Thursday, June 3, 2010

Heartland 2010 and the Order of the Gnostic Star

Well, I got back from my road trip to Kansas City on Tuesday night, and I am still getting settled back into my work regimen. A lot of things happened while I was on my vacation, including some interesting and amusing events at Heartland that involved yours truly. I promised to report on how the pagan festival went, so here is my report.

The trip down to Kansas City from Minneapolis took around seven hours to complete, consisting of some hazardous driving. The interstate is being massively repaired in sections, so the road was reduced down to two way traffic for nine to ten mile sections, and I had to pass through five of these gauntlets to get to my destination. Then, when I returned home, I had to pass through them again. At least the interstate highway system is being repaired. I suspect in a few years the road will be almost like new between these cities. Until then, driving them has some hazards that have to be dealt with.

In addition to going to Heartland, I spent a couple of days both before and one day after the festival with my friend Frater Arjuna, who lives in a quiet residential area north of town. Frater Arjuna and I have been friends for over 23 years. He and I are the only active members in the Order, a situation that has been going on now for the last fourteen years. We talked about many topics, from politics to hard core occultism, while listening to the music of “Therion” and “After Ever.” I also looked over a book that my friend had recently acquired that was written by E. A. Koetting, entitled “Evoking Eternity.” I ordered a copy for myself, which is a good thing, because it is now temporarily unavailable. After reading over several chapters, I found this book to be informative and interesting, although written somewhat pretentiously. However, I was rather dismayed at discovering Koetting’s intellectual alliance with Joseph C. Lisiewski, since that appeared to put him into the clique where poltergeist activity and fire and brimstone apparitions are considered important proofs that an evocation has successfully been achieved. These magicians eschew subtlety for the drama of delusional pyro-techniques and special effects. They also appear to denigrate the task of learning to master the mind through an arduous practice of meditation. Someone who engages in all of the extremely pious preparations required for the first step (Consecratio) in performing the rites of one of the old grimoires would undoubtedly experience something analogous to someone who has mastered meditation, except the one who has mastered the mind through meditation will have a powerful skill independent of any specific application. The power of the “As If” paradigm can make even the most absurd magickal practice work, although it may work less efficiently and inconsistently. I will attempt to write a more thorough review of Koetting’s work in a future article.

On Thursday, I traveled out past Bonner Springs in Kansas to where Camp Gaia is located and registered for the festival. I hadn’t been to the camp ground in over fifteen years and I marveled at what had been accomplished during that hiatus. The camp ground had formerly been quite rustic and bereft of amenities, but now it had a new bathhouse and a concert pavilion, while the older buildings had been spruced up. I was given a cozy half cottage for my stay, with a bed already made, towel and even a package of ear plugs, which I would find great use for in the coming days. (Circle drumming seldom ended before 5 am the next morning.) The camp site also had a really nice outdoor ritual area with the circular area laid with golden sand and permanent solid wooden benches arranged around it.

Camp Gaia is quite beautiful, being divided into two levels by a forty foot escarpment. The lower level has a lovely mud bottom lake where the cabins, dinning cabin, bathhouse, office and caretaker’s home are located, and the upper level, where the ritual site, pavilion and most of the camp grounds are located. To travel from the lower level to the upper level, one can either follow the road that curves around the camp ground or access the stairway that climbs up the escarpment for a more direct ascent. I can claim to have gotten quite a bit of exercise during my stay going up and down that stairway, since a single ascent can leave one a little bit breathless and momentarily rubbery legged. Many such ascents will function as a daily exercise regimen.

During the four nights of the festival, the weather was nearly perfect, perhaps a bit too hot on the days leading up to the last day, Sunday. On Sunday, the perfect weather was profoundly interrupted by a violent storm that lashed the trees and camping tents and dumped quite a bit of rain on the ground for an hour or so. The clouds and rain cooled things down a bit, but made everything far more humid and less comfortable. Prior to the storm, the days had been quite warm and the evenings comfortably cool.

After getting the festival brochure, I examined the schedule and found when all of my workshops would have to be performed. I had three workshops to give and they were spaced out one per day, starting on Friday around lunchtime. I was to give my History of the Heartland Pagan Festival at that time, and then the Twenty-two Stages of the Cycle of the Hero on Saturday, and finally, on Sunday early evening, the workshop on Elemental Magick. I had my work cut out for me, since I now always study my notes a few hours before I have to give my workshop. This usually cuts into my ability to socialize, since I have to carefully manage my time so I will be prepared to give the best presentation possible. I have to make certain that I have eaten, that I am properly hydrated, had enough rest and not suffering from any partying done the previous night. I know that I am not in my best form if any of these important tasks are either omitted or partially completed. Getting enough rest is very important, since it allows me think clearly and respond to any questions or cues from the attendees. What I didn’t need was to be hung over or exhausted from an evening of carousing, something that I would have enjoyed but later regretted.

My first class was on Friday and it was reasonably well attended, of course the subject matter was something that probably interested nearly everyone at Heartland, or at least those who are interested in history. Word got around that I was one of the founders of the pagan festival, so that got me more attention than I might have gotten otherwise. I was in good form and didn’t make any egregious mistakes or commit any faux pas. All of my classes were conducted in the pavilion, which was an arched roof building that was open on three sides. The pavilion was used for the music concerts, since it had a stage, a powerful sound system and a lighting system.

The second class, conducted on Saturday at around lunch time, was marginally attended, but it also went quite well. I had done some additional work and added some new points to this class on the Twenty-two stages of the Cycle of the Hero, predicating that it is part of the psychology model of magick and developing a deeper explanation of what that model is like, its usefulness and also its flaws. I felt that this class was a lot better than when I had done it at Pantheocon back in February. Going over the notes and adding some additional points helped to make it a lot smoother. Oberon Zell-Ravenheart helped me out by showing the trumps of the Tarot cards as I silently read off the cue cards and distilled their content into my workshop narrative, adding deeper material from memory. Except for one cue card being out of synch, the workshop proceeded at a good pace and I was able to end it earlier than expected. Although everything went as I had hoped it would, I came to the realization that lunch time (12:15 pm) didn’t seem to be a good time for having a workshop, and not only that but the afternoons were very warm, probably almost 90 degrees F. It seemed more conducive to having an afternoon siesta than listening to me drone on for 75 minutes.

The final class held on Sunday was at 6:30 pm, which might have been the perfect time for a class if it wasn’t for the fact that the weather finally decided to break from being perfect to quite foul. As I hurried up the stairs and past the merchants area to the pavilion, I was all too aware of the fact that the sky had become quite dark, with distant flashes of lightening and the rumbling of thunder. The wind had picked up quite a bit as well, so as I situated myself in the pavilion, I made sure that all of my papers had something heavy on them to keep anything from flying away. The wind was occasionally blowing through the pavilion, so I decided to use a mike to help amplify my voice over the noise of the coming storm. The technicians also turned on the house lights so I could see my notes. As I waited for everyone who was going to attend to find a seat in the front rows around me, I noticed that the storm was getting more severe. There were only around 25 folks assembled around me, but there were also probably around 50 or so who were clustered in the rear of the pavilion, to wait out the storm. As I started my workshop, the bottom fell out of the clouds and it began to fiercely rain, with the wind blowing wet breezes into the pavilion. Luckily, I was just out of reach for most of the storm, but things did become a bit damp. About a third of a way through my workshop the storm got so loud, with lightening and thundering, that I temporarily halted the class, since I was not able to compete with the noise that mother nature was producing. I waited for around ten minutes as the front passed directly overhead and then the storm began to subside. I then continued the class and managed to complete it without too many distractions.

There was a great deal of irony in me attempting to lead a workshop on elemental magick when the elements of nature were showing a great deal of fury and power. I would refer to the element of fire, and there would be a great flash of lightening. I would talk about the element of air, and the wind would shake the trees and blow gusts into the pavilion, and of course, water, the cloud burst of rain, and earth, the shaking of ground as the thunder broke overhead. It was a chaotic cataclysm of unbounded nature on display for one and all. I was able to use the powerful display of the elements as a kind of hilarious antiphon to the serious nature of what I was talking about. It was quite humorous, in a “Frater Barrabbas” sort of way. I did get carried away at one point. I pointed to the stormy sky with the lightening and thunder, and said, “You there, gods, I defy you!” Some of the folks in the pavilion (most of whom were there just to escape the fury of nature and not to attend my workshop) actually booed me for saying that. I rejoined on them in an entreaty, saying, “Come on, haven’t any of you seen one of those old sword and sandal movies where Hercules shakes his fist at the sky and says, ‘I defy you, Zeus!’” The boos died away quickly amid a few laughs. I guess you could say that I probably went a bit too far on that joke, but sometimes I am amazed at how superstitious some people can be.

Anyway, I managed to get through my workshop in the midst of one of the biggest storms I had seen so far this season. There were reports of some twisting clouds and some hail, but by the time I was done with the workshop, the storm had ended. I guess we were lucky that the storm wasn’t more fierce or damaging, but it did dump quite a lot of rain on the campground in a short amount of time, making some of the paths and walkways a bit treacherous. I was quite careful when walking about after that storm had passed over, not wishing to slip and fall.

While my classes were not attended to the capacity that I had hoped, at least I was able to sell quite a large number of books - probably close to 20. I also would run into individuals who would want a copy of my class notes after the class, and the left-over class notes for the second class disappeared by Sunday evening, since there was nothing to collect on Monday morning. However, what was missing was the hunger for knowledge that I had experienced at both Pantheacon and MPUC Ostara. Perhaps it was more subtle, or that what I am attempting to teach was not as useful as, let’s say, relationship classes or Nordic divination and magickal practices. 

All in all, the festival was a good experience for me and I must say that I enjoyed it. I met some really wonderful people, and I also got reacquainted with a number of folk that I hadn’t seen in a long time. I got to play my flute with some really good musicians and share some drinks with some friends. I attended two of Oberon’s classes and found a new level of respect for his current project, the Grey School of Wizardry. I met his second significant other, Julie, and found their company to be quite warm, understanding and insightful. For the past two years, at every event where I meet and get to spend time with Oberon, I become more impressed with his wisdom, deep insights and historical perspectives. He lived through the late great sixties, which I saw only as an adolescent. Oberon is also one of the founders of neopaganism as a cultural movement in this country, so his memories of those formative times are vitally important and relevant to all of us. I could listen to his tales for hours, and I also had a blast exchanging ideas with him as well. I will look forward to seeing and sharing thoughts with him again. He and his lady are warm, down to earth and quite accessible to ordinary folk. Oberon dressed as one would expect a wizard to dress, looking a bit like either Gandalf the Grey or Albus Dumbledore - I found it fun and engaging.

The Heartland Pagan Festival has been going on now for twenty-five years. It is a sustainable gathering that relies on a group of loyal and faithful attendees, a large number of whom have been attending this event for many years. There were more than 800 attendees, and this number is exactly what the HSA organization seeks to replicate each year, since more attendees would adversely affect the camp site and overcrowd the finite resources. According to one past vice president of HSA, the magick number for sustainability is 500. While I had feared that Heartland would be adversely affected by the proximity of the Pagan Spirit Gathering (PSG), both in terms of geographics and calendar, I believe that I can rightfully say that each event has its own mutually exclusive loyal following. So I believe that Heartland will be around for the 30th anniversary, which I also hope to attend.

There were a few things that I experienced at Heartland which I thought could be improved. Overall, it’s a good festival that is well organized and staffed. As a guest speaker, I was made to feel special and privileged by the staff, which was a unique experience. However, the festival was lacking in regards to really substantive workshops and discussion groups. The heaviest presenters were all hired speakers (such as myself), and the indigenous presentations were light and infrequent. The workshop schedule was poorly planned as well, with classes starting at 12:15 pm, which is usually when people would be seeking something to eat or to rest up during lunch. I had to hit the dinning room early myself in order to make my classes. I can imagine that others who were not so well organized would have been eating when I was giving my classes. I also felt that the pavilion was not a good venue for teaching classes, since it was too large and open on three sides, allowing for people to wander in and out, talk and socialize while classes were being conducted.

Years ago, when I was involved in planning and executing the Heartland Pagan Festival, we had a lot of really substantive workshops and discussion groups, most of which were headed by local occultists, witches and pagans. Most of those brilliant people seem to be absent and are now greatly missed in the current incarnation of Heartland. It’s my hope that as time passes on, that some of these wise local folk will come back to the festival that they helped to formulate years ago. I know that doing an event like this every year can be frustrating and unrewarding, but it’s my hope that as things are always changing, that this, too, will change for the good.

In my honest opinion, it would seem that Heartland is more inclined to musical entertainment than actually sharing knowledge or discussing critical issues. There were half a dozen different musical acts that were presented during the three evenings, and all of them were of a very high caliber. The final act for Sunday evening was probably one of the best Celtic Country bands I have heard in some time, they were called “Flannigan’s Right Hook.” A band consisting of three women, called “The Traveling Fates” was also extremely good and very entertaining. The women excelled at playing multiple instruments and percussion, and their voices blended in wonderful harmonies. I particularly found the one band member named Bekah to be quite fetching.

The main rituals were also well thought out and performed, but only the closing rite was done during the night, the rest were done while it was still light out, which was strange. The main ritual focused on sacrifice and loss, which I thought was rather daring, since this is a topic that most pagan folk would rather avoid. There were some minor logistic problems with the main ritual, but it did manage to get its point across. I would recommend that such topics, if they are to be presented in a main ritual at a pagan festival in the future, should first be discussed and clearly defined in a workshop. I saw that many people were confused about what was going on and probably didn’t get the deeper meanings of the rite, since it was obscure even to me.

I would like to announce one final item of great importance that happened to me during my visit, but it wasn’t at Heartland. One of the founders of the Order contacted Frater Arjuna and wanted to meet both of us on the last day of my visit to the Kansas City area. He had dropped out of the group twenty years ago and had not been involved with it since that time. I welcomed the opportunity to meet him again, and after breaking the ice, the three of us toasted a new era of cooperation and engagement with the presently dormant Order. I hope that this individual (we will call him by his old name, Frater Discipilus Merlinii) will be true to his word and help us to rebuild the Order. I took it as a good sign and an auspicious omen for all of us. Since I performed the Abramelin Lunar Ordeal, large swatches of my past have been resurfacing and getting reclaimed by me. I feel as though I am being refilled with all of my past historical doings (much of it forgotten), and remembering them as if they had happened just yesterday. I would assume that as this process continues, all of the facets of my life will be present and fully activated before the days of autumn arrive. Then I will be able to complete the final task in the Abramelin Lunar Ordeal, or at least that is my hope.

I believe that my trip to Kansas City and attending the Heartland Pagan Festival represents yet another facet of my past becoming reactivated and reclaimed. It was magickal and quite insightful. I have several pages of notes highlighting things that occurred to me while on my retreat. I look forward to fleshing them all out, including four new workshops to develop.

Frater Barrabbas


  1. Sooj, Beckah and Ginger are all fetching in quite different ways. I'm glad you liked them, they are personal friends, especially Sooj who came and played a show in my backyard for my birthday two years ago.

  2. I stand corrected, they are all fetching. Let them know when you hear from them that I liked their music and said good things about them on my blog.

  3. I would refer to the element of fire, and there would be a great flash of lightening. I would talk about the element of air, and the wind would shake the trees and blow gusts into the pavilion, and of course, water, the cloud burst of rain, and earth, the shaking of ground as the thunder broke overhead.

    Clearly this means Joseph Lisiewski would have considered your workshop a resounding success.

  4. Yes - Joseph would have thought that my presentation was a successful evocation - but no sulfur, fire and brimstone, and no demons either.

  5. Greetings,

    I had planed to attend the festival this year but other things demanded my money instead. The last time I did attend HPF was 10 years ago. I was most interested in your lecture and meeting Oberon again.

    I think I might be a victim of your 'Abramelin Lunar Ordeal' as well, for at that first HPF I became friends with Frater Arjuna, (and started helping with HSA), he had introduced me to the ESSG and had given me a copy of his latest ritual 'The consecration of the Enochian Start Temple' and suggested that I meet the groups leader (I assume that is you) but this never occurred.

    I never got involved with the order at that time as I was involved with another "coven from hell" that made the whole idea of being part of another group unsavory.

    This is also interesting in that I discovered your journal here while searching for the domain of camp Gaia to look up info on this years festival, looking over the list of speakers your name seemed familiar. So after a quick search I found my why here on the very day you wrote your article on the history of the ESSG and your adventures in KC where you mention Arjuna and that name I did remember.

  6. @Serapis - Well met again. I am sorry that we didn't get to meet in KC at Heartland. I am planning on returning in October, though, no date set yet. However, you could always drop Frater Arjuna an email and reconnect with him if you wish. His official Order email address is - anyone wishing to send him an inquiry is welcome to do so.

    In addition to this blog, I also have three books in print and another one due out in matter of days. You can see the available books at my website -