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HPF 2016 Elemental Excursions: A Preview From the Sacred Experience Committee

It’s the final stretch, y’all: one week from today, Aradia and I will be disappearing into the woods to begin setting up the site for this year’s Heartland Pagan Festival.  The thirty-first of its kind, it will be my second year as a member of the ritual crew and my first year as a ready-to-take-the-blame committee head.  I’m stoked.  I’m scared.

elemental excursions art

We have a lot of fun and excitement planned for you all.  We’ve got great pagan speakers and musicians from across the country, and a local legend for our Saturday night concert.  Three days of workshops and rituals led by both our honored guests and members of our own communities.  Public rituals on all four nights, as well as the traditional night-hike Vision Quest on Saturday.

I don’t want to give too much away, or overstep myself by blurring the line between my HSA work and this, my personal blog, but I’m really excited about the four rituals.  For most of my time as an attendee, there were three main rituals: opening ritual Thursday, main ritual Saturday night, and closing ritual Monday (moved to Sunday a few years ago). Then, for a while, there were only two rituals: Thursday and Saturday.  Last year we re-introduced the Sunday night closing ritual.  This year we’re upping the ante by taking the elemental theme and escalating to four rituals.

First, Thursday’s Earth Ritual will banish the outside world and welcome everyone to the festival by introducing us to the spirit of the land.

Then Friday’s Air Ritual will clear our minds to find our truths, and help us name our ambitions in order to pursue them.

For Saturday’s Water Ritual, we will dredge up our individual fears so that we may confront and conquer them as a community.

Finally, with all obstacles out of the way, Sunday’s Fire Ritual will stoke our divine spark to roaring flame and impel us back into the world charged for action.

I really hope to see some of you there.

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In Defense of Negativity

Negativity gets a lot of bad press in the modern neoPagan movement.  “You don’t need that kind of negativity in your life.”  That’s not a terrible idea, you’re just being negative. “Negativity.  It can only affect you if you’re on the same level.  Vibrate higher.” Depression isn’t real, you’re just being negative.  Sexism and racism aren’t real, you’re just letting other people’s negativity get to you.  “Negative Nancy gained an electron or lost a proton.  Either way she’s unstable.”

Fuck y’all.  Eat urinal cakes and die.  The fuck even is negativity?

I’ll tell you what negativity is: it’s dogwhistle code.  It’s code for experiencing an emotion that makes other people uncomfortable.  It’s code for not laughing at oppressive jokes.  It’s code for holding people accountable for their actions.  It’s code for not accepting apologies.

Damn right, I’m negative.  I’m too emotional to be butch.  Too large and hairy to be femme.  Too young to be an authority.  Too old to be relevant.

My first impulse, of course, is to just blame the New Agers and be done with it, but that would be oversimplifying things.  The poison actually comes from the well of mainstream culture.  And there’s this whole awkward parallel with the fundamentalist Christian mad on against “bitterness” (here code for “not submitting gracefully”).  But that’s another conversation.  When it comes right down to it, I don’t give two wet shits where the admonition against negativity comes from.

I’m here to speak in defense of negativity.

Firstly, I wish to speak in defense of emotional negativity.  You have the right to be sad.  You have the right to be angry.  You have the right to be depressed.  Each and every damn one of us have the right to our mental illnesses and to the full range of emotional states.  Can we have  conversation about how our resulting behavior effects others?  Sure.  Some other day.  Because “don’t be so negative” isn’t saying “please don’t treat me badly”, it’s saying “your emotional state is inconvenient for me so straighten up”.  I’m sorry my lack of constant joy is inconvenient for you; you being an asshole about my depression actually does me structural harm.

Emotional policing and concern trolling is abusive behavior.  Fucking quit that shit, you damn assholes.

Secondly, I wish to speak in defense of negativity in a more general sense.  Pointing out the bad behavior of well-loved people within a community is often dismissed as negativity.  So is pointing out that a practice or policy is either unhelpful or actively harmful.  Often, advocating for any change whatsoever is dismissed as “negativity.”

Can someone please explain to me what’s wrong with getting shit done?  Or how you’re supposed to fix problems without first identifying that they exist?  And if I have to tell you six times that a window is broken, I may be less polite the third, forth, and fifth time.  and I may just yell at you the sixth.  That doesn’t magically mean the window is just fine and that there was nothing ever wrong with it and maybe there wasn’t even a window there in the first place.

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Dark Moon Navel-Gazing: the Status of My Practice

There are a wide assortment of reasons that my magical practice (and, with it, my blogging) has been, at best, sporadic for the last year or so.  Some of them are magical dilemmas (how to incorporate the experiments and lessons of the previous two years into my personal practice), some of them are spiritual failings (see previous, also: devotional work is hard and scary), and some work and school related (overtime in the mall!  senior thesis!  trying to catch a date!).  But I think the biggest reason is that I’m lonely, and that I just don’t enjoy working or worshiping solo.

A good number of my most exciting magical and spiritual experience have been in group contexts: my first elemental energy work, my past-life explorations, the spirit-hunts, and the aura-games with my friends in and just after high school; the WPA/KU Cauldron before and after my failed life in St.Louis; discovering partner-magic with Aradia, and later with Sannafrid; the trials and tribulations of the proto-coven.  Even most of my best solitary experiences took place at times in my life when I had physical access to other practitioners to plan, brag about,and/or commiserate over my experiments and experiences.

Every time I go back to Kansas City for breaks, doing magical work with Aradia, Sthenno, Pasiphae, and Aidan are among the highlights of the trip.  When Aradia and I went on a cross-country road trip, we made a point of doing magic in each of the two parks we visited, and those moments were definitely among highlights of the vacation.

Since Sannafrid graduated, though, and since things got weird between myself and some of the local pagan group … I’ve had no one to practice with.  My current lover is, against my own rules, not a practitioner.  And our schedules don’t line up particularly well, leaving me struggling with another of the various unintended consequences of having taken the name Satyr Magician: too horny to think is also too horny to do magic, and there’s only so much I can do to take the edge off all by myself.

Now, I don’t mean to give the impression that anything’s hopeless: despite the flu that took me out for the entirety of the Full Moon, my practice is the best it’s been in a while.  With the help of my familiar spirits, I’ve been repairing the damage to my Inner Temple–escalating rites followed by a whole lot of nothing was pretty hard on the place.  I’ve been working hard (again) on getting my shields back to a level where they keep out what they need to without blinding me to the world.  (This seems to be one of those never-really-quite-work-it-out problems.)  My Sight has definitely been improving, though my mind-reading/empathy is still not back to what my crazy Scorpio ass expects it to be.

But it’s just not as much fun to tell Aradia about my latest adventures over the phone, or Sannafrid over chat.  I need a physically present community.  I need mentors and students and peers to keep me honest and innovative.  And I need it to be fun.  As hard or as frightening as an individual experiment or experience might be, my practice as a whole has to be pleasurable.  I am, after all, a hedonist witch.

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Public Ritual Gone Wrong 5/5: Moving Forward

Before getting to anything else: it has come to my attention that the gentleman I have referred to as House Arcanum is not, in fact, the sole individual to whom that title belongs.  My apologies to my readers, and to the rest of that House: the misunderstanding is entirely my fault.  I will henceforth refer to that gentleman as Bousiris, and edit previous posts to reflect that reality in the coming days.  Again: my apologies to all involved for that misrepresentation.


From beginning to end, the process of dealing with the ritual and the Sacred Experience Committee was terrifying, emotional and exhausting.  Still, I’m glad that I went through with it.  If nothing else, the festival which has been so central to my social and spiritual life over the last fourteen years remains a safe (if now slightly stained) place.  Several in my encampment would not even consider returning had I not secured an apology—though there are still no guarantees that they will choose to attend the festival again.  Above and beyond that, I have been encouraged to follow through with my intention to join the Heartland Spiritual Alliance and get involved with the Sacred Experience Committee, once I have the money to do so.  The apology itself … well, having spoken with Bousiris personally, please allow me to say that I believe it to be more sincere that it may appear[1].

Thank you, Bousiris. Thank you, Mr. Crane, Alexandros, and Aradia for working with us toward closure and progress on this issue.  I look forward to working with you all in the future.

The festival, the email exchanges, the meeting, and the composition of the apology all took place under the influence of Venus retrograde through Gemini.  I cannot believe that this fact did not greatly shape both the ritual  itself and the fallout afterwards.  One wonders if the astrological “weather” of the moment at which the ritual was destined to be performed could shape to process of writing that ritual over the course of the preceding year.

The old hurts which were dredged up by the ritual seem well within the character of the Venus retrograde.  The old ways of responding to hurt—particularly on the part of Bousiris , who would later admit that such behaviors were not only counterproductive but something he wished to excise[2], and on my own part[3]—are even more perfectly aligned with the way Austin Coppock characterized the retrograde through Gemini.  None of this excuses anything, of course, but it does shed light in some interesting places.

With all that said, there remain a few points which I was either unable to bring up in the meeting, and/or which  wish to address to the public at large.  I do this not to try to “score a second victory” but because I think these issues are important to the community as a whole.

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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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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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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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