Review of Sacred Space 2013

Sacred Space lives up to its description as a conference for intermediate to advanced esoteric and magical practitioners. That’s pretty high praise, when you think about it.

The draw at Sacred Space is the presentations and rituals. Don’t get me wrong, it’s an amazing chance to connect with old and new friends from around the region and more, and the interactions and chance talks or meals together are fantastic, but an introvert who didn’t know very many people could go to Sacred Space and get a lot out of it without any of that happening, if she was interested in intermediate to advanced ideas and practices.

What you won’t see, by and large, at Sacred Space, is the kind of lazy intellectual “recycling” that keeps us awash in Wicca 101 part the kajillionth and yet sparsely prepared for Wicca 201 or practicing in the real world. Many of the presenters at Sacred Space are deeply involved in their subject material. As an academic myself, I especially appreciate it when people have a deep intellectual grasp of their subject, whether that’s reflected in reading ancient texts or assimilating a breadth of current material, or serious study across traditions.

When Gwendolyn Reece presented on Athena, for example, her strong grasp of the ancient texts was synthesized with her own perspective through Kabala, resulting not just a skilled retelling of some of the myths, but some interesting suggestions for alternative possible meanings, and she took care to differentiate one from the other.

I can also see and appreciate that most presenters at Sacred Space have a richness of experience measured not just in years of practice but in the ways they’ve put their ideas into action in the world. You can be fairly sure that a presentation at Sacred Space will not be someone’s rehashing of just one book they read, or a mismash of someone else’s blog posts half-digested and regurgitated at random.

Christopher Penzcak’s presentation related to his book on the 12 Gates of Witchcraft, for example, showed the way he worked to synthesize the breadth of his experience. He explicitly said that he encourages his students to cross-train outside their natural comfort zones in terms of magical techniques, and he shared a lot of comparing and contrasting ideas in different areas. The only downside was that he spent so much time on the background of his topic that he really only touched on about half of his 12 categories; I wish he had gauged his use of time better in that talk.

Sacred Space also tries to be fairly broad in its coverage. Having Luisah Teish as a featured presenter this year brought in an emphasis on the African Diaspora traditions, for example. They bring in featured presenters from outside the region to give us in this area a taste of Paganism from other centers, which makes it a great opportunity for people who otherwise wouldn’t get to see West Coast teachers, for example.

There are usually a fair number of folks from the Assembly of the Sacred Wheel; I get the strong impression that ASW deliberately fosters the kind of intellectual engagement with Wicca and the Western mystery traditions in general that prepares its members to present here, and they do credit to their tradition when they do, but this is not “ASW’s conference.” One of the things I have very much enjoyed, though, is when ASW pulls people together to do rituals, because they put a lot of work into presenting good rituals, and I encourage you to check them out if you ever attend. Maggi Setti’s ritual to Brigid drew on lots of different pieces of symbolism, and I think a lot of the benefit to me from that ritual is going to be returning to those symbols and contemplating them at different times and in different contexts.

Another amazing ritual is the Conjure Dance. This is a unique opportunity to enjoy wonderful drummers and chants and to see and make offerings to deities and powers from all over the world. That in and of itself would be both a good party and an education. This setting, though, is the foundation for a powerful possession ritual. It’s very difficult to describe, but well worth experiencing.

One of the things Sacred Space does not focus on is vending. Don’t get me wrong – there are vendors, and quite good ones, at Sacred Space. I get more interesting and unusual high-quality stones there than just about anywhere else, and there was some amazing art. But shopping opportunities are secondary to providing a solid conference in terms of quality presentations, so if you think you’re coming to Pagan Ren Faire, you’ll be disappointed.

My only real frustrations at Sacred Space had to do with the hotel hosting the conference. Just like any conference-at-hotel situation, there are apt to be bottlenecks at mealtimes as everyone tries to squeeze in breakfast or lunch during the same time period. The Holiday Inn we were at did not handle these things very well, and since it’s a distinctly suburban location, the only alternatives require a car. I would encourage people attending to plan ahead for those issues, pack some snacks, and do a lot of deep breathing. The influx of several youth hockey groups on Friday and Saturday also led to some interesting dissonances; that wasn’t even the hotel’s fault, and from what I heard, they tried to communicate between the groups where needed, mostly requests for quiet.

On the whole, Sacred Space is a well-crafted, high-quality regional conference that draws featured presenters from across the country to present on topics of interest to intermediate to advanced magical and esoteric practitioners and to create engaging rituals.

NB: I am obviously not objective, since I also presented at Sacred Space this year. I did my best to leave that out of consideration.

Pantheacon 2013 reflections

Pantheacon was a lot of fun. It was an amazing opportunity to connect with the large West Coast concentration of Pagans and people from all over the country. I met people in person who I’d “known” online for a while, and while I knew this intellectually, it was interesting to see how different it was to encounter them on two feet, instead of on a computer screen. Jason Pitzl-Waters said in his talk that large community events like this “humanize” these kinds of connections, and I think that’s a very good word for it. That alone makes the conference worthwhile.

I also heard some great talks. Starhawk on the magic of story was interesting; I think that’s something I’m going to have to work with a bit more. Sam Webster’s presentation on theurgic sacrifice was fascinating; I love to see the kind of academic-applied fusion he brings to his work. Other top moments included:

Jason on Pagans and social media: “Facebook may be a wretched hive of scum and villany, [audience laughs] but it’s the only place we’re going to find a smuggler to take us to the Alderaan system.” I’m not sure whether I agree with all of that statement yet – the first part is beyond doubt – but it was an interesting talk overall. The importance of preserving our past and creating infrastructure to preserve our present is especially dear to my heart as a researcher who wants to study things. Where can I find all the copies of the Green Egg ever produced, for instance? Some of them may not even exist any more. I’m glad Jason’s doing this kind of broad-ranging thinking and sharing it with the community.

Renna Shesso on the magical night sky: “I’ve said vulva enough now, we can go on to Mars.” Nuff said.

And last but not least, during a fascinating talk on polarity, Ivo used the metaphor of the “astral squeegee.” This is the magical improvement on brain bleach, and I’m going to shamelessly use it whenever appropriate. His comments on polarity are going to keep me thinking and experimenting for a while, too.

And to all the other wonderful people I met, it was so good to see you in person!

I’m looking forward to next year already.

Ix Chel Wellness: Open house today, Indiegogo campaign ongoing

Some discussion of my trip to Pantheacon will be forthcoming, I promise, now that I’ve got my body back in its accustomed time zone and my feet underneath me and all. In the meantime, I want to share the word about a healer in the local community who’s doing great work: Adam Miramon.

He’s hosting an acupuncture open house today in Takoma Park. There will be free acupuncture mini-sessions and a chance to learn more about acupuncture and Adam’s work overall.

Adam is also currently running an Indiegogo campaign to help launch Ix Chel Wellness, his own acupuncture and Reiki practice. Check it out – he’s got a focused budget, but even trying to start on a shoestring, professional healing takes money.

I’ve been having acupuncture with Adam for a few months now, and it’s having remarkable benefits. He is a skilled practitioner. But above and beyond that, he’s a good healer.

Adam is extremely professional. He does an amazing job of creating and holding a healing space for every session. This differentiates his work from many other experiences of alternative treatment I’ve had, and allows it to be much more effective on a mental and emotional level.

He also has a passionate commitment to strong ethical standards, especially patient privacy. I’ve been studying Reiki with him, and he emphasizes this material in his classes as well, showing that it’s a core component of his identity as a healer.

Donating to the Indiegogo campaign is a way of helping someone from our own community in pursuing his dream in a way that will enable him to serve others. And if you want to experience exemplary complementary medicine for yourself, book an appointment.

(FYI, Adam did not ask me to post any of this, nor am I receiving anything from him in exchange.)

Favorite moment at Fertile Ground

There were a lot of amazing moments at Fertile Ground Gathering: seeing Maharal (wow!), meeting wonderful people (talking about long hair with Kellianna!), and awesome rituals, especially dancing the Maypole in the rain. But I think this was my favorite:

Kellianna and Fan Girls

Kellianna performed on Friday night, and when she took requests, a young girl asked for “I Walk with the Goddess.” Kellianna said, “I’ll sing that if you, you, you, you, and you get up here and sing it with me!” The gaggle of girls enthusiastically agreed, and thanks to the miracles of technology, you can see (and hear) the results. Many thanks to the person who took the video and posted it.

I didn’t know any of those girls, but I was so moved that it’s hard to express. I nearly cried with joy at the knowledge that they are being brought up with a vision of the divine that explicitly includes them, their bodies, their selves. They are being brought up with a vision of community, of holiness and wholeness all around and within them, that is purely beautiful. Seeing that on full display, lived out with such enthusiasm and youthful vigor, took me beyond myself and was probably my favorite instance of the kind of magic that Fertile Ground cultivates.

I’d like to thank all the staff and everyone who worked so very hard to make that weekend the extraordinary experience that it was. I’ll see you next year!