Mystic South 2022: A Necessary Retreat

Mystic South 2022: A Necessary Retreat July 21, 2022

“I needed this more than I realized.”

That was my first and strongest thought as I left Mystic South last Sunday.

I’ve always had good experiences at Mystic South. The first one in 2017 left me impressed with the community I encountered, especially when the water and air conditioning went out in the hotel.  The second one in 2018 was highlighted by the Morrigan Devotional Ritual, co-led by six of my friends from Texas. I remember 2019 for its excellent presenters and even better conversations.

You know what happened in 2020 and 2021.

We didn’t go back in time to 2019 and Covid isn’t over. It’s never going to be over. The question isn’t if we will live with it, it’s how we will live with it. For many of us – myself included – vaccines have given us the confidence to venture out again.

I was in Austin Witchfest in March and at the ADF Wellspring Festival in May. This was my first hotel-based Pagan gathering since Mystic South 2019 – three years ago.

I missed it more than I thought.

part of the “back porch” of the Crowne Plaza Ravinia hotel

Two very different rituals

On Friday night I led a ritual titled “Knights, Priestesses, and Hermits: A Ritual For Tower Time.” It used Tarot imagery to present three different ways we can respond to this time of sudden, dramatic, and irreversible change. The room was full and the ritual went very well, both from my perspective and from the feedback I got afterwards.

Special thanks to Jason Mankey, Tirani Link, James Fielder, and Dodie Graham McKay for helping present the ritual. You’d never know we had never worked together as a team.

On Saturday night I assisted with the Potomac Ondvegisulur Seidr Guild’s ritual, providing priestly aftercare to those who received messages from various Gods and spirits. I’ve participated in Seidr rituals before, but this was my first time as part of the support group (my own oracular work uses somewhat different spiritual technology). We spent two hours as three Seeresses took turns relaying messages to the participants.

I could “hear” some of the conversations between the spirits and the Seeresses, at least when I wasn’t talking to people in this world. But when one of the Seeresses relayed messages from the Morrigan, I heard the Great Queen’s words almost verbatim, before the Seeress spoke. Make of that what you will.

I’ll have more to say about this ritual in at least one and maybe two blog posts.

The ritual team: Jason Mankey, Dodie Graham McKay, Tirani Link, James Fielder, and myself

So many workshops to choose from

There were six or seven workshops available in most time slots. Throw in time to eat, rest, prepare for rituals, and carry on informal conversations and you end up with some really hard choices.

I heard David Salisbury talk about “Shades of the Dead,” Heather Greene talk about “The Witch’s Body in American Film,” Ivo Dominguez, Jr. present “A New Look at the Four Elements” (go hear Ivo any time you can, no matter what he’s talking about), and James Fielder (Pigeon) talk on “The Ritual of Gameplay.” Star Bustamonte moderated a discussion on pilgrimage. There were several others I wanted to hear and just couldn’t.

As I often say, you can do (almost) anything you want – you just can’t do everything you want.

A necessary retreat

My workshop was “Being a Pagan Monk in an Instagram World.” It’s a one-hour presentation that became the six-week online course I announced earlier this week.

In Polytheistic Monasticism: Voices from Pagan Cloisters (which will be required reading for the Pagan Monasticism class) Rebecca Korvo talked about “the seeking out and the turning away.” Throughout my life, I’ve been pretty good at seeking out new and helpful activities. I’ve been pretty bad at turning away from those that are harmful. Not that I haven’t tried. But I’ve found that when I try to give up something, it always seems to come back into the empty space. I have to crowd out the bad with something better, so there’s no room for it to creep back in.

I think it was Saturday when I realized I was sleeping better, eating better, and generally feeling better than I had in months.

Some of that is the obvious – and expensive – benefit of staying in a hotel where others care for your basic needs, where my paying job is on hold, and where I’m able to do pretty much what I want when I want to do it.

But that’s just part of it… and I think, not the most important part.

So much of the stress in my life is coming from the this-world parts of Tower Time: regressive politics, empires clinging to power, and climate change. Much of that stress is due to the fact that I can’t fix them. I can respond – and I am – but I can’t make the problems go away.

As the bumper sticker / meme says, my desire to stay informed is at odds with my desire to stay sane.

with publicist Kat Sanborn at the Llewellyn Authors Meet & Greet

Staying informed without doom scrolling

But here’s thing: I stayed informed while I was at Mystic South. I always travel with my phone – this time I brought a computer. I kept up with the headlines. I talked politics a fair amount, including a very good conversation on Sunday morning with Sara Amis and George Chidi.

But I was having reasonable conversations with reasonable people. I wasn’t reading the comments section of news stories. I wasn’t reading the latest fascist proposals from would-be theocratic inquisitors.

I was staying informed without obsessing over things I can’t control.

Because I was too busy with Mystic South to spend any time obsessing over things I can’t control.

I know I need to do that all the time. It’s very hard, especially for me.

But now I know I can do it, because I’ve done it.

I just need to figure out how to do it when I’m not surrounded by 400 of my fellow Pagans and polytheists.

I’ll be back in 2023

Hotel-based conferences are expensive. My travel budget isn’t unlimited, and neither is my vacation time. I’m starting to plan for retirement, but that’s at least a few years away. Maybe more than a few years, depending on the economy and my own finances.

As an author and teacher, I get lots of invitations to speak and present. I go to the ones that pay my expenses, and that fit into my schedule.

Except for Mystic South. I’ll pay my own way to Mystic South, because I enjoy it so much.

So expect to see me in Atlanta next July. I already have an idea of what I want to present.

And even if I learn to do a better job of avoiding things that raise my blood pressure, I’ll still need a retreat.

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