Day One: I arrived way too early for enjoying anything: the bars, vending room and hospitality suites were still not open, many people were still arriving and the only thing to do was sit under a tree for joints and grounding. I just really wanted to avoid traffic to San Jose. Dirt: No one has dirts like my boys from The Vodou Store! Not only did they bring all of their wonderful graveyard dirt, baths and hand rubs, but the amazing artwork of Jeff Cullen graced the Vending hall with Hekate, Baron Samedi and Lady Brigitte ruled. Their eyes moved over us all, statues as watchers and witnesses.
Dedicated Temple Space: I wonder, is this the FIRST time in the PantheaCon history there was an actual permanent temple raised? The Coru Cathubodua established a living space for the Queen Morrigu and Her tribe, the Tuatha de Danann. I somehow 'ended up' at the initial raising and whilst the Raven One is not my Mistress, I serve Her sister Hekate in the Sinister Sorority. Much reverence was shown and the holiness maintained through ritual purity by taking off shoes and asperging with sea water before entering the temple, maintaining silence in the temple space, offerings specific to each deity available...it was remarkably PAGAN. It was the first time I felt peace at the Con. In the process, I became the “death doula” over the course of the weekend: bringing devotees to Her feet for the cathartic crying, screaming and grieving. It was wonderful to have space which was only sacred to a specific intention for the duration of the Con...instead of the rotation of energy occurring within physical space every 3 hours as workshops/lectures finished and began again in a different current.
Detoxing of Druidry: I was finally able to actually hang out there this year, and the ADF suite was un-hospitable. I sprayed it down with Bitch Be Gone, and then found myself unable to really go in the room! The décor was reminiscent of Thanksgiving, with small, easily knocked over, succulent plants no bigger than my pinkie toe, at each table. The Costco bar food really wasn't too bad (chex and nut mixes, room temperature cheese and a plethora of processed foods), but the lack of recycling or composting bins was rather surprising for a group of Druids; especially after the beautiful efforts of last year.
I was also quite disappointed by the pile of cigarette butts that accumulated out on the hospitality suites' balcony in general...Pagans used to be well known for leaving spaces cleaner than they find them. As a non-smoker I noticed it; as a medical cannabis patient, it was even harder to stand around breathing the secondhand fumes and toxic fog.
What was supposed to be a great Pan-Druid panel ended up cancelling... and no one really understood WHY. Included were members from several Druidic faiths, OBOD, ADF, RDNA, and FoDLA; several members of these organizations who were at the Con were just as confused and bummed as I.
Another embarrassing Druid moment included the “hard launch” of the Cornerstone Pagan Fellowship; a newly formed organization which follows along with several 'teachings' shared by ADF founder Isaac Bonewits. I believe this is a schism occurring with ADF, according to the very definition: “A division or split within a religious group”. Whilst normally I welcome new approaches to spirit, especially rebelling paths, my personal experience with the people involved cannot allow me to support it. Cornerstone President and Founder Jessie Olson, who was suspended from ADF Clergy, has since left the organization of ADF after nearly 15 years of service and moved on directly to form this new organization. It will be interesting to see what shall become of something which seems to be very localized, focusing on Northern California community...the website doesn't really spell out HOW the funding is used on a bigger level except for a land purchase. Unfortunately, Olson probably should have waited for the smoke to clear with ADF before attempting such a feat, but good luck to her anyway.
Day Two: The morning began for me with sacrifice and the panel presented by the Coru Cathbodea was something the community needed. Although all the panel members were academically and theoretically able to discuss this practice, Mambo T. Chita Tann was the ONLY one to actually have ever performed a blood sacrifice; several in fact. Although not as normative like most horror movies and outsiders seem to imagine, the act of sacrifice is something not taken very lightly in Mambo's Haitian tradition. Religious scholar and Master Mage Sam Webster gave wonderful insights to traditions of sacrifice in the Ancient world, reminding us all of the most basic religious connection we can make: BBQ. We pray, kill, pray again, eat, then pray. In the modern world we are missing this connection with food; unless raised on a farm, meat usually comes butchered and wrapped. Money has become the commodity, not blood. It was wonderful “food for thought”. Amy Hale, Folklorist, reminded all of the nature of blood sacrifice and raised questions of why it is even needed in the first place. Ideas of the Gods needing sacrifice in order to be sustained IS a somewhat outdated idea, but it was a way of encouraging a relationship based on reciprocity. I am paraphrasing here and these are just my impressions...so Dr. Hale please excuse me for not getting 'direct' quotes. Another member of the panel who I was not at all familiar with, but found to bring some much needed laughter to lighten the mood, was Jeffrey Albaugh from Cherry Hill Seminary and is the program manager for the Conference on Modern Paganism. The last remaining panel member was Crystal Blanton, there representing the 'social' aspect of sacrifice; her area of expertise is as social worker and cultural empathy advocate. I felt she didn't really have much to add to this conversation for several reasons, one being the idea of “self sacrifice” she advocated, which to me is a very Christian concept. Blanton further mentioned how sacrifice is a culturally specific act; which is true in form only. Why was other ritual specialists not brought to the panel? I saw several people in the audience whom had much more hands-on experience in this area, yet their wisdom was not drawn upon. No matter...in the bigger picture this is a can of worms long ignored by the Pagan community discussion table and I was very excited to see it handled with integrity.
Donations: over the past few weeks Sam Webster, along with several other members of the Bay Area Pagan community, has launched the Pantheon Foundation . This very transparent and genuine service to the Pagan community will give educational support, fiscal and tax exemption status for the community at large, whilst also maintaining the anonymity Pagans love so much in their individual paths. The Foundation will seek to assist with several issues including healthcare advocacy, hospice and “end of life” services. We are hearing the aging generation of baby boomer Pagans call for help, this has been especially true over the past few months as several community elders have asked for assistance with funerary expenses, chemo costs, and other financial/emotional support. It is our obligation to step forward and give back to the folks who have lead, taught and inspired our community; now and for future generations. I hope to help in any way my skills and talents can be used with this most powerful offering to the Gods and community. Stay tuned.
Dance of Darkness: The Hexenfest dance party highlighted the upcoming event in April, 2014; dark rock band Pandemoneon with guest DJ Jason Pitzl-Waters of the Wild Hunt was an added bonus! Whilst I missed the band due to shenanigans at the Green Fairy Party, something too easy to do with the darkly ambience and generous pouring, getting my “old goth” groove on to the decadently dark sounds of Ministry, NIN and other goodies was the highlight of this day!
Day Three: The morning crowd of Pantheacon was definitely well hungover; booze, sex, sweat, and the juices of the accumulated energies of the weekend. This is usually the most magickal day of the entire weekend for me and this year was no different. I started the morning learning about the simple, and powerful, Arte of guising and mask-making. I have tried so many times to attend a Peter Paddon workshop and was so excited to FINALLY be there, my IBS kicked in. Now I will just have to buy his book.
Divine Sovereignty: The Coru Cathubodua's Great Queens ritual invoked over thirty sovereign daughters from the span of human history. In what could have easily been a Dianic rite, the Macha was called into Be-ing as guide for each participant, which was a nice balance of male and female, to reach into the folds of time, through the bloodlines in which we are all meant to be connected with in royal currents, and find our own personal 'queen'. During guided meditations, I tend to play “ahead of the game”; sort of like when you are in school and some kid is reading out loud slowly.... so you read ahead. Before the rest of the group met Her, the Macha was before me with the flaming hair, blue woad gown and shining brow. She asked “Why are you here?” I replied, “Holding space in this ritual for those I love” With that, She offered Her hand. Through woods I followed Her chariot, flying alongside as golden sparks flew from it's wheels. I came to MY ancestor, MY queen, the one whom I am descended or that will be in the future... and She was Self. This confused me because the point of the ritual was to identify who the queen of our lineage was; but I think this is the secret mystery to it all. We already ARE stars, as Crowley tells us...and so now do these Pagans know their rightful place. It was so very beautiful, heart-wrenching, empowering as we all began to 'rise up'; stopping feet, risen arms joined together, linked through our hearts and blood. It was beyond gender, beyond form...and now we all remember.
Dimensions of Drama: Traveling through time was a theme for Sunday apparently, as that evening I attended the most anticipated ritual of the weekend for me: Jason Mankey's 1899 Ritual. Now apparently this is infamous and well known through his blog Raise the Horns; and whilst I DO tend to read, and often disagree, with Mankey's historical articles and occultic commentary, this was something altogether different. Whilst usually a funny and light-hearted fellow by reputation, there was definitely a more serious undertone as the coven performed a poetic, dramatic and magickal composition of reconstruction by Mankey. I was highly impressed with the energies being raised despite the high theatrics. Unfortunately I ran into two issues: 1) the wine-infused pebble I had drawn out was a rather LARGE one...keeping it under my tongue whilst reciting what seemed a LONG charm of protection. I felt ridiculous at first, mumbling and drooling, but quickly saw the significance from the absurdity. There is also the fact I am known as a 'big mouth'. Well played, Mr. Mankey. 2) The cakes were made according to traditional standards so I took NO chances! The demons of my lower intestines would have made the ritual experience much more painful with gluten, dairy and who knows what else in the Wiccan concoction! Whilst everyone else enjoyed, a highly talented, singing Priestess stole my heart as she sang a nostalgically “The Pipes of Pan” in a beautiful soprano. That being said...it was my first truly Wiccan ritual and it was a tremendous triumph. Bravo Jason, bravo.
Day Four: Bittersweet and stewing in the broken realities of fractured vision, I watched the massive exodus from the lobby. I was filled with good humors from the singing of Lon Milo DuQuette the night before...having a drink and listening to his sweet songs of heartache, fear and humor reminded me that to be re-made we must become broken. I am smelted, melted into a forge and hammered out thin. I am pliable to shape, by the Will of the Gods and my own Summon Bonum. I saw the blood, sweat and tears in the dark corners of the Con and the brilliant, changed faces that emerged at the end. Another weekend of change, replenished nourishment and vulnerability. Thanks to everyone for the insights.