Wisdom Within: Aligning the Heart with the Mind
Discovering how we walk Immanent, at the crossroads of where wisdom is found and practical experience begins.
Coph Nia: Interview with Julian Hill
I am excited to have been invited to participate at Coph Nia this summer, at the invitation of Julian Hill. Held in rural Pennsylvania, at the stunningly beautiful Four Quarters retreat center, I confess this adventure at first left me a bit apprehensive and yet deeply honored at the same time. I have never been to a large Pagan festival before, let alone served as a featured presenter. Generally I shy away from anything exclusively "gay male" oriented having had unsavory experiences in the past, or too public, I am despite my verbose and possibly loquacious blogging, terribly introverted by way of Meyer's INFJ personality typing.
Yet in talking with Julian, I came to understand that Coph Nia was the ideal place to talk about the Goddess, to teach about Ecstatic Monism; the Goddess as immanent and transcendent, to explore Eastern Tantra, and most importantly lead men on the quest in this ever expanding dialogue on masculinity in a way that affirms ourselves as sovereign and still honor women as sacred. This is why I am editing Finding the Masculine in Goddess' Spiral: Men in Ritual, Service and Community to the Goddess.
I gleaned a lot of wisdom from Julian about what Coph Nia was, and what it wasn't that I asked him to answer a few question for this post. He did, ever graciously and candidly, they are transcribed below.
E: If you had but a moment to sum up Coph Nia, what might you say? Is Coph Nia just for Thelmites? It doesn't quite look like a typical festival?
J: My elevator pitch for Coph Nia is that it is a 5 day alternative spirituality festival for gay, bi, queer and questioning men. Coph Nia is structured to create a safe non-judgmental space for queer men to explore their unique place in the universe and their own divine nature.
E: What sets Coph Nia apart from other pagan gatherings? What if you're new to pagan retreats?
J: While Coph Nia's name is derived from The Book of the Law and is sponsored by a Thelemic organization, the festival itself is not just for Thelemites but for anyone that follows an alternative spiritual path and particularly for those who follow nature based spiritualities. Thelema does influence in the event in that we honour the divine nature of each attendee and expect each attendee to take individual responsibility for his words and actions at the event--which is the core of Thelemic philosophy.
Coph Nia differs from a typical festival in a number of ways. First, by only being open to men who love men, Coph Nia creates a unique microcosm for five days where "queer" is the norm. It is very surprising how empowering and liberating that can be. It also provides a wide array of programming from various spiritual traditions and at all levels of understanding. While there are plenty of workshops and rituals at a 101 level for beginners or those new to exploring spirituality, what sets Coph Nia apart is that there's a wide array of advanced programming as well for those who want to deepen their spirituality. The programming is given by the festival attendees and invited guest presenters so there's a real atmosphere of sharing from one's own experience and knowledge. As Coph Nia is in a very focused niche of queer spirituality, we can offer programming tailored more to that niche and it allows us to accept topics that might not typically be offered at other festivals.
We often have attendees that have not attended Pagan retreats before and one of the things that sets Coph Nia apart is that the community really does not divide up into cliques or spiritual groups. In the evenings, the center of the community activity is around the central drum circle/bonfire rather than individual camps so it is very easy for a new comer to get to know others and to have opportunities to informally talk with practitioners from a wide array of traditions and of various levels of experience. My advice to those new to Pagan retreats would be to come with an open mind and open heart, try to experience a number of different types of programming but don't try to do everything. Coph Nia's schedule is very dense and it is important for attendees to provide down time for themselves to process and to rest.
E: Is there a vision for this year's Coph Nia?
J: Our vision for Coph Nia every year is based on a verse from the Book of the Law -- "Every man and every woman is a star". It is our vision for men who love men to gather together in a way that recognizes the inherent divinity of each other while exploring their spiritual nature. The queer community often has a problem with treating one another as objects instead of the beautiful stars that we each are and Coph Nia's vision is in response to that tendency. Each year we choose a theme which summarizes a spiritual concept or the "energy" of the event
For 2014, our theme is "periculum" which means "risk or danger" and in particular, we're exploring the risk or danger involved in the challenge presented during initiation and the inherent idea of risk that comes with the process of initiation. Our graphic for the theme is based on the hanged man card of the tarot, which is often associated with initiation.
E: What are you most excited about? What kinds if workshops are planned?
J: Our graphic for the theme is based on the hanged man card of the tarot, which is often associated with initiation.
I'm really excited about the diversity of the workshops this year. We really stretched a little more this year in finding and inviting guests who were doing really different types of work and I'm very excited not only about that diversity but also about exploring the many common threads in these very different styles of approaching spirituality. I'm also very excited about performing the mysteries during our main ritual. We perform these every year and while they're very much based in the OAV mythology, the themes are universal.
Workshops this year really run the gamut. We have workshops on Pagan institutions, exploring masculinity in the goddess' path, rites of passage for gay and bi men, ecstatic ritual techniques, trance work, chanting and much more. Additionally we have several rituals in addition to the mysteries including a rite to Hekate and a ritual reenactment of the Sumerian myth of the goddess Inanna stealing the Holy ME from the god Enk
E: Tell me something about 4 Quarters? Why did you choose it? Do you need to know about camping?
J: Quarters is a Pagan Interfaith church. They operate an event site, farm and meadery on their land in Artemas, PA. The best word to describe what drew Coph Nia to them would be stewardship. We felt that the way 4 Quarters conducted the business part of running an event ground, the policies they put in place and how they developed the site really amounted to stewardship over the land not just developing an event site on a piece of land that they "owned". They really approached the whole thing as creating and caring for a sacred site rather than a campground and that really spoke to us. We feel that as event organizers, we're stewards of the community and our job is really to create the container or provide a framework for the community to come together and make the magick that is Coph Nia.
The facilities are outstanding and feature a dormitory building, hot showers, flush toilets, swimming holes in the river, and incredible ritual spaces including a main ritual circle ringed with standing stones. They're very dedicated to their vision and the site is constantly being upgraded and improved. We visited early this June and they had made numerous improvements since our visit last fall including greatly expanding the dining hall and dormitory.
The site is a campground but for those who really don't want to camp in a tent, there is the option to rent a bunk in the dormitory building. This is much more like cabin camping at 4 H or other summer camps. The site has water spigots throughout, hot showers and flush toilets so its not really primitive camping. Additionally for those that do want to tent camp but maybe aren't real experienced, the Coph Nia community has a number of members who have been attending festivals for many years and are always willing to offer camping advice and assistance to those that need it.
E: What are some if the things you hope participants take away?
J: It is my hope that participants take away three things -- That being queer isn't just "ok" but that it is special and unique and that each of us has a special place in the universe. Two, Queer men are blessed with special spiritual gifts.Other men are not objects for lust or to be used to improve our own self-esteem at the expense of others. Each of us are divine and every one of is a star worthy of love and respect. Three, I hope that each participant comes away from Coph Nia with a genuine desire to serve their community and use their spiritual gifts for the benefit of the LGBT community and the world.
There is still time to register for this years Coph Nia. Registration is open until July 15th!
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