Monday, July 19, 2010

Remembering Alexei Kondratiev

As most of you know, long time member of the Mythopoeic Society, member of the Northeast Tolkien Society passed from this world in May. For his services we wrote this honoring our friendship with him. Following are remembrances from friends of Alexei within the Mythopoeic Society.
In knowing Alexei these last 7 years I have quickly realized that I am but one small drop in a vast ocean of lives that he inspired. Many members of The Mythopoeic Society knew Alexei far longer, and better than my wife Jessica and I, and we are humbled to be able to speak on their behalf. Many of Alexei’s Mythopoeic Society friends— such as Carl Hostetter, Lynn Maudlin, Edith Crowe, Sarah Lucy Beach, Lisa Padol and Josh Kronengold, to name a few— knew him for twenty years or more. Both as a group and individually Alexei’s friends and fellow Society members attest to his broad and longstanding contribution to the Society.

My wife and I first met Alexei at the 33rd annual conference of the Mythopoeic Society, Mythcon, when it was held in Nashville in 2003. If memory serves, we met him on the evening before the conference officially opened, perusing the book vendors’ prodigious offerings. When we met him a second time, later that evening during dinner, our friendship was a fast one—grounded in many of the similar interests. Alexei was one of those people who knew volumes, but never let on just how much he knew. He was never arrogant or forceful, but every conversation, regardless of how brief (though those were seldom), left us feeling that we had shared in what he had learned. That first Mythcon was made so special for my wife and I, in large part because of Alexei and the sense that we got of being adopted into a community and a wealth of knowledge. We weren’t always able to attend each year, but whenever we did, we could look forward to hearing Alexei’s beautiful voice singing at Bardic Circle, filling the room with archaic songs, his quoting from memory literary passages or historic events, his instant recall of stories, the melody of his speaking from the many languages—both ancient and modern-- and the ring of his laughter over a pint at the pubs Mythies always manage to find. His abilities were beyond impressive and will be sorely missed.

In 2006, at yet another Mythcon but this time Mythcon 37 in Norman, Oklahoma, I was honored to have Alexei attend my paper on Native American History, Culture and Spirituality in New York State. As the talk ended Alexei approached me, kindly complimented my paper, smiling, and then offered advice on my pronunciation of key Algonquin linguistic terms. This moment was a key turning point in my pursuit of understanding the depth of Native American language and lore, yet the inspiration is not limited to just this topic. As I broached the topic of plants, Alexei’s deep glowing eyes widened, in them I felt he was happy to have a chance to speak of the medicinal and spiritual use of plants for indigenous people worldwide.

Another fond memory I recalled recently was of a visit to Central Park my wife and I had made with Alexei. We were taking a slow exit out of the Park and began discussing the wide array of plants and trees. When one of us incorrectly identified a tree Alexei humbly offered to name the trees we passed, and I knew that behind his answers lay a vast botanical knowledge. Were it not for these conversations and experiences, I would not be the aspiring botanist that I am today. My wife jokingly blames him for my many attempts, failures, & successes with our indoor greenhouse. I had never thought of growing some of these fascinating plants before my discussions with Alexei.

From our talks with Alexei, I was able to grasp that it is very important to expand and broaden your knowledge base, that we must all examine everything without boundaries. Language, religion, folklore, culture, anthropology, botany, spirituality, traditional lore—we all have the same roots and as fellow human beings we must have an understanding of one another.

Alexei had a profound effect and presence in every community he was a part of, The Mythopoeic Society being only one among many. Alexei was a very humble and quiet man; sometimes a man of few words, but when he did speak, there were times he spoke deeply, passionately, and at great length—he always said something, he always lent us his knowledge and this has left me with the profound feeling that these are characteristics we should strive to find within ourselves. Why? We should remember what unites us and the communities that keep us together. Alexei helped foster a sense of community wherever he went. And, in so doing, Alexei created a peaceful, thought provoking atmosphere amongst many groups of people—and we in turn can strive to do the same for others— and it because of this that we have a better world to live in. We can honor our friend Alexei by speaking with vision, passion, openness, and friendship, never with arrogance or insult, never with the intent to outdo or put down, and always with the sharing sense of community.

In my conversations with members of The Mythopoeic Society since Alexei’s passing we all agree that he inspired new and old scholars, which my wife and I are grateful to be ranked amongst. Because of this inspiration, on behalf of the society. A new annual award for the best student paper presented at Mythcon was named in his honor, "The Alexei Kondratiev Student Paper Award." We hope that students worldwide who attend MythCon, the future recipients of this award, are inspired to achieve the same level of contribution to scholarship as Alexei has given over the many years of his membership.

Alexei, many may say your light in this world has been extinguished, I choose to say that the brilliance of your light is now blazing across the heavens toward your great reward. On Behalf of The Mythopoeic Society thank you for enriching the lives of so many, you have left an indelible mark in our lives.

Shared with Alexei's Family during the services.

Many of Alexei’s friends & colleagues who wanted to be here to bid farewell were unable to do so or so keenly feel the shock of this event that there is an inability to speak. I endeavor to offer some words in farewell for them, and will do my best to speak myself on their behalf.

As you all know, from my husband Anthony’s kind words, Alexei was a member of the Mythopoeic Society. When news of his passing reached them, his dear friend, David Bratman said it wasn’t just a loss that the Society has experienced. He said it was as if a limb had been severed. I’d like to offer the speech introducing Alexei as the Scholar Guest of Honor at Mythcon 33 in Boulder, Colorado from 2002, written by David Bratman.

Alexei Kondratiev is The Man Who Knows. He knows languages, he knows mythology and traditional spirituality, and he knows fantasy literature as well as, or better than, anyone else in the Mythopoeic Society. Alexei was born in the US with summers spent in France, on one side the grandson of a Russian émigré; on the other side of native French descent. Alexei knows both languages, of course “ and developed a passion for Celtic civilization early in life. There is a Celtic underlay everywhere in France, even in Burgundy where Alexei grew up, and his talent is for discerning and bringing out this underlay wherever it extends. He also got an early start on learning fantasy literature through his parents' book collection, and has read as widely, in both new and old books, as anyone I know. Now he lives in New York, where he teaches and writes on Celtic languages, mythology, spirituality, music, and other aspects of their culture. His primary interest is in re-creating native Celtic cultural and spiritual traditions through immersion in their languages: to this end he has written a book, The Apple Branch: A Path to Celtic Ritual. Any of the modern Celtic languages can give you the key, he says; he himself knows all six.

But that is only the beginning of Alexei's knowledge. Even if you didn't know of his equally intense passion for Polynesian culture and language, you would hardly have been surprised at the Hawai'i Mythcon two years ago to find that he has a supreme erudition regarding the spiritual and mythological tradition of those islands. He has been a composer, who once embarked on an opera cycle based on Lewis's Space Trilogy. He has a deep knowledge of modern fantasy, as shown in his book reviews and commentaries in Mythprint, Mythlore (where he had a review column for several years), and Butterbur's Woodshed. Nobody can penetrate to the spiritual heart and lay out the lasting worth of a seemingly routine modern fantasy novel more clearly than he. He understands how the individual character of a language can affect its literature, and he can apply this principle to many tongues. He can, and will, wish you happy new year in fifteen languages. Name a culture, or even a fantasy author, and Alexei will tell you something you probably didn't know.

In all his work, Alexei's broad and deep reading, and his careful thought about what he has read, show through. Yet despite his awesome erudition, and his determined advocacy of positions, he never hectors or overwhelms his audience. He can stand in the middle of a Mythcon, silent and impassive as a Pukel-man, and then he will speak, quietly and without arrogance, giving just the fact needed to illuminate a conversation. He talks as clearly as he writes: when transcribing a Mythcon panel on which he appeared, I found I hardly needed to edit a word he spoke.

Within the Mythopoeic Society, and in other circles where he and his work are known, Alexei has won great respect for the depth of his scholarship, the breadth of his knowledge, and the profundity of his care and love for the literary and spiritual values of the literatures and cultures he knows.”

From longtime friend and fellow Mythie, Sarah Beach:
“[Alexei] had a barrel chest, a hearty laugh, and a resonant voice; an amazing depth of knowledge and insight and he was always interested in talking with whomever he was around. He's been one of my Mythie friends for over 20 years - seen once a year at Mythcon, but always looked for. I will miss him.”

I am deeply saddened to hear of Alexei's passing. I first made Alexei's acquaintance about 20 years ago through our shared interest in Tolkien's invented languages and mutual membership in the Mythopoeic Society. Having a chance to meet, hear, and talk with Alexei was always a highlight of our annual conferences. He made a quick and indelible impression on all who knew him, not only with the immense depth and breadth of his learning, or with his musical talents, but most especially with his generous and unassuming manner in all that he did. I am grateful for the assistance Alexei has given me over the years, for the inspiration of his example, and for the memory of his friendship; as no doubt are countless people the world over with whom he shared of his knowledge and insight in so many fields, and in whom his inspiration lives on. Alexei and all his family will remain in my thoughts and prayers.

Namárië, Alexei. Nai hiruvalyë Valimar!

Carl Hostetter

Alexei Kondratiev was a gentle man. He was brilliant and unassuming. He didn't push his greater knowledge down an unwilling throat but, if one was receptive, he was a delightful wealth of information, happily traversing rabbit trails and applying the skill of a Ranger to examining the ground.
Every year since the early 1980s, I would see Alexei at Mythcon and we'd have amusing and educational (for me, anyway!) exchanges - how much I will miss them!
My world is smaller without Alexei.
I was so touched when he made a point of telling me how much he enjoyed my performance on the piano at Mythcon 39 in Connecticut. "You're very good on the guitar but something very special happens when you play the piano, almost magical--" How I wish I could play for him again.
blessings, dear friend
-- Lynn Maudlin --

From friend & fellow Mythie, Edith Crowe:
Alexei was such a unique, lovely, charming man. His knowledge was prodigious but he was unfailingly modest and matter-of-fact about it. His fascinating background, travels and immersion in many languages gave him one of the most singularly beautiful voices & accents it has ever been my pleasure to hear. How profoundly sad to realize I'll never hear it again. Alexei, may the Summer Country be everything you've read about it.”

From his friend and fellow practitioner, Carole Linda Gonzalez:
“I was honored to have been one of Alexei's working partners in Mnemosynides. I first met him in 1989 and had the great pleasure of hosting circles where he told many wonderful stories and taught us the glories of the Celtic past. He will be sorely missed."

Finally, speaking for myself and my husband, we met Alexei over a stack of books a few weeks shy of 7 years ago. We didn’t know him as well as many of his friends did and I sorely regret not knowing him better, but he was a steady friend, a firm supporter, and someone who you come to rely on to be there, like the steady roots of a tree. I don’t choose to say that our tree has been uprooted. Alexei has given us all inspiration and grounding that will help us in ways we might not realize now.

Time has passed, the Wheel has turned. It is time for you Alexei to move on. You will walk hand in hand with the Lord and Lady and with your ancestors who came before you. Great Mother, welcome Alexei back into your womb. And Great Father welcome him back into your divine instruction. Let him come to you and know that he has been blessed by your gracious gift of Life. Let him come into your Divine Love, and let him know that he has left behind a life of legacy... that he shall be remembered and loved.
As he enters your world, wrap him in your loving arms, and welcome him back home. Let him speak to the Ancient Ones and to learn the greater mysteries that lie beyond the veil. Give him the strength to take these final steps, and allow him to do so with peace and dignity. Those of us left behind shall indeed mourn his death, but we shall also know that his Soul and Spirit is coming back to Holy Mother and Holy Father, and that he shall be made whole again. We shall cry, but we shall also laugh, for we shall celebrate the Life that had been given to Alexei And let him also know that as we now merry part, that we shall also merry meet again.

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