Event, Retreat/Festival/Convention

Mystic South 2019!

This was our first time at Mystic South, and I’m so glad I applied (last minute) to present, because it was a wonderful experience! I also want to share that they comped my registration fee, which was unexpected and a very nice change! I don’t think any of the large gatherings in the DC/MD/VA area do that. It made the conference really affordable, despite three nights in a hotel and a ten hour drive each way. I do think I’ll plan to present again next year – the only question is on what topic! The 90 minute blocks for 60 minute presentations was a good set up, because it gave us time to go over a little, and to run up to our rooms or peruse vendors between blocks. I was very happy with the diversity of presentations, both in topics (folk magic or chaos magic, astrology or Konmari), and in the presenters (several women of color, quite a few queer folks). We were happy to see some people we already new (Ivo Dominguez Jr, Michael G. Smith, Byron Ballard), to meet people we only know online (John Beckett, Ryan Denison), and to make new connections!

Read on for snippets from some of the workshops I attended!

Byron Ballard – Finding the Other Realms under Suburbia

I’m a fan of Byron’s workshops on the Fair Folk in general, and this one was not disappointing. She talked of talking to spirits – even types we might not expect – in urban places, and how urban witches can draw upon the energy of local flows for power: the flows of water pipes, of electricity, of traffic. DC has sacred geometry built into its layout, but other cities have equally powerful layouts of city center and liminal outskirts. Skyscrapers are human-made mountains from which we can gather power and cast workings over all we see. She also discussed using other liminal spaces and movement: riding public transport or crossing a large street on foot, setting an intention and then letting the spell take hold by the time you arrive at your destination, so that the journey is the casting. She reminded us that magic is not just aesthetic but also it’s not just for the highest of purposes: everyone needs to practice their skills to hone them, and those of us who live in cities ought to have a decent spell for finding parking.

Katelyn Willis: Navigating the Ethical Entanglements of Pagan Leadership

This was a presentation of an academic paper that was about half presentation and half open discussion. Willis (they/them) was using three values models: John Beckett’s Four Centers Model (also expanded upon in his 2017 book, The Path of Paganism), Emma Restall Orr’s Four Threads Model from her 2008 book Living with Honour: A Pagan Ethics, and the anthropological Kluckhohn-Strodtbeck Values Orientation Theory Model. Beckett’s Four Centers are: Self, Nature, Deity, and Community. Orr’s Four Threads are Fashion (or aesthetic), Magic, Scholarship, and Nature. Kluckhohn and Strodtbeck theorize that individuals (and groups) have value orientations in each of five areas: time, human nature, relationships with others, relationships with nature, and activity. We discussed each model and then Willis led a discussion through a framework for ethical decision making when pagan leaders are faced with conflicts in their communities. They recommended both Beckett and Orr’s books, and added a third favorite: Katherine McDowell’s Ethics and Professional Practice for Neopagan Clergy.

My Workshop: Seeking the Daughters of Flidais

I expected to have fewer than a dozen attendees, because I was presenting on some pretty obscure Irish goddesses, but I was pleasantly surprised to have closer to two dozen in my audience! Unfortunately I hadn’t prepared quite enough handouts for that many!

My presentation was structured to start with the available lore for each pair of daughters (Bé Chuille and Dinand, Fand and Lí Ban, and Bé Téite and Arden), along with epithets and possible etymologies. I then shared my experiences with each and some UPG. At the end I led a short guided meditation so the attendees could hopefully interact with these deities. We went slightly over time, but luckily there was a half hour break between class blocks!

If you’re interested in my handout (which mostly covers lore) and the meditation, they can be accessed here: Seeking the Daughters of Flidais.

Ivo Dominguez, Jr: The Signs – 12 Styles of Consciousness

This workshop was primarily focused on understanding our natal sun, moon, and rising signs and how to use those to bring ourselves into better alignment. For the sun sign, Ivo explained that this is our source, and if we’re feeling depleted, we need to invigorate our sun. Positive traits of each sign will lean us towards the next sign, and negative traits are when we fall back into the previous sign. (Aquarius is more positive as it leans towards Pisces, and more negative as it falls into Capricorn, for example.) To illustrate that, he provided a handout with a chart that is featured in his recently published astrology book, Practical Astrology for Witches and Pagans. For our moon signs, Ivo suggested that if we’re having difficulty with our internal narrative, we should turn to the elemental siblings of our sign. (Gemini Moons should turn to Libra and Aquarius, for example.) For our rising sign, or Ascendant, Ivo suggested looking at our Descendant as well (the opposite sign) and try to balance the two (for example, Capricorn and Cancer). He described the Ascendant not as the “personality”, because both sun and rising create parts of our personality, but rather as the GUI, the graphical user interface, for this particular lifetime.

Ivo also gave us two insights that in retrospect are sort of well-duh moments. The first: the glyphs of the signs and the planets are sigils and you can and should use them as such: inscribe them on yourself, on candles, incorporate them into workings! The second: a lot of human belief and study and experience has been poured into the 12 signs of the western zodiac, and he believes it’s enough that they’ve become at least egregores and possibly deity-forms, which means we can invoke them directly! I may need to buy his book.

Sangoma: Crossing Lines, Healing our Racial Divide

This was sort of an open discussion of workings we could use to heal ourselves and our society, with frequent anecdotes from Sangoma about her own life as a black Cherokee woman, and founder of a spiritual healing community. It was engrossing and I did not take as many notes as I might otherwise have. I did write down her answer to a very powerful exchange between Sangoma and a white attendee. The attendee had recently learned that some of her ancestors had owned land near where we were in Georgia, and that in addition to that land they had also owned five slaves. She wanted to know what she could do with that knowledge, how she could make up for the trauma her ancestors perpetuated, how she could work with ancestors who had done something like that. Sangoma’s response was concise and actionable: Find out who they were, if you can. Find their descendants, if you can, and help them out. Find out where they were buried, if you can, and give them last rites so that they may go peacefully into the next world. And what about the black nannies who raised your family? Do you send them Christmas cards? Find them and their descendants, too. The only thing you can do is ask the dead for forgiveness, and help the living as best you can.
I did not know prior to attending that she was indigenous – having found out during the presentation, I asked Scott to run up to the room to get tobacco, and I gifted her with it after the workshop, to thank her for doing this work. We talked for a few moments about indigeneity, and she asked about my people and our culture and history. I am very glad to have had the opportunity to learn from this Elder.

Sid Simpson: Color Schemes – Providing a Spiritual and Cultural Concept Framework for Use of Color from the Historic Heathen Era

Sid brought a huge assortment of hands on stuff to toss around while we listened to her presentation, from strands of beads to linen swatches, to works-in-progress of embroidery and card weaving. Her background is in living history and archaeological study, and she’s a member of the SCA in addition to being a practicing Heathen. The main thesis of the presentation was that color didn’t used to symbolize wealth, it WAS wealth, and wealth was worn openly to denote social status. White, black, and red were the most expensive colors at the time, and anyone wearing highly decorated clothing in those colors was probably wealthy and important. Clothing and other items also tell scholars a lot about the tribe or village people were from as well, what kind of trade connections they had and how successful they were. She used King Raedwald from the Sutton Hoo ship burial as her main example throughout the presentation. It was really interesting, and Sid had a good takeaway message for Heathens doing ancestor work: don’t “symbolize” wealth to your ancestors, just show up wearing bright colors and gold jewelry! Show them that you’re being successful and honoring their memories when you ask for help.

John Beckett: Self-Care for Priests and Other Pagan Leaders

Beckett began with a short prayer, and then a three-part definition of “priest”: 1) serves their deities, 2) mediates for their deities, 3) serves their community. It’s a decent definition, and one that does seem to apply to my “priestess-ing” for the Morrigna last fall/winter. My oracular work for Bast and Sekhmet includes the first two but arguably doesn’t serve a community. That’s a very specific type of “priesthood”, though, and that’s why I’m specific when I describe it, calling myself an oracular-priestess-novitiate (novitiate because I’m still in training). On the “Other Pagan Leaders” side of things, I do serve my community but not the deities in my roles as Librarian of The Fellowship Beyond the Star, and as an organizer of Fox and Fungi at the UU Church in Reston. I attended this workshop in large part to be able to bring notes back to my fellow leaders in those two organizations.

Beckett emphasized that priesthood is not a position of authority; it’s a position of service. First to arrive, last to leave, etc. But it’s also important to not become a martyr or to get completely burnt out. When you’re teetering on that edge, Beckett recommends returning to your foundations. Why are you pagan? Why did you become clergy? Something called you – build on that. Know why you do what you do, because that will make it easier to keep going. Take the time to nurture your deity relationships. Beckett is a firm believer that having a daily practice is key.

Boundaries are also very important! People need boundaries and groups need bylaws. Priests need to understand the boundaries of their expertise: we need to know when to make a referral to a pagan-friendly therapist (and I would add: or a lawyer, or a doctor, or a life coach). Sometimes people need pastoral counseling and he’s happy to provide that either in person or through emails, but he only does a few exchanges or meetings before he has to set a boundary and either make a referral or quote his rates as a spiritual advisor. He has a day job and does not have the time or energy to be available to everyone who wants help.

Beckett also stressed accountability, and the need for clergy to have people they can go to for their own pastoral counseling. He turns to his “advanced peers”, like Ivo Dominguez Jr. It’s important within your own group, however, to have people who can tell you when you need to just go home and sleep. It’s also a good idea to keep up with continuing education (both in pastoral counseling and also in pagan theology and your personal paths), and to attend things like retreats and conferences. He also recommends moving in a multiple groups, so that you have diverse support networks in case one group is entirely run down, themselves. Within the groups, it’s a very good idea to train your replacements, and to make the division of duties as clear as possible, so that the group will continue to exist after you leave. I had a lot of thoughts about the groups I’m a part of and the groups I’m helping lead, and some good ideas for ways to improve them.

Also, I bought his book (Paganism in Depth) and had him sign it.

Stephanie Woodfield: Divination Magic with Skulls and Bones

So, I don’t really “do” bones. They aren’t really part of my witchcraft – either practice or aesthetic. But I’ve heard good things about Stephanie Woodfield, and I can’t resist learning a new kind of divination, ever, so I had to attend this. And WOW, was it packed! The front table was just absolutely covered with bones, which she said would be for the hands on portion at the end of class.

The first part of the workshop was mostly on the what and how of bone divination. Woodfield said that a lot of people think what you’re supposed to connect with is the animal the bones belonged to, but that’s not usually the case. (Whoops!) Instead, the animal soul itself is usually either already gone, or leaves once it agrees to be a tool, or becomes a vehicle for the species Oversoul, or that Oversoul becomes a vehicle for connection to the Ancestors. Animal bones are better than human in her experience, even human bones ethically and consensually obtained: humans just seem to have more ideas about how they want their remains to be used or honored than animals do. So when you first acquire bones, Woodfield recommends cleaning them, cleansing them, and then trying to connect with what’s left of the animal’s soul, to figure out if it wants anything and if it’s willing to work with you. Then you can negotiate what kind of work for what kind of offerings, and prepare it to become a vehicle.

Woodfield described four major branches of bone divination: 1) skull divination (often scrying inside the brain cavity), 2) throwing bones (this kind is usually a mix of bones and may include nuts, shells, and metal objects), 3) slaughter bones (one-time use divination from an animal that is eaten), and 4) single animal throwing kits (either from one individual or from one species). She gave lots of examples of each, and I started to get Vibes that I may need to take a closer look at some fox bones I have by accident. So, maybe that’s a thing, now.

At the end of the class she had us all select a bone and then attempt to connect with it. I didn’t get much – I had a sensation of large whiskers and I was pretty sure it was a small herbivore and that it lived near water. It turned out to be a bone from a calf that had lived on a farm near a river. Not as small as I was thinking, but I suppose it must feel small next to its mother! Apparently the poor thing had been caught by coyotes one night, and the bones had been given to Woodfield by her friend who owned the farm.

Amy Blackthorn: Justice Craft of the Wise

I’ve near-missed Amy Blackthorn a couple of times at other events, but she’s the headliner at Hallowed Homecoming this year (and I will hopefully be presenting there again this year) and I thought I should really attend one of her workshops while I was at Mystic South! I picked this one since social justice magic is one of my Things, and I came away with a lot of good info! One of the main things was another well-duh moment, like in Ivo’s class: pieces of legislation have names, and “birth” dates. We can target them directly with banework, rather than targeting authors. Blackthorn likes to use the first page of the bill (available online) as its “photo” for these workings. She also emphasized the importance of doing this kinds of workings in groups, and admittedly that’s a place my own practice is currently lacking, as my usual cohorts and I have a combination of distance problems and scheduling difficulties.

Blackthorn also talked about different types of herbs and oils that could be used for legal difficulties and court cases, and mentioned that a lot of what she was sharing was taken from her book, Blackthorn’s Botanical Magic. She included peppercorn, jasmine, frankincense, and sandalwood in several different oil blend recipes, and there was a brief discussion of the importance of finding ethical and sustainable suppliers, especially for frankincense and sandalwood. She also explained some uses for courthouse dirt, and how it can be used to bring justice to someone! (But probably don’t mail a box of it to Mitch McConnell because the post office may intercept the package.)

Llevin and Gwen Ithon: Arcane Borders

Can I just say that these two are my favorite new people I met at Mystic South? Seriously. You should check out their website. Scott went to all of their classes, and while I only managed to attend one, we had a great conversation on the last day of the conference and I hope to keep in touch, despite their limited presence on the internet.

Anyway, the workshop itself was a sort of introduction to the culture/spirituality/folklore of the Scottish Border regions, from Hadrian’s Wall to the current political border and then west into Galloway. They talked a bit about reiving culture and how Borderers are horse people and therefore not kilt-wearers, though they did weave striped and checked tartan cloth to identify families. They gave a brief overview of the history, from the viking era through to the “Pacification of the Borders” in the 1700s. Along with that, they discussed religion and how Borderers were mostly Christian by the 1700s, but still frequently ignored Church teachings and continued to practice their traditional spirituality and fairy faith, and how a lot of lore survived by being gathered into the teachings of secret societies. Llevin stressed that in the Border regions and much of Scotland, witchcraft and the fairy faith were the same thing – to be a witch was to work with the fairies and vice versa. They also gave an overview of a few deities as they are known in the Border region, and cognates where applicable to other Celtic deities.

Devotional Ritual to Badb

This was led by Stephanie Woodfield, and a group from somewhere in New England called Tuatha Dé Morrigan, I believe? Something like that, though the Mythic South website just lists individual names! The premise of the ritual was that we were calling on Badb as the Washer at the Ford, so that we might be cleansed of anger and grief, and to ask for her prophecy of Peace. I was running out of spoons, so I was escorted in to sit while others then processed and circumambulated the ritual space. Despite my low energy it was a fairly powerful experience, however, and I gained some insight into why I’d been called to work for Na Morrigna last fall/winter. And I was told to begin again Lughnasadh-Eve, so: Crow Folks, stay tuned.

Tuatha Dea Live Performance

Holy Shit, y’all. I’ve near-missed Tuatha Dea several times, but this time I was in the right place at the right time with the right ticket and just enough spoons left to sit near the dance floor, and it was AMAZING OH MY GODS! Highly recommended to anyone who gets a chance to see them live, even in a tiny setting with no special lighting. Also – Holy Fairy Vibes, Batman. And I may have bought a CD.

Jameson Hoscyns: Old Gods, New Words – Neologisms in Pagan Theological Discourse

This was another paper presentation, in the realm of socio-linguistics. Hoscyns said that religious vocabularies aren’t studied very much, and pagan religious vocabularies aren’t studied at all, but he’s trying to change that. I completely failed to write down which website he used as his corpus but I believe it may have been Patheos Paganism? I did write down that he analyzed 135 individual articles by 25 individual authors. He expected to find that neologisms followed the greater American English patterns, and would include a lot of compounds and blended words, but instead he found the most common type of neologism was a borrowing out of another language, such as when Hellenic polytheists use “Apollon” in place of the more common “Apollo”, or when the names for certain roles or tools are used from the original language in a reconstructionist context. He attributed this to the need to be clear about ritual usage, similar to the way Wiccans often say “chalice” instead of “cup”. I wasn’t surprised about the re-borrowing of more accurate transliterations, because I’m familiar with that in the realm of Kemetic polytheism!

Anomalous Thracian: Ophiolatry – Sacred Serpents in Religion, Devotion, and Worship

This was a very informal conversation about snakes in general and also their place in a variety of religious paths. Thracian told us anecdotes from his life taking care of different snakes and rescuing them from neglectful circumstances. He reminded us that snakes are very tied to specific locations, and that we should get to know our local species. As conversational as it was, I didn’t take very many notes, but I came away with the feeling that I really do need to get to know the snakes of this region better, as I aim to stay here long-term.

Honorable Mentions!

Workshops I wish I could’ve seen but did not manage to attend:
Michael G. Smith: Pagan Ethics
John Beckett: Connecting to the Land Where You Are
Michael Rollins: Improving Group Meditation
Byron Ballard: Song of the Churn
Panel: Folk Magic in the Round
Anomalous Thracian: Polytheistic Orientation of Identity
Panel: Stories of Devotion and Devotion to Stories – Discerning Religion from Mythology
rowan walker: trans // magic
Jason Mankey: The Magick of Initiations, Elevations, and Dedications
Deborah (DJ) Martin: Herbs of the Southern Appalachians in Medicine and Magic

Event, Paganism, Retreat/Festival/Convention

Beltaine at Fertile Ground Gathering!

So, this past weekend, Scott and I went to Triangle, VA for 2 days of Fertile Ground Gathering. The event runs Thursday through Sunday, but for personal/family logistic reasons, we only attended Friday and Saturday, the days with the bulk of the rituals and workshops. The Acorn Sprout did not come with us – after discussing it, we though it would be better to leave a toddler still in diapers with his grandparents and cousins for the weekend than to bring him along camping in the (likely) rain. There were kids activities, but we expected they would be geared towards slightly older children. So, we dropped off the Acorn Sprout on Thursday afternoon, packed up, and left at 7am on Friday. We arrived around 8:30am, in time to register and have a little breakfast before the first workshops. As with other events, I’m going to be focusing mostly on workshops I attended, rather than what Scott attended, because I took notes with plans to blog about my experiences!

Early Religion in Scandinavia – Jane Sibley, PhD

This was an extremely informative workshop, and Sibley seems to really know her shit – which I would expect from someone who *is* Scandinavian and speaks a Scandinavian language and got a PhD in folklore! Much of the presentation was drawn from a book she wrote called The Divine Thunderbolt, which includes both comparative mythology and the archaeological record, though the book has a much wider scope than the presentation, which focused on the Scandinavian Thor and his cognates in Sámi and Germanic mythology. She also emphasized how much of what modern Heathens and Norse Polytheists consider lore was likely made up by, or at least heavily edited and rewritten by either Snorri or the Brothers Grimm. She believes we need to pay more attention to the archaeology and the Icelandic sources.

There were a few takeaways that I think will be relevant to my own practice. Firstly, Sibley said that the Norse originally had a tripartite elemental system, similar to the Celts, with Earth, Water, and Sky/Air, fire being considered just a hot air. Secondly, she said that Thor should probably be considered Vanir, as he predates Odin and the Aesir, but things get kind of blurry, because the bloodlines are all mixed up anyhow. (Just think about how many of the Aesir are said to have Jotun parents!) Thirdly, Sibley discussed the importance of linen or flax and leeks used together for protection magics. Lots to think about!

Making My Introductions

Before lunch, Scott and I popped down to a place we’d found last year at Hallowed Homecoming, which takes place in the same camping area, and greeted some of the local spirits we’d met in October.

Wakening Ritual

This was a sort of opening ritual, following the Warding Ritual Thursday night. It was short, but to the point, and allowed people to find their trance in stillness, slow motion, or ecstatic motion as they preferred. As it was quite warm out and I was struggling slightly with my chronic illness, I opted for stillness, but that is frequently my preference in any case.

Fiber Magic – Katie LaFond

This was an extremely small workshop – just the presenter, myself, and one other attendee! It was an interesting twist of fate, though – three women of three different ages, discussing fibercraft and witchcraft. LaFond had brought extra supplies and several things to demonstrate, so she set me up with some yarn and a crochet hook while she talked about different ways she uses fibercraft to do witchcraft, from knitting intentions into baby blankets, to creating a family cable pattern for sweaters, to how she sewed planetary robes for her husband to use in his astrology work during the associated planetary days and hours. She demonstrated two different kinds of wool spinning, showed me how to spin flax and let me try that, and set up the other woman with a collapsible lap loom. We also talked about witchcraft more generally, and homesteading and gardening, discussing our lives, our paths, and our crafts as we worked away at our little projects. I made a small crocheted floppy witch hat, for one of the Acorn Sprout’s dolls.

Friday Evening

After dinner, there were a few musical performances and then a bonfire. We stayed to listen to most of Melanie Bresnan’s set, but we went to bed before Maharal began. I have seen them perform before, however, and I do recommend seeing them if you get a chance!

Weaving your Destiny – Chris LaFond

This workshop sort of built upon LaFond’s earlier workshop on the natal chart but I have a vague understanding of my natal chart so I figured I would be able to follow along. As it turned out, we had an entirely new group of people anyhow, so he spent the first fifteen or twenty minutes giving us an overview before moving into his main topic, which was about how to use planetary timing to predict possible events coming up in your life, and how to have a better handle on working with planetary timing, instead of against it. He explained that his approach to astrology is more pre-1700s, before the Enlightenment came and added in a bunch of early psychology, and that puts him in contrast to most pagan and mainstream astrologists, who use newer astrology methodologies. Because of his focus, he doesn’t really use the outer planets much. He also uses Whole Sign Houses, where the Houses of one’s natal chart start at the beginning of the sign and encompass the whole sign, instead of starting at a specific degree of the sign.

LaFond explained the Chaldean order, and how our lives cycle through it, spending a number of years under the influence of each planet, starting with either the moon or the sun, depending on whether one was born at night or during the day (defined as whether the sun was above the horizon or not). Since I was born at night, I spent the first 9 years under the influence of the moon, then 11 years under Saturn, and I’m currently within the 12 years under Jupiter. Within those periods, each is broken down into 7 again (because no outer planets, remember), and so I am currently in the time of the Moon, within the period of Saturn.

LaFond also explained how an astrologer can cycle the natal chart forward every year and use that as a means of predicting the year to come (on the birthday, not the calendar year). For my chart, that means I’m in a 5th House Year, now, and my fifth House is in Taurus. Another means of predicting the year to come that he discussed was to cast a new chart for the solar return of your birth, which is usually within three days of your calendar birthday.

Next, LaFond discussed planetary days and hours, and emphasized that the “hours” are just daylight or nighttime divided into 12, so only near the equator near the equinox do they actually last an hour! Also, the planetary days all begin at dawn, and the first planetary hour is the same as the day. They cycle through the week completely (again, with only the 7 planets of older astrology). This made me think of the old nursery rhyme/divinatory poem that starts “Monday’s Child is full of grace…” I’d always considered myself a “Monday’s Child” because I was born on a calendar Monday. But by this system, as I was born before dawn, I was born on the Day of the Sun, instead!

Accidental Wanderings

After Chris LaFond’s workshop, I wandered down to the water there, which I have come to learn is called Happyland Camp 5 Lake. I saw a number of turtles and frogs and it was really quite lovely, especially since the rain overnight had taken the heat away. On my way back to the feast hall I started wondering about one of the local spirits, and I took a wrong turn – I found myself at a footbridge over a creek, near the fire pit, but I also found my answer. Not exactly my intention, but once I acknowledged that and understood the message, I found my way to the feast hall for lunch with no further ado, so: no harm, no foul. Perhaps a good reminder to keep slightly better track of my surroundings, however!

Warrior Blessing Ritual

Irene Glasse led a Warrior Blessing Ritual after lunch, for blessing and healing of the Warriors among the Dead, the Living, and the Future Generations. It was a really heartfelt and emotional experience, especially as I took the time to connect with two of my great-grandfathers who were in service during WWII, and I reflected upon the military service of other family members and friends, both living and deceased.

Power, Freedom. Boundaries, and Consent – Rath

Some of this presentation was apparently based on a Foundations class Rath had previously taught. There were only a handful of us in attendance so we sat on the porch instead of inside the craft cabin, where we were divebombed by carpenter bees on occasion, but it was nice to be outside in the warm-but-not-too-hot weather.

Rath began with Power, and had us all give words we associated with it, and asked us if we wanted power. I said “it depends”, which is a normal tendency of mine that is perhaps related to my dealings in Faery – I generally want to know all the details before I agree to something, and there are plenty of circumstances in which I would not want specific kinds of power! Rath then discussed “power over” vs “power with”, and different models for wielding or sharing power. When he discussed Freedom, Rath also used two kinds: “freedom to” vs “freedom from”, though he spent more time focusing on “freedom to”.

That brought us to Boundaries, both in the personal (between individual people) and in pagan traditions and systems of magic, where some things are a part of the system or tradition, and other things don’t fit the paradigm. Rath emphasized that even the most eclectic and welcoming groups have a boundary somewhere, using Mormons as an example of a spiritual tradition most pagan groups would consider outside their boundaries. Following on boundaries, we talked about consent, and how in an ideal world consent would always be explicit and informed, but that some experiences are so difficult to fully explain that nearly everything is only partially informed, and in many cases consent is implicit instead, though it can still be revoked.

The final segment of the workshop was focused on exploring a number of different common pagan group models, and pointing out the flaws in each, because at the end of the day, no group is perfect, and all are open to different sorts of abuse. The best thing we can do is to try and mitigate the flaws as much as possible as group leaders, and as group members we should try to find groups that best fit out own personal boundaries.

Wandering Ritual

This ritual began in the ritual field we’d used for the Wakening Ritual, and instead of a Maypole, this year we wove ribbon as a community, in keeping with the theme “Weaving a Tapestry”. The Fae were invited to weave with us and then to join us in as we processed back to the feast hall and walked through hanging veils into the evening’s revelry and feast.* The ritual was not to be closed until Sunday morning, but as Scotty and I needed to be home Sunday and a thunderstorm was rolling in, we left instead of staying for the feast, and therefore missed the Kindred Crow set which was somewhat disappointing. Still, we got home in time to get decent sleep, which I needed. One of these days, though, I am going to actually manage to see them live!

Overall?

Overall, we had a pretty enjoyable experience. It was really nice to be out in all that GREEN! I’m not sure if we’ll be back next year, though, because Beltaine is usually a pretty busy time of year for us, both for our hearth cult and because it’s near the Acorn Sprout’s birthday!


* Note: I had serious misgivings about the structure of this ritual, not least because we were all supposed to be in the Otherworlds with the Fae all night, despite the fact that there were quite a few young children attending the event. As a practitioner of the Fairy Faith, I really can’t emphasize enough how mercurial and potentially dangerous the Fae are, especially around Beltaine. I was told that offerings were made and precautions were taken, but as I wasn’t there for the Warding Ritual and I wasn’t given details, I can’t speak to their efficacy. I made my own supplications and performed my own protective magics. I’ll leave you with Morgan Daimler’s words on the subject.

ancestor work, Event, fae, Paganism, Retreat/Festival/Convention, Spiritwork, Workshop

Hallowed Homecoming 2018

I meant to blog about this right away, but first I was still processing and then Samhain season really hit. It’s still hitting, and I’ll blog about that, soon, but first, here are my impressions of Hallowed Homecoming.

Generally, I liked the event! The workshops were enlightening and inspiring, the rituals small but effective. The staff was amazingly helpful, the food was delicious and filling (and they are SO GOOD with allergies!), and there was enough tea to keep my cup always filled. The parkland was beautiful, and the cabins were spacious. The only bad thing, really, was the weather.

It was cold. Cold and wet, and the cabins didn’t keep out the chill – they barely kept out the drafts. I had a brand new coleman sleeping bag rated to 0°F, and that combined with wearing three layers and a hat to bed made me barely warm enough. The rest of the time, I was fighting numbness in my hands and feet, even with thermal layers beneath my clothes, my good new boots, and gloves. Part of that, of course, is due to my chronic illness: I have poor circulation and difficulty with temperature regulation. The tea helped, and the fire in the main hall helped even more, but with wet firewood making fires in workshop cabins a struggle, I often found myself too cold to be fully immersed.

Our first day opened with registration and unpacking, and then I opted to skip the first workshop (on crafting ancestor altarpieces) in favor of walking the land, as I did at Witches’ Sabbat this past May. I started with my traditional self-introduction with tobacco in the Anishinaabe language, and after that I went wandering in search of the local Courtly Fae.

I was guided down a trail, under a fallen tree, down a fork to the left, across a field, down a hill, counter-clockwise around a holly bush, over another fallen tree, and to a decaying stump covered in bright green moss. Like the small hill in Ontario, this natural landmark was an anchor to a Faery Court, and when I gave an offering (of a delightful elderflower and lemon soda), I perceived a beautiful hall, and in a throne on a dais, a young and exquisitely beautiful Queen. She hadn’t been expecting my visit, but was pleased enough to meet me and accept the offering. I called her Wood Violet, because the flowers were a repeating feature in the decoration of the room and her wardrobe, and her eyes were the same purple. Scott accompanied me on the physical journey, but did not join me in the Hollow Hill.

Byron Ballard was the keynote speaker for the weekend, and that evening we attended her first workshop: Practical Ancestor Work. She began with a line from Mary Oliver’s poem “Wild Geese”, which is also a favorite of mine. (If you don’t know it, I highly recommend reading it.) My notes are sporadic, because Byron was teaching to a mixed-level group, and I was already familiar with much of her material. I did not know, however, that there is a version of the Wild Hunt in Yorkshire called the Gabble Ratchet that is associated with migrating geese, and is said to collect the souls of the recently departed. Byron also emphasized that there are several different types of ancestors: 1) blood family ancestors, both recent and ancient, 2) adoptive family ancestors, including friends who have passed, 3) the Beloved Dead, who are people from history that you feel a special kinship with, and 4) the Mighty Dead, who are the cultural heros of groups one belongs to, be they ethnic cultures, religious cultures, trades or crafts, or subcultures. A lot of time, people seem to shy away from Ancestor Work because their most recent ancestors were abusive or intolerant of other faiths, but there’s a wide world of the Dead out there, and no rule that says you have to start with the grandmother who hated you. (Although Bryon did also say that sometimes, those toxic relatives get a better perspective once they cross over, and they realize what they’ve done and feel obligated to make things better. Not always, but you might try contacting them and seeing if they’ll help you out occasionally, if speaking to them isn’t likely to trigger too strong of a negative reaction.)

The Opening Ritual was mostly to introduce the Guardians for the weekend, and to establish sacred space. My friend Kate joined them this year, and I felt that we were in safe hands for the work we would do the rest of the weekend.

Kate also led the first workshop I attended on the second day, on Hedgewitchery. Despite some technical difficulties with the fire in the craft cabin (damp wood), she led a pretty lively discussion of traditional witchcraft, her family’s German-American folk magic, and her approaches to hedgecrossing. The last part of the workshop was a guided meditation to speak to an element, and I had a very insightful conversation with the goddess Dinand while standing in a river. I was very glad to finally attend this workshop, since I missed it the last time Kate taught it!

Byron’s workshop on Saturday was one I believe I’d seen before, called the Spirit-Haunted Landscape, but the stories and the way she teaches change every time, so I was happy to listen again.  She talked a bit about human spirits and different kinds of ghosts, and then of land spirits – both the large spirits of place, and the smaller more fae beings associated with plant growth.  The last group she talked about are what I would consider the Gentry, the more powerful among the fae, like Wood Violet, the White Lady, and my own Queen, Starflower.  Her words were as much warning as instruction: do not do the work if you are not called to it, she said, because you will be happier and have a simpler life without Them.  But she believes that, for those of us who are called, we need to heed it, we need to brave the danger, because They can help us heal the world, and we need all the help They can give, even if it means that some of us lose parts of ourselves.  I found myself nodding along with much of what she said, and I wasn’t the only one – at the end, she asked a few of us whom she either already knew or could tell worked with the Gentry and she asked us to share a nugget of wisdom.  Strangely (or perhaps not so strangely, considering the subject matter), I can no longer remember what I said.

After that was my own workshop, an intermediate-level introduction to the three Morrigna, specifically the Daughters of Ernmas. There were about a dozen attendees, and I think it was pretty well received, even though I came dangerously close to info-dumping during my section on the Morrigna’s appearances in lore.  I’ll be sharing the journey prompt in my next Dark Moon Crow Calls blog.

Following my workshop it was dinner time, and then after dinner we were all turned out of the main hall long enough for the staff to set up for the main ritual.  We gathered outside for the main ritual and processed in, finding seats in near-darkness and near-silence.  After what I recognized as a fairly standard Wiccan ritual opening led by Rev. Tristan and Byron Ballard, we were led in a call-response honoring ancestors who had many different types of deaths.  Then a yarn rope that had been woven during an earlier workshop was stretched into a circle around the room, with each participant holding onto it in their non-dominant hand.  We were instructed to give a single word answer to describe wisdom we’d received from our ancestors, and then take the scissors from the ritual leaders and cut a piece of the rope.  My word was “peacemaking”.

On Sunday, Byron opened her workshop by explaining that she’d gone off site last night and had been in contact with the wider world, and expected that most of us had not, as that area of the parkland is a cell signal dead zone.  She painted the Pittsburg tragedy in broad brush strokes, and said some strong words about banding together and fighting bigotry and the importance of interfaith work, before giving us all a moment to process.  I had already begun to feel that we shouldn’t stay all the way to the end of the day, because the cold and damp was beginning to get to me, but after the news I just wanted to get home to my baby.  My baby, who at eight days old, was given a taste of sacramental wine while a rabbi spoke prayers in Hebrew over him.  My little family may be pagan, but we’re Jewish, too.  We still observe some of the traditions of our ancestors, even if our religious views differ.

Once most of us had regained our composure, she began her workshop proper, on the topic of Peasant Magic.  She shared a paraphrasing from Jason Miller, who split magic into two broad categories: temple magic, and field magic.  Peasant magic and folk magic, she explained, was field magic, where you do the work that needs to be done with whatever tools and materials you can scrounge up, be that a bit of lint from your pocket and your own saliva, or an herb you grow in your yard and your good wooden spoon.  She talked a bit more about community, too, about being our own first responders and not relying on bureaucracy when its ways will take too long.  Boom the creek yourselves to stop an oil spill from making it to the river.  Set up networks, where you know who to turn to for each crisis, be it one of waterways, immigrants in crisis, or a house fire.  No one can devote time to every worthy cause, she reminded us, to it’s best to pick 3, and devote as much time and effort as you can to those three, and trust that your neighbors will cover the rest.  You can support them in solidarity when they need your help, and they will support you back, even if it’s something as simple as buying a box of candles for a vigil.  Mundane actions and magical workings work best in unison, she said – one without the other isn’t as effective.  But if you try a spell and it doesn’t work, and then you try it more carefully and harder and it doesn’t work, and then one more time while pulling out all the stops and invoking all your gods and it still doesn’t work, you need to stop.  She calls it “1,2,3, Brick Wall”.  After the third time, you’re being told that the work is not for you to do, and your need to accept that.  She told a poignant story about the fires near her home a few years ago, to illustrate the point, and ended with the wisdom that what seems like a disaster may contain within it new growth; some seeds are only opened by fire.  That resonated with me, especially considering the messages I’ve been getting from the Morrigna and the Eyes of Ra lately.

After the workshop we packed up to leave, and did not stay for the closing ritual.  We said our goodbyes, and exchanged contact information with a few new friends.  Some people asked if we’d come again, and I wanted to say yes, but I could already feel how much strength the weather had sapped from me, and the insight of the chronically ill told me I’d be spending days recovering.  So I don’t know.  I enjoyed the event.  I’d love to see the space again; I’d like to return in the spring to see Wood Violet in her time of power.  But I’m not sure if three days of damp and cold was wise.  I may need to look into staying somewhere off site, somewhere warm and dry, but then the expense may be more than our budget can stretch to cover.  We shall see.