of us continued on, but most didn't. In 2001, I moved from Rhode Island to the Bay Area of California - partly to get more involved with bellydance and to be able to work more closely on Crescent Magazine - where my friend (also the main editor) lived.  I stumbled into a job as a professional Tarot Reader/Psychic at The Psychic Eye in Mountain View.  I also gave weekly classes in metaphysics (magic, divination, etc). I worked more intensely on the magazine, but I found a completely different environment for the Pagan community.  There were as many Pagans at the SF PPD as we had back at the first RI one! The Bay Area was far more progressive towards other faiths than New England (and probably still is), so the pull to unite and have solidarity was far less great (or that's my theory anyway). I also felt disconnected from my tradition and family back east. My practice became more solitary, more quiet on the political and community side of things.

Instead, I focused more on my dancing. I researched, studied, and wrote articles on sacred dance, trance, and more.  I merged goddess-concepts with my performances - presenting "Kali Ma,"  "The Rusalka," "Becoming," and "Whole & Horn" at the Living Goddess Dance Theater (2002-2005) and "Kali Ma Dance Ritual," "Dance of the Djinn," and "The Red God Revel" at PantheaCon. I found a sacred/ritual dance partner in Anaar - and we performed some of these aforementioned pieces together, as well as opened up several Tribal Fests with a ritual dance presentation.  However, in the overall genre, I encountered a lot of "woo" and not much academia or free-thinking with many who claimed to do sacred/ritual/goddess dance - instead a focus on exclusion, or a desire for dominance versus acceptance, or similar types of ego-play.  I didn't want to be identified with that, so I chose to integrate my beliefs more subtly with my concepts on stage in and in the classroom, instead of being very "in your face" about it. Those in the know, would know - and those that didn't, it was fine.

So over the last decade, I eased from being heavily involved with the Pagan community to being mostly disconnected from it, and from being a "bellydancing Witch" to a bellydance artist.  In retrospect, the transition had a lot to do with the various states of personal relationships as well - and I also now recognize, moving away from making visual art (a different arena I feel than costume design, graphic design, etc). Which had been a part of my life for as long as I can remember.

Entering this decade, things began to shift again - slowly at first, then drastically.  A lot of things changed for me personally, and it affected all the areas of my life. I reconnected with making art, the roots of my desire to dance, with my spirituality, and most importantly, myself.  I find myself now caring a lot less about what other people are doing, or what they think of me and about what I am doing.  And that has been incredibly freeing in so many ways.  The ideas are flowing, the doors and windows are opening, and there is much work before me to do!

I don't think I'm about to take on any more labels though.  This is simply the Tempest experience.

(Or "The Tempest Experience(tm)" LOL!) 

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