The Opening Ritual is scripted just about the same every year, as its primary purposes are to 1) awaken the egregore of the conference, 2) invoke Djehuty and Athena, the patrons of the conference, and 3) ward and sanctify the space. The main thing that stuck out to me this year was part of Gwendolyn Reece’s invocation of Athena: Let us be useful. It reminded me of my own budding work with Athena Columbia, a local cultus of Athena as Patroness of the District of Columbia and Protectress of American Democracy. (For more info, see my devotional tumblog.)
Workshop: 5 Herbs for the Hedgewitch, by Tintalle Foxwood
Tintalle Foxwood is a clinical herbalist who works out of her home in Baltimore, MD, and is part of Orion Foxwood’s temple and tradition of Faery Seership. She presented this workshop on 5 herbs (plus one extra that jumped in) that can help build the spirit-mind-body connection, in order to keep occultists healthy and grounded in their mundane lives while still able to do their spiritual work. Her six herbs were Eleuthero (Eleutherococcus senticosus), Milky Oats (Avena sativa), Linden (Tilia spp.), Ashwaganda (Withania somnifera), Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica), and Passionflower (Passiflora incarnata). She picked these six herbs because they can all be grown and harvested sustainably, they are generally safe for most people to use (barring allergies), they have a history of traditional uses, they have scientific evidence-based uses, and the plant spirits were willing to be part of her program. She talked at length about nervines and adaptogens generally (most of the herbs are one or the other), and then spoke on each herb specifically, giving uses for each. I was somewhat familiar with Stinging Nettle and Passionflower, but her workshop gave me more ideas for the use of even those two familiar plants! At the end, we each had the chance to blend an herbal tea out of those six herbs, plus a number of extras that she’d brought as flavor enhancers and “backup dancers”. I blended a tea for Glasreo, to hopefully help on days that work fries his brain a bit too much.
Ritual: Ogma and the Voices of the Tree Ogham, by Raven Edgewalker
Raven Edgewalker is part of the Reclaiming tradition and has worked very closely with the trees of the ogham for twenty or so years. At the ritual, she began by casting a circle calling on the trees to stand guard around us, and honestly I think it was the most comfortable cast circle I’ve ever been in. (Frequently I feel more cut off and claustrophobic than protected inside of Wiccan circles, which is why I tend to prefer druidic rituals!) After an invocation to Ogma himself, the ritual was reflective, based on questions drawn from four ogham trees: Birch, Oak, Hawthorn, and Blackthorn. Birch asked, “What are you beginning?” Oak asked, “What in you is strong?” Hawthorn asked, “What do you fear?” Blackthorn asked, “What do you wish to protect?” We answered in our hearts, and then gave our answers to those whose eyes we met as we moved within the circle. At the end, having found our answers, we raised energy to bless ourselves. It was a very enjoyable ritual, and I gained a number of important insights. Additionally, it cemented for me that it is time for me to start my ogham journey. I purchased a set of staves from Raven (check out her etsy shop!) later that weekend.
Ritual: Oracular Seidhr, by Scott Momhern and Becky Sheehan, assisted by Laurel Mendes
This was my second time attending this ritual. Previously, Laurel Mendes and Diana Paxson had taken turns being seer and guide; this time Scott and Becky were the seers, guided by Laurel. I did not ask a question this time, either, but Glasreo did, on the topic of his personal path and growth that I won’t share here. Highlights included this business advice from Odin, paraphrased: “Tell them what you need to – which does not mean tell them everyhing. You can best serve them by doing your work well, whatever it is.” As other questions were asked, I found myself in journey space, talking to Hela about our coming work together. I gained some insight into why I find her so comfortable to talk with, and learned that deathwork is also within the realm of my healing work. Freya also talked to me about oracular seidhr, and volva-ship, though she cautioned that it’s not a good idea to begin that work while pregnant, as I am too close to the edge already. I imagine we’ll discuss that more come summer.
Workshop: Guardianship and Trance Possession, by Raven Fitzcarraldo Mohnkern
After the mishap and my successful possession last year at the Conjure Dance, Glasreo and I both thought it would be a good idea to attend this workshop. Raven is a member of the Universal Temple of Spirits and has been a guardian at trance possessory rites for about twenty years. Guardianship, as she explained, means protection of the human attendees, moving energy into/out of people as needed, holding sacred space, and keeping the mundane world from interfering with the rite. UToS is a polytheist pan-pantheon tradition, but they borrow some terminology from ADTs, including the use of Horse/Rider to describe possession. At their rites there is a team of Guardians and attendants, and because it is a fairly small community, they tend to know which human is likely to be possessed by which spirit and what the human’s needs and boundaries are, as well as the spirit’s expectations, but Raven emphasized the need to express your own boundaries and any allergies, etc, to the Guardians whenever you are at a trance possessory rite. She used the car driving metaphor to explain different levels of possession: sometimes, you’re driving and there’s a spirit outside the car. Sometimes they’re sitting in the back seat. Sometimes they’re sitting in the front seat, navigating. Sometimes, the spirit is driving and you’re in the passenger’s seat, navigating. Sometimes you’re in the backseat, watching. And sometimes you’re bound and gagged in the trunk and have no idea what’s going on. That last one tends to be the kind Guardians need to keep the closest eye on, and is often the most obvious during a ritual.
Raven gave a run down of basic Guardianship rules: 1) always be watching (you have to learn by experience what to watch for, but erratic behaviour is a good start), 2) when someone is possessed, your job is both their safety and the safety of the entire ritual, 3) use whatever senses you’re good at to discern what kind of spirit is present and whether it’s going to play nice with others, 4) research and get to know as many spirits as possible so that you know their personality and preferences, 5) get to know the human attendees as well as possible, including their boundaries and limitations, 6) learn to use your body to catch people without anyone getting hurt, 7) take breaks when you need them, and 8) carry a tool kit. In that tool kit, she recommended things for helping bring spirits in (like spirit beads and devotional objects), things for helping kick spirits out and grounding the human (like florida water, salt, and iron), and utilities (like bandages, flashlights, and lighters). If the rite doesn’t have attendants to take care of the spirit once it has possessed a human, then that’s a Guardian’s job, too – keep things like alcohol, food, and tobacco on hand. She ended with a couple of things everyone could do to help trance possessory rituals go more smoothly: things like keeping track of your friends, catching them if they stumble, waving over a Guardian if you need help, and making sure others know their boundaries/limitations. Water is also helpful, she said: just about everyone who has a possessory experience, even if it’s not very “intense”, will need water afterwards. I think Glasreo has a lot to think about (even though possessory rites aren’t really his “thing”), and I certainly need to think about how to keep myself safe as I work more closely with Bast and Sekhmet.