Monday, March 19, 2012

Adventures at Paganicon 2012

All Snakes Day

Paganicon occurred over the weekend, and I fully attended and engaged in the various planned and unplanned activities. Overall, I would say that this pagan convention has turned out to be quite good. There were 50% more people attending this year than the previous year, and folks from as far away as Indiana and Winnipeg, Canada, attended. I also made some new friends, restored connections with some old friends, and basically had a good time. The weather over the weekend was quite warm for this time of year, and I am sure that some new record highs have been registered. Last year it was pretty cold outside with many traces of winter still visible, yet this year there was no indication that winter was even active. Gone was the snow and ice, and the temperatures were in the high 70's, which is very strange for the Twin Cities in mid March.

My two back to back classes on the Qabalah were initially fairly well attended. I expected a maximum of 15 attendees, and that’s how many showed up. However, after the first hour, all of those attendees except two departed to attend other classes, and most of them went to see Christopher Penczak’s class on Ascension Magick. I can’t blame them for departing, of course, and I quickly discovered that I had far more material to present than I had time to present it. Each section took longer to complete than I had anticipated, so what I was able to present to the attendees was a partial introduction instead of the whole thing. Also, considering that most of the people left after the first hour was up meant that there wasn’t enough ground covered to really segue into the next section. So the remaining two attendees and I engaged in conversations about some of the rest of the material, and I answered a number of questions.

This was the first time that I had attempted to present these two classes, and considering that they will be incorporated into an 18 hour three day intensive, I am not too worried about re-sizing them or scaling them down. Instead, I will seek to break them into sections and expand them so they will be fully vested with all of the information that I would want to present in a much larger format. So, I was satisfied with the overall results of the two presentations, and I did learn something about how much time I will need if and when I present the full weekend intensive. Some of my attendees gave me good feedback and told me that they are looking forward to the new book that I will be publishing via Llewellyn in March of 2013.

Christopher Penczak was the main speaker for Paganicon, and I must admit that I was completely unfamiliar with any of his writings. I’ve seen his books in the book stores, and it is fairly obvious that he is a prolific writer with many books in print. Christopher has put together a complete system of witchcraft, publishing his books in series of instruction manuals regarding his Temple of Witchcraft system. I attended his Friday night class on the Three Rays of Witchcraft, and I found his class to be quite engaging and interesting. What became apparent to me is that Christopher has managed to successfully pull together some pretty amazing and radically different philosophies into the revised foundation of witchcraft. I have always maintained that modern witchcraft is fairly incomplete, and that in order to make it a more comprehensive system of spirituality and magick, one would need to fill in the holes using other sources.

What Christopher has done was to pull in sources of occult and spiritual lore that I wouldn’t have chosen, being either unfamiliar with them or at least felt that they wouldn’t work together. These disparate sources include Reiki, Theosophy, the Alice A. Bailey teachings, other various New Age sources (Ascension), as well as pagan Druidism, ceremonial magick and the Qabalah. At first glance, these very difficult occult systems might seem to be contradictory and incapable of being blended or merged together, but Christopher has managed to artfully merge them together as if they were meant to be worked as one overall system. I found his way of moving seamlessly from one system to another without any jarring contradictions to be quire remarkable. Still, from my own experienced standpoint, I wouldn’t employ very many New Age systems in my own revised and developed tradition simply because I would find such a syncretism to be inelegant and esthetically unappealing. That’s just my personal opinion and tastes in occultism, and they in no way negate what Christopher has accomplished. In his thoroughness, he has given birth to a comprehensive system of spirituality and magick, and all of it is based on a foundation of witchcraft. I found that to be both attractive and compelling, and I saw that others who were attending his lectures and rituals found it attractive as well.

The Three Rays of Witchcraft are, of course, based on the first three Rays of the Seven Ray system of Theosophy and the Bailey teachings (being the Red, Blue and Yellow Rays). Christopher merged the concept of these three rays with the traditional witchcraft (Clan of Tubal Cain) concepts of the three paths of the straight, the bent and the crooked, which he had perceived through a three-fold ray vision, where the three rays emerge from a common point or source. This theme is well established in Christopher’s book, Three Rays of Witchcraft, which you can find here. However, one point that he made in his talk that I found very illuminating is where he discussed the origins of his vision, and that it represented how many seekers have approached a more comprehensive practice of witchcraft - or for that manner, any system of occultism.

According the Christopher, most practitioners are inveterate eclectic collectors of many diverse and often different and divergent techniques, philosophies and ritual lore. He compared it to a totemic magpie collecting shiny bits that it steals while it browses around for food and novelty items. These attractive baubles end up in the magpie’s nest, and after a time, the nest is full of completely unrelated, shiny and colorful junk. Occult eclecticism is the disease of the inveterate collector, and often times what is collected might seem important, but ultimately, in order to become an integral part of one’s personal spiritual or magickal discipline, it must have both relevance and some degree of relativity to the rest of one’s regimen.

Often this process of making a unified system out of a lot of disparate parts is to first begin to order them in some manner, perhaps to extend the analogy of the magpie, this act of creating order would be to formulate a collage or a mosaic out of these various seemingly unrelated elements. This effort at finding unity in diversity is very important, because the mere fact that one is manipulating powerful spiritual symbols and philosophies will trigger a visionary event where the structure and image of a meta-system will be revealed to the seeker. For me, this meta-system was the Tree of Life, for Christopher, it was the Seven Rays. Later on, he was able to find a synthesis between the Seven Rays and the Tree of Life, and all this could be accomplished due to the unifying vision that he had of the Three Rays.

I found this obvious biographical trope about how Christopher himself was able to merge several unrelated occult systems together into a unified system (the Temple of Witchcraft) useful in my own discussion of the importance of using a kind of meta-system to order and organize the various collected systems and methodologies of the practicing occultist, and that this action of ordering will have a profound effect on the seeker. It was true with me, and it was also true for Christopher Penczak, so in a sense, our approach to crafting a unified system are very similar. In some ways, his story corroborates my own, and it lends greater power to the idea that working with the symbols of the Qabalah as if they were dynamically alive is the key to making it truly a powerful system of occultism. Without this approach, the Qabalah is nothing more than a glyph and a bunch of tabular lists, along with some very arcane lore about creation, cosmology and the final dissolution. Making it come alive is the whole key to empowering oneself and being able to use the Qabalah as a metaphysical system in the study and practice of magick.

Saturday night was the “All Snakes Day Ball,” which was a costumed ball. Since I had too little sleep the night before, and I had to help out with the security for an hour, I missed some of this soiree, but what I did see was quite amazing. The cash bar was a bit steep in price and the selection of available drinks limited, but overall, the ball room was well decorated and well attended. I ducked out a bit after 10 pm and went back to my room to crash, but the dance continued until midnight.

Sunday is when I took part in a panel that discussed the organization and presentation of the four public Sabbat events that had been held in 2011 under the aegis of NordCog, a local pagan organization (Northern Dawn and Covenant of the Goddess). On the panel were three of the presenters, the artistic director (Paul) and the presiding leader (Steve). The panel turned out quite excellent, and that was the end of my involvement in the Paganicon pageantry. I did attend a really good class on Helenic Polytheism put on by Cara Schultz, which was scheduled before my panel. Cara focused on the rites and practices that would have been performed in the home during a typical lunar month, and how those beliefs and practices are deployed in the modern Greek pagan household. The class was short, succinct and highly informative. I thought that Cara did an excellent job of presenting her beliefs and practices.

So I gathering my things, made some final shopping transactions, and drove home from the convention, quite satisfied with the whole event. The temperature was almost 80 degrees outside, so I had the window down while I was driving. I got home tired and sweaty, and was amazed at the very weird weather that we were having for a mid March day. If there were any doubts about the impact of climate change, then perhaps how this winter has turned out should allay any doubts whatsoever.

Needless to say, I think that Paganicon was a tremendous success, and it will be interesting to see if it is sustainable. I am already thinking about next year’s convention, when I will have a new book out in print, and be focusing on marketing myself as a knowledgeable Qabalist.

Frater Barrabbas

1 comment:

  1. Nice writeup of Pgcon!

    Almost an embarrassment of riches-- too many things to do and still get rest. I found myself needing rest and solitude more often than planned, in order to follow through with the Art Show, the Masquerade, and the Ritual discussion panel that I was committed to. Very glad we had a nice suite to go to.

    I agree that our panel went very well-- though people did not get much time at the end to check out the dioramas that showed the art and images from each ritual event (since closing ceremonies were in the same room).

    I wasn't personally impressed with Penczak, since I'm not hunting for systems or regurgitated matter, and found him not as original or as sociable as last year's guest, John Michael Greer. I gather people are rather split on him as a guest.

    Re: the cash bar-- that's why one of my roommates brought a hip flask! With extremely smooth and nourishing whiskey in it!

    I agree with you about the disturbing warmth too... what to do?