Houston Pagan Conference 2013
This past weekend was the Houston Pagan Conference in The Woodlands, TX. It is the first Pagan Conference held in Houston in over 30 years. If the last (or previous) conferences were anything like this one, I can’t imagine how the local Community could have let it go! It was really great – I had a wonderful time. I went with my Circle co-Leader and her family.
Why host or attend a Pagan Conference? Sense of community, strengthening bonds, supporting pagan vendors, exposure to new ideas, or new interpretation of old ideas… all are excellent reasons to attend (or host if you can make that happen). For me personally, I really enjoyed being surrounded by such a fascinating mix of people with common beliefs. I grew up in a religion that hosted 3 big conventions each year, and making new friends and seeing old ones again who don’t live close enough for regular visits was always fun. Though I don’t miss those long days confined to a seat, I have missed the camaraderie and sense of community that exists in them.
Another difference in my childhood experiences was the freedom of choice. Whereas the environment I grew up in dictated that you were in your seat, paying attention unless there was a break (lunchtime) in the program, the feeling of being able to attend or not attend a session, or having the freedom to choose between this option or that option that were happening at the same time, was liberating and made the entire experience more enjoyable.
The theme of this conference was ‘Magic and the Divine’. The featured quote was by Rumi, who has many interesting quotes:
‘I looked in temples, churches and mosques, but I found the Divine within my heart.’
I think that’s an appropriate feeling for the theme of the speakers, and for the essence of pagan spirituality at its core. Most of the speakers that I heard held true to that theme in one way or another.
Rev. Ellen Cooper Davis spoke about hierophany – those moments that happen in your life when you feel an intense or unique moment of connection to the otherworld. Some might call it ‘the ‘manifestation of the Divine’.
In the works of the religious historian Mircea Eliade (March 13, 1907 – April 22, 1986), hierophany is referenced as an alternative to the more restrictive term “theophany” (an appearance of a god). Eliade argues that religion is based on a sharp distinction between the sacred (God, gods, mythical ancestors, etc.) and the profane. According to Eliade, for traditional man, myths describe “breakthroughs of the sacred (or the ‘supernatural’) into the World” – that is, hierophanies.
In the hierophanies recorded in myth, the sacred appears in the form of ideal models (the actions and commandments of gods, heroes, etc.). By manifesting itself as ideal models, the sacred gives the world value, direction, and purpose: “The manifestation of the sacred ontologically founds the world”. According to this view, all things need to imitate or conform to the sacred models established by hierophanies in order to have true reality: to traditional man, things “acquire their reality, their identity, only to the extent of their participation in a transcendent reality” – Wikipedia
Rev. Ellen mentioned things like a moment of sunlight breaking through on a cloudy day, or a bird landing in your path and looking directly at you before flying away. She also showed this video of starlings over a lake. The look on the girl’s face at the end of the video is exactly that of hierophany.
Rick Fairchild, Tribal Coordinator for the US and Canada of Spiral Scouts International, was one of the speakers as well. One of the things I remember him saying was that ‘our kids’ have a place in the scouting world. I know that’s true for the S*SI group in our area. It’s brand new, and my husband and I are the soon-to-be Leaders. Our group is in the Deep South, small-minded, extra-conservative Christian environment, so the core of our group is secular. But those of us who are Pagan will have tasks and activities for our children in a group context with other children that are unique because the structure of the organization as a whole was designed for a Pagan worldview. Rick talked about bringing the Spiral Scouts Circles and Hearths of Texas together for events in the future – I would LOVE for that to be something that our kids get to experience. Just as the adult Pagan Community needs to see their brothers and sisters in a group context (be that in Teaching or Ritual Circle or at a Conference or Pagan Pride Day event), the children need to see their peers as well.
Rick and his wife/co-Leader and the other parents in their S*SI group were tasked with keeping the children at the conference busy. During the whole conference, there were kids in and out, playing on the playground, doing crafts in the craft room, having a good time. But all were respectful and well-behaved. The pagan parenting/S*SI ideas that seem to be in play when I am around other pagan parents very much reflects my own ideals that are in line with ‘attachment parenting’. I LOVE that the larger Pagan Parenting community (and pagan ideals in general) reflect my own choices. As a parent, having your choices validated by peers that you respect is always so reassuring!
Kaleen Reed is a Summerian Priestess who has been part of the Pagan Community for over 40 years. I met her last year at Houston Pagan Pride Day, and so very much enjoyed talking to her then and this past weekend. Some of the notable comments that she made were that ‘the perfection of today will not last’, and ‘I am, therefore, I am blessed’.
She also talked about how she teaches her students. She mentioned experiential training, and that she doesn’t instruct, so much as she inspires. She sends her students of ‘experience quests’ – go think about this and come back and we’ll talk about what it means to you. Since pagan spirituality is so very diverse, I think this is an excellent way to help someone new to the Craft find their own path.
I am a fan of learning. Our local Circle is very eclectic and diverse. Though many of us come from similar (Wiccan, usually) backgrounds, our practice today has evolved into a highly personalized path. For myself, this shows in my elemental associations and adaptions of the sacred woods I use. I’m influenced by ‘green’ witchcraft, kitchen witchery, Druid, Chinese, Egyptian, Norse, Celtic, Roman/Greek, Native American and Japanese beliefs and practices. There are aspects of many of those traditional styles or elements that can be found in my personal practice. I could no more define ‘how’ I practice to someone from one year to the next because it is an ever-evolving thing.
That brings me to the next speaker, Raven Grimmasi. I know there has been much controversy over Raven Grimassi’s heritage, practices, claims, what have you. I care naught for any of that. What I do care about is that he’s an amazing, and personable, speaker. He’s funny and charming, and brought a different view to the table; one that I very much enjoyed hearing.
He talked about ‘primal wiring’, and how separated from the natural world that we are today as compared to our ancestors who lived in the greenwood. Where for us, life, change and death are stark events, for those who constantly were in the presence of the cycles of nature, these things were commonplace. They accepted these events as daily occurrences. He spoke about the winter trees not bemoaning their leafless state, rather that they accepted that this state was temporary ever-changing, and that they are where they should be on their path at this moment. Saying, ‘I am…’ lays claim to a state of being, rather than allowing the transitory nature of life-cycles to play out as they should. Rather than saying, “I am old”, rephrase it with acceptance of the cycles, “I am a tree in winter. I am advancing towards renewal”.
He also spoke about the Oak & Boulder teachings, how for a while in our history, mankind wanted separation from the ‘old’ style of worship and spirituality, and doing so was the first step to where we are now – far removed from Nature. The witches have made a giant leap back to the Oak & Boulder Teachings, that is, tapping into the organic memory of the earth through connection with Chthonic Law. His book, Old World Witchcraft, deals in part with chthonic memory – the idea that all of the earth’s history is contained in the roots and spirits of the plants around us, and that through connection with these spirits, we tap into the Earth and Nature, itself.
Through keeping a Shadow Garden, sowing and growing your herbs and plants in sections according to the use of the plants. Whispering to them, talking to them, imbuing them with your words and intentions for them helps them grow and aids your magic when working with them. Then burning them, and spreading the ashes back into the soil to nurture the growing plants with that same energy further enhances the plants in that section. With each cycle of this process, your Shadow Garden holds the energy and intent of each work before – your magic gets stronger via plant memory each time you invoke this process. It is a fascinating thought!
He talked about Primal Deities; that using titles for primal deities rather than giving them a name allows more of a connection. By using a name, we limit the spirit of that deity into associations that we may or may not intend, and we limit ourselves to the understanding we have of the deity we named as well. I thought that was an interesting, and valid, idea. He spoke about the idea that UFO lore and faery lore are very much the same – as we have ‘grown’ as a society, we have invented new names to call that which we cannot explain – fairy lights have become UFOs. Lost time that used to be attributed to being lost on the faery realm are now called alien abductions. We’ve lost the mystery that surrounds us, and the magic, too. That the mortal realm, itself, is magic. If ‘magic’ is found ‘between’, then the Mortal Realm, here between that which is above and that which is below, is magic. This is where thought becomes reality, where our thoughts become solid. Whereas in the realms above and below, if one needs a chair, one appears. But once you stand, the chair no longer exists. But here in the Mortal Realm, we can build a chair and it exists long after we’re dead and gone – that is magic.
Raven also spoke of the Five Thorned Path. The long association with roses and their spiritual significance is legend. I know some do, but I don’t have an issue with blood magick in my personal practice. Though I am not willing to jump into that path wholesale, I found it captivating and look forward to more study on it. I liked the idea of a blood connection between the plant and the practitioner (exchange of red blood for green), and I’m sure I will be adding elements from it to my own practice.
During and after the conference, there were quite a few vendors, including my favorite, Elvenkeep, and a couple of new-to-me places, In Between and Phytognosis from Galveston. I bought oak moss and labdanum oils, and sandalrose and bergamot incense from Dark Elf, snagged a bag of colophony resin from Jeremy, a couple of porcupine quills, a bracelet a pair of much-needed charcoal tongs, and a beautiful small statue of Sekhmet from In Between. My final purchase was Raven Grimassi’s book, Old World Witchcraft.
Thank you, Thank you, Blackberry Circle, for all of your time and efforts to host this conference. It was more enjoyable than I can say, and I am so very much looking forward to being involved in planning the next HPC with my circle-mates. I hope to see everyone again at PPD-H this summer!