For several months, I’ve been working and planning with two other witches to organize a conference that I’ve been dreaming of for a few years: a death conference. Several summers ago, during the last iteration of Many Gods West in Olympia, Washington, I attended a deeply moving workshop about preparing polytheists to carry out death rituals. The presenter shared a story about a member of their own group who crossed into death with their help. Just a few years ago, at PantheaCon (the second to last one–can you spot a theme?), Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary offered a gathering in one of the hospitality suites on behalf of Amici Mortem, or Friends of Death. There were a surprising number of young people there, and we learned from Selena about green burial options, body composting, and how to make preparations for the quality of death we might want to have.
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!