ConVocation 2018: The Strength to See the Details behind the Big Picture
Last year, I went to my first ConVocation in Detroit after realizing I could get my convention fix fulfilled for a much easier financial commitment than going to Pantheacon in San Jose. This year, I realized that I could have arranged to go to Pantheacon (indeed, it might have been easier as I had that whole weekend off from school), but I chose to go to ConVocation instead. ConVo has such a wonderfully friendly atmosphere, and the attendees seem to roll with whatever punches come without much of a fuss. (Granted, the two Pantheacon’s I’ve been to were among the most drama-filled, but still.)
Last year, my job gave me a ton of things to do at the last minute, and I spent a huge chunk of ConVo sitting in my hotel room and taking care of that. So this year, I made sure to completely clear my schedule so that I could go to everything I wanted to go to and get totally turnt up at the parties. In the end, one of those two things happened: I had four blessedly work-free days. But I am a teacher, and winter has not been kind to anyone’s health. The Tuesday before ConVo opened, I got strep throat. I made sure I wouldn’t be contagious for the convention, but antibiotics throw off a lot of my systems, and I ended up becoming so uncomfortable that my idea of a good time ended up being baths and bed rather than drinks and dancing.
On Thursday night, I intended to go out and explore Detroit for awhile, then return to the hotel by 8 pm for Storm Faerywolf’s talk/ritual “The Watchers of the Faery Tradition” followed by the Circle of the Feri Forge’s ritual “Forming Psyche: From Details to Divinity.”
It’s hard to get the sense of a place in just an hour or so, but Detroit struck me as bigger, dirtier Indianapolis. Or, oddly enough, what I think the love child of Indianapolis and Atlanta would be. In short, I could have lived without that. I did, however, enjoy a nice steak dinner (I can count on one hand the number of steak dinners I have had in the last three years, so I was excited) and a few margaritas.
I got back just in time for Storm’s talk and ritual, “The Watchers of the Faery Tradition.” Storm gave lots of information about his tradition, who the guardians in his tradition are, and what we would be doing prior to the meditative ritual. I could really listen to Storm talk all day long–he’s very funny and engaging, and it makes taking in the content of his talks almost effortless. I found the ritual component to be a little reminiscent of the LBRP, at least in form. We began by aligning the three souls that Faery believes people to have, and then essentially called the watchers of the various directions. In Storm’s Faery, these are StarFinder in the East, ShiningFlame in the South, WaterMaker in the West, HeavenShiner above, Fire-in-the-Earth below, and then we become the seventh guardian, Guardian of the Gates in the center. Storm had a wonderful guided meditation for each, in which we asked each Guardian “Who am I?”
Alas, I did not get as much out of the ritual as I typically do with Storm’s material as about halfway through I realized I was having antibiotic problems, and I’m not so talented a witch as to be able to focus on a long meditative ritual when I’m in lots of physical discomfort. Because of that, I decided to skip my next planned event (a Psyche-focused ritual) in favor of an early night
On Friday, I decided to attend the following events:
- Ellen Dugan’s talk “Protection Magick for Everyone: How to be a Magickal Bad-Ass”
- Laura Tempest Zakroff’s talk “The Authentic Witch: Crafting a Working Tradition”
- Jason Mankey’s talk “Knowing our Mighty Dead”
- Laura Tempest Zakroff and Nathaniel Johnstone’s ritual “Hekate at the Crossroads: A Meeting of Mind & Movement”
- Storm Faerywolf and Devin Hunter’s ritual “The Black Rose Sabbatic Dance”
- Jason Mankey’s ritual “D is for Dionysus: A Ritual for the Wild One”
This was the first time I’d ever been able to hear Ellen Dugan in a talk, workshop, or class on her own. Last year, I had to skip something she was in to attend a different class and only got to see her panel discussion with Michelle Belanger. Now, I’ve been a fan of her non-fiction for quite some time as it is invariably well-organized and easy to understand, and I’ve been positively devouring her recent turn into fiction, but I think now I’m a fan of Ellen herself. She’s wry and witty, and she does not suffer fools. In lots of convention-style classes, various presenters typically give people in the audience a lot of leeway, and frequently the classes get a little derailed while good intentioned but socially clueless people prattle on about a horrible thing that their High Priestess did or some psychic attack they’ve suffered. Ellen was *awesome* about checking that behavior, and I loved it. I also learned a bit on protection magic, which–to be honest–I’ve largely ignored up to this point. But now I’m single, live alone, live in a bad section of town, and I have a job that causes lots of students to dislike me on occasion…so I definitely paid attention to Ellen and will probably buy her protection magic book in the near future.
Laura Tempest Zakroff was all over Convocation, and I think I went to just about everything she did. That always makes me feel a bit like a stalker…but I got over it. Her first talk on Crafting a Working Tradition was good–as is pretty much everything Zakroff does–but to me essentially boiled down to “are you a critically-thinking witch? can you avoid being a douchebag to everyone? good–go forth and conquer”. Throughout the rest of ConVocation, though, I heard other attendees of this talk telling others how amazing it was and how it helped validate their own pathworkings, so clearly Zakroff was reaching the people she needed to reach.
After lunch, I was excited to attend Jason Mankey’s “Knowing our Mighty Dead” talk. I adore Jason to death and have historically been a huge fan of his self-deprecating presentation style, but I think perhaps I should have skipped this presentation. Jason’s gotten quite a bit into Craft history as of late, as have I. Unfortunately for me, this particular presentation was a bit of a biography lecture on dead people who self-identified as witches. I can’t say I learned more about Gardner or Cochrane or anyone else Jason discussed, though I was glad to see him introduce Rosaleen Norton and her artwork to more people. I’ve always found Norton underrepresented in Craft history, though I suppose the rest of the anglophone world generally ignores Australian people. I also appreciated how Jason carefully differentiated Mighty Dead (deceased people who self-identified as witches) from Beloved Dead (people you loved who have died), which is often a blurred line in the greater Wiccan world.
After Jason’s talk, I realized that I was very physically uncomfortable and felt about ready to crawl out of my own skin (antibiotics hate me) and considered skipping Zakroff’s Hekate ritual, but I am very glad I decided to soldier on. This particular ritual saw Zakroff’s husband Nathaniel Johnstone play an electric violin and layer various sounds together through those fancy pedal things while Zakroff basically channeled Hekate through dance. It was so moving to see. I literally felt Hekate enter the space, and the dance was utterly hypnotic. Eventually Zakroff got everyone on their feet–without saying a word–and we all joined in this dance. It was amazing to see everyone find their movements and connection without speaking, and I found myself on the verge of tears a couple of times, an event which almost never happens.
After dinner, I contemplated going to bed for the rest of the night–I was that uncomfortable!–but eventually sucked it up and went to two rituals: The Black Rose Sabbatic Dance and the Dionysus ritual. I was really excited for the Sabbatic Dance because it sounded like a contemporary complement to the ritual Jason Mankey did last year–his Margaret Murray-inspired ‘Ritual from the Witch-Cult’. I have to admit, Mankey’s ritual last year was not among my favorites, but I have in the year that has followed appreciated the historical glimpse. On paper, Storm Faerywolf and Devin Hunter’s Sabbatic Dance was pretty much the same thing: dance about in a circle for awhile and praise the Dark Lord (aka, the Magister in this ritual). But instead of a hopping conga line, Devin pretty much played the role of an EDM DJ while Storm led everyone on a collective active visualization. In the end, everyone visualized themselves transforming into animals and doing this running dance. It was really cool to watch. So many people were really getting into it and going off into an ecstatic experience. At one point, one woman even stopped dancing and was just writhing all over the ground. Other people did not reach an ecstatic point, though. Unfortunately, I was one of them. History has taught me that I need about five shots of tequila within about five minutes and a maintenance of two shots an hour to get to the point where I will dance without feeling self-conscious. I was very sober for this ritual.
I should have just gone to bed and taken the medicine to help the complication at that point, but I really wanted to go to the Dionysus ritual. In the end, though, it really wasn’t that much different from the Sabbatic Dance ritual. Mankey led his ritual crew through a much more Wiccan circle casting and invocation, and there was no EDM but rather chanting…but people were dancing (or running) about in a circle while several people made offerings of wine or apple juice to Dionysus. I did really love how active Jason made the personal energetic cleansings, and it was clear the crowd loved that, too. What would really have been perfect was if the ritual had prefaced a large dance or party or something in that space. Instead, everyone scattered to the winds for various room parties. And I went off to enjoy medication.
On Saturday, I felt a little better. My plan of attack that day was the following events:
- Storm Faerywolf’s talk “The Witch’s Forge: Invoking the Iron Pentacle”
- Clifford Hartleigh Low’s talk “Spellbound: Love Magic Through the Ages”
- Laura Tempest Zakroff and Nathaniel Johnstone’s class “Stirring the Cauldron: A Ritual Exploration of Movement”
- Jason Mankey’s talk “Building a Cone of Power: Magic in the Witch’s Circle”
- Devin Hunter’s ritual “The Rite of the Cosmic Weaver”
Storm Faerywolf makes me think that if I had gone to the Bay Area instead of Eugene, Oregon for graduate school, I might have become a Faery/Feri initiate. There’s an awful lot about Feri that I love, and the Iron Pentacle is one of them. I was first introduced to it in T. Thorn Coyle’s book Evolutionary Witchcraft, and I’ve been enchanted by the idea of it and the Pearl Pentacle ever since. Most of this particular workshop was Storm describing what the Iron Pentacle is, which can also largely be found in Coyle’s book, but it concluded with us running a modified form of it. In this modification, the pentacle points are envisioned at the forehead, shoulders, and hips rather than the forehead and outstretched arms and feet. This was physically much more comfortable for me, and it increases the likelihood that I will incorporate running the pentacle into my own daily practice.
Clifford Hartleigh Low’s love magic talk was my wild card of the weekend, and I still don’t really know what to think of it. Low is perhaps not a natural public speaker, and I think that perhaps his talk would have been better delivered as a paper instead. To his credit, I think he understood this about himself and he pretty much had his entire lecture scripted out on note cards. Unfortunately, that also means that the talk is much more of a lecture than a conversation. I’m not knocking lectures–heaven knows I’ve done them often enough as a teacher–but these conventions are increasingly moving away from the “sage on the stage” model. And Low’s talk was a non-stop gallop through the history of love magic, a listing of historically famous love spells, and various concordances. If I had been taking notes, I might have started a fire with the friction from my pencil, Low was going so fast. And in the end, I’m not really sure I learned anymore than I already knew. I did, however, appreciate that Low made the point that so much historical information on love magic is highly coercive because marriages and relationships have only recently been about love. Historically, they’ve mostly been about power and survival. In many ways, they still are. When discussing particularly nasty love work (at least from the ethical viewpoint), Low did usually explain why those were historically done and why someone might choose to do them today. One particular spell that was about binding a person to you became suddenly understandable when Low brought up “dead beat dads”. In some cases, it’s not about binding a person to you for love, but to fulfill the obligations they have made. I appreciated the greying of love magic, and it certainly gave me lots of food for thought.
At some point during the lunch break, someone forgot a bag of popcorn in a microwave and the residential part of the hotel was evacuated for fire. Everything got sorted only just in time for the 2 pm session. In fact, Laura Tempest Zakroff and Nathaniel Johnstone held off their Ritual Movement exploration for several minutes to allow us evacuees plenty of time to join the session, which was nice. This particular session was one of my favorites of the convention. I kind of wish they’d put out a ritual movement DVD. I’ve got no way of describing what we did–I just don’t have the words. But it was wonderful, and I can see myself putting those lessons into practice in my personal Work.
Jason Mankey’s “Cone of Power” talk was pretty fun. The basis of the talk was that so many of the Craft books of the 1990s often described in pretty great detail some of the various steps of Wiccan-like ritual, but when it came to raising power, many usually just said “build the Cone of Power” without really saying what exactly that was. As Jason said, the net effect was that you got one of two impressions: that it was the greatest mystery in the world, or just something you were expected to know how to do. Jason thought it was the greatest mystery. I remember having that same impression after reading my first few Wicca 101 books, but I caught on fairly quickly that it was just a term for raising and directing energy, and that process didn’t particularly need to be cone-shaped. I do remember that not long after I realized that, I read a book that actually explained what the cone of power was. The book had a diagram in it and explained that when you were raising power, it helped to visualize that power growing into a cone extending up to the top of your circle (aka, where you envision the Gods entering). If you’re doing your visualization job well, at about the time the raised energy naturally reaches its climax, the cone will peak. And then you sort of shoot the raised energy out of the circle like a laser at the point where the cone meets the circle and envision the energy connecting to its target. Jason’s talk eventually explained the same thing, more or less, as well as gave a bit of history on Operation Cone of Power (or when Gardner and several of his friends did magical workings to help keep Hitler from invading Britain). My favorite bit was his description of “Ari’s Magic Death Ray”, which is pretty much just directing raised energy into the pentacle, which acts as a portal to wherever you want it to go. For some reason, that’s a heck of a lot easier for me to visualize than energy sent out of the circle through the cone. I’m pretty literal minded, and I tend to picture that energy zapping about in space before it reaches its target. With pentacle portals, it’s just like opening a door in space and stepping right through it. Much less bouncing about.
My last event of the night was Devin Hunter’s “Cosmic Weaver” ritual, which was pretty simple in construction, but really beautiful in practice. All it really amounted to was having a priestess sit in the center of a circle we created with our bodies, and she channeled the Goddess as Grandmother Spider. Then, a couple priests ran some white yarn from person to person until each was connected. As we were given a piece of yarn, we were told to envision filling it with our hope for what the world would be like for 7 generations hence and what we would need to do to help the world be like our vision. While the web was being spun, we all sang a chant (and for the love of me, I can’t remember the words to it anymore). When the web was spun, we all gather our bit of it in our hands as we walked toward the Goddess. Then we all collectively put it in her hands. There was a bit more, but that’s really the gist of it. I found it to be a lovely visual, and a very effective bit of ritual.
From there, I decided to skip the dance party and go to bed as I was still feeling pretty bad. And I really regret that. But it was the best choice in the end.
On Sunday, I was pretty much the only person in the hotel awake and ready to go at 6 am. So I got to have a leisurely breakfast and me time before deciding to be a responsible adult and pack my car up. I was glad I did so. The halls were crowded during the morning break with people in various states of consciousness making sure they had all their items before they checked out. It was a bit of a mad house. Instead, I got to go to a morning devotional and be thankful. I went to two classes before I left: Ivo Dominguez Jr.’s talk “A Visit with Binah” and Laura Tempest Zakroff’s class “The Art of Sigil Witchery.” I was thrilled to finally get to go to an Ivo Dominguez Jr. class. He’s one of my all time favorite pagan authors, and he’s been to pretty much every Pantheacon and ConVocation I’ve been to…but I’ve never been able to make one of his talks. He’s just as thoughtful and engaging in person as on page. And he was able to make Binah start to make sense to me (Kabballah is not my strong suit).
Zakroff had previously taught her “Art of Sigil Witchery” class at the last ConVocation. I had attended that and my mind was blown. And I bought her sigil book, Sigil Witchery: A Witch’s Guide to Crafting Magick Symbols, as soon as it was published earlier this year. I didn’t really need to attend the session, but I wanted to take good notes to be able to better explain her method to my coven. The talk was as engaging as it was last year, but far more polished. I was very impressed.
So that was my ConVocation. If I get to go next year, hopefully I’ll be work free AND healthy enough to enjoy all the things to their fullest.