Paganicon 2023, Day Three: Workshops, A Panel Discussion on “The Future of Paganism,” and My Devotional to Veles

We’re well into the night as I begin typing this entry. My heart feels weighed down with melancholy. It’s hard to believe that this amazing weekend Pagan conference experience has ended. I couldn’t imagine driving back 7 hours to get to my Illinois home this evening on the heels of another intense day of learning, of appreciating the power of our community, and of holding space for the raw emotions that came up during this afternoon’s panel discussion on “The Future of Paganism.” Hence I am very glad I had the sense to stay here another night and process my experiences through my writing.

I am thinking of what Kristoffer Hughes mentioned in his Mythology workshop yesterday on how all of us are tasked with going on The Hero’s Journey. This conference experience has felt like such an archetypal journey, layered on top of the literal physical journey to get here. The most important and daunting lesson for the Hero after the mission has concluded is to reintegrate the lessons they gleaned in the Otherworld with the life they lead in their community going forward. I know I will need time to decompress and continue to process this amazing Paganicon 2023 experience. I’m sure my long drive home tomorrow will have my Deep Mind busy at work as my Alpha Mind pays attention to my vehicle’s GPS. At any rate, here is my summary of the wonderful things I saw and did today.

Frater Barabbas Presents a “Temporal Model and Celestial Magic”

If my workshop selections for today had a theme, it would be “Magic and Divination.” Today I was steeped in various aspects of ceremonial magic and the history of the O.T.O., with workshops on astrology and Traditional Witchcraft sandwiched in the middle. My morning began with published author Frater Barabbas, a seasoned ceremonial magician whose background began with Alexandrian Wicca. He found it fruitful to adapt rituals from a ceremonial/theurgy context to the Witchcraft format he was used to and which worked for him. A former Alexandrian High Priest of his eventually converted to Old Catholicism (Tridentine Mass, which rejected the reforms in the Roman Catholic Church wrought by the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s) and Fr. Barabbas saw the value of some aspects of the Tridentine Mass as well, its structure and ceremony, and he eventually incorporated those elements into what he calls a “Goddess Mass” and “sacramental benediction” within Witchcraft.

Frater Barabbas told us he has a 5-volume series of magical topics intended for a Witch audience. The first three are completed and it is the third, Talismanic Magic for Witches, served as the basis of content taught in this workshop. (If you’re curious, Volume 1 is Spirit Conjuring for Witches; Vol. 2 is Elemental Powers for Witches; the upcoming Vol. 4 is Sacramental Theurgy for Witches; and the 5th in the series is Transformative Initiation for Witches. I plan on getting all of these! They’re meant for Witches to do on their own independent of coven work.)

Regarding the Temporal Model of Magic, Fr. Barabbas explained how important it is to factor the timing of your magical working in order to achieve the intended results. Those workings, or “elective moments,” have to factor planetary auspices that ideally become harnessed through talismanic magic. He emphasized that one does not need to be an astrologer in order to do this work.

“Talismanic magic is completely different from any other form of magic. It’s different from conjuring a spirit. It’s a very specific thing that you set in motion. It’s working magic for you continuously.”

Frater Barabbas

Looking at the current transits of the planets is important because what he calls the “auspices,” or the way that the transiting planets are talking to each other and even the way they interface with the snapshot of the planets taken the moment you were born (as reflected in your natal chart), have the very real possibility of either enhancing or negating what you’re trying to accomplish with your magical working.

Other aspects of temporality that factor into one’s magic-making endeavors include the following: the planetary hours, day of the week, the lunation cycle (lunar mansions), the solar season (divided into decans, or each 10° division of the 30° within each zodiac sign), your local weather of the planned day of the magical operation, and astronomical phenomena (eclipses, meteor showers, solar flares, etc.). Fr. Barabbas emphasized that the most important of these factors to consider involve the Moon.

For Talismanic Magic to be effective, the magician has to combine the energetic forces of a planet and an Element. So, for example, Mars of Fire can be harnessed to break stagnation. Venus of Air can help us create elegant art. He said there are 28 possible talismanic combinations and each planetary consciousness carries both a Deity assignation and a Qabalistic correspondence as well. “These Deities are operating in our culture all the time, not just our individual consciousness.”


“When you take that planetary consciousness and join it with an Elemental backing, it creates an intelligent energy field that perpetuates forever, particularly if it’s imbued into a METALLIC talisman.”

Frater Barabbas

Because of how that magical charge that continues into perpetuity, he strongly cautions to never use such talismans in cursing.

As the workshop wound down and he entertained questions, I raised my hand to briefly apprise him of the key planetary movements of today. Mercury entered the Cardinal Fire Sign of Aries just before midnight. Frater Barabbas mused on that transit and said it betokens impulsiveness, even theft. Our speaking becomes blunt. On the plus side, we’re curious, and this energy is very good for initiating new projects.

I liked spending time with him and getting to know him as a teacher. I enjoyed his personality and quiet humor. (I also look favorably upon people who think the Tridentine Mass is cool; I always have thought so too!) I look forward to reading the copies of Talismanic Magic for Witches and Elemental Magic for Witches, the only two of his books I could find copies of in the Vendors’ Room. For now, though, they’re being heaped upon my Winter Book Hoard!

“The Astrology of 2023” with Heather Roan Robbins

Frater Barabbas’ planetary talk was a great appetizer for this main course of an astrology workshop! So much was covered in such a short span of time, but Ms. Roan Robbins did a great job of highlighting key transits to be mindful of this year. She started her lecture by discussing key events with the outer planets first, then working our way in to the faster-moving personal planets (Venus, Mars, Mercury). We also discussed eclipses dates.

But let’s be honest: Saturn’s recent entry into Pisces (and the square to Uranus in Taurus and those bank failures and triggering of widespread, deep fears of insecurity) and Pluto’s upcoming entry into Aquarius (happening soon on March 23) are what dominated our class discussion.

Pluto, if you didn’t already know, takes 247 years to go around our zodiac. The last time it was poised to enter Aquarius like it is now, we were in the American Revolution with the French Revolution happening not long afterwards. Pluto in Aquarius challenges us about how we relate to each other as people in groups, as the demos trying to govern a good society? In Ancient Greece, Plato cautioned his fellow citizens to be wary of the demos for the fear of the rise of mob rule. Is the U.S. in danger of such anarchy happening? It truly does feel possible, especially with the very real threat of World War III/a nuclear holocaust dangling over our collective heads like the Sword of Damocles.

“Every planet, every sign brings a gift and a challenge.”

Heather Roan Robbins

Pluto’s gift is cultivating power within. Pluto’s challenge is the curse of a small group of people abusing their power over the many; it’s Starhawk’s concept of “Power-Over” instead of “Power-Within.” What’s our relationship to power? The next 20 years of this transit will be interesting, in the sense of the Chinese curse of “interesting times,” that’s for certain!

Saturn in Pisces is an unhappy placement for the Lord of Structure. He’s not sure where our boundaries lie, where our security is found, because the nature of Piscean energy is to dissolve things.

The boundaries being dissolved can be interpreted as literal boundaries between countries. There’s an issue of the boundary of the Southern U.S. border and how to handle the humanitarian crisis of the influx of migrants in need of tremendous help. The boundaries being dissolved can also be at our cellular level, of the impairment of our immune systems. Saturn in Pisces makes staying physically healthy challenging.

Interestingly, as Ms. Roan Robbins pointed out, Saturn is the only planet that has its boundaries (in the form of rings) visible to us!

As we spent the latter half of the workshop in a free-form discussion, largely centered on alarming world events and anxiety in the U.S. political landscape, I decided to ask the following question: When astrology clients come to me asking me to do their natal chart and they want me to tell them how their most recent past life may be spilling over into their current life, what besides the South Node placement should I be looking at? She told me besides the South Node, I should factor their 12th House as well as any separating aspects into any past-life readings. Good to know!

I really like Heather Roan Robbins: her warmth and humanity, her vivacious humor, her insightfulness. I would like to stay in touch with her somehow. I know from having spent a brief time with her in the Druids of the Midwest Party Suite that she runs a Druid grove in Montana! What a cool person she is!

From High to “Low”, e.g., Folk Magic: Learning About “The Faces of the Witch Mother” with Kelden

Ever watch reruns of The Brady Bunch growing up as a kid? I certainly did. I would always giggle when Jan would pout about “Marcia, Marcia, Marcia!” Well, if there’s one speaker I couldn’t get enough of at this Paganicon conference, it was “Kelden, Kelden, Kelden!” I hope he doesn’t think I was stalking him whenever I kept reminding him he owed me $8 in change for a $20 bill I gave him on Friday to buy one of his books and he was out of cash at the time, but I think he knows I’m a harmless individual and I’m Queer myself. I like to think he appreciated my accosting him immediately after Jason Mankey’s ritual to the Witch Father concluded on Friday night in order to tell him a detailed narrative of a dream I had on Serbian Christmas Day, 2021, of the Devil. (Pssst! Kelden! Accept my Facebook friend request if you’re reading this, bro!)

So naturally I was back in the front row, notebook and pen at the ready, to hear Kelden lecture on “The Faces of the Witch Mother,” or the Female Primordial Spirit honored in Traditional Witchcraft, which, again, is a non-Wiccan form of Witchcraft influenced by folklore.

We learned about four particular guises of the Witch Mother that Kelden personally works with in his own Trad Craft practice. They are Herodias, Dame Holda (or Holle or Hulda), Abundia/Habondia, and Nicnevin.

Herodias’ lore comes from the Bible and Early Modern texts. She was a historical figure who lived circa 15 BCE to 39 CE, married first to King Herod II and then to Herod Antipas, her first husband’s half-brother, who was responsible for the death and eventual execution of John the Baptist. In the Early Modern period in Europe, clergy in both Catholic and Protestant countries (which were swept up in the witch persecutions) wrote treatises complaining about Herodias and Her curious custom of leading trooping armies of women in the night, riding out during the spooky Yuletide season. For example, a bishop of Verona, Italy named Ratherius complained as early as the 10th century how women flew with Herodias in the night. In Italy, Her name might also be changed to Erodiade, which Charles Godfrey Leland, writing nearly 900 years later, equated to Aradia!

This theme of armies of women in spectral flight in the night rallied by the Witch Mother continued into German folk belief as well. Known variously as Frau Perchta (upper Germany) or Frau Herke, Wode, or Gode (lower Germany), clergy complaints continued but now included the documented practices of rural people setting their tables with offerings of food for the visiting Frau Holle and Her retinue of spectral ladies when they visited their humble abodes at night. Martin Luther even complained about Frau Holle, deriding Her for Her “snout” or beastial appearance in his 1522 tract, The Exposition of the Epistles at Basel.

Dame Habondia or Abundia is derived from the Roman Goddess Abundantia, a personification of plenty. She also had Her own penchant for visiting peoples’ homes at night and if She liked what She saw, She would bless the families with prosperity.

The fourth and final face of the Witch Mother Kelden showcased is clearly his favorite: the Scottish hag Nicnevin. Her Name likely originates from the Scottish Gaelic Nic an Neamh, “Daughter of Heaven.” She clearly has a lot of overlap with the Cailleach, for both are seen as having power over land and sea. However, I was surprised to learn that the Cailleach, as Kelden explained, in folklore is really much more like a collection of spirits than a monolithic entity. In Scotland, there is a mountain called Beinn Nibheis, or Ben Nevis, which is said to be the Cailleach’s home. She converts water into rocks and sea into solid land with Her magic wand. She is said to wear a long, gray mantle.

Nicnevin presides over “Hallowmass Redes” and Sir Walter Scott, in his 1820 novel The Abbott, refers to Her as “the very Hecate of Scottish popular superstition.” I was immediately struck by one key feature Hekate and Nicnevin/the Cailleach have in common: They’re Titans, literally seen as giants in stature. I love it!

And before I headed back downstairs to go to my next workshop, I went to the Art Gallery on site and picked up this original acrylic painting from artist Sarah Riley. It’s entitled Blood Moon Ritual. Hail, the Witch Mother! (She’s me! I’m that Witch Mother here!)

“Thelema and the O.T.O.” with Scott Stenwick

My foray into Low Magic for the day concluded, I met up with the Priest of Minneapolis’ own O.T.O. branch, Leaping Laughter Lodge, to learn about the history of the Order and get an overview of Thelema as well. Scott Stenwick seems to be a delightful human being and I wish I had the time to sit around and talk occult topics with him–perhaps on another visit to the Twin Cities, as his Lodge looks to be very active and doing fun things.

This was an informative talk. I knew that the Ordo Templis Orientis, like Gardnerian Wicca, was influenced by Co-Freemasonry (because I myself am a Co-Mason), but I didn’t know that the integration of Asian systems of energy work is what lies behind the “Orientis” part of the Order’s name. The focus is on sex magic, which has a broad system of practices behind it, contextualized within Asian energy work modalities.

Many people falsely believe that Crowley invented the O.T.O. but it definitely pre-existed him. He did, however, eventually take it over in 1921. Also: William Butler Yeats really disliked Crowley. Here’s another misconception that runs rampant outside Thelemic circles:

“‘Do What Thou Wilt’ does NOT mean ‘Do whatever you want.’ ‘Will’ should be founded on ‘Love,’ on the ecstatic state of union with other states of consciousness. Will should be acted upon in the context of Love.”

Scott Stenwick

These are the three other key takeaways I learned from Mr. Stenwick: (1) When performing the LBRP, most magicians make the mistake of spelling out Y-H-V-H, the Name of the Hebrew God. Don’t spell it: that weakens the energetic field. The other Names of Power aren’t spelled. Why do that here? Just say “Iahweh”! (2) Immediately after the LBRP, perform the Lesser Ritual of the Hexagram (Invoking). And (3) is…well, I’ll just let Mr. Stenwick say it directly because this is a great direct quote I gleaned from the class:

“Crowley’s biggest contribution to Magic was to modernize it. Let’s take these things and let’s publish them and let’s apply the scientific method to them and see what works and what doesn’t.”

Scott Stenwick

Paganicon 2023 Wraps Up with Featured Guests in a Panel Discussion on “The Future of Paganism”

From left to right, the featured speakers were comprised of Jason Mankey, Laura Tempest-Zakroff, Kristoffer Hughes, Christopher Penczak, and Andras Corban-Arthen. The first question the moderator posed was, “How has the pandemic affected your local groups and communities?” Mr. Corban-Arthen answered first and stated there “were signs something like the pandemic might happen” and he related how his Pagan community is very well-established (it’s been around for 47 years). He said the “silver lining” to the trying experiences of the past three years has been discovering that “we are a lot more resilient than we thought perhaps we were going to be.”

Christopher Penczak spoke next, stating that the pandemic forced his Temple of Witchcraft to really expand “its definition of community.” And as the wider Pagan community embarks upon resuming in-person gatherings like Paganicon, how do we include the people who can’t or won’t return to large groups? One answer is to sharpen the skill set of astral travel, and he said his Temple has been “gaining our chops in astral travel on a global scale.”

He also spoke to the great need for all of us to step up the level of pastoral care we can do in our communities. Hear, hear!

Kristoffer Hughes reminded us that in addition to being the Chief of the Anglesey Order of Druids, he was working during the pandemic as the Royal Coroner for His Majesty and his commitments saw to the unique fusion of his secular and his spiritual life. “They became one being,” he said. One major outcome of the pandemic has been an expectation for hybrid forms of learning, both online as well as in-person.

“Druids can be useful in a time of need.”

Kristoffer Hughes

Laura Tempest-Zakroff lives in Rhode Island, a small state, and was accustomed to holding a Witches’ Market. The pandemic forced her to think about “where are our lines of respect for each other” concerning the issues of vaccination and masking in public. She switched her classes to an online format but came down with “screen fatigue.” She acknowledges we all have a lot of grief to process; she’s finding ways to continually work that process into her community.

Jason Mankey reminded us he lives in Silicon Valley, California, the first place in the country to completely shut down. He hated the whole experience.

“Witchcraft is something that’s done with other people. I can’t raise a Cone of Power in a Zoom ritual.”

Jason Mankey

As a Capricorn, he definitely needs tangible presences and face-to-face interaction. “We have better conversations when we’re together and we can look each other in the eye,” he said. “I am just effin’ glad it’s DONE!” (referring to the lockdowns.)

The next question that really garnered a lot of intense responses was this: What is drawing folks to Paganism these days in such large numbers?

Jason answered first and stated magic and witchcraft have always become popular when people feel they are not in control of their circumstances, to which Laura Tempest-Zakroff agreed. She also pointed out the greater connection to the land that many people have been experiencing, partly because the pandemic forced them to scrutinize their localities in greater detail due to the travel bans. That latter point was, in turn, echoed by Kristoffer Hughes, who added: “Paganism is causing people to FEEL where they are.”

Christopher Penczak talked at length about how lost many people have felt; senses of signposts and structures have fallen away, causing people to not be able to navigate their daily lives well. “Witchcraft gives a level of agency,” he reminded us. “What’s my North Star? What’s the road that’s going to guide me?” He personally found comfort in regimented meditation and ceremony.

“The world really is an enchanted place. Witchcraft helps people see that a little bit more to navigate the trials and tribulations of everyday life.”

Christopher Penczak

None of us were prepared for Mr. Corban-Arthen’s response to this question. He soberly announced that he has no optimism for the future of either Paganism or humanity. The hope he once had in the 1960s is gone because his fellow revolutionaries sold out, accommodated themselves to mainstream values that have us now teetered on the precipice of a Third World War.

He also shared his observation that most Pagans don’t seem to take their own religiosity seriously; they dwell in an ego-driven world of “masturbatory fantasies.” “What I see resembles a kind of role-playing game rather than a force to effect real change in the world.” He worries that when people get too comfortable with the status quo, denial of the world’s crises and apathy ensue. “We cannot afford to be apathetic,” he warned. “In this country, we live in a very privileged world and we overlook it until it’s too late.”

His saturnine monologue tied in perfectly with the next question on the impact of social media on Paganism.

Jason Mankey took an optimistic view, stating that for all its problems, social media promotes dialogue and we’re now talking about issues that mainstream groups won’t discuss for another 20-30 years; we’re ahead of the curve, for example, when it comes to inclusion. “Opening the dialogue is always the first step,” he said. “It’s not about attacking each other over keyboards.”

Laura Tempest-Zakroff said that while social media is a democratizing force, allowing anyone the ability to share their voice on a large scale, it is also a peddler of misinformation, which is deeply concerning. Kristoffer Hughes said he was impressed by “so much wisdom coming from young voices” and he thinks social media facilitates a beneficial ripple effect.

Christopher Penczak said, “We’re suffering from a global miasma and technology can generate that, and it’s concerning.” Social media in particular has helped him practice greater levels of mindfulness. Does he really need to engage with someone, respond to their comment, or just leave it be? “You become mindful of what to share and what not to share and when to engage and when not to. Am I contributing to the noise? Or the wisdom?”

Andras Corban-Arthen once again sounded the alarm. As much as we want to praise social media for being a democratizing force and as much as we believe we are the consumers of it, we are the product. We are being consumed. None of these platforms are under our control. They are backed by vast amounts of money, the source of power in this country. What he sees on social media, especially the Pagan community’s presence, is pretension and self-glorification. “We have to remember we are dealing with an unreality.” He warned Pagans to stop “playing glorified games” because “it behooves us to be really mindful of who really in the end is pulling the strings.”

The panelists were then asked their final thoughts on the Future of Paganism. Jason just felt so appreciative of how amazing this weekend has been and we should all be thankful for these opportunities to come together. Laura reminded us that we are threads that are interconnected and we are weaving a pattern together. “Don’t take anything for granted. When you need that strength, pull back on the web and lean on the other threads.” Kristoffer Hughes encouraged each one of us to “take that Awen out there in a world that desperately needs it to be enchanted.” Christopher Penczak said the magic is in the doing; we each have so much work to do in our communities. We must participate fully; create interior change and exterior change.

Andras Corban-Arthen had a simple statement that shot like an arrow in my heart. “Give the best of who you are and give others the opportunity to give the best of what’s inside of them.”

Oh, my heart!

Quiet Time in Prayer to Veles

I ran back upstairs to my room and wanted to grab the offerings I brought to give Veles out here. I invited my friend Gerrie to come with me and offer some of the loose leaf tobacco I’d brought to Veles herself if she felt so inclined. She didn’t hesitate.

It has come full circle. I began and I ended my Paganicon experience in devotional ritual to my most beloved of Ancestral Guides. I thanked Him for His many blessings and asked Him to safeguard my passage home.

I will always treasure this Paganicon 2023 experience. It will impact me in my sacred work now and going forward. Blessed be!

6 thoughts on “Paganicon 2023, Day Three: Workshops, A Panel Discussion on “The Future of Paganism,” and My Devotional to Veles

  1. Pingback: Paganicon 2023, Day Three: Workshops, A Panel Discussion on “The Future of Paganism,” and My Devotional to Veles – Glyn Hnutu-healh: History, Alchemy, and Me
  2. Pingback: Revolution is in the Air: The Significance of Pluto’s Ingress into Aquarius on March 23, 2023 | amor et mortem
  3. Thank you so much for these recaps!!! I read all of them and really enjoyed learning more about Paganicon through what you wrote. I especially enjoyed the Future of Paganism thoughts you shared … totally agree with Andras Corban-Arthen at the moment, but maybe things will take a turn for the better.

    Liked by 2 people

    • My pleasure, kaye! I’m happy to use my journalism background whenever possible, especially when reporting/writing about topics germane to this blog’s audience and to my friends and my own communities. Andras Corban-Arthen’s assessment was heartwrenching. If only you could hear his despairing *tone* that came through his perspectives. Looking at the astrology of this year, we’re in for a rough ride that is going to have ripple effects across societies in general. We may be witnessing the death-throes of late stage capitalism. Let’s see if we’re capable of adhering to Starhawk’s reminder that “other worlds are possible.”

      Liked by 2 people

      • There are a lot of factors at play in society that make what he said a fairly realistic assessment. I met him once when I was younger (I was 21 and am still embarrassed by how brash I was in that interaction) and he was very hopeful about the movement then because converts’ kids were persisting in paganism … but that was before Influencer culture, social media, &c., &c. I don’t know anything about astrology at all, but the Gods will take us where we need to go.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Thank you for sharing about your Paganicon experiences! I have been living vicariously through you! I have fond memories of Andras from the Parliament of World Religions in Melbourne in 2009, like kaye, I’m inclined to agree with him and that last quote resonated with me too!


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