Pilgrimage to Mystic South

Pilgrimage to Mystic South July 26, 2017

I’m just back from presenting at the first annual Mystic South Conference held in Atlanta, Georgia. Such deep immersions into like-minded community are hard to leave behind.  It takes me a while to fully process, especially when I’ve had such a great time. It was a fulfilling experience. The themes that swirl to mind are honor and gratitude, sacrifice and reward, and most importantly, the power of taking a holy pilgrimage.

Pilgrimage to Mystic South 2017
Graphic by Heron Michelle

The Power of Pilgrimage

Every year, I try to make one spiritual pilgrimage to learn from the luminaries in Paganism, Polytheism, Witchdom and beyond. So far, I’ve managed to attend a Pantheacon in CA, a Sirius Rising in NY, two Templefests in NH, and the infamous “Pagan Dream Cruise” in 2013 that took us all the way to a Mayan Temple Ruin in Belize. On each of these trips, something life-changing rocked my witchy world. This weekend, I reconnected with old friends I’ve met at every one of those past events.

I’ve been in a leadership position in my local community for a while now, as a shop-keeper, event coordinator, and high priestess of a very busy coven. Occasionally, I let myself get too wrapped up in that “teacher” role, focusing *all* my efforts *only* helping my customers and students. I’ve taught introductory witchcraft courses year-round for nigh on a decade now, so if I’m ever going to keep learning and growing on my own path, I have to:

1) Carve out dedicated time away from my insane priestessing schedule for myself to BE a student.

2) Get OUT of my little pond, and find the much bigger fish in the greater ocean of wisdom. Then, shut up, listen, learn and be challenged in new ways.

In John Beckett’s post on the Mystic South event he said “I also had deep conversations with others who I sought out for their wisdom and experience. A long time ago I heard Thorn Coyle say ‘never trust a teacher who only has students.’ “ I agree, and I also sought out wisdom from the authors I’ve long admired, like Dorothy Morrison and Orion Foxwood whose workshops challenged me in unique ways.

On these pilgrimages, I’ve met the teachers that provided just the right spark of inspiration to stoke the fires under my ass when I needed it most. Once, I had a casual conversation with Christopher Penczak around a Templefest bonfire, that helped keep me from careening off the rails into an abyss of despair. Seriously, he’ll never know how much a single, freely-offered phrase changed my entire perspective on life. Had I allowed my crappy circumstances to keep me from making that 18 hour drive to New Hampshire so I could camp in a cold, rainy field, I would have given up this witching biz years ago, and likely gone mad as a loon by now.

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Take that Hard Left at Albuquerque

Witchcraft is hard, folks.  Sometimes what is demanded of us feels like too much and we may want to give up. Einstein is quoted as saying, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”  My advice for when you feel like you are banging your head against a dead-end: radically change it up. Make that hard left at Albuquerque. Go on holy pilgrimage to a large event; seek out the wisdom-nuggets – they’ll appear like glowing breadcrumbs through the dark forest you’re wandering through. Since there is no telling where you’ll find that special something you’ve been starving for, try to release all bias and expectation, and just let your instincts guide you into unfamiliar territory. Then triangulate your way back to your own truths about what you’ve found, and put it to good use back home.

Sacrifice and Reward

These aren’t easy trips to manage, trust me, I know.  I’m a full-time professional Witch <cough…broke as a joke…cough> but the time, effort and money spent have ALWAYS been worthwhile investments for me; this year’s pilgrimage to Mystic South was no exception.

Like all good pilgrimages, there are sacrifices to be made. “Sacrifice” is a key word of the Lammas/Lughnassadh season we are in. “Work” is the other theme of the summer season for me, and this trip was a big investment into my Great Work this year.  When my friend and boss, Jason Mankey, the managing editor for Patheos Pagan channel, first encouraged me to attend back in March, it was already well past the deadline for submissions to present. Southern Witchery is my kinda my schtick, and I had a feeling it would be criminally stupid not to show up to a conference of this importance, within driving distance.

I was impressed that anyone showed up for my 9:00 class, but those who did woke up in time to shower and use the toilet before the water main broke. There is a lesson there, methinks.
I was impressed that anyone showed up for my 9:00 class, but those who did woke up in time to shower and use the toilet before the water main broke. There is a lesson there, methinks.

Trust the Process

After this many turns of The Wheel, I’ve come to trust the force of  Magick in my life. Once I’ve declared my intentions at the Imbolc altar, asking that the way be opened, there are always breadcrumbs to follow right away. At just the right moment, this opportunity was dangled like a carrot in front of me. So I took a bite! I submitted two, late workshop presentation proposals, anyway, and was put on the waiting list.

At the last minute, I was thrilled to get an email from the organizers, asking if I would pinch-hit teach both workshops I’d offered. YES! I was thrilled to offer “The Great Work for Magickal Advancement,” and “Thealogy of Perfection: Four Rules for Personal Sovereignty.” The next day, Jason asked if I’d represent Patheos bloggers on a Pagan Media discussion panel. HUZZAH! Confirmations abounding!

Once I was fully committed to do all this important work – and feeling really, really good about these big, tasty bread-crumbs that kept popping up along my path, my coven-mates that were splitting expenses with me were suddenly unable to come along. Family and work emergencies made it impossible. CRAP! I honestly had no idea how I’d manage to pay for the journey on my own, but I plunged on, because the Powers that Be always take care of me, if I can just relax and keep going.

Patheos Writers Dinner hosted by Jason and Ari Mankey - Photo credit to Ari Mankey
Patheos Writers Dinner hosted by Jason and Ari Mankey – Photo credit to Ari Mankey

Honor and Gratitude

I arrived in Atlanta Thursday night just in time to be treated to a delicious meal and stimulating conversation with the Patheos Pagan writers I so admire, along with their fascinating partners: Jason Mankey of Raise the Horns, John Beckett of Under the Ancient Oaks, Laura Tempest Zakroff of A Modern Traditional Witch and Sara Amis of A Word to the Witch, with the added bonus of The Anomalous Thracian of Polytheist.com. You know that feeling you get as a teenager, when at the family reunion, you get promoted from that “kids table” in the other room, to joining the adults at the dining room table?  Yeah. That is how it felt to be invited to this dinner. <fangirl squeeeee>

To be among so many published authors, teachers, priest/esses, visionaries, and magickal folk was enough to kick my butt into high gear. I said it over and over this weekend….it was my honor to be present there among such delightful people, to be welcomed to PRESENT my work to others, and to commune with the bright spirits who chose to attend my classes, when there were such incredible options. I am sincerely grateful to all those who listened, and responded to my own questions, with such grace.

Jason Mankey, John Beckett, Heron Michelle
Jason Mankey, John Beckett, Heron Michelle – I’m fan-girling pretty hard right here.

The most precious rewards of this conference were the shared moments of AHA I found with new friends, of weeping together into the squishy, wounded places we all carry, and finding support from others who get it.  In Orion Foxwood’s “Magic of Grace” Workshop, the troubled coil around my heart eased with his inspired words, because they echoed in confirmation the lessons if Divine Love I would share in my own workshop the next day.

Again, the coil eased through laughter during Dorothy Morrison’s “Magick Down and Dirty” workshop, and by dancing unabashedly like no one was watching, in Tempest’s “Into the Labyrinth: Change through Movement.”

I was challenged to dive deeper into sincere devotional practice at Stephanie Woodfield and Edward Rickey’s “Working with Dark and Dangerous Gods” discussion.

And the most fun was the power of ritual we all found together, VIPs and beginners alike, as we all chanted, danced, leapt and raised power the old-school witchery way, in Jason and Ari Mankey’s “1899 Ritual.” Yes, we actually did witchcraft for “water” and “Fixed Pipes.”  Good times, good times…

Cleanest Portapotties I've ever used at a fancy conference hotel.
Cleanest Portapotties I’ve ever used at a fancy conference hotel.

It all works out in the end – Even if your fancy hotel is reduced to “glamping”

The Crown Plaza Ravinia is gorgeous and their staff went above and beyond to make it a great experience, even when the city’s water main broke, depriving the hotel of water, toilets and air conditioning for 12 hours on Saturday. The Wild Hunt covered that story and the miracles the event staff worked to keep us all going. John Beckett was eloquent about we never forgot who we were, and why we were there. Despite the adversity, we continued on about our sacred business. Jason Mankey wrote about the importance of the Southern voices in paganism today, and how adventures like this make for a good story. As I always say, “that which does not kill you, makes great comedy” …later, after you cool off.

For me, I had two funny thoughts about why the water main may have broken at just the moment that 250 magickal and devotional people were assembled there.

  1. We were deprived of water just as the moon waned to 4th quarter darkness, while entering the watery sign of cancer. Coincidence?
  2. On Friday, the AC had been cranked in those conference rooms to the freezing “Ice planet of Hoth” levels. At one point, I went back to my room to thaw my toes with the hair dryer. Was there, perhaps, a critical mass of powerful people all thinking at the same time, around 9:00 am Saturday morning, “Gosh, I wish it wasn’t so cold down there today! I want those rooms to be warmer!” …and it was just too much for the aging water system, such that we collectively burst a pipe? It makes for a good story, so I’m sticking to it!

While I shouldn’t make light of the overwhelming difficulty and expense that water outage cost thousands of people, I will say that in my own personal narrative, it worked out well for me in the end. I had no idea how I was going to afford that hotel room for four nights, but I went anyway – on faith that if I did The Work asked of me by my guides, I’d be OK.

As I drove to Atlanta, I prayed, asking my guides for a safe and effective journey there and back again, and I find the resources I need to keep doing Their Work. When the hotel comp’ed us those last two nights, my needs were met.  Yes, plans changed, and there was a sacrifice made in the exchange, but I felt like I was taken care of by many gracious acts of southern hospitality…so, I’m not complaining one bit.

Again, I am both honored and grateful for all my experiences at Mystic South 2017.  Both the sacrifices and the rewards, given and received through this pilgrimage, will be remembered in song and story for a long time to come. I plan to attend next year; hope to see you all there!

~Heron Michelle

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