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HPF XXX: 0 – Processing

Aradia and I skidded back into the mundane world almost two weeks ago, now.  Between her end-of-semester madness and my retail work schedule, we’d left something of a disaster behind as we dipped out to spend a week in the woods, and it’s taken quite an effort to calm down and clean up.  There is, in fact, still quite a bit of mop-up left to do, one way or another.

The festival, as a whole, was a success and to date we’ve heard hardly a peep of criticism for our rituals or workshops.  The HSA forum has not had much chatter on the subject, but all public conversations have been highly positive regarding the festival as a whole — “best festival in years” has been bandied about quite regularly — and I cannot but hope that our rituals were a contributing factor to that.  A few technical critiques have found their way to us, one way or another — some very poorly timed — but the responces have been overwhelmingly positive … especially from the people at festival that we respect most.

The process was a strain on all of the ritual crew, and our support communities.  Some bruised feelings remain on several sides.  Many lessons were learned about how to do things differently next time around.

But there will be a next time around.


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Looking Forward to Heartland Pagan Festival XXX

A week from today will mark the beginning of the 30th Annual Heartland Pagan Festival.  There’s a lot that could be said, perhaps a lot that should be said, about the speakers and bands and history of the festival.  I think for all that, however, I will permit the HSA to speak forthemselves, except to point out the pink elephant: that this is also the first year that the festival will be facing direct competition.  What makes this coming festival significant for me is that, having attended far, far more often than not since 1998, this will be the first festival that I have helped put on.

The HSA is a public organization, and I could have paid my dues and “membered up”, as they say, at any time.  There are a lot of reasons I didn’t, but they mostly revolve around a few highly negative encounters with influential members of the organization, and my personal distrust of any org large enough to handle money.  Several events at the 2012 festival, however, fundamentally changed my relationship with the fest and the organization.

Firstly, staggering back broke from my first year at real college, I came to the festival not as a paying customer, but as work exchange: twenty hours of labor for “free” entry. Working for parking and security, I got to know a lot of the people who actually run the org.  More importantly, though, that was the year I started a massive public shitstorm over the gendered implications of the public ritual arc.  At the end of those mediated discussions, I was asked to join the organization.  Living and attending college in Indiana at the time, however, I was unable to do so.

I graduated in the Spring of 2014 and celebrated with a victory lap studying abroad in Greece then going on a three-week road trip with Aradia.  We made it back to civilization and the internet with exactly enough time and money left to join the HSA, vote for committee chairs, and join the Sacred Experience Committee.  From June to December, we helped hammer out the theory and framework of the three main rituals.  In January, the first prose drafts of the ritual appeared, and Aradia and I recruited Chirotus and Pasiphae from the old proto-coven to join the SEC.  Last week, I got on the phone with Brianna Misenhelter of the ATC Pagan Information Network and HPS of the KC chapter of the Wite Ravyn Metaphysical church, and talked a little bit about what y’all will be able to look forward to at the festival.

Over the course of the last year, I’ve gone from hiding behind a shroud of plausible deniability (anyone with a serious interest in doxxing me could probably do so without much difficulty) to being a public pagan.  Whoops.

I can’t begin to say how excited I am about the rituals we’re going to put on.  From the brouchure:

Over the course of this year‘s three rituals we will cleanse ourselves of the preoccupations
which prevent us from fully participating in the festival, reclaim our Promethean light,
and launch ourselves back into our lives with power, passion, and purpose.
Opening Ritual—Thursday, 6:30p
In this wordless ritual we are each killed and resurrected in order to cleanse ourselves of
the baggage which prevents us from seeing clearly. The first priestess appears and obtains
the tools of magic.
Main Ritual—Saturday, 7:00p
The priestess draws her consort from the crowd and, with his aid, restores the Word and
the Light to humankind. Tokens of power will be handed out to attendees.
Closing Ritual—Sunday, 10:00p
Final ritual focuses on turning words into actions and manifesting our visions in our lives.

You, my dear readers, get an additional sneak preview.  Below are four of the ten masks that I’ve made for the ritual.

Elemental Masks

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HPF 2013 After-Action Report: the Public Rituals

This year’s public rituals consisted of two main rites around central circle, a vision quest, a funeral for one of the better-known merchants, and the usual Memorial Day service.  Having not known the gentleman in question, I did not attend the funeral, and, being an anti-nationalist, I never attend the Memorial Day service.  I did, however, attend the main rituals and vision quest.

The Main Rituals

The main rituals were a marked departure from the norm in that they consisted of two rites—an opening rite on Thursday and a main/closing rite on Sunday—rather than the usual three, with the main rite on Saturday.  I heard rumors that the ritual had been altered to accommodate some last-minute change—perhaps the funeral—but am uncertain as to their veracity.

Owing to Saturday night’s full moon, the theme for this year’s ritual was The Dragon Moon, and the Sacred Experience Committee elected to build their ritual around the theme of the five Chinese elements.  For the opening ritual, five persons bearing lantern-like globes were spaced equidistantly around the circle, which was traversed first in pentagram shape and then circumnavigated by a fairly large paper-mache dragon.  The ritual, itself, told a story of creation and dissolution: order rising from and then collapsing into chaos.  We, the audience, were implored to consider our own life stories and determine where we wanted to go, and how the cycle of creation and destruction could aid us.  We each took a ribbon, which was to be tied to the dragon and would be burned to fuel the rite at the end of the festival.

The main ritual, as is often the case, used the same setup and partially reenacted the first.  We gathered around the bonfire about to be lit.  There were more incantations by the ritual leaders, our intention-charged ribbons were thrown into the pile, and it was all lit to send our intentions out into the universe.

Overall, the rituals were highly theatrical: very pretty, well orchestrated, and fun to watch.  Unfortunately, I did feel that there was a strong divide between the ritual leaders and the audience and that we were more “watching” than “participating”.  There were few callbacks, and not even any real energy work for us to do.

My party and I did find ourselves a little frustrated at the generic quality of the magical aspect: “what do you want out of life” is a rather large and nonspecific question to tackle in any ritual, let alone a public one.  On the other hand, it rather amused us that, given the synchronicity which rules these things, that was the question that apparently everyone was wrestling with this year, as well.

Finally, I was a little troubled by the fact that we were a group of largely White witches performing a ritual based in “ancient Chinese lore”.  While I don’t think the Chinese are harmed by this sort of thing the way, say, Native Americans and other aboriginal populations are, there was definitely an air of appropriation to the whole thing.  Even something as simple as greater specificity in the pamphlet description of the ritual—“… based on the Chinese philosophy of Wu Xing, which is often imprecisely translated as ‘Five Elements’…”—would have gone a long way, and it would have been better if they could have found a primary source to cite for us.  The sad thing is, “ancient Chinese lore” (much like “ancient Native American wisdom”) is often code for “some shit I just made up”; the imprecision puts my back up (as an academic if nothing else) and the whole thing comes of as a bit racist.

The Vision Quest

Since  returning from my failed life in St.Louis, the vision quest has been a major part of my Heartland experience.  This was the first year that, having gone (I didn’t last year), my party didn’t make a point of being the first in line.  That proved to be a mistake.

The theme of the year was Heroes and Villains.  Villains included the Banshee, Baba Yaga, the Pied Piper, Lucifer (if I read the marks on his chest correctly), the Boogie Man, Lilith, and at least one figure I was not able to identify.  Heroes included Queen Boudica, Robin Hood, Sigmund, and Beowolf.  There were definitely some themes that resonated with me: honor and honesty and promices not kept, the question of what you’re willing to do to achieve your goals.  At the end, though, the message I received was more direct and immediate: chill the fuck out, go have fun.  I’m finding this charge painfully difficult.

The people playing each of the roles did fabulously.  They had clearly worked very hard to find the “voice” they were aspecting and deserve nothing but commendations. 

The overall experience, however, was deeply marred by logistical complications.  I’m not sure what, exactly went wrong: maybe the gatekeeper was letting people in too quickly; maybe one or more of the guides on the path was consistently taking more time than they were supposed to.  Regardless, despite my best efforts to move at a moderate pace, I caught up to the person in front of me after the first station.  By the fourth I was caught in a pile-up that went at least three ahead of me and at least five behind.  The long waits, my own irritation, and the increasingly frustrated presence of other Questers made it extremely hard to maintain the appropriate mindset.  Ultimately, I spent half of the time on the path increasingly furious at the orchestrators of what had turned into an ordeal of patience.

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HPF 2013 After Action Report Part I: Overview

I was more than a little surprised to find myself at Heartland Pagan Festival this year.  Although last year’s debacle was negotiated to an amicable conclusion, many of my friends had not seemed interested in returning.  I had just completed the two most grueling semesters, personally even more than academically, of my life.  Money was (and is) tight, and my spiritual practice was in shambles.  But then Pasiphae and Aidan decided they wanted to go, and Aradia got really excited about it, and that got infectious.  Then I learned that not only would it be a full moon, but Janet fucking Farrar was going to be there, and I have dabbled in Wicca/witchcraft for far too long to turn down an opportunity to see Janet Farrar and hear her speak.

There was one further complication, however: as a part of the aforementioned negotiations, I had agreed to join the Heartland Spiritual Alliance and get involved in the Sacred Experience Committee.  That never happened: first I was broke, then I was busy, then I was overwhelmed and nearly crushed by the last year.  So, before leaving, I sent an email to Bousiris, Mr. Crane, and Alexandros inviting them to Camp WTF to partake in my mead as an apology for my failure to act as I had intended.  Ultimately, and to my chagrin, although all three accepted that invitation, either by email or in person, we never managed to actually meet up to clear the air.

Planning and packing were both achieved with unprecedented efficiency and alacrity.  We arrived at the front gate for our traditional pre-fest camp out at shortly after midnight, despite the fact that preparations included baking four loaves of bread and two dozen muffins (Aradia is a badass).  We were able to secure one of our top four pre-selected camp sites, despite the fact that one had been closed off to “rest” for the season, and another had been selected as the location for the Lushes in Exile, as their usual encampment was likewise closed.  After setting up our encampment at a pleasant and leisurely pace, we set up the best camp-altar ever, and proceeded to relax for the rest of the day until opening ritual and public dinner… both of which were slightly disappointing, but inoffensive.

Friday started with approximately the average amount of confusion over my Community Service (after an above-average amount of confusion last year, the rest of my encampment bribed out), slightly complicated by an unusual number of  musicians and merchants who felt the rules didn’t apply to them.  Meanwhile, Aradia and the rest of our camp went to Ed Hubbard’s first workshop, which they enjoyed, and found me afterwards for breakfast.  We went to the first Janet Farrar and Gavin Bone workshop that afternoon, followed by Ed Hubbard’s second workshop.  After dinner, Aradia and I demonstrated the Stele of Jeu to Pasiphae (whom I think would benefit from doing the rite a few times) and Aidan, then went for a long walk before performing our own private Esbat.  The results of those rituals were impressive.

Saturday was slow to start, and we ended up not going to any of the workshops we had considered.  Instead, when we finally got moving, we went down to the lake, where we had the misfortune to discover a solid dozen unsupervised children, most in the single-digit age range.  That disaster-waiting-to-happen was kind of a buzzkill, and by the time their parents showed up and then finally left, the day had cooled and the lake was too cold to be any fun.  In the meantime, we did divination.

Sunday we caught a workshop on working with spirits and the final lecture by Janet Farrar.  The former was disappointing, but the latter was interesting: the origin story of Lake Onessa and her name.  Although much of our party crashed early, Aradia and I stayed up until the wee hours searching for a party.  We were sadly disappointed.

Monday morning began a little before dawn with the threat of a storm.  By dawn, the threat had been made good on with nickel-sized hail and a torrential downpour that made packing difficult and brought everyone’s temper to the surface—particularly mine.  Although I won’t name names, I will point out that this is why we don’t do weather magic.  Seriously: does anyone know any stories, mythic or personal, of anyone of European descent doing weather magic for good?  It’s all crop-destroying, drought-causing, malicious evil-for-evil’s sake in the myths I know.

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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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Mingle Under a Darking Moon

The rituals at the last two Heartland Pagan Festivals were deep, dark, and powerful – digging up years of accumulated pain in the attempt to cleanse and heal them. The climax of last year’s main ritual featured the enactment of a confrontation between Demeter and Hades over the abduction of Persephone, where each participant let go of something, or honored something which they had lost.  At the end of each ritual – and several of the workshops – nearly everyone was crying.  (That I wasn’t, actually, was one of the Clue Phone calls I got that year: apparently I am still more emotionally retarded that I had allowed myself to believe.)  This was at the height of a blue moon, following the full moon at Beltane. 

This year the rituals were somewhat less focused.  The opening ritual was about finding the fun and awakening the inner child; the main ritual was about blurring the line between the Sacred and the Mundane; the intensive workshops were largely aimed at the BDSM and polyamorous communities, so Aradia and I did not attend.  This year, however, was not a blue moon but the last bleeding edge of waning and the first night of the Dark. 

There had been storms for most of the week, and tornadoes Wednesday afternoon.  The forecast for the weekend had been deteriorating slowly the closer we got.  Camp Gaea was soaked and battered when we arrived. 

The opening ritual began strong [1] with an invocation of the Four Elements.  Guest speaker Orien Laplante cast the circle with a bell – more like a miniature gong on a string – a feat which I will have to reproduce at some point.  Into that circle, we [2] called our various patron Goddesses and Gods, and spread that circle to the corners of the land.  We were encouraged to reclaim our childish sense of fun, and given a length of string with which to affirm our purpose in being at the festival.  Mine was to reconnect with the life I have – before moving on to my new life at Earlham, and I believe I ultimately achieved that goal.  As always, the circle was left open, to be dismissed at the conclusion of the festival.

The main ritual echoed the first in structure.  The Elements were invoked and Orien cast the circle with a musical instrument – this time a drum.  As the elements were invoked, the circle was drawn in colored sands.  The ritual leaders did a bit of sermonizing – telling us how we, outside the circle, could not know the things they experienced inside the circle – then directed us to step into the circle, and back out, to feel the difference.  We danced in and out of the circle, walking and eventually obliterating the line, both literally and magically.  It was fascinating to feel the edges of the circle unweave, blur, and eventually disintegrate.  Ultimately, the ritual proved what we should always have known: that the distinction between the magical and the mundane is an arbitrary and illusory one.

The closing ritual, sadly, was weak.  Firstly, I don’t care for the new tradition of holding it Sunday night, rather than Monday afternoon; although I understand why that might be better for the Sacred Experience Committee and even for some of the attendees, Sunday night is usually the largest bonfire and the height of the festivities, and having the closing ritual right before the bonfire undermines both events.  Secondly, the closing ritual was just that – a closing.  No energy was raised, I didn’t have time to enter a magical state of mind.  We thanked the various powers for their attendance and bid them depart “at dawn”.  This, I think, serves as an excellent example of the sort of drama that would work well in fiction, but not in real magical ritual – at least not for a group as large and un-integrated as a public festival; a close-knit coven might well find it effective.

As has been the case since I started participating it, the vision quest was my spiritual highpoint of the festival.  This year’s them was The Odyssey, a narrative with which I can relate and whose characters I know well.  Homer was the guide waiting outside.  Athena [3] stood waiting at the first station, warning that though I had “survived the war”, there were struggles yet to come.  As is often the case, I wish now that I had taken more time to meditate on each of these things sooner, while they were still fresh in my mind.  Each of the guides had something of value for me, but only these stick so firmly in my mind.

The second station was the Winds, reminding that there was aid to call upon – a notion which was particularly helpful to me, given that so much of my magic is related to movement and progress, and who better to call upon for that (especially given my Wiccan ritual structure) than the Four Winds?  The third station was a Kyclopes, reminding me of the debts of hospitality and the dangers of overstepping those proprieties.  At the third station was Kalypso, followed by Tiresias, followed by the Siren.  Eventually I came upon two suitors of Penelope, and finally stood before the great Queen, herself.  Kalypso spoke of loneliness, and Tiresias warned of the debts to the dead.  The Siren spoke of voices, warning against those that lead us astray – I am fortunate in that I can barely hear those over the screaming of my Muses.  Penelope the Queen spoke to me of patience, a virtue I often neglect; my path is cleanly laid for the foreseeable future, now I have to walk it.

The sky was overcast for most of the weekend.  The winds were high, and cold, hard rain threatened constantly.  By the time Sunday morning came – and with it a much-hoped-for parting of the clouds – we were afraid that Thursday had held all the sun we were going to see that weekend.  Spirits throughout the camp were low.  People seemed to be trying too hard to have fun, and not succeeding.

Aradia and I attended only one workshop – a detailed and informative two-part lecture on the structure of spellcasting by Deborah Lipp, one of Aradia’s newest favorite authors.  Aside from participating in the public rituals, we spent almost all of our time in camp – drinking, smoking, and feasting.  I picked up a few pointers on hot stone massage from the gentleman associate of one of the Taco ladies, and intend to incorporate that into both my massage techniques and magical practice.

When Monday came – usually a day of frantic last-minute shopping, goodbyes, and intermittent packing – I saw the camp empty faster than almost any year.  Everyone was exhausted and yearning for their beds – “to my babies and my fuzzies”, as one friend put it.  Aradia and I were no exceptions.

[1] I will say that the invocation of the Great Buffalo in the North bugged the shit out of me.  Sorry, Sacred Experience Committee, but even if your North Caller is Native (or legitimately initiated into a First Nation tradition) and has a right to that invocation, not enough (read: “few or none”) of your attendees have a similar right.

[2] Or, rather – the rest of the attendees.  Although I am generally comfortable with Wiccan structure, the monism and gendering implicit in invoking Goddess and God in that fashion are still things I have trouble reconciling with my queer polytheism when I’m not in control of the ritual.

[3] Athena, as channeled by a friend of mine who will henceforth be known as such on this blog.  I could tell just on seeing her that she was at least half-ridden, and talking to her later learned that she could not actually remember any of the individuals who passed by her.  The presence of Athena was adequately clear that I was able to name her without any of her major iconography – helm, spear, or owl.

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Twice Born

Last year at Beltane I performed a spontaneous Dedication, knealing before a sky-god who has yet to share his name with me.

Thirteen months later, a week ago yesterday, I completed my first Initiation ritual.

It was a two-part ritual, actually: the first part being an underworld journey at the New Moon in preparation for the second, at the Full Moon, where I was assisted in my rite by three close friends. The ritual included, among other things, my first fast – twenty-four hours of bread, honey, and water (and not much of it) – and the sacrifice by abstinence of all the potential debauchery that comes with the first day of the Heartland Pagan Festival.

The fasting was both easier and harder than I thought it would be. 9pm – 9pm is a relatively easy block: I don’t usually eat for almost half of that. At the same time, though, I was packing for the festival, making a midnight drive, getting barely half a night of sleep, and finally unpacking and setting up camp – a great deal of physical labor, as I’m sure my dear readers recognize. I also had to watch everyone else eat good food, drink coffee, and christen the camp site with the festival’s first joint and beers without partaking. I almost had to abstain from the communal dinner following the festival’s opening ritual, a terrible sacrifice given the importance I place on the ritual sharing of food, but fortunately there was some bread I could share. Still, by the end of the fast, I was somewhat faint and had to be careful how much I ate lest I make myself sick.

As a lifelong solitary practitioner, I had never undergone any formal training or initiation. And although the work I have done over the last two years, formalizing and re-examining my training and practice, certainly counts for something, I had little idea what to expect. Would the ritual be transformative? Would it simply be an acknowledgement of my personal progress? Would it even work given the disparate practices of the people I had assist me?

The answer, in the end, was “yes” to all of the above.

Over the course of the ritual, I came into closer contact that I had ever anticipated with the gods I serve. I lost one guide, grown impatient with my slow progress. I … acquired? Was awarded? Met? What is the correct verb here? … another guide during my descent, and made amends with a Titan whom I had accidentally slighted. I was unmade and reassembled. Twice.

When I gave healing massages over the course of the festival, I found that the energy flowed like it never had before. I managed to soothe two sunburns by laying hands. My lady Aradia said outright that my healing work is much more potent than it was the last time I worked on her, shortly after Beltane. I have never felt so powerful or so clear as I feel now, even a week after the ritual. Slipping into trance is significantly easier than it was a bare ten days ago, so I know it’s not just practice.

So today I write, re-examining the experience again, and say to you proudly: I am a witch. Slain and remade within the Circle, now twice-born.

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