This won’t be a single post affair, but I want to lump my discussion of the conference together under its name. To distinguish posts, I’ll just add a paranthetical number in a series and an occasional subtitle. So: Viridis Genii, part one, two, three, etc.
My first attempt at writing this rambled and rambled, because there was just so much cool stuff going on at the conference. While the rambling wasn’t exactly pointless, it just felt a little off for what I am after. So, instead of subjecting you to that, I will subject you to a first post where I paint in very broad strokes some of the themes of my weekend at the conference. I’ll resist the urge to namecheck everyone (there’s a program here!), but sometimes I can’t help myself.
(1) The Living Americas. So many wonderful living traditions!
(2) Curanderismo: The first full day was all about curanderismo for me. It opened with a lecture on the use of plants in curanderismo by two curanderas, proceeded with a limpia from one of the lecturers, into a workshop on the temazcal, and wound up with a lecture on curanderismo that situated it against pre- and post-colonial Mexican history.
(3) Heart and History, Tradition and Theory: This is related to the limpia. The limpia (performed by Diana Garcia-Lyons) cleared out quite a tangle of armored up defensiveness and came with the mixture of tears and laughter you might imagine. For much of the rest of the weekend, I was noting how I was responding to things less intellectually.
The critical reflex wasn’t absent; I could hear the historical error in an aside about the “Burning Times,” but I could see it for what it was, a minor detail which had little to no bearing on the practices and traditions in their living form. I will probably have a lot more to say about that in future posts. There were also histories told that were so much richer for being secondary to the living traditions they were intended to illumine.
This is part of a longer shift for me away from bookishness, but the conference brought it home. (That said, the conference precedings make a good book.)
(4) Neighborliness: Good will and welcoming hearts all around. From the moment I stepped up to the registration table to the moment I stepped off onto the airport curb with a fellow attendee, the weekend was full of people sharing their stories, both magical and mundane.
The movement from common lectures to smaller workshops and shared meal tables was well-planned. It gave the conference a slow pulse, gather together, disperse, gather together again.
(5) Grandmothers: Some of the participants were grandmothers, of course, but it was clear, too, that in several cases it was the participants connections to their grandmothers that played a role in their coming to their work. I loved that and I have hard time putting into words why.
(6) Eleggua/Eshu/Exu: One of the first conversations I had was with a daughter of Eleggua, at the door of the building where I was staying. One of the last conversations I had was over a Quimbanda consulta from Jesse Hathaway Diaz. Between those two, a sprinkling of discussions about Ocha, Candomble, and Quimbanda, and a workshop. Not the same things, of course, but there we are, playing at the crossroads from more than one angle.
(7) The Wild Woods: The property was a gorgeous and throughout the conference I explored it as part of the work done at the conference and on my own. A massive cedar, too, to anchor the woods around it, a giant among giants.
(8) Alcohol and Water: The opening ceremony had everyone finding a bit of plant and adding spirit (alcoholic infused with breath) to it. You could see much of the conference’s parentage in the ceremony. The organizers (Catamara and Marcus) are both perfumers with a background in alchemy and the conference itself had its roots in a ceremony done at an alchemical conference. Alcohol, distillation, extraction.
While I’ve made a tincture here and there, it’s not my primary modality for working with plants and it amused me to have that foregrounded so early in the conference. Compare that to the way in which water played a more prominent role in the ceremonies of the curanderas and the Quimbanda workshop. The brewing workshop forms something of an interesting midpoint in that continuum, beer mingling traits of both.
(9) Quimbanda: Last because it in many ways was the capstone of my experience at the conference. If the limpia set the tone for the conference, the consulta at the end drew much of that into focus in ways that might take me some time to unpack.