I’ve just returned from Atlanta, Georgia, where I attended the Mystic South Conference for it’s second year. I am a better witch for having taken this pilgrimage. I return home invigorated by the experience, and I highly recommend to everyone that you plan to attend next year. The Crown Plaza hotel is beautiful, and the conference staff are conscientious and extremely well-organized; Star, Marla, Heather, Ryan, Gypsey, Stacy and Cat, y’all are superheroes!
There is nothing quite like being welcomed into the fold by hundreds of like-minded folks. Birds of a feather should take the time to flock together every so often, and we surely are a most colorful flock! (Not to mention the Dinosaur incident of 2018) The folks attending Mystic South are particularly thoughtful, provocative, friendly and SO. MUCH. FUN!
Here are five of the things I find most valuable about attending spiritual conferences such as Mystic South.
Cultivating Responsible New Leadership
There is much to unpack from this experience, as it was a very intensive three days of workshops, rituals, and performances. My only complaint is that I couldn’t attend more of the multitude of excellent programs running simultaneously! I was grateful for the opportunity to present two workshops again this year. The first was based on my Cult-Proof your coven and Ethical Sexual Conduct articles. This was a theme in the programming, with several workshops on leadership, running groups and events, and avoiding cultic behavior.
If you dream of starting your own group, the best place to find experienced guidance is at conferences like these. If you are beginning your journey and wondering how best to choose a group, it is helpful to hear from many different kinds of organizations, and talk about what is considered “normal,” and what red-flags you should avoid. I’m glad to see so many folks stepping into the leadership and organizing roles, and doing so with such care not to repeat the mistakes of those abusive religious groups we’ve left behind.
I especially enjoyed getting to know better the ladies of the Triangle Area Pagan Alliance from Durham, North Carolina, and talking about all the ways we are working to bring what we are leaning from these types of opportunities back home with us.
Taste-Testing Spiritual Work at the Pagan Buffet
Especially important for solitary practitioners, but also for those who rarely get the chance to take a seat as a student, is the chance to dig into meditations, journey work, and ritualized magick under the leadership of more advanced facilitators. Or better yet, facilitators from traditions very different than your own. Conferences are like a buffet of low-risk opportunities to taste-test other traditions, and possibly discover something new that suits your needs.
I took the opportunity to participate in a Gathering of Ravens ritual offered by John Beckett and his ritual team. They are Druids, and this devotional polytheist rite to The Morrigan is one that I would otherwise not have easy access to attend back home. Taking a turn as a celebrant is worth it’s weight in gold, if one has long been in the role of facilitator. I learned from their example, as much as I was fed by the rite itself.
Then I took my turn in facilitation. The second workshop I led was on my Pentacle Approach to Wellness series, where we spoke briefly on balancing the physical, mental, emotional, will, and spiritual layers of the self. The treat for me was in leading the meditative journey where we could actually begin the energetic work of balance. I know that my approach as a panentheist is a little different than others at the conference, so I felt honored that so many folks showed up to give my techniques a try. Thank you to those who spoke with me later about the benefits of your experiences.
Cross-Pollination of Ideas Keeps us Evolving
The strength of this conference is in the diversity and depth of its programming. From workshops on the Orishas and Santa Muerta, to Norse Cosmology and Anglo-Saxon Heathenism, to Feminist Theology through Witchcraft, to collaborating with Genius Loci, land wights, animal omens, plant spirits and many flavors of devotional polytheism. The PAPERS presentations from an Academic perspective elevate our thinking, as much as the workshops on nitty gritty practices root us in the practical. Both are so necessary.
I was especially moved by my attendance of Ivo Dominguez Jr.’s talk on Plant Spirit Magic, and John Beckett’s talk on Daily Spiritual Practices for Pagans. Neither topic is new to me, but each provided a fresh perspective on things I might take for granted. My mind was blown open by the simplest of statements, about some entry-level techniques. Which is an important reminder that no matter how long you’ve been working, there is always something more to learn, and it is valuable to regularly shine a new light on foundational concepts.
Advanced Guidance for Rare Breeds
Let’s face it, pagans like us are a rare breed. We know others are out there, but its not often that we run across another priest or priestess of an ancient Deity out in the wild. Unless we make a special effort to congregate, we may never have the chance to talk about our unique challenges, face to face, and help each other out.
By regularly attending gatherings like Mystic South, our pagan/polytheist religious movement can avoid the cultish pitfalls of myopic in-breeding. It is useful to cross-pollinate ideas with practitioners from diverse paths. If we listen to how Druids and Heathens, Traditional and Modern Witches, HooDoo Root Workers and Academics, Devotional Polytheists and Secular Non-theists, all approach their work, we allow ourselves to be honed by what they offer.
While listening to another perspective, if ever you feel “called out,” examine those feelings and your assumptions very carefully. That’s not to say that we must integrate every tidbit we hear, but we will better know WHY we choose what we choose, and we’ll grow in understanding of our neighbors. Cultish behavior tends toward isolationism; to combat that, conferences help us build interfaith bridges.
Stephanie Woodfield and Ed Rickey’s talk on Plunging Toilets for the Morrigan: Things you wish People Told You about Priest Work also affirmed for me more advanced concerns of the priesthood. While everyone in that room served different Deities, with different mandates and styles, we all found support on common challenges and concerns in regards to serving people. Where else could a pagan priestess get THAT kind of nuanced and experienced advice? This is another reason that attendance of religious conferences is so valuable.
Dance like no one is watching, because they are dancing too!
The vendor room was a treasure house of beautiful creations, and I enjoyed meeting many authors whose work I’ve promoted in my bookshop for years. Knowing that the people whose names are on the covers of my favorite books, are indeed friendly human beings, is the best treasure of all. Singing karaoke at the same mic, all dancing together at the Swampland Masquerade Ball, praying together in ritual, were valuable experiences for us.
The best part of these events is being goofy together, letting our hair down, having deep conversations in the hallways – drinking a smidge too much whiskey or red wine, and laughing into the night, as we swap stories from the trenches. It’s been a long time since I danced like no one was watching, so that alone was worth the price of admission. It’s so much better when everyone else is on the dance floor with you, knowing there is no judgement because we already know we are all god/desses.
Thanks to everyone I met for the first time, and those I met last year who welcomed me back so warmly. Special thanks to my coven-sisters Epona Petra and Alyson Minerva for road-tripping on this adventure with me. Much love to everyone who attended my workshops, introduced yourselves, and spoke with me about my blog, and my upcoming book project. It means a lot to know you are out there encouraging me along. I hope to meet more of you there next year, because I will definitely plan to return to Mystic South in 2019!