I’m only half-joking about the title of this piece. I was blessed with the dubious gift of being decidedly awkward and stupid anytime Jason was around.
That being said…it’s been almost a month (!) since Pantheacon ended. I made it back home in one piece, waded through the mountain of laundry and housework I’d left behind, dealt with all the Major Grown Up things I’d put on hold over the convention week, struggled through my feelings about the racism debacle that occurred, went to ANOTHER convention in Portland, cried over my credit card statement, and have settled back into my general routine. Finally, I have the time and ability to write up everything I did during the Pantheacon whirlwind.
Coven sister W. and I made it to the Doubletree on Friday afternoon with just enough time to check into the convention (and run into Niki and her family) before the first event I really wanted to attend: the Patheos Pagan Bloggers’ panel discussion titled “The Good, The Bad, & The Blogging.” I was one of the first people in the room for that, and got to enjoy a few moment’s rest from the frantic pace of the morning’s drive into the Bay Area and the controlled chaos of the registration process. During this time, W. called me to let me know she’d arrived to her event, and to confirm we’d meet up at Jason Mankey’s talk in the next time slot, The Horned God 2.0. This marked the first of many ass-making moments, for W. said something along the lines of “I’m glad we nailed the Horned God” in reference to us solidifying the plans, and I laughed and said “I’m glad we nailed the Horned God…that’s a sentence you don’t hear too often!” and looked up just in time to see Jason whip around and stare at me with astonishment. Oops.
The blogging talk was lovely as a whole (especially the moderator, Angus McMahan, who was probably the most skilled and genial panel moderator I’ve ever seen…bullwhip and all), but for me, two areas of discussion stood out. The first was an interrogation on how the blog form works in discourse and how that tendency is countered by people’s reticence to leave a permanent comment. It seems these days that more talk occurs when a blog also has a Facebook site or something where discussion can occur without being part of the blog’s permanent record. (I doubt I’ll be creating a Facebook site anytime soon, for what it’s worth.) The most personally illuminating part was hearing all the Patheos bloggers voice their struggles with balancing life, work, and personal practice against blogging. It was a weird light-bulb moment for me. For the most part, this site is my spiritual diary. I don’t write with an agenda or a thesis. If I have any guiding vision at the moment, it’s to have this site help me remember why I think this religion is so wonderful and so important when I get dementia and lose my mind in my old age. I know I don’t write as much as I would like here, especially lately, and I beat myself up about it a great deal. It was very comforting to hear that people who blog better than I do still have that struggle.
Next I scurried up to the big conference rooms to meet up with W. for Jason’s “Horned God 2.0” talk. There were some technical difficulties, one of which being that the Gryphons could not figure out how to color balance the projector Jason was using, and the other of which being that Jason’s laptop was dying and no one had a cord. I almost always have my Macbook Air’s cord in my purse, but I’d removed it that day. So I ran down to the car and fetched it, but my Air is slightly newer than Jason’s and it didn’t fit. Oops.
The talk itself was great, of course. Jason enthusiastically careened through a comprehensive history on Horned God iconography and demonstrated how the Wiccan Horned God is a syncretic figure and what contributed to it. We went through Cernunnos and Pan and 19th-Century Pan and Margaret Murray at lightning speed. Well, I say it was lightning speed because of how much material was covered in a short amount of time, but the delivery wasn’t too fast to follow–in fact, it was delightful! Very amusing, very informative, and you could definitely tell Jason loved what he was talking about. That might seem like a “duh” thing to say…but I’ve been to my fair share of academic conferences. Generally the speakers have obsessed on their work and their fears of discussing it for so long, their loathing is palpable. I’ll happily attend any talk Jason does: all the rigor of academia with none of the acquired hatred.
Afterwards, W. and I lingered very awkwardly to buy Jason’s books pictured above, so that we could make sure to remember what we’d learned, and found out that Jason will be putting out a book on blades and witchcraft through Llewellyn next year. I hope it will lead to more great books to come, so I made a good-natured joke about him becoming property of Llewellyn. Oops. I know that Llewellyn has a bit of a reputation for riding a cash-making author to churning out a book a year on the same-old-same-old, and I think perhaps that’s what Jason thought I meant by that, for he mentioned that Llewellyn is soliciting more rigorous projects. Oops squared.
W. and I left at that point to go to our own hotel to check in, unpack, and grab dinner, and returned to the Doubletree to attend the Patheos Meet and Greet, as I’d told Niki I would. When we arrived, we discovered that Jason and his wife Ari were hosting it in their suite (Ari is absolutely amazing, by the way…incredibly fun and gracious, and not afraid to share her “Jason Mankey Presentation Drinking Game”), and had brought a quality bar that would shame most places in craft-liquor-loving Olympia. And I’d just vowed to cut down my drinking. (I’d just found out that my youngest brother is now battling a heroin addiction…as is my middle brother. Clearly addiction is something I have to watch out for, and I really, really, really like me my alcohol.) While I more than earned my awkward turtle merit badge over the course of the evening, it was an awful lot of fun, and great discussion was had by all. Except maybe Niki’s baby, who can’t talk but who loves being talked to.
Saturday morning saw me working out my issues with social knots by tying real knots in Christopher Mabie’s “Magic of Marlinspike”, which I decided to attend on a whim. It turned out to be one of the more worthwhile workshops I attended all weekend. Cord magic has always struck me as a bit dull: something to augment a working rather than being the focus of it. But Mabie showed us a variety of knots (and made us all tie them!), while telling us what these knots were typically used for, and allowing us to imagine how we could use these knots in our magical practice. Talk about your overdue lightbulb! Obviously different knots are going to have a huge impact on what cues your magical mindset. The “padlock knot”, for instance, would be stellar for work done to hold something at bay (or, conversely, hold something close to yourself). The experience definitely changed how I view this traditional magic.
Riding high on my DIY horse, I decided to eschew my planned attendance of Tempest & Nathaniel Jonhstone’s “Merging Movement with Ritual” in favor of Carl F. Neal’s “Magick Incense Making 201” where we made a Japanese-style moist incense called nerikoh and were introduced to a delightful incense ingredient, aloeswood. Once you have a good recipe, there’s not that much to mixing ingredients together, but Neal did a great job of engaging the room and explaining details that many of us hadn’t heard before. It was so interesting and so successful that I ended up purchasing some of Neal’s incense and one of his books. I certainly look forward to trying my hand at making incense again–my Roderick trials with it were not exactly successful. Better yet, the workshop let out early, so I was able to catch the last half of “Merging Movement” after all. I really have to start dancing in ritual. It’s a blast!
Afterwards, I tried to sit through another panel discussion, “Tradition vs. Innovation”, but I didn’t last terribly long. The discussion wasn’t exactly breaking any interesting ground–it quickly got to the point that both are needed to keep a movement viable–and the woman who was seated in front of me was wearing copious amounts of a noxious perfume, so I scarpered as soon as I could and used the time to chat in the halls and browse the vendor room.
W. and I met up soon thereafter to attend Julia Phillips’ talk on “Wicca in the Southern Hemisphere”, which was delightful from start to finish. The room was small, and the attendees respectfully quiet, so I recorded the talk on my iPhone. [That recording is what’s on the Protected post just prior, and it’s up for my coven mates to have access to. I didn’t ask Julia if I could record, and pretty much everyone in the room was Gardnerian or Alexandrian, and the audience brought up some things that could border on oathbound…so it’s staying password locked.] I knew the seasons were flip-flopped in the Southern hemisphere, but I had no idea how much of an impact that has on how Wiccan sabbats are conducted. I also hadn’t taken into consideration things like deosil being clockwise in the north and counterclockwise in the south. Basically, listening to Julia was like a crash course in considering why we do certain things in Wiccan ritual, and why it is important to adapt to where you are to preserve the intent behind the form.
Seven o’clock saw me sneaking into San Martin/San Simeon for Athena Wallinder’s “Honorning through Sacred BDSM and Kink Ritual”. I was possibly more excited for this than for anything else at the convention, thanks to my memories of Kirk Thomas’s “Body Stress Ecstatic Practices” at the 2012 Pantheacon, which was easily the stand out ritual moment for me. Alas, I showed up to find no ritual. Rumor was that Ms. Wallinder never even checked into the convention! What happened in lieu of the ritual was pretty cool, though. Everyone got together and decided to have a group discussion on the lines between BDSM, ritual, and Pagan practice. A nice gentleman acted as the discussion facilitator, and he did a decent job for being put on the spot. It wasn’t a smooth conversation. A few people were more interested in asking how to get into BDSM than they were on negotiating kink and ritual. One of the topics that was brought up, though, pertained to traditional Wicca initiations and BDSM. There’s some stuff that happens in an initiation that looks similar to some BDSM practices, but the one thing between them is that in BDSM, you can give informed consent. That cannot really happen in an initiation, so how do you make sure everything is okay? Well, that was something I could speak to, actually, and speak I did. Eventually we got to a point where we decided that having the initiator prompt a discussion with the initiate to let them know what *won’t* happen, and to check for trust on both parts was a way to help consent occur without a) breaking oath and b) ruining the experience of initiation.
I wrapped up Saturday night by attending “A Different Kind of Seidh” put on by Freja’s Gift Trance Team. Essentially, three seers from different traditions went into trance, and attendees could come up to them to ask divinatory questions. I have an opportunity for getting back on my career path that I wanted to ask about…and the amusing seer basically told me “do what’s going to be best for you in the long term, not necessarily what’s best for the short term.” I really needed to hear that. If I do this thing, the next three years are going to be long and hard, and I’m basically going to have to re-start my whole life. But I’ll eventually leave it with another academic degree, three years of experience, a strong professional mentorship, and knowing I’ll have helped an underserved community. And I’ll be able to go almost anywhere I want to.
I contemplated sleeping in Sunday morning…I was exhausted. But Diana Paxson was giving a talk on “Preparing for Possession”, and ultimately I decided I needed that more than I needed another two hours of sleep. I truly need to do more work on Drawing Down, which is essentially possession, and thought that this might help me learn something. I think I made the right choice. Paxson’s talk was insightful enough that I ordered her book on the topic through Amazon before she’d even ended. I can’t wait to start working through it. Afterwards, I attended Geraldine Beskin’s “The Tarot Tour of London”, which was very sweet. It might have been the least metaphysical thing I’d attended the whole weekend, but it was nice getting a unique take on the London landmarks. One idea I took away from the talk was organizing my own Tarot Tour of my hometown. I think I might give it a try for Olympia: it certainly would be a way to break my habit of only going to the same places over and over again!
After lunch, W. and I met up again to attend Selena Fox’s “Brigid Healing Ritual,” which she does most years. I’d attended in 2012 and loved it. I think I might have enjoyed this one more. These days, I’m thinking more and more critically about how to lead ritual, so I definitely paid more attention to how Selena conducted it this time around. She really has a wonderful, open style, and it was anything but “The Selena Fox Show.” She’d invited so many people to take on different parts of it, and we got to experience some truly wonderful ritual craft from each. My favorite, however, was the musical artist Celia, who was invited to lead a Brigid chant. I was completely enchanted by how masterfully she led this huge crowd and built up and manipulated the energy just by changing up how she was beating her drum. It didn’t hurt that she has an amazing voice, either. I happily snapped up a couple of her CD’s (including the one with the Brigid chant) after the ritual was concluded. The ritual itself was amazing, and when it was done, I felt a shift. People got a buzz of healing, and we trickled some back into the earth as well. It’s certainly not a solution in itself on any of those fronts, but I know that it helped.
I kept up the ritualizing with Ekklesia Antinoou’s “Lupercalia and Parentalia 2015”, mostly because Niki was taking part in it, and I wanted to help support that, but also because I strongly support their role in queer spirituality. I’m surprisingly connected into gay culture, and I’ve recommended seekers to Ekklesia Antinoou before, and very much wanted to experience what I’d been recommending. It certainly was interesting. I could tell that the people in the group loved it with their whole heart, and that’s always a great sign. (Well, either that or a sign that you’re looking at a cult.) I was a bit skeptical at first. There was a complicated pattern for creating sacred space that seemed more formal than I have experienced in a long time, and there was a very long part of the ritual that sent me right back to the Roman Catholic days of my childhood, praying fervently in my pew for Father to cut to the end of the Litany of the Saints. But one of the things I’d forgotten about litanies is how powerful the recitation of names can be, and eventually I did get over my shell shock and began to understand what was happening. The ritual wasn’t all dry, either. There were wonderful, active, joyful parts, too. I know I don’t have a comprehensive understanding of what Ekklesia Antinoou is doing, but I’m glad they’re part of our community and I look forward to learning more.
At seven, I attended a BTW gathering with Julia Phillips and Geraldine Beskin in the CoG/NWC/NROOGD suite, which was lovely, and I got a chance to meet some people I’d only ever heard about in the lineages before. I wanted to stay to talk with them, but I’d promised a friend I’d attend the Kali Puja at nine, so away I went.
Frankly, I think maybe I was ritualed out, and too body-tired at that point. My shoulders were killing me, and sitting on the floor in that state was sheer torture. Getting into ritual mindset was incredibly difficult, and I snapped out of it as soon as people around me started crying. That’s sort of what I do: if people are having a emotionally powerful connection around me in ritual, I slid right out of it in order to help them out. So I was busy comforting sobbing people for the majority of the ritual. That being said, I would go out of my mind with happiness if Chandra Alexandre ever offered a workshop in how to lead a ritual. She’s so dramatic and so intuitive. She was playing the crowd and shaping the energy with her voice just as much as Celia had controlled the crowd with her drum earlier that day. She’s absolutely amazing.
W. and I did not really intend to do much of anything on Monday–we needed to leave by at least 1 pm in order to give us enough time to make it back to Washington in time for me to get to work on Wednesday while accommodating at least one stop in Eugene. (As it turned out, we made it to Redding too late to safely drive through the mountains, so we stopped there, too, and I made it to work with only minutes to spare.) But I did make most of Starhawk’s panel discussion, “Working with Diverse Traditions,” which was largely a discussion on cultural appropriation. I appreciated it because it raised more questions than it answered, and brought more to the table than “cultural appropriation is bad and racist and you shouldn’t even look at something if you weren’t raised in that culture.”
So that’s my Pantheacon 2015! I’m exhausted just writing about it!