Into and Around the Witch-Cult

As I write this I’m on the road, in Virginia Beach (Virginia) by way of Detroit Michigan. By the standards of some road warriors this has not been a particularly grueling trip, but after six nights of hotels, no wife, and no cats I’m desperate to be home.

Me with Kerr Cuhulain
Me with Kerr Cuhulain

My travels first took me to ConVocation in Detroit, one of America’s biggest (about 1000 folks), best, and least talked about festivals. The curious silence that often greets ConVocation might be due to its location, or perhaps because no one leaves it upset. I don’t really know, but I’ve been going to “Con” for almost fifteen years now and they always make my contributions feel welcome and appreciated.

I did two workshops that weren’t terrible, but they were probably a bit dry. Talking about books isn’t all that sexy, and depending on one’s level of knowledge, not always terribly informative. It’s hard to condense 40,000 years of history into a one hour talk, so if people are really interested in the topic they probably leave disappointed because I don’t spend thirty minutes talking about Agrippa or whatever.

What I wanted my ritual to look like.  I don't think it did.
What I wanted my ritual to look like. I don’t think it did.

If you were wondering about why this post is called Into and Around the Witch Cult, it’s because I led a ritual there called A Ritual From the Witch-Cult, inspired by the writings of Margaret Murray in her (1921) book The Witch-Cult in Western Europe. Using Murray as a ritual source is kind of a challenge because her witches only really did five things:

-feast (I’m not catering a ritual for 80 people)
-orgy together (no festival is going to let me do this)
-sacrifice people-especially babies (that’s clearly out)
-get initiated (and this sometimes involved kissing the Grand Magister or signing a book)
-dance, and they did it according to Murray by placing their hands on the shoulders of the person in front of them.

My ritual was limited to the final two things of course.

That's Dodie Graham-McKay who writes at the Wild Hunt and Tempest.  I think they are whispering about me.
That’s Dodie Graham-McKay who writes at the Wild Hunt and Tempest. I think they are whispering about me.

A Murray ritual is difficult for other reasons. There are no circles or quarters (though apparently we built one anyways), and it’s Goddess/goddesses free. The only deity in attendance was Old Hornie in the form of the Grand Magister (me). Murray’s ritual leaders “drew down” the God of the Witches, so that’s what we did. What surprised me the most about that drawing down was how political it got. The Horned God is worried about his children, and wants us to protect one another, and especially look out for the most vulnerable of us.

I had some wonderful help with the ritual too, most notably Devin Hunter (who was actually supposed to be on the ritual’s marquee), Laura Tempest Zakroff, and the greatest ritual waiter of all time Storm Faerywolf. Most of the ritual was a one-man-goat-show but their presences propped me up, stopped Old Hornie from getting too lecherous, and just generally kept the gears of the whole enterprise running smoothly. Much thanks my friends.

The last few years have found me spending a lot of time ruminating on the nature of Wicca and its evolution. I’m not ready to write about those ideas yet, but I have been talking about them in public. Since no one has thrown any tomatoes at me during these talks, it seems as if some people might actually agree with me. What I do as one of the Wica is not really the same thing I do as a Wiccan, and it’s because one has a whole bunch of influences the other one does not. More to come when I get to sit down at home and actual spend some real time writing.

I was pleasantly surprised that John Michael Greer seemed to know who I was when I met him on Saturday night at ConVocation. I’m of the opinion that there’s no reason to know who I am, especially when you are John Michael Greer, but we had a nice chat about fraternal orders and their impact on Paganism and beyond. I also got to share a drink or two with Kerr Cuhalain, whose book Wiccan Warrior was a favorite many years ago. I remain a very blessed and lucky boy.

That's Tempest again, Clifford Hartleigh Low, and John Michael Greer.
That’s Tempest again, Clifford Hartleigh Low, and John Michael Greer.

If you are wondering why I’m writing this in Virginia Beach instead of Silicon Valley, that’s because I visited the offices of BN Media this past afternoon. (BN Media is the parent company of Patheos, so in other words I visited with my bosses.) What I encountered there reminded me more of a Silicon Valley than anything else. I certainly didn’t feel as if there was any sort of political or religious agenda being expressed. Bonus, all of my President Trump jokes were well received.

What did we chat about? Generally our talk revolved around one thing: how to make Patheos Pagan better. I’m extremely proud of what we’ve built here, with special thanks to all the folks who have written here over the years past and present. We want the site to look better, for the pages to load faster, for the ad experience to improve, and to just better serve the people who read our stuff here. I thought it was a productive few hours, and while there won’t be any immediate changes, there are going to be some very beneficial down the road.

It's a sign!
It’s a sign!

Everyone I spoke with was extremely gracious, but also curious about our community. “Do you have any rules as a Pagan?” “Why did you choose to be a Pagan?” (Especially after admitting my former Republican-President-of-the-church-youth-group days!) I always enjoy answering those things because I’m generally very proud of my community. Over the last few years I’ve been proud of how we’ve confronted issues like racism and trans-rights. We don’t all always “get it right” but I think the majority of our community actively tries to do good, and that’s a good start.

So it’s been an interesting almost week, and during that time I’ve travelled literally from coast to coast. ConVocation was great as usual, and I left my meetings at BN Media incredibly excited about the future of Patheos Pagan. The only downside to all of it is that my sinuses have decided to absolutely rebel against me. Don’t cry for me though Argentina, I’ll soon be (mercifully) home and reunited with my darling Ari and adorable cats.

Cubicles!  Good gods!
Cubicles! Good gods!
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