According to Jason Mankey we all just speak for ourselves. So I’m speaking only for myself… even though I’m pretty sure I’m speaking for a couple hundred other folks too.
Mystic South is a great convention, and this year (the conference’s third) was the best one yet.
About 450 people gathered at the Crowne Plaza hotel in Atlanta for three days of workshops, rituals, scholarly presentations, and the kind of deep Pagan conversations you just can’t have in most places. As with last year there was no central theme, so I’m going to list my impressions from the weekend.
1. We started with travel difficulties
After getting stranded in Seattle last month I was nervous about flights. Turned out I was fine. I left DFW early Thursday and got into Atlanta about noon. Folks who were flying in later in the day weren’t so lucky. There were small but strong storms near the Atlanta airport, which shut down operations for a while, which threw everything off schedule.
Most people made it in eventually. Just a reminder that however strong our technology – or our magic – may be, Nature is stronger.
2. I should have brought more books
I never know how many books to take to conferences. Plus this time I was limited to what I could fit in my carryon suitcase. So I brought all I could carry: 13 copies of Paganism In Depth and 2 copies of The Path Of Paganism. I sold them all and probably could have sold that many more.
Thank you to everyone who made my suitcase lighter on the trip home. If you didn’t get a book, order it from Llewellyn, Amazon, or Barnes & Noble. Or your local book or magic shop, if you have one. I’ll be happy to sign it next time.
3. A good look at Pagan ethics
The first workshop I attended was Michael G. Smith of the Assembly of the Sacred Wheel on Pagan ethics. Michael gave us about as much philosophy as anybody could fit into an hour. Most of it compared utilitarianism vs. virtue ethics, which made sense to me. Sometimes I argue from one viewpoint, sometimes from the other, and many times from a combination of the two.
Michael’s main point – that I strongly agree with – is that we need to think through things instead of reacting first and then looking for some ethical rationalization.
At the end of the day, you have to make a decision. You will never have all the information you need. But you still have to choose. Refusing to choose – either because you can’t decide or because you want to keep your hands clean – is choosing the status quo.
4. Words of power
Jameson Hoscyns and Anomalous Thracian’s paper “Language in Devotional and Occult Relations” began with a very good explanations of how and why we use different languages in ritual. Primarily this is either as a way to connect with a distant heritage, or to mark the occasion as sacred (i.e. – non-ordinary), such as with Christians who use Thee and Thou when referring to their God.
They touched briefly on words of power – the “magic words” that work wonders. That was a minor point in the presentation, but it was very enlightening for me.
Words of power are like keys. Having a key is a good thing, but it’s useless unless you find the right lock. To be useful, words of power must be spoken in the appropriate circumstances. Otherwise you’re trying to open your house with your car key. Finding a word of power is not that difficult. Finding the right “lock” for it to open is another matter entirely.
The paper is well worth your time to read. I’ll link to it once it’s published.
5. Everybody’s talking about Tower Time
Quite a few people grabbed me for private conversations. I grabbed a few people myself. Overwhelmingly, the most popular topic was the phenomenon we’re calling Tower Time or The Storm – because we don’t have a better name for it.
What is it? What’s causing it? How long will it last? How can we best deal with it? Nobody knows for sure. But many people are experiencing it, and talking about it face-to-face helps us explore it in more depth.
I need time to process the conversations before I do more speculative writing. But I am very thankful for all those who shared their thoughts, and who listened to mine.
6. I need to study archaeoastronomy
When you hear the same basic idea expressed in slightly different ways from two people with very different backgrounds, pay attention. Minoan revivalist Laura Perry and Wiccan astrologer Ivo Dominguez Jr. both expressed an idea I’ve contemplated before, but without much progress.
Astronomical precession is a physical phenomenon. Because the axis of the Earth rotates like a gyroscope or a spinning top, the apparent position of the stars moves over time. It takes about 2100 years to move through one house of the zodiac, or about 25,000 years to complete the full cycle through all 12 signs.
So about 12,500 years ago we were 180 degrees opposite where we are now. That’s roughly the end of the last ice age, and according to some myths, that’s when Atlantis sank (I view Atlantis mythically – in the fullest meaning of the word “myth” – and I am not interested in any literal arguments for or against its existence).
This is all rather vague. It’s not going to convince any skeptics, nor should it. Also, I think The Storm is wider and more complicated than this – there are human-caused elements to it, and probably some other factors as well. But it’s a place to start digging.
7. Jason Mankey is a great presenter
I only got to see one of Jason Mankey’s presentations, one on initiations. I had forgotten how good he is with these. The presentation itself was informative, and about as complete as you can get in an hour. But he’s such an entertaining speaker. Initiation is a serious subject, but that’s no reason to make it dry. This was educational and funny and engaging and I’m very glad I went.
He started on time (which I think every Mystic South presenter did), he finished precisely on time, and he made the time in between seem both like it was only 15 minutes and like it should last for hours.
Jason does more Pagan gathering workshops than pretty much anyone, and it shows. If you have a chance to hear him speak, go.
8. A Fairy Song
Melanie Gruben is a bard: a singer, a songwriter, and a guitarist. And also a fairy propagandist.
Her music is a mixture of traditional songs and original compositions, serious and silly, drawing from Shakespeare and Yeats and her own experiences. Her concert at Mystic South was as much ritual as it was entertainment.
I’m convinced the Fair Folk have co-opted her. Her music is beautiful and it talks about the Good Neighbors in glowing terms. But it still tells the truth about them, if you’ll hear it. Which you won’t, because it’s too enchanting. You’ve been warned.
9. I’m getting old
I think I’m not supposed to talk about this, but I’m going to anyway.
For the past 10 years or so, I’ve been telling everyone that I can still do anything I ever could, just not as fast or for as long, and recovering takes a lot longer. I’m not sure that’s true anymore.
Traveling is starting to take more out of me. In particular, it’s getting harder and harder to get home on Sunday night and go back to work on Monday morning… and not just because I don’t want to go back to the mundane world. And on this trip, the journey to Mystic South took more out of me than the trip home. Not quite sure why.
I’m out of vacation time at work, and while I would love to speak at someone’s Pagan Pride Day or other gathering in the fall, I think it’s best that I not. We’ll see how I feel – and who invites me – in 2020.
10. Mystic South is moving next year
After three years at the Crowne Plaza, Mystic South is moving. In 2020 it will be held at the DoubleTree on Chamblee Dunwoody. For those of you familiar with Atlanta, that’s one exit east of Perimeter Mall on I-285.
Loss of water and air conditioning in 2017 notwithstanding, the Crowne Plaza has been a great place for a conference. But they’ve renovated the hotel, and with the renovations come higher prices – both for conference facilities and for guest rooms. The DoubleTree is willing to be more reasonable.
The new site is all on one floor, which will be better for those in wheelchairs and powerchairs… and for some of the rest of us, even if we don’t want to admit it. There will be some larger conference rooms, which will be very good, particularly for rituals. And we will be the only gathering in the building (though we won’t take all the guest rooms like Pantheacon). The location isn’t as convenient for food, and I’ll miss the trees and trails behind the Crowne Plaza. But overall this will be better for the conference itself, and it will keep it financially feasible for more people.
I’ll be there barring dramatically unforeseen circumstances. I’m already thinking about workshops, and maybe another ritual with my fellow Texas Pagans.
Many thanks to everyone who helped make this year’s event so great, but especially to the organizing committee. They do tons of work and they have to listen to complaints no matter how serious or petty.
Star Bustamonte, Heather Greene, Marla Roberson, Ryan Denison, Gypsey Teague, and Stacy Psaros: thank you!