Whereas Part 1 in this two-part assessment of my recent Paganicon 2019 experiences detailed the workshops I attended, the objective of Part 2 is to survey the rituals I actively participated in during the three days of the festival gathering: Friday, March 22 through Sunday, March 24, 2019.
Friday, March 22: The Opening Ritual (6:30-7:40 p.m. CDT)
My brain brimming with insights after a first full day of Paganicon workshops, I dashed back to my hotel room to quickly change into my Kemetic Priestess ritual robes (handmade in Egypt) and grab my sistrum. This Opening Ritual was facilitated by Jenya T. Beachy of the Deep Well/Great Heart Society, a group that calls itself, according to the description in the Paganicon 2019 Program, “a non-denominational dis-organization dedicated to the furtherance of thoughtful compassion and all manner of healing.”
I’ll admit it: when a large-scale ritual like this, featuring 200+ people, is being planned for a relatively small indoor location, I’m going to have doubts about (a) the organizers’ logistical competency and (b) my ability to fully enter the needed trance state to achieve necessary inner and outer processing of the ritual’s intended energies. Those doubts would be realized. Wahmp-wahmp!
But I went in good faith that evening with an open-minded attitude, shaking my sistrum enthusiastically (probably to the annoyance of the people immediately in front of and behind me as we marched in single file to the conference room) while other folks clapped their hands in sync with the djembe rhythms and strumming of Musical Guests Tuatha Dea and Damh the Bard, respectively, who preceded the throng of celebrants.
We were led to form a multi-layered circle (more of a potato shape) to fit everyone in the conference room. Chairs were arranged against the walls for people who needed to sit; for everyone else, it was standing-room only. In the center of the circle stood an altar with a large bowl; it represented the Deep Well. The lack of elbow room, and, ultimately, sufficient air to breathe made for a physically uncomfortable experience for me; this was the only time I had wished that we were outdoors, and I wistfully recalled the Pagan Spirit Gathering rituals under the swaying pines of the main ritual circle space at StoneHouse Park in Illinois—a fun place to connect with the land and celebrate the magic of the season under the auspices of the Summer Solstice sky.
“Some things just have to be endured,” my mind grimly quoted the character of Frank from the first Hellraiser film. I smiled but wanted to bury my face in my hands; was I on the verge of giggling during an inopportune time?
As more people poured into the room and were herded into respective areas of the not-quite-circle, all sense of Seinfeldian whimsy dissipated and my amygdala kicked in with its fight-or-flight response. I was honestly tempted to bolt out the door I’d entered. But I noticed that the woman immediately standing on my right, who wound up introducing herself to me as Becca, kept smiling at me with a beatific smile. I tried to anchor myself in her calm sense of joy, a task that was increasingly challenged by people inadvertently stepping on my toes. And then my stomach began to audibly grumble, expressing its displeasure that I’d forgotten to pop a hard-boiled egg or CLIF Bar fragment in my mouth before leaving my hotel room with sistrum in tow.
“I LOVE your energy!” Becca squealed at me. Her eyes were vibrantly hazel in hue.
Is this woman high? I asked myself earnestly.
“I could feel your energy during the procession and could tell when you were going to enter the room,” she continued. “I felt you from several feet away, and now you’re here right next to me!” she gushed.
I smiled awkwardly and wasn’t sure how to react at first, but I thanked her for her kind words. I have had people I’ve never met approach me, in Pagan and secular contexts alike, and tell me similar things out of the blue.
To get back to the narrative: I was also disappointed that Ms. Beachy, the ritual facilitator, wasn’t spontaneous in her delivery but read written materials aloud from a ring binder. I don’t like it when people read things for large-group ritual. It detracts from my ability, again, to get into a needed trance state and have an ecstatic merging with whatever energies we’re trying to call forth. The Guests of Honor, to their credit (I’m talking Kristoffer Hughes and Dr. Beverley Smith), when asked to step forward and say a few words, were wonderfully in-the-moment and engaging. Dr. Beverley did a beautiful Ancestor blessing, and Kristoffer wowed us all with his Welsh words of praise to the Waters of Life.
Ritual participants were asked to share waters from their home territories by adding them to the Deep Well. I wish I had known about this in advance, as I would have gladly brought some water from the Chicago River with me. Oh well. Instead, I tried to focus on holding space for the folks who were commingling their waters, but my growling stomach and the people immediately behind me who were rudely carrying on a loud private conversation really precluded me from focusing my energies properly. I did try. But then I just conceded that this ritual just wasn’t going to do it for me and I was okay with that. I patiently awaited its conclusion and then you can bet I made a beeline for the exit. To quote the late, great Kurt Vonnegut, “So it goes.”
Saturday, March 23
Rite of the Fifty Names by Sam Jackson, 9:00 a.m. to 10:15 a.m.
I thought it wonderful that both my Saturday and Sunday would have me participating in devotional Polytheist rituals. One of my personal goals in wanting to attend Paganicon to begin with was to meet Polytheist Facebook friends in person and network with other Polytheists, whatever their tradition.
My morning on Saturday began with a powerful experience of a Sumerian Reconstructionist ritual dedicated to the Babylonian god Marduk, Agent of Cosmic Order (a concept we refer to as ma’at in Kemetic Polytheism). The same conference room that hosted the debacle of the Opening Ritual from the night before felt totally transformed, almost to the point of being physically unrecognizable: Sam certainly did a very good job with his purification of the space!
One of the major drawbacks that I’ve found overall to having rituals performed in a hotel room was the sense of being disoriented as to the Cardinal Directions. Another major drawback was not being allowed to burn candles or incense—serious limitations for the public rituals that I host. Anyhow, I want to say that the windows I felt called to claim a chair in front of were west-facing ones, but I can’t be sure. In lieu of incense, Sam cleverly had electric-powered essential oil diffusers going; the scents were very subtle, but it was something of a comfort knowing that benzoin and myrrh were being utilized both to purify the space and to serve as offerings to Marduk.
The format for evoking Marduk by His Fifty Names was call-and-response chanting, in both Sumerian and in English. I found the overall experience to be swiftly and powerfully mind-altering, and not long after we’d begun declaring our own purity before the Gods as participants, I had a visitation from the Kemetic god, Khnum: a Creator Deity (human beings are the clay figures fashioned from His potter’s wheel) often depicted with a ram’s head. I wasn’t that totally surprised, as Khnum often comes to me when I’m facilitating a ritual, but here He was gleaming in front of my Third Eye when I was a guest at someone else’s ritual, letting me know He was accompanying me. I expressed my humility and gratitude to Him silently.
Sam is a wonderful and powerful Priest of these ancient Powers from the Fertile Crescent, and I hailed him as a spiritual brother from that moment forward. I knew that my day definitely started on the right foot, so to speak, by having participated in this ritual to a God Who had hitherto been foreign to me. I asked for permission to take pictures of the altar afterwards, including of the clay seal that bore Marduk’s Names in cuneiform writing, and Sam kindly gave me his permission.
Goatsong by Jack Grayle, 10:30 a.m. to 12:00 p.m.
I wound up staying in the same conference room assigned as a ritual space for the next ritual I participated in, whose stated aim was to “dance and chant to evoke the power of the primal Witch God.” Jack Grayle was an occultist and author whom I’d serendipitously only just met the week before when he was in Chicago, promoting his just-published book, The Hekataeon, at the Occult Bookstore. I had no idea that he would be attending Paganicon, let alone facilitating a couple of rituals!
I had a feeling that my involvement at Paganicon would result in a deepening of my devotional relationships with the Horned Gods that I honor and serve, so attending this ritual was a “must” for me. Jack is a very learned man—and a funny one, too—and he can deftly work the raised energy from a group of people, switching our minds from left-brain “head” space to right-brain “heart” space in just a matter of minutes.
Who knew that this ritual was going to feature such a cardio workout? While Jack joked that we weren’t really doing “a spiritual Zumba class,” it kind of felt like we were. We even had a drummer on hand to help us set the pace for our lively steps forwards and backwards (Trad Craft cha-cha?) as we rapidly chanted in praise of the Goat-Foot God of Sabbatic Witchcraft, building power for an ecstatic release.
The endorphin rush was gleeful but there was a somber and serious side as well, and it came when we were called to rise based on our birth month and approach, one by one, just prior to exiting the room, the Horned Lord enshrouded in darkness and arrayed in light. A goat skull was swathed in ivy and mini lights and held aloft by some of Jack’s companions in total silence, adding a poignant moment of solemn communion. The goat’s skull felt cool and smooth to my touch. I silently praised my God as I understand Him, then raised my fingers to my lips and kissed them before stroking the horns again. The moment of communion may have been brief, but it was genuine. To quote Garfield the Cat from the 80s cartoons I watched as a child, “Nice touch!”
The Marriage of Heaven & Hell by Jack Gayle and Shea Bilé, 4:30-6:30 p.m.
Jack would be a ritual co-facilitator, albeit in a very different magical context, for the next ritual event that I wanted to participate in: my very first Goetic working, and it was a dual working, to boot!
This ritual was meant to merge Right Hand Path and Left Hand Path styles of magical evocation of the same class of spirits. Whereas Jack would be in full high magic ceremonial garb, using a 500-year-old French grimoire known as The Heptameron to compel the spirit of Maymon Rex (the spirit that rules Saturday as the day of the week) to appear—using a circle inscribed with various epithets of the Abrahamic God and His Ministers as instruments of compulsion—Jack’s ritual partner Shea Bilé was using a more ecstatic, shamanically inspired method in a working of so-called “Low Magic” to summon the Goetic spirit, Lucifuge Rofocale. With apologies to Charles Dickens, it was A Tale of Two Magical Evocations, with a very different vibe to each, but happening simultaneously.
I think I can speak for many people when I say that Shea Bilé’s circle meant to evoke Lucifuge Rofocale was the more energetically captivating of the two circles—and the sigils and goat skull may have had something to do with it! Shea announced that he was going to be offering his own blood to Lucifuge Rofocale in moments of ritualized self-mutilation, so if anyone had a problem with that, they were asked to kindly leave before the rituals commenced. Shea had body piercings in his eyebrows and across the insides of his arms that he was going to rip out, allowing the blood to splatter on the painted canvas of his magic circle. (Both he and Jack had roll-up painters’ canvases as the bases of their circles; paint, blood, and chalk were applied to the surfaces to inscribe the sigils and other Words of Power.) The sound that it made when he did begin the bloodletting was rather loud; the splattering sound is something I’ll never forget!
What was very interesting for me was I felt the awe-full intensity as soon as I’d entered the room, confirming in my mind that the dual Goetic workings, while not “officially” begun, had already been set in motion. I was very glad that I had taken the proper spiritual purification precautions from the work that I do in the African Traditional Religion of Ifá. Regular readers of this blog will know that when I was much younger and magically less experienced, I got jumped often by (opportunistic or parasitic) spirits, who would then totally graft themselves onto me and wreak havoc in my life. My godfather (Oluwo, to use the Nigerian term) in Ifá and my godmother (Madrina, to use the Puerto Rican title) in my mediumistic training in the Afro-Caribbean discipline of Espiritismo have long since helped me learn how to adequately ward myself against unwanted spiritual company.
Anyhow, once I had chosen my seat (again, I think I was seated in the west, but I couldn’t tell in the disorienting hotel environment), I began to ground and center myself and call upon all my Orisha, Whose blessed emblems I had on my person. Before either Jack or Shea had uttered one word, I started to feel a little light-headed. I knew that I wasn’t going to faint, but that the experience was going to be physically taxing for me and it would surely leave an indelible mark on me somehow. This “Marriage of Heaven & Hell” was meant to impart gnosis, but I know all too well that spirits don’t give for free.
As it turned out, my Guardian Orisha in particular didn’t want me to have anything to do with Maymon Rex, Whom Jack was summoning. I wasn’t sure why the blockage was put in place, but my Orisha’s words to me were, “This isn’t for you to see.” I nodded, accepting the prohibition. For whatever reason, my Guardian Orisha was totally okay with me making a descent along with Shea to call up the Goetic spirit of Lucifuge Rocale, a demon. I held space for Shea as he, Odin-like, shed his blood and cried out in ecstasy, inviting Lucifuge Rocale to rise up and consume the blood and other choice offerings laid out in the circle. I felt currents of heat circulating around me wildly: Shea’s intended spirit was definitely in the room. I knew that neither it nor any other spirit that might have followed it coming through the portal could harm me, so my demeanor was one of respectful relaxation and calm the entire time.
Jack pulled me aside afterwards and asked me what my experiences of both summonings were, and I confided to him that my Guardian Orisha totally had me blocked off from him and from the spirit Maymon Rex. “Huh! That’s interesting!” he exclaimed. “I was doing the Right Hand Path working, but your Orisha blocked you from experiencing it?” Jack was puzzled.
“Go figure,” I shrugged.
I know better than to try to challenge the decisions of the Orisha!
Sunday, March 24: The Last Day of Paganicon
Resurrecting the Goddess: Inanna, The Queen of Heaven & Earth by Sam Jackson, 9:30-10:45 a.m.
This was the morning after the debauchery of the Equinox Masquerade Ball, so I was definitely operating on a sleep deficit that morning, and I was more than a little dehydrated. Nevertheless, I still showed up outside the ritual room the hotel named Studio 2 a good half hour before the ritual’s start time. Sam asked the ritual participants to queue up in the hallway outside, as we would ritually process in like we did with his Marduk ritual the day before. He had his purification and set-up to do first, though, and I found myself chatting with a nice woman from Duluth, and she informed me that she was a devotee of the Goddess Inanna. Meeting her warmed my heart.
Unlike Marduk, Inanna is a Sumerian Deity with Whom I am on familiar terms, ritually speaking. Even in the Fellowship of Isis, we have a powerful Divine Liturgy that we perform that provides an experiential understanding of Inanna’s Descent into the Underworld, Her forfeiture of Her Sovereignty and Her life, Her confrontation with Her sister Ereshkigal, and Her eventual rebirth and release into the worlds of mortals and Gods once again. Love, as always, is the catalyst for transformation and Ascent: Inanna’s love for Her consort, Dumuzi, and our love for Her.
Again, the call-and-response chanting in both Sumerian and English, the drumming, and the proclamations of praise all swiftly put me into a heightened trance state. Sam had lovingly crafted a clay mask of Inanna as a devotional offering to Her, and at the ritual’s culmination point, we were each given a moment to have our solitary communion with Her. It was wonderful and powerful. I honestly believe that I experienced the Divine Grace of Inanna: May She be ever hailed!
I had some time to do a little more shopping in the Vendors’ Room and sit and eat my PB&J “homemade” lunch at leisure before attending my next ritual event, which was going to be held not in Studio 2 but in Studio 9, the Suite staffed by Druids of the Midwest.
A Devotional Rite to The Morrighan, ADF Style, by Gerrie O., 1:00 to 2:30 p.m.
I was very excited about participating in this ritual for a number of reasons, but chiefly because I was going to meet my Facebook friend Gerrie, the ritual facilitator, in person for the first time. She and I were both Certified Death Midwives in Rev. Angie Buchanan’s weekend intensive program offered via the Pagan religious organization Earth Traditions, which Angie runs, and Gerrie and I became friends online in 2015, just after I completed my Death Midwife training.
I have to say that this suite was the loveliest indoor place where I’ve had a ritual experience outside of my own beloved and familiar Fellowship of Isis Chicago Lyceum. The (north-facing?) windows already looked out onto a canopy of forest surrounding the hotel, but the inside was also brilliantly decorated to simulate a thick forest. It was very soothing to the eyes; more importantly, I think the Gods and spirits honored by the various Druid organizations comprising Druids of the Midwest—including Gerrie’s Ár nDraiocht Féin (ADF)-affiliated Protogrove of the Singing Oak Springs (based in Madison, Wisconsin)—felt very much honored/at home. The beautiful altar Gerrie constructed for the ADF-style devotional ritual to The Morrighan seemed like a natural extension of this vibrant, Celtic-themed space.
For some strange reason, Celtic Goddesses, with the notable and very recent exception of the Welsh Rhiannon, have always been evasive to me. I’d loved several of Them (Cerridwen, The Morrighan, Arianrhod, Brigid) for many years, based on what I’ve learned of Their lore from a variety of texts, and I was always eager to establish devotional relationships with Them, but it seemed as though They wanted nothing to do with me. (Brigid at Imbolc being another notable exception.)
In January of 2014, as part of our 13-moon “Dark Moon, Dark Goddess” ritual series for women, my good friend Szmeralda and I co-led a devotional ritual to The Morrighan. I know without a doubt at that time that I felt Her formidable energies in the build-up to the ritual and I certainly felt Her around the participants on the night that our ritual was performed, but despite my intention to solidify a relationship, it was as though the Raven of Battle flew out of my life immediately afterwards. I just gave up on trying to get The Morrighan to stick around after that point.
So I was curious to see and know what, if anything, would “happen” to me some 5 years down the road from my last ritual experience of The Morrighan. But even if I didn’t reconnect with the Phantom Queen again, I would at least get to say I’d been in ritual fellowship with a friend I was happy to meet in person at last. And I love being a part of other peoples’ ritual devotions, no matter Which God(dess) they serve.
As it turned out, there were 5 people (all women, incidentally) total for Gerrie’s ritual, making for a very intimate experience. I had participated in several ADF rituals with Chicago’s own Wild Onion Grove, which is run by my dear friend Chris, before, so I knew what to expect in terms of the structure. But I was so immersed in the sensory stimulation of Gerrie’s beautiful altar set-up; it made me feel tingly, almost giddy. Her microcosm of the World Tree. Her offering bowls. The texture of the grains of barley. The clear, pure water. The sight of a severed raven’s wing. Gleaming labradorite stones. And yes, the scent of the Jameson’s Whiskey, our chief offering to The Morrighan!
As I said to the group afterwards during our sharing time, the simplicity of this ADF ritual belied its spiritual power. When Gerrie made the invocation, I looked out the windows, and I could “see” The Morrighan in the woods nearby, Her spear held aloft. Crows were everywhere as soon as I’d arrived in Minnesota on the 21st, and I thought this was a fitting sign of the Goddess’s immanence, too. I looked at the statue of The Morrighan on the altar. I felt how I was undergoing a powerful inner alchemy as a result of my being at Paganicon, that wonderful changes would soon be sweeping into my life (and so they have been). I felt that resurging love of The Morrighan from 5 years ago, but it was commingled with Holy Terror as well. A sense of dread over Her awe-full majesty and Mystery—a dread that perhaps no words in human language could ever describe, but a banshee-like shriek in the dead of night might convey.
She was among us. I could feel it. My tingling sensation grew.
I felt an overpowering sense of humility. It made me start to cry. Her battle-song rose in my heart, driving home the lesson of Sovereignty. The beauty of that spiritual epiphany also brought a choking sensation in my throat and more tears to my eyes. What was happening? I wasn’t expecting anything like this. Wasn’t prepared for it.
I tried blinking back my tears.
Then there came a time to honor our ancestors and beloved dead. We could choose to do so in silence or speak aloud. I felt my brother Mark near me, like I often do. He was an Aries, a Warrior all his life. So fiercely protective of me, his baby sister. Would The Morrighan be able to “know” him—could he be a retainer employed in Her service, kind of like how Odin has His retinue of einherjar, the warriors training to fight for the Ragnarok?
I wanted to cry some more, but held back that flow of tears. Held back so desperately. Why?
So many gifts were coming forth, surprising gifts, Cosmic gifts, loving gifts. Was I feeling unworthy of them? Probably. But why? And yet here they were, and my only job was to acknowledge them and freely receive them and give thanks for them. That was all I had to do. We stood Between the Worlds, the five of us and Our Lady. We yoked Worlds Together.
“A gift demands a gift.” I couldn’t accept without giving in return. I wanted to give something of my own, not just offer what Gerrie had kindly let all of us use as offerings. I’d remembered I had 2 sachets of dried herbs (chamomile, oak moss, spearmint, lavender, basil, rosemary, rue) I’d brought from home. I’d meant to take some time during my Paganicon experience and go hiking alone down some snow-covered trail in the woods, befriend the local spirits of land, tree, and water, and express my thanks to Them for letting me travel Their territory as a stranger in peace and safety. I wanted to take one of those sachets and spill out the contents for The Morrighan; that is precisely what I did.
It felt good. It felt right.
Gerrie decided to draw an omen from her own custom-designed oracle deck with images of The Morrighan to see whether or not the Great Queen had accepted our offerings. Was She pleased with our simple little rite? Was there anything more She would ask of us?
I shivered when Gerrie shared what she had drawn: a card that was almost exactly like my vision, showing The Morrighan walking in a wooded landscape, Her raven on Her shoulder, spear held aloft! And outside the window when I glanced, more crows: first a pair, then a trio.
The ritual concluded, as we shared our insights and experiences with each other, I tried describing the awe-full Mystery of The Morrighan, the absolute sense of awe Her Mystery evokes in us, the love and terror She excites. In Her Presence, there is full Life, full Death. Interwoven. Inextricable. I described my UPG of the message of Sovereignty, and how humbled I was by it. I said that I wanted to cry, and I finally did cry a little in front of the group. It was okay, one other woman was moved to tears also for her own reasons.
Gerrie, if you’re reading this, know that I love you and hail you as my sister! I will treasure the experience of this ritual with me always. Hail, The Morrighan!
Invocation of Bes by H.V. Bayard, 4:30 p.m.-6:00 p.m.
This ritual was one of my main reasons for wanting to attend this year’s Paganicon. I had regretted that I didn’t register months earlier, as I would have wanted to naturally present my own Kemetic devotional rituals, so when I saw that someone was actually hosting one, and to a Kemetic Deity Who normally doesn’t get the ritual love and attention that He deserves, I knew I had to be there in person! I even brought my own Bes statue with me, hoping that I would be allowed to add it to the ritual altar. (The statue served as my co-pilot, along with my stuffed toy Rory the Rabbit, for the long drive from Chicago.)
Mr. Bayard and his wife were friends, it turned out, with Sam Jackson, Jack Grayle, and Shea Bilé, so it was great to have my final Paganicon ritual experience take place among people who have since become treasured friends of mine.
Bes is a very old God, known for His apotropaic (“evil-averting”) magic. He and Hathor are the only two Kemetic Neteru shown in images facing forward, whereas the other Deities’ faces were depicted solely in profile. Like the fierce hippo-headed Goddess Taweret (with Whom Bes is often depicted), Bes is a protector of (pregnant) women and children. Furthermore, He is a God of great joy, with music and dancing held in His honor. Spring is a fitting time to bring His exuberant energies into our lives, H.V. explained, and the Kemetic Orthodox ritual certainly did feature quite an athletic bout of exuberant dancing to call Bes forth. We chanted and prayed, we made merry in His Name, and we asked for His blessings of safety for us all as we faced our imminent departures back to our home cities and states. And we had a great feast!
When the ritual ended and I hugged my new friends goodbye and tucked my Bes statue in my tote bag for safekeeping, I started to feel sadness. This was my last Paganicon event. I had decided that I was going to forego the Closing Ritual, as I wanted my alone time in the Minnesota wilderness before returning to my hotel room.
I meandered my way back downstairs, noting that Kristoffer Hughes was in one of the large conference rooms on the main level, giving his workshop on the Goddess Cerridwen to a packed, standing-room-only crowd. I heard waves of laughter in response to Kristoffer’s ribald storytelling prowess. I smiled. I wanted to think of Paganicon as still going on as I was leaving the building—it wasn’t coming to an end; I was merely leaving.
My heart grew heavy as I trudged my way back to my rental SUV and I saw other people hugging goodbye and pulling out of their parking spots. I couldn’t go to my hotel just yet. I needed to walk alone. I needed to introduce myself to the local land spirits. I needed to process the enormity of the weekend, my inner alchemy, and get some fresh air. I needed to talk to the spirits of the white birch trees, which were all around me.
I had my sachet of dried herbs to offer the land spirits, I had my high-end digital camera to take photos of the enchanted landscape, I had my gloves sensibly tucked into my jacket pockets as the temperatures had plunged into the upper 30s. I had everything I needed. In an hour or so, darkness would descend, so I needed to get moving.
Somewhere on Northwest Boulevard north (?) of Campus Drive, where my hotel was located, I had seen a network of trails and lakes. Surely I could go hiking there. But where to leave my car? Northwest Boulevard itself was a no-parking zone. To my relief, I found a tiny park in Plymouth that I think was called Three Rivers Park. The name certainly sounded auspicious, so that’s where my Toyota Highlander wound up resting. A pair of nesting geese in the marsh grasses further afield also seemed like a mini welcome committee for me. I was glad to have the chance to say hello. And the white birch trees. So many of them.
The spirits of the land, the trees, and the rivers and lakes of Plymouth, Minnesota, seemed very loving, welcoming, generous, and protective. Communicating with Them was going to be far easier than I first surmised. It wasn’t long until I found myself in a thicket of white birch trees, the tops of which were clacking together even though I detected no discernible wind. A Holy Place. I sank to my knees in the wet earth: the mantle of snow was in the process of melting, but there were still icy patches. I tread my steps carefully. But reverence was due to these Powers and I was going to give it.
One Mother White Birch Tree in particular seemed to be pulling me towards Her. I did runargaldr of the Rune known as Berkana; the geese, eyeing me without moving from their nest, seemed like avatars of the Teutonic Goddess, Holda—also known as Berchta. I sang and felt a rush of energy shoot up my spinal column; I looked up at the Tree. She was radiant against a backdrop of blue sky. I asked for Her permission to hug Her and She granted it without hesitation. All but crying, I then had my moment of communion with Her and the other Land-based Powers Whom I knew were in attendance.
I opened my fabric sachet of dried herbs and continued speaking, scattering my offering around the base of Mother Birch. I asked, if it pleased Her, to grant me some of Her medicine for my journey home. To the right of Her trunk, I saw a fallen white birch branch. I lifted it up and saw that it was a staff ideal for my height. It even had strange, almost Rune-like markings from worm tracings. Some of the bark had stripped itself off but much of it was still there. I sang my thanks and sank onto my knees again, enfolded in a blissful state of Wholeness/Holiness. I used the staff as a walking stick, turned on my digital camera, and continued walking. I came across cross-country skiing trails that had signs posted, saying “No Hiking Allowed,” so naturally I decided to hike those trails. These were some of the photos I took.
I walked a solid hour, feeling infinitely better emotionally than I had upon exiting the hotel after the Bes ritual. At no point did I ever feel in danger, either from threatening human males (I had the terrifying experience of fighting off a would-be rapist while hiking in South Dakota’s Custer State Park when I was 29 years old) or from unfriendly Land or Water Spirits. I don’t think the hamlet of Plymouth has any unfriendly Spirits!
I sang one final song of thanks and farewell before heading back to my rental SUV and making the short drive back to my hotel. I had one remaining personal ritual to do: it was a full-circle kind of event, as it echoed something I did on Thursday night, the night before Paganicon began.
I swam all by myself in my Marriott hotel swimming pool. I was ecstatic to see that it was as empty as it was the night I checked in. I knew the hotel was going to have a pool, so I packed 2 swimsuits and I treated myself to the incredibly joyful and stress-relieving exercise of swimming 50 laps. My fitness needs met, I then splashed around and dove, dove, dove, happily playing like I did when I was a child. Once back in my room, I showered and began the breezy task of packing my impeccably organized belongings. (I’m such a Virgo, I know!) I was in bed by 10:30 and I slept soundly.
As I heard a few Paganicon workshop presenters say over the course of the weekend, Pagans are not defined so much by what they believe (Whom they worship, in other words), but what they do (how they worship). Devotional rituals form the core of my personal, Polyaffiliated, Multiculturally Enriched Polytheistic Paganism. The rituals I choose to create at the shrines of my Holy Powers or in wild places aren’t always elaborately constructed, exhaustively researched affairs. As my communion with Mother Birch, detailed above, showed, rituals can be simple and straightforward.
But the common denominator is ritual experiences have to come from the heart. Words and gestures fall flat if they don’t emanate from a heart-centric consciousness. To me, that’s the epitome of Bhakti Yoga, the Yoga of lovingly serving Deities and Spirits because the act of loving service is its own reward.
May all your ritual excursions, all your journeys into and out of the Other World, be hallowed ones, gentle reader! May all your Walks Between the Worlds be blessed.
And may we all truly live awe-full lives of magic and connection—with our Deities, our spirits, the land we live upon, and with each other. So Mote It Be!
- apotropaic magic
- birch trees
- devotional practice
- Druids of the Midwest
- Horned God
- Jack Grayle
- Kemetic Orthodoxy
- Kemetic Reconstructionism
- land spirits
- Left-Hand Path
- Pagan festivals
- Paganicon 2019
- Protogrove of the Singing Oak Springs
- Sam Jackson
- Shea Bile
- Sumerian Reconstructionist Polytheism
- The Morrighan
- tree hugging
- Twin Cities Pagan Pride Board
- Witch God