The Witches’ Sabbat 2018: Our Lady of the Unseen & The Wild Hunt
I’ve been trying to decide how to write this: what I want to share, what I should share, what I can share. Some of what I experienced up there is perhaps for me, alone. But that’s how the best spiritual experiences are, aren’t they?
There’s the top level story, the story of a weekend in the woods in Canada. That story starts with three friends piling into a car filled to the brim with supplies, as morning light dawned. A long day’s drive, mostly uneventful, to the border, and then to Ottawa. A pleasant dinner, and a welcome bed in a lovely hotel for the night. Then another morning’s ride, to a place called Raven’s Knoll, where we would spend a few days learning about and celebrating the Faery Queen and her Fae Lord.
Friday afternoon was one of exploration for me, of revisiting for my companions. There was rain as we walked the path to the Vé*, and there were mosquitoes, and when we returned, we set up a new-to-us tent for the first time and realized, alas, that we didn’t have a rain fly. I was soaked much of that day, and yet it seemed like a good beginning. My explorations earlier in the day, however, meant that I soon tired, and did not complete the circuit of the opening ritual. I remained resting outside the Witches’ Spiral that night, unaware at the time that there was more planned than simple circumambulations and libations for the stangs. Ah, well. I was trying to pace myself, aware that I would need a minor miracle to make it to my workshop on Sunday with enough energy to give these folk my best. Perhaps if I had been more aware of what was going to occur, I would have followed. But then again, perhaps I was meant to be outside, feeling the last of the setting sun on my skin, and learning to breathe in time to the local landspirits. I did not make it to the night ritual, either – late nights are a thing of the past for me, and sleep was high on my list of priorities, especially considering all that the next day would bring.
Saturday was the busiest of our days, beginning with workshops in the morning. I attended a discussion on warding and protection that shifted seamlessly into the next one, on which aspects of the Faery Queen we might want to invoke for the main ritual. After that was the big announcement on how we’d all be split into groups to work on the main ritual, and the staff explained the outline they’d like us to follow, but within that framework everything was going to be up to the smaller groups. The potluck feast followed the announcements, but my husband and I ate our own food, to avoid possible allergens. After lunch was the workshop on Hawthorne, our honored plant for the event, led by Sarah Anne Lawless.
After that workshop, the planning and preparations for the main ritual began in earnest. Scott and I joined House Mare, which had responsibility for the Faery Queen’s stang and her part of the ritual. House Stag was responsible for the Fae Lord and his stang, and House Hare was responsible for setting up the ritual space, as well as warding and protection. Regulars at WS routinely say “witchcraft is work” and Saturday afternoon was all of that work and more. It is no easy task to build an ecstatic ritual from the ground up. Once it seemed our organizer was satisfied that we had prepared most everything, I and a few others went to eat dinner and take a nap. The ritual would begin that night at 10pm, and I knew I’d never make it all the way through without rest.
At 10pm, Houses Hare and Mare gathered and processed to the fire pit, where the main ritual was to be held. Once we arrived, House Mare waited outside for House Hare to finish setting up the space, and while we waited we finished assigning roles, and handing out ritual items from the wagon. I had two roles: I was one of five people to annoint the stang during the Traditional Scots invocation of the Queen of Elphame, and after that I poured libations (a whole bottle of wine) while another read the invocation of the Faery Queen that had been written by himself and other members of our group. It gave me an amazing vantage point for the moment when She came through. The invocation complete, people began to dance and sing and move, raising energy as we awaited the beginning of Court Negotiations between our Lady and the Fae Lord, whose Court was set up in the Witches’ Spiral. As the next few hours passed, I found myself focused on personal work most of the time – I was not aware of much of the negotiation process. The energy around me rose and fell in inconsistent waves, and I tried to help each time it began to crash, but I think all of us were feeling the twin problems of trying to fill a too-large space, and the fatigue of the work we’d been doing all day. It wasn’t a bad ritual by any means, and there was energy enough to fuel personal breakthroughs, but as far as ecstatic ritual goes, I’ve seen better. From what I’ve heard, WS 2017 was much more ecstatic, and I would have liked to see that. It could be that the consequences of splitting off half the group** to form another Court in another location weren’t fully understood; and I believe they were expecting a larger crowd than we got for the weekend. Rain likely kept people away. In any case, I’m still pleased to have gone, and I had important experiences, though I left before the end. Once the Fae Lord was seated across the fire from our Lady, I poured him a libation and headed for bed. I heard from others that he was eventually moved to be beside her, instead of across the fire, and I wonder, if WS does something like this again, if they would find it better to do negotiations across the fire, instead of having people waiting while messengers run long paths through the woods at night. It would certainly have helped the energy to have all of us together, filling the space.
On Sunday, when I awoke and found myself to be Not Dying despite my short sleep, I declared it a minor miracle, and praised my gods and allies. I was So. Relieved. The first event of the day was a recap of the ritual from the night before. I listened to part of it, before leaving to prepare for my workshop, which followed the discussion. With permission from the staff, I moved my workshop to the Nemeton*** to give us more space, since the tables under the tents were hosting three workshops, and I wanted my attendees to have as little ambient noise to deal with as possible. Unfortunately we traded conversation for mosquitoes, but it still seemed to work well for most people. It was a small turnout, but I hadn’t expect a huge crowd the morning after such a late ritual. After my workshop, I hurried to the next one, “Les Dames Fées: Exploring the Many Incarnations of the Ladies Fae in French-Canadian Witchcraft”, presented by Erik Lacharity. It was a wonderful blend of folklore and personal anecdotes, and I was very glad to have gone. That was the last official bit of Witches’ Sabbat for me – with rain on the horizon, and my lack of sleep catching up with me, Scott and I opted to skip the closing ritual in favor of packing up. The first peals of thunder came just as the closed the ritual according to those there, and the first raindrops came down as we left Raven’s Knoll.
Perhaps I will explore those other, deeper, layers in future posts, but for now they are still roiling inside me, processing and awaiting integration.
* It is my understanding that it belongs to a local Heathen group, and there’s a short post on it here. As I am not an oathed member, I did not enter, though one of my companions on that walk has been oathed in, and made their offerings while others waited outside.
** Yes, half the group, not a third. They were specific about the number of people allowed to be in House Stag and I do believe they filled that quota. And no wonder, with talk of secret ritual while the rest of us gathered in the fire pit. It did seem to me that the locals and/or regulars have their cliques, but as a first time attendant and an outsider, I found it hard to care. I was focused on the Work.
*** The Nemeton is an Irish space, like the Vé, that I believe was set up by a local ADF druid grove. It has a pole for Lugh and one for Manannan. I set up my mini altar to Fand by her husband’s pole, and left several of the items there as offerings, as is the custom at Raven’s Knoll.