Paganicon 2023, Day One: Workshops, A Ritual, and Serendipitous Synchronicities with the God Veles

Today (Friday, March 17) was an incredibly full first day at Paganicon. Even before the workshops began, I spent 90 minutes volunteering to help a friend unload her cargo van outside the hotel (in the fabulous 17° sunshine) of shelving and her original (and quite heavy) multimedia works of her art she would be showcasing at the Art Show. The experience definitely counted as my cardio and my strength training workout for the day! Thankfully I’d had a hearty breakfast beforehand (food in the hotel restaurant as opposed to my road trip staples of cereal bars and Fruit Roll-Ups strips), and, more importantly, three cups of coffee, so I felt more than alert by the time the first of my three workshop intensives began at 10:30 in the morning.

Andras Corban-Arthen and “The ‘Indians’ of Old Europe”

I have heard great things about Mr. Corban-Arthen but this was the first time I’d ever had the chance to hear him speak. When I entered the classroom and saw him in his charming hat festooned with animal teeth and bones, I immediately thought of the Tolkien character of Radagast from The Lord of the Rings: the wild wizard in the woods who is a Master of Animals, their protector.

I was very excited about this workshop and the topic (both academic and experiential to Mr. Corban-Arthen as a bilingual native of the Celtic culture of Galicia, Spain) of survivals of Pagan practices in the traditions indigenous to pockets of Eastern and Western Europe. Clearly, this is a monumental subject, encompassing not just the need to clarify the definitions of what is meant by terms such as “Pagan” and “indigenous” but a sweeping historical overview that could take up the entire weekend in terms of content–a timeline of cultural genocide culminating in the Early Modern Period and the gradual but systemic process of religious colonization as a militant Christianity seized the opportunity to carry on the business of empire-building that the “Pagan” Romans began a millennia before.

Mr. Corban-Arthen delineated the three main categories of “Paganism”: first, the survivals into modern times of indigenous European beliefs and practices. These are found in small, isolated rural communities that managed to retain their strong ethnic identities and ancestral languages. I thought of the Dual Faith (Dvoverenje) folk magic practices rampant in the rural area of Serbia where my father is from, for example; they meet this criteria.

The second category is what we now call Reconstructionist Paganism: it’s a modern attempt to recreate traditional forms of Paganism chiefly through the study of archaeological, linguistic, literary, and historical sources. The Kemetic Polytheism I practice is a form of Reconstructionism: my devised rituals are carefully backed up by historically documented practices and prayers from primary texts in their original language (hieroglyphic text and transliterated hieroglyphs in my case dating from the Old and Middle Kingdom Periods). Asatru as a religion is another example of Reconstructionism.

The third category is what some academics call Neopaganism, though Mr. Corban-Arthen is not personally fond of that term (I’m not either): this category entails the urban-based and syncretically inclined effort to develop modern forms of Paganism within mainstream Western culture. The notable examples would include Wicca and contemporary Druidry.

Mr. Corban-Arthen regaled us with anecdotes of milestones in his own spiritual journey and how he came to understand these categories experientially. He had a life-altering experience during the 1993 Parliament of the World’s Religions in Chicago wherein a Hopi Elder named Thomas Banyakia, upon hearing Corban-Arthen give an overview of how a power-mad medieval Christianity authorized pogroms to culturally destroy remnants of Pagan Europe, exclaimed, “Oh! So you have ‘Indians’ too: the keepers of your ancestral traditions the Church wanted killed.”And it dawned on Corban-Arthen that yes, the persecuted Pagans of Europe were treated by the Church the same way that same Church would systemically try to eradicate Indigenous peoples of the so-called “New World.”

“Essentially, what we’re talking about here is genocide. Genocide that began in Europe and then was transferred to Indigenous peoples [in the Americas].”

–Andras Corban-Arthen

As he went on to explain, most everyone who has been taught World History has heard of the Crusades, but many people don’t realize that there were Crusades in Europe. The Wendish Crusade, for example, of 1147, sought to kill off the intractable Polabian Slavs (Wends). The Prussian Crusades lasted much longer: 1222-1274. These were outright massacres of entire peoples, accompanied by the deliberate destruction of their sacred sites.

It was a heavy but necessary topic to explore as historically informed Pagans alive today. Are we going to witness another wave of persecutions against us? It’s a sobering and frightening thought.

Kelden Presents “Folklore & the Witch: Research Methods”

Fortunately, the workshop I decided to attend next buoyed my spirits once again. I am a huge fan of the immensely talented (and young!) author, Kelden, one of the most exciting emerging voices in the spiritual landscape known as Traditional Witchcraft. (If you’re looking for a good primer on the subject, give his book The Crooked Path a try. It weds theory and practice together beautifully.) Many Trad Craft Witches can imbue their beliefs and practices with greater meaning if they include various aspects of cultural folklore (whose forms can be verbal [songs and tales], material [physical objects, food, architecture], and customary [dances, gestures, ritual actions, etc.]).

Folklore consists of informally learned, unofficial knowledge about a given community and its beliefs as creatively expressed through music, customs, actions, and materials. It is variable, changing as it passes hands to suit present needs.

“Witchcraft IS folklore. The archetype of the Witch evolved over time from different strands of folklore.”


Folklore communicates meaning, shaping and enriching our identities as both individuals and members of different groups. It offers insights into who we are, what we value, and how we see/interpret the world around us. In terms of our Craft, folklore can influence the spells we cast, the rituals we perform, the tools we use, the spirits we work with, and the holidays we celebrate.

Kelden emphasized the important distinction that has to be made between folk magic, which is found in many different cultures worldwide, and Witchcraft, which is a European construct due to the role of colonization. A good place to begin with research is that of your particular ancestral culture as well as the land-based culture of the region where you live. Is there plant lore or weather lore specific to your area? What about your ethnicity’s traditions, recipes, holiday celebrations, and the like? Where did certain concepts come from, and how did they develop over time? Don’t forget that living people, especially elder family members, are significant sources of information; ask them about folk remedies/cures for ailments, holidays/rites, plant lore, and customs. Keep a reliable repository of all the data you track down, even if it’s just a cheap spiral-bound notebook from the Dollar Store.

I appreciated that Kelden gave a lot of time after his incredibly detailed presentation to entertain audience questions.

ADF Arch Druid John Pagano and His “Introduction to Devotional Polytheism”

This afternoon workshop was a delight to participate in! I resonated with so much of what Mr. Pagano talked about, and it really begins with the simple practice of mindfulness. How connected are you to what you’re doing, spiritually speaking? Citing the example of his Catholic parents’ passivity in their weekly church services, Mr. Pagano noted the difference between attendance at a spiritual event/practice and actually being fully present. We’ve all heard of “Christmas and Easter Christians” who only show up to their services twice a year and pay lip service to their faith, but there are Pagan equivalents of those who go through the motions as well. Why sell yourself and the Gods short? Cultivating a devotional practice is a worthwhile endeavor that enriches you and the Gods; it also illustrates the two critical Virtues in ADF Druidry of Hospitality and Reciprocity, Virtues dependent on the presence of an Other.

Mr. Pagano told the story of an apartment he once lived in as a young man that clearly had a mischievous house spirit that was placing missing objects in strange locations. Dissatisfied with his Catholic upbringing, Mr. Pagano didn’t have any particular spiritual leanings and described himself as being agnostic in his youth. But this house spirit mischief called his attention to the Reality of Other Beings that share our earth plane of existence with us. How would he address the phenomena?

He decided to cultivate a daily practice of giving the spirit offerings: simple things like a stone on which water was poured, and next to it was a shot glass filled with good whisky. Over time, the platform for depositing the offerings became upgraded to a fully-fledged spirit house. He called the spirit the Lares of his household (in the ancient Roman fashion) and every time he presented his offering, it was accompanied with a simple prayer of: “Lares, I welcome you to another day of friendship and peace.”

How lovely is that?

“In the ADF, we build relationships with Deities and spirit entities and as we get to know Them better, They get to know us better.”

–John Pagano

There are three classes of Spirit Beings in ADF Cosmology: Ancestors (variously of blood, of heart, and of bone), Nature Spirits, and the Shining Ones, or “Goddesses and Gods Who can change the laws of physics or work in a different set of laws of physics to make things happen,” he explained. When setting up a devotional relationship with any of these Beings, it’s important to keep in mind the Who, the Why, the When, and the Where of daily practice.

Usually, we have an idea of Who it is we ought to be giving our devotional attention to. The Why should be anchored in a spirit of gratitude, of thanking the Gods for what we already have. “It takes so little to say thank you. It acknowledges yourself and outside of yourself,” Mr. Pagano declared. Again, the Virtue of Hospitality is being evoked: it builds bridges of connection. The When and the Where are up to you. Be consistent with the time if it’s a daily practice and a home altar is a good idea for the Where of your devotions. “Altars remind us who we are in our religious perspectives,” Mr. Pagano stated.

“Shadow Faith: Spiritual Work through Sadness, Grief, and Eventual Loss” with Marian Metcalf

The blessing that came from this workshop was the Presence of Hekate Khthonia, whom I evoked in formal group prayer when the workshop facilitator, Marian Metcalf, turned to me (a total stranger; I’ve never met her before) and asked me to kindly “say a few words” when we were wrapping up our emotionally heavy time of personal sharing of our stories of death, terminal illness, anticipatory grief for the dying, and recovery.

I wasn’t flummoxed by the request; I was somewhat expecting it. I sensed that Hekate was waiting for me to call on Her regarding my Death Midwifery training, to witness souls in pain during times of transition. We didn’t hold hands but those of us in the classroom who were able-bodied stood in a circle and I spoke loudly and clearly, evoking Hekate as the Torch-Bearing Witness and Guide to the lost Persephone–so, too, may She lead us out of the crossroads of confusion and hurt and into places of courage and clarity.

I kept on praying a good two minutes, feeling Her mana enfold me. I fingered the Job’s tears dried herb beads of the devotional necklace to Hekate I made a few years ago and consecrated specifically for my Death Midwife work.

Several people approached me afterwards and thanked me; my words somehow helped them. I certainly don’t take any credit: I honestly do believe Hekate wanted everyone who believes in Her to know She was there holding space for us in our vulnerability and pain.

Hail, Phosphoros: Light-Bringing Goddess of Compassion!

From Dark Goddess to Dark God: Jason Mankey’s Ritual “The Gifts of the Witchfather”

What the Horned God is to Wicca, the Witchfather is to Traditional Witchcraft. This ritual was at crowd capacity, a testament to the popularity of all things Trad Craft in the contemporary Pagan soulscape. Mr. Mankey is a very accessible, down-to-earth public speaker and presenter. A Polytheistic Witch himself (his background, like mine, is in British Traditional Wicca), Mr. Mankey clearly has a well-established relationship with this shadowy and primordially powerful Father of Witches.

And oh yes, it was an effective ritual. I’ll admit, I had my doubts of inwardly feeling anything: the crowded room had me feeling ill at ease, it was too warm and fresh air was at a premium, etc., but when we were asked to assist in Treading the Mill (the Trad Craft equivalent of raising a Cone of Power), I both felt and saw what was being erected in the garishly lit studio space that housed us all. And more importantly, I saw and felt Him as He’s been appearing to me since Samhain of last year: tall and in a tattered black robe or even mass of black mist as a raiment, a weathered stag skull for a head and eyeless sockets that peer into Other Worlds. He gives me chills. I have experienced terror in His Presence, actually.

And there He stood, somewhat hovering over the stang erected in His honor in the North. The Witchfather. Here. In this hotel.

There was nothing to do but Hail Him. And we all did, in our turn, chanting and clapping as we circled the altar space with our libation of red wine as an offering.

As much as I love Him, as soon as the ritual concluded I made a beeline for my room and immediately began to spiritually cleanse myself with the Florida Water I brought from home.

A Serendipitous Surprise: A Healing Gift Mediated by the God Veles

As the clock struck 7 p.m. and my stomach announced it was tired of my stash of Goldfish crackers and sunflower seeds tucked away in my purse for snacking throughout the day, I meandered over to the hotel restaurant. As I staked my seat, looking out at the lovely marsh landscape buried under 3 feet of snow, thinking of the Slavic God Veles, a feeling of melancholy cloaked my mind. Thinking my hearty meal would soon shake this feeling off, I was shocked to find that, no, I was emotionally starting to nosedive. Rapidly. The proceedings of the Shadow Work/Death Midwifery group grieving experience somehow resurfaced…but with a reaction of a traumatic response on my part. It was all the more confusing because I wasn’t feeling traumatized at all while the workshop was being held. I was calm and held space for other peoples’ trauma. Bizarre! Why was this happening to me?

Upon finishing my meal, I headed downstairs to catch the folk music concert my friend Sharon Winter and her partner Winter were performing. I couldn’t sit still. The emotional heaviness got worse and I felt, to my horror at this sense of loss of control, that I was going to lose my shit in public. What? WHY?!

I leapt from my seat and went back to my room. I repeated my spiritual cleansing from earlier. I looked at my self in the mirror. I had a hard time blinking back my tears.

Intuitively, I knew I had to go seek out a friend I trust as a spiritual counselor. He is a trusted priest in his tradition. I have always enjoyed my time in sacred space with him. He has a comforting presence: his hugs are wonderful! I didn’t know what I needed from him, but I went to go see if he was in the hangout space with folks from his group. Phew! I found him with no difficulty and while he was seated with two other people in conversation, I had no difficulty in wresting him away. He could clearly see the look of alarm and hear the urgency in my tone as I asked him, “May I please have a word with you?”

He led me away to go talk privately. I talked about the experience of the Shadow Work/Grief sharing class. Somehow something was energetically transferred to me. My friend wanted to know how he could best support me in this moment: what did I need? Was it a hug? A reading? A listening ear? Should we go outside and make an offering to my Patron Deities? Would that make me feel better?

I was truly confused. I didn’t know what I needed from him, only that I needed to have him near me. He held my hand and I cried and told him I felt greatly embarrassed for crying. I didn’t understand why my previous rounds of spiritually cleansing myself weren’t having the desired results.

He listened to me. He didn’t think it was a case of energy transference, but clearly, I was taking on others’ burdens. As we sat on this sofa in the semi-lit area above the lobby of the hotel, I faced the direction of the wetlands. Earlier, I saw, with joy, that the creek that meandered around the property of the hotel and amidst the tall grasses was thawing. I saw a snake of blue water.

Serpent. Marsh lands. The Other World portal in Slavic (specifically, Serbian) folk belief.

Veles. My God. He is here. He is a part of this.


And then, my friend starts to talk, out of nowhere because the only Deity I’d been mentioning thus far to him was Hekate Khthonia and how I was asked to say a few words of prayer earlier and I prayed in Her Name, about Veles.

“I don’t know if you work with Veles,” my priest friend says, “but I want you to have this.” And he removes a gorgeous necklace he’s wearing that features a stylized silver bear paw print on it. And he gives it to me.

My eyes widen. I am in shock.

“Oh! I can’t! I can’t take this from you!” I nearly yell. This is too valuable! And if he’s trying to cultivate a relationship with Veles, why would he be giving this to me?

“Well, that’s too bad,” he says with his dry humor, “because you ARE going to take this. And you’re just going to have to learn to let people who want to help you, help you. And you’re going to have to learn to say ‘thank you.'”

I cried some more, but this time my tears were ones of happiness and gratitude. I was deeply moved.

I told my friend how Veles made my excursion to Paganicon possible, and that He is very active in the surrounding wetlands ecosytem here in Minnesota where we are. Even though it’s Winter. His Serpent Wisdom is snaking its way to His children.

And this moment is a part of that Wisdom, that Mystery, too, a voice in my head told me as my friend continued to hold my hand as we sat together on the sofa.

I will carry this moment in my heart as I will proudly and gratefully wear this necklace for many years to come.

Slava, Veles!

Like I said, this was a very full first day of Paganicon 2023.

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