I recently closed down my sacred landscape blog, The Faery Fort, and moved its contents to the CauldronFire Witchcraft site. Let’s face it–it’s easier to manage a single resource, and I find that too much social media drains me. In honor of fairy forts, here’s a podcast on this fascinating topic by one of my favorite podcasting teams @ Blúiriní Béaloidis, with Claire and Jonny from the National Folklore Collection at University College, Dublin.
Claire and Jonny have their own wonderful patter, and this episode is particularly interesting. If you’d like to know more about the intersection between modern life in Ireland and old faery traditions and prohibitions, give this a listen.
As you can see, I am in no hurry to post after Pantheacon. The act of digesting and assimilating the information feels worthwhile to me. Here are some additional highlights of the conference.
While Conjure isn’t my thing, I am deeply respectful of the practices, and respect Orion Foxwood’s work. Last year I attended a workshop on conjure by a practitioner who was, well, excessively ego-engaged, and it was a disappointment. This year’s session by Katrina Rasbold was excellent–absolutely packed with ideas, information, and very detailed comparative information about Brujeria, Curanderismo, Hoodoo, Voodoo, PowWow and Granny Magic. Rasbold is the author of The Crossroads of Conjure. She explained the ethics of personal accountability, and a peer relationship with trainees in Brujeria and Curanderismo which I found surprisingly egalitarian.
Another pleasure was the folk songs and chants workshop with RJ Stewart and Holly Tannen. I have never experienced Tannen’s work before, and liked the power and 60s cleanness of her voice. If you’ve attended workshops with RJ before, you’ll envision him sitting, focused, with his hand at his ear, and preparing to sing. He sang The Wife of Usher’s Well, and they each offered a version of Down in Yon Forest, which I know by a different name and a different version. Holly sang The Unquiet Grave, and we finished with some big, friendly rounds of old favorites.
On Sunday night I attended a ritual, The Song of the Stars: A Constellation of Unity with Shauna Aura Knight in one of the ballrooms. If I can sing and move, I am happiest in ritual, and this group of strangers connected well with each other, and moved the energy beautifully. Knight and her co-priest/esses managed the ritual pacing well, although the chants were a little complex to learn quickly. It reminded me very much of my old Reclaiming ritual days to be in a circle, chanting, and raising a rather good cone of power with a mid-sized group of witches.
The final workshop I had time to attend, on Monday morning, was entitled, Rewilding the Pagan Soul: Connecting to our Ancestors in Albion through Ecopsychology and Epigenetic Memories. Ryan Indigo and Megan Rose co-presented, and they were clearly on fire about their 2016 sacred site visits to a number of places in England and Wales. This is an experience I can identify with fully, so I was curious what they would bring to it. They were so enthusiastic, but were unable to get through all the material on the sites themselves before running out of time for the additional plans they had for the workshop. I am intrigued by the concepts of epigenetics, where traumas are encoded to some degree in our DNA, such as the Holocaust or the Potato Famine. My own experience is that pilgrimage can be immensely healing on a personal and psychological level when the site and the person are attuned to one another. I hope that if they work on their timing and reduce the number of topics, they might try this once more.
I wasn’t fired up by this year’s Pantheacon schedule in advance, but I am deeply grateful that I made the trip. It’s worth it to have conversations with friends I see nowhere else, and learning outside my own tradition and background with bright, committed presenters is worth it.
The flight home featured a brilliant Mt. Shasta flyover close to dusk. I’ll be back next year.
It’s been a couple of weeks since I returned from Pantheacon, that enormous pagan conference in San Jose, CA. I had a reservation this year at the Doubletree, and arrived
fresh from the airport on Friday evening to a scene of complete mayhem. Three or four suited-up firefighters stood about, axes in hand, adjacent to the registration desk, and fire trucks with flashing lights were visible through the side entrance. Crowds of Con attendees swarmed the desk, either trying to check in, or trying to find out why they couldn’t get on the elevators to get upstairs to the hospitality suites. When I arrived at the desk, I gave my name to the clerk, and was horrified to hear that she had no room available for me–in spite of a long-standing reservation. Whaaaat? I stayed very calm, and watched while an angry guest cut in front of me and promptly cancelled his room reservation because he couldn’t get on the elevator. Nice timing. So, a moment later, unruffled, I had a room after all. I was glad I had stuck to my mindfulness practice.
My room was on the 9th floor, diagonally across from the Coru Cathubodua hospitality suite. My first thought about the 9th floor was, “oh, great…I won’t get any sleep due to the parties.” It turned out to be a fun experience, and not as loud as I’d expected. I unpacked,
settled in, set up my altar, and set wards on the entrances to help keep the environment calm. Then I went out to the suites to browse and meet people.
If you’ve been following the controversy swirling around Pantheacon this year, with a few presenters becoming uninvited for reasons that some found spurious, you’ll know that some people were worried about the feel of this year’s event. I think the numbers were actually down, with about 2000 registered on Saturday morning. It didn’t feel particularly fractious this year, and I had a lot of conversations over the course of the four days. Here are a few highlights of the Con.
I attended a session on “How to Start and Run (not Ruin) a Group.” It was held by Thorn Mooney, the Gardnerian priestess from North Carolina whose book, Traditional Wicca: A Seeker’s Guide, was just published. I read it a few months ago, and thought that she had abundant good sense. She had with her a friend from Maine, Julia, who organizes The Witches of Downeast group. Their presentation, held in the Northwest Circles Association hospitality suite down the hall from my room, pulled in about a dozen participants. While there was the inevitable guest who tried to back seat drive the presentation, the discussion and presentation were useful and highly relevant to the group formation work I’m currently doing. We’ve all had groups that simmered and fizzled, and some that just imploded. I particularly liked what they had to say about the utility of Meetup groups, and how they have worked with them successfully.
Selena Fox, the warm, wise elder of Circle Sanctuary, led a midday workshop in the Amici Mortem hospitality suite. For those who aren’t sure, Amici Mortem means “Friends of Death,” and those friends turned out to be a great deal younger than I expected. I was older than most of them, and was impressed to hear several people express interest in training as death doulas. Fox described the establishment of a green pagan burial cemetery at their sanctuary. She spoke with knowledge, curiosity, an open mind, and a great deal of experience in coordinating the ceremonial elements of death rituals. If you haven’t met her, Selena Fox is one of the community’s great treasures, and is welcoming and kind to everyone. I have a particularly fond feeling for her, as my mother used to subscribe to the old Circle Network News back in the 1980s, when witchy publications were scarce indeed!
I’ll start this post with the disclaimer that I have travelled a number of times to Cornwall, but am very far from having a comprehensive knowledge of the region’s sacred sites. There are so many things to see. Here are some of my favorites.
St. Nectan’s Glen is located in the village of Trethevy, north of Tintagel, and south ofBoscastle. There is a small parking lot on the west side of the road where you may leave a car. I passed the glen on an earlier trip in 2005, but in the summer of 2016, while staying in Devon, we made a special day trip.
You’ll cross the street and walk down a path adjacent to a tiny stone church, and from there, into the woods. This is pilgrimage at its best on a small scale. The approach to the glen takes some time, and involves liminal crossings of a gushing stream, and walking on soft duff, muddy lowland paths, and a bit of climbing into the hills. I savored the walk, and used it as a meditation in preparation for some spiritual work I needed to do. Upon arriving at the building perched atop the stone cliffs, we paid our admission fee, and were offered some musty wellies from a nearby shed. (Bring your own if you’re sensitive to mildew!) We slowly descended the stairways, stopping on the viewing platforms to gaze down at the loud, rushing falls. It is a faery glen, with mosses, ferns, and life sprouting everywhere. At the bottom, the glen opens out, and the waters are shallow.
Let your instincts guide where you walk, and what you do next. People have filled the glen with an abundance of clouties and other offerings. I took a long time just standing in front of the spectacular round opening in the stone at the base of the falls, my glasses fogging from the spray. Something in me cracked wide open, and I enjoyed a mystical unbinding of some energies that had been very stuck before. This moment set the tone for the next three weeks of our
pilgrimage. When we were ready, we made our way back to the entrance, returned our musty boots, and walked back along the stream, down through the woods. On the return visit I felt so light and full of joy. It was indescribable.
I live in Oregon, and there are dozens of spectacular waterfalls in the Columbia River Gorge. This was a different experience entirely, with the spirits of the place speaking very strongly and benevolently.
I’ll add a great deal more to the Cornwall page over the coming weeks. This is just the beginning. Next up: The Rocky Valley, the labyrinths, and that wild saddle of rock, Tintagel.
Back in the 1990s I participated in mummers groups at Reclaiming Tradition witchcamps in British Columbia. Combining my fascinations with folklore and ritual, mummers plays and costumed evocations were sometimes remarkably potent, memorable events. For this reason, I love to see folkloric celebrations taking place during the dark times of the year. Here are a few videos worth a look.
The Mari Lwyd is a tradition seen in South Wales around Christmas and the twelve days of Christmas. Featuring a decorated horse skull, often with a mobile, clacking jaw, with the “horse” clad in white, and accompanied by a costumed retinue, the Mari Lwyd makes house visitations, with the retinue striving to be invited in. Sometimes there are traditional songs, an offer of hospitality by the people at home, or a rhyming contest. See for yourself how this tradition has recently been revived in a local school in Wales.
A spookier and more disturbing tradition comes from the Alpine regions of Germany and Austria. Perchta (plural: Perchten) is a folkloric woman, possibly related to the Goddess Holda, who visits homes between Christmas and Twelfth Night. She knows, like Santa, whether you’ve been naughty or nice. This crew of antlered Perchten is from the Tirol region of Austria, and is creepy, wonderful, loud, and decidedly ancient AND postmodern. Take a look.
I’ve been going to Pantheacon in San Jose, CA over President’s Day weekend in February off and on for many years. Meanwhile, oh so quietly, another conference of interest has been putting down roots to the north: Many Gods West. It’s specifically a polytheist conference, so should be a good fit for my interests. This will be the third year for MGW, and I think it’s time I register and check it out.
Here’s the link to the conference website. I’ll probably stay at the conference hotel to keep the access simple. If we cross paths at Many Gods West, please come over to say hello.
Today I celebrated Winter Solstice in ritual with a close friend and long-time priestess. We worked with the Dagda, Brigid, and a number of the land spirits at Bru na Boinne, where the most exquisite thing happens at every winter solstice. A shaft of winter sunrise sunlight makes its way down the narrow stone passageway to Newgrange and floods the chamber with light. It happens only for a few days on either side of Winter Solstice each year, making it a rare and special event.
And so we traveled there to work magic for personal and political ends. It is the house of the Dagda, so we sought his permission for our visit, as well as consulting the land spirits. It was a potent ritual for both of us, and has left us with a number of ideas, visions, and further ritual work to explore.
If you’d like to learn more about the Winter Solstice alignment at Bru na Boinne, this video provides further information.