Monthly Archives: June 2012

Public Ritual Gone Wrong 4/5: the Apology

XII.  “Garrish Light”

Concerning the main ritual arc at HPF 2012;

The rituals we presented at Heartland this year were unorthodox, did not follow a prescribed tradition or format and left some to ponder our meaning.  And it was, in fact, that very freedom to perform magic in any way the practitioner can find value in that we were trying to communicate.  The ritualistic destruction of the established temple by the disruptive, ill dignified elemental aspects in main ritual was in no way designed to inhibit or castigate participants.  It was designed to do the exact opposite; to liberate.  I value self-exploration as a form of, and a powerful tool in the practice of, magic.  All of this was done by design and in the execution of that part of the design, I personally feel a sense of satisfaction.  It is my wish that people continue to ponder our meaning and explore the heavy, introspective themes we chose to present.

It has, however, come to my attention in a very personal way that my ritual had a wide range of deep impact.  It has been sufficiently illustrated to me (no small feat to do for a Taurus) that some people were made very uncomfortable, even done harm, by the ritual’s execution.  It was built into the intent of the magic we were to create, among other things, to shine light into the dark places of the self.  I did not foresee the full impact that light would have across the very broad spectrum of the festival participants.  Not everyone is at a stage to have light thrown on every part of themselves; not all wounds are ready to heal.  I think Florence said it best, “I never knew that light could be so violent.”

Questions regarding the intent of our ritual have been posed to me and I would offer the two evocations as an illustration of our intent:

We evoke the ever-vigilant Sun; Lord of Light, Heat and Gravity.  We loose your arrows and split the pregnant, fertile darkness.  We enjoy the warmth of your walls; keeping the cold shadows at bay.  Your gravity unifies us into a single, communal force standing together against the vicissitudes and inclemencies of primal waters of kaos.  Will it so!

The evocation of the sun done first and by the Priestess sought to create a yielding, safe place of unification for people to return to after venturing into the darkness we evoked in the next part.

We evoke the fertile Moon; Guardian of the Dark, the Forbidden and the Mysterious.  We seek the heroic perils living in your shadowed breast.  We seek to try ourselves in the courts of our own fear.  We seek to journey at midnight, to witness your uncounted, nameless mysteries and arrive fearless at dawn.  Will it so!

The evocation of the Moon was designed to bring the “Heroic Perils” to the edge of the light crated by the Sun.

I would also offer this from the closing ritual as a further insight into my intent;

We gather back here after the temple crumbled under its own weight.  We are free of trappings and formalities and we bear only the lessons of ill dignified aspects.  It is a new beginning; The Dawning of a New Day.  Free of the dogmas and restrictions of tradition, we are beckoned to explore the self and the world with four simple, powerful tools; one from the howling east, one from the simmering south, one from the deepest west and one from the mountainous north.

I cannot guarantee that my work will not have a similar magnitude of impact in the future.  I am not timid in my exploration of magic and the self and I cannot make apologies for that but, I will certainly go to further lengths in the future to attempt to foresee the entire spectrum of impact.  I cannot share with you the exact phrase that cast light on all of this for me but, I can say it was my intent only to shed light on darkened places.  It was never my intent to summon up demons of the past and stand them in front of people and for that I apologize.

Sincerely,

House Arcanum

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Research Survey: Loki and Sexuality/Gender Identity

A dear friend of mine is working on a research project with Norse Pagans—particularly Troth—and the interaction between their relationship with the Trickster and their own sexual and gender identities.  In their own words:

This is a survey to try to determine if there is any correlation between queer identity and the worship/reverence/fulltrui relationship of/with Loki Laufeyjarson.

The link, again, is here.  Please pass this on to anyone to whom you feel it is relevant.

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Public Ritual Gone Wrong 3/5: Negotiations

IV. Intermission

I never responded to House Arcanum’s email.  Given the ways in which he misunderstood and/or mischaracterized my arguments, I was uncertain whether any good could come of continuing the exchange.  I honestly considered walking away from the Heartland Pagan Festival and the HSA altogether, and trying to convince everyone I have ever spoken to to do the same.  Before I could decide what the most appropriate and effective response would be, I was contacted by one Mr. Crane, a third party who has thus far recused himself from from the public debate, and informed that H. Arcanum would be writing me again soon to suggest an in-person meeting as a more effective way of dealing with this conflict.  What follows is that exchange.

V.  “Expressions and Healing”: House Arcanum’s Offer of Diplomacy

Now that our expressions of anger have been aired, I would very much like to open a calmer dialogue. If you would be amiable to the idea, I would like to sit down, face to face, and discuss both the main ritual arc and the email exchange that took place as a result.

Contrary to how you may feel about me, I assure you that I am human and as such am receptive to the feelings of others as well as being a complex knot of emotion and conviction myself; just like everyone else. Those same emotions lead me to defend my efforts and those of my team in the manner I felt they were attacked. If your intention was merely one of constructive feedback and not the savage, dehumanizing attack I perceived it as, then I apologize for my tone and would take this opportunity to point out that our intent is not always conveyed successfully through our message; the very crux of the issue at hand.

Those same emotions and convictions also lead me to try to learn to be more sensitive and responsive to those of other people. My own history has taught me how to be callous, damaging and calculating when attacked; all defaults in modes of thinking i’m trying to unlearn. However, I will not apologize for things I don’t feel we did wrong. To do so feels like a simple placation, would be insulting to you, debasing to me and the SEC team and would serve no purpose. I will say that I am truly sorry for what some people took away from our work. Those experiences are not at all what we wanted.

From all the feedback as a whole, it seems the work had a broad spectrum of effect; some desirable and some undesirable. Either way, not all of its effect could ever be calculated or foreseen. The simple fact is, we built a work around death in the tarot sense; around “burying dead horses,” so to speak, and around freeing oneself from unnecessary burdens. That was the theme I was given and that’s what my team and I felt, and still feel, we put together. Not everyone is at a stage with every wound where they can bury them and the timing for some was unfortunate. Each wound takes its own time to heal, I do understand that. I understand that from my own experiences and I know some wounds are not ready to be healed. I personally have some wounds that I am not ready to heal; I’m sure we all do.

The words in your email carried a lot of weight. Perhaps more so because I am keenly aware of the failings in my efforts on the main arc. The things I would do different, which I outlined in my response, are true and just like I said then, I know we didn’t do everything the way we planned it. It is my firm opinion that no plan ever survives impact with reality fully intact. That being said, there are ways to increase the probability of action being more in line with intent and will. In the future I will certainly implement the things I’ve learned both here and over the past year.

Both in your email and the email that was forwarded to me from the vendor, people talk about safety. About how Heartland is a safe place to be yourself; to express yourself. That’s what I did. I’m an artist at heart and the work we offered was an artistic expression of an idea. Those two concepts taken together, Heartland should be a safe place for expression of art on a spiritual level. On that front, I would ask for the same rights as anyone else. Like any offering of the process of art, it is open to interpretation, critique and criticism but in the end, it is all the art and science of expression. However it is framed, criticism is the critic telling the artist how they would have done it. As it was pointed out to me yesterday, to go further into the specifics of ritual, the analogy breaks down and the participants become co-creators. In that respect, after the work is designed, it falls to all involved to execute it.

I hope you will entertain the idea of meeting in person so we may re-humanize each other. I’m sure there is far more to you than I have seen and I would like the opportunity for you to see more of me than a single artistic expression, which you did not care for, and my anger. Please consider it.

Than you for your time.

Yours in Will,

House Arcanum

V.  The Exchange As I Struggled To Come To A Decision

H. Arcanum —

I have received both your emails, and read both multiple times.  I am still attempting to formulate an articulate response.

When I wrote my first email, I was attempting to convey to you how utterly betrayed by the SEC my people and I felt, and to express the very real degree of harm your ritual did, without actually crossing the line into attacking or dehumanizing.  Apparently, I failed at that and I apologize.

I believe that will I need another few days to come to a decision.

— Satyr Magos

***

Fair enough. I will wait a time with patience. I sincerely hope we can come to a resolution that is amiable on both fronts. As a general rule, I’m not a fan of conflict.

House Arcanum

VI.  My Ultimate Response

House Arcanum —

After careful consideration, I have come to agree that an in-person meeting is probably the best way to go at this point. With that said, however, I also think that it would be in both our interests to have a mediator present.  Thankfully, Mr. Crane  has already volunteered himself in that capacity.  When would you available for such a meeting?  I am in the process of contacting Mr. Crane for his schedule.  I have not yet received my work schedule for next week, but in all likelihood I will be wide open.  (One of the advantages of being a semi-employed student on summer break.)

In the meantime, I strongly encourage you to read (or re-read) the links I have already provided you, as well as the following:

http://www.derailingfordummies.com/

http://www.socialjusticeleague.net/2012/04/the-revolution-will-not-be-polite-the-issue-of-nice-versus-good/

http://www.shakesville.com/2011/02/offended-is-worst-thing-to-be.html

They will better prepare you for the arguments I intend to make.  Yes, many of those links are specifically speaking of American rape culture and apologia.  No, I am not accusing you of rape, of making rape jokes, or of engaging in rape apologia; it is simply that all of the fundamental arguments apply to this situation as well.  For instances of “rape” in these essays, read “gendered violence”.

If you have any documentation you would like me to read before the meeting, please, feel free to send it.

– Satyr

VII.  House Arcanum’s Reply

I’m glad to have the opportunity. I think having Crane there is an excellent idea. I love and respect him very much. I would also extend the invitation to any who would like to come.

I do not do this out of any desire to intimidate or “face my accusers” but, out of a genuine desire for healing.

People in my camp have also expressed interest in coming. Probably no shock to you but, my friends tend to be a little militant so, I have asked them not to come. I think their presence would be inhibiting. The only concession I would like to make is Alexandros. He has been on the SEC team for the entire year, he filled the role of male facilitator in the works themselves and has an understandable stake in it. I think it would be a great disservice to exclude him.

In the interest of full disclosure, the FB thread also came to my attention. Not through Mr. Crane but, through other concerned and well meaning sources. There were some very enlightening things posted to it. I learned a great deal and harbor no ill-will about anything said there. Arguably, it could be said that it is a private venue and I did go back and forth on whether I should even be reading it but, in the end the very public nature of social networking won the day. I value the candidness with which it allowed me to view the opinions of people posting on it.

One of my concerns regarding the FB thread is how many people said they were going contact me on this issue. I have not received any emails other than yours and one that was forwarded to me originating from [REDACTED]. I hope after meeting with me people will feel more open to sending constructive criticism. I am very interested in feedback. I know what I would be thinking at this point if I were you; “I offered you constructive criticism and you turned into a giant, flaming douche bag.” We have already discussed the emotions and perceived motivations there. I do learn quickly and in the future, my responses, regardless of perceived intent, will be both tempered and deliberate.

As far as a time goes, I’m currently unconventionally employed and, unless I have a show, I’m pretty open. I am very anxious to put this bed. I think too much energy from too many people has already been expended and am looking forward to taking steps to rectify it. Days are best but, evenings are totally doable. Outside of Kung Fu, I have very little demand on my evenings.

I look forward to meeting you in person.

Your in Will,

House Arcanum

VIII.

H.A. —

You may be unsurprised that my friends can be militant as well.  I think each of us having a “second” (if one will forgive the dueling analogy) to help keep us honest and facilitate discussion is an excellent idea.  More than that, however, would quickly become a chaotic crowd, making genuine dialogue difficult at best.

Given our mutual status as gentlemen of leisure, then, scheduling revolves largely around the availability of Mr. Crane, Alexandros, and whomever volunteers to be my second.  As per Mr. Crane’s request, I am carbon-copying him on this email.  He has suggested scheduling a three-hour block to provide us time both for a full discussion and a grounding rite afterward.  This sounds solid to me.  What are your thoughts?

As to the people who have not yet sent you their letters: they all have full time jobs, as well as second jobs, summer school, and/or children.  Even the ones who (as I do) identify as writers have been a little busy.  There is a reason I told you their letters would be arriving “in the coming weeks.”  Further, although I understand your desire to have this resolved as quickly as possible, the fact is that, as you said, different people take different amounts of time to heal.  It takes a certain degree of healing before addressing the issue isn’t just more salt in the wound.  Their accounts will come in their own time.  Hopefully, though, at least one or two will arrive before our meeting.

I expected that the FB thread would come to your attention sooner rather than later.  While I would have taken the response you provided public eventually, had I not been so infuriated by your utter dismissal of my complaint (and, in fact, the explicit catharsis you took from the experience), it would have been a bit later rather than sooner and I would have informed you before I did so.  The note became public rather than f-listed, honestly, because facebook’s privacy settings are idiotic and difficult to manage.  And, again, because I was furious.  I apologize for that.  As to your decision not to engage in the facebook discussion, I probably would have made the same call, given that the only person defending you on the FB note was not engaging in anything that could be called productive argument.

In the meantime, once a meeting has been set, it is my plan to  post the more recent exchanges to facebook as well, so that your voice is more fully represented.  Ultimately, the entire exchange and its conclusion will appear on facebook and my blog.  This ritual and the responce[sic] to it are iconic of what I feel to be some of the largest problems in the neo-Pagan and magical communities today.

– Satyr

IX.

Again, I bring myself to apologize for my rough-hewn communication skills. It was never my intention to say that it was my dismissal of your feelings that was cathartic. That would be an even bigger douche bag maneuver than what I actually wanted to convey. It was the process of writing the email, not the content in particular, that helped me expunge my pain and anger. You may understandably struggle to separate the two but, it really was not my intention to say, “I hurt you and now that I’ve told you how much I don’t care, I feel so much better.” But, rather to say, “you angered and hurt me and now that I focused that anger, sent it out into reality and am rid of it, i feel so much better.” In either case, it was reactionary and calculatedly hurtful; I own that.

I like the idea of a second. (it reminds me of one of my favorite Firefly episodes) Honestly, I think Alexandros may need a second of his own. Just as my email exploded and ignited fires all over your social landscape, yours did the same on my side. Over all I feel very good about the five number limit. It’s magically significant to me as the number of hagalaz. The needed disassembly of the established paradigm to make room for new growth and moving forward.

I think a three hour block is generous. I will probably clear my schedule for the day, and bookend the meeting with drawing. This is a huge learning opportunity for me and I don’t want to cut it short or minimize it in any way. I also think that a grounding work afterwards would be a fine idea. To me, the entire process is charged with intent and will; my idea of the very essence of magic. I can’t think of a better way to release the energy and allow it to do it’s work.

As for the incoming communications, I will again wait a time with patience. I just didn’t want to continue to appear so callous as to not be approachable in any fashion.

No apology is needed for you anger. I honor it now (something I was not capable of doing immediately following your email) as much as my own. I have been complimented on my wit but, it’s the very thing my default settings turn into a searing weapon first. My response was carefully crafted to make you as angry as I was. (perhaps this is where the magnitude of my asshole-ishness is most apparent. I broke my own tenets and did not honor a principle of the House, the first tenet of the House, that could have had us navigate around the anger but, still through the issue) Again, it’s a setting I’m trying to unlearn. With [Redacted]’s help, as well as others I won’t name simply because I doubt you know them, I’ve come a long way and with this whole experience, I plan to move much further.

Alexandros is currently also unconventionally employed so, I think it falls to Mr. Crane’s schedule and that of who you bring to be the determining factor.

House Arcanum

XI.

Inevitably, a long set of negotiations followed regarding the precise time and place of the meeting.  Perhaps appropriately, the meeting time was acceptable but less than ideal for all involved.  Aradia agreed to serve as my second.

The meeting, as mentioned in the Introduction, was bound under a confidentiality agreement.  I can say that, despite protestations that it was unlikely, we ended up using all of the three hours allotted.  There were definitely tense moments.  At points I wondered if House Arcanum and I were actually speaking the same language, or if we were actually possessed of magical dialects that where somehow composed of exactly the same words but which meant nothing similar.  Aradia, Mr. Crane, and even Alexandros were frequently called upon to bridge the communication gap.  Ultimately, however, my point was made.  An apology was promised.  Within the week, that apology came.

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Debriefing Venus Retrograde

The Garden of Earthly Delights

The Garden of Earthly Delights (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have just survived the first Venus retrograde of my career as a magician working with planetary forces.  Not coincidentally, it was also the first such planetary movement I was consciously aware of.  If I were a better keeper of journals, it would be interesting to go back and see what, exactly, my experience with such retrogrades had been before being aware of them.

 

Speaking only for myself, I believe that I passed through this retrograde period relatively unscathed.  Perhaps my talisman protected me.  Perhaps I just had my ducks in a row (unlikely).  Or perhaps I was just too busy dealing with other people’s Venus-related explosions that I didn’t have time to stress out over my own.

 

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Public Ritual Gone Wrong 2/5: First Contact

0. Context

At my request, the Head of the Work Exchange Committee provided my contact information to the Head of the Sacred Experience Committee.  He sent me an email quickly, and I got right to the meat of things.  The letter below (II) was the most diplomatic letter I was capable of writing at the time.  Aradia, my usual failsafe for this sort of thing (diplomacy that is), was herself still so angry that she approved the letter without suggesting any changes.

I. Upon being provided my contact information by the Work Exchange Committee

Thank you for taking the time to contact us. I’d be happy to answer any questions you have about the main arch. Likewise, I’d love to hear any feed back.

House Arcanum

II. My Letter

H. Arcanum —

Thank you for responding to my inquiry. Let me begin by introducing myself a little. I have been a practicing witch for over fifteen years. This last year was my tenth or eleventh festival; I have been coming since 1998. Between the festival, smaller Sabbat rites at Gaea, and with the KU Cauldraon [sic], I have participated in countless public rituals, as well as group rituals in more exclusive contexts; some I have participated in, others I have led. I have studied Wiccan writing from Gardner and Buckland to Fitch and Farrar to Cunningham and Penczak; I have studied and practiced shamanic visionary work and traditional Western ceremonialism, and even a bit of Chaos magic. I tell you all this to assure you that I am no ignorant neophyte: my opinion on ritual matters in both educated and experienced.

The main ritual arc at this year’s festival may have been the the worst I’ve ever participated in. Not merely ineffectual, the ritual actually harmed numerous participants. The ritual structure was flawed. The themes were callously hurtful. The execution was condescending.

Although, it retrospect, it appears that the baroque formality of the opening and main rites was chosen to alienate mainline eclectics and and Heathens, who are uncomfortable with the style, I was actually intrigued. Unfortunately, little effort was made on the part of the ritual performers to draw the audience into the ritual head-space together. The callbacks would have been sufficient to maintain such a magical group mind, but were not sufficient to establish it in the first place. Ultimately, they came off more as ritual theater than an actual ritual in which we were intended to participate

The opening ritual wasn’t as bad–the tokens for our intentions and delivering them to the elemental ambassadors was a nice touch, actually–but it ended abruptly, and left the audience hanging and without resolution. Yes, I know it was the *opening* ritual, and had to leave space for the rest of the arc; a better designed ritual could have closed on its own terms while still leaving room for the drama to continue. A device as simple as having the audience watch their intentions be added to the fire, followed by a semi-dismissal of the elemental powers before the dismissal of the audience would have been sufficient.

The main ritual was a disaster. At the beginning of the opening ritual, you had asked for our trust. At the main ritual, you betrayed it. To begin with, even less attempt was made to draw in the audience than in the opening rite; this ended up being a good thing, but it’s still a failure on the part of the ritual facilitators. In case this had not dawned on you: all the elemental ambassadors were women; all the yelling, belittling, violent interlopers were men. The first male interloper was jarring, particularly when the High Priestess and Priest did not acknowledge or address him. Despite my best efforts, I was forced out of what ritual headspace I had been able to create, trying to figure out where the hell you could be going with this. Dissonance began to build as the yelling started; when the interlopers kicked over the altars, it was like a kick to the guts. The ritual area was stained with violence. The violence that was brought into the circle was not generic. You brought *domestic violence* into the circle, set it loose without warning, reason, or resolution. You came very close to sanctifying it. Several of my camp-mates were brought immediately to tears; the rest were filled with righteous fury.

When the ritual leaders—speaking, at last, without acknowledging or explaining what had just happened—dismissed everyone, imploring us to return for the final chapter the next day, I was shocked and confused. What had that been about? The Paleolithic rise of the patriarchy? A ritual reenactment of the myth of the Burning Times? I was sick to my stomach. Suddenly, I was very glad that the ritual had been performed in such an amateur fashion. Had it been done properly, with everyone brought fully into the circle and ritual headspace, the damage—which was, looking about camp, clearly severe—would have been a hundred times worse. Physical and emotional violence would have spread across the festival like a plague; there might even have been a rape or a suicide.

Almost everyone in my encampment was a survivor of some sort of abuse: sexual, emotional, or physical. Some of them have PTSD as a result of that abuse. You triggered them, hard, and for no damn good reason. You took the safe space of Heartland Pagan Festival and Camp Gaea and contaminated it with the sort of violence we had come to escape. Public ritual is not the place to be “edgy”.

Do I imagine for a second that you intended to hurt anyone? No. I think that you callously ignored the possibility that anyone might be hurt. See here: http://www.shakesville.com/2011/12/harmful-communication-part-one-intent.html

And as to the value of being “edgy” versus the value of *not hurting people*: http://www.shakesville.com/2010/08/survivors-are-so-sensitive.html

No, we didn’t go to see the closing ritual. You had already betrayed our trust. You had already wounded us. Three of my party were first-timers who may never return as a result of your attempt to push the envelope. Nothing at that ritual could have justified or made better what we had already been through.

You and the rest of the Sacred Experience Committee and everyone involved in the ritual owe a heartfelt and public written apology to everyone who was hurt by the ritual.

In the coming weeks, I will be forwarding letters to you from other people in my encampment, and from anyone else I hear from who was hurt by your ritual, so that you can get as many personal perspectives on this as possible. Keep in mind that for every one of us who come forward there is at least one, maybe three, who is unwilling to face being re-traumatized by the memory, or who–after a lifetime in a culture which assures them that being hurt in this way is a sign of their weakness, not the moral failure of others–simply doesn’t believe that you can be convinced to do the right thing. Or, if you’d like, I can provide them your email address so that they can contact you directly.

Satyr Magos

III.  The Response

First, me start by introducing myself a little. I have been a practicing kaos magician since 1991. I am read in authors such as Phil Hine, Pete Carol and S. Jason Black. I too have been involved with public and private ritual for that length of time. I am steeped in Kemetic lore and have a heathy [sic] understanding of Norse ways as well. And honestly, none of that means anything. Pedigree is yesterday: magic is today and tomorrow.

There a lot of food for thought in your email and it sounds like you’ve already taken a slice of the offering and built a rock solid foundation of opinion on it. I would be happy to explain our side of the content and application but, it doesn’t seem like you’re interested in that. So, I will confine this email to the concerns and complaints you presented in yours.

“Flawed” is an interesting word. It implies there is a “correct” way to do things and that you are in possession of this “true way.” I would say that skates close to monotheistic modes of thinking. There are as many ways to do things as there are magicians doing them. I apologize you felt we were trying to be condescending but, that was never one of our goals.

I think the feedback, both positive and negative, would say that it was effectual. Both types of feedback mean people were paying attention. I would not presume to have been able to calculate every possible response to the work but, I know those who stayed with us through the entire arc, carried away a very different effect than those who did not. Furthermore, I would like to know what your idea of our intent was. This was not thrown together carelessly. Every part of it was crafted carefully and with layers of intent.

Our theme was given to us by the HSA body politic. “Dawning of a New Day” is an epic theme and one not everyone is ready for. Our theme demanded we shake loose the albatrosses we all carry around. To stop dragging the dead horse around and, like the Florence and Machine song says, bury that horse in the ground.

Our careful choosing of the gender was not based on any calculated attack on survivors of “domestic violence.” Furthermore, you have no idea how close that topic is to me. You did not bother to find out if that was our intent, you blindly decided that was our message and spread the perversion. If this part seems a little harsh, I apologize. I have experienced very real loss at the hands of domestic violence and for you to say I “came very close to sanctifying it” when it was nowhere near my intent, is an egregious assumption. I have a broad respect for the feminine power. I have nothing but respect and love for the women that portrayed the ambassadors. It was intended to mirror the Chinese ideas of yin and yang. The old guard (the established paradigm) was female for the receptive properties of yin, nothing more. The explosive, destructive force was male to mirror the like qualities of yang, nothing more. Together we had hoped they would convey a receptive idea to the destruction of the old temple which would be re-established in the third part; the closing. In retrospect, I cannot buy into the sexist idea that it would have been “better” or more “correct” to have men represent the old guard and women do the questioning.

The formality of the opening was just that; formality. It was designed to establish what the Tao illustrates in the passage that addresses how ritual is the husk of true faith. The arc was designed to start with all the superfluous trappings of the temple and end with four simple tools; all of which could be found already within the magician.

I’m glad that you recognize ritual theater. That’s exactly what it was. The magic was the intent for the festival over all. I seriously doubt any of the intent people loaded into the tokens at the beginning, was contingent on the main ritual arc. It was our intent that people would participate fully in the festival and the main arc was an illustration designed to be thought provoking and inciting. Which, since I’m writing this, it seems it was. “A good touch” and a “better design” are extremely subjective terms and they do call to mind that your way is “better” than our way. Another distasteful body of monotheistic philosophy also adopts this way of thinking.

A semi-dismissal of the elemental powers was purposely avoided. We wanted people to carry those tools and methods of thought with them throughout the festival. Personally, I don’t believe we can ever dismiss the elements. They are as integral to our beings as air and food. I believe it is hubris to believe we can dismiss them at all. We did acknowledge and exalt them at closing but, still did not “dismiss” them and if you were not there for that, you missed it.

The betrayal of trust is also an interesting concept. We did ask for it. I believe it was important to assure people what we had in store was a complete work. It was important to let people know It was, if they were paying attention, going to be a rough ride but, the outcome could be beneficial if they stuck it out.

I’ve already addressed the very specific choosing of gender so, I will move on to the jarring interjection of the first “interloper.” It was designed to be jarring. Dawning of New Days require the destruction of old, outdated ways.

The fact that you were “forced out of what ritual head space you were able to create” means that you were engaged in what was going on. I apologize if the ritual grabbed your attention but, we feel engagement is important.

I have already addressed the “domestic violence” issue but, I will say to assume we built that into our ritual seems to be looking for it. I can assure you the choosing of genders followed the philosophy I have already laid out and nothing more. Perhaps I’m insensitive but, I cannot apologize for designing a ritual around philosophy and, apparently, missing some angles.

As far as kicking over altars; that was the apex of the message. Just like in the tarot when the five comes to kick over the insufficient tower of the four, this was designed to shatter what was to make room for what is to be; to destroy so the participants would be free to create without the constricting skins of dead dogmas. But, you didn’t come to closing so that part was lost.

The “failing” of the facilitators and the “amateur fashion” in which the ritual was executed was the result of two things. First, you obviously have a professional ritual team. I apologize I don’t have that luxury. Personally, I find your distain for the efforts of those who brought you this work adverse to the over all message that you are trying to convey to me. Second, the behind the scenes issues that were suffered just prior to opening, led to putting in people that were previously not part of the main arc. Due to the number parts there were we had to pull people from other committees, innocent bystanders and people that had come from other states in the first place. I think your indictment of those people’s efforts is as least offensive to them as your fabrication of our intent is to you.

“Physical and emotional violence would have spread across the festival like a plague; there might even have been a rape or a suicide.”

Apparently I have more faith in the strength our participants than you do. This appears to me as wildly reaching. Even if we had performed at your stringent standards, I seriously doubt the scenario would have devolved into the kind of rampant entropy and violation of personal sovereignty you suggest here.

I’m learning that you are correct, public ritual is not the place to be “edgy.” I’m learning that some parts of people want nothing more than the comfort of well-worn predictability. I’m learning that there is a segment of ourselves that wants nothing more than to live in the past complacent with constraining formality. There is however, a segment that is forward thinking, that can see past our own headspace and into a vision of free creation and, perhaps wrongly, that is the part of ourselves I was appealing to with this work.

As far as the people in your encampment go, I would say it sounds like you assume those who presented this all have ghost-free pasts. I assure you, this is far, far from accurate. Those are not my stories to tell but, you may be certain there are stories there to be told.

“Nothing at that ritual could have justified or made better what we had already been through.”

How do you know? Your refusal to attend closing ritual, even after you were told this was a complete, continuous work, hobbled the message. You had already made up your mind to be hurt and offended by an intent you didn’t have incite into. You may provide my email address to anyone who wishes to discuss this with me. That is your choice. I will be happy to speak to them about what I have attempted to explain to you.

I do agree that the ritual was roughly executed and I take responsibility for that. This last year has been quite a learning experience and If I had it to do over, there are a few things I would change. I would not have my SEC team scattered as soon as the year started. I would have more than two other people trying to build the vision we planned. (this is not a commentary on the life that pulled people away from the project, it’s merely an expression of the ideal that i had when i started this endeavor. This is particularly not aimed at [REDACTED], who worked her ass off on the vision quest. Also [REDACTED] and [REDACTED], I offer congratulations on your promotion and I know that every time I saw you, you were working your asses off too. I think Alexandros did a masterful job of stepping up to the merchandising plate at the last minute. I know [REDACTED] and [REDACTED] had to duck out of their previous roles for personal reason and i was glad to have them. And of course there were all the people not technically on my committee that pulled together at the last minute, i love them all.) I would have more practices. I would try to get people to commit to memorization; I’m not a fan of reading script in ritual, it kills an element in my opinion. I would have all my people laid out sooner than I did. But what I wouldn’t do is change the ritual. I was handed a theme and I followed through on that theme.

As for “convincing me to do the right thing;” I’m convinced I already did the right thing. And understand that is in as much as i can claim to have an idea of “right” and “wrong.” I apologize if I’m not in possession of some secret morality. I do the best I can with what I’ve managed to gather so far. I apologize if you feel it’s inadequate but, I have apologized for everything I am going to apologize for. I do thank you for inadvertently provoking me into this. Writing this email has been extremely cathartic and I feel better about the work (and all it’s hiccups) than I have since closing.

With all sincerity,

House Arcanum

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Public Ritual Gone Wrong 1/5: Introduction

Although I have not managed to make it every year, I have been attending the Heartland Pagan Festival since 1998.  In that decade-and-a-half I have seen good rituals and bad.  The bad were mostly just ineffectual: theatrical rituals that did not involve or connect the audience.  The good were spectacular: cauterizing and salving old wounds, presenting divine dramas in which the audience participated, and opening new avenues of thought.  This year’s main ritual, though, was the first I had seen to leave people wounded by the experience.

Early this year, when I made the decision to attend the festival as a work exchange minion, it was only partly about the money.  I have been participating in the festival for over a decade, doing my mandatory community service, but otherwise a largely passive spectator in what has become a large part of my spiritual life.  The time for such passivity has long past.  It had been my intention, going in to the festival, to join the HAS and perhaps participate in the Sacred Experience Committee if my work exchange experience went well.

The work exchange went fabulously.  I made friends, contributed to the community in a meaningful fashion, and—although I was a little disappointed in the schedule management, and lost an unfortunate amount of time with Camp What The Fuck—overall felt that the experience improved by my participation.  On the merits of that experience, I was convinced that joining up was, indeed, what I wanted to do (something that those of you who know me in meatspace might find that shocking: I have never been a joiner).  The violence of the main ritual, however, shook that new-found conviction to the core.

To say the least, I was deeply conflicted.  Like most feminists, I have generally found that people (who are not already feminists, themselves) find deconstructions of their actions to be unappetizing at best.  Still, I was not going to give in without even trying.

At the end of the festival, when I sought out the head of the Work Exchange Committee to get my deposit back, I also asked how to get in touch with the head of the Sacred Experience Committee.  She told me that she’d forward my contact information to the appropriate parties.

The next three posts in this series will detail the exchange that followed that contact.  Although all of this email exchange is publically available on Facebook, I have here redacted the legal names of all parties in accordance with my standard practice.  Ultimately a mediated in-face meeting was arranged and executed, but most of the contents thereof are bound by a confidentiality agreement required by the mediator.  The concluding post will detail my ultimate thoughts on the matter.  I will say here at the outset that despite the very rocky start, these negotiations ultimately concluded positively.  Although the outcome did fall short of a hypothetical ideal (I can be a pretty hardcore idealist and utopian sometimes, despite my bitter and cynical tone), it far exceeded both what I had thought reasonable to consider a victory.

These posts will be coming approximately daily—hopefully in addition to actual magical posting—but the final post may be delayed as some of the things I secure permission to discuss some of the finer points of the face-to-face negotiations.

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An Alchemical Experiment in Fiery Protection

Despite my good intentions, I didn’t do much for the Solstice this year.  My planned trip out to Gaea the weekend before, with Aradia, Pasiphae, and Aidan, was cancelled due to a conflicting event[1].  The Solstice proper was mostly consumed by Sannafrid’s arrival, insomnia, and napping.  Hell, I didn’t even manage to do my usual monthly reading.

I did, however, manage to start my own batch of Fiery Wall of Protection Oil.  I used Polyphanes’ recipe, but my process ended up being a bit different.  I didn’t have all of the ingredients I needed on hand, but I really wanted to take advantage of the astrological conditions: it was the Summer Solstice, the third day of the Dark Moon, and the first day of the Lunar Month and the waxing moon.  So I ultimately split the construction and consecration of the oil over three separate occasions.

IMG_5400Wednesday, at the Hour of the Sun, about two hours after the peak of the Solstice, I put together about half the ingredients[2] in solution with the olive oil.  The charge the oil took was very Solar, with a a Fiery heart.  IMG_5399

Friday, at the Hour of Mars, I put together the remaining ingredients and added the castor oil[3].  The oil took on a much more frantic, fiery character.  In between sessions and after, I left the bottle to rest on Aradia’s altar.[4]

IMG_5401 Continue reading

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Talismans vs. My Learning Curve

The contents of this post will come as no surprise to people who’ve been working with talismanic magic longer than I have.  Nor, possibly, to people whose studies have been shorter but more organized than mine.  Maybe my learning curve is a little shallow, or maybe I just haven’t read the right sources yet, or maybe it’s this trial-and-error for everyone and they never talk about it.

Beham, (Hans) Sebald (1500-1550): Mercury, fro...

Beham, (Hans) Sebald (1500-1550): Mercury, from The Seven Planets with the Signs of the Zodiac, 1539 (Bartsch 119; Pauli, Holl. 121), first state of three, trimmed to the platemark, occasional skinning verso, with associated tiny paper losses at the upper sheet edge, otherwise generally in very good condition. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Last night I met with several people to negotiate a resolution in regard to the fallout from the main ritual at Heartland Pagan Festival.  In order to make my case better, I prepared a talisman at the Hour of Mercury, employing the Seal of Ophiel, the Planetary Seal of Mercury[1], the Planetary Talisman of Mercury, my Glyph of the Moon, and a set of five sigils produced using the Kamea of Mercury.  I blessed the talisman with the Orphic Hymn to Hermes and an offering of a tealight and sandalwood incense.  I also brought with me my talismans of Jupiter, Venus, and the Moon.

The negotiations went better than I ever could have imagined.  I was able to convince the responsible parties of the harm done, of the necessity and appropriateness of a formal and public apology.  The meeting went well enough, in fact, that my desire to become actively involved in the festival and the HSA has been renewed.  This post isn’t actually about that, though.  That post will come later.  This post is about the talismans.

When I got back to Aradia’s apartment, I put the talismans back on the altar and thanked them verbally, as well as making an offering of incense and a candle.  Prior to this, the Jupiter and Venus talismans had been “fading” some: although I could still feel their effects I my “sphere” (to use the Hermetic terminology), they felt wan and then to my magical senses.  When I lit the candle and incense, all four talismans erupted with power.  The Jupiter and Venus talismans now “feel” almost as strong as they were when I first made them.  I’m not really sure how to parse the changes I feel in the Moon talisman, or what to do with the Mercury talisman whose highly specialized task has been achieved.

I will be thanking the Jupiter and Venus talismans again at their appropriate hours this afternoon.  I’m looking forward to seeing what happens.


1 – Please don’t judge me on the source.  It’s the only pretty version of the seal that I can find.

ETA: edited for formatting error and some links.

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Welcome to My Personal, Political, Magickal, Clusterfuck Life

[Warning to the people who know me IRL: this gets personal at the end and might be a little awkward.]

So …. I’ve picked up a few new readers in the last weeks.  Welcome to the Obsidian Dream, folks: it’s good to have you along for the ride.  As of last week I know have more “followers” here than I had back on blogger, and (although I know there’s some overlap between the two, and that many of my beloved readers don’t use those buttons for whatever reason) that feels pretty damn good.  My monthly hits aren’t quite what they were, but I haven’t actually been keeping up with the posting that well these last couple months, either, and I suspect those facts are closely related.  I’m grateful to have you all.

Things have been interesting here in the Satyr’s life: working in the mall to cover rent and summer spending money, living with Aradia for the summer, studying my Attic Greek (but not enough), the whole HPF main ritual drama and the continuing fallout, researching my planned switch from disposable razors to a straight edge (not because it’s superbutch, which is almost creepy enough to be a reason not to do it) but because it’s more environmentally sustainable), my car breaking down earlier this week, getting ready for Sannafrid coming out to visit next week, and getting ready for the giant fucking party we’re going to have while she’s here.

I’ve been doing some visionary work, but haven’t yet reached a point where I can provide an interesting narrative about it.  The Moon has a lot to teach me, but it seems like I have to fuck shit up for the correct information they’ve imparted to rise to the surface (“No, man, like this: like I showed you already.”)

I’ve been working images of Venus and the Moon, inspired by my work with the Moon Talisman at Heartland and based on more of the descriptions from Christopher Warnock’s Picatrix translation.  This has been a technical challenge, but super-fun.  I plan to do at least one Picatrix-based image for each planet.  Posts for each of those are forthcoming upon their completion.

Progress in my ceremonial studies has slowed greatly.  Partly because I’ve been resting, partly because I’ve been researching, and partly because I’ve been devoting a lot of time to try to actually understand what I’ve already learned.  The biggest things I’ve gotten done in this regard, lately, is downloading AstroWin and Morinus Tradional as potential alternatives Astrolog.  Further, my studies have also been slightly hampered by the ever-clearer knowledge that, while many planetary magic techniques are really interesting and awesome (electional talisman construction, for example), my own talents slant so hard toward visionary work that ceremonialism, Hermetics and astrological magic will always be peripheral to my practice.  They’re good, solid tools—fun to use and especially to make–but never my favorites.

Two things have consumed the last week more than anything else, though: emailing back and forth with the HSA Sacred Experience Committee regarding the horrible ritual, and getting ready for Sannafrid’s visit.

I have, to date, exchanged nearly a score of emails with the head of the Sacred Experience Committee and a couple other people involved in the ritual planning and execution.  The initial emails were heated; since we have begun negotiating a face-to-face meeting (moderated by the former head of the SEC, an individual whom I respect greatly), things have calmed a little.  The meeting will take place tomorrow, and a full report on the exchange will be forthcoming, as will be analysis of how I feel this event was exemplary of what I feel to be one of the greatest failures of the neo-Pagan and magical communities today: a deep and unexamined investment in the patriarchy which poisons all of our lives.

Although an altogether happy occasion (as opposed to the other, which might turn out well or might finish ruining Heartland for me), Sannafrid’s visit will be, in some ways, an equally iconic rejection of the mainline narratives which dominate our lives as people with one foot in the “Muggle”[1] world: I’m not just involved in deeply loving relationships with two different women.  Although they have never met, they have always known about each other, and next week my “girlfriend at school” is going to come visit me while I’m living with my “girlfriend at home”.  I don’t even know where to begin counting all the “rules” we’re breaking, let alone deconstructing them, so I’m just going to go for the lulz: Sannafrid is actually going to arrive while Aradia is away on a business trip.[2]  Yeah.  We’re all emotionally mature grown ups, capable of negotiating such potentially treacherous waters, but there is a lot of negotiating and triple-checking that needs to be done (in addition to all the housecleaning) to ensure that everyone’s on the same page about what is and isn’t going down, and that everyone’s anxieties are being allayed and that everyone’s needs are being fulfilled.[3]

The fact that both of these events are happening (and could only happen) while Venus is fucking retrograde is … interesting.  Also: this shit.  WTF, life?  Man, am I glad that I made those Venus talismans.

All of this is to say that, while I’ll be doing a lot of magic in the next ten to twenty days, and finishing out some Big Shit Already In The Works (including at least one more write-up from HPF), it’s probably going to continue to be a month of light posting.  Welcome to my wild and crazy life.


1 – Referring to people who don’t practice magic, see ghosts, or talk to spirits.  On the one hand, I hate this Harry Potter-born neologism.  On the other hand, it’s so much less problematic and idiotic than any of the alternatives I’ve heard or used: normal, once-born, cowan, mundane, uninitiated, blind, mortal.

2 – The best part is that, although it will work out for the best in some ways, we didn’t plan it that way.  The dates for the business trip came down weeks after the dates for the visit were set.

3 – Wondering how this is related to magic or to my spiritual practice?  Click here.

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HPF 2012: Bonfire Dancing—Riding Fire and Ridden By a God

Please allow me to preface this story with another.  For a few years now, I have been working with a set of three masks I made over the course of a couple months at the end of 2009.  Perhaps the crown jewel of the three is the Sun God Mask.

IMG_4813

Originally intended to be the focal point of Solstice rituals, it has been calling for more attention lately.  In particular, it took an unexpectedly prominent role in my Beltane festivities, and since then it has been much more aware.  As an experiment, I took the mask with me to Heartland.

For those who haven’t been to Heartland Pagan Festival, one of the major attractions are the nightly bonfires, surrounded by drumming and dancing.  The last couple years I ended up spending so much energy on the radically healing and transformative workshops and rituals that I didn’t actually have any left for dancing.  This year was different, for better AND worse, and I think I spent more time around the bonfire than the previous two (and maybe three) years combined.  I know I spent more time dancing than the last several years put together.

For me, this year, there were three modes of dancing.  I danced by myself.  I danced with the mask: letting it experience the mortal pleasures that incorporeal creatures seem to find either intoxicating or abhorrent.  I danced with the fire, treating it as an idol of the Elemental Powers of Fire.

Dancing alone was an exercise in the pure, hedonist pleasure of my body.  Reveling in the feeling of muscle and sinew moving against bone, of the heat of the fire contrasted with the cool night air, of the thundering drumbeats moving through me, the rough sand under my bare feet. Gods, I’ve missed it.  Even if I could stand the music they play at dance clubs, it wouldn’t be the same.  The drum circle produces an aIchemy of earth, air, and fire that, in my experience at least, is absolutely unique.

Although, to the best of knowledge, I’ve done more mask-work than anyone I know personally, I can hardly call myself an expert.  I’ve worked with exactly three ritual masks, only two of which have personalities.  Dancing with the mask was an experience unlike any I have had yet.  Although Phil Hine tells me that half-masks are difficult to keep quiet[1], I actually find it incredibly difficult to speak while wearing it.  I don’t know if my dancing was perceptibly different to anyone who is not me, but I definitely felt like a back-seat driver in my own body as the mask and I moved around the fire Friday and Sunday nights.  One person complimented me on the mask while we were dancing, and it was all I could do to say “thank you.”  I don’t even remember what she looked like, even though we were close enough that I could see her without my glasses.

Dancing with the fire itself, this year, was perhaps the most powerful experience of the three.  My plan, going in to the festival, had included a lot of visionary and ritual work aimed at pursuing elemental and planetary initiations.  None of it happened.  After the concert and its coincidental epiphanies, however, I was ready to try.  I had already danced by myself.  I was dancing with the mask when the sudden calling came to me to put it back down and dance with the fire.  I rode the drums into the fire and rode the heat and light back into myself, bringing Fire with me.  I haven’t really talked about it here on the blog—I should, but I haven’t; it’s easier to talk about how I was an idiot back in the day than how I’ve fucked up lately—but I’ve been having some trouble with Fire.  My elemental journey to Fire, taken as part of my work through Penczak’s Outer and High Temples, left an open portal to the Elemental Realm of Fire in my Inner Temple that would draw me in against my will if I wasn’t extremely careful.  Dancing with the fire, becoming One with Fire, I asked it for it’s Elemental Initiation.  The fire told me it was already mine.  When I returned to my Inner Temple for Monday’s journeywork, the portal was tamed: mine to enter or exit at need, no longer a sucking maw.


1- Phil Hine, Condensed Chaos, (Tempe, AZ: New Falcon, 1995), 153.  Maybe he just hasn’t “learn[ed] to speak” yet.

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