Saturday, March 14, 2009

ConVocation 2009

The last weekend in my over-scheduled month of February found me at a gathering called ConVocation, near Detroit. My understanding is that each year's theme is taken from one of the Major Arcana of Tarot, this year the card being XV, Death. The con was titled "From the Shadow to the Mountain Top." ConVocation is sponsored by MEC (Magical Education Council).

Winter/Rodney and Jack/Deedra of Trillium Reclaiming met me at the airport -- Detroit Metro is one of the nicest airports I've ever used -- with a big glittery sign with my name on it. That's a first, and a fun one, too! As soon as I entered the Troy Hilton Hotel, Con Chair Cindy Dugan handed me my registration package and escorted me to my room, where I met my companion, Susan Wilson from Hearth & Grove Fellowship in Kalamazoo, who'd just arrived.

Susan presented me with a sweeping cloak she'd made, matching one she'd made for herself. She's mailing it to me because I didn't have room in my luggage to take it home with me. I'm eager to get it. I know I'll have many occasions to put it into good witchy use.

After the opening ceremony that first evening evening, Susan and I joined Jack, Lea and other Trillium folks for a chant and song exchange. I learned a few new ones -- well, I didn't learn them all that well because my senior mind needs to sing them longer than we did in order to retain them. I also experienced chants and songs I've known for years that had been transformed by the folk process. The one I liked best, and which was really powerful, was a dark mother chant used by the folks in the Church of Asphodel from Massachusetts. I need to contact them to learn it better. I found it compellingly powerful.

Speaking of the Church of Asphodel, King Raven Kaldera came to my first workshop, "Intrafaith: Creating & Sustaining Pagan Community." As is my style, I engaged attendees in dialogue about the topic. I learned that the Church of Asphodel was created with a mission to include Pagans who have a harder time fitting in with other Pagan groups: transgendered folks, people with lots of tattoos and piercings, those who have limited social skills or Asperger's disorder, who have Tourette syndrome, who've been disinvited from other groups. I think this is such a righteous mission. I'm glad the Church of Asphodel is doing this work, even though I couldn't do it myself. They have my respect. My heart was gladdened to learn that a person I got to know a bit when I visited Gainesville some years ago, Zot Lynn Szurgot, is the former "Speaker of the House of Commons" of the Kingdom of Asphodel. Their Asphodel Choir performs ancient, modern, and original folk songs. And speaking of choirs, Susan's Hearth & Grove Fellowship also has a small Pagan choir. Reclaiming's Spiral Dance chorus also performs at Pagan events here and there, now and then.

During that session, I backtracked to fill in attendees on the whole concept of interfaith as well as intrafaith. It seems that interfaith activities are much more limited in other parts of the country than they are where I live. Too bad. We can fix that, though.

I didn't manage to get to any earlier workshops on Friday morning. Among those I'd have liked to attend were "Instant Drumming" with Alex Wedmedyk, whom I know a bit from Starwood. I'd love to learn more about drumming and to be able to do it better. The last drum workshop I took was a frame drum session with Kevin Roddy at PantheaCon a few years ago. How pathetic is that that I've done so little?

Another workshop I missed in that time slot was "Story Telling (Oral Wisdom" with Trillium Reclaiming. Their group emphasizes singing, chanting and storytelling, and I can tell you they're very, very accomplished in all those areas.

The Con staff had me heavily scheduled, however. Immediately after my first workshop I had a booksigning, followed by a rehearsal for our Brigit ritual. Even with a script, performing a ritual with people you don't know, whose skills, strengths and weaknesses you can only guess, presents a challenge. More about the Brigit ritual later.

I'd have liked to sit on on "Manifestations of Orisha" with Joy Wedmedyk, (Apetebii Osa Irosun), had I the opportunity. Joy is a lovely woman I know from Starwood, where I invited her to participate in a panel on thea/ology last year. She and everyone else on the panel and in the pavilion listening had a great time.*

I had expected to see some CoG folks there, but didn't. I did see some former CoG folks, like Puck who used to be in Seattle. There wasn't even a CoG info flyer on any of the tables.

Later on Friday I arrived for my Besom Brigade workshop, only to find very few folks there. Those who were were enthusiastic, but we needed at least five to make our pentacle. Con staff got the hotel staff to scrounge up some additional brooms. They beat the bushes for people to come. We managed to get a few teen and young adult Pagans there. Here we are learning the welcome song.

I suspect there were so few people because my workshop ran concurrently with one called "From the Ordeal Path to Sado-Shamanism: Pagan BDSM." Here's the description:

From the Lakota SunDance to monastic submission, the elements of BDSM have been part of people's spiritual lives for millenia. We will explore the ways one can incorporate these varied practices into you spiritual life from the perspective of authors and practioners Michelle Belanger and Raven Kaldera.

That's some competition! I'm sure twirling brooms seems tame compared to sado-shaminism, even though the besom is a shamanic form of transportation. I didn't meet Michelle, but I've seen her talking about vampires and vampirism on the History Channel.

I missed the FOCAS (Federation of Circles and Solitaries) meet and greet because I needed to get some food in my body. I met several of them a few years ago when CoG members Oberon Osiris and his wife Banshee took me to meet them after I'd presented at an AFSC LGBT Peace Conference at Eastern Michigan University in Ypsilanti, where I'd also met Raven for the first time. I like that their focus seems to be on public service. I especially like that they rescue black cats!

I'd also have liked to attend "As Green as the Goddess: Environmentalism for Magickal People,"with Nekita, although I'm unclear as to how our Pagan environmentalism would be different from just plain old enviromentalism. I know we bring a sense of wonder and magic, an awareness of our dependence on the Earth and the interconnectedness of all Life.

Trillium Reclaiming presented "Sacred Bondage Lecture and Discussion: The Sacred Art of Bondage as Magic Tool of Transformation." I missed that, too. I missed "Conversations with Crones" with Judith due to schedule conflict. Others I missed were "Salt, a Historical and Magical Perspective," with Soror Ananyelka, OTO, and "Don't Check Your Brain at the Door," presented by Andrich Vitimus. I'm known to say with some frequency, "You don't have to check your brain when you enter a sacred circle." The "Mojo Bag Class," The Feral Fool: Honoring the Trickster," "The Eightfold Path of Altered States," and "Take Back the Night: A Dark Goddess Ritual" all appealed to me but didn't work out for me to attend.

Brigit Ritual

I'm ever so grateful to all the folks who helped make this ritual as good as it could be. This was the third time this particular scripted ritual to Brigit has been performed. A bit of its history: In 1999 I was contacted by a reporter, who'd been recommended to me by Oz Anderson of Albuquerque, to help her with a piece she was doing for the Fox TV station in Sacramento. (I know -- Fox, yikes!) For this story Michelle Hofland,** the reporter, needed some footage of a ritual. Well, you know how difficult that is to accomplish -- or at least was back in those days. Not to mention how hokey they seem on film when it's really the experience you have and carry in your heart and not the appearance of what's being done. I agreed to cooperate, but boy! did I take a lot of flak for it! That's a story for another day.

The then-Marin Ritual Planning Cell of Reclaiming collaborated with me. We began with the standard Reclaiming Brigit ritual, which involves a holy well and sacred flame. Urania and Luanne and I worked together to come up with a scripted triple Brigit invocation. The space had a fireplace at one end, concrete block walls painted white, and a light-colored linoleum floor. Joelle created four exquisite altars in the Quarters, each glowing with lots of candles. Urania set up the well and cauldron in the center, draped with white lace and surrounded by white flowers, with an anvil a bit to the side. The cameraman used a camera that required no lights. We directed him to shoot only towards specific sections of the room, to turn the camera off during most of the time when people were approaching the well/flame, and we offered people veils to wear if they were uncomfortable with having a camera there. What this meant was that we were able to perform the entire ritual entirely by candlelight and flame from the cauldron. This lighting resulted in a beautiful, nuanced video. I don't live in the area where it was broadcast, but a friend who does managed to tape that segment for me. It came off really well. I even heard compliments from a friend in Massachusetts who'd seen it on a Fox news broadcast in Florida.

The second time this ritual was performed was for the Center for Multifaith Education at Auburn Theological Seminary in New York City. One of the program offerings involves giving students an experience of the rituals of different religions. Since I was asked to do this on behalf of Witchcraft and Paganism, I chose to recreate the Brigit ritual we'd done for filming because (1) She's a goddess, (2) She's more than just Craft; She's important to Druids and Celtic reconstructionists, among others, (3) She's triple-aspected, and (4) She's not a threatening or scary divine personage.

For the New York ritual I sought the aid of other Pagans, most of whom I'd had little to no experience working with ritually. One of my Minoan Sisterhood friends, Lynn Pacifico, and Reclaiming friend Vajra served as the other two Brigits. A few New York Gardnerians, a Minoan Brother, and several local Reclaiming folks gathered props, wrote the two guided meditations, and performed other ritual roles. By all accounts, we succeeded in honoring Brigit and affording an opportunity for others to know Her better as well.

For this most recent performance, I enlisted the help of MEC Board Members Cindy Dugan, Kathy Blizzard and Jane Pierce in casting, procuring props, and preparing the room. Kathy crafted a lovely Bridey dolly from straw and lace, as well as erecting all five beautiful altars.

Constantina/Galatea embodied Bridhe of the sacred flame of inspiration and red-haired PK embodied Brigantia of the healing waters.

In my experience, the guided meditations reviewing the year just past and looking forward to the upcoming year by Winter and Jack were the best I've ever seen. These are difficult meditations, more difficult than most. Add to that the fact that there are few people of my acquaintance who are really adept at this sort of thing, in spite of the fact that they're done all the time in Reclaiming circles, where they're called "trances." They were far better than I could have done, although I consider myself only competent, not particularly talented. I tip my pointy black hat to them!

Here's a photo of some of the Trillium Witches who helped.

* * * * *

Saturday night Trillium Reclaiming offered a Queer Mysteries ritual. This was interesting to me for two reasons. One is the matter of experiencing how current and far-flown Reclaiming groups do ritual, and the other in light of the queer performance ritual I attended the previous weekend at PantheaCon. Let us say that in general I have a more formal, "old school" ritual aesthetic than most Reclaiming groups. Having said that, however, I experienced a well-planned, focused, elegant ritual. The heart of the ritual consisted of a beautiful story-telling by Matt of the Greek myth of Ganymede, cup-bearer and lover of Zeus, followed by a co-creation of a brew. Again I will say that these folks know their stuff. I was very glad I'd gone.

It snowed quite a few inches on Friday night and Saturday. That was a real treat for this California gal, especially since I was in a cozy hotel with amenities. Trillium sent out for Chinese; we dined together and hung out later for gossip, clowning and general schmoozing.

Sunday morning did a lecture/discussion called "Serving Our Own & Others" about community service, counseling, working with established service agencie/charities, the value (or not) of creating our own service agencies/charities (elder hostels, hospitals, food banks, homeless services., etc.) This time Joshua and Elizabeth from Church of Asphodel came, in addition to Raven. I learned that they, and others, are already establishing Pagan service agencies. It's my hope that we can all keep in touch and share our experiences and learn from one another.

The Trillium folks took me to lunch at a Lebanese restaurant on the way to the airport Sunday afternoon. Wonderful lunch, in fact, the best meal I had all weekend -- the Con hotel was lame on decent dining establishments. To my delight, the folks from Trillium Reclaiming lavished me with their gracious hospitality and pleased me immensely with their competence, spirit and grace.

To me, ConVocation is one of the best-kept secrets in American Pagandom. This was their fifteenth year, and they attract nearly 1,000 attendees, yet I'd not heard of them until they invited me. Neither have many of my Pagan friends around the country. Had I known of it, Cherry Hill Seminary and myself personally would have placed an ad in the program. I'm glad I know now. The secret's out and you readers now know of it, too. If you get the opportunity, go.

Next year's ConVocation theme is XVI, The Tower, "Surviving the Storm." Check it out.

* I notice that back in July of 2008 I said I'd be writing more about this panel, and then I never got around to it. In a nutshell, panelists were Tony Mierzwicki, Greco-Egpytian Reconstructionist; Ian Corrigan, ADF Druid; Joy Wedmedyk, Ifa; myself, Reclaiming, Anderson Faery/Feri and Witch at Large; and origynal sinnerjee, Reclaiming Craft, Radical Satyr of Radical Faeries and who knows what all of his own uniqueness.

** Michelle now works for MSNBC. The last I heard from her was when she was covering Hurricane Katrina from New Orleans; she was horrified.

*** Besom photo by Susan Wilson; all Brigit photos by Caridwyn.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Claremont Pagan Studies Conference

Last month I was fortunate to have been asked to give one of the keynote addresses at the Conference on Current Pagan Studies sponsored by the Religion Department of Claremont Graduate University in Claremont, Los Angeles County, Califoria. My talk, called "Out of the Broom Closet and into the World," ranged widely, but essentially addressed the underpinnings of Paganism, compared our current state with that of the early Christian movement, explained something of the interfaith movement, and suggested what we have to offer the world. For the first time ever I used a power point presentation to enhance my talk. It was easier than I thought and really helped illustrate some of the things I spoke of.

First out the gate, speaking on "Images of Individuation within the Feri Tradition," was my friend Jeffrey Albaugh; this was his first presentation. He was kept his cool while lots of technical adjustments were made in order to tape and broadcast the conference live.

Also early in the program William Blumberg, a student at Cherry Hill Seminary, read a paper on piety that resulted from his "Doing Thea/ology" course this fall. He also graciously suffered interruptions in his talk while technology had its way. He did a splendid job; I was so proud that he represented CHS.

Like all conferences, the papers were uneven, with more good and outstanding than weak.

One of the more scholarly papers was Galina Krasskova's "Performativity and the Development of Modern Heathen Culture."

I was delighted to get a short visit with Sabina Magliocco, who also presented a paper. I cannot imagine her ever doing a poor one; she always excels.

Saturday evening after the day's papers had been given I whipped up a simple ritual with the help of Jeff's grounding and drumming by Alfred Sureynam. Judging by the looks on people's faces, I think they left happy.

Among several fascinating papers, I found Misha Houser's talk about Pagans' political emergence, and her experiences as an "out" Pagan delegate from Southern California to the Democratic National Convention in Denver last Fall affirming of our maturity.

I was disappointed not to see Lauren Raine, who was scheduled to present "The Return of Spider Woman Community Ritual and Weaving a 'Webbed Aesthetic'." She had to cancel due to illness. Photo on right is one of Lauren's creations.

Sunday's keynote speaker, Wendy Griffin brought attendees up to date on the state of Pagan studies and scholarly books about Paganism. Wendy never disappoints.

Helen Hye-Sook Hwang spoke on "Historicizing the Voice of Seeking Mago, the Great Goddess." Mago is a great goddess of East Asia.

Other provocative talks were:

  • "Re-Riting Woman: Lucy Irigaray and Dianic Wicca," by Kristy Coleman, Ph.D. Kristy's new book, entitled Re-Riting Woman: Dianic Wicca and the Feminine Divine, has just been published.
  • "Lesbian Wraiths: Cosmological Themes in Filmic Representations," by Marie Cartier; and
  • Not to be overlooked, "The Need for a Strong Goddess Vision in an Apocalyptic Society: What Kali, Demeter and Isis Can Teach Us To Survive," by conference organizer Dorothea Kahena Viale.

Evidently CHS is gaining a better reputation every day, because three Ph.D.'s at this conference approached me about the possibility of teaching for us. What a morale boost that is!

I am grateful to Kahena and CSU for this opportunity.